History of direct democracy in New Jersey
In December 1900 the Direct Legislation Record published the gloomy prediction of Clarence T. Atkinson that the reform had "no chance of success until the evil of bribery is abolished." By 1907, after 14 years of effort, the New Jersey Direct Legislation League had despaired of passing an amendment to give voters actual lawmaking power and instead sponsored a bill allowing voters to put non-binding, advisory initiatives on the state ballot. That proposal also failed again and again. In 1911 the I&R movement's journal Equity explained New Jersey's failure in terms of its being "the Trust State": the nation's biggest businesses were chartered there, and they were the major source of opposition to I&R.
A second attempt to adopt I&R was made at the state's 1947 constitutional convention with the strong support of organized labor, but again without success. Interest revived, however, during the mid-1970s, when the state chapters of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters began supporting I&R.
In 1981 initiative advocates in won state senate approval of an I&R bill by a 30 to 3 vote, but Democratic Party leaders in the assembly kept the bill bottled up in committee. The same thing happened in 1983: the bill received 32 to 4 approval in the senate but no vote at all in the assembly. In 1986, I&R advocates, led by Republican assemblyman (and former state Common Cause director) Richard Zimmer, pushed their bill through the assembly for the first time, but lost in the senate.
- This state history is based on David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution and is reproduced here with the permission of the Initiative & Referendum Institute.