Who Hijacked Our Country

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How the Initiative Culture Broke America

This article is titled How The Initiative Culture Broke California. But to a lesser extent, these initiatives have crippled the rest of the country as well.

In 1978, Proposition 13 was the beginning of California’s straitjacket. Schools, libraries and local governments were decimated by the public’s new ability to “decline” property tax increases. Who the fuck is gonna vote “Yes, raise my taxes! I wasn’t using that money for anything anyway. Hit me!”

And Proposition 13 was the first law I knew about where a two thirds vote is required to raise taxes. Now it seems to be the norm. Any time a fire department or mass transit district is in jeopardy, it takes less than 34% of the voters saying “No” to kill it.

What ever happened to that simple logical concept of Majority Rule? It must be nice to be on the side that only requires one third of the vote to succeed. Hey, here’s an idea — when Obama is up for re-election in 2012, it’ll require a two thirds vote to get him out of the White House. If 34% of the public votes for Obama, he stays until 2016. Sound like a plan?

Aside from this retarded two thirds vote requirement, the initiative process itself has been hijacked by powerful interest groups. All you have to do is spend a few million dollars to pay those ubiquitous signature gatherers. Then you have to pay again for some expert legal advice, so you know exactly how much deceit and trickery you can pull off without (technically) breaking the law. Then all you have to do is spend ten million dollars, twenty million, whatever it takes (and the price keeps going up) to saturate the airwaves with a few expertly designed soundbites that are guaranteed to push all the right emotional buttons. And then — Presto! The People Have Spoken!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of the initiative process. We’ve gotten some good along with the bad. For every economic straitjacket that voters pass, there’s a medical marijuana initiative.

But there are too many abuses that need to be reined in.

Another slippery side of the initiative process is the timing of some of these votes. Karl Rove was an expert at this. During the 2004 election, some of the closest battleground states just happened to have a gay marriage ban on the ballot. Gee, what were the chances of that? An anti-gay marriage initiative guaranteed that every inbred snake-handling dumbfuck would get out there and vote. And while they were in the voting booth, they’d vote for Bush. How conveeenient!

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

There's a breed of supposedly populist political hustlers who exploit and abuse the initiative process, running measures as a de-facto business. Howard Jarvis was one. In Washington state we have Tim Eyman, who himself was the target of an iniative filed by a nonfan.

Some ordinary people resort to the initiative process in the belief their legislators neither know nor care what the public wants. After all, legislators can be so cold and aloof about perfectly reasonable initiatives like this one.

I think the bar for getting initiatives on the ballot should be very high. We have representative democracy for a reason, and making a habit of doing end runs around it is a perfect setup for mischief, plus it can be damaging to representative democracy itself.

If legislators don't listen and don't care, vote them out. It's not a hard concept to grasp.

February 27, 2010 at 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Jolly Roger said...

SW, we WILL vote them out for not caring. But Rushpubliscums will erect altars to them for the same thing-or worse. If we don't figure out how to get voters to actually hold politicians accountable, we're done.

Eh-who am I kidding? We're done anyway.

February 27, 2010 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: LOL, I didn't know about the Eyman Horse's Ass initiative. I didn't move to Washington until 2004 and I guess that was in '03. I didn't know Eyman was already so infamous back then. You probably saw pictures a few days ago of Gregoire signing legislation to allow higher taxes, and Eyman was standing behind her sticking his tongue out at her. What is he, 8?

JR: "We're done anyway." Things don't look too encouraging.

February 28, 2010 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Holte Ender said...

Prop. 13 seems to me to be part of a plan to run services down to nothing. As you say nobody is going to vote for a tax increase and framers of 13 knew it. What I am unclear about is where it will all end.

February 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Holte: That's exactly right; Prop 13 (and all of its ugly offspring) is just a scheme to run public services down to nothing. It's a brilliant plan -- corporate money and powermongering disguised as a "populist" revolution.

