“Second Chances” Criminal Justice Initiative is Radical and Dangerous

At a time when our country is witnessing unprecedented social upheaval and the undermining of the rule of law, the last thing Arizona needs is a liberal group from California funded by George Soros infiltrating our state to rewrite our criminal justice laws.

Yet that is exactly what the “Second Chances” initiative would do if passed in November. Unlike other sensible criminal justice reform efforts, this jail-break initiative would gut much needed protections to stop the release of dangerous predators into our neighborhoods and eliminate essential reporting and transparency requirements used to track criminal trends in the state.

Over the last several years the Free Enterprise Club has been a strong advocate for reasonable criminal justice reform efforts, including measured expansions of earned release credits for non-violent felons, requiring a criminal conviction in civil asset forfeiture cases, and ensuring individuals with a record can obtain any required licenses for employment. 

Many of these common-sense reforms were opposed by the very liberal groups now pushing this initiative, leaving one to question whether their commitment to criminal justice reform is more about politics than good public policy.

Soros Initiative Goes Too Far, Too Fast

When it comes to improving the criminal justice pool, one toe at a time makes the most sense.  Every tweak has consequences intended and unintended.  Unlike many other areas of policy, those consequences can leave literal carnage in their wake.  “Second Chances” dives head-first. 

For example, the initiative significantly expands the state’s Earned Release Credits (ERC) program by allowing for as much as a 50% reduction in an inmate’s sentence as well as making more felons eligible for the program.

Which criminals would benefit from the new ERC program?  Felons that defrauded an elderly couple out of their life savings, con artists engaging in extorsion and anyone convicted of selling fentanyl-laced drugs to minors.  Also, violent offenses that are pled down to non-violent offenses would be eligible as well. There is no exception or consideration for persons serving for non-violent offenses who are a part of a “security threat group” i.e. a gang member from being released early. 

And perhaps worst of all, current law does not allow inmates who were previously convicted of a violent or aggravated felony to be eligible.  “Second Chances” eliminates that exception.  Even if someone is serving for a drug offense currently, if they previously served 25 years for 2nd degree murder, they should not be treated the same as the person who does not have a violent record. 

The backers of the measure are clearly worried that their initiative will lead to more crime.  It is probably why they purposefully removed the reporting requirements by the Department of Corrections designed to collect meaningful data on any earned release credit program.  This intentional shift to remove transparency and accountability is a way to cover their tracks and dodge blame for creating more victims.

Furthermore, the initiative makes sweeping changes to the state’s mandatory sentencing system. The initiative eliminates the ability to charge repetitive offenders (such as someone who burglarizes 10 homes) more severely than someone who committed just one offense. Giving judges complete discretion to deviate from sentencing guidelines will lead to a wide spectrum of arbitrary sentences for the same offenses.

Initiative is Being Pushed by the Liberal Tides Network

So, who could possibly want to take a wrecking ball to Arizona’s criminal justice system?  The answer is liberal Silicon Valley residents who do not have to live in our neighborhoods once the prison doors swing wide open.  Second Chances is being bankrolled by Tides Advocacy, an arm of the Tides nexus that is funded by liberal billionaire George Soros.

It isn’t enough they’ve destroyed their own state.

In 2014 these same groups pushed Proposition 47 in California, which significantly lowered penalties for several criminal offenses.  Since then, property crimes and drug offenses have gone through the roof, adding to an already serious homelessness problem.  Fraudsters and organized theft rings are migrating to the state, knowing these offenses are no longer felonies and if caught, are likely not to be charged by county attorneys.

A coordinated jail break is just the start of the madness.

Criminal Justice Should NEVER be Done at the Ballot Box

The area of criminal justice reform is too complex and the effects too severe to be decided at the ballot box.  This is especially prescient given our inability to change voter approved laws due to the Voter Protection Act.  The drafters of “Second Chances” included language to make it clear that the legislature may only expand the generous benefits provided to convicted felons, they are not allowed to roll them back.

Backers are sure to spend a lot of time talking about the “Victim and First Responder” fund that is set up by transferring money from revenues from medicinal marijuana under this measure. Which is fitting because the initiative is sure to lead to a lot more victims.

