I&R Comes to Texas The People, Yes Or Maybe Austin People who like their political issues to come in tidy ideological categories find initiative and referendum a discomforting subject. Once the domain of the reformers of the left who saw I&R as an enlargement of the role of common citizens in self-government, today the territory is being claimed by political warriors of the right. A form of direct democracy spawned by the turn-of-the-century Progressive movement, I&R was a cause of the reformers until only a few years ago. As recently as 1977 a constitutional amendment was introduced in Congress by then U.S. Sen. James Abourezk, the liberal from South Dakota, that would have allowed legislation on most subjects to be put to the voters upon presentation of a petition bearing the signatures of voters equal in number to 3% of the vote cast in the preceding presidential election. But just a year later, in California, Proposition 13, an I&R measure promoted by tax-revolters Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, passed in a landslide, and at once I&R was reclothed in an entirely different ideological wardrobe. This was not lost on a Dallas oilman campaigning for the governorship in Texas. Indeed, the imagination of William P. Clements, Jr., was so fired by Proposition 13 that his “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” included a pledge to bring statewide I&R to Texas. Judging from Clements’ actions since then, I&R is a campaign promise he intends to keep. Going into his second turn with the legislature, I&R is “right up among the top items” on the Governor’s lawmaking shopping list. Months before the current session began, I&R bills drafted by his staff were prefiled in both houses. Not surprisingly, they have a conservative twist. For his doctorate from the New School for Social Research in New York, the author wrote a dissertation about the congressional doves on Vietnam. He founded and published the Western Slopes Connection, a weekly paper in a rural area northeast of Sacramento, and published and edited the Tucson Weekly News. He is now an instructor at Austin Community College and has a typesetting business. By M. P. Rosenberg I Initiative is the right of the people to make laws or constitutional amendments without affirmative action of the legislature. Thee are two types of initiative systems. The direct initiative is a two-stage process, the collection of a required number of voters’ signatures on a petition for a proposal and the adoption or rejection of the measure by the electorate. In the indirect initiative, the legislature is given an opportunity to act on a voters’ initiative before it goes on the ballot \(if the legislature passes it without change, it becomes law without being put or governor’s veto in either form of initiative. Of the 24 states that provide for statewide initiatives, only eight use the indirect process, and of those eight, six allow either the direct or the indirect initiative. The popular referendum, which usu. , ally goes hand-in-hand with the initiative, is a process by which people petition within a prescribed period of time to call for a popular vote to repeal a law enacted by the legislature. Although 25 states permit this, it has been used much less frequently than the initiative. The justification of I&R begins with a straightforward extension of the concept of democracy. “I believe,” said Sen. Abourezk, “that true democracy must rest on a fundamental belief that the people are sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently discerning, and sufficiently capable to govern themselves. . . . If we accept the premise that the people can choose between good and bad leaders, I think we must accept the notion that the people can choose between good and bad laws.” I&R is also put forward as a check upon the legislative process. “I look upon the initiative procedure as a natural complement to our system of representative government,” explained Abourezk. “By enabling the people to more effectively and directly communicate with their government, the initiative enhances the accountability and openness of our representative process. As a ‘safety valve’ for public concerns, the initiative can help avert the alienation of the people.” Clements argued, in a similar vein, “that voters be given the powers of initiative and referendum for use in those situations where the legislative process refuses to respond to the clear will of the majority.” Advocates of direct democracy, offering I&R as a remedy, often picture legislatures as having a tendency to be under the control of special interest groups that prevent them from properly reflecting the general interest. An added virtue, according to I&R proponents, is that initiatives and referenda make the ballot more interesting, drawing more voters to the polls. Critics argue that I&R is an extremely costly method of making legislative decisions, especially in large states. “The direct initiative is undoubtedly the most expensive form of lawmaking ever devised,” maintained Delegate Ben Bynum is a statement to the Texas constitutional convention of 1974. “As media costs increase, the cost goes even higher, so that use of the initiative is usually beyond the reach of the ‘citizen’ for whom it was intended.” Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court make it impossible for states to limit individual or corporate contributions to ballot-issue campaigns. As a result, there is an increased need “to counterbalance the financial advantages which corporations have in this area,” according to Stephen D. Lydenberg, author of Bankrolling Ballots, a study by the Council on Economic Priorities. Detractors of I&R also draw attention to the complex and sensitive character of many of the measures being put before the public. On issues such as taxation, nuclear power and minority rights, there is a temptation to resort to oversimplifications and demagogic appeals. “We oppose I&R,” explained Harry Hubbard, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, “because the concept has become the vehicle for demagogues to attempt to use majority rule to abridge the rights of the minority.” Finally, opponents of I&R draw attention to the advantages of the legislative process. “The need to form majorities out of multiple factions will usually lead representatives to modifying and shaping legislative proposals before voting them up or down,” contends business lobbyist THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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