Joel Fox at Zocalo Public Square:

[The[ best way to understand California arguments over direct democracy is as political contests between the power of the legislature and other elected officials, and the power that the people have in the legislative process.


The initiative power can challenge the status quo and advance different political ideas than the dogma favored by those in power. In the current California political environment, it is no secret that the dominant political power belongs to the Democratic Party and a more progressive ideology. Challenges to that thinking can come from initiatives that gain wide support from the voters. You can see such challenges in recent initiative and referendum results—keeping the death penalty and cash bail, and allowing workers to continue freelance and independent work—that did not follow the majority thinking in the Democratic legislature.


Of course, that doesn’t mean the people are opposed to reform. The PPIC poll found that likely voters would consider major changes (33 percent) or minor changes (48 percent) to the initiative process.


I’m among those who would like to see reform. Extending the qualification time from 180 days to a full calendar year is worth considering as a way to help more grassroots groups and individuals to use the initiative power, I’d also like to see the ability to write ballot titles and summaries moved from the partisan attorney general to a more neutral body. This issue was discussed endlessly in the 2014 reform group but ultimately did not advance.


The most important thing is for reform proposals to be scrutinized carefully, especially by voters, to guard the people’s initiative. In an election year, I don’t think we’ll see any big changes to the process, but there’s always 2023. And should we see another commission appointed or another committee convened—particularly by anyone other than the legislature—my schedule is open.