Initiatives: True Democracy or Bad Lawmaking?

August 17, 1990

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Critics say the initiative process is not working the way it was meant to. Ballots are cluttered, big-spending special interests manipulate the voters, and the art of compromise gets short shrift. Supporters concede there may be problems, but they say that overall the system of direct democracy provides citizens with an excellent way to keep a check on powerful government. Both sides talk about reform, but the reforms themselves may introduce new difficulties.

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Pesticide controls. Ethics reform. Drug enforcement. Forest preservation. Limits on lawmaker tenure. Taxes. The death penalty. Ozone protection. Campaign financing. Prison construction.

The issues add up to an agenda that would keep any state legislature arguing for months. But on Nov. 6, Californians will decide the fate of those issues—and several more—in just the few minutes they have in the voting booth. California's biennial exercise in citizen lawmaking this year features a staggering 13 initiatives on a single ballot.

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