Back in March, as the state of California found itself floundering deep in the red, I wrote an article here about how much and why I disliked California ballot initiatives, updating an article I had written four years ago for the Huffington Post, "The California Proposition System is a Bankrupt Idea."
Among many other things, I said --
"However poorly one thinks of politicians, the Proposition System is worse. It starts with the faulty premise that the voting public is going to willingly study a thick guidebook. The voting public didn't willingly study even thin guidebooks when they were in high school and required to. Instead, with propositions, they turn to watching 30-second TV ads to learn what the laws are about.
"Watching 30-second TV ads to learn what a law is about is like reading a fortune cookie and believing that you now understand Eastern Philosophy."
Thanks to some more twists and turns and changing the laws and state constitution and also a situation where the state Senate, Assembly and Governor all now are from the same party (in this case Democratic), the bankruptcy has at least been turned around, but most of the post legal horrors live on, starting of course with the Grandaddy of the All, the infamous Proposition 13, which makes it near-impossible for the state to raise taxes, all the while ballot initiatives keep voting for issues that cost a great deal of money.
I mentioned back in March that I've even gotten to the point where I almost never vote on any proposition measure anymore unless it meets strict Elisbergian Standards. I just think it's such a terrible way to make laws that I don't want to give it any credence, even when I like the measure. It's the wrong way to fly because one day (many days...) there will be issues that are mind-numbingly galling which come around to bite you on the butt. It's a small protest, I know, but one I feel is necessary for my well-being. And hopefully for others'. "Not thinking" and watching TV ads, is not only a terrible way to make laws, but it opens the door for such efforts to subvert the system as we've recently had in the state by the Koch brothers and Mormon Church, which only point to that with huge klieg lights.
So, it came with great pleasure when there was a commentary in the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday by George Skelton in his "Capitol Journal" column that began --
Willie Brown, the legendary Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor, says he has never voted for a ballot initiative.
Another club member! O huzzah!
My sole, very-minor disagreement with Mr. Brown is one of basically semantics. I don't precisely think that "Democracy" requires what he says, but rather "Representative Democracy" does, and that's the system we have in the United States. But all his other comments are spot on. Including when he comments, that "devious initiative campaigns too often result in voter decisions that are 'inconsistent with good and quality judgment.'"
But mainly, I smiled when the former long-time Assembly Speaker and Mayor of San Francisco noted, "'I clearly understand that I am in a distinct minority. People in this state are out to lunch' in their love of the initiative system."
Ahhh, the distinct minority is larger by one. Huzzah, again.
By the way, one of the most telling comments at that reform conference came from former California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, a critic of the current system. He mentioned that the California Constitution has been amended over 500 times since it was originally written in 1879. He contrasted that to the United States Constitution, which of course has been around almost 100 years longer, just has only been amended only 17 times after the Bill of Rights.
"So something is wrong" in California, George said.
The article mentions a few ways that the woeful problems of the Ballot Initiative system can be at least addressed, though I thought they were far too minor for my taste. But any step to fix it is in the right direction.
I do have have on quibble with the article. Its last sentence ends the piece by saying, " The consensus — with the exception of Willie Brown — is to mend it, not end it."
He may have been the exception at the conference, but we trundle on together...
You can read the full article here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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