California

California

Direct democracy, and specifically the initiative process, is advancing around the world.

Except in the U.S. and in California.

Ireland’s constitutional convention has voted overwhelming to introduce a new initiative process that would include both petitions to the government (what some Californians persist in calling, misleadingly, the “indirect initiative” even though it is a direct appeal to lawmakers) and petitions that would trigger popular votes.

Read More: here

While much of the country is gearing up for the holidays, political forces in Sacramento are girding for battle.

Already, special interests are lined up with plans that could shape next year’s general election ballot. They are considering propositions to increase medical malpractice awards, hike tobacco taxes and give local governments the right to scale back public employee pensions, among other ideas.

Each of the proposals could spawn campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars. Decisions about whether to proceed will be made in the next couple of weeks as de facto deadlines loom.

California has a rich tradition of citizens taking control through the initiative process. Nothing should be done to diminish that.

However, the Public Policy Institute of California has released an interesting report on possible reforms of the process. The 20-page report released in October concludes with three proposals:

• Connect the legislative and initiative processes. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed by the institute supported the idea of having initiative sponsors meet with legislators to seek compromises before an issue is placed on the ballot.

Read More: here.

While much of the rest of the country is ramping up for the holiday season, political forces in Sacramento are girding for political battle.

Though the 2014 election is nearly a full year away, a series of de facto deadlines are fast approaching that will shape the makeup of next November’s ballot.

Initiatives to raise medical malpractice awards, hike tobacco taxes and give local governments the right to scale back public-employee pensions are among the ballot measures being considered. Each of those proposals, if they go forward, could induce campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars. Decisions about whether to proceed will be made within the next couple of weeks.

The Legislature might be flatlining and cobwebs are gathering around the White Sepulcher’s Corinthian columns, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lotta politickin’ going on in the Golden State.

A largely under-the-radar industry is shifting into second and third gear in anticipation of 2014, even-numbered election year that it is. This motley band is the ballot measuremongers who profit off pimping and pillorying initiatives they help put before voters.

They are pollsters, strategists, ad buyers, signature gatherers, lawyers, videographers, direct mailers, fundraisers, mouthpieces and coalition builders—a phalanx of folk who critics claim feast off the host body of the vox populi. If that’s true, it’s quite the sumptuous spread.

This week’s qualification of a referendum for the November 2014 ballot will be the sixth time in a decade that voters get the final say on a state law.

A “yes” vote will uphold this year’s legislation ratifying the state’s casino compact with Madera County’s North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. A “no” vote will overturn it.

The as-yet-unnumbered referendum is the 49th to qualify for a California ballot since 1912, after the process was included in then-Gov. Hiram Johnson’s package of government reforms.

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

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Steven Greenhut wrote at Reason.com last week that “Californians will need to pay close attention” to proposed reforms of the state’s initiative process, arguing that, “Unfortunately, some recent initiative reforms have been more about self-interest — about rigging the football game, if you will — than about helping the public have a more fair and informed political debate.”

Noting that Californians have enjoyed the power of the initiative for 102 years, Greenhut explained that even though some questionable special interests have “proposed” some questionable initiatives for their own benefit, the initiative process in the Golden State remains a critical check by the people on their legislature.

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.”

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the much maligned Assembly Bill 857 over the weekend, blocking for now the legislation that would have placed a number of unconstitutional restrictions on the collection of signatures for initiatives in the Golden State.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated: “Requiring a specific threshold of signatures to be gathered by volunteers will not stop abuses by narrow special interests – particularly if ‘volunteer’ is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill.”

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed labor union-backed legislation Saturday that would have limited the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify statewide ballot initiatives in California.

Assembly Bill 857, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, would have required anyone seeking to qualify an initiative for the statewide ballot to use non-paid volunteers to collect at least 10 percent of signatures.

Read more here: here

Californians value the ballot initiative and want it to remain as a check on a political system they mistrust, but voters support major reforms in the process, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that voters support several changes, including giving the Legislature an opportunity to respond to proposed initiatives and reach agreement with their sponsors, beefing up financial disclosure requirements for those engaged in ballot measure campaigns, increasing the role of volunteers in collecting initiative petition signatures, and placing time limits on ballot measures so that they can be revisited.

The skirmish over the anti-initiative Assembly Bill 857 will reach a climax very soon, as California governor Jerry Brown is set to either sign or veto the bill within a week’s time.

The bill would place a restriction on all petition signature-gathering efforts, requiring 10% of the total verified signatures be collected by volunteers. This would mean more than 50,000 signatures would need to be gathered if a petition’s requirement was based on the last gubernatorial election (which puts the total requirement at just over 500,000).

Not content controlling every statewide elected office and both chambers of the legislature, California Democrats are now moving to cut off conservatives from the ballot as well.

The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson reports on a bill passed by the Assembly and Senate that Gov. Jerry Brown may sign this week:

Read More: here