A Major Reason to Protect the Initiative Process

VotingAt the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) annual conference last Friday a member of the audience, after listening to a discussion of the initiatives on the ballot and the initiative process in general, asked the panel why we even have the initiative process. As a member of that panel I offered an answer different from my fellow panelists— because California is becoming a one-party state.

The audience member’s question is a fair one. When one hears about measures sponsored by special interests, the millions of dollars it takes to qualifying and promote a proposition or the money raised to oppose some measures (a record setting $100-million plus to oppose the dialysis measure, Proposition 8), the concerns of ballot-box budgeting and laws created that don’t mesh with other laws on the books, while initiatives can only be changed by another vote of the people, you can understand why a question asking the need for  the initiative process is asked.

Panelists responded to the question in various ways about energizing the electorate; having voters participating in political decisions.

I raised the issue that reflects modern day political California that demands protection of the initiative process: California is a one-party state.

The majority party, which soon could once again control the legislature with a supermajority two-thirds makeup and perhaps hold that margin for some time, is under the influence of an aggressive, progressive wing and special interests that benefit from legislative decisions. While the voters who elect this legislature may choose Democrats over a tarnished Republican Party, they don’t necessarily concur with the hard line agenda that is put forth. That’s why the initiative is a must as a possible check if the legislature goes too far or doesn’t address areas of voters’ concerns.

The controlling powers would prefer not to have competition from the initiative process. You can see that in legislation advanced to attempt to change rules associated with the initiative to give the majority more control over the process or even to make it harder to pass initiatives.

A couple of years ago, legislation passed to assure that all initiatives would appear on the November ballot. The political reason was because larger voter turnouts favored the majority party.

The last couple of years, bills reached Governor Brown’s desk to change the way professional signature gatherers are paid. Instead of paying them per signature, the bill demanded that paid signature gatherers receive a flat fee. The politics behind it was to take some of the incentive away from signature gatherers and to make it tougher to qualify measures.

Governor Brown vetoed both bills saying changing the rules would make it tougher to qualify a measure and in turn would allow only well-healed interests from qualifying initiatives.

What would the next governor do if and when that bill comes back?

(There has even been a desire to prohibit payment for initiative signature gathering but courts have stopped that move.)

The initiative process was created as a check on the legislature, which was controlled by outside interest at the beginning by the twentieth century. To a large degree matters have not changed. The initiative process must be protected as a check on the legislators and the interests that influence them.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.