Politics and Plea Bargaining: Victims' Rights in California

By Candace McCoy | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Proposition 8 Politics

Depending on the observer's point of view, California's lively ballot initiative process fosters either high political drama or a recurring circus. Critics claim that the "propositions" regularly offered to voters are likely to be pet peeves and projects of special interest groups, who use the initiative device to whip up public frustrations and pass laws otherwise blocked in the state legislature.

Seen through less cynical eyes, such a state of affairs is expected and appropriate. The motivating theory of ballot initiatives is that direct democracy unfettered by corrupt legislatures is a great good. Begun in 1911 at the urging of Progressive movement stalwarts, California's "initiative, referendum, and recall" was first used to fight the Southern Pacific Railroad, which at that time was so powerful that its interests were rigidly protected in the state legislature. The initiative process allowed populists to wrest lawmaking touching railroad interests out of the legislature and into the voting booth.1 The identical political dynamic has been at work ever since; laws that are dead in legislative chambers can be revived on the initiative ballot.

The original aim, of course, was to provide Californians with a majoritarian opportunity to thwart legislators who did not adequately represent citizens' interests. Representative democracy was to be enhanced by occasional participatory democracy. Although most other states also provide for some type of direct ballot initiative on controversial public issues, California's "propositions" have received widespread publicity because the issues they address are often groundbreaking (Proposition 13 in 1978, which rolled back state property taxes by half, is credited as the spark for renewed utilization of ballot initiatives nationwide) and because campaigns supporting them first employed modern direct-mail, computer-assisted tech-

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