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I-517 is not the right answer for the initiative process

Write to the Point


I find myself sitting in sort of an opinion-column no man’s land right now. The obvious topics, Congress, federal spending, debt default and other goodies will have played out in some sort of end game by the time this column reaches your coffee table.

Not much use in discussing these until next time around. Since I won’t write again until after Halloween and the Nov. 5 general election – kind of the same thing – I thought I’d talk about two things: Initiative 517 and candy corn.

I-517 would make it easier for initiatives to make the ballot. It sets penalties for interfering or retaliating against signature gatherers and petition signers, requires all initiatives receiving sufficient signatures to appear on the ballot and extends the timeframe for gathering signatures to a year from the current six months.

According to an Associated Press story, the initiative is on the ballot because of legal challenges to local initiative measures aimed at blocking cities from implementing red-light cameras. Opponents, mainly business groups, say it will make things more difficult for them to control nuisances outside their businesses, while supporters obviously believe it will make initiative filing easier.

I’d bet money some of those supporters are initiative and referendum “assistance” companies as the increase in initiative filings since the 1990s has created a whole new, multi-million – if not billion – dollar industry. I mean do you really think the guy standing in front of Safeway with 5-7 clipboards in his hands is some grassroots volunteer?

It’s an easy vote for me when it comes for checking off my ballot on initiatives – NO. I’m all for democracy, representation of the people and our right to have a say in managing our affairs through the ballot box. But I’m also a believer in what the Founding Fathers brought about in this country – which is a representative democracy.

Initiatives are direct democracy and a Johnny-come-lately in our process. Yes, I know I wrote a column about all those “John” references.

Initiatives arrived on our shores in the 1890s from Switzerland. They’re an anathema to what the Founders were striving for when they created our three branches of government.

Read the Constitution – especially all those who on one hand chide government about not following the document while on the other insist on having a direct vote in everything government does. The only federal branch elected by the people directly was the House.

That of course changed, and I’m not convinced for the better at times. The initiative process is a further exacerbation of a bad idea.

Initiative supporters however tout the wisdom of the people as reason for the process’ existence. I’m also not convinced we’re so wise. Not only is it easy to sway the populace through emotional and ideological appeals, but it’s also questionable whether the populace is truly informed, especially in this sound-bite, I’ve-only-got-five-minutes-to-learn-the-details world.

So if anything, the initiative process, if we’re going to have it, should be made tougher. It should be forced to return to the notion that initiatives spring from grassroots ideas, and it’s those people who make it happen – not some multi-million dollar signature gathering firm.

We need to practice representative democracy the right way by electing representatives who can discuss issues without using prepared statements and sound bites. Also, any initiative linked to a corporation or business group should be immediately stricken from the ballot or denied access. Business has enough access to government.

So there, I’ve said my peace.

As for candy corn, it’s also been around since the late-1800s, and I’m firmly convinced that only one, really big batch was ever made. It’s kind of like the Halloween season’s version of the Christmas fruitcake.

But it tastes better – so eat up. That way we can make another batch.


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