Mention initiative, referendum, and recall to political insiders and you'll hear a one-word rebuttal: California! California politics is almost universally portrayed as, well, a little loony.
California stands out from other states of the union, of course, for a host of reasons, from the sheer size and diversity of its population and geography to its more frequent use of initiative, referendum and recall. And California has its problems, no doubt about that.
But loony? Not for its citizen activism. Citizen empowerment is not California's problem; time and again, it has provided the solution.
California voters not only have a right to make these decisions, but they have also generally made the right decisions at the ballot box. Take the oft-maligned (outside California) Proposition 13 in 1978 and term limits in 1990 and the recall of Governor Gray Davis last year. In each case, the voters have been right on the mark.
So, what's the problem? Why then hasn't California's initiative, referendum, and recall made the state a governmental paradise?
Government by Referendum
Initiative, referendum, and recall provide checks on government. They are not an alternative method of day-to-day management. It's our so-called representative bodies that are failing. The increasing use of the various processes of citizen-led democracy is a reaction to politicians' failures.
Blaming California's fiscal woes on voter initiatives ignores the elephant in the room: the spending binge whereby Governor Gray Davis and the California Assembly nearly doubled state spending in less than a decade. When times were good, politicians spent as if there were no tomorrow; when times got tough, they whined and pointed fingers.