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Initiatives and Referendums

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The Progressive Movement II:
Initiatives and Referendums
Discussion ?s at end
The Progressive Movement II:
Initiatives and Referendums
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Roots of the Movement
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How Initiatives Work
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Perspectives on the Process
• Formal Mechanisms
• Political Realities
Roots of the Movement
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Coming to power in the wake of
scandals at the turn of the century,
“Progressives” were:
• Moderate Republicans who split with the
rest of their party.
• Businessmen who wanted to bring
technical expertise into government.
• Political reformers.
Roots of the Movement
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After successfully prosecuting Abe
Ruef, the boss of San Francisco,
Hiram Johnson was elected governor
in 1910.
He brought direct democracy to the
constitution in 1911:
• Initiative
• Referendum
• Recall
Roots of the Movement
Direct and Indirect Initiative
States with initiative provisions
States without initiative provisions
(27)
(23)
Roots of the Movement
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How does California’s direct
democracy differ from other states?
• Placing an initiative on the ballot is
relatively easy here.
• California’s initiatives are binding and
the legislature cannot amend them.
• Especially since 1978, we use the
process much more than most states.
How Initiatives Work:
Formal Mechanisms
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Basic definitions.
• An initiative is a proposal for a new
statute or constitutional provision that is
wholly drafted by a citizen and voted on
by the state electorate.
• A petition referendum delays and puts up
for vote a law passed by the legislature
and signed by the governor.
How Initiatives Work:
Formal Mechanisms
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A compulsory referendum is a constitutional
amendment or a bond that 2/3 of the
Assembly and Senate put on the ballot.
• These are consensus issues that generate
campaigns costing only $300,000 and pass
69% of the time.
• Initiatives are contentious issues that
generate $7.4 million in spending on average
and most of them fail.
How Initiatives Work:
Formal Mechanisms
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Step #1: Circulation. All it takes is an idea
and $200 to officially register to circulate
an initiative for 150 days.
993. Confinement of Veal Calves and Pregnant Farm Pigs. Initiative
Statute. FAILED to qualify.
994. Confinement of Pregnant Farm Pigs. Initiative Statute. FAILED to
qualify.
1002. Referendum Petition to Overturn Domestic Partner Law. FAILED to
qualify.
(SA03RF0081) “The Worker’s Compensation Reform Act” ADDED to
Initiatives Pending with the Attorney General.
Circulating: 25 Initiatives in circulation
4 Propositions qualified for the March 2, 2004, Primary Election ballot
from www.ss.ca.gov
How Initiatives Work:
Formal Mechanisms
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Step #2. Qualification. Requires
signatures equal to X% of voters in
the last gubernatorial race.
• Constitutional Initiative: 8% or 753,079
• Statutory Initiative: 5% or 470,675
• Petition Referendum: 5% or 470,675
How Initiatives Work:
Formal Mechanisms
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Step #3. Vote. It takes a simple
majority to approve, and an initiative
can only be undone by another init.
How Initiatives Work:
Practical Realities
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First Law of Initiative Qualification:
Without $1-2 million, you cannot get
anything on the ballot, no matter how
popular.
• Example. Even the furor over the killing
of Polly Klass by career criminal Richard
Allen Davis did not provide enough
signatures to qualify 1994’s Proposition
184, “Three Strikes and You’re Out.”
How Initiatives Work:
Practical Realities
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Second Law of Init. Qualification: If
you have $1-2 million, you can get
absolutely anything on the ballot, no
matter how wacky.
• Example. Proposition 6, “The Prohibition
of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horsemeat
for Human Consumption Act of 1998,”
The Sad Eyed Arab...
qualified and passed.
Too Bad Nobody
How Initiatives Work:
Practical Realities
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Big Money
• In 1998, there were a dozen initiatives.
Total spending on them was $193 million,
with $92 million spent on Prop. 5
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Money Leads to Doubt.
• Conventional wisdom is that campaign
spending against an initiative has much
more influence than spending in favor of
an initiative.
How Initiatives Work:
Practical Realities
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Election Trends.
• About two thirds of initiatives lose, but
proponents are doing a bit better lately.
• The more people learn about an
initiative, the less they like it:
• Only two initiatives have passed when they
originally polled under 50%.
• Rule of thumb is that if an item doesn’t poll
at 80%, leave it out of your initiative package
Perspectives on the Process
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Why do the “people” and lawmakers
disagree? Two Constituencies Problem
• The Legislature is apportioned to
represent residents. Only 16.2% had
household incomes of $40-75,000, and
32.4% were Latino in 2000.
• The electorate for an initiative is voters.
36% middle class, 13% Latino in 2000.
Perspectives on the Process
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How do voters make their choices?
• Nobody reads the entire 350 page ballot
pamphlet or initiative texts.
• But the big money spent on initiatives
does provide political information.
• As UCSD’s Skip Lupia showed, people
make decisions that reflect their true
preferences by following cues from
supporters and opponents.
Perspectives on the Process
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Is there any room for compromise?
• An initiative is a take it or leave it offer,
leaving voters with only a choice between
the status quo and the proposal.
• They are almost always policy changes
too extreme for the legislature to pass.
• UCSD’s Liz Gerber showed that the
threat of an initiative brought policy in
line with people’s demands.
Discussion Questions
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Eugene Lee presents a typology of
initiatives. Are some types more legitimate
than others?
Does the fact that all initiatives rely on an
“initiative industry” of paid signature
gatherers matter?
Are voters sufficiently informed to make
good decisions on ballot propositions. Do
television ads hurt or help?
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