Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Feelings About California And Referenda

Summed up in a few short paragraphs, by Timothy Egan in the NY Times:
California’s problem is its democracy. The legislators, term-limited yet complacent, long ago threw in the towel. Now the citizens have had enough, expressing a pox-on-both-houses rejection Tuesday of every major ballot measure except the one that limited pay raises for politicians.

Think of Italy — which reminds me of California in so many ways — and its chronic inability to form a government. That’s California, with even better food and no parliamentary system.

l can’t blame the special interests: teachers, prison guards, the asphalt lobby. They’re only doing what special interests always do.

But I do blame the voters. They’re part-time citizens, and not very good at it. They shackled the tax system back in 1978 with Proposition 13, limiting how much government could take from a homeowner. It was a reasonable middle class revolt.

But then, in succeeding years, voters passed laws that packed California’s prisons with criminals (many of them petty) but also mandated that the education system get a lion’s share of the budget. On top of that, the voters made it nearly impossible to pass a budget. Then they walked away from their car wreck.

Voters, through ballot initiatives, do not govern well. Once in a while they act as a break to some particular act of legislative lunacy. But more often they’re absentee rulers, at odds with themselves.
Denocracy by referenda is an abdication of responsibility by the elected officials of the jurisdiction, a way to push policy making onto a process not designed to produce well considered policies. Don't believe me? Look at California.
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