cannabisnews.com: Dangerous Initiatives - A Snake in the Grass Roots





Dangerous Initiatives - A Snake in the Grass Roots
Posted by FoM on March 26, 2000 at 08:44:49 PT
By David S. Broder
Source: Washington Post
An alternative form of government--the ballot initiative--is spreading in the United States. Despite its popular appeal and reformist roots, this method of lawmaking is alien to the spirit of the Constitution and its carefully crafted set of checks and balances. Left unchecked, the initiative could challenge or even subvert the system that has served the nation so well for more than 200 years.
Though derived from a century-old idea favored by the Populist and Progressive movements as a weapon against special-interest influence, the initiative has become a favored tool of interest groups and millionaires with their own political and personal agendas. These players--often not even residents of the states whose laws and constitutions they seek to rewrite--have learned that the initiative is a more efficient way of achieving their ends than the cumbersome and often time-consuming process of supporting candidates for public office and then lobbying them to pass legislation.In hundreds of municipalities and half the states--particularly in the West--the initiative has become a rival force to City Hall and the State House. (The District of Columbia allows voters to enact laws by initiative, but the states of Maryland and Virginia do not.) In a single year, 1998, voters across the country bypassed their elected representatives to end affirmative action, raise the minimum wage, ban billboards, permit patients to obtain prescriptions for marijuana, restrict campaign spending and contributions, expand casino gambling, outlaw many forms of hunting, prohibit some abortions and allow adopted children to obtain the names of their biological parents. Of 66 statewide initiatives that year, 39 became law. Simply put, the initiative's growing popularity has given us something that once seemed unthinkable--not a government of laws, but laws without government.This new fondness for the initiative--at least in the portion of the country where it has become part of the political fabric--is itself evidence of the increasing alienation of Americans from our system of representative government. Americans have always had a healthy skepticism about the people in public office: The writers of the Constitution began with the assumption that power is a dangerous intoxicant and that those who wield it must be checked by clear delineation of their authority. But what we have today goes well beyond skepticism. In nearly every state I visited while researching this phenomenon, the initiative was viewed as sacrosanct, and the legislature was held in disrepute. One expression of that disdain is the term-limits movement, which swept the country in the past two decades, usually by the mechanism of initiative campaigns. It is the clearest expression of the revolt against representative government. In effect, it is a command: "Clear out of there, you bums. None of you is worth saving. We'll take over the job of writing the laws ourselves."But who is the "we"? Based on my reporting, it is clear that the initiative process has largely discarded its grass-roots origins. It is no longer merely the province of idealistic volunteers who gather signatures to place legislation of their own devising on the ballot. Billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, spent more than $8 million in support of a referendum on a new football stadium for the Seattle Seahawks. Allen, who was negotiating to buy the team, even paid the $4 million cost of running the June 1997 special election--in which Washington state voters narrowly agreed to provide public financing for part of the $425 million stadium bill.Like so many other aspects of American politics, the initiative process has become big business. Lawyers, campaign consultants and signature-gathering firms see each election cycle as an opportunity to make money on initiatives that, in many cases, only a handful of people are pushing. Records from the 1998 election cycle--not even one of the busiest in recent years--show that more than $250 million was raised and spent in this largely uncontrolled and unexamined arena of politics.This is a far cry from the dream of direct democracy cherished by the 19th-century reformers who imported the initiative concept from Switzerland in the hope that it might cleanse the corrupt politics of their day. They would be the first to throw up their hands in disgust at what their noble experiment has produced.The founders of the American republic were almost as distrustful of pure democracy as they were resentful of royal decrees. Direct democracy might work in a small, compact society, they argued, but it would be impractical in a nation the size of the United States. