Response to Denver Post March 26, 2000 column by Bill McAllister
Broder: Initiative process bypasses Constitution
From Dwayne Hunn 4-28-00
Sent letter/guest opinion response:
California, like Colorado, has seen much of its significant legislation crafted through the direct democracy hands of “The people.” In Bill McAllister’s March 26 column “Broder: Initiative process bypasses Constitution,” McAllister points out that author and columnist David Broder “trashes the initiative process as practiced in Colorado and especially California.” Broder refers to the initiative as “a radical departure from the Constitution’s system of checks and balances” and laments that it has become a playground of special interests.
I expect Broder has not been a ‘man of the streets, a working-Joe Sixpack’ for a long time. If he were, he might learn that for the involved-Joe the initiative is one of the nation’s most important checks and balances. For Broder, whose profession introduces him to corporate execs and politicians, the initiative process form of law making may seem too rambunctious compared to those laws formed in committee rooms along lobbyist trodden marbled hallways. Broder recognizes and fears “special interest money” in initiative campaigns, does he recognize and fear it along marbled halls?
In 1974 Californians, thanks to the leadership of Peoples Lobby, passed what was among the toughest campaign reform law in the nation and established the Fair Political Practices Commission. Politicians wouldn’t reform so a band of volunteers, joined by Common Cause and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, did it to them. In 1978, after 16 years of low-budget trying, Howard Jarvis, who like hundreds of other groups over the years attended People’s Lobby’s initiative training sessions, convinced Californians to pass Proposition 13, which he described as the second American Tax Revolt.
Yes, Broder is right. Today it is harder to find volunteer driven initiative campaigns. Now professional initiative factories charge $1.00 + per signature and retain PR firms producing “slick television campaigns” that Broder fears. Haven’t candidates, political action committees and corporations “slick campaigning” us for decades? Where in America’s political world does money not play a big and bigger role every year? If money were a reason to cut down the initiative process then we should have buzz sawed most of our groveling-for-campaign-contribution representatives long ago.
The initiative process has often been the involved voters’ last check and balance to peacefully accomplish “significant” changes in the political process. Even responses like this may not be printed in our check and balancing large papers because — why? Maybe because they are owned by corporate, increasingly linked special interests who prefer the tidy view of Broder’s concept of representative government unhindered by direct democracy pressures from the people.
In the 70’s a few involved citizens warned our leaders against building a reliance on nuclear power. Moneyed interests trotted out experts to lecture the people on how little they knew and how it was best to leave these decisions to well educated representatives in Washington. In 1976 Ralph Nader urged People’s Lobby to spearhead the 16 state Western Bloc Nuclear Moratorium initiative campaigns. Those volunteer, activists-lead campaigns lost to much better financed special interest campaigns but, in defeat, Americans learned more than their representative form of government had told them about nuclear power. From 1978 no new nuclear construction license permits were issued through October 1999. Would such have happened as quickly without the initiative process? Would the controlling railroad interests in California’s legislature have been driven out without Governor Hiram Johnson giving Californians the tools of Direct Democracy in 1911? NO!
Broder pans Philadelphia II’s national initiative proposal as “ a system that promises laws without government.” Yet it does not replace representative government. The proposed national initiative process relies on debate, discussion, time and the votes of the people. It is not “instant gratification,” as Broder portrays.
Our Constitutional powers emanated from the people. So why shouldn’t Broder support giving the people another tool of democracy? Americans have always been good at using tools to tinker and improve life. So why not look at Philadelphia II’s Direct Democracy proposal as another tool that we can fashion to make the nation better? http://peopleslobby.tripod.com/dirdeminit.htm
“Final responsibility rests with the people. Therefore never is final authority delegated. “
People’s Lobby’s motto has applied to Americans since our Constitution and applies here.
Dwayne Hunn, Phd., worked as a volunteer for People’s Lobby and is presently a board member. Philadelphia II’s Direct Democracy Initiative can be reached at www.peopleslobby.us
From: Dwayne Hunn