National Initiative News
Volume I, Issue 1, February 22, 2002
Senator Gravel Hosts Landmark Symposium.
Opens Drive To National Initiative Election In September.
Nineteen distinguished consitutional, legal, and political scholars from across the nation are convening on President’s Weekend, February 16 – 18, 2002, to address and refine the National Initiative for Democracy, the first constitutional amendment and federal statute ever to be enacted directly by the People of the United States of America. The National Initiative will create a “Legislature of the People,” bringing the People into the operation of government as lawmakers in a partnership with their elected representatives.
The Democracy Symposium is the pivotal event in an evolutionary process, initiated ten years ago by former United States Senator Mike Gravel, leading to the enactment of the National Initiative, the most important change to our government’s structure since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. When enacted, the National Initiative will create a "Legislature of the People", which will operate in partnership with our elected legislatures at the federal level and in every state and local government jurisdiction in the country.
The Symposium’s ultimate product will be the final draft of the National Initiative, which will be presented to the American voters, for concurrent enactment of a constitutional amendment and a federal statute, in a national election conducted by the nonprofit corporation Philadelphia II, beginning September 17, 2002.
The Democracy Symposium is being sponsored by The Democracy Foundation, a nonprofit corporation. The draft of the National Initiative for Democracy under consideration at the Symposium is the product of the decade-long work of Senator Gravel (U.S. Senate, 1969-81), his colleagues Don Kemner, Charles Turk and Dave Parrish, among others, and interested citizens from across the country.
A Word From The Chairman
Welcome from The Democracy Foundation to the inaugural issue of "National Initiative News". This monthly newsletter, accessible only through the Internet, will include interviews with opinion leaders, news from around the country regarding initiatives and referenda, major political stories and articles, letters from readers, and more.
Concurrent with this first issue of our newsletter we are launching the campaign to establish the "Legislature of the People" through the enactment of the "National Initiative for Democracy" in an election to commence on September 17, 2002. When the National Initiative becomes the law of the land, every citizen will be able to directly propose, vote on, and enact laws and constitutional/charter amendments at the national level and in every state and local government jurisdiction in the United States. Our "Legislature of the People" will operate in partnership with the United States Congress and our elected legislatures in state and local governments.
How often have you heard our representatives in government publicly flatter the American people, showering voters with praise, saying that the people are way ahead of their elected officials on this or that issue. Listen when your elected officials and candidates for office tell you how smart, perceptive and honorable you are. But when the time comes to give you a direct voice in your own public affairs, too often these same officials quietly try to thwart the will of We, the People.
Our movement is entirely non-partisan. Join me, The Democracy Foundation, and our supporters as we embark on the most dramatic and significant political adventure of our time to enact the most important structural change in our government since the ratification of the Constitution in 1788
LET FREEDOM RING – OUT
By Senator Mike Gravel
In 1974 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote, "Without an informed and free press there cannot be an enlightened people." So much depends on communication, and much communication is lost due to censorship and other interference with the free interchange of ideas and data. From the early days of humanity, to the detriment of humankind, communication has remained subject to the control of rulers who are sometimes so short-sighted or fearful of their citizenry that they establish censorship as an element of their control. This was recognized by those who wrote the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to Justice Potter who said in a 1974 speech that the "primary purpose" of the First Amendment was ". . . to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches [executive branch, legislative branch and the judiciary]." A number of landmark cases in the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the right of the press to function as a check on the exercise of official power.
Hong Kong under British rule was a demonstration point for the thesis that relatively unfettered operation of a free press can be a catalyst for a healthy, productive society. The efficacy of this is born out by progressive democratic societies and peoples such as are found in post-WWII Western Europe and Japan, the USA and Australia – all hugely productive in the decades following World War II.. The converse appears to have held in such undemocratic nations as the former USSR and Burma, where short-sighted security-driven controls on freedom have virtually destroyed a once rich, productive population.
