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Chief Justice Decries Initiative Process

October 12, 2009

In a speech at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George criticized the ballot initiative process, saying it has “rendered our state government dysfunctional.”

And he’s completely correct. The ballot process was initially intended to give the people a way to circumvent government corruption but it has now been taken over by special interests who have the money to pay the professional signature-gatherers and mount million-dollar campaigns to get their pet projects passed. Any government reform would have to address it and limit it in some way: a pay-go requirement that forces initiatives with spending provisions to identify where funding would come from or perhaps a mechanism that makes it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot. We’ll see what happens.

Joe Mathews has an informative post over at Fox & Hounds speculating at George’s motivation for jumping into the political fray. As it turns out, he faces a retention election, wherein California voters have to approve him for another 12 years. He also points out some things that the AP report left out:

George then went even further, identifying Prop 13’s requirement of a two-thirds vote for tax increases as the main explanation for the state’s budget troubles. He’s right about that, but this is an enormously risky thing for a public figure to say, especially when that public figure goes before voters in the very near future. (Perhaps if he loses, he’d at least be free to serve as president of a constitutional convention, if there is one).

I hadn’t heard much about George previously but he’s way up in my book right now. Unlike most California politicians, he’s showing some backbone and telling Californians something other than what they want to hear and he is actually facing election, so you can’t discount it has a tenured judge speaking out from a protected position. Bravo.

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