I took a week off from Prop Zero blogging duties to serve as the volunteer organizer and co-president of a major international meeting in San Francisco of people involved in the study and practice of initiative, referendum, and other tools of direct democracy. Over five days, more than 300 people from more than 30 countries and 27 states offered and discussed literally hundreds of proposals for making initiative and referendum work better in California, in the rest of the country and around the world. We disagreed on many issues and agreed on a few others.
One area of general agreement: Jerry Brown is putting his thumb on the scale when it comes to writing titles and summaries for ballot initiatives.
In fact, many of the people in attendance from outside California thought it was fundamentally problematic to give the administrative role of writing such titles -- which can be crucial to determining whether a measure wins or loses -- to an elected official. And those from within California were equally withering.
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When former Republican State Senate Leader Jim Brulte, on a panel with legislators from Switzerland and the European Union, said that California attorneys general over the last generation have become more and more skilled at writing titles to please their own backers, no one in the audience, which consisted of a majority of parties of the left -- Democrats and Greens -- objected. (And this week, a court agreed that Brown got it wrong in the title and summary for one November ballot initiative, Prop 23, the proposal to suspend the state's groundbreaking climate change regulation law.)
The forum, through the polling technology, expressed overwhelming support for a proposal to re-assign the duties to a non-partisan, non-elected officials. In this, California ought to listen to the verdict of the world.