It appears that the Hong Kong SAR of today, where government-driven self-censorship of the media is being facilitated by The Hong Kong Press Council, may be moving toward policies that threaten the productivity and health of one of the world’s showcase economies. What value is there in "security" if that which is secured is only a hollow shell of what was so valuable as to attract the security-minded?
It should be understood without need for emphasis: the requisite freedom of expression that results in unfettered communication needs to be found in all forms of mass communication: books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, motion pictures, phonograph records, radio, television, and stage plays as well as public discussions and lectures.
The enlightenment of which Justice Potter wrote is a marvelous attribute of the human race. It is the platform on which we stood as we advanced from primitive rote application of instinctual actions to the gloriously versatile creatures we have become . It has compounded itself as creative, insightful thinkers applied ideas derived from the successes and failures of their ancestors as well as contemporaries to conceive new solutions to continuing needs. Isaac Asimov, renowned writer on science and discovery, sometimes compiled lists of the most important human "breakthrough" discoveries – great leaps forward. During the last several thousand years, only a few thousand great leaps can be so identified. We know the human world of today to be so profoundly different from the world of 5,000 years ago that it could not possibly have resulted from the simple application of only those few thousand great leaps. It seems obvious that the differences must be accounted for as the results of cumulating application of myriad creative ideas coming from millions of people who, learning of great – and small – leaps, applied their own awareness of the possibilities represented by those leaps to things they knew about; thereby magnifying the effects of the great leaps millions-fold. The intellectual lens that supports that magnification is free, unfettered communication and the relaxed attitudes of free peoples who can be confidant that creativity has value, and thus make Progress the most important product of their being.
No one can say we live in a perfect world. Despite the great leaps forward and the myriad small creative developments accomplished over the ages, distressingly much remains to be done to make the world more than minimally livable for a majority of its inhabitants. Much more progress is necessary. The kind of progress that comes not from self-satisfied, entrenched bureaucrats who are "protected" from public criticism by a subservient press but from the true agents of modernization: a fully informed, free citizenry. Unfortunately, creativity-born progress is often blunted and buried in apathy. Those people who might accomplish small but significant creative improvements for the society in which they live are often prevented from knowing what others are doing or have done.
Rulers who control and stifle communication achieve real limitations on the long term health and vitality, hence the productivity and wealth of their domain. This has been demonstrated time and again throughout the history of the civilization of our societies as despots and tyrants burned books, muffled teachers and persecuted creative genius that did not fit the preconceived molds of their censors’ minds. Conversely, nations and peoples who have enjoyed democratic freedoms have shown remarkable ability to expand their use of all possible resources for the greatest gain in all elements of life.
The symbiotic effects of government which operates openly enough that there can exist cordial relations between office holders and the media is greatly to be desired; particularly to be desired now that moneyed interests are embarked on a world-wide campaign to assume control of the media in all its forms. For example, by 1999, in Russia, powerful financial groups had acquired control or were funding most major media assets. Only a few newspapers had the financial ability to be independent. To add to the fears and resulting self-censoring of journalists, four were murdered in 1998.
But, given neutrality in government, countervailing forces can arise. Thus, in the USA for example, myriad media watchers representing the special interests of political and religious groups, parents, academics, trade associations and many others quickly denounce what they perceive to be unwarranted biases in the media. It falls to government to fulfill its expected role in protecting the communication industry – as every other legitimate industry – from unlawful coercion. Given that, ascertaining proper data and publishing as an unfettered form of communication can tend toward an unbiased, self-correcting process, a vital element of a vibrant modern society..
Don Kemner Interviews Professor Ronald J. Allen
February 2, 2002
Kemner: Professor Allen, in 1977 a subcommittee of the U. S. Senate held hearings on a National Initiative constitutional amendment. Subsequently you wrote an article about this. I’m referring to your article which appeared in the Nebraska Law Review in 1979. At that time you spoke generally in favor of adoption of national initiative. Today…20 years later.. do you find yourself more or less favorable to providing the people with a national initiative?
Allen: Well by the time I was finished with my work in 1979 I had actually become favorably inclined toward the possibility of a national initiative and nothing has happened over the ensuring 25 years to change that view. So I remain as I was then–a supporter. I don’t think it is a panacea by any means, but I do think it could be a useful addition to the political structure of the United States.
Kemner: Could you go back to that late seventies period and unpack a bit what your feelings were then which led you into a study of what the subcommittee of the Judiciary was doing in holding hearings on a National Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
Allen: Well, I began my work at that time as somewhat of a skeptic, thinking, as most political science theorists, that initiatives are not a terribly useful way to conduct business, and so I examined virtually every state initiative that had ever been on the ballot throughout the history of the United States. And by the time I had completed that study I had actually come to the view that it is, in fact, a very impressive experience. I came to see that many of the theoretical political scientists in particular were making false comparisons between bills proposed versus bills enacted. And when you control for those kind of variables you find a lot of useful legislation has come out of the initiative process and very little clearly unfortunate legislation. So those were basically the reasons why I concluded that, in fact, there was a role to be played by a national initiative.
Kemner: Well then rounding out and confirming what you have said, you do not feel anything has materially changed in the intervening years for you to feel any less favorable to a National Initiative?,
Allen: No. My observations over the last twenty years have simply confirmed the conclusions I came to from my initial work on initiative lawmaking.
Kemner: O. K. Let’s assume a national initiative was put into law. How would you see it working? Specifically, what kind of issues do you see as appropriate for the people to discuss, debate and vote on– via a national initiative?
Allen: Well, were there a national initiative then I would think it would be appropriate for the people to deal with any issues about which there was sufficient interest in the population as a whole to qualify a bill for the ballot. Having said that, I don’t think it would be generally used. I believe, and, in fact, I hope it would be used in a highly specialized way which deals with the limits of representational politics. Congress, for the most part, is quite responsive to its constituencies but sometimes, when its own best interests are at stake, it is not. And that is the role that I think that initiative plays. It allows for a corrective mechanism for the limits of representative politics.
Kemner: Becoming a bit more specific on this point are there issues which you foresee which should not go to a vote of the people? If so, how should such issues be handled particularly when many people feel this or that issue is also a problem that needs better attention than our representatives are giving to it?
Allen: If I could simply wave a wand and provide for an national initiative I would not limit its subject matter, formally. That is to say, I would not say categorically certain areas are ‘out of bounds’ for a national initiative. I do think there are certain issues that are best dealt with through a deliberative, representational mechanism, particularly those things that have to do with, for instance, discrimination. Taxing, that is discrete taxing bills, likewise, I feel is a matter which, for the most part, I wouldn’t want to be voted on by the nation as a whole. Over-all tax policy, however, is an altogether different story. So, as I say, formally, I would not restrict subject matter but, as a practical matter, I would expect that there would be certain limits. And, yes, that, in fact, is what I would hope would be the case.
Kemner: O.K Let’s change things a bit…
In the case of a national initiative it is the People who initiate the legislation…bring it to a vote and decide upon it. In the case of a national referendum, it is the Congress or the States petitioning Congress that initiates legislation which, then, is referred to the People for a vote. In the case of a national referendum do you think the people should be able to vote on CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS?
Allen: Well, constitutional amendments….I think that is a very interesting question. And I am not sure, at this point, concerning referenda in dealing with constitutional amendments. The reason for this is that constitutional amendments necessarily involve a protracted decision-making process–as we do it now–and I see some real wisdom in that structured process. I am speaking of the Article V procedure where you have to get two-thirds of the States to concur to initiate the process and then three fourths of them to ratify a constitutional amendment That allows the nation as a whole to watch the process as it unfolds. And I actually think that is a very good thing. So, I don’t know…I’m less enthusiastic about constitutional amendments being voted on by the population than I am on statutes.
Kemner: I understand…but yet, I wish to confirm and perhaps clarify also for myself your thinking on what may or may not be simply the same question.
Do you feel the people should be allowed to ENACT constitutional amendments VIA A NATIONAL INITIATIVE in addition to or instead of a national referendum on constitutional amendment?
Allen: Well, in point of fact, this is for me NOT the same question I think you can see a role for an initiative process with respect to constitutional amendments. Again, if I had my ideal situation, I think a vote by the population to send a national initiative to the states for ratification would make some sense–in other words, a process by which through an initiative vote the people propose an amendment which is then sent to each and all of the states for a ratification vote. I also would have no objection to providing for ratification through popular vote in the various states, and so I can imagine a role for the people with respect to constitutional amendments. Again, I would just want to be sure to structure the process to preserve its deliberative nature. But in the end what I am most concerned about with constitutional amendments is just what I said: the experience in the United States has indicated that it is a good thing that it takes a long time for constitutional amendments to be ratified and I would want to maintain that process of lengthy ratification. Now if that could be Kemnere in such a way involving initiatives in the various states and so on that would be fine with me.
Kemner: O.K. well now that is quite a surprising answer for me. In citing the usefulness of the deliberative dimension built into the Article V protracted procedure and its possible adaptation to constitutional amendment >involving the population directly, you are making a stimulating new recommendation. Much to think about here.
Let me get a further clarification here and maybe a summary of your view. Would it be correct to say you see usefulness in the people being involved directly in constitutional amendments in two different ways. One way by bringing up a constitutional amendment as an initiative petition to the Congress to formulate and then refer the matter back to the people of the states who would then vote on what might be termed a national referendum which began as an initiative petition. The second would be for the people to formulate the constitutional amendment and then vote on it in a process which would then send it to the Congress to be, in turn, sent to the people of the states for the formal ratification vote. That is to say, in both ways, it would involve BOTH the people directly AND the prolonged deliberative procedure of Article V which has proven to be of great merit in the adoption of constitutional amendments.
Allen: Yes, I see this as a fair summary if not a fully complete expression of my view on the matter.
Kemner: Moving on then to a question with respect to the Democracy Symposium in Williamsburg of mid-February, 2002. The Democracy Foundation is presenting a national initiative proposal called the National Initiative For Democracy. You have studied this document. And there are many parts and issues involved. Let me focus, however, on just one of those many and complex issues: namely the kind of relationship it will encourage between the People and their government. I have reference specifically to the document being proposed called the National Initiative For Democracy.
In your judgment, will the proposal called a National Initiative For Democracy encourage a PARTNERSHIP or an ADVERSARIAL relationship between Congress and the People. Why? How?
Allen: I think the answer to this question is clear: it will encourage a partnership between the formal institutions of government and the population as a whole. It simply increases the responsiveness of Congress to the population…they would have to be even more attentive to the interests of their constituency. The final word would always remain in the people, obviously, and so in terms of an adversarial relationship Congress would be very badly advised to react in a hostile or aggressive way. And don’t forget, it is the same people who are interested in these initiatives and referenda who are also the ones who vote in congressional elections. So there are all kinds of checking mechanisms and I think this would simply be another one that would encourage a cooperative relationship among these various institutions of governance.
Kemner: Finally, you have gone through and studied the National Initiative For Democracy document. With respect to fostering a partnership versus an adversarial relationship, how does the document appear to you?
Allen: I don’t think it reads as a hostile or aggressive document. I think it reads as a perfectly plausible suggestion for a change in the political institutions.
Kemner: Professor Allen, I want to thank you. You have stated yourself clearly but in an equally clear qualified manner so that in the end you have offered much to take seriously into account.
Ronald J. Allen is Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University.
Donald Kemner is a Member of the Board of Directors of the nonprofit corporation Philadelphia II.
