Paul Jacob

What fools we were to revolt against King George!

Instead of installing a constitutional republic with democratic checks on government, we could have found a wise philosopher king or an enlightened House of Lords to make decisions for us. Instead of embracing universal suffrage and government by the people, we could have turned over power to an aristocracy of the best fed, schooled and monied citizens.

America, as the land of the free, a place where all of us are created equal, a democratic republic controlled by sovereign citizens, has been a tragic mistake. Who would have guessed?

And California, with its citizen-initiated democratic checks on government — specifically the ballot initiative, referendum and recall — is especially in need of a re-write by the high and mighty.

Let’s face it: commoners lack the competence to govern themselves. Only elites are worthy to govern.

At least, that’s what the Think Long Committee for California seems to be concluding.

Last week, at an event held at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, “California Direct Democracy: The Next 100 Years,” Nathan Gardels unveiled the current Think Long thought. While not every policy prescription he presented lacked merit, the primary “reforms” proposed for California’s 100-year old citizen initiative were to, first, basically double the nearly one million petition signatures currently required for Californians to earn a vote on an issue and, then, to permit the legislature to repeal or amend any measure passed at the ballot box by citizens.

Citizens are simply not up to the task of democratic decision-making, you see. As a handout provided by Gardels made it clear, California must stop “relying on the public to have the knowledge and competence to sort through the thicket of special interests and spin the initiative process has become.”

The Think Long Committee is generously willing to do the thinking for everyone — with help from a new body, the Citizen’s Accountability Council.

This Council would not be chosen in some messy election, mind you, but rather, four members would be picked by state legislative leaders and the rest of the 21 members would be plucked by the governor from a subset of the state’s “eminent citizens.” And even though California voters are eminently suspect, the Council’s power would be to present those same voters with their own unlimited supply of ballot measures.

So, just who is the Think Long Committee for California, that wants an elite council to wield such power?

Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg calls it “a wonderful group of thoughtful people that is just doing it brilliantly.” Hertzberg is a member of the committee.

“It’s been a very smart process of bringing the right people to the right table,” argues Warner Brothers CEO Terry Semel, who is also one of those “right people” at the table.

Indeed, the Committee is loaded with successful people, including former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, former Secretary of Labor, State and Treasury George Schultz, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, philanthropist Eli Broad and a number of politicians including Hertzberg, former self-described ‘Ayatollah of the Assembly’ and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and even former Governor Gray Davis, only the second governor in U.S. history to be recalled by the voters of the state.

That these individuals have had success in life is a good thing — but does it mean they should get extra votes? And that the average Californian should get out of their way?

The Think Long Committee for California is a project of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, founded by Nicolas Berggruen, known as “the homeless billionaire” because he doesn’t own a home or a car and travels the world on his private jet, living in hotels. Berggreun is not an American citizen, but spends time each year in California, and has pledged to give the committee $20 million to pursue its agenda.

In addition to wanting to dismantle the initiative process — because as Eli Broad argues, “The problem we have with our governance system starts out with the initiative process, which really subverts the legislature” — the group also advocates “Modification of term limits to enhance the accountability, decisiveness and quality of the Legislature.”

This “modification” is, of course, nothing more than a weakening of the limits despised by the state’s politicians and special interests . . . and wildly loved by voters.

Let’s agree that the California electorate is less than perfect. But while they are not always right, the people of California have the right to decide the government under which they live.

And California’s elites have not exactly proven their competence at governing, much less superiority to the people.

Think longer, oh eminent ones.


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.