Tribune editorial: Initiatives’ success is a shot across Legislature’s bow

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jack Gerard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks with the media following an announcement by supporters and opponents of Utah's medical marijuana initiative, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, at the Utah Capitol.

The dust hasn’t settled, but we already know that this year’s election was a victory for people power in Utah.

Two out of three statewide citizen initiatives likely have passed, and the third still might. That — more than a Sen. Romney or even a possible Rep. McAdams — is the most significant election result in Utah.

Propositions 2, 3 and 4 were all based on ideas the Utah Legislature had rejected. Their success (or near success) showed that, no matter how well legislators might do in their individual races, collectively they do not carry out the will of Utah’s citizens on some very important issues.

Utah’s road to medical cannabis is not over, but it’s a route that had to be blasted out. How many sick people telling their sad stories, literally begging for a little relief, did legislators hear and ignore in recent years? What does it say that it took The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints finally relenting before legislators started lining up behind medical marijuana? That Proposition 2 would not just pass but pass handily says much about legislators’ misreading of the people they are supposed to represent.

And then there’s Medicaid expansion. Gov. Gary Herbert tried to craft a politically palatable way to bring much needed federal Medicaid dollars to Utah in 2014. But Healthy Utah failed in the 75-member House after getting only six votes. In the years since, Utah missed out on billions in health care dollars before the citizenry finally grabbed the wheel this week and passed Proposition 3. Be warned, lawmakers: Any attempt to kill Proposition 3 in the next session would be interpreted by the public as legislative malpractice.

As for Proposition 4, the opposition has only come from legislators who have baldly cast it as interfering with their rights, even as history has shown their exercise of those rights has been for self-preservation, not equal representation. We’d still be a red state with independent redistricting, but we’d also have a Legislature and a congressional delegation that would better reflect Utah’s political diversity.

In fact, the minority party did pick up a few legislative seats. Grabbing four more of 104 seats this year is hardly a game changer, but it has an effect that extends to swing districts that stayed Republican. Legislators in those seats have to look over their shoulders a little more.

So what does it say that the one question the Legislature actually wanted before the voters — the gas tax for schools — is the one that went down hardest? At the end of the last session, legislative leaders stood with Our Schools Now leaders to proclaim the gas tax as part the solution to Utah’s low-funded schools. But don’t think for one minute that those leaders are troubled by its defeat.

If Utahns really want to invest in their children as they should, it will take another initiative that goes all the way to the people. It’s worked before.