Joyce’s rebuttal I&RR


          1500 7th Street #7B

          Sacramento, CA 95814

          (916) 443-7508

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).

Thank you,

Joyce Koupal

Ex Director

*”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.


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