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CGS recommends initiative reforms

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 6:09 pm in ballot measures, Election reform.

The Center for Governmental Studies, led by the highly capable Bob Stern, has written a very interesting editorial published in the Los Angeles Times about recommended reforms of California’s initiative process.

I recommend reading this editorial. Here are the first few paragraphs:

By Robert M. Stern and Tracy Westen
November 10, 2008

Here are some things you should know about ballot initiatives in California.

In all of the 1960s, there were only nine statewide initiatives placed on the ballot. In the 1970s, that number rose to 22. In the 1980s, Californians were asked to vote on 46; then, in the 1990s, it climbed to 61. So far in this decade, there already have been 63 — and there’s still a year to go, with a possible special election in June.

That’s a record every decade — and a sevenfold increase over 50 years.

Here’s something else: Supporters and opponents of these initiatives are spending more and more money to ensure that their side wins: $9 million in 1976, $127 million in 1978 (the year of Proposition 13), $140 million in 1996, $280 million in 2004 and $330 million in 2006 — a 37-fold increase in 30 years.

This money comes from individuals, corporations and unions, but increasingly it comes in large chunks — very large chunks. In the 1990 elections, for example, one-third of all contributions for initiatives were given in amounts of $1 million or more. In 2006, it jumped from one-third to two-thirds. One person — real estate heir and Hollywood producer Stephen Bing — gave more than $46 million of his own money to support the (unsuccessful) 2006 initiative to impose oil depletion taxes.

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  • http://spryeye.blogspot.com Evan Ravitz

    Solutions to initiative problems have been generally agreed on and available for many decades. But legislators NEVER improve the process, only make it harder (not affecting the wealthy much) and hobbling it in various ways (this year, with AZ Prop. 105 and CO Ref. O, both wisely defeated by voters).

    Voters on ballot initiatives need what legislators get: public hearings, expert testimony, amendments, reports, etc. The best project for such deliberative process is the National Initiative for Democracy, led by former Sen. Mike Gravel: http://Vote.org. Also http://healthydemocracyoregon.org/ and http://cirwa.org

    In Switzerland, petitions are left at government offices and stores for people to read and sign at leisure, so there are less aggressive petitioners, more informed signers, and less $ required. The Swiss vote on initiatives 3-7 times a year so there’s never too many on one ballot. Because they have real power, the Swiss read more newspapers/capita than anyone else.

    In Switzerland, representatives are humbler and more representative after centuries of local and cantonal (state) ballot initiatives, and national initiatives since 1891. They call their system “co-determination.” This works for all relationships!