The long slog of the California initiative process

150 150 Chris Nelson

With signature gathering coming to close this week, the media are talking an awful lot about the measures looking to qualify for the ballot.

The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters published a piece earlier today talking about, among others, the measure proposed by the California Forward Action Fund and the difficulties that lie ahead in getting such reform passed.

Walters poses the following questions to this organization’s advocacy arm:

“Does it damn the political torpedoes and forge ahead? Or does it retreat like Think Long, unwilling to confront the dysfunctional, polarized status quo it says must change?”

Yet, in all of the recent conversation about this measure and others, it is often overlooked that the people of California have been talking about reforming their state government for quite some time already.

We know because we’ve facilitated many of those conversations. The grandaddy of them all was the What’s Next California Deliberative Poll, held almost one year ago in Torrance, CA. Two members of our leadership council published an op-ed last week reminding everyone of exactly what Californians said they want to see happen.

We agree with Walters (who probably knows better than anyone who doesn’t occupy a seat in the capitol building) on the unfortunate dysfunction inherent in California’s government and political system.

As both Gov. Brown and Molly Munger (the lawyer mounting an opposing tax measure to Gov. Brown’s) can attest, achieving reform by way of the ballot is expensive and contentious. Any roadblock imaginable can crop up at the 11th hour and challenge something that a person or organization truly believes will better California for its citizens. And as the results from the Deliberative Poll and others show, the desire for change is greater than the desire to change the initiative process itself.

So while many claim that the initiative process is hijacked, broken, or as Dan Walters puts it, a “cottage industry,” it is clear that Californians are willing to tolerate any perceived flaws and will continue to exercise the power granted to them 100 years ago.

As with every ballot in recent memory, there will be many choices before Californians this November.  Issues ranging from the wonky (budgetary reform) to the hot button social issues (abolition of the death penalty) are likely to vex even the highest-information voters.

It’s a long slog from conception to execution to passage. But the effort involved is only half the battle of getting real reform enacted.

The onus is on the voters to educate themselves on the content of each and to cast a vote for what they believe will ensure the greatest measure of success for California starting November 6.


Chris Nelson

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