Our Government is Broken: Ballot Initiatives Prove It

Democrats generally lost on Tuesday. But liberal, progressive ballot initiatives generally won.

Five states voted to increase the minimum wage. Two states and the District of Columbia voted to permit marijuana for recreational use. Three states voted to protect a woman’s right to choose. Californians voted to downgrade nonviolent felonies like shoplifting and drug possession into misdemeanors.

Many lessons emerge here. I list two but really care about the second.

First, the public is generally more progressive than the political class gives them credit for. I wrote about this back in 2007. The folks behind the Populist Majority show it daily. Here we have left-wing issues that are popular enough to win – even when the party winds are blowing rightward.

Behind the ballot initiatives lies a roster of other issues. 62% of adults say they would pay more for energy if it would reduce pollution from carbon emissions. 60% of likely voters favor stricter federal regulations on banks and other financial institutions. 65% of voters in battleground states believe the current system of financing elections is wrong.

Question: Who represents these people?

This brings me to my main point. Nobody represents these people. Our representative democracy is fundamentally broken. What passed on Tuesday by ballot initiative could have passed years ago as regular legislative business.

Why didn’t it? Because we’re broken.

Ballot initiatives are useful to make a point, but they’re no way to govern. Ballot initiatives can’t allocate school funding, negotiate trade pacts or calibrate criminal sanctions. We need our government to do that. We need people with time and expertise to balance interests and reach fair conclusions. And we need them to reflect the interests of the people. In short, we need representative government — the kind we learned about in grade school.

I’m happy those initiatives passed. I’m sad they had to.


Eric Lotke is Senior Research Analyst at SEIU and former Research Director at Campaign for America’s Future. His latest book is Making Manna.

 

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