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Direct Oligarchy

April 28, 2010

A particularly moronic comment on the direct democracy provisions of the California Constitution came earlier this week from The O.C. Register where the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association lamely attempts to defend California’s initiative system as “a ‘legislative battering ram’ to bypass a corrupt or indolent Legislature.” He outlines the main argument argument made against the initiative system and his counterpoint as such:

One recent complaint is that the initiative power has become a tool that can only be used by wealthy interests. No one disputes that qualifying an initiative – especially a constitutional amendment – is difficult. It was intended to be. But a measure that truly has grass-roots support and an extensive volunteer network reduces the reliance on paid signature gatherers. The best example of this, of course, is Proposition 13.

Good old Prop. 13. Good old Prop. 13. While I’m unfortunately t0o young to have a sense of whether Prop. 13 truly was supported by an “extensive volunteer network,” I’m fortunately young enough to pay attention to the current times. While perhaps Prop. 13 was perhaps a volunteer campaign, to say that initiatives can qualify the ballot through a volunteer effort is to be blissfully ignorant of the current reality of the initiative system.

A glance at the June ballot provides a pretty stark counter to the author’s assertion. Of 5 measures, 3 were placed on the ballot by the Legislature while two have been supported solely by two private companies, PG&E and Mercury Insurance. There are no measures that originated in the citizenry. In November, so far, we can vote on a marijuana legalization initiative, funded by the nascent marijuana industry, and a water bond, placed on the ballot by the legislature as part of last fall’s water deal. Now that’s the voice of the people, right?

Unfortunately, as long as signature gatherers can be hired, anybody with enough money will be able to qualify whatever they want, from marriage bans to stem cell funding. I propose stipulating that signatures can only be gathered by volunteers. Maybe I’ll try to get it on the ballot. All I need is $2 million for the signature and a few million more for the media campaign.

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