These days, it’s not easy being a Californian. Recall madness has made us the laughingstock of the country. From Jay Leno and David Letterman to Fox News and CNN, the mantra has been: “California has gone insane!”
As a lifelong Californian who’s voted in every state election since 1982, and as a staunch supporter of the recall, I offer a rebuttal in the name of my fellow “insane” Californians.
Some commentators claim that to allow folks like me direct influence in politics through recalls and ballot initiatives is un-American. Speaking on CNN the day after Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy for governor, comedian and talk show host Bill Maher proclaimed that the founding fathers never intended for the “howling masses” to exercise such “direct democracy.” Technically, he’s right, but the founders also never intended for the direct taxation of income. If there’s more direct democracy today, it’s because there’s more “direct meddling” by the government.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, in a recent article blamed the California budget crisis on a “mob-ocracy” that has passed “foolish initiative upon foolish initiative.” So it’s not the politicians who are to blame; it’s those darn common folk. The flaw in this theory is that Californians have been passing “foolish” initiatives for more than three decades, but until Gray Davis took the helm, our state had an $8-billion surplus. If our ballot initiatives are to blame, why was California so prosperous until recently?
Another argument is that if “crazy Californians” get away with this recall, we won’t be able to stop. That’s exactly what many of our political elites warned in 1986, when Californians ousted state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird and two associate justices. “No judge will be safe from recall from now on,” the alarmists bellowed. They were wrong.
The record shows that Californians have used ballot initiatives in a thoughtful and evenhanded way. We have approved measures that ended government benefits to illegal immigrants, dismantled a failed bilingual education system, ended race-based affirmative action in education and put three-strikes felons away for life.
But we’ve also legalized medical marijuana, replaced prison time with treatment for certain drug offenders, approved millions for after-school programs, given the thumbs-up to Indian gaming (twice) and tightened clean air and water standards. We voted ourselves a hefty cigarette tax to pay for anti-smoking programs, and we twice defeated the darling cause of conservatives, school vouchers. These are not the actions of a lunatic mob, but of an intelligent electorate that eschews labels of left or right and cannot be bought off by big business’ money or scared away by name-calling from politically correct advocacy groups.
As with many of our ballot initiatives that have been aped by other states, time will probably vindicate the recall campaign and the actions of the “howling masses” who supported it.