Voters, declare independence

Jim Mangia is co-chair of the Committee for an Independent Voice, an association seeking political recognition for the state’s 3.5 million non-aligned voters

California’s system of initiative and referendum, a fundamental democratic right of California voters, is under attack. Independent voters have an important role to play in preserving this vital democratic reform.

Initiative and referendum, approved by California voters in 1911, was designed as the people’s watchdog, giving ultimate power to the vast majority of voting citizens as a way to prevent widespread political corruption and abuse of power. But the powers-that-be have designed a legal strategy to stop political-reform initiatives dead in their tracks.

Here’s why: During the 1990s, every political-reform initiative on the California ballot was passed overwhelmingly by voters. In a direct rebuke to the political elite, California voters, led by unaffiliated independents, passed term limits, campaign-finance reform and the open primary. What the political parties have learned since is that they must to do everything in their legal and political power to pervert the process or prevent it from taking place.

The current state electoral system is rigged against California’s 3.5 million independent voters. Independents, who are the fastest-growing group of voters in the state, have a particular interest in the redistricting-reform initiative. Treated as second-class citizens in our partisan political culture, independents are excluded from voting freely in the first round of partisan primaries and are then disempowered in the general election because local districts are drawn to preserve political-party control.

Redistricting reform is a particularly important issue since it would create more competitive elections. Proposition 77 would remove the power to draw district lines away from self-interested state legislators and put it into the hands of nonpartisan judges, with ultimate approval reserved for voters. Democratic and Republican party leaders have revealed a bag of dirty tricks to prevent the initiative from getting before the voters.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer has seized on clerical errors on the qualifying petitions to challenge the initiative and attempt to have it thrown off the ballot before voters ever get to see it (at taxpayer expense to boot!). Clearly, the political parties care nothing for the democratic process or the will of the voters, only for preserving their political power.

Independents, who strongly desire an end to partisanship, are front and center in the effort to simultaneously preserve the initiative process and enact redistricting reform.