As noted here previously, the pension initiative seeks to give its proponents the power to defend that measure in court. This is misguided and unnecessary, for reasons I’ve explained here before.
But since we are in the totally unreal world known as California Political Reality, people across the political spectrum have naturally agreed that initiative proponents, who already have incredible power to change the law and constitution with few checks and balances, need even more power. Because otherwise, elected officials might have power. And we can’t give power to the people whom we the people choose, because that would rob people of the power to choose. (If you don’t think that sentence makes perfect sense, you aren’t in California politics).
But let’s reckon with this unreal reality and ask if there are any other powers proponents should have. Indeed, for all the power proponents have, there are other powers they don’t have. And by granting them these powers, Here are five ideas.
1. The power to remove measures from the ballot even after they’ve qualified. One of the few areas in which initiative proponents in California have less power than their counterparts in other states and countries is on removal. In places like Colorado, proponents, with the agreement of public officials, can help make take measures off the ballot even after they’ve qualified. This creates more flexibility and room for compromise, which should be a goal of direct democracy.The power to get on the ballot without signature.
2. Problem 1: If someone has a great idea but doesn’t have money, they can’t get it on the ballot in California. Problem 2: If someone has a bad idea and $3 million, they can get it on the ballot in California. There’s nothing we can do about the second problem. But there are things we could do about the first. One way would be to create a citizens commission or other sort of panel that could evaluate ideas brought forward by citizens in a public forum, and would have the power to place ideas it judged as worthy on the ballot.
3. The power to gather signatures on-line. A mea culpa. I touted the power of on-line gathering a few years ago as a method of disrupting the process by making it cheaper. I no longer think that the impact would be so great – the European Union allows online gathering but it hasn’t made signature gathering much easier or cheaper. But it would help a little, and would create new opportunities for deliberation over measures using new online participatory tools.
4. Public financing. Ballot measures should be a fair fight. The now-infamous $11 million donation to No on 30/Yes on 32 was, as I’ve said before, incredibly stupid, but it was at least somewhat understandable as an attempt to level a playing field that had been badly tilted by labor money. One lesson of that escapade: Instead of leaving the work of creating level playing fields to scheming political consultants and nonprofits in Virginia and Arizona, the public should take charge. The rule should be that both sides of a campaign over legislation or constitutional amendment should have equal resources. Public financing would go to the side in a ballot fight with fewer resources as a way of making up any disparit.
5. A license to kill. One could argue that proponents already have this, given the lack of constraints on the content of initiatives. So why not make it official? Heck, Hollywood gave James Bond a license to kill, and he isn’t even a citizen.