Arizona voters have been very friendly to Humane Society of the United States-backed policy changes related to animal welfare. In 1994, voters approved, by a wide margin, a ballot initiative (PDF) to ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps and poisons on public lands -- which cover about 83 percent of the state. In 1998, more than two-thirds of voters approved a measure to outlaw cockfighting, which shut down the industry in the state and gave us momentum to ban this despicable practice in the few states where it was still legal. And in 2006, Arizonans approved an HSUS-sponsored ballot measure to ban the confinement of veal calves and breeding sows in crates barely larger than their bodies -- a win that sent a message to the factory farming industry about the urgency of animal welfare reform. The conclusion: Arizona voters don't have tolerance for cruelty, and they value the opportunity to decide animal protection issues by ballot initiative.
The trophy hunting lobby has looked upon this series of wins with alarm, even though there's been no campaign since the 1994 trapping measure to restrict the taking of wildlife. In 2000, the trophy hunters worked with their allies in the state legislature to refer a measure to the ballot to require a two-thirds supermajority to approve any wildlife protection initiative. The HSUS led the opposition and spent just a couple of hundred thousand dollars against it, while the advocates of the measure spent more than $3.5 million pushing it. Despite the spending disparity, voters rejected it, with 63 percent of the people voting no on the measure.
In spite of that rebuff, extremists within the trophy hunting community are back. They have again teamed up with their allies in the legislature and referred an even more severe and sweeping measure to the ballot. Their new measure, Proposition 109, is a constitutional amendment for the upcoming November election that would block any future statutory wildlife protection initiatives. Any future attempt by ballot initiative to protect wildlife would have to amend the state constitution, requiring a far greater number of signatures and creating an unnecessary obstacle for advocates on one class of issues.
Prop 109 is a solution in search of a problem, given that no animal welfare groups have launched or even threatened to launch a statutory initiative on hunting. And from the perspective of democratic decision-making, it's just unfair. Prop 109 is a shameless and undisguised attempt to restrict the voting rights of Arizona. Today, it happens to be hunting. Tomorrow, it could be any other issue under the sun, and there's just no reason to poke a hole in the voting rights of Arizonans or to create a patchwork of special interest issues that are shielded from voter action by such subterfuge. After all, the constitution invests power in the people, as well as establishing a representative form of government.
Prop 109 seeks to invest "exclusive authority" for wildlife policy-making in the legislature, making it more difficult for voters to decide these issues, and it could even require the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to gain approval from the legislature if it sets any rules governing hunting or trapping. In short, Prop 109 politicizes all wildlife policy-making issues, and it supplants science-based and citizen-based decision-making in favor of partisan politics. A special interest organization, the NRA, has managed to maintain a tight grip on the behavior of lawmakers, and the group believes that the best way to prevent citizens from having their say on wildlife issues is to put it in the hands of lawmakers whose loyalty they now command.
What the NRA doesn't realize is that the politics of the legislature may change, and they could quite easily one day find themselves wishing for a return of the day when such decisions were made by wildlife experts, not lawmakers and the interests groups that pressure them. But the NRA is commonly short-sighted, and this situation is no different.
Arizona voters had it right when they sent the trophy hunting lobby packing in 2000 by rejecting the supermajority measure. They should do the same with Prop 109. Please spread the word and let your friends and business colleagues in Arizona know that Prop 109 is far reaching and extreme and wrong for the state.
Paid for by Arizonans Against the Power Grab.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.