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, no voice was raised in support of direct democracy.A century later, with the rise of industrial America and rampant corruption in the nation's legislatures, political reformers began to question the work of the founders. Largely rural protest groups from the Midwest, South and West came together at the first convention of the Populist Party, in Omaha in 1892. The Populists denounced both Republicans and Democrats as corrupt accomplices of the railroad barons, the banks that set ruinous interest rates, and the industrial magnates and monopolists who profited from the labor of others while paying meager wages.Both the Populists and Progressives--a middle-class reform movement bent on rooting out dishonesty in government--saw the initiative process as a salve for the body politic's wounds. An influential pamphlet, "Direct Legislation by the Citizenship through the Initiative and Referendum," appeared in 1893. In it, J.W. Sullivan argued that as citizens took on the responsibility of writing the laws themselves, "each would consequently acquire education in his role and develop a lively interest in the public affairs in part under his own management."Into this feisty mix of reformers came William Simon U'Ren, a central figure in the history of the American initiative process. In the 1880s, U'Ren apprenticed himself to a lawyer in Denver and became active in politics. He later told Lincoln Steffens, the muckraking journalist, that he was appalled when the Republican bosses of Denver gave him what we would now call "street money" to buy votes.In the 1890s, having moved to Oregon in search of a healthier climate, U'Ren helped form the Direct Legislation League. He launched a propaganda campaign, distributing almost half a million pamphlets and hundreds of copies of Sullivan's book in support of a constitutional convention that would enshrine initiative and referendum in Oregon's charter. The proposal failed narrowly in the 1895 session of the legislature, in part because the Portland Oregonian labeled it "one of the craziest of all the crazy fads of Populism" and "a theory of fiddlesticks borrowed from a petty foreign state."Eventually, U'Ren lined up enough support for a constitutional amendment to pass easily in 1899. It received the required second endorsement from the legislature two years later, with only one dissenting vote. The voters overwhelmingly ratified the amendment in 1902 and it withstood a legal challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court.U'Ren's handiwork is evident today in his adopted state. The official voters' pamphlet for the 1996 Oregon ballot--containing explanations for 16 citizen-sponsored initiatives and six others referred by the legislature--ran 248 pages.It also included paid ads from supporters and opponents.Money does not always prevail in modern-day initiative fights, but it is almost always a major--even a dominant--factor. In the fall of 1997, more than 200 petitions were circulating for statewide initiatives that sponsors hoped to place on ballots the following year. The vast majority did not make it. The single obstacle that eliminated most of them was the ready cash needed to hire the companies that wage initiative campaigns.In 1998, the most expensive initiative campaign was the battle over a measure legalizing casino-style gambling on Indian lands in California. The Nevada casinos, fearful of the competition, shelled out $25,756,828 trying to defeat the proposition. The tribes outdid them, spending $66,257,088 to win. The $92 million total was a new record for California.But of all the ventures into initiative politics that year, perhaps the most successful was engineered by three wealthy men who shared the conviction that the federal "war on drugs" was a dreadful mistake. They banded together to support medical marijuana initiatives in five Western states. The best known of them was billionaire financier George Soros of New York, who had made his fortune in currency trading. He and his political partners--Phoenix businessman John Sperling and Cleveland businessman Peter B. Lewis--personally contributed more than 75 percent of the $1.5 million spent on behalf of a successful medical marijuana initiative in just one of the states, Arizona.The issue isn't whether medical marijuana laws are good or bad. As Arizona state Rep. Mike Gardner complained to me, "The initiative was part of our constitution when we became a state, because it was supposed to offer people a way of overriding special interest groups. But it's turned 180 degrees, and now the special interest groups use the initiative for their own purposes. Why should a New York millionaire be writing the laws of Arizona?"When I relayed Gardner's question to Soros, he replied: "I live in one place, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have foundations in 30 countries, and I believe certain universal principles apply everywhere--including Arizona."It won't be long before the twin forces of technology and public opinion coalesce in a political movement for a national initiative--allowing the public to substitute the simplicity of majority rule for what must seem to many Americans the arcane, out-of-date model of the Constitution. In fact, such a debate is already underway, based on what I heard at a May 1999 forum sponsored by the Initiative and Referendum Institute here in Washington.M. Dane Waters, the institute's president, cut his political teeth on the term-limits movement, and the group's membership includes firms in the initiative industry. But Waters strove to keep the forum intellectually honest, inviting critics as well as supporters of the initiative process.There was no doubt about the leanings of most of those in attendance. The keynote speaker was Kirk Fordice, then governor of Mississippi, who was