California sees itself as a champion of direct democracy.

But in truth, it doesn’t take direct democracy as seriously as Italy.

The new Italian government made history when it named a Minister for Direct Democracy, as part of an 18-member cabinet. That’s the first such national minister in the world.

The appointment comes from a populist coalition government about which there is much skepticism. But this particular appointment – of Riccardo Fraccaro, a leading thinker and practitioner of direct democracy – shows seriousness about the job of creating an infrastructure and context for direct votes by the people. That infrastructure and seriousness is sorely lacking in California, where we put measures on the ballot haphazardly.

Fraccaro started in politics as an activist on waste issues in his home town, Trento, according to swissinfo. That city is where the European Citizens’ Initiative – a transnational initiative process– was first formulated.

Fraccaro is part of a party that has sought to expand initiative and referendum in Rome. But the Italian push on direct democracy has been responsible, seeking to integrate initiatives with the legislation process. That is precisely the responsibility missing in California, where we resist making initiatives play by the rules of legislation, budgets, or even the constitution itself.

Fraccaro told one newspapers: “Citizens’ initiatives for new laws must obey the same rules as parliamentary initiatives, including the financing of a reform and its compatibility with the constitution.” He also has suggested counter-proposals to initiatives to improve deliberation.

Fraccaro’s an overdue recognition that direct democracy is a serious subject for administration, and requires a cabinet post, like the environment or water or education or transportation.

By contrast, California splits responsibility for direct democracy among the attorney general, legislative analyst, secretary of state, counties and private networks of consultants and signature gatherers. Perhaps it’s time to take this system much more seriously.