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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website]

They Just Don't Trust Us
Liberal elites don't want power to the people
[Jon Coupal]

In the early part of the last century, the Southern Pacific Railroad owned the California Legislature in all but title. To break the hold of special interests on state government, Republican Governor Hiram Johnson managed to push through a progressive agenda that included the initiative, referendum and recall. (This was back in the days when the word "progressive" meant something good.)

These powers, enumerated in the state constitution, were intended to insure that government would ultimately be responsible to the citizens. If the Legislature proved to be too indolent, incompetent or corrupt to address important issues, the people had the ultimate power to pass legislation of their own design. If a lawmaker or state constitutional officer proved to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt, the people were entitled to fire that official using the recall procedure.

The classic example of the importance of the initiative is from 1978. When government refused to temper property taxes that were escalating so rapidly as to make home ownership untenable, the people took matters into their own hands and passed Proposition 13.

It has been said that Proposition 13 is to a liberal as sunlight is to a vampire. Recent events show that liberals are averse to anything that remotely resembles citizen control of political power. It is therefore no surprise that the recall election has given California liberals a real hotfoot. Those who so often remind us of their camaraderie with "the people" are now expressing outrage now that the people are exercising their constitutional rights.

Pandering politicians and elitist pundits who have so often criticized Proposition 13 and the initiative process are showing dread and fear that the people will be deciding the fate of a sitting governor with three years still remaining in his second term. They disparage the electorate's ability to exercise good judgment in choosing among scores of replacement candidates, as if somehow the average voter cannot distinguish between the leadership qualities and policy positions of the comic Gallagher (he of smashing watermelon fame) and, say, those of Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, State Senator Tom McClintock or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And if the voters did choose Gallagher -- which would be their right -- would they be significantly worse off than they are now with Gray Davis, the poster child for fiscal mismanagement? But the left recoils at the thought that the people might prefer a well-intentioned amateur to a callous, calculating politician who has used his power to make winners and losers out of groups of Californians based on the size of their campaign contributions.

Perhaps worst of all, these critics overlook the fact that control of California's government is already in the hands of another militant special interest: the government itself and its extended infrastructure of unions and special interests who feed at the trough.

In a discussion of the recall on Fox News with Hannity and Colmes, California political commentator and former Michael Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich suggests that "something will have to be done." Something like what? Something like stripping the people of the right to take action when they are ill-served by their representatives? Why not draft Saddam Hussein and just have a dictatorship? The message seems to be that democracy is "too messy" or that government is too important to leave to the common folk.
On KNX news radio in Los Angeles, Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Norman Lear Center, tells an interviewer that government is supposed to protect us from our "mob instincts" and compares California to a "Banana Republic."

Those who see the use of the initiative and recall as evidence that the sky is falling are joining the chorus of the Eastern-based media who see California as the loony state. But these elitist liberals have lost sight of the purpose of government: To serve the People. They would do well to review Section 1 of Article II of the California Constitution which enumerates the rights of the people to take action: "All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require."

Howard Jarvis distilled this constitutional provision in a crude, but effective saying: Often, government by the masses is preferable to government by the asses.


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