Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Taking the Initiatives

I've been living in Washington State for well over a decade now, and after watching its political process, I think I am capable of wading in with an opinion on the Initiative system, which this year lofts an impressive 6 items onto the ballot for your consideration. Here's the opinion of the current system:

It's broken.

Broken, I say. More broken than a World of Warcraft exploit. More Baroquen than a Mozart concerto. And like many broken things, it worked perfectly well at one time.

Here was the idea: For various reasons, important issues may not come up in the state legislature (often because those in charge were either wealthy or actively courting the favors of those who were). So citizens, of their own sweat and blood, could put initiatives onto the ballot for voting by the general populace.

Cut out the middle-man. Make the state more responsible to the people. Reduce the corrupt influence of petty payola. Brilliant!

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that they need a threshold of signatures to put it on the ballot, that threshold being 8% of the number of people who voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election. That is a non-insignificant number, and runs this election to 241,153 people. That is about the population of Spokane and Olympia combined - every man, woman, and child. In nerd terms, with that much experience, you'd be a 22nd level Warlord.

So to gather that many signatures, you need to have some kind of organization, or at least some system of hiring large chunks of professional signature gatherers. Which means you need money. And you know where this is going, right?

Right. All of the initiatives have somebody with deep pockets standing behind them, pushing hard. In fact, this year in particular, the folk paying for most of the initiatives are pretty much big guys. The citizen voter is pretty much cut of the deal, except as rubber stamp.

Too cynical? Perhaps. But I do note that one of the few initiatives that came close but failed to make it to the ballot was one to decriminalize marijuana. Certain usually dependable lefty strongholds (Democrats, unions) failed to push this one, and as a result, it had to rely on the little people. Who didn't get enough signatures to push it through. Yay, democracy.

So this is a season of autocratic initiatives, each claiming to care about the common man but having very few common men behind them. Simply put, I'm going to (spoiler alert) tell you to vote NO on the bulk of them, with one exception (yeah, that's a tease). You can usually figure out who benefits from it all by looking at who is doling out the money here.

But what we really need is an initiative to fix the initiative process.

More later,