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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

California's Big-Money Racket

[The Clarion-Ledger ran a shorter text of this letter on February 15, 2005.]

The brilliant George Will makes it sound as though the referendum and the initiative are the same thing ("Schwarzenegger the governor to be watched this November," Feb. 10). That's not true. A referendum is put on the ballot by the legislature, whereas an initiative is put there directly by the people.

California's initiative process has become a big-money racket. (See David Broder's book, Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.) One such proposition on the November 2004 ballot was to abolish party primaries and install a Louisiana-style "top two" election system for congressional and state offices. (California has had non-partisan elections for city and county offices for nearly 100 years.)

The initiative's supporters raised more than $4 million and had the backing of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other big-name politicians, as well as four of the state's five largest newspapers. (Even Arizona Sen. John McCain weighed in on the "yes" side.) The opponents raised a paltry $1 million. Some 54 percent voted "no" as the measure carried just seven of the state's 58 counties.

Mississippi's initiative process is for constitutional amendments only. If an initiative reaches the ballot, the legislature has the power to put its own proposal next to the people's proposal on the ballot.

As instruments of direct (or pure) democracy, the referendum, the initiative, and the recall would horrify the Founding Fathers.