Decades ago, it seemed like a good idea — letting Californians decide on issues from taxes to the legality of same-sex marriage through ballot initiatives. Now, critics say that progressive approach to governance has morphed into an industry that caters to special interests with money to spend. Two state Senate bills are taking aim at the process. One would require signature-gatherers to wear badges that indicate whether they’re paid or volunteers. The other would allow issue campaigns to pay them by the hour. But not per signature. Both measures passed the state Senate this week. State Senator Mark DeSaulnier of Concord explains what his bill's goal is.
"It's just transparency," says DeSaulnier. He adds that polls show Californias love the initiative system, but "are aware that it's more complex than it needs to be and money plays too large an influence."
The initiative system was created 100 years ago. "Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican, famous California governor, brought the initiative system to California because the railroad system had corrupted representative democracy, and the initiative system worked," says DeSaulnier.
However, DeSaulnier says that there were only a million people in California in 1911, and with 38 million today, the initiative system needs to be updated. "Money is a very large influence. It's been since 1982 that a volunteer effort qualified an initiative to ballot in California," says DeSaulnier.
California and 23 other states have initiative systems. "California has the most robust direct democracy," says DeSaulnier. "Unfortunately, it's been hijacked." DeSaulnier says that's because the size of California and the amount it costs to place television ads in large, expensive markets like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Republican opponents say the restrictions suggested by DeSaulnier would discourage freedom of expression and free enterprise by removing the incentive to collect signatures. "I just disagree. There's no analysis that suggests that they're right," says DeSaulnier. He says his bill tries to make money less of a determining factor in gathering signatures and passing an initiative.
"I believe that Hiram Johnson, when he started this, he wanted it to be mostly citizen, grassroots efforts, and we'd like to make it a little more like that," says DeSaulnier.
He says that people aren't talking about scrapping the initiative system altogether, but he has written bills calling for a California constitutional convention due to what he sees as problems with the structure of California's government.
DeSaulnier says he wants voters to have more time to read information about initiatives. He also says he has another bill going through the Legislature that would require the top five fundraisers for an initiative to be identified in voters pamphlets.
"Too often, we actually end up voting against our own best interest, because of the money and the sophistication of the marketing," says DeSaulnier. He says that his bill will help correct that.
Comment By Ron Branson
The ignorance of the American public goes beyond profound. Every constitutional safeguard established by the People, if left to government, would be dissolved in the name of public good. First off, let us consider the nature of initiatives, where they come from, and what their purpose is.
To this day we faithfully observe the Fourth of July otherwise known as the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to mondern perception, the Fourth of July is not about firecrackers. It is about independence from government meddling with our inherent unalienable rights received from the Almight, and not from legislators. Familiar are the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government..."
This is the very foundation of our Initiative Process, which is for the People to override all governments when they deem that the government has become distructive of their pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This, of course, means that at no time under any circumstances shall government interfer with our define in what way, or in what manner the People may or shall revolt. So strong is this principle that our Founding Fathers instituted this principle in the very First Amendment to the United States, of which they would not sign without such provision. Therein it states in approprate part, "Congress shall make no law respecting ... the right of the People ... to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
For those of you who have difficulty understanding this mandate, I ask, what part of NO do you not understand? Now if Congress is forbidden by the very instrument they have sworn to uphold and to defend from tampering or limiting in any manner the People's right to seek redress of grievances, can it be understood that lower down the ranks of government, such as a State Legislature, may interfer or tamper with such right of the People?
Please note that the Constitution makes set forth no terms or qualifications upon how, when, or where the People my seek such redress of grievances. It is simply unconditional. In fact, if government wanted to pass legislation regarding such right, the Constitution says NO! Absolutely NO Law, whether the intention is good or bad, or is for some seemly innocent objective! It is simple 'NO!"
Okay, so now let us zero in on the California Initiative Process which the above article states is for the purpose of benefiting the People. The Californai Constitution, Article I, Sec. 1 clearly sets forth, "All political power is inherent in the People. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require."
The foundational words are, "All," "Power," "Inherent," and "People." So we see the plenary word "ALL." All never means "some." It is all inclusive. Now we come to the subject, "POWER." Now we see the means, "INHERENT." It is not derived by legislation or by any man, but is derived soley and purely by nature of beinging a person. And lastly we see the object, "PEOPLE." If this principle is deemed to be true, and all public servants swear to uphold this principle, then how much political power is inherent in government. Absolutely NOTHING!
If you are getting the idea that the Initiative Process has nothing to do with government, then you are to be congratulatedfor your intelligence. But wait a minute. We are told that it is powerful monied interest that have taken hold of the People's Initiative Process, and this is why the government must regulate it. Here is a revelation, if it has not dawned upon you. Every election cycle we see approximately 80% of all initiatives placed upon the California ballot are placed there by the legislature. But initiatives are not for governments, but are limited soley to the People when the People deem it necessary to alter or reform their government. We the People have loaned to our public servants the privelege of proposing and passing laws, and we have carefully constructed the process and procedures by which those laws are passed. First is the proposal of the law to the legislature, then the committees, followed by revisions, and then a vote by our representatives. Then it must go to the Senate. If they vote in support, it must go to the governor for his approval. This is how all laws must be processed by the legislators.
So how does the above required processes figure into the Initiative Process? They don't. Not in the least! An initiative placed upon the ballot by the legislature cheats everyone of a republican form of government, to which all citizens are constitutionally entitled. "The United States shall guarantee to evey state in this union a republican form of government..." A republican form of government has nothing to do with a political party, but rather is a representative government. Everytime the legislature places an initiative upon the California ballot for a vote, it potentually deprives your representative of the right to vote upon the issue. Now for those who might say, my representative can vote on it when he goes to the polls, you misunderstand what a representative form of government is. If your representative's vote at the polls constituted a republican form of government, then everyone who goes to the polls are equally a representative. There is a difference between your representative voting in a pool of 80 representatives, and a representative being only one vote in a pool of 13,000,000 voters. One is representative democracy, and the other a direct democracy. The former is limited only to elected representatives, and the other is limited to the People. All political power is inherent in only one of them, and that one is not the legislature.
It could be rightly said, that every Initiative placed upon the ballot by the legislature is null and void, and must be reversed for failure to provide you and me of a republican form of government assured to each and everyone of us by Article IV, Sec. 4 of the United States Constitution. There can be no short cuts!
For reason of all the above authorities, I say to the California Legislature, keeps your dirty mittens off our Initiative Process!
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