On the November 2012 statewide ballot, there were 10 initiatives and 1 referendum for California voters to decide on. In May 2011, the League of Women Voters of California (LWVC) adopted a study to update of their position on the initiative and referendum (I&R) process.
The League uses such studies to develop positions to advocate on policy issues. The study committee developed material that local League chapters are currently using to come to consensus at meetings through March 2013. The reports submitted by all of the chapters as a result of these meetings will be combined to create a new statewide position on one of the voter’s favorite means of direct democracy.
Although there is little distinguishing the letter of I&R laws today from their enactment over a century ago, their role in governance has grown exponentially. I&R was an attempt by the grassroots effort of the Lincoln-Roosevelt League to take back control of California government from Southern Pacific Railroad, dubbed “the machine” at the time. However, in modern day politics, the process for qualifying a citizen initiative has resulted in well-financed organizations, including corporations and interest groups, spending millions of dollars every cycle, bypassing the legislative process and placing their pet projects or policies directly in front of voters.
The study guide and consensus questions developed by the LWVC examine the history, practices (including those of other states), and key concerns, sifting through dozens of ideas to reform California’s process. They are seeking to identify the deeper policy-based issues that will help shape the League’s position on California’s I&R process in the future.
The options on the table for reforming California’s I&R process range far and wide, from throwing out the whole process (as suggested by Peter Schrag in Paradise Lost) to further embracing the growing trend of direct democracy. According to LWVC Boardmember Helen Hutchison, “meaty conversations are taking place all over the state” by a majority of the chapters in California that are engaging their members on the I&R study materials.
Read some of the themes that have emerged from those conversations so far: