American West Briefing Tour: Law professor discusses the strong and weak points of California initiative process

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September 22, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Bright and not-so-early in the morning (in order to give participants a rest), the tour group took the short walk to UC Hastings College of Law for a short discussion with Professor Michael B. Salerno, who attended yesterday's roundtable luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club.

Professor Salerno, a clinical professor and associate director of the Center for State and Local Government Law, led a discussion about the both sides of the initiative and referendum process in the state. To start the event, Salerno had to make one thing clear to the group:

"I'm not against direct democracy. It is California's version of direct democracy that I do not support."

With that said, Salerno began his discussion of what was wrong with the initiative process in California, starting with the decry of the initiative process in the state, pointing out that the procedure takes away rights from people. He pointed out that "chickens have more rights in California than the gay community" because of the initiative and referendum process, a process that allows for a short time to go by before allowing ballot access.

Any solution?

"The Swiss process is a good example [of effective direct democracy]."

UC Hastings College of Law after the discussion

According to Salerno, the process is slowly vetted and it takes a long time to review an initiative. This is a process, says Salerno, that California can learn from. However, when asked if any change seemed to be on the horizon, the situation seemed bleak. The former Executive Director of the California Fair Political Practices Commission stated that in order to change the process, a constitutional tweak had to occur. This, he said, was something California residents appear afraid to do.

What about a constitutional convention?

Try again. Salerno shot down that idea, citing fear among voters that those appointed to a con-con's delegation would be legislators themselves.

One notable quote that was obtained from the end of this discussion was when Salerno was speaking about First Amendment rights when contemplating changing the state initiative process.

"You can't take away people's First Amendment rights. Even corporations are people."

Then he remembered a bumper sticker he heard about that said:

"I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."

As a Texan, I really don't know how to respond to that.

  • Current City: San Francisco

What else to look for today

  • Home of the Swiss Consul General: Dinner and discussion
Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

Follow the tour!

See also