On The Ground
Report From The Field
Kelly Beaucar Vlahos reports for Fox News that " In many states across the country, the will of the people is being undermined by the will of the politicians. Dozens of ballot initiatives that have been passed by citizens over the last decade are being repealed, ignored or challenged in court by state legislators or federal agencies …’What you’ve seen is behind-the-scenes judicial actions and where that is not possible, you’ve seen outright bans,’ said Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute in Washington, D.C……Every state’s rules regarding ballot initiatives are different. Currently, 27 states have a ballot initiative process, which in every case requires an expensive signature-gathering campaign before a measure can go before the voters. The process makes it difficult to get initiatives on the ballot in the first place…However in opposition "Laws, whether passed by legislatures or by the people, are not perfect from the outset and should be subject to scrutiny and modification, even if that means returning it to the people more than once", said Jennie Drage-Bowser, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Oregon’s Public Broadcasting Network announced that Oregon’s highest court overturned Oregon’s term limits law even though the law was supported by 70% of the electorate. "In a lawsuit pursued by the state Legislature, the high court ruled that a ballot initiative could not affect more than one area of the constitution at a time. Since the term limits initiative passed in 1992 affects both district and statewide officials, it pertains to multiple sections of the state constitution, the court ruled. "While Oregonians are striving to put yet another initiative on the ballot for 2002, the court battle has left a sour taste in the mouths of citizens", said an observer. "Basically, the Legislature did not want to put it on the ballot themselves and opted to have the court do their dirty work," she said….In connection with the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes "Oregon, where an initiative has already passed, the government has made medical marijuana so difficult to possess that the state is being taken to court.
From Anthony Farmer of the Poughkeepsie Journal we learn that New York Governor George Pataki "called for a constitutional amendment to give residents the power of initiative and referendum in New York….While the issue has been discussed in the past, and even proposed by Pataki when he first took office in 1995, getting such a measure through the Legislature will be difficult, several people said….’The key will be how hard Pataki is willing to work to make it happen,’ said Dane Waters, president of the Washington-based Initiative and Referendum Institute, a nonprofit that promotes the process throughout the nation. ….’Of all the governors who talked about it, I can’t think of any who have tried to go the distance to make it happen,” Waters said. ”Hopefully, Governor Pataki will be the one.’…Amending the state constitution will not be an easy process. It requires approval of the measure by two consecutively elected Legislatures and then must be approved by the state’s electorate.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s T.C. Brown revealed that "Gov. Bob Taft, his wife, Hope, and two state agency directors have illegally conspired to derail a proposed ballot issue that would permit treatment for drug offenders, according to a complaint filed yesterday with the Ohio Inspector General…The complaint, filed by the Ohio Campaign for New Drug Policies, alleges the officials infringed on citizens’ rights, have improperly used state funds and misused their public offices…’The ballot initiative campaign wants a proposition on the November ballot that would allow nonviolent first- and second-time drug offenders to receive treatment in lieu of jail time. State officials want to thwart that effort, as is evident from over 2,000 public documents,’ said Ed Orlett, the campaign’s manager. Mary Anne Sharkey, communications director for Taft, said the governor has said he opposes the initiative because he believes it is tantamount to legalization. An opposing campaign will be waged if it makes the ballot, Sharkey said. The campaign must gather 335,000 signatures on petitions by August to meet a deadline to put the initiative on the ballot.
Bob Anaz of the Associated Press reported that "The Montana Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to give special treatment to a legal challenge of the state’s 9-year-old term limits for elected state officials. On a 5-2 vote, the court decided to hear the case without first requiring it to go through the District Court process, as most lawsuits must do before they can be appealed to the high court. Putting the case on a fast track is the only way it can be decided before the two-month candidate filing period for the 2002 elections closes March 21, the court said. The two dissenting justices, Jim Rice and Terry Trieweiler, said the emergency was created by those filing the suit waiting years to go to court.’Both Sen. Christiaens and Sen. Cole are astute public servants who have been well aware since their last election that the constitutional amendment embodied in CI-64 prohibited them from seeking another term,’ Rice wrote.’Yet, they failed to properly initiate a challenge to the amendment in the District Court, waiting until the midnight hour and crying ’emergency’ to this court,’ he said.