COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | RICHARD RIDER

State initiative process is bad, but legislative process is worse

Liberals in California vehemently dislike the California initiative process. Indeed, they just tried to enact an effective ban on the process, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

These mislabeled “progressives” dislike citizen-signed propositions, as such measures bypass the institution the Big Government advocates control throughout most of the state-elected officials. I doubt we’d be hearing the anti-proposition bleating from them if such were not the case.

Moreover, the feigned concern about improprieties in signature-gathering ignores the benefits of a full vetting of the prop once it is on the ballot, especially compared to our chaotic state legislative procedures.

I recommend an informative out-of-print book by former state Sen. H.L. Richardson, “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?”

Most of us know that in the closing days of each legislative session, our intrepid California elected leaders vote on literally hundreds of ever-changing bills — some even changed surreptitiously. No one knows what is in all — or likely even most — of the bills.

Hearings are bypassed, or the bills voted on are quite different from the ones that went to the hearing months before. Seldom do the legislators hear a full debate by both sides. As the session deadline approaches, logrolling too often becomes the primary criterion for passing each other’s bills.

It’s not your high school civics class version of government. No siree, bob.

Compare that unfixable legislative morass with the proposition process. Once a proposition is ballot-qualified, it cannot be amended. Each side gets to present their ballot argument, and that argument is sent to all the registered voters in the state.

Perhaps more important, we voters quickly can see (often just by the signers of the arguments) which groups are on which side — a wonderful shorthand way of making an informed decision as to how to vote. And we have months to make our decisions.

Yes, the proposition system is awful. Capricious voters sometimes make ill-informed decisions.

But — as Henny Youngman responded when asked “How’s your wife?” — compared to what?

Bad as the initiative process is, the legislative process is worse. The real world of capitol shenanigans trumps the idealized stereotype of wise officials judiciously deciding our fate. If you like just laws, you don't want to visit this legislative sausage factory to see how it really works.

By the way, one control we still need is a supermajority to pass any law, and probably higher than a two-thirds majority. I doubt we’d miss most of the failed legislation, or propositions. But that’s just my superminority opinion — no need to seriously consider my idea.

Rider is chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters.

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