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July 17, 2005

Initiatives 101 – Course by Goldy

Goldy’s got a great piece on the kidnapping of the initiative process in Washington State.  He comments on an article on the initiative process that David Ammons of the AP wrote and adds to it. 

These two paragraphs of Goldy’s ought to be tacked up on our bathroom walls so we can read them every day until we quit voting for initiatives:

The fact is, the initiative process has long ceased to be the populist safety-valve that was intended. Initiative sponsors like to tell voters that this is the only way to “send a message” to Olympia, but the message the sponsors send to voters is that government is the enemy. In that sense, even the most progressive initiative can work against the broader progressive agenda, as the very act of filing an initiative is commonly perceived as an indictment of our elected officials.

As we have learned again from the saga of I-872, initiatives are typically poorly crafted, and often downright unconstitutional. But when the courts do their job and toss out an illegal initiative, the sponsors cynically use that too to fan the flames of anti-government fervor. Look at some of our state’s most profligate initiative sponsors – Tim Eyman, John Carlson, the BIAW, the gambling industry – these are all people and organizations with a radical vision of a dramatically smaller and weaker government, with little taxing power and even less regulatory authority. Outside the mainstream of political opinion, they cloak their agenda in populist clothing, while often appealing to our basest, most selfish instincts.

Posted by Lynn Allen on July 17, 2005 at 10:59 PM in Ballot Initiatives | Permalink


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A few years back, Washington Post journalist David Broder wrote "Derailing Democracy" which is a scathing indictment of how anti-democratic the initiative process has become. Good reading if you're interesting in learning more.


Posted by: Jon Stahl | Jul 20, 2005 9:48:23 PM

The initiative process is a valuable tool of our democracy. It is wrong to oppose it just because a lot of initiatives have not gone our way lately. At the same time, progressives have had some remarkable achievements such as the first and possibly still only minimum wage that increases automatically with inflation (initiative I-688 in 1988). We also repealed a "takings" intitive via Referendum 48 in 1995 or so. And of course thre is initiative 120 from the early 90's that wrote Roe v. Wade into Washington state law. Also, our solid campaign disclosure law was also put in place by initiative in the early 70's. I would not give up any of these achievements. No progressive initiative that I have ever been associated with (and there have been many) ever used that bogus "send a message" rhetoric. Finally, the initiative process is not the reason that big money tends to tun the show and eliminating the initiative process will not eliminate the influence of big money, talk radio, the BIAW, the gambling industry or anyone else. Why don't we *use* the initiative process instead of complain about it?

Posted by: Patrick | Jul 28, 2005 9:36:36 PM

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