Most elitist pundits in California vehemently dislike the state’s initiative process. Indeed, Democrats in the state Legislature recently tried to enact an effective ban on the process, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Elitists of all political stripes dislike citizen-signed propositions, as such measures bypass the institution they revere — elected officials. They have nothing but disdain for groups that try to “short-circuit” their treasured (and idealized) legislative process.
Moreover, the feigned concern about improprieties in signature gathering ignores the benefits of a full vetting of the prop once it is on the ballot — especially compared to our chaotic state legislative procedures.
I recommend an informative, humorous out-of-print book by the late state Sen. H.L. Richardson — “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?“
Most of us know that in the closing days of each Sacramento legislative session, our intrepid elected representatives vote on literally hundreds of ever-changing bills — some even changed surreptitiously. No one knows what is in all, or likely even most, of the bills.
Hearings are bypassed, or the bills voted on are quite different from the ones that went to the hearing months before. Some crucial bills are completely changed to a totally different issue just before coming to the floor for a final vote — a smarmy process called “gut and amend.”
Seldom do the legislators hear a full debate by both sides. As the chaotic session deadline approaches, logrolling too often becomes the primary criteria for passing each other’s bills: “You vote for my bill and I’ll vote for yours.”
It’s not your high school civics class version of government. No-sir-re-bob!
Compare that unfixable legislative morass with the proposition process. Once a proposition is ballot-qualified, it cannot be amended. Each side gets to submit their ballot arguments, and any questionable facts in the argument assertions can be challenged and removed via the courts before the arguments being finalized. Then those arguments are sent to all the registered voters in the state via the ballot book.
Perhaps more important, we voters quickly can see (often just by noting the signers of the arguments) which groups are on which side —- a wonderful shorthand way of making an informed decision as to how to vote. Plus, we have months to make our decisions. Additional information is publicly available on who is funding each side of each proposition, and is constantly updated.
Yes, the proposition system is awful. Capricious voters making sometimes ill-informed decisions.
But, as comedian Henny Youngman so infamously responded when asked “How’s your wife?,” “Compared to what?”
Bad as the initiative process is, the legislative process is worse. The real world of capitol shenanigans trumps the idealized stereotype of wise officials judiciously deciding our fate. If you like just laws, you don’t want to visit this legislative sausage factory in the final week of each session to see how it really works.
Richard Rider is the chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters.
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