With only one week left before we cast ballots in what has been described as the most important mid-year election ever, I find myself reminiscing about some political minutia I have gathered over the years. Some, like California’s proposition that essentially forces a portion of any tax increase into education, or the controversial Prop 13, probably fall into the title restriction.
Others, such as California’s ballot initiative process might be of interest, especially since my research today corrected some misconceptions I’ve held for years. I had heard that California started the process of direct initiative in the mid-1850’s because the Southern Pacific Railroad so controlled the legislature that the electorate worried they had lost their governmental voice and worried that the state capital, Benicia was becoming a railroad town. Nice story, but the timeline doesn’t work.
For instance, Benicia was the capital for only 13 months during 1853-54. The Southern Pacific wasn’t founded until 1865 and the initiative process concept came south from Oregon in 1898, and probably didn’t arrive by rail.
The impetus behind the concept of getting signatures in support of legislation probably did come from a general feeling that the state legislative process moves too slowly for the public’s taste. It originally was a European national concept coming, not surprisingly from Switzerland. The U. S. never embraced it as a national process, but half the states have either a direct or indirect initiative alternative to legislation.
My conservative nature says initiatives as a general principle are not as well-thought out as the hundreds of laws proposed in the California Senate and Assembly, as poorly structured as most of those are. Consequently I generally vote negative. This will probably be true with the Proposition 19 initiative regarding marijuana use. But I certainly recognize the value of bringing those type issues to the attention of state government.
BTW one previous impression did seem legitimate; the Railroads got into some serious sidelines. For instance Southern Pacific founded several major hospitals, many of which are still in use in such cities as San Francisco and Tucson.
Feel free to post your opinion of the initiative process, including how you feel about Prop 19.