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American West Briefing Tour: Day 2 offers four hour lunch filled with great direct democracy minds

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September 22, 2011

American West.jpg

By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Apparently, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, which was emphasized in a four hour long luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Those attending the lunch were required to participate in asking questions to those who presented their area of expertise in direct democracy.

Presenters at the roundtable discussion, entitled "California Direct Democracy: The Next 100 years," included an array of leaders in the state initiative and referendum process.

Swiss Consul General's welcome

The event kicked off with a panel discussion including Jim Fishkin of The Deliberative Opinion Poll, who conducted a survey of a representative random sample of the people about certain aspects of direct democracy. According to Fishkin, three components of public opinion were detrimental to the initiative and referendum process. Those three components were rational ignorance, phantom opinion and selectivity of sources.

Joining him on the panel were Zabrae Valentine of California Forward, Thad Kousser of UCSD and Mathew McCubbins of the University of Southern California. After the each panel member said a few words, questions were directed to them about the initiative process and how to better reform California's direct democracy, with an emphasis on less legislative involvement.

After a few short proposals about alternate initiative and referendum processes, a phone Q&A was conducted with Nathan Gardels of the Think Long Committee. The Think Long Committee, a group "dedicated to exploring new ideas of good government." Recommendations were given by Gardels, on behalf of the committee, in order to revise the existing direct democracy process in the state. Those recommendations included, but were not limited to:

  • Requiring initiatives to identify offsetting or revenue increases.
  • Allow Initiatives only in the general election.
St. Francis Yacht Club

One of the more controversial ideas given by Gardels was The Citizen's Accountability Council, a body of 21 "eminent citizens" with four appointed by legislative leaders and the rest by the governor of California. The group would be able to propose legislation and send initiatives directly to the people. The idea was met with tension from some of those in attendance. One question in particular challenged Gardels to bring an example of an appointed citizen body that has effectively worked, to which Gardels offered examples that were unsatisfactory to the questioner.

The final leg of the roundtable discussion included another panel discussion entitled "Can technology and social media make direct democracy more participatory?"

Included in the panel was tour participant Salvor Nordal of the Iceland constitutional council, along with Tina Lee of Zero Divide, Michael Marubio from Verafirma, Dan Ancona from Democracy Dashboard and Bryan Merica from Activate Direct and ID Media Communications. Among the panel discussion was Marubio's idea of electronic signature gathering, an application that event organizer Joe Mathews claimed the California Secretary of State wants to be illegal.

With all four hours under the belt of attendees, tour participants were able to interact afterward with many of those who presented.

Four hours in a room overlooking the bay and filled with ambitious and brilliant minds on direct democracy wasn't the only event scheduled for Day 2, but it was certainly the most informative.

Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: San Francisco

What else to look for today

  • Hastings: Lunch with Professor Michael Salerno discussing the strong and weak points of initiative and referendum
  • San Francisco City Hall: Meeting with local administrators and practitioners of direct democracy.
  • Home of the Swiss Consul General: Dinner and discussion
Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

Follow the tour!

See also