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Richard Rider

California initiative process better than Sacramento sausage making

Here’s a column I wrote in 2011 defending the California initiative process — warts and all.

It’s particularly germane because it’s about this period in the election cycle when the calls for “reforms” can be heard loudest.  Let’s be careful out there!


 California initiative process better than

Sacramento sausage making

September 18, 2011  •  By Richard Rider


Liberals in California vehemently dislike the state’s initiative process. Indeed, they recently 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, humorous out-of-print book by the late State Senator H.L. Richardson —- “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?.  Usually available via

Most of us know that in the closing days of each legislative session, our intrepid elected leaders vote on literally hundreds of ever-changing bills —- some even changed surreptitiously, or even entirely using a smarmy practice labeled “gut and amend.” 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 criteria for passing each other’s bills.

It’s not your high school civics class version of government. No-sir-re-bob!

Compare that unfixable legislative morass with the proposition process. Once a prop is ballot qualified, it cannot be amended. Each side gets to present their ballot arguments —- and those arguments are 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.  Additional information is available on who is FUNDING each side of each prop.

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

But, as comedian 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.

BTW, one control we still need — a super-majority to pass any law. And probably higher than a two-thirds majority. I doubt we’d miss most of the failed legislation — or propositions.