cheered when he saluted the audience as "the greatest collection of mavericks in the world. The goal that unites us is to return a portion of the considerable power of government to individual citizens . . . and take control from the hands of professional politicians and bureaucrats."Fordice, a Republican, noted that his state was the most recent to adopt the initiative, in 1992. Since then, he lamented, "only one initiative has made it onto the ballot," a term-limits measure that voters rejected. "Thank God for California and those raggedy-looking California kids who came in and gathered the signatures," he said. "Now the [Mississippi] legislature is trying to say we can't have them come in, and we're taking it to court."Then came Mike Gravel, former Democratic senator from Alaska and head of an organization called Philadelphia II, which calls for essentially creating a new Constitution based on direct democracy. Gravel's plan--simplicity itself--is to take a national poll, and if 50 percent of the people want to vote on an issue, it goes on the next general election ballot. Then Congress would have to hold hearings on the issue and mark up a bill for submission to the voters. Once an issue gets on the ballot, only individuals could contribute to the campaign for passing or defeating it.When I began researching the initiative process, I was agnostic about it. But now that I've heard the arguments and seen the initiative industry in action, the choice is easy. I would choose James Madison and the Constitution's checks and balances over the seductive simplicity of Gravel's up-or-down initiative vote. We should be able to learn from experience, and our experience with direct democracy during the last two decades is that wealthy individuals and special interests--the very targets of the Populists and Progressives a century ago--have learned all too well how to subvert the initiative process to their own purposes. Admittedly, representative government has acquired a dubious reputation today. But as citizens, the remedy isn't to avoid our elected representatives. The best weapon against the ineffective, the weak and the corrupt is in our hands each Election Day.Ben White, The Post's political researcher, assisted David Broder in the research for his book on the initiative process.David Broder is The Washington Post's senior political writer. This article is adapted from his new book, "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money" (Harcourt). Published: Sunday, March 26, 2000; Page B01 Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Marijuana Arrest is a New Spotlighthttp://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread4258.shtmlSoros Supports Change in U.S. Approach to Drugs http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread3083.shtmlCapitalists for Cannabis http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread3059.shtmlBusybodies Trying To Stifle Debate http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread3044.shtml
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Comment #9 posted by dddd on March 27, 2000 at 09:42:07 PT
One Problem
The only problem now days,is that mega-money interests can also launch these initiatives,and blanket the airwaves with some of the most underhanded and devious commercial manipulations ever. A recent example is the proposition passed here in California,to allow juveniles to be tried and sentenced as adults. There is a dark side to all the good in this.....dddd
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Comment #8 posted by Tamarack Tramp on March 27, 2000 at 07:50:06 PT
Ballot initiative in Michigan
Just as Michigan was the first Western State to send troops into the Civil War,(George Custer's cavalry, the "Wolverines"), our State will be the first to fire a shot across the bow of the USS McCaffrey. May his lies rest in a forgotten dustbin.
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Comment #7 posted by Frank Rio on March 27, 2000 at 07:45:51 PT:
Pure, unadulterated democracy
   Ballot initiatives are the perfect example of government by the people, for the people. Unfortunately, when any type of illegal drug is involved, it is impossible to elect and lobby professional politicians to change our draconian laws. They are too busy posturing and trying to "save the children." The ballot initiatives provide a mechanism whereby the hypocritical politicians can be bypassed, and the will of the majority can become law. The only problem with this system occurs when the initiatives can be overriden, as in D.C. and Arizona.
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Comment #6 posted by Terence Colligan on March 27, 2000 at 07:40:15 PT:
Ballot initiative in Michigan
http://www.ballot2000.net Soon, here in Michigan we will throw off the reins of tyranny. We are "flying the bird" in a salute to General McCaffrey. If Marijuana is a gateway drug, the First Amendment causes lies! 
Ann Arbor Hash Bash, April 1st, High Noon on the "Diag"
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Comment #5 posted by J Christen-Mitchell on March 26, 2000 at 12:23:00 PT:
Ballot Initiatives
Ballot initiatives are in place so that the will of the people can overcome unresponsive government. The legislatures of Maine (92) and California (95)approved Med.MJ only to have it shot down by their (pressured) governors.
