Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Changes at Legislature may give I&R new life

Editor

St. Paul Efforts to make Minnesota an initiative and referendum
state have drawn criticism from at least two prominent
sportsmen.

Proponents believe 2004 might be the session the Legislature
passes the law that would allow state residents to put legislative
questions on statewide ballots, a process called initiative and
referendum.

Former State Sen. Bob Lessard, a longtime opponent of initiative
and referendum (I&R), and Don McMillan, past president of
Safari Club International, spoke about their opposition to the
issue early this week with Outdoor News. Both focused on battles
that have occurred in I&R states over anti-hunting ballot
initiatives.

“Sportsmen have a lot to lose if this passes” McMillan said.
“Instead of spending our money on youth or habitat programs, we’ll
be fighting off anti-hunters at the polls.”

Proponents, including State Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, a
co-author of the bill and the House majority leader, disagree. And
he believes new blood in the Legislature and changes in Senate
leadership give the bill a better chance than in 1999 and 2002,
when similar legislation passed the House but failed to receive a
full vote in the Senate.

“It falls in line with the populist nature of Minnesota,”
Paulsen said. “Once the process is open to the people, it becomes
much more democratic.”

Jack Tomczak, legislative director of the Let Minnesota Vote
Coalition, said his group will back the initiative and referendum
bill this session.

“I think that the power in this country comes from the people,”
he said.

Opponents of the bill, however, say initiatives and referendums
aren’t quite the democratic nirvana Tomczak and Paulsen
envision.

“I understand some supporters of this are well-meaning. They
think they’re giving power to the people and giving the people more
say,” said Lessard, a 26-year, now retired, member of the state
Senate. “Actually the people have less say because you have outside
interests coming in with an agenda, and we can’t stand up to that
kind of money.”

Other active legislators also oppose the concept.

“Those states that have initiative and referendum, it seems to
me, get mired in proposals that are not thoughtfully brought
forward,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest, D-New
Hope.

Minnesota, with its representative democracy, elects members of
the Legislature to do the people’s work, she said.

Advocates of the initiative and referendum process worry that
states like California have given the process a bad name, with
recent ballots there including as many as 10 initiatives. Beyond
sportsmen’s concerns, Lessard says, I&R is simply a bad way to
manage government.

“California is a disaster because of this,” Lessard said.
“Fighting for or against passage of these referendums has become a
big business out there.”

Proponents say that 23 other states use it without much
incident.

Paulsen said more stringent requirements to get items on the
ballot would help keep voters from having to deal with more than
one or two ballot items. The Minnesota legislation would require
signatures that add up to 4 percent of the people who voted in the
last gubernatorial election, but that would have to include at
least 4 percent from each of six of the state’s eight congressional
districts.

“You can’t just sit out at the Mall of America and collect
signatures,” Paulsen said.

McMillan disagrees. He says major anti-hunting groups will
simply hire private companies to garner signatures for any issue
they’d like to place on the ballot.

“Some of these Republicans have a naive take on this thing. They
think it’s real grassroots,” he said. “Groups like PETA or the
Humane Society of the United States would have no problem with
these so-call safeguards. That’s an easy drill for them.”

Rep. Rest said her opinion of initiative and referendum hasn’t
changed from the last time the issue was raised in the
Legislature.

“Politicians ought to be responsible enough to take a vote on
setting laws and policy that’s what their job is,” she said.

The AP contributed to this story.

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