Opinion: Is it time to reform California’s initiative system?


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This year marks the 100th anniversary of direct democracy in California, which is made up of the initiative, the referendum and the recall. The most famous recall in recent memory is when Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. Referendums are used occasionally to repeal unpopular laws the Legislature has passed. But the initiative is the real prize, with citizen measures showing up on the ballot each election.

Grass-roots and special-interests groups have been pros at collecting signatures to add initiatives to the ballot ever since Californians adopted Proposition 13 in 1978. But perhaps changes are needed.


Before the board editorializes on the topic, though, they’ve been meeting with both sides. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what often goes into the editorial board’s decision-making process.

Last week, the board met with consumer activist Harvey Rosenfield and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. In May, they coauthored an Op-Ed, ‘Don’t give up our right to initiatives,’ to explain their position. It’s intriguing that the two collaborated, as they usually find themselves at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Here they are defending the current process. Click to listen.

Summary of argument

There’s a disconnect

People need more time to collect signatures

We need to know more about veiled propositions


Voters are smarter than we give them credit for

The board also met with Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, and Tracy Weston, the center’s vice chairman and chief executive. Here they are arguing for initiative reform.

There’s room for improvement

Four steps toward reform

The problem with the Internet

Voters deserve transparency on ballot

The supermajority


The Paygo System

State Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) would also like to see changes to the initiative process; the board will meet with him Friday. He’s authored several bills on the issue.

Let us know your opinion on ballot initiative reform and help us shape our position.


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--Julia Gabrick