Newswire

The evolving role of the referendum

Fri, Nov 22 2013 — Source: UPI

Two weeks ago, all across the United States, citizens with the right to vote once again went to their local polling place to exercise one of the greatest rights provided under the U.S. democratic system of law.

In many states, not only did those same voters cast ballots for the candidates they felt would best represent their interests, they were also asked a question or set of questions in the referendum voting section of the ballot.

Read More: here

Californians have a love-hate relationship with direct democracy.

We love that we have the ability to set the politicians straight, either by getting a jump on them on the next big issue or reversing course when we think they’ve made a big mistake.

But we’re not wild about reading through all those damn initiatives that appear on the ballot every year, or sorting through the claims and counter claims of the interest groups that sponsor and oppose them. And we don’t like the way that big money pays to get most measures on the ballot and then underwrites the campaigns.

Read more: here

Note: This post was written last month. Eyman’s measure lost in the November elections, winning just over 37 percent of the votes.

If you haven’t heard of Tim Eyman, you probably haven’t lived in Washington state. He’s a libertarian-minded activist and force of nature who is responsible for more initiatives than any one in that state’s history.

I know and like Tim personally, but disagree with him not only on policy issues but also on the initiative process. Still, there’s a lot of good in his current initiative, numbered 517 in Washington state, and people interested in governance reform in California should take a look at it.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked enforcement of an Ohio law barring out-of-state residents from circulating petitions needed to place an issue or candidate on the ballot.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson said in ruling this week that he could identify no harm that would come to the state from allowing nonresidents to gather signatures.

The injunction comes in a dual challenge by the Libertarian Party of Ohio and a group that includes Citizens in Charge, a ballot access organization, and backers of two active ballot campaigns.

Read More: here

Recalling the governor and others from office in Wisconsin would be more difficult, in-person absentee voting hours would be restricted and photo identification would be required to cast a ballot under a flurry of divisive measures the state Assembly plans to pass Thursday.

The elections bills aren’t the only hot-button issues the Republican-controlled chamber plans to approve on its final session day of the year. Also slated for passage are proposals limiting the public’s access to a proposed iron ore site in northern Wisconsin and undoing the 124-year-old practice of having the most senior member of the state Supreme Court serve as chief justice.

Willie Brown, the legendary Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor, says he has never voted for a ballot initiative.

“Not one,” he asserts emphatically without hesitation.

“I’ve always, without question, been opposed to the initiative process. Period,” he told an initiative reform conference in Sacramento last week.

Read More: here

A key rule for political reform is that it should be as neutral as possible. Think of it in terms of a football game. It may be wise to add a penalty to, say, better protect quarterbacks, but such a change should not be done to help a particular team with a shoddy front line. The rules should be adjusted only if it’s better for the game.

Californians need to keep that in mind as they face renewed efforts to revamp the state’s 102-year-old experiment in direct democracy — the initiative, referendum and recall. Gov. Hiram Johnson and the Progressives ushered in these far-reaching reforms to check the power of corrupt political machines and corporate interests. Progressives had deep faith in the ability of average citizens to vote for the “public interest.”

Corporations and some of the wealthiest Americans have spent more than $1 billion in the past 18 months on ballot initiatives in just 11 states, an unprecedented explosion of money used to pass new laws and influence the public debate.

According to campaign finance reports in 11 states with long histories of initiatives and referendums, the billion dollars spent since the beginning of 2012 is more than has been spent in any two-year period. Supporters and opponents of ballot measures spent nearly as much, $965 million, in 2005 and 2006.

Federal Way voters had just one local ballot proposition during the Nov. 5 general election.

Passing with nearly 76 percent of the vote, Proposition No. 1 will restrict the submission of all citizen initiative petitions to the general elections because the voter participation is historically higher at general elections, and to avoid the added expense of a special election.

Read more: here

This year’s election doesn’t have a ton of high profile races, but those on the ballot in Washington state and some cities could have a big impact, both locally and nationally.

I-522 would require the labeling of certain foods and seeds containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Opponents have broken the record for the most money raised by an initiative campaign. “No on 522” raised over $21 million to defeat the measure, much of that coming from food companies like Coca-Cola, General Mills and Nestle USA, as well as biochemical companies like Monsanto.

 

Read More: here