Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Far Left's Attack on Direct Democracy

I'm not always a big fan of the initiative process, one of the mechanisms of direct democracy. For the most part, at least in California, the measures have been taken over by the moneyed interests, exactly the opposite of what the Progressive reformers had in mind a century ago.

Yet, there's a majoritarianism to initiatives that's hard to dismiss, and in recent years conservatives have been able to beat back the excesses of the postmodern rights movement with popular revolts from the ballot box.

It's no surprise then, that entrenched minority special interests would work to thwart the will of the voters by abusing the signature petition process by which intiatives qualify for the ballot. John Fund has
the story:
The initiative is a reform born out of the Progressive Era, when there was general agreement that powerful interests had too much influence over legislators. It was adopted by most states in the Midwest and West, including Ohio and California. It was largely rejected by Eastern states, which were dominated by political machines, and in the South, where Jim Crow legislators feared giving more power to ordinary people.

But more power to ordinary people remains unpopular in some quarters, and nothing illustrates the war on the initiative more than the reaction to Ward Connerly's measures to ban racial quotas and preferences. The former University of California regent has convinced three liberal states -- California, Washington and Michigan -- to approve race-neutral government policies in public hiring, contracting and university admissions. He also prodded Florida lawmakers into passing such a law. This year his American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) aimed to make the ballot in five more states. But thanks to strong-arm tactics, the initiative has only made the ballot in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.

"The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place," says Donna Stern, Midwest director for the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). "That's the only way we're going to win." Her group's name certainly describes the tactics that are being used to thwart Mr. Connerly.
Fund details a long list of abuses by BAMN and other left-wing actors: Claiming that random "duplicate" blank lines on a petition sheet is evidence of fraud; completely rewriting an initiative's ballot summary to negatively influence voter understanding of the measure, as in case of Missouri's Secretary of State; and harassing and citing local signature-gatherers for circulating petitions in front of a local library in Kansas City, for example.

The article goes on:

In Nebraska, a group in favor of racial preferences ran a radio ad that warned that those who signed the "deceptive" petition "could be at risk for identity theft, robbery, and much worse."
Those on the left are asssumed to more concerned with the "rights" of the people, and with the "democratic process." Indeed, leftists are often thought to be more "tolerant" than the mean, old conservative troglodytes.

In truth, it's a mistaken view that liberals are more concerned about "rights," and they're not more "tolerant." In fact, precisely the opposite is true.

For more on this, see Arthur Brooks, "Liberal Hatemongers."