Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Chris Baker

Great strides in the evolution of human existence are rare. One of those great strides occurred 223 years ago this month. Thomas Jefferson, the 33 year old delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress put goose-quill to paper and etched words that will stand for all of eternity.to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Perhaps an older author would have lacked the boldness to so directly challenge conventional thought. For centuries kings had the power to dictate ones fate at the snap of his fingers. No one had proposed the opposite: that the people were sovereign, hereditary kings were not.

The foundation principle upon which all democracy must be built, people-sovereignty, has become soundly entrenched in America. In Europe, Fascists declared democracy outmoded and obsolete for government in the twentieth century, vesting all power in their dictators. The Communists were more subtle and promised to restore democratic principles as soon as their benevolent dictator has adequately provided for the needs of all.

But in the U.S. when political systems broke down in the 1890s and government became the instrument by which privilege was issued to influential special interests, new political systems were invented that enlarged the principles of people-sovereignty, giving operational definition to ideals expressed by Jefferson, Madison and other Founders.

The right of citizens to directly propose and implement laws was included in the package. Other reforms, which were neither conceived nor implemented by politicians or political parties, included secret ballots, printed ballots, primary elections, and direct elections of U.S. Senators.

The right of citizen initiative formalized the petition rights drafted into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by James Madison. The Initiative empowered citizens to propose laws to the ballot that legislators refused to address.

The self-confidence, pride and passion that motivates officials to first run for office sometimes becomes their enemy once elected. They are so committed to do civic good, that the notions of accountability and checks-and-balances seem to them unnecessary, if not insulting. Not surprisingly, instead of supporting petition rights, their actions frustrate and complicate the process, overlooking the fact that petitions are utilized only when the legislative process fails.

Sadly, many politicians claim that the exercise of votes by sovereign citizens are somehow more influenced by special interests than is the legislative process. Their words sound strangely reminiscent of King George III when he banned town meetings in the American Colonies to better regulate the government.

In 1992 Coloradoans grew tired of the free spending of their tax dollars by politicians, citizens used the initiative petition to propose the Taxpayers Bill of Rights which imposed limits. Not surprisingly, many in the ruling political establishment shrilly claimed that Colorado would collapse into economic chaos. Seven years later it is clear that alarmist assertions were clearly not accurate and it is more likely that TABOR contributed to Colorado having one of the strongest economies in the nation.

University of California Professor John Matsusaka performed extensive multiple regression analysis to conclude that states with petition rights have taxes that are 4% below the national average. This equates to $332 more disposable income annually for a family of four. Matsusaka also found that initiative states tended toward decentralization of spending decisions and there was less use of taxation as a tool for redistribution of wealth.

The initiative process does not always lead to less spending. Matsusaka found that the desire of politicians to tax and spend in the 1990s was reversed in the 1930s. Initiative states more rapidly responded to the will of the people by accelerating spending programs.

If the initiative process gives the people more of what they want, then isnt that the essence of democracy? Who among us is so astute that his views should be dictated to others? It would be wise for enlightened legislators to invest more thinking in the meaning of the message than in attacking the messenger and subverting the peoples sovereignty.


Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow and Chris Baker is a Research Associate at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

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