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Opinion

Start the Presses: A modest proposition

Like a great many people, I am profoundly glad that this latest election season has passed. During each cycle, we at the paper try to inform people about issues coming before them and do our best to convince readers of the importance of taking part.

And, each cycle, I am disheartened by the low turnout. I used to blame laziness and indifference. To be sure, that does explain it partially, but there is a deep and systemic flaw in our system: too many propositions.

On Tuesday, people were asked to vote on nine initiatives, two of which, Proposition 20 and Proposition 27, directly contradicted each other. California voters have passed dozens of laws during the last few cycles, changing tax rates, increasing or eliminating fees, and demanding that specific funds be spent in a particular manner.

Isn’t this why we elect people to the Assembly and state Senate?

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We as voters once required the state Legislature to have a two-thirds majority to pass any state budget. We rescinded that decision on Tuesday with yet another voter-backed proposition.

We should call the initiative process what it truly is: micromanaging. We have such little trust in our politicians that we refuse to give them any real power. But there is a real downside. Laws created in this manner are often contradictory — we demand more funding for transportation and schools, but refuse to tax ourselves to pay the tab. Even worse, many initiatives are bankrolled by big businesses or other special interests pushing their own agendas.

As a result, our representatives in Sacramento have little to do outside of passing “kittens and rainbow” type legislation and partisan bickering. Our current system helps no one.

Of course, it would not be fair to call the entire process useless. For instance, thanks to the recently passed Prop. 25, the state budget can be passed with a simple majority. However, I imagine the next slate of initiatives will include a measure that would undo that very proposition.

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For every well-meaning and wise measure, there are myriad short-sighted, stupid or fear-based ones. The initiative process has invalidated same-sex marriage, attempted to deny rights to immigrants, and created a property-tax system so profoundly unfair as to singlehandedly dismantle our state’s once-proud educational system.

So, to that end, I have a modest proposal: limit the number of initiatives on any one ballot to five, make it more difficult to get them on the ballot, and require each to have an end date. This last part is important. No voter-backed initiative should be forever. If people are happy with a particular proposition, they should be required to renew their assent every six years.

But there is another important part of this plan. Because this would dramatically increase the power of our elected representatives, we need to be able to trust them more. The best way to accomplish this, I believe, is to make it easier for people to run and be elected to public office.

I believe the answer to this conundrum is public financing of candidates. The statehouse should not belong solely to the wealthy or those with connections to wealthy donors. Instead, true democracy can occur only when regular people have a shot. Public financing would not be the sole answer — and Lord knows such a plan is not without problems of its own.

But it’s a start, and those are two initiatives I believe are worth voting for.

DAN EVANS is the editor. Reach him at dan.evans@latimes.com.


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