Brown vs. Brown on the Value of California's Initiative Process

That's Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown and former Calif. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. In two unrelated L.A. Times articles, Gov. Brown credits the initiative system for making the state governable while former speaker Brown is opposed to direct democracy.

Evan Halper writes that Gov. Brown's praise for direct democracy, implemented by Calif. Gov. Hiram Johnson in 1911, was expressed during a presentation he gave in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 24, explaining California's fiscal turnaround.

“The people themselves through the initiative actually broke a decade of dysfunction and laid the foundation for a government that works,” he said. 

Halper writes that "Brown credited California’s turnaround to a series of ballot measures. The measures allowed a state budget to get passed with a simple majority of lawmakers [Prop. 25, 2010], put an independent commission in charge of voting boundaries [Proposition 11 of 2008], and raised taxes by billions of dollars [Prop. 30, 2012].

On the other hand, "(f)ormer speaker Willie Brown would drop the state's direct democracy initiative process altogether", writes George Skelton, Capitol Journalist for the Los Angeles Times. Brown expressed his opinions at a Sacramento panel discussion organized by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), also held on Oct. 24.

Public policy should not be decided by the public in the voting booth, he said. It should be the province of elected officials in the state Capitol. "Democracy," he continued, "requires reasonable debate among people who have been designated as representatives" and are "usually well informed."

He added: "I clearly understand that I am in a distinct minority. People in this state are out to lunch" in their love of the initiative system.

Skelton writes that Brown held the assembly speakership for a record-setting 14 years, and would have continued holding the position had it not been for Prop. 140, a 1990 citizens' initiative on term limits, which no doubt contributed toward his resentment toward the initiative system.

Gov. Brown, on the other hand, himself resorted to the initiative process, as stated above.  He was the prime backer of Prop. 30 that increased both the income and sales taxes and is largely credited with putting the Golden State in the black after a structural budget deficit that many trace back to the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis [who incidentally was a panelist at the PPIC event] and the reduction of the vehicle license fee by incoming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

PPIC's October report on the initiative process, Reforming California's Initiative Process, indicates that "Californians are highly supportive of the initiative process but see room for improvement."

Full Story: Gov. Jerry Brown's advice for Washington

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