Friday, February 23, 2007

Carrying Your Own Bucket

There's an interesting discussion going on over at The Malcontent concerning Robbie's take on Arnold Schwarzenegger's actions concerning gay marriage as it pertains to California law -- namely the fact that, as I have previously reported, the existence of voter Proposition 22 blocks it. Since I am banned from commenting over there, I figured I'd talk about it over here.

Robbie's co-blogger Matt makes a provocative, albeit California-bashing, statement:
The Western states in particular — those that came into the Union later — are totally fucked up when it comes to the initiative/referendum process. Our country is based on republicanism. Why even have a legislature if you’re going to allow voters to override it willy-nilly? Legislatures aren’t perfect, but some godawful law has been made by yokel majorities across the country.

The proclivity that we Western folk have towards initiative and referendum comes primarily from one thing; we know what it's like to be ignored by politicians. Even in the United States, frontier areas, such as we once were, quite often were underrepresented and overlooked in state and Federal legislatures, due to the tendency (accidental and not quite accidental) for legislative power and representation to be concentrated in urban and metropolitan areas. Furthermore, one must remember that many of us were once part of Mexico, who was pioneering Bolivarian-style government by dictatorship and/or one-party "elected" legislatures long before Hugo Chavez ever came along.

Initiative and referendum offer a useful solution for both dilemmas. Because they draw on a cross-section of voters, not just artificial groupings by districts, referendums allow those voters who may be sympathetic with underrepresented groups on one issue, but not on others, to voice their opinion without having to throw out their current representative. Furthermore, by virtue of the fact that they bypass and supersede the elected representatives, they provide voters with a useful check and/or prod against an unresponsive or recalcitrant legislature.

Matt then makes another argument:
Further, where exactly does it say that ballot measure trumps legislature, always and everywhere? It really makes a mockery out of representative government, doesn’t it, if the people who are elected to legislate and govern have no say on matters of great import? Again, why not just disband the California legislature and turn that huge state of 30 million people into a government of Vermont-style town meetings.

I’m sorry, but just as there are idiots on the right who decry “judicial activism” (except when it suits them), I’m not going to simply abdicate the role of a legislature. If they fuck up, that’s what elections are for.

Technically, that is true; the voters always have the power to remove representatives with which they disagree in an election.

However, the supremacy of the electorate over their representatives in every respect is established in the first three words of the Federal Constitution. Not "We, the Legislature", or "We, the Judiciary", or "We, the Executive", but "We, the people". This makes it clear that the authority and power of the legislative body flows, not from the legislature itself, but from the peoples' grant of authority to it.

Second, the mere fact that the legislature can be overridden by a vote of the electorate does not mean that the legislature lacks authority; just that it lacks the authority to make decisions that bind the electorate without the electorate's consent. The fact that my boss can override decisions that I make under the authority she has delegated to me does not remove my decision-making power or mean that I have no say on the matter; it merely means that my decisions are binding if and only if my boss agrees or chooses not to contest them. The fact that Matt's decisions concerning his husband's welfare and financial affairs can be overridden by his husband does not mean that Matt does not have decision-making power or mean he has no say on matters; it simply means that Matt's power to make decisions for his husband on his behalf does not trump his husband's ability to make decisions for himself.

Most importantly, to insist that the only way voters can remove or countermand a politician is to wait for an election is to potentially tie voters' hands in the face of corrupt or patently-foolish actions. No one would suggest that voters be unable to impeach or recall elected officials with whom they disagree; thus, it is perfectly logical that voters need not wait for an election to make their will known. It then stands to reason that voters should not be constrained by the all-or-nothing proposition of removing a legislator when they can simply be given the right to countermand or override his or her orders.

All that aside, the main reason we Californians are so fond of the initiative and referendum process can be demonstrated by taking a look at our state elected officials.

Take for example, Cruz Bustamante. He started by winning a "special election" (read, "party picked him") to get into the Assembly, pingponged over to Lieutenant Governor when he was about to term-limit out of the Assembly, ran for Governor against Arnold to replace fellow Democrat Assemblyman/Senator/State Controller/Lieutenant Governor/Governor Gray Davis and lost, and then tried to run for Insurance Commissioner when he termed out of Lieutenant Governor.

Meanwhile, the reason the Insurance Commissioner position was open was because John Garamendi left it to run for Lieutenant Governor to replace Bustamante -- after having served in both the Assembly and Senate, making two unsuccessful runs for Governor, and serving two non-consecutive terms as California Insurance Commissioner, with a cushy job courtesy of the Democrat Party as Deputy Secretary of the Interior along the way.

Thus, an election in California is basically a game of shuffle-the-chairs, with the same candidates moving with relative impunity between Assembly, Senate, state officials, and dogcatchers. Once you are elected to office in California, especially if you are a Democrat, you have a job wherever you want it; the only way you can lose is to do something patently stupid, unequivocally criminal, or in defiance of Democrat special-interest groups.

As a result, we citizens of the Golden State have observed a pattern; bills that matter to miniscule-sized groups of leftist campaign contributors like standards for teaching lesbian history in school, bans on spanking, and outlawing incandescent lightbulbs are rushed through the Assembly as imperative to our survival. Little things like seismic upgrades and repairs to keep the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco water supply system, and Transbay Tube from collapsing and killing/stranding millions of people....those are pushed into committee to age for another decade or so.

In short, if we want something done, we have to do it ourselves. And that's why, to an outside observer, we seem referendum-happy; it's the only way state government can be forced to do anything that benefits the state.

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