Food for Thought
If there is one important lesson to be learned from the last election it is that the referendum process in California is broken and being abused. There is something wrong when any individual or group with unlimited funds to flood the airwaves with propaganda and the malls and grocery store parking lots of the state with petition signature gatherers paid on commission can attempt to either legislate morality based on religion or enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayers. More to the point, many such measures violate both the spirit and letter of the fundamental documents of our democracy, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, as well as the structure and process of government in a federal republic. Let’s take three cases in point.
First, there is the T. Boone Pickpocket type of measure where an extremely wealthy private individual, group or corporation takes a serious stab at getting the state’s citizens to award public money, ownership or management of property in the public trust, political/economic power, or all three to the measure’s sponsor. These propositions never contain language to explain the implications to the public good or the fact that they will enrich one individual, nor do they put forth any plan as to how they are to be financed. No proposition that enriches or confers any power or public trust property to any individual citizens or private entity should ever be on the ballot.
Another case is the arcane “law and order” measure or ones arising from an emotional reaction to circumstances, or based on ideology, that alter the application or process of settled law, the effects of which the average voting citizens cannot possibly understand without specialist, in-depth knowledge. This is precisely the type of issue that should be decided within the format of representative democracy, where every aspect and implication of what is proposed can be intensively studied over a period of time long enough to reach a well-considered decision that is in the best interests of the citizenry as a whole.
My third example is the measure that amends the state constitution, especially those written to suit a special interest group’s ideological or religious dictates, which limit civil rights of individual citizens in direct contravention of the U.S. Constitution. Like the amendment process imposed by our national founding legal framework, amending the state constitution should require a supermajority of a three-quarters vote. Our founding fathers designed this requirement to avoid the civil tyranny of mob rule and to ensure that the basic human rights of all citizens granted by the U.S. Constitution endure.
The recent example of this type of abuse, Proposition 8, also blatantly violates other aspects of the U.S. Constitution such as the well-established principles of equal protection and church-state separation. Proposition 8 is being challenged on constitutional grounds and is sure to be struck down. However, given that it obviously contravenes the legal and spiritual embodiment of our founding principles that supposedly represent all that we aspire to as a nation, it should have never become an electoral issue—especially when we citizens have a multitude of far more important matters facing us.