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Troy Senik
Direct Dysfunctionality « Back to Story

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This is a balanced and accurate description of the initiative process -- and absolutely true. Two additional issues that exacerbate the problems are: 1) term limits, which guarantee that the efforts to govern are always by amateurs -- who usually have no knowledge of governance or the art of the possible, no accumulated experience, no expectation of cooperation or legacy; and 2) vast interest-group funding of initiatives makes it impossible to even objectively evaluate initiatives, let alone oppose them. It is governance by special interest group!
Gary, Thought you'd find this interesting. MT has a similar system but not as extreme. Jean
You are quite right that direct democracy creates problems but I don't agree that it is "the" problem. Hiram Johnson promoted these ballot measure reforms because the Legislature in 1910 was controlled by Collis P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He owned the politicians. The Progressives thought that local nonpartisanship and these ballot measures would eliminate corruption and rigged elections. Johnson saw them as the "shotgun behind the kitchen door." The reforms were meant to be used judiciously, but you are quite right that is no longer the case. A major part of the problem has been the evaporation of the middle class. People are now waking up to discover that middle class Californians have been fleeing the state since the 1990's. The Republican Party ceased to be a factor in legislative policy making long ago for the same reasons. California's problems have less to do with whether Madison or Johnson was right, but whether or not social democracy is a system of government that inevitably ends in bankruptcy.
George Will has said that willing an end without willing the means to that end is infantile. "Infantile" certainly characterizes California's electorate, which can best be described as a mob. Voters are impulsive, hyperactive, and given to magical thinking. When the bill comes due for all their folly, which it shortly will, there will be nobody to bail them out.
Great article Troy but there is something I must point out and that is that the legislature regularly negates the will of the voters. The referendum of Proposition 13 was overturned by the legislature later and anybody that buys a house or sells their house to trade up or down stands to see their taxes triple.

The same thing happened with the so called "earthquake sales tax". It was a 1/3 cent tax increase on the sales tax and it never went away, even though the earthquake debt was long since paid for.
More libertarian claptrap. Californias problems do not stem from an excess of democracy but from a lack of it. Probably the biggest single factor in CA's current woes is the "Mexifornication" of the state, and that came into being in violation of the will of the people. Libertarians, with their reflexive dislike of democracy and reflexive servility to business interests, supported the striking down of Prop 187. And now they have the remarkable audacity to blame the outcome on mass democracy!
Alena Hromádková, Prague December 04, 2011 at 11:43 AM
It was pleasure to read the precise explanation, indeed. My congratulations! Nevertheless, the problem how to persuade the direct democracy fighters that not all people are competent to govern or to contribute to the governing efficiently, has not been touched. Perhaps Lenin and others could offer a powerful story...
it's much worse than you think, and where CA goes, so does the nation!?!
the only thing that CA does not regulate are ILLEGALS!

the attorney general kamala harris delcares that nearly half the murders in ca are by MEXICAN GANGS!

the state operates staggering deficits, 75% of which are to support social services to illegals!

there are only eight (8) states with a population greater than los angeles county, where half the jobs go to illegals. this county pays out $600 million in welfare to illegals, and 95% of all warrants for murder are for Mexicans.

la raza elected gov jerry brown just signed a law making it ILLEGAL for employers to use E-VERIFY!

The fouding fathers chose a republic with elected representatives that were to temper the excess power of the majority in a pure democracy. Even here in Colorado our initiative process has spun off a plethora of unintended consequences owed to the masses inability to connsider the results of their emotionally driven legislating.
Although Troy Senik blames the Initiative and Referendum provisions of the California Constitution for the financial distress of the state, I wonder if the real blame should not be laid at the feet of the throngs of odd people with extreme ideas who vote in places like San Francisco and Hollywood; and in Sacramento too. “When voters mandate a policy directive from the ballot box,” he complains, “the Legislature has no way to override the decision, even by supermajority. As a result, any issue that voters weigh in on directly becomes their exclusive purview in perpetuity—amendable or repealable only by another popular vote.”
This cannot be true unless he ignores the difference between constitutional amendments and state laws.
First of all, in California as in other states that have the Initiative and Referendum, all constitutional amendments must be submitted to the voters for approval, regardless of their origin. The Legislature submits them as a referendum, the people as an Initiative. Hence it follows that the Legislature can propose constitutional amendments that modify or abolish provisions put there by voter Initiatives, and vice-versa. The only inconvenience for the Legislature is that the voters will have the final say in every case. But again, this is not unique to California. A couple of dozen states have the same mechanism.
The situation is quite different for Initiatives that merely change existing law or add a statute to the books. Because such Initiatives, if passed, do not become part of the State Constitution, the Legislature is free to amend or repeal them, just as they are free to amend or repeal state laws they have passed previously. There may be times, of course, when the fervor behind a popular Initiative makes it politically unwise for the Legislature to meddle with it, but meddle they can.

Wim de Vriend
Coos Bay, OR
If I could change one thing about the proposition process, it would be to pass a proposition requiring that, in the future, all proposition-related campaign contributions be made to the proposition, not to the "yes" or the "no" side. Those $ are then distributed 40% to citizen committees on each of the yes and the no side and 20% to an independent, non-government resource which analyzes ads and reports on the veracity, basis in fact, subjectivity of ads for each side. Not sure whether such legislation would withstand "free speech" challenges, but right now CA does not have a "direct democracy", we have an auction to high bidder.
They cannot scale back their efforts. It is no longer in the voters hands. Any special interest allied with the Democratic can write up anything which doesn't harm and should support organized labor and Democratic candidates. The State AG then writes the language for the proposition in such a way likely to appeal to the majority of the well-meaning but politically ignorant voter. The voters consistently rob themselves, clearly clueless about the all too obvious consequence. Only the eventual and quite certain failure of the State financially promises a possibility of a new State Constitution which does no include the horrifying process of Democracy. Our Founders didnt like it and for good reason. California is the poster child for the consequences of being ruled by men and not law.
What does it matter when the California State Attorney General can refuse to appeal a court ruling which has thrown out a proposition which was overwhelmingly supported by the voters (Proposition 187)? The new California Attorney General has already stated that she will NOT fight for the will of the people if it is something she doesn't approve of.