Effort to halt citizen initiative changes takes shape

PHOENIX – Two former politicians are moving to overturn the decision by the Republican-controlled legislature to make it more difficult for voters to propose their own laws.

Grant Woods, who was a Republican attorney general, and former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson filed the paperwork Thursday to create Voters of Arizona. That allows them to start circulating petitions, perhaps as early as this coming week, to refer the new laws to the ballot.

Backers need just 75,321 valid signatures by early August to block the measures from taking effect until at least the November 2018 general election. It would then be up to voters to decide whether to ratify or veto what lawmakers approved.

But campaign consultant Joe Yuhas said the efforts won't be limited to the streets.

“We will also simultaneously pursue litigation,” he told Capitol Media Services. He said some provisions of what lawmakers approved appear to be unconstitutional.

Yuhas said, though, referring the measures to the ballot remains the ultimate remedy.

He said a majority of Arizonans do not support the changes.

“Since statehood, Arizona voters have had the cherished right to enact their own laws through the direct democracy process,” Yuhas said. “These bills are designed to decimate that process.”

And he said anyone who doubts the views of Arizonans should recall the approval in 1998 of the Voter Protection Act, an initiative that specifically bars lawmakers from tinkering with what has been approved by the ballot.

There will be at least two referenda.

The first seeks to void a law that would make it a crime for initiative proponents to pay people on a per-signature basis. Proponents argued that creates opportunities for fraud.

But that change does more, declaring that any otherwise valid signatures gathered this way are void and will not be counted. It also expands who can challenge initiative petitions.

A second measure foes are trying to quash requires judges to disqualify any initiative drive where there has not been "strict compliance'' with each and every election law. That is a major change from the current law which says petitions are considered valid if they are in "substantial compliance.”