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Just how progressive are progressives really?
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Remember when "progressives" saw the introduction of initiatives and referendums as a positive thing?
The Initiative and Referendum Institute, which is affiliated with the University of Southern California School of Law, notes that the I&R movement of the early 20th century was spawned by progressives who shared a Jeffersonian belief in the basic wisdom of the people. They saw direct voting on issues as a way to bypass supposedly hidebound, corrupt legislatures.
Yes, let the people speak. Give them a direct voice in their government. Let them put initiatives and referendums on the ballot and surely they will choose progressive causes and bypass those "hidebound, corrupt legislature".

And they did. But not quite in the manner progressives hoped they would. In the main, "the people" have used I&R for conservative causes:
But beginning in 1978 with voter approval of California's famous Proposition 13, which limited property taxes, the biggest users of the ballot proposal became conservative populists. The progressives, to paraphrase William F. Buckley, were relegated to standing athwart history, yelling stop, as one conservative proposal after another was enacted into law by voters rebelling against the nanny state.
Interesting. This year, in many jurisdictions, the trend continues, perhaps not as exclusively on the conservative side, but certainly enough:
Curbs on government takings will be on the ballot in at least 12 states. Eight more states have slotted votes on whether to allow gay marriage. There are some 40 tax measures, most of which, including so-called Taxpayer Bills of Rights (TABOR) in at least four states, would sharply restrict government revenue and spending.

When the dust settles, the left is likely to be able to claim some victories. The TABOR proposals may be judged a bridge too far by many voters, even those disgusted by the binge-spending of their elected politicians. A ban on racial preferences on the Michigan ballot appears to be a tossup. Union interests have succeeded in placing an increase in the minimum wage, which fares well in most polls, on the ballot in six states.

And California voters, if they approve five bond proposals totaling $43 billion for "infrastructure," may signal that the era of big government is definitely back - even under a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For the most part, the left's victories will be counted as those which defeat many of the people's initiatives or happen to increase spending and the size of government.

In fact, because of conservative, or right-wing if you prefer, success progressives have had to resort to their old stand-by preferred method of thwarting those "hidebound, corrupt legislators" - the courts:
Indeed, the emerging strategy of the left is to prevent people from voting at all on many ballot proposals. In Montana this summer, left-wing critics persuaded a district judge to throw a TABOR proposal - as well as a measure that would subject judges to the recall process - off the ballot because of a "pattern" of fraud by petition gatherers. (The decision is under appeal.) In Missouri a Democratic secretary of state refused to certify the TABOR and eminent domain proposals on the exceedingly fussy grounds the petitions weren't properly numbered by county.

In Michigan, opponents of Proposal 2 ludicrously tried to argue - unsuccessfully as it turned out - that the federal Voting Rights Act required that there be no vote on a measure to ban racial preferences.

And judges in several states have junked proposals barring the taking of private property for the benefit of another private interest on grounds that the proposals violated the "single subject" requirement for ballot issues. The proposals also would have required state compensation for "regulatory takings" - an environmental rule, for example, placing limits on a property's uses. Never mind that the measures had the single purpose of protecting property rights.
In reality, what Tom Bray is pointing out here is there has been a sea-change in the "progressive" movement in the last few decades. The party that once claimed to speak for the "little people" or the "common man" now seems to be engaged in thwarting attempts by that constituency to actually correct what it sees as government that is too big, too powerful and headed in the wrong direction.

Progressives now mostly represent a disparate collection of special interest groups, groups which have different agendas, different desires pertaining to policy and different goals for legislation. One of the reason the left is in such disarray and seems to have no core is that somewhere in the '60s or '70s they abandoned the "common man" for a more radical agenda and the constituency that goes with it. And it enjoyed some success in helping those groups attain their goals through legislation and the court system over the years. But its old core constituency slowly bled away from them. As Zell Miller said, he didn't leave the Democratic party, it left him.

