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California's Chief Justice Hates Ballot Initiatives

If you live in California, like I do, then you're used to the state's annual budget battles, which inevitably result in political name-calling, overdue budgets and a general sense that one of the world's largest economies and the nation's most populous state is doomed. 

Thanks to the Great Recession, this year's budget mess was particularly nasty, with state employees receiving IOUs instead of paychecks and the Governator waving giant knives around to get the people excited for massive cuts in social services and the closing of many of California's state parks.

Fortunately, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George revealed in a recent speech his ideas on what's dragging California's government down: the people of California.
Well, more specifically, the chief justice blames the ballot initiative process that allows the people of California to dictate how the government operates directly, rather than solely through a system of elected representatives.  Through California's referendum system, voters can tell the legislature how to spend money, throw up hurdles to prevent tax increases and create substantive law on any subject, from chicken coops to gay marriage.

Justice George sees ballot initiatives as the albatross around the state's neck, and says that the referendums have "rendered our state government dysfunctional."

In particular, he notes that special interests are often the major forces behind the ballot initiatives, and they are allowed to pay bounties to canvassers for each signature they obtain to have a ballot measure placed on the ballot. 

The timing of the chief justice's comments is interesting: hundreds of people are currently meeting in Sacramento, the state capital, to discuss constitutional reform, including the possibility of changing the ballot initiative process. 

Chief Justice George didn't rally behind the idea of a full-blown constitutional convention to rewrite California's constitution, but he did state plainly that some reform was needed:

At a minimum, . . . Californians may need to consider some fundamental reform of the voter initiative process. Otherwise, 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.