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Comment #4 posted by observer on March 26, 2000 at 11:26:11 PT
David Broder Washington Post Stories, Perspective
Broder: "The issue isn't whether medical marijuana laws are good or bad."That's interesting ... note Broder's other pieces on this issue:David Broder Post stories, 1997-present:http://www.mapinc.org/find?K=Broder+Washington+Post&COL=Body&T=All+words&MAX=50&Y=All&DE=LowDavid Broder Post marijuana initiative stories:http://www.mapinc.org/find?K=Broder+Washington+Post+marijuana+initiative&COL=Body&T=All+words&MAX=50&Y=All&DE=LowNotes especially this smear piece on medical marijuana just days before the 1998 Nov 5 referendums:"WEALTHY BENEFACTORS STOKE CAMPAIGNS FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA"(David S. Broder, Washington Post Staff Writer, Oct 20, 1998)http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n940/a02.htmlBroder, March 2000: "The issue isn't whether medical marijuana laws are good or bad."Yeah, it's about marijuana ... and the government's imprisonment of two million of its own people for using drugs. Authoritarians hate plebescites and they hate jury nullification. (see http://www.fija.org for more on your right as a juror!) These are two important checks that the citizen has on unchecked government power and corruption: it is understandable that both the police-state itself and various governmental mouthpieces need to rail against these rights.Fully Informed Jury Association: Jury Rightshttp://www.fija.orgLindsmith Center: Drug Policy Reformhttp://www.lindesmith.org/Soros Foundations, 1.5 Million Dollars in 1998 AZ Initiave Adshttp://www.soros.org/ONDCP, Spends 5,000 Million Dollars in US For Pro-Prison Adshttp://www.mapinc.org/find?K=ONDCP+dollars&COL=Body&T=All+words&MAX=100&Y=All&DE=Low... 1 billion starting in 1997 (for 5 years):http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v97/n737/a01.html... more allocated after that.
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on March 26, 2000 at 11:26:10 PT:
The winners write the histories
Thanks again to Observer; he has pointed out the incredibly huge blind spot that seems to afflict the eyes of talking heads and editors alike when they pontificate about the righteousnes of their War on Some Drugs. That is, just exactly who is spending how much for what. And why."The winners write the histories" is a common and very 'cynical' sentiment held by many in the States. Often, when documented instances of skullduggery by the Federal government are brought into the light of day, the populace, rather than being furious and demanding accountability, simply yawn. After all, this is nothing new; an entire generation has grown up since Watergate, and *expects nothing but corruption* by those in high office. Witness the 'staying power' of one William Jefferson Clinton; the man practically drips scandal, leaving a trail of slime behind him like a snail, yet he remains, and will no doubt finish his term in office. Yes, the 'winners' do write the histories. Or so we are told. But that's not entirely true. You see, it is the tame intellectuals of the elite - like Broder - who write the histories...after first vetting them with their masters for historical *in*accuracy. Can't have the plebs finding out they've been suckered again, now can we?Which is why, with the preponderance of the Iron Triangle of bureaucrats, the military, and the politicos all scratching each others backs to the detriment of actual democracy, the referendum, unwieldy as it is, may be the only thing that keeps us from the Abyss of the Corporate State we face now.
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Comment #2 posted by Freedom on March 26, 2000 at 11:08:32 PT
I am surprised.
A good liberal, like Broder, should understand that initiatives cannot supercede the Constitution, and a number have been declared null-n-void for just that reason. They are not fully unchecked.The problem is that our system leads to winner-takes-all,hence the lowest-common-denominator always wins with the election of an individual. Into a system, a social system,a legal system, etc... that can have entrenched evil.This is our safety valve.Our opponents have lied repeatedly, and yet the public in Arizona twice stuffed the politicians on drug policy> As Arizona state Rep. Mike Gardner complained to me.Keep complaining Mike. He would not be complaining if the process led to what he wants. Well, it isn't, and they are having a temper tantrum. Perhaps, if we had representatives that would follow their own commissioned reports, we would not need to do this.Broder should be ashamed. Wait until they see what happens this year.
