In a column in today’s Olympian, Dick Nichols sounds off on a number of issues, including the current state of the initiative process:
-Initiatives: Increasingly and alarmingly, the state of Washington is using initiatives as a substitute for enactment of law through deliberative legislation. Though a product of the state’s populist traditions, the initiative has exceeded its designed role as a citizen’s check and balance. I suggest we consider several reforms to lift the bar of eligibility before an initiative can qualify for the ballot: Increase the number of signatures required. Disallow paid signature gatherers or at least severely restrict their activities. Use explicit, simple ballot language so the consequence of passage is clearly understandable. Require that a fiscal note accompany every measure detailing the financial impact, and in case of a new or expanded program, require an identified revenue source.
All of these suggestions are reasonable enough that they should receive a fair debate, instead of being instantly squashed by the kind of political grandstanding that usually accompanies any suggestion of initiative reform.
Defenders of the current system extoll the virtues of “direct democracy,” but there is nothing especially direct or democratic about a process where citizens only get to vote on those initatives with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of special interest money necessary to buy enough signatures to get on the ballot.