Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Voter-Lawmakers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Voter-Lawmakers

Article excerpt

Parental rights. Term limits. Campaign finance. In Tuesday's election, a record number - 90 - of citizen initiatives made it onto the ballot in states that allow them. Hundreds of other measures were proposed by state and local governments.

Increasingly, if voters don't get what they want through the traditional means of representative democracy, they'll find a way to put it on the ballot. In some cases, the initiatives passed on Tuesday will bring a needed change. They may also have the intended consequence of sending a message to Washington about what's important to voters.

But the initiatives come at a cost. Supporters and opponents of the various measures spent millions of dollars fighting for their causes, mostly battling it out with expensive television commercials. These so-called citizen initiatives were much like - too much like - professional political campaigns, with national lobbying groups leading the charge. A Washington lobbying group for greater parental rights, for example, decided a victory by popular initiative would help the movement, and it set its sights on Colorado. The measure was defeated, but not without a hard-fought, expensive fight led by individuals who live outside the state. Some of the most closely watched ballot initiatives included: Affirmative action. By approving Proposition 209, the "California Civil Rights Initiative," the state became the first in the nation to forbid its agencies from using race and gender preferences in hiring, contracting, and college admissions. Proponents of 209 have valid arguments, but the blanket approach of their initiative brushes aside still-valid concerns about equal opportunity in America, rather than addressing them. There has been considerable progress, but discrimination against women and minorities remains an issue. Proposition 209 could, as Colin Powell recently said, "put the brakes on expanding opportunity for people in need. …

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