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I love democracy … the purer the better. And so, I‘ve always been a big fan of the referendum process, which allows citizens to circumvent the representative system and take their issue directly to the voters.
The angriest I’ve ever been with the Las Cruces City Council was in 2014 when they relied on slimy legal tricks to stop a successful effort to use the referendum process to raise the minimum wage. I had mixed feelings about the wage, but my feelings about City Councils’ maneuvering were anything but mixed.
Now, a conservative group calling themselves The New Mexico Family Action Network is seeking to use the referendum process to repeal five bills passed this year by the state Legislature.
Unfortunately, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has greeted this effort of citizen involvement with the same obstructionist mindset as our former City Council. More specifically, she has decided that one of the new laws can never be repealed, regardless of how many citizens support it.
House Bill 7 prohibits any local municipality or other public body in the state from passing local laws that would restrict abortion rights or access to transgender services.
Toulouse Oliver is arguing that the bill can never be overturned by the citizens because it falls into a protected class of legislation necessary for the “preservation of the public peace, health or safety” of the state.
That seems like an enormous stretch. Does anybody believe the peace, health and safety of residents in Hobbs or Carlsbad will be endangered if they don’t have an abortion clinic? I suspect the opposite is true. Any facilities in those towns would surely draw protesters.
To be clear, I don’t agree with the proposed referendum, and would vote against it if given the chance. I’m just saying I should have that chance, if the referendum organizers collect the necessary number of petitions.
There are four other bills that the group is seeking to have repealed. They protect patients and providers of abortion and transgender care from outside investigations; automatically register eligible residents to vote; make other reforms to the election system; and establish public-school based health centers.
Toulouse Oliver said if any of those efforts are successful, they will be thrown out as well, because referendum organizers have not followed the proper procedure to begin a petition process.
She may be right. But this sure looks like a Democratic secretary of state doing everything possible to thwart an effort by her political opponents.
And I’m not sure why. I don’t think any of these five proposed referendums would pass if put to the voters. But lawmakers simply can’t stand to have their decrees challenged by the unwashed masses.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org