Initiatives give power to the people. Published 10/4/04 in the Boulder Daily Camera
Former Boulder City Councilman Matt Appelbaum in his most recent Camera column, continues Boulder political elitists’ hoary tradition of mocking the very citizens who elect them! Citing NO facts to back him up, he writes that he believes in representative democracy which “has proven itself to beat ‘direct’ democracy, wherein citizens who know virtually nothing, don’t care about the consequences, and think even more short-term than the pols…run the asylum.”
He says this in BOULDER, which, according to the U.S. Census, is by far the most educated city in the country, where so many people “care about the consequences” that Council complains: After 2 hours of citizen testimony about CATV on March 2, council members on their email “hotline” discussed trying to limit hearings to 30 minutes. (If they actually try that, they can expect at least 6 hours of citizen protest at the hearing they must legally hold.)
Of course, “direct” and “representative” democracy are, like most things in life except George Bush’s “with us or against us” stance, NOT mutually exclusive. In 24 states, citizens can beg their representatives AND they can petition an initiative onto the ballot, and let the people decide. Two methods are better than one. (Interestingly, Congressmen Udall and Skaggs have repeatedly asserted that proponents of more initiative power want to replace representative government.)
There IS a study and book (Princeton University Press) by Elizabeth Gerber which show that citizens tend to vote for grassroots initiatives more than “big-money” initiatives (see Vote.org/study) whereas the Associated Press study last summer shows (surprise!) that “ Groups that outspent opponents got the bills they wanted in five of the six cases.”
There are certainly many ways to improve the initiative process. Now, there is virtually NO deliberative process for initiatives as there is for legislation. Public hearings, expert testimony and amendments are non-existent. Also, the public receives very little information about initiatives they will vote on, besides ads.
In spite of this, citizens have showed remarkable wisdom in Colorado, just since 1996 voting for campaign finance reforms, cleaning up hog farms, increasing school funding, closing the gun show loophole and legalizing medical marijuana, all things the legislature wouldn’t do. Nationally, many things we take for granted started as state initiatives, from Aid to Dependent Children to Women’s Suffrage, which was voted in by citizens (men!) in 13 states before Congress followed suit..
Would you like to see deliberative process for initiatives (including randomly-selected citizen “juries” to evaluate initiatives), far better information, easier ballot access so that more grassroots initiatives can get on the ballot, and Federal initiatives so citizens can keep the President and Congress in line? Then please check out and vote to ratify the National Initiative for Democracy, authored largely by former US Senator Mike Gravel, who officially released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which got Dan Ellsberg off the hook for leaking them.
The National Initiative is the first use of the First Principle of the U.S. (“The People are Sovereign”) since 1789, when citizens –NOT the existing 13 legislatures, which were opposed to a strong U.S.A-- voted to ratify the US Constitution. We are asking you to vote to ratify our proposal, on the internet instead of via the old constitutional conventions, at Vote.org.
Matt’s contempt for democracy (“government by the people” in any dictionary) doesn’t surprise me. Matt was regularly observed, while citizens were speaking to council, to be reading under the table. Of course, in the last expensive re-decoration of council chambers, the under-table area was closed off to view. Matt also likes and needs to resort to name-calling, referring to me and a 2003 council candidate as “cranks.” As a parting shot, Matt quit the council at just the right time so that council appointed his successor, rather than citizens electing him. This would seem to indicate that Matt doesn’t believe in representative democracy either. Since power corrupts, it took a citizen initiative to change the law so this won’t happen again.
When the National Initiative is law, citizens will be able to protect the environment, wind down the perpetual wars and accomplish other things I suspect Matt supports too. But Matt, like so many of Boulder’s elite, believes absolutely in cutting off the nation’s nose to spite the face of the people. If the polity is an “asylum,” Matt, it was made so by representatives, who do far more law-making than citizens, whose last deliberated legislation was the Constitution.
"The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government." --George Washington
Evan Ravitz was vote “Best Activist” by Daily Camera readers in 1992