justice takes on initiative process
making state ‘dysfunctional,’ George remarks
OCTOBER 10, 2009 AT 2 A.M.
Justice Ronald George, in surprisingly blunt remarks to be delivered in a
speech today, warns that California's cherished initiative process has made
state government “dysfunctional” and says voters may have to consider
reforming the process.
remarks are set to be delivered in Cambridge, Mass., where he'll be inducted
into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
becoming head of the state's high court more than a decade ago, George
generally has won praise for his leadership of the branch. He's seen as
personable, with a deft touch for working with legislatures and governors.
a frequent speaker around the state, George rarely ventures outside the themes
of the importance of an independent judiciary and the challenges facing modern
remarks he's to deliver today are in many ways a notable departure from that.
“The Perils of Direct Democracy: The California Experience”, the speech
touches on themes other critics of the initiative process have sounded
says it's too easy for the state constitution to be amended. He ruefully notes
Proposition 8 — which banned same-sex marriages that George's court had
approved in a historic court decision months earlier — passed on the same
ballot as a measure regulating how chickens are confined.
he says, “gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men
and lesbians lost them.” He laments that well-funded special interest groups
dominate the process and can easily qualify measures by paying signature
gatherers. In California, signatures equivalent to 8 percent of voters in the
last gubernatorial election are enough to get something on the ballot.
George says many of the initiatives have limited how state and local officials
can raise and spend money. The requirement calling for a two-thirds vote
requirement for raising taxes have helped place the state in what George calls
a “fiscal straitjacket.”
with a lack of political will to cut spending or raise taxes, the system has
led to severe cuts in state services, including the courts, George says.
some are calling for a state constitutional convention, George poses the
question of whether the process is a positive force or has become the
“tool” of special interests and “an impediment to the effective
functioning of a true democratic process?”
doesn't answer the question, but recalls Benjamin Franklin's warning that the
republican-style government can be lost. He says the state may need to look at
“some fundamental reform” of the process.
I am concerned, we shall continue on a course of dysfunctional state
government, characterized by a lack of accountability on the part of our
officeholders as well as the voting public,” he says.