A Fund–amental Analysis Of Opposition To Direct Democracy

John Fund has has a must-read article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal on “The Far Left’s War on Direct Democracy.” If I were you, I’d stop reading me discussing it right now and go read it.

By “direct democracy” he means the initiative process,

a reform born out of the Progressive Era, when there was general agreement that powerful interests had too much influence over legislators. It was adopted by most states in the Midwest and West, including Ohio and California. It was largely rejected by Eastern states, which were dominated by political machines, and in the South, where Jim Crow legislators feared giving more power to ordinary people.

But more power to ordinary people remains unpopular in some quarters, and nothing illustrates the war on the initiative more than the reaction to Ward Connerly’s measures to ban racial quotas and preferences….

Fund points out that those circulating petitions to require the state to treat everyone without regard to race, and voters attempting to sign them, have “faced bizarre obstacles.”

Aggressive legal challenges have bordered on the absurd, going so far as to claim that a blank line on one petition was a “duplicate” of another blank line on another petition and thus evidence of fraud. In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan completely rewrote the initiative’s ballot summary to portray it in a negative light. By the time courts ruled she had overstepped her authority, there wasn’t enough time to collect sufficient signatures.

Those who did circulate petitions faced bizarre obstacles. In Kansas City, a petitioner was arrested for collecting signatures outside of a public library. Officials finally allowed petitioners a table inside the library but forbade them to talk. In Nebraska, a group in favor of racial preferences ran a radio ad that warned that those who signed the “deceptive” petition “could be at risk for identity theft, robbery, and much worse.”


The police had to be called when BAMN blocked the entrance of a Phoenix office where circulators had to deliver their petitions….

But BAMN proudly posts videos on its success in scaring away voters, or convincing circulators to hand over their petitions to its shock troops. “If you give me your signatures, we’ll leave you alone,” says a BAMN volunteer on one tape to someone who’s earning money by circulating several different petitions.

BAMN and its allies from ACORN, the Service Employees International Union, and others have at least been honest about one (and so far as I’ve seen, only one) thing: that if citizens are given the opportunity to vote for or against racial preferences, they will reject them every time. As I noted here,

BAMN has filed suit to keep the initiative off the ballot because, as national director Shanta Driver explained, “she fears a majority of Arizonans will vote for it.”

And I made the same point here (quoting Roger Clegg):

An official from the aptly-named group By Any Means Necessary is quoted today in the Omaha World-Herald, on why her group is trying to disrupt the signature-gathering efforts of Ward Connerly, who is leading an effort in Nebraska (and Colorado and Arizona) to pass a ballot initiative that would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex: “The key to defeating the initiative is to keep it off the ballot in the first place. That’s the only way we’re going to win.”

The Left, as you know, favors democracy, power to the people, and nondiscrimination, except when it doesn’t.

How ironic, or something, that today’s left, which usually prefers to be called progressive, has turned violently against one of the hallmark reforms of the actual, historical Progressives, the initiative process that allows citizens to act as a corrective and check on their government when their elected officials fail to act in what the public believes is its interest.

But the left has turned against more than a hallmark of the Progressive era; it has also rejected its own past. The videos of the intimidating, bullying tactics that BAMN, ACORN, and union activists have been using against those distributing civil rights petitions and those attempting to sign them are virtually identical with the vicious, disgusting behavior of anti-union scabs trying to block workers from signing up with unions; with Southern racists attempting to prevent blacks from registering to vote; and with anti-abortion activists trying to scare, intimidate, and block women from entering abortion clinics.

To paraphrase Roger Clegg (with echoes of John Kerry), the left was for citizen-empowering democratic action … before it was against it.

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  1. revisionist July 27, 2008 at 10:04 am | | Reply

    The WSJ is being hypocritical here on two counts.

    1. The WSJ supports large-scale immigration of poorly educated groups from Latin America that are likely to support AA. Moreover, the descendants of Latino immigrants are often even more favorable to AA. See the UCLA study by Telles and Ortiz, one conclusion of which is

    “Third- and fourth-generation Mexican Americans supported less restrictive immigration policies than the general population and generally supported bilingual education and affirmative action.”

    2. The WSJ has routinely denounced those who try to use direct democracy to have immigration laws enforced. The WSJ certainly did not support California voters in the 1990s who passed proposition 187, which would have denied taxpayer-provided services to illegal immigrants. Attempts to silence the immigration debate by re-imposing the fairness doctrine, and with mob-style quasi-violence as in the marches of 2006 are similarly a challenge to direct democracy.

    Demands for AA and political support for it will only increase if immigration policies supported by the WSJ are followed.

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