Paul Jacob

What do you call a “representative government” that enjoys the approval of less than one in four of the people it is charged with representing?


In California, legislators continue to attack and restrict the initiative and referendum process that enjoys the support of 75 percent of Golden State citizens, while the representatives themselves receive only 23 percent approval. These so-called “representatives” not only fail to act for the people, they also oppose allowing the people to act for themselves.

The straw-man arguments made by politicians and political elites against the power of citizens to act directly via ballot initiatives are deeply instructive. Ronald George, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, traveled the nation decrying the over 500 amendments to California’s 1879 constitution and positing that something had to be done to rein in the initiative process. Boy, that is quite a few. Neither his honor, nor the media coverage of his remarks, bothered to mention that less than one in ten of those amendments came through citizen initiatives.

Legislators disparage the “ballot-box” budgeting by voter initiatives that supposedly ties their otherwise fiscally responsible hands. But a report by the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles found that 83 percent of ballot measures that spent money between 1988 and 2009 were placed on the ballot by legislators, not citizens. As Bob Stern, the Center’s president, awkwardly told a joint legislative committee, “Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.