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So a Former Governor, Speaker and Chief Justice Walk Into a Ballroom...

CPR photo/Ben Adler

Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, former California Chief Justice Ronald George and former Governor Gray Davis discuss the state's initiative process at a Public Policy Institute of California panel Thursday in Sacramento.

CPR photo/Ben Adler

Capitol insiders packed a hotel ballroom Thursday to hear from three big names in California politics: former Governor Gray Davis, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and former California Chief Justice Ronald George.

Davis had his governorship cut short by direct democracy when voters recalled him less than a year into his second term.  But he credits the initiative process for the creation of the state’s new independent redistricting commission.  “If you don’t like the people’s ability to make laws, to change laws and to kick you out of office, then you should find another line of work!” the governor said, drawing laughs. 

Willie Brown, on the other hand, can’t stand the initiative process.  He says he’s never voted for any initiative.  And he points out a majority of voters can impose a two-thirds requirement on the legislature.  “We can get 61, 62 percent, maybe even 65 percent of the members of the legislature to vote one way, but because of this dumb thing done by the voters through the initiative process, we are stymied.  We are stalled,” Brown said.

But all three panelists agree there ought to be a way to review initiatives before they reach the ballot.  Chief Justice George says that could be done through the legislature, a citizens’ commission or a panel of retired judges, “and with the proponents’ consent, have an amendment to the language of the proposed initiative before it passes – because it’s in their interest to avoid that costly exercise of going through and then having courts have to invalidate it.”

Other suggestions from the panel include requiring a two-thirds vote of the people to impose a two-thirds requirement on the legislature; lengthening the time allowed to gather signatures; and more clearly disclosing the financial supporters and opponents of ballot measures.

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Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio