January 12, 2010


Initiatives poor substitute for leadership (Ben Boychuk, 1/12/10, The Sacramento Bee)

The initiative, referendum and recall are legacies of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Progressives were big on uplift. They believed – against the weight of reason and experience – that the cure for the ills of democracy was more democracy. Direct democracy, Progressives argued, would let the people counteract the outsize influence of big corporations and special interests on the Legislature.

In truth, the initiative process has contributed to California's dysfunction by encouraging voters and legislators alike to shirk and shift their responsibilities. The initiative lets legislators off the hook by letting them punt hard policy decisions to voters. Californians may have finally wised up to this scheme when they overwhelmingly rejected the slate of complex tax and budget reform initiatives in last May's special election.

But the initiative lets voters off the hook, too, by leading voters to believe that tighter restrictions on legislative activity are a substitute for due diligence and civic participation. Term limits and supermajority requirements are the most notorious examples of this. Yet the quality of legislators and the legislation they produce is no better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2010 8:40 PM
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