Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.
In the recent decade, we have seen more and more anti-gay and anti-marriage equality groups try to conceal their bigoted let-the-people-vote petitions to prevent or wrest from homosexuals getting rights the rest of us take for granted. The claim that they are not haters because they say they aren't doesn't hold in light of their bigoted actions. A wolverine pretending to be a cuddly kitten is still a wild beast.
We need to revisit two related ideas. First, large governmental units like states are not town meetings and must not be treated as such. We have representative democracy in the forms of elected legislatures to ensure that laws are based on knowing the consequences and understanding in full. Running around them for the emotionally based result is simply bad or terrible government.
Second, we don't necessarily have to scrap ballot initiatives entirely. However, most states enabled these during the Progressive Era, largely in the early 20th Century. There have been minor improvements and seeing the political and economic abuses recently, there need be more. The most obvious would be to make clearer exemptions for what is subject to popular vote.
Yes, keep the safeguard for the once-in-a-century crazy mistake by the legislature out of their many thousands of laws. However, exempt minority groups rights very clearly. Likewise, even in Massachusetts, which has pretty sensible initiative procedures, we can use a tweak. Make the rule about what would constitute an effort to overturn a court decision stronger and clearer. Don't allow haters to wheedle and sneak in with ballot poison.
Equality California is going to be busy planning a 2010 or 2012 initiative to restore SSM there. They may also have a second front if couples challenge the surely unconstitutional aftermath of Prop. 8 and yesterday's decision. That would be three-class set of marriages — heterosexual couple, homosexual couples grandfathered in, and homosexual couples forbidden to marry.
The drive for prophylaxis against such madness should then come through the legislature. They do the same for other areas of law that need repair and cure.
Personally, I believe state plebiscites should ONLY be used for constitutional amendments as the people are the ultimate sovereign. However they should be difficult to achieve. I’m not comfortable with constitutionally prohibiting certain types of amendment, but agree philosophically that civil rights should not be subject to a vote. I think a higher voting ratio would prevent amending a constitution on a whim. Either require a supermajority such as 2/3, require a majority of registered voters (as opposed to a majority of those who show up at the polls), or require majorities in every county or legislative district. State constitutions are amended way too often, and often with provisions that should just be statutes rather than parts of a constitution.
At the least, California could benefit from the Massachusetts-style requirement that an amendment would need legislative approval in the identical form in two consecutive sessions to advance to the ballot.
Direct democracy has been used now for over a century and shown to be severely flawed. The Founders were correct to reject it.
p>Massmarrier is exactly right to point out the biggest problems — massive governmental units like California can never be analogous to the local town meeting. There is simply too much opportunity for the process to be corrupted with money and misleading advertising campaigns. Direct democracy is hardly deliberative democracy.
p>I would go further and recommend scrapping referenda and initiatives altogether. Short of that, however, Christopher’s suggestion that it be limited to difficult-to-achieve constitutional amendments is reasonable. Having bitter, emotional political campaigns involving issues like marriage is not helpful, and having people vote on elements of the budget is disastrous — even more than legislatures, people will vote for lower taxes and more services, causing long-term budget disaster.
Representative democracy can also fail to be deliberative and farsighted. Especially when political competition is nil and the only form of debate is between power brokers behind closed doors. At this point the initiative is actually one of the few ways dissenting political voices in this state can be heard, regardless of my strong disagreement with many of those voices.
p>The results of initiatives and elections in general are a reflection of the kind of society in which we live, one which I think is insufficiently democratic. If people actually had say and practice in deliberating the rules and laws governing their daily life I would expect they would also be more tolerant and considerate of opposing views. It would not serve them to restrict and limit the rights, liberties, and capabilities of people of a different background. The wisdom of procedures to shield fundamental liberties from political whim would also become more apparent. The engagement of religious fundamentalism in politics would weaken as its political rationale would be eviscerated by the critical values of democratic discourse.
p>It is unfortunate that the ability to actually participate and have a meaningful say in political life is so restricted. Neither voters nor representatives can come to farsighted, balanced political decisions if their orientation to politics is entirely based on special interests that are themselves undemocratic and hierarchical. The composition of interests and the level of knowledge between people is what ultimately counts.
If initiatives and referenda were actually exercises in “deliberating the rules and laws governing their daily life” than I might agree with you.
p>Like I said in my original comment, however, the initiative business is just that — a business. Listening to a 30-second ad spot is not “deliberation.” Millionaires and pressure groups massively funding ballot questions demanding a simplistic yes-or-no response from the voters is not “democratic” by any stretch of the imagination.
p>Perhaps your critique of American government is spot-on, but initiatives and referenda are certainly no solution. They just make the problem worse.
This is the tactic of a loser. A better one would have been to win the initiative.
p>The gay marriage forces were typically celebrified, moralistic and civil rights directed, top down and out-organized on the ground.
p>As for repealing the initiative: the balance of power between the institution of government and the individual has never been more tilted in favor of the government. Both parties are a standing army in favor of intervention, so now is not the time to weaken the tools of the people against the class of professional politicians.
is correct, from everything I’ve heard. The organizers realize that they screwed up and took way too much for granted the first time. They won’t make that mistake again. I hope.
Long, long before this drive and vote, I called for changes to the ballot-initiative process, particularly California’s. It is far, far too easy to put up a hot issue for popular vote with no mind to its consequences. That state suffers mightily as a result. It’s version is more mob rule than a check and balance.
p>Even Massachusetts’ is superior. I hold that it is also more democratic. People have two legislative sessions to make their arguments and clarify the measure. Everybody, not just a well-funded lobbying group gets input. Then, they vote.
I don’t like the word “populism” thrown around as some kind of dysphemism for the word “democracy.” In general, we should be celebrating popular participation in politics and at the voting booth, not deriding it.
p>I donated money to fight for marriage equality in California, and was very upset when we lost. But we have to acknowledge that a majority of of Californians were not yet on our side, and so we have to continue educating, advocating, and making our case. That’s democracy.
p>I sometimes have problems with the ballot initiative process. I have a problem when voters aren’t always aware of the full effect of what it is their voting for, especially when the question can be deceptively worded. But in this case, I think voters pretty much knew exactly what they were voting for. When we win democratically, I expect the other side to accept their loss; and when we lose democratically, we should do the same, not pin the blame on the democratic process itself. If the tables were turned, and the constitution already explicitly outlawed same-sex marriage, and we won a ballot initiative amending the constitution, would you be making the same argument?
p>As you said, Equality California is gearing up for 2010 and 2011 to reverse this. I just donated $25 to their cause. I think we’ll win then.
p>Oh you mean like the Massachusetts State Legislature does on a regular basis.
p>You wonder why Massachusetts ins one year behind CA? Gimme a break.
Remember that the whole “cutting taxes” without compensating budget changes part of that equation came from, you guessed it, voter initiative.
about the wonderful constitution that John Adams (and others) gave to us, I reflect on its flaws.
p>True, in California a simple snap plebiscite can take away fundamental civil rights–and not so here. But we still allow amendments that would to strip rights from a minority.
p>We also have no remedy for the unconstitutional legislative “pocket veto” of initiative petitions.
p>Let’s fix that.