George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity


By: The James Madison Institute / 2010

By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
As JMI President Bob McClure writes in our just-released Winter 2010 Journal, California was once considered a model for other states to emulate. Not anymore. An editorial in that state’s capital city newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, highlighted one of the main reasons:  “Since 1970, California voters have gone to the polls 47 times to vote on 530 initiatives… and most initiatives pass (309 of 530 since 1970).“California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George has had enough. … In a Saturday speech [he] laid out what makes California unique:

“California permits a relatively small number of petition signers to get something on the ballot — 8 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election for proposed constitutional amendments, and 5 percent for proposed laws.
“Initiatives lard up California’s constitution with policy matters that have nothing to do with fundamental rights and responsibilities, including ‘a prohibition on the use of gill nets and a measure regulating the confinement of barnyard fowl in coops.’
“Initiatives, often at cross-purposes, have hamstrung how elected officials may raise and spend revenue.

“Chief Justice George asks, ‘Has the voter initiative now become the tool of the very types of special interests it was intended to control…?’ “Good question. And for us, a better question is this: Is Florida at risk? Maybe. Indeed, in our Fall 2004 Journal, the noted political scientist Dr. Susan MacManus raised similar concerns about the way the initiative petition process now works in Florida, where a constitutional feature originally intended to guarantee grassroots movements access to the ballot has been hijacked by special interests.The concerns Dr. MacManus raised then remain relevant and timely today, given the worrisome proposed amendments that Florida voters will be asked to consider this coming November. Among them are the so-called “Hometown Democracy Amendment” that could severely damage Florida’s economy and two so-called “Fair Districting” amendments that would radically alter Florida’s political landscape.