Ultimately, Arizonans would be wise to not invite more chaos into our state.  “Second Chances, Rehabilitation, and Public Safety Act” is not about justice and it is not about compassion.  It will damage public safety, harm victims and is a tool being used by the left to further promote their agenda. Voters would be wise to vote NO come November.

Out of State Special Interests Continue to Dominate Arizona’s Initiative Process

When Arizona’s founding fathers sought to include a voter initiative process in Arizona’s constitution, the intended purpose was to provide regular citizens with a check against wealthy special interests and political insiders that often dominate the legislative process.

Yet it appears that the very system designed to curtail the influence of wealthy billionaires and the political establishment has been taken over by them. Even worse, the hijacking of the initiative process has been carried out primarily by out of state special interests parachuting into Arizona to buy their way onto the ballot box.  

In 2018, all of the high-profile ballot measures that qualified for the ballot were primarily funded by California billionaires and special interest groups. This campaign cycle is no different. Four initiatives appear to be on track to qualify for the November ballot. All four are being bankrolled by deep pocketed unions and liberal special interest groups from outside the state:

  • Healthcare Rising is an initiative seeking to make several radical changes to Arizona’s hospital system, has received 99.5 percent of their funding from the California chapter of the Services Employee International Union. Of the $3.2 million they have raised to date, only $14,000 (in the form of an in-kind contribution) has come from Arizona.
  • Criminal Justice Reform measure looking to overhaul Arizona’s sentencing guidelines has been 100 percent funded by Oakland based Tides Advocacy; a well-financed 501(C)(4) organization with close ties to George Soros and other major progressive donors.
  • Invest in Ed is an education measure looking to double the state income tax on small businesses and high earners in the state. Of their funding, 90 percent has come from Stand for Children, Inc., a liberal education group located in Portland, Oregon.
  • Smart and Safe is a proposal seeking to legalize marijuana in Arizona. Nearly half of their funding is from large dispensary corporations throughout the country who stand to profit immensely from the exclusive licenses that they will be granted if the ballot measure passes.

Arizona’s initiative process was never intended to be a petri dish for experimental policy cooked up by wealthy special interests from around the country. Yet that is what the process has devolved into because of the low standards that exist to purchase your way onto the ballot.

Based on the current signature requirements and constitutional protections for paying circulators to collect signatures, it is possible to gather enough signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot for around $2 Million dollars.

Though to most Arizonans that sounds like a lot of money, for wealthy donors and political players in California or Washington DC looking to promote radical reforms, $2 million is a small sum of money. Add in the fact that the initiative process is often seen as a way to increase voter turnout and force your political opponents to spend precious resources battling you at the ballot box, these types of financial investments are a no-brainer.

Can Arizona’s initiative process be fixed to protect it from outside influence? It’s possible, but it will require reforms geared toward increasing transparency and requiring more local support and involvement when collecting signatures for the ballot.

One reform worth considering is a geographic distribution requirement for signature collection. Under current Arizona law, initiative measures are not required to gather signatures from around the state in order to qualify for the ballot. Any group can make the ballot simply by gathering signatures from one large city or county.

Stipulating that initiatives must gather signatures from every legislative district would make it much more difficult for out of state special interests to parachute into Arizona and flood the Phoenix Metro area with paid circulators. Additionally, rural communities would gain a voice in the process since initiative groups would have to build support for their ideas in all corners of the state. Of the 27 states with a voter initiative or referendum process, 15 require a geographic distribution of signatures.

Another solution would be to limit the number of topics that may be included in an initiative. One factor that has made Arizona’s ballot measure process so attractive to groups around the country is the ability to include multiple issues in the same measure. Often referred to as log rolling, campaigns will include a few unrelated popular provisions in the initiative in order to provide political cover for other sweeping reforms of which voters are unaware. A single subject requirement, which already exists for all bills proposed at the legislature, would eliminate log rolling and reduce voter confusion at the ballot.

Arizona’s initiative process should not be for sale. It especially should not be controlled by special interests with deep pockets and no ties to our state. Fixing this problem won’t be easy, but should be an issue all Arizonans can rally around.