PEOPLE’S LOBBY, INC
1500 7th Street #7B
Sacramento, CA 95814
March 4, 1986
RE: “Reform” of the Initiative Process—a Discussion
BY: Joyce Koupal, Executive Director
As many of you know, the initiative process is under legislative attack in California. Many of the “reforms” proposed by the legislature are also suggested in an article recently published by the IAR.
Initiative & Referendum Report
Patrick B. McGuigan, Editor
721 Second Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Re: Analysis and Critique of Larry Berg and CB Holman’s overview of the initiative process in California entitled “The Initiative Process and Its Declining Agenda-Setting Value”, March 1986 issue.
Berg and Holman begin their essay from a mistaken premise. The initiative process is not . . . “a ‘people’s check’ on the political agenda produced by representatives.. . .” That is the function of the -referendum- process.
The other important point is that instead of making it even harder for those who are frozen out of the initiative process by high prices and the other points so impressively made by Berg and Holman – why not simply -REDUCE Initiatives signatures BY AT LEAST 50%-. Along with that it would help to legislate the right of citizens to gather signatures in public access places, such as shopping centers.
The important thing to remember is that when one side of a political stripe seems to be dominating the use of the initiative process it really means that the other side should be examining why they have left the field of struggle. Abolishing the other side is not the answer to the problem, especially when we live in a “democracy”. Berg and Holman should examine what happened to the political parties in California when we abolished cross-filing, something that should have accomplished what Berg
and Holman seem to want (rejuvenated political parties).
*”THE SIGNATURE REQUIREMENT FOR Initiatives, geographic “distribution” of petition signatures, limitations on initiative subject matter, indirect initiative, shorter referendum and initiative ballots, cooling-off periods for initiatives previously considered, and signature thresholds. If such oppressive “reforms” succeed, they will silence the people and bring temporary comfort to the established power structure.
The IAR article uses a series of so-called facts and data to establish reasons why the initiative process should be “reformed” out of existence. It issues a call to business to make “reform” a top priority of their public affairs departments. The article provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the issues being raised by the enemies of the initiative process. I therefore submit my comments to you and welcome your criticism.
I&RR CONTENDS: *People’s admitted ignorance supports:
No. 1. Voters like the concept of the initiative process, but are concerned about the specifics.
No. 2. A high percentage of voters admit they do not understand the initiative process-.
*People’s supports on of early initiative history indicates that the people of California clearly understood the power and use of the process. Because they became so skilled, enemies of the initiative process in the 1940s, in the form of liquor lobbyist Artie Samish, obtained passage of “reform” legislation. The initiative process was virtually lost to the people of California for almost thirty years. As late as 1969, professional signature gathering firm president Joe Robinson bragged to initiative proponents that, “If you don’t hire me, your initiative won’t qualify.” So, for the rich, who could afford to pay, the initiative process was a viable political tool. For the great body of citizen activists, the initiative process was beyond their budgets
While the initiative process lay fallow, the power structure was using it. For those, who could afford to pay, the initiative process was a viable political tool. For the great body of citizen activists, the initiative process was beyond their budgets. For them it was non-existent. Initiatives were given one line in California text books and, over the next few years, that line was gradually expanded to a chapter on history.
In order to encourage and teach others to use the process, People’s Lobby speakers appeared on high school and college campuses nationwide. PLI (People’s Lobby Incorporated) wrote, printed and distributed millions of pieces of educational material about the process. In 1975, PLI published a compendium on all known initiative information, and, in 1976 published — Direct Democracy-. It had become clear that not one book in the entire country, dealing exclusively with the initiative, recall and referendum processes, existed.
It’s been fifteen years since PLI broke down the roadblocks for using the process and initiative information in our educational system still doesn’t exist. How can people know what they are not taught or cannot find out about on their own?
Organized groups are — using — the initiative process — not studying non-existent information. These groups are receiving what little technical information is available by paying professionals, piecemeal from other action groups, or, through practical experience. Whether paying professionals or learning “the hard way”, it is an expensive and time consuming process.
Action oriented groups, with little or no training, can make mistakes or use the initiative process in ways that anger others. It is wrong to punish the initiative process because such problems may exist.
No. 3. The initiative is no cure-all for what ails democracy. Supporters of a national initiative process base their feelings in large measure on the Swiss experience with direct democracy and believe a national initiative is a “quick fix” for democratic ailments such as low voter turnouts.-
*Attack on the national initiative proposal
I don’t know any national initiative proponent who believes the Swiss experience can provide a standard for the United States, Switzerland still hasn’t given women full voting rights. It is difficult, however, to study initiatives without discussing Switzerland; the process started there.
Proponents have contended that more voters turn out and vote during a controversial initiative campaign. Statistics tend to support that position. When you take +all ballot measures on average+, as IARs statistics do, then the trend is less votes on issues than for candidates. Supporting a predisposed position by using “numbers games” is a tactic often used by our enemies.
There is nothing sinister about a national initiative process; it is a civilized way to address grievances. A national initiative is a natural extension of voting rights. Starting from only propertied men voting, to most men, to black men, to women, to eighteen-year-olds, voting rights have been extended. Abolition of poll taxes, voting directly for United States Senators, post-card registration, and many other reforms have further extended voting,
No. 4. The presence of the initiative does not necessarily +increase+ voter turnout in the state that use the process.
No. 5. Many voters who do go to the polls decline the opportunity to vote in the states that use the process.