The I&R movement,which progressives so favored early on, has rounded on them, threatening to undo what they've spent years doing by other means (to include pushing laws through those "hidebound, corrupt legislatures"). The I&R movement is slowly but surely winning back a measure of control and it is reflecting the wishes of the "common man" they used to represent. As is obvious progressives don't like it.

And that puts them in the awkward position of trying to block the people's will and maintain the status quo.

Isn't that the definition, at least to most progressives, of a conservative?
 
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We have a lot of that going on in Massachusetts of all places.

Prop 2 1/2 is the scourge of progressive tax-raisers. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposition_2%C2%BD )

Currently there’s an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that is experiencing the above described phenomenon.

Lastly, there was a tax cut referendum which passed in 2000 designed to gradually lower the income tax to 5.0% over a few years, but the Legislature froze before it could take complete effect. So much for the will of the people.
 
Written By: The Modern American
URL: http://www.themodernamerican.com/blog
North Dakota has a shining example of voter driven reform on the ballot that is already sending the establishment into a panicked frenzy, and that progressives are sure to hate as well.

NORTH DAKOTA SHARED PARENTING INITIATIVE

It would create a presumption of equal custody for divorcing parents, ban gender based rulings and limit any child support award to the actual cost of providing for the child’s basic needs. It would also put most of the state collection racket out of business and cost the state an enormous amount of funding for such positions.

Of course, this initiative suggests that men are capable, competent, caring parents and should be treated equally by the courts. The seething has begun.

 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
Progressives stopped being Progressive around 1980....After Reagan they began to lose much of the debate and the electoral/philosophic tide turned against them. At that point they became CONSERVATIVE, i.e., preserving that which IS rather than overturning the status quo. Since 1994 that trend has accelerated.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I think you’re being incredibly simplistic here, McQ. The reason a lot of people have soured on the intiative system is because it often leads to the enactment of bad laws. Not bad because their conservative or liberal, but bad because their sloppy and ill-conceived. There’s a reason we have a representative democracy. Its because we don’t have the time or expertise to evualate the nitty-gritty details of legislation. Legislators have professionals who can draft laws carefully and consider how they interact with other laws; they can tweek and amend early drafts to produce a better product. And they have the time to read the bills and evaluate them. That’s their job.

What happens all too often in the initiative process is that some group (liberal, conservative, or something else) submits a truly crappy bit of legislation, one written by someone who has no clue how to draft such things. The voters then vote on the law without ever having read it and based solely on misleading television commercials (or nothing at all). Moreover, the existance of the initiative system makes legislators afraid to do anything on their own. They end up punting on all the important issues and leaving it to the initiative process. That magnifies the problem I was describing before because the voters end up having to vote on 58 different bills in the two minutes they’re in the ballot box, many of which they’ve never heard of or considered prior to that moment.

And worst of all, initiatives are never a part of the budgeting process so they almost always take the form of unfunded mandates or ill-conceived caps on revenue. This then throws the entire state in crisis.

All in all, it’s a crappy way to govern. We elect representatives to make laws; we should let them do their jobs. If they do a bad job, that’s what elections are for.
 
Written By: Anonymous Liberal
URL: http://www.anonymousliberal.com
We elect representatives to make laws; we should let them do their jobs. If they do a bad job, that’s what elections are for.
AL, you just made McQ’s point.
 
Written By: Jody
URL: http://
In reality, what Tom Bray is pointing out here is there has been a sea-change in the "progressive" movement in the last few decades. The party that once claimed to speak for the "little people" or the "common man" now seems to be engaged in thwarting attempts by that constituency to actually correct what it sees as government that is too big, too powerful and headed in the wrong direction.

The I&R movement,which progressives so favored early on, has rounded on them, threatening to undo what they’ve spent years doing by other means (to include pushing laws through those "hidebound, corrupt legislatures"). The I&R movement is slowly but surely winning back a measure of control and it is reflecting the wishes of the "common man" they used to represent. As is obvious progressives don’t like it.

