Lawmakers sift through 21 surviving referendums
The Arizona Republic
May. 22, 2006
A referendum to make English the state's official language still could make it
to the November ballot.
So might a proposal to change the title "secretary of state" to "lieutenant
governor," and one to limit government's power to take private property.
But most referendums proposed by lawmakers this session have gone by the
wayside. Only 21 of the original 75 remain alive. And it's likely only a handful
will make it to voters. Hoping to keep from wearing down Arizonans with a
hopelessly complicated ballot, lawmakers still must whittle the proposals down
to an elite few. This typically happens just before the close of the session.
The chosen ones could affect who shows up at the polls. The English Only
referendum, for example, might draw many conservative voters.
Occasionally, the measures are considered an outlet for Republican lawmakers
hoping to get around Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's vetoes. Lawmakers have
talked about a referendum making it a crime for undocumented immigrants to live
in Arizona, for example. But so far, no such referendum has been approved for
Besides voting on the legislative measures, Arizonans also could encounter many
citizens initiatives on the November ballot. No law limits how many referendums
lawmakers can approve. But common sense steers them away from submitting too
"Some may be very good things, but voters get ballot fatigue," said Rep.
Gary Pierce, R-Mesa.
Some of the proposals that died along the way - often without ever getting to
first base - include a measure to get rid of legislative term limits, a proposal
to phase out the state income tax and a call for a state constitutional
convention to overhaul Arizona's Constitution.
Making the cut
Senate President Ken Bennett and Speaker of the House Jim Weiers will play the
key role in deciding which issues move forward. There's little doubt that
election-year politics plays some role in the process, observed David Berman, a
senior research fellow with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona
"English Only or the ones on border control serve a purpose of energizing the
base of the party that you are trying to get out to vote, in this case the
conservative Republicans," Berman said.
The same holds true for citizens initiatives such as a proposed ban on gay
marriages that is still trying to qualify for the ballot, Berman said.
"They're just tailor-made to get the skin boiling," he said.
With President Bush's decline in the polls and a general discontent, voters in
the Republican Party could need a motivator to get to the polls, he said.
One issue that stirs strong opinions and could make it to the polls is a
proposal by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to make English the state's
Arizona voters agreed to an "English only" measure in 1988, but the Arizona
Supreme Court declared much of it unconstitutional. Pearce pushed the issue
again last year in a bill that made it through the Legislature before being
rejected by Napolitano.
Pearce said last year that he didn't want to crowd the 2006 ballot with a
referendum on the issue. He's changed his mind.
Pearce introduced House Concurrent Resolution 2036, which mandates that
government services, programs and publications be provided in English "to
the greatest extent possible." All official government actions would be
taken in English.
Pearce said this measure meets constitutional muster because it does not
prohibit the use of languages other than English, except in official actions
and on documents like state Web sites.
"It's simply the right thing to do. English is one of those things that bind
us together as a nation and it's what this is about," he said.
Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, proposed two ballot measures on immigration.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1031 prohibits undocumented immigrants from
enrolling in adult education classes through the state. Martin said he would
push to get the issue to ballot if the governor vetoes a comprehensive
immigration package approved by the Senate but still being considered by the
A less politically charged issue is Pierce's measure to turn the secretary
of state into a lieutenant governor.
The Mesa Republican is confident the referendum will be among those to make
the cut as more than half of lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors.
House Concurrent Resolution 2042 sailed through the House with a 43 to 17
Amid complicated proposals, this one is simple: Rename the second-highest
political post in the state, but not change the responsibilities.
Arizona is one of eight states that do not have a lieutenant governor. Most
people know the secretary of state as the official who oversees elections,
but he or she is also the next in line to the Governor's Office if it is
That has happened three times in the past three decades.
Pierce said his proposal is to ensure voters understand the importance of
the position as second in command in the state.
Voters may have to decide between competing measures that aim to reform the
management of the state's trust land.
It wouldn't be the first time. Sometimes two or more sides think they have
the best solution. Sometimes one proposal is an attempt to derail another
issue, Berman said.
"It can muddy the issue and it confuses voters," he said.
In this case, one is a legislative referendum sponsored by Rep. John Nelson,
R-Glendale. The other is a citizens initiative called "Conserving Arizona's
Future" that is supported by the Arizona Education Association.
Early on, both sides were talking and trying to reform how the State Land
Department manages its 9.2 million acres of trust lands.
The trust land, handed over from the federal government at statehood,
provides money for public services, primarily schools, through leasing and
sale of the land.
Both sides say the Land Department needs better tools to enhance the land it
oversees and bring in more money. Currently, the Land Department can sell or
lease only to the highest bidder.
Nelson's proposed referendum would allow state trust land in urban areas to
be given to local governments for permanent conservation. Another 400,000
acres in rural areas would be given to county governments.
John Wright, president of the AEA and treasurer of Conserving Arizona's
Future, criticizes Nelson's plan for not identifying specific acreage.
The citizens initiative identifies about 690,000 acres of specific land that
could be sold to local governments for conservation. Both say that some land
should be set aside for conservation and that rather than siphoning money
from schools, it would increase the value of the adjacent land.
More than a dozen bills flew into the Legislature this session to protect
property rights against eminent domain after a U.S. Supreme Court decision
in 2005 that said cities could use eminent domain to take private property
and give it to another private owner for development because it would be an
economic benefit to the city.
Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, is pushing both a bill and referendum to limit
government's power to take private property. Gray said one would move
forward, although it is unclear yet whether it will be through the
legislative process or through the people.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1019 reiterates what case law has already
determined in Arizona, that private property cannot be taken simply to
increase tax revenue such as through redevelopment projects.
The proposed referendum would also give homeowners the opportunity for a
jury trial to determine if a specific instance is "public use."
One piece of the ballot measure that is of particular concern to city
officials is that property owners could sue if a city zoning change or
enforcement of a city ordinance has a negative impact on their property
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has called it a "litigation bonanza."
Gray said the measure is being refined to address concerns, including
clarification that the property owner could sue if the zoning change was
made directly to his property.