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Thomas Paine once noted, “Reason obeys itself, and ignorance does
whatever it is directed to do.”
In the wake of the political battle I have entered (see “In the
it is difficult to stay focused on the objective when alligators are
snapping at your belt. The objective was/is to drain the swamp.
California, like many other states, has a tool which has been used
and abused for decades. It is the initiative process. For years I have
complained we have too many initiatives. Given I have been criticized
for exacerbating the problem by dragging out from the California
Constitution the referendum tool, I need to share the following
The nexus of the problem most states face is bad politicians. I’m
not talking about the two dimensional cartoon caricatures of graft and
corruption. The real tragic flaw of the system is that we allow
shallow, one-dimensional characters to represent us in a position of
power and authority. Worse yet, we reward them with reelection for
failure to do what we have elected them to do.
The initiative process is both a blessing and a curse. Frequently,
we have needed to use the initiative as a tool to create law which our
elected/alleged representatives don’t have the courage, insight, or
character to introduce. DeGaulle was really correct when he observed
that “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”
Issues of importance should be addressed and implemented in the
legislative process. However, petty partisan BS, unbridled egos, and
turf battles all serve to obstruct what should happen from
Initiatives are a product of state legislators doing a lousy job. We
elect folks to represent us in our state capitols and to make law.
However, politicians are largely venial creatures. They become so
blinded by the perceived inherent territorial imperative to get
reelected that eventually they try to play it safe, and not offend
anyone. A reasonable person knows such a goal is unattainable — but
remember we are not talking about reasonable persons but political
Eventually, when a vacuum is created by myopic, cowardly, vanilla
politicians, you find a need which is not being fulfilled. Those states
that have the initiative tool inevitably find that alternative
legislative tool being embraced by those seeking to fulfill the
unsatisfied need. It is cool for the business of politics. Lawyers,
consultants, paid signature gatherers, radio, television and newspapers
make a lot of money from the boutique industry of initiatives. However,
if our elected legislators were doing their jobs, initiatives would not
be necessary. Initiatives are a product of legislative malfeasance.
More than that, it is a reward to bad elected officials for not doing
their jobs. Go figure.
A 1993 Legislative Analyst report on the “Average Cost of a Bill”
reveals when you add bill printing, associated publications histories,
files, indexes, journals, chapters and reprints, bill room operation,
Legislative Counsel services, legislative committee staff, Department of
Finance services, and agency legislative liaison costs, the total
1991-1992 session cost was $13,733 PER BILL.
In 1996-97 there were over 5,000 bills introduced. Last year there
were 3,008 bills and resolutions introduced. At an average cost of
$15,000, last year we spent $45,120,000 on just this one item. When you
consider that only about 42 percent of those bills ever get passed, you
are looking at an approximate waste of $26 million per session on bills
that are merely an exercise in form over substance.
The cost to maintain the royal duchies of legislators is about
$200-million per year, NOT COUNTING PENSIONS.
The second most populous state is Texas. They employ 2,420 people
during its legislative session. However they only meet every other
year, and that session only lasts for six months of the odd numbered
years. So what could they possibly do in such a short period of time?
Well, since they actually WORK, last time around they introduced more
legislation than California does in its two-year ($400 million-plus)
session. However, they pass significant legislation like continuing
Medicaid coverage for elderly and the disabled, a reduction of state
jobs through the reduction of 4,350 positions, regulation of managed
health care, and an increase in teacher retirement benefits. Rumor has
it, they actually even had time to READ the stuff before making it law.
Several years ago I met a man, Mike Reynolds. Mike was trying to get
a bill introduced that was eventually called “Three Strikes.” Mike had
suffered the loss of his daughter at the hand of a repeat felon who shot
her dead. Repeat offenders who have committed violent or serious crimes
should not have the luxury to repeat their mayhem. Many of you are
familiar with the issue. Several states have copied it.
The bill was introduced into a very liberal controlled Public Safety
Committee, which promptly flushed it down the legislative loo.
Subsequent to the legiscide of what would become Three Strikes, a
survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of the people of the state
liked it. They really, really liked it. Guess what? There was a bill
mill epiphany and six to nine flavors of the bill were introduced and
picked up speed. One of those bills was even passed and signed into
However, Reynolds and his backers knew that what the legislature
giveth, the legislature could take away. I reminded Mike and others
that where I come from back east when someone says “Trust me,” it is
synonymous with them extending their middle finger in the pejorative
salute. So they continued with the Three Strikes Initiative out of
necessity (and because they did not trust the legislature not to
abrogate the law whenever the moon entered its third phase on an
arbitrary alternate Wednesday). The initiative passed and became law.
However, now, if the legislature wanted to change that law, they would
require a two-thirds vote of both legislative bodies. That is a very
Initiatives have become a way for the people of a state to accomplish
a task that frankly the legislature should do. They have become a
successful check and balance for the failure of the legislature to do
what their constituents want and need them to do. Legislatures get so
wrapped around the axle of form, that they are becoming incapable of
providing the substance we have a right to demand.
Initiatives are a function of legislative apathy or cowardice. The
referendum, I fear, may become the next boutique political business in
those states (like California) who can use it. It strikes me the
referendum is the corollary to the initiative in that it is a function
of lawmaker arrogance.
Both the myopic malfeasance that sparks initiatives and the heinous
hubris that sparks a referendum are products of a significant disconnect
between the electorate and the folks they put in office.
Candidly, it is OUR fault that we continue to elect professional
obfuscators who stroke us, lie to us, and then ignore us. I feel like
that old Pogo cartoon: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”