And that puts them in the awkward position of trying to block the people’s will and maintain the status quo.
Bullsh*t.

First, one of the main problems with the I and R system is that most of the conservative intiatives are not sponsored or drafted by the "common man." TABOR is a good example. These initiatives get on the ballot, typically, because well funded out-of-state donors hire signature gatherers to get them on the ballot.

In many cases the out-of-state interests break the law in order to get the necessary number of signatures. From the AP:
HELENA, Mont. The so-called "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" is being thrown out in Montana for reasons similar to why it was tossed off the ballot in Oklahoma recently.

A Montana judge says out-of-state signature gatherers used fraudulent and deceptive measures to get people to sign petitions calling for a vote. As a result the judge threw out the initiative and two others.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently threw out a TABOR petition drive here after agreeing that tens of thousands of signatures were illegally collected by out-of-state circulators.
The signature gatherers use many schemes:
1. The Carbon-Copy Scheme: Signature gatherers would lay out three petitions on a clipboard. The gatherer would discuss one of the petitions — usually the one on eminent domain. If the person signed it, the gatherer would then say, “We can’t have photocopies or carbon copies, so would you mind signing these two other petitions?” Thinking that he or she was signing copies of the first petition, the person would sign the second two. In fact, the second two petitions were on judicial recall and TABOR.

2. The Forgery Scheme: Signature gatherers would have a person sign one petition, then say, “We understand you’re busy – if you write your name on the first one, we’ll sign your name on the other two, so you can get on your way.” The signature gatherers would then forge the person’s signature on the other two petitions.

3. The Fake Petitions Scheme: Signature gatherers would tell people about totally fake petitions, such as a “one-strike sex-offender initiative.” In reality they were signing petitions supporting eminent domain, judicial recall, and TABOR.
The signature gatherers break the law in other ways too. For example, in Oklahoma signature gatherers lied about being state residents.

From the Edmund (Oklahoma) Sun:

After Oklahoma civic leaders filed suit, the state’s high court unanimously
found there were so many invalid signatures that the proposition could not be placed on the November ballot.
The court said the evidence supports “substantial illegal participation of out-of-state circulators,” which is prohibited by state law, and added an official opinion will follow that will address those “illegal activities.”
Section 3.1 of Title 34 makes it unlawful for “any person other than a qualified elector of the State of Oklahoma” to circulate any initiative or referendum petition to change Oklahoma law. That statute was adopted in 1969 undoubtedly to thwart out-of-state hippies and anti-war groups from promoting civil unrest in Oklahoma. The penalty is a fine of $1,000 and/or up to a year in county jail. With scores of out-of-state solicitors, prosecutors will have their hands full.
Remarkably, this $1.5 million project was almost entirely funded by out-of-state activists. The latest Ethics Commission report indicates Americans for Limited Government Inc. (ALG) coughed up $50,000 in July, bringing their year-to-date total to $105,000. In that same month, four Oklahomans donated a grand total of $790 to the campaign.
Overall, Oklahomans have contributed less than 1 percent of the money.
ALG is a Chicago-based group pushing similar initiatives in 13 states. So far they have spent more than $7.3 million on ballot initiatives for school vouchers, judicial term limits and projects like TABOR.
Other major donors to the Oklahoma campaign include Americans for Tax Reform, which gave $225,000, Colorado Club for Growth chipped in $200,000, National Taxpayers Union Foundation gave $180,000 and the Legislative Education Action Drive (LEAD) offered $70,000.
Those are impressive numbers for an Oklahoma initiative campaign. But the real story is about the incestuous relationship between these groups.
For example, Howard Rich, who is chairman of ALG and a leading advocate for term limits, is a wealthy New York real estate developer who founded LEAD and has served on the board of directors for the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute.
Eric O’Keefe of Wisconsin, another former Libertarian Party activist, is involved in ALG and LEAD, was architect of the term limits movement, and writes papers for the Cato Institute. O’Keefe’s wife has run signature-collecting efforts since the 1970s. Ed Crane was national chairman of the Libertarian Party, founded the Cato Institute, and is on the ALG board. Much of their funding comes from billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Americans for Tax Reform is the vehicle of Grover Norquist, the conservative friend of George Bush. Norquist was quoted in a 2003 Denver Post article as saying, “We are trying to change the tones in the state Capitols — and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.”
This story is not unique to Oklahoma. During the past few years it has been repeated in Idaho, Maine, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska and Nevada. It’s a conspiracy of a handful of wealthy right-wing extremists who disregard local laws and attempt to foist their political snake oil on an unsuspecting electorate.
Leave it to McQ to defend these tactics. Right wingers breaking the law to get an intiative on the ballot? McQ’s got no problem with that. But the minute those folks who are opposed to illegal tactics go to court to fight the law breaking, well, they are labeled as left-wing elitists. How dare they actually follow the law and thrwart the law breaking by out-of-state right wing elitists. McQ won’t stand for it.
 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
I’m thinking Prop 187 here in California: won well, conserative backing, killed by left wing courts.
The reason a lot of people have soured on the intiative system is because it often leads to the enactment of bad laws.
So, if we have the initiative system we don’t need Democrats?
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
mkultra,

