Why Not Initiative And Referendum?


Why Not Initiative And Referendum?

By Shirley Spellerberg, Texas Eagle Forum

Frustration with the legislative process has given rise to the popular, but unwise, idea that giving the voter-at-large the power to directly pass or repeal laws or amend State Constitutions would somehow result in better government. Let's have a closer look at the downside of bypassing our elected representatives by creating a Fourth branch of government (Direct Democracy) through Initiative & Referendum.
Ø      Rather than "empowering the people" I&R bestows more power on the highly-organized and well-financed special interest groups of every description who can afford to purchase expensive media time to manipulate public opinion in slick TV spots without meaningful debate, pro and con.    A poorly informed and impassioned public may disregard individual rights in the so-called interest of "health, safety, or welfare." Conservative social and economic issues would likely be labeled, "Religious Right", "Extremist", "Sexist", "Racist" or "Gay-bashing".
Ø      It would be difficult to raise funds to match the big-money bucks of the gambling interests, NEA teachers' union, anti-gun groups, environmental extremists, welfare rights groups, pro-abortion organizations, socialized medicine supporters, anti-homeschoolers, pro-homosexual rights groups, and drug-legalizers.
Ø      How would we educate the public-at-large, and raise money to get out the vote For or Against one or more ballot issues? Better to invest time and money electing conservatives to represent us on our issues who will vote against liberal issues.
Ø      On November 5, 1996, nine of 14 I&R states voted for the call of a Constitutional Convention (ConCon) to rewrite our U.S. Constitution thinking they were voting for Congressional Term Limits. Knowing that a Constitutional Amendment is necessary to achieve term limits, paid signature gatherers deceived the voters in order to force a ConCon once 34 states had asked for one. I submit that there is no cause or issue so critical that it warrants risking a ConCon.
Ø      I&R would bypass the checks and balances of our representative form of government--no Legislative Committee Hearings, Floor Debate, Amendments, majority (or 2/3) vote of both houses, Conference Committees to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill, or Gubernatorial Veto.
Ø      The Courts have thrown out many initiatives approved by the people in I&R states. Court appeals are an additional big expense to the I&R process.
Ø      Any influence you might have on your District Representative or Senator on important issues would be lost to voters from all over the state with differing political persuasions. If you don't like his/her voting record, kick him out!
Ø      With a low voter turnout, a small number of people, accountable to no one, can pass bad laws, repeal good laws and amend state constitutions. It would be almost impossible to repeal voter-approved laws.
Ø      Professional lobbyists succeed because citizen lobbyists do not hold their legislators accountable for their votes. If the people are not smart enough to elect and hold accountable good legislators, why should we believe they are wise enough to consistently vote for good legislation and to repeal bad legislation.
The preceding information accurately reflects the position of Tennessee Eagle Forum on the issue of Initiative and Referendum (2000).
What has happened in Tennessee on I&R?
In 1995, there was a push for I&R in Tennessee by Barbara Vincent of Memphis, chair of the Nation Referendum Movement, who was leading a national crusade for citizen initiative and referendum. The bill failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and in a sub-committee in the House.    Tennessee Eagle Forum opposed these bills.
 The Right of Referendum, an organization affiliated with the National Referendum Movement threatened to file a lawsuit against state officials claiming that because the Tennessee Constitution is silent on the issue, that Tennessee voters already have a right to control state government by means of petitions for an initiative, referendum or recall and only need enabling legislation passed. Former State Attorney General Charles Burson disagreed. In a 1992 written opinion, he said there is "no authority under the Tennessee Constitution for enactment of laws by initiative."   I do not know whether or not the lawsuit was filed.
The majority of people continually refer to our form of government as a Democracy, not a Constitutional Republic. Furthermore, they do not understand the difference. This error is being aided and abetted by what is being taught in our schools. Our founders wisely understood the difference.
[D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property, and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.                                                                                           James Madison
[T]he experience of all former ages has shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived. 
                                                                                                      John Quincy Adams
"You have a Republic, Madame, if you can keep it."                           Ben Franklin
"A republic is the highest for of government devised by man, but it also requires the greatest amount of human care and maintenance. If neglected, it can deteriorate in to a variety of lesser forms, including a democracy…."



"One function of conservatives should be to remind Americans that their nation is a republic…and the premise of republicanism comes from James Madison who said that the people are the source of power but not the exercisers of it….The people do not decide issues, they decide who will decide--representatives in an assembly that can be a deliberative body."
George Will, DMN, May 24, 1998
"Eighty three years ago, the debates were about prohibitions, paid prison labor and the eight-hour work day. This year [1997] they revolve around some of the most contentious issues in the country: gun control, gay rights and medical use of marijuana and other drugs.   ….A record $10.2 million will have been spent, [in Washington state] and probably more, buying everything from bumper stickers and yard signs to big-name strategists and relentless TV ads…"
The Seattle Times, November 2, 1997
"In 1988 the insurance industry spent $88 million on five California auto insurance initiatives, more than George Bush spent on his entire presidential campaign."
 'Take the initiative, Please': Referendum Madness in California,
 The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation,
Peter Schrag (Sept.-Oct. 1996)
"…the initiative has by general agreement become the principal driver of policy in California, sometimes for the good, but more often not. The cumulative effect of the plebiscitary reforms of the past two decades has been to strip cities, school districts, and especially counties of their ability to generate their own funds; to divide authority and responsibility uncertainly between state and local government and among scores of agencies, and to make it increasingly unclear who is ultimately accountable for the results of all these changes."                                                       [ibid]
"And unlike the legislative process, no one--not even the sponsor--can change one word of an initiative once it is on the ballot". "The main problem is that what we vote on is the rhetoric at the tip of the iceberg, and what we get stuck with is what's below the surface.  Everyone, left and right, is pandering to public emotion and simplicity, because that's how the game is played."
'Democracy Gone Awry'--Kershner, San Francisco Chronicle--May 18, 1995;  
"iceberg" quote, Jim Schulz-Democracy Center
"Gambling interests are throwing money on the table for and against an initiative (November 1998) that would allow Indian tribes to offer Nevada-style slot machines at their casinos."                                                                                                              [ibid.]
"…ballot-box battles…can produce incomprehensible ballot pamphlets with well over 100 pages of legalese".                                                                                            [ibid.]
"The average American doesn't read that much serious notification in a year."
 [Ibid--Professor of History, John Allswang,
 California State University in Los Angeles.]