Ever since the smoke cleared from this year’s Legislature, there have been well-publicized efforts by Republicans and various “patriot” groups around the state to try to repeal various laws passed via ballot questions in the 2020 general elections.
The litany of legislation loathed by the right includes issues such as gun control, the ban on coyote-killing contests, establishing migratory corridors for wildlife, minimum wage increases and prohibiting counties from passing so-called “right-to-work” laws.
Just last week, the Associated Press ran a story about the Bernalillo County Patriot Group trying to repeal new election-reform laws, including same-day voter registration and campaign finance regulations.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver stirred the hornet’s nest when she twice rejected a proposed petition for a referendum asking voters to repeal the new gun law that requires background checks for nearly all sales of firearms. (This could very well cost her the endorsement of the Roosevelt County Patriots in her U.S. Senate campaign.)
I’m not certain of the status on the rest of the petition proposals. But I’d be surprised if any of them make it to the ballot — even if they got past the Secretary of State’s Office.
The truth is, it’s extremely difficult to get a repeal question on the state ballot. It’s only happened three times since our enchanted land became a state in 1912. And only one state law has ever been repealed since statehood — an ill-fated excise tax on cigarettes in 1930. That was just a bridge too far for heavy-smoking New Mexicans at the start of the Great Depression.
Rightly or wrongly, the threshold of signatures needed is extremely high — at least 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election. More than 700,000 people voted in the 2018 election, so those wanting to bring back coyote-killing contests or stop same-day voting registration would need more than 70,000 signatures to get on the 2020 ballot. Ask any politician from any party who had to gather petitions to get themselves on the ballot and they’ll tell you the process is harder than it sounds.
Before this year, there have been two major efforts in this century to repeal laws via ballot questions.
Both efforts failed.
Back in 2003, social conservatives from Southern New Mexico wanted to repeal a change pushed by gay-rights activists that passed the Legislature and was signed into law that year by then Gov. Bill Richardson.
The change broadened the state’s Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation — heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality — and gender identity — in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and union membership. Businesses with fewer than 15 workers are exempt from the employment discrimination provision.
Before 2003, the Human Rights Act already prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, color, national origin, sex, physical or mental handicap or serious medical condition.
In January 2004, a petition-drive organizer told the Associated Press that gay-rights opponents had collected about 40,000 signatures out of the 50,000 that was needed at the time. But they never made that magic number.
In 2009, after Richardson signed a repeal of the death penalty in the state, then-Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White spearheaded a group called Repeal the Repeal to petition to throw out the new law via ballot initiative. In less than a month, White’s group collected more than $30,000 and spent at least a third of it on pro-capital punishment television commercials, according to a filing with the Secretary of State’s Office that May.
But the effort failed to get the question on the ballot. Repeal the Repeal ran up against the same state constitutional provision that Toulouse Oliver used to reject the gun control petitions — the part that says “laws providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety” can’t be repealed by ballot questions.
The bottom line is Republicans are going to have to win a lot more elections in this state to toss some of these laws they don’t like. And that won’t be easy, at least in the near future, in this increasingly blue state.