California tests populist view of “direct democracy” – Orange County Register

The great Californian reformer, former Governor Hiram Johnson, envisioned that “direct democracy” would be an effective brake on the influence of special interests.

Back then, over a century ago, the Southern Pacific Railroad dominated a corrupt state legislature and other political bodies. Johnson wanted voters to be empowered to circumvent such dominance through initiative (legislature by ballot), referendum (repeal of laws passed by the legislature), and dismissal (ousting politicians deemed ineffective or corrupt).

The next 15 months will be a particularly heavy test of Johnson’s direct democracy.

A recall aimed at Governor Gavin Newsom, once a long shot, now looks like it has a good chance of success. The postal vote will begin in a few weeks and Newsom and his Democratic Party are obviously concerned that the low turnout of pro-Newsom voters will be fatal to his political career.

Looking ahead to the November 2022 general election, voters will face at least one referendum and three initiatives that attract both support and opposition from financial interests – a scenario far different from Johnson’s populist view.

The tobacco industry-backed referendum would torpedo Senate Bill 793, a 2020 measure signed by Newsom that bans flavored tobacco products. Supporters of SB 793 claimed it was necessary because “fueled by kid-friendly flavors like cotton candy and chewing gum, an additional 3.6 million middle and high school students have started using cigarettes. electronic in 2018. “

One move is the latest skirmish in a 46-year battle over legislation Jerry Brown signed in 1975, his first year as governor, that limits “pain and suffering” damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $ 250,000 .

Healthcare providers and their insurers backed the law, known as MICRA, to limit what they said were outrageous damages that made medical services financially untenable.

Since then, personal injury lawyers and their allies have attempted, both in the legislature and by ballot, to modify or repeal MICRA, but have repeatedly failed. The 2022 initiative would keep MICRA on the books, but make its limit virtually meaningless.

A second move is another skirmish in a multi-year battle, this one between environmental groups and the plastics industry over liability for waste. The former have often prevailed in the legislative arena and in the ballot box. Their new measure would place the burden of reducing plastic waste directly on manufacturers.

Supporters have already raised several million dollars to pass the measure, but while the American Chemistry Council opposes it, no formal campaign against it has been announced.

The third initiative promises to be the costliest as it will determine control over what could be a multibillion-dollar expansion of legal gambling in sporting events.

Sponsored by a coalition of Indian tribes who already have a monopoly on slots and other forms of casino games, the new measure would give them and a few racetracks a similar monopoly on sports betting, which is now illegal.

The tribal ballot measure culminates in years of wrangling in the legislature over the legalization of sports betting that came to naught.

Under the measure, these bets would have to be placed in person at casinos or lanes and it is likely that online sports betting sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel will object, who have hinted that they could place. their own measurement on the ballot.

At the moment, however, the only formal opposition from the tribes comes from the poker rooms which see sports betting as a new competition for Californians with one yen to play.

It is theoretically possible that other measures will be part of the 2022 poll, but given the signing requirements and deadlines, it is highly unlikely that more will surface.

CalMatters is a public service journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, visit calmatters.org/commentary.


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