February 28, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

Hi Tom

I'm rushing through to let you know that I've moved Politics Plus to http://www.politicsplus.org/blog

You're in the new blogroll there. Would you please update me in yours?

February 28, 2010 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

TomCat: Thanks for the update. I like the new look.

February 28, 2010 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

I hardly think the initiative culture is alone responsible for the country's problem, although I'm sure it helped. I blame the slow corporate subversion of the election process by overtly or covertly destroying the candidates most likely to oppose their agenda.

February 28, 2010 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Beekeepers Apprentice said...

I had a good comment, but totally forgot it after Lil'Bee comes in and blows snot all over me and runs away laughing.

Oh, wait, I remember. The 2/3 majority thing that California and other states have going on is just la-la land stupidity. When states have to balance the budget, then taxes will have to be raised at some point, and decades of neglect are going to cause all of the rest of us to have to support California. I'm not crazy about that idea, given some of the shit we've seen coming out of that state the last few years (hello, Prop 8, Reagan, et. al). So, when the next 7 point earthquake hits, let them sweat for awhile, I say.

February 28, 2010 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: No, the initiative process isn't totally to blame. It's just another political institution -- along with Congress, legislatures and courts -- to be corrupted and hijacked by corporate conglomerates.

Bee: So when the next natural disaster hits California, no help can be sent to the victims until two thirds of all voters agree to increase their own taxes in order to pay for this handout. Works for me :)

February 28, 2010 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger "Niceguy" Eddie said...

Net and net? I'd scrap the initiative process. Governing is much harder than it looks. So I say: Leave writing laws to the experts. Inititives are like using sledgehammers in a process that calles for much finer tools. And you're right - there's been some good too... but net and net I just think it's a bad idea. And thing like Prop 13 just drive this home for me.

February 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Ooooh, which one of you will take me in, when that big one hits and we have to wait for help? *sniff* I feel the same way though and I friggin live here. Raise the taxes to the level old Zombie Reagan had them and that would alleviate lots of issues. Instead, they want to cut programs for education and the poor. It is always those things get cut first. Prisons, no let's lock up some more people and oh by the way, let's privatize it at the same time.

Arrrgh! makes me mad because they think they can stick something, anything on the ballot here. I may be stupid, but last time I checked that is what they were put into office for, to get things done, not count on voters to do it. Otherwise you get that 2/3 tax, prop8, no blue eyed left handed people and any such nonsense any 1 person has enough coin to get on a ballot.

February 28, 2010 at 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were warned over and over again. I voted no for 13. But here is what we got:

- A onetime lowering of everybody's property taxes.

- A complicated formula in which you have to stay in your residence most of your life in order to get the lower taxes. New home buyers will pay over 10 times what you pay

- 3/4 Vote Locally and In the Legislature to raise any taxes

Let's see did I forget anything, of yeah lets see:

We gave California Corporations the Lowest Property Taxes in the Nation.

That's All


March 1, 2010 at 12:09 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Niceguy Eddie: On balance, I'm still in favor of keeping the initiative process; I just hope they can rein in some of the abuses, or that the public will become smarter (right, that'll happen). The initiative process should be a fail-safe; a last resort.

Jess: Sorry, when the Big Earthquake hits, you'll have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps :)

Yeah, this 2/3 vote is ridiculous. I don't even know why it's constitutional; something about "equal protection under the law," I think it was. Their side only needs 34% of the vote; your side needs 67%. Doesn't sound very "equal" to me.

Erik: That's pretty much what I remember about Prop 13. A gold mine for people who've lived in their home since Lincoln was president; a shaft for everybody else.

March 1, 2010 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger libhom said...

The problems with the initiative process could largely be solved by banning paid petition circulators.

March 2, 2010 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Libhom: Yup, those paid petition circulators sort of take away any pretense of "grass roots" or "of the people."

March 3, 2010 at 12:31 PM  

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