The people vs. "their" legislature

Opinion by Jason Mercier
Evergreen Freedom Foundation


Olympia, WA - Not withstanding the arrogance of some state officials, Washington's Constitution, in no uncertain terms, defines the state's hierarchy of political and legislative powers this way: The people come first, the legislature second.

Article 1, Section 1—Political Power: All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.

Article 2, Section 1—Legislative Powers, Where Vested: The legislative authority of the state of Washington shall be vested in the legislature, consisting of a senate and house of representatives, which shall be called the legislature of the state of Washington, but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose bills, laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature, and also reserve power, at their own option, to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, Section, or part of any bill, act, or law passed by the legislature. (a) Initiative: The first power reserved by the people is the initiative . . . (b) Referendum. The second power reserved by the people is the referendum . . .

Despite our Constitution's unequivocal granting of legislative power first to the people, the legislature has consistently ignored the will of the people and disregarded both the spirit and clear intent of the laws we have passed exercising our clear constitutional power. Now it appears some lawmakers believe their past "omnipotent" wisdom in overriding the people's laws serves as precedent to further frustrate the will of the people.

At a March 23 House Appropriations hearing on a bill to "reform" the voter-approved I-601 spending limit, Rep. Jim McIntire (D) asked supporters of I-601's two-third supermajority requirement for the legislature to raise taxes the following question:

Both of you oppose the removal of the supermajority requirement [for tax increases]. Can you name a time when we [legislators] have actually not just set it [supermajority requirement] aside by majority vote? I mean, this is in many respects a procedural motion that has no bearing. It's a statutory constraint that cannot constrain any legislature that chooses as a majority to set it aside . . . have we ever used a supermajority [to raise taxes]?

Along with the gutting of the I-601 spending limit currently under consideration in the legislature:

  • Democrats are planning to raise taxes to fund Initiatives 728 and 732. Despite the fact the people were promised that tax increases would not be necessary to fund them and the people, by a 2-1 margin, just last year defeated I-884, which would have raised taxes to fund the provisions of these initiatives.

  • The legislature is currently considering passage of a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. This despite the fact the people, in 1997, defeated I-677 by a 2-1 margin which sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation "in employment, employment agency, and union membership practices, without requiring employee partner benefits or preferential treatment."
  • In 2003 the legislature raised the gas tax despite the people's rejection of R-51 in 2002 by a 2-1 margin. R-51 asked the voters to approve a gas tax increase. The legislature is now considering another increase to the gas tax.

  • The legislature this session also flirted with changing I-200 (ending state discrimination based on race/affirmative action) and I-593 (three-strikes law) despite their overwhelming approval by the people.

Just because state officials have ignored the clear will of the people in the past doesn't mean they should continue to do so. Rep. McIntire is right about one thing: some state officials have demonstrated a consistent lack of respect for the will of the people.

Though the state's Constitution may appear to be an antiquated document to some state officials, the fact remains the people's legislative powers come first and foremost to that of the legislature. Just how exactly are our state officials representing our will by constantly ignoring the laws we pass?

Jason Mercier is a budget research analyst for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a non-partisan, public policy watchdog organization, focused on advancing individual liberty, a free-market economy, and limited and responsible government.

Contact: Booker Stallworth | Communications Director | 360.956.3482


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