California’s ballot-initiative process is broken beyond repair—at least that’s what ABC 7 in Los Angeles and San Francisco concluded last year when they labeled me “the poster child for abuse of the ballot-initiative system.” They didn’t care for the initiative I filed, which would have banned divorce in the state of California.
Somehow, they got the impression that I was mocking Proposition 8; that I was using the political process to point out the hypocrisy of people who were eager to take rights away from gay people to protect “traditional marriage,” but were completely unwilling to give up their own rights to make marriage even more secure.
Even if that were true, the idea that I am abusing the system is absurd. I have no powerful or moneyed interests backing my cause. I gathered people to me on Facebook. I financed the effort with t-shirt sales. All of my signature gatherers were volunteers. I am an ordinary citizen. My cause is populism at its best.
The ballot initiative was designed to put power into the hands of the people, and that is exactly how we used it. We were doing it right—which is ultimately why we failed. If you want to see real abuse of the system, just look at your ballot on June 8th.
Look at Proposition 16. The deceptively titled “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote Act” is actually backed by more than $46 million from PG&E. Instead of empowering voters, Prop 16 would actually take their rights away—giving a minority the power to veto the creation or expansion of municipal power, and eliminating competition in the marketplace.
Study the Mercury Insurance-backed Proposition 17, which would enable insurance companies to levy outrageous surcharges to customers who have had a lapse in their coverage. Mercury claims the initiative will actually allow them to give increased discounts to drivers who maintain continuous coverage. Does anyone honestly believe that Mercury just paid $14.6 million for the right to give their customers bigger discounts?
The sad truth is that the ballot-initiative process that was originally designed to give power to the people has become instead a cynical way for the rich and the powerful to bypass the political process. Why buy a legislator when you can just buy legislation? If you hire enough people to stand in front of Wal*Mart, you can get anything on the ballot.
I am making my stand against cynicism. I’ve refiled my initiative to ban divorce. I’m prepping petitions and gathering volunteers. I’ve made it my goal to reclaim the ballot-initiative process for the people of California.
My detractors have said that if I were to succeed in getting a divorce ban on the ballot, if it were actually to become law, political anarchy would be the result. I would have made such a mockery of the ballot-initiative system that we would have no choice but to dismantle it and replace it with something else, something better.
Somehow, I’m willing to take that risk.