Iowa has long been familiar with the reference of questions, as distinct from candidates, directly to the people. A commonwealth founded by settlers who, in the absence of courts dispensing justice, created tribunals of their own in which land claims, miners' claims and questions of individual rights are equitably settled, could not remain indifferent to the everywhere apparent need of direct selection of a few responsible public servants upon whom should be imposed direct responsibility; also for direct expression of the popular will on clear cut questions in which the public are directly and vitally interested.
In 1868 the general assembly gave voters by townships power to vote taxes in aid of railroad construction. Local school questions received the attention of legislators, first, in 1872; again in 1888, and again in 1892.
In 1896 a law authorized the creation of consolidated independent school districts. As we have seen, the saloon question has several times been referred directly to the people. Incorporation laws have referred to the question, of buying and controlling public utilities. The law creating the commission form of government has exalted the referendum. Amendments to the state constitution have long been obtainable by direct reference to the voters, after two legislatures have voted for submission.
In 1892, 1898, 1904, 1906 and 1911, attempts were made to secure state-wide initiative and referendum, but without success. It remained for the Thirty-fifth General Assembly to pass by large majorities a resolution, introduced two years before, proposing to amend the constitution continuing legislative authority in the general assembly, but reserving to the people "the right and power to propose laws, to enact, approve or reject the same at the polls, and to approve or reject any item, section or part of any act. . . ."
But such right was not to extend or apply to any act "relating to the preservation of the public peace, public health or appropriations for the support and maintenance of the department of state and state institutions. The details necessary to the effectual carrying out of this radical amendment were left to be worked out by future legislatures.
Iowa Its History & Its Citizens, Volume 2, 1918
Submitted by Cathy Danielson