If the "common man" doesn’t support the initiative, how will it pass? Why do you care if it gets on the ballot?
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
What happens all too often in the initiative process is that some group (liberal, conservative, or something else) submits a truly crappy bit of legislation, one written by someone who has no clue how to draft such things. The voters then vote on the law without ever having read it and based solely on misleading television commercials (or nothing at all).
The legislation politicians come up with is what’s truely crappy. Initiatives tend to be single issue, without all the unrelated tack-ons that the political sausage making process adds to the laws coming out of the legislature. Furthermore, the legislature creates laws written by lawyers for lawyers, to be voted on by lawyers, who may or may not read the legislation or care. They vote as part of a deal, or because they have a desired piece of pork riding on the legislation.

Some of the dumbest laws come out of the legislature.
Moreover, the existance of the initiative system makes legislators afraid to do anything on their own.
I only wish that were the case . . .
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
"The people have spoken. The bastards."
 
Written By: Achillea
URL: http://
Well Don I think CA is a good example of the limits of Initiatives. The BULK of CA’s budget is NOT under the control of the General Assembly but is fixed by various ballot indicatives, according to the Economist. EACH one, in and of itself, may or may not have been good, but COLLECTIVELY they have bound Sacramento’s hands when it comes to spending. Further, in CA, are there "Sunset Provisions" initiatives? If not, then what one discovers is that boards, commissions, and the like simply grow and never die, not be a part of statute law, but a part of the constitution is would take another initiative to get rid of them. It simply leads, it seems to me, to an ever larger government with ever larger costs....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"As Zell Miller said, he didn’t leave the
Democratic party, it left him."

Many of the ’Christian right; are saying the same thing about the GOP these days.
The extremes are pulling hard at both paties.

There is a fundamental dichotomy between conservatives and progressives of every stripte.
Their ’ideal worlds’ are different and basically incompatible. Neither seems capable of accepting that they have to co-exist.

Cataloguing the successes, failures and trends of one side says nothing about the validity of that side’s ideals. Sister Theresa would do poorly under this kind of scrutiny.
——-

The tax issue has been so obscured by outlandish claims and counterclaims that tallying votes on tax initiatives says nothing about the underlying economic implications. I doubt many voters consider how their vote would impact the country as a whole. They vote on self interest. If you want more money for yourself, you vote for tax cuts. If you hope that the revenues will be applied to programs of your liking, you vote for increases. Neither voter cares a rap about the broader impkications of that vote

——

 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
The last real progressive died in the 1930’s. Supreme Court Justice and former president W H Taft.
Liberals are not really progressives.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
The last real progressive died in the 1930’s. Supreme Court Justice and former president W H Taft.
Liberals are not really progressives.

