Day 4 of Global Forum highlights how direct democracy can affect policy.
By Kyle Maichle
SAN FRANCISCO, California: The fourth day of the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy highlighted how initiatives, referendums, and citizen involvement can affect public policy. The first speech of the day came from California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. Torres, who is also a former state lawmaker, blasted critics who think that citizen initiatives are responsible for the state’s fiscal crisis. Torres mentioned studies that point the cause to legislative-referred initiatives that increased spending while citizen initiatives resulted in less spending. In addition, Torres called on the Legislature to impose contribution limits towards initiative campaigns and banning ballot initiatives that negatively impact the state budget.
Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States discussed about how his organization uses the initiative process. Pacelle said that the animal rights organization uses initiatives as a last resort when the law permits it. The leader of the Humane Society also said that initiatives can be used as a tool to hold lawmakers, lobbyists, and parties accountable. Pacelle stated during his remarks that initiative campaigns has allowed his organization to hold accountable hunting and agricultural lobbyists that block animal rights legislation.
The first panel discussion of the day talked about alternative methods of direct democracy. Alice Siu, a political science professor at Stanford University, talked about how she uses citizen panels as part of conducting scientific polls. The method Siu mentioned was involving citizen panels in addition to polls that use random sampling. The Professor also said that the system is used in other nations and could be expanded to the United States. Mark Linder and Greg Greenaway discussed about how citizen involvement successfully affected housing and redevelopment policy in California's Bay Area region. Greenaway said that citizen discussion panels were successful in convincing the City Council and Mayor of San Jose to spend money on redeveloping all of its neighborhoods instead of Downtown San Jose.
The Second panel of the day talked about constitutional conventions. J.H. Snider of Maryland discussed the campaign he is leading to get the state's voters to change their constitution. Snider talked about the challenges campaigns could face in 2010 in changing their constitutions, but is optimistic that the current political climate could play in his favor. Iowa and Michigan will also put constitutional convention questions on the November 2010 ballot in addition to Maryland.
John Woodcock, a former Connecticut state lawmaker, talked what went right and wrong during the 2008 campaign he led to bring a constitutional convention. Woodcock said that campaigns in support of changing their constitutions need to narrow their focus down to one or two issues in order to be successful. Woodcock, who now leads Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, said that his efforts in 2008 have made initiative and referendum a fringe issue in Connecticut's 2010 elections. Manfred Brandt of Germany and Adrian Schmid of Switzerland also talked about the European model of constitutional conventions. Both of the speakers said that changing a constitution at the local or national level in Europe is a more deliberate process in which takes years instead of months.
The rest of the afternoon was divided into breakout sessions on issues ranging from building trans-partisan coalitions to using direct democracy at the local level.
The evening ended with movie night at HUB which is located in the San Francisco Chronicle building. There were movies about direct democracy in other nations being shown along with a viewing of World Vote Now. World Vote Now is a effort in bringing a global initiative and referendum process.
The final day of the forum on Wednesday will focus the future of direct democracy along with the declaration of best practices from the forum. A full downloadable schedule of the July 30-August 4 forum can be found here.