In my post on I-1053, I wrote, “I’m not a fan of the initiative process, but I think we do need to respect the will of the people.” This post will expand on that a little. Initiatives are simply a tool to make laws. We shouldn’t treat them as anything more or less.
The biggest problem is that they are a blunt tool. The legislative process has hearings and amendments. Better (or worse) ideas make it into the final product. With initiatives, the final outcome is the same one people were collecting signatures on months and months prior. It doesn’t take into concern the opposition. You don’t need to talk to attorneys to see if it passes constitutional muster, or look into other ways of doing something. It is all or nothing.
And this all or nothing approach tends to hamper debate. If an initiative passes, then it’s the will of the people. This despite the fact that the people didn’t get any alternatives. Their will was based on if they approved the language of the initiative or not, not on what their most preferred alternative might have been. That has real value, and should be respected, but we should also keep it in perspective. And when an initiative fails, it often kills momentum for whatever was being worked for, like the income tax (although, I’m not sure how much momentum it actually had, and oddly it hasn’t done much about liquor privatization).
Another problem is the influence of money. Most of these Eyman initiatives in recent years have got on the ballot with the financing largely of one man. Of course, most normal people can’t afford to do that. And when they do get on the ballot, even political junkies like me get sick of seeing all the ads and getting mailings. Money does play too large a role in the initiative process. Still, money also plays too large a role in the legislative process. The rich and powerful will use their power in the crafting of laws, no matter how we make those laws.
Because of all this money, often the more grassroots voices the initiative process was envisioned to give a voice get shouted out. It’s tougher for grassroots signature gathering efforts to get a foothold amid the paid signature gathering. It’s tougher for the opposition to raise the money to compete with some of the corporate campaigns we’ve seen recently.
Still, even for all the faults in the process, people still do get to vote on specific issues, and that is rather remarkable. So, how do we judge an initiative? The same way we’d judge any law: who wins, who loses, who it helps, and who it hurts.