A semantic argument...I would argue that "Progressive" in your term is an American term for folks of Teddy Roosevelt’s ilk, the 1890’s in US politics.

"Progressive" is also a term for folks from the New Left, derived from the 1950’s and 1960’s...they are "Progressives" becasue that’s their name for themselves. Just as "Joe" is the name I use for myself, or "Joseph" even though I have not married the Virgin Mother of God.

One just needs to be fairly clear in which Progressives one is refering to or which Joseph....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Yeah, thats what I said, the last REAL progressive. Not some neomarxists who decided to try and steal a title.
 
Written By: kyle N
URL: http://impudent.blognation.us/blog
Not some neomarxists who decided to try and steal a title.
Apparently that’s the rage.

"Libertarian Democrat?"
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://qando.net
Diito Anonymous Liberal: Initiatives are not nearly the be all and end all. In California, conservative initiatives essentially prohibiting new taxes and liberal initiatives mandating automatic public spending on liberal priorities have *both* passed in the past couple of decades, and *both* sets of initiatives are too popular to successfully repeal. As a result of this, it’s possible that California may someday have a binding referendum mandate to spend money that it other referenda do not allow it to collect.
The result is - already is - massive deficits. Is this good?

This doesn’t mean I’m a genuine foe of referenda. Generally speaking, you can do a lot worse than the will of the people, and when problems such as the above become too bad, they’ll be fixed. However, referenda work a lot less well than they would if costs to communicate and opportunity costs to be informed were a lot lower.

Anytime someone wants to pass a referenda, there should be a mandatory federal holiday and funded staff to explain its meaning. The current system is indeed a special-interest nightmare.

Oh, and while I don’t dispute the popularity of conversative referenda in given circumstances, it’s being way oversold here. California rejected Schwarzennegger’s anti-liberal and anti-union referenda last year by large margins. Frankly, I thought it was too bad that his campaign finance and anti-gerrymander referenda were dragged down with the others. They weren’t half bad. They weren’t conservative, either, as I understand it.

We could go tit for tat, but I’ll just say if you’re trying to demonstrate that conservative referenda are more popular than liberal referenda nationwide, this is not quite a systematic study to that effect.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Frankly, I thought it was too bad that his campaign finance and anti-gerrymander referenda were dragged down with the others. They weren’t half bad. They weren’t conservative, either, as I understand it.
The campaing finance thing would have hurt the big $$$ Democratic doners, and the anti-gerrymander part would have made it more difficult for the Democrats to gerrymander the state. In other words, they would have hurt the Democrats.

Many conservatives opposed the gerrymander thing, since the way it’s set up lefty D’s and right R’s benifit. Arnold’s thing would have likely been a net boon to the R’s, but to more moderate R’s.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
We could go tit for tat, but I’ll just say if you’re trying to demonstrate that conservative referenda are more popular than liberal referenda nationwide, this is not quite a systematic study to that effect.
It seems to me that the conserative props tend to win, while the lefty ones tend to loose. Perhaps that’s ’cause the lety ones are more modest and slip under my radar, but that’s my perception.

In CA, prop 13 and prop 187 were popular, and conservative. The handgun ban (IIRC, prop 15) went down in flames.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
The campaing finance thing would have hurt the big $$$ Democratic doners, and the anti-gerrymander part would have made it more difficult for the Democrats to gerrymander the state. In other words, they would have hurt the Democrats.

This is more likely than not correct. I’d have personally voted for it anyway. Conservative parties don’t seem to do well on coasts. In the long run, the Democrats would survive. In the short run, some of the more corrupt and dumb ones would lose. Fine with me.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
In the long run, the Democrats would survive.
None of it threatened their survival or their dominance, at least in any immediate way. It would have reduced their margin.

Also, as I said, R’s would benifit, but not the more conservative R’s. When you gerrymander, you might give yourself a "safe" district, but you are putting more voters for the "other side" in some other district. You can now afford to lean farther left, but likely someone else can lean farther right.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://

 
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