Pennsylvania History of I & R

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History of Initiative and Referendum in Pennsylvania

Among the earliest initiative and referendum advocates in Pennsylvania was Charles Fremont Thylor, M.D., of Philadelphia. Dr. Taylor, one of the movement's most successful publicists, edited and published its periodical Equity (originally Equity Series) for over a decade. Thylor collaborated with Prof. Frank Parsons of Boston in publishing several of Parson's reformist works. Parsons' The City for the People, a guide to the reform of city government, included a 132-page chapter on initiative, referendum, and recall, which they later published separately.

Although Thylor's publications had a nationwide impact, efforts for I&R foundered in his own state. Under the leadership of Finley Acker of Philadelphia and Clarence Van Dyke Tiers of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Direct Legislation League waged an unsuccessful, 20-year battle against "the rule of the corporation machine" headed by Republican boss Boies Penrose. In July 1909 State Rep. Hyatt M. Cribbs wrote that the state house of representatives "is so overwhelmingly machine that I have little hope of ever getting my [I&R] bill out of committee."

The biggest victory for I&R advocates came in 1914, when they succeeded in persuading the legislature to pass a law allowing I&R in third-class cities - a category that included most of the major cities of the state except the two biggest, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Few initiative campaigns in Pennsylvania have attracted much attention outside the local jurisdictions in which they have taken place. One exception was the May 1983 vote in Bucks County (an elite rural area just north of Philadelphia) to block construction of a massive pump that would have drawn water from the Delaware River. The project drew opposition from environmentalists and voters, who passed the anti-pump initiative by a 56 percent margin. The Philadelphia Electric Company, which wanted the water to cool a nuclear plant, fought a five-year legal battle to build the pump anyway, and won a state ruling in its favor in 1988.


This was taken directly from with permission from the I&R Institute whose research was based on David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.