Sunday, April 26, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Volunteers are key to initiatives

TomEliasW

By
From page A12 | December 22, 2013 |

There is little doubt about the historical veracity of one statement in the text of a recently vetoed California law that would have required at least some signatures for ballot initiatives to be gathered by volunteers instead of paid workers:

“The voters amended the California Constitution to reserve for themselves the power of the initiative because financially powerful interests, including railroad companies, exercised a corrupting influence over state politics.”

In fact, the initiative process did work that way for quite a while. The best example might have been the so-called Clean Environment Initiative of 1972, a measure that lost — but whose goals have almost all been achieved: a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in California, taking lead out of gasoline and many more provisions now taken for granted.

That initiative, organized by the populist People’s Lobby group headed by the legendary (among initiative aficionados) Ed and Joyce Koupal, is considered the start of the modern initiative era because it opened up shopping malls to petition carriers.

That came after San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies kicked volunteers out of a mall, and a lawsuit ensued, upholding their right to be there.

Soon after, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan ironically invited the Koupals to meet with him and explain the initiative process. Their meeting bore strong irony because Koupal once led a drive to recall Reagan. But Reagan listened, and soon qualified a tax-cutting initiative for a special election ballot in 1973. That one also lost, but its goal was realized five years later via the Proposition 13 property tax limits.

Reagan’s ballot drive was the first to use significant numbers of paid petition carriers, with corporations, labor unions and big-money interests of all types realizing they also could play the initiative game.

Within just a few years, tobacco companies, oil companies, electronics companies, labor unions and many other types of organizations had small armies of petition carriers pushing many different types of causes.

At first, paid carriers got about 25 cents per signature; more recently, some have been paid upwards of $5 per valid name. Initiative petition drives now often cost millions of dollars. It’s become a political truism that anyone with the money to run a petition campaign can qualify just about anything for the ballot, with virtually no need for popular ideas that can draw volunteers.

So much for the original purpose of taking power away from “financially powerful interests.”

Enter the vetoed bill, which passed the Legislature as AB 857. It demanded that least 10 percent of petition signatures be gathered by unpaid workers. That would have been a start toward ensuring that all future ballot measures enjoy at least a modicum of popular support before going to the voters.

The problem Gov. Jerry Brown zeroed in on when vetoing it: Labor union members working for an initiative would have been classified as volunteers. That, he felt, gave unions too much of an advantage over other interests.

Some Republicans contended the definition would give a lasting advantage to labor. But there also was nothing to prevent groups on the right from sending their own members out to gather significant numbers of signatures. You can be sure the various tea party organizations would have taken heed.

The bill summed up its goal this way: “Improving the measure of public support for a proposed initiative will increase the public confidence and protect the integrity of the initiative process. … This is more consistent with the intent of the voters in reserving (to themselves) the power of the initiative.”

This would not have been a panacea for ballot measures. Big money could still have had plenty of influence in the process. The need now is for sponsoring Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Concord Democrat, and others not to give up, but to make their definition of who is a volunteer a bit more pure. Then this needed improvement probably will pass muster with Brown and make a start toward returning initiatives to the populist purpose for which they were always intended.

— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Davis team wins world robotics championship

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
     
     
    Nepal quake death toll exceeds 1,800

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Spring storm delivers late rain, snow to Northern California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    At the Pond: Plenty of pleasures in our bioregion

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Pioneering organic chef presents her memoir Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Suspect in UCD assault arrested

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4

    Dog park marks anniversary with cleanup

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Rail-safety bill passes Senate committee

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Free Family Bike Clinic set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Watch them in action

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5

    Stocks rise on tech earnings; Nasdaq adds to record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Dodd speaks as part of public policy series

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    We did it (together)!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

     
    $2.72 million judgment ordered against Dollar Tree Stores

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Fly Fishers to hear about advanced streamer tactics on Tuesday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Bicycle activist will speak Monday at Hall of Fame

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    UCD hosts bike auction Saturday, May 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Those texts still linger

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B6

     
    New ways of giving locally and beyond

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B6

     
    Study questions accuracy of tumor gene mapping

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    Water, water everywhere?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Mayor’s Corner: A spirit of renewal permeates Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    More work to do for a safe Picnic Day

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Poker proceeds help youths

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Invest in water of the future

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Anaheim, where The Force is with you

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    .

    Sports

    Davis gets two baseball wins in two days

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1

     
    Grizzlies dominate young Blue Devils on Senior Night

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Energy, fan-friendly happenings highlight UCD spring football game

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil golfers capture CAL Invitational title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD roundup: Aggies reach water polo semifinals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Blue Devil swimmers are up to the challenge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Babich brings the heat as DHS girls stick it to Oak Ridge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    DHS softball struggles continue against Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    History comes alive in ‘The Sacramento Picture’

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big Italian food, sports bar to fill Little Prague

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A7

    Davis Roots hires new general manager

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Comcast announces speed upgrade

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Whitney Joy Engler

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Valente Forrest Dolcini

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8