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Comment #1 posted by observer on March 26, 2000 at 09:40:12 PT
Plebiscites, Constitutions and Authoritarians
> But of all the ventures into initiative politics that year, perhaps the most successful was engineered by three wealthy men who shared the conviction that the federal "war on drugs" was a dreadful mistake. Ah yes ... here's the real point of this anti-democratic piece right here. Broder's handlers are disturbed that their police state, resting the way it does upon the establishment's lies about marijuana, is seriously threatened.> They banded together to support medical marijuana initiatives in fiveWestern states. The best known of them was billionaire financier George Soros of New York, who had made his fortune in currency trading. He and his political partners--Phoenix businessman John Sperling and Cleveland businessman Peter B. Lewis--personally contributed more than 75 percent of the $1.5 million spent on behalf of a successful medical marijuana initiative in just one of the states, Arizona.Oh poor baby! Did Broder "just happen" to "accidently" forget to mention the huge sums spent my the government in what amount to anti-legalization advertising? Not a word about the "Partnership for a Drug-Free America" ad budget and free ad placement? Soros's money was a drop in the bucket compared to the billions ONDCP spends to corrupt TV shows, movies ... and even newspapers like the Washington Post, with money handed out to those (like Broder) who toe the party line. Is the Post, for example, receiving ONDCP kick-backs for this pro-authoritarian article by Broder, also? > The issue isn't whether medical marijuana laws are good or bad. Oh yes is it, Broder. That's the whole point of this piece. The handwriting for medical marijuana is on the wall, and prohibitionists like Broder fear the loss of authoritarian control that happens when people vote directly to have returned to them a tiny slice of the freedoms police-state cheerleaders like yourself, Broder, have been rah-rah-ing the loss of for decades.> As Arizona state Rep. Mike Gardner complained to me, "The initiative was part of our constitution when we became a state, because it was supposed to offer people a way of overriding special interest groups. But it's turned 180 degrees, and now the special interest groups use the initiative for their own purposes. Why should a New York millionaire be writing the laws of Arizona?"Soros isn't "writing the laws of Arizona", as Broder well knows. The people of Arizona, after all the anti-drug-USER propaganda thrown at Arizona over the years (the continual demonization of marijuana users on ever TV, radio and newspaper in Arizona) decided they had enough of throwing people in jail for newly-minted drug "crimes", "crimes" where no victim can be identified.> When I relayed Gardner's question to Soros, he replied: "I live in one place, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I have foundations in 30 countries, and I believe certain universal principles apply everywhere--including Arizona."Ask yourself ... why is it that Broder is frothing over the pittance that Soros spends to enable the people of Arizona to vote whether or not they want to throw drug users in jail, but Broder "just happens" to forget about the ONDCP money spent over the years to influence the same issue? Why didn't Broder mention that ever police (-state) and prison union in that an surrounding states got airtime and press and spend time and money to influence that ballot issue? Different standards for Broder perhaps?Now, this is a real treat. Watch Broder wax oh-so concerned about the founding fathers and constitution! --> When I began researching the initiative process, I was agnostic about it. But now that I've heard the arguments and seen the initiative industry in action, the choice is easy. I would choose James Madison and the Constitution's checks and balances over the seductive simplicity of Gravel's up-or-down initiative vote. Here's a clue for Broder. The initiative process IS part of various states' "Constitution's checks and balances" ... as it is written into their constitution. Notice that establishment hirelings like Broder only grow "concerned" over the constitution when they think they can use the constitution in twisted argument to reduce or limit the rights and power of individuals. When constitutions provide for protecting the individual from government, these authoritarian lapdogs are silent.The first of many hit-pieces on the initive process. Prohibitionists are livid from their defeats in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Washington DC and Washington State, Hawaii and elsewhere. The will of the people they tell us they are "protecting" is the very last thing these tyrants wish to obey.I believe there are more instances ofthe abridgment of the freedom of the peopleby gradual and silent encroachments ofthose in power than by violent and suddenusurpations. -- James Madison When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny. -- Thomas Jefferson 
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