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Initiative reform suggestions due in spring

Capitol Alert: Political Pulse Feb. 9th
The Newsletter of California Politics and Government
Bud Lembke and Larry Lynch, Co-Publishers
From Pulse Beats by Bud Lembke

Gov. Hiram Johnson put it through in 1911 to enable "the people" to have a bigger voice in government than rascals but in recent years, the initiativeprocess has drawn many detractors. They don't necessarily want abolition, but reform.

To take a look at possible reforms, Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg appointed a 33-member commission last October to make recommendations by this spring.

"The present system is flawed," said former state Sen. Gary Hart, a member of the commission. "The initiative process seems to have been taken over by large moneyed interests, special interests. The whole purpose of it was to have the grass roots citizens' approach."

Trudy Schafer, program director of the California League of Women Voters and a member of the reform commission, points out that the league has been pushing for initiative reform since 1985. It got a bill through the Legislature to establish steps for review of an initiative by a small committee of state officials before it goes to the petitioning stage, but then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed it. He maintained it would make it harder to use the initiative.

Joel Fox, former president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and now a political consultant, is also a member of the commission that is headed by Los Angeles businessman David Abel. Fox said that if the recommendation is for a 2002 ballot measure, it is important to get the Legislature's attention before 2002 election distractions.

Reforms have also been attempted by three different commissions during the '90's but all bogged down in the Legislature. Hart seems hopeful for more action on reform this time because Speaker Hertzberg has taken it on as an important issue.

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