The latest threats to direct democracy in California

Since 1911, Californians have possessed powerful tools to control indolent or corrupt politicians. The rights of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — are enshrined in the California Constitution for reasons that are just as compelling in 2023 as they were more than a century ago.

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But make no mistake, politicians hate direct democracy and view it as a threat to their political power or, at a minimum, as an intrusion on their legislative responsibilities. It is no surprise, then, when legislators introduce proposals to weaken direct democracy, and this legislative session is no different.

Last month, progressive legislators introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 to gut the recall power. Under current law, voters can recall a state officer by majority vote and, in the same election, elect a successor with a plurality of the vote. In addition, the state constitution prohibits a public official who is the subject of a recall election from being a candidate for successor.

In a fundamental change to the Constitution, SCA 1 would leave an office vacant in the event of a successful recall until a replacement is elected in a special election, or if there is insufficient time to hold a special election, the office would remain vacant for the remainder of the term. This deprives voters of knowing who might replace the officer they are recalling and creates a new concern that a public office could remain unfilled with no one to perform the duties of that office.

In addition, under SCA 1 the rules would be different for a gubernatorial recall. If a governor is removed from office in a recall election, the lieutenant governor becomes governor for the remainder of the unexpired term. In a one-party state like California, this renders a recall for governor nearly pointless.

If SCA 1 sounds familiar, it is nearly identical to SCA 3, which was introduced in the last legislative session but, fortunately, did not progress very far. Perhaps the reason the proposal stalled last year is the realization that, as a proposed constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by a majority of the statewide electorate. Public polling reveals that Californians support direct democracy, including the right to bounce bad politicians.

Another threat to direct democracy is an effort by the municipal bond industry to obscure the true cost of tax hikes and bond measures.

Senate Bill 532, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, seeks to weaken two existing transparency bills, Assembly Bills 809 and 195 (by then-Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, 2015-2016), sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Taken together these bills state that for all local tax and bond measures, the rate of the tax, its duration and the total amount of money to be raised are disclosed right on the ballot label. While SB 532 continues to include most of this information, for local bonds and tiered special taxes it relegates it off the ballot label and buries it in the separately mailed voter information guide. When confronting special taxes that will be on tax rolls for decades, it is imperative that voters have as much information as possible.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register


  1. And does anyone wonder why the real producers of the State are leaving?

    We need to stop this. Any legislator that has proposed or backs this should be recalled themselves.

    Understand that there is what is called a referendum that can be filed and put on the ballot. It is specific to overturn a vote by a legislative body.

    The backbone of the capitalist middle of the road should be gearing up right now to qualify a petition and circulate it just in case.

  2. TheRandyGuy says

    Democrats maintain a stranglehold on Sacramento because the voters want it that way, and it’s been like this for 30 years. So, I have a hard time caring what the politicians do in any area when we all know the voters won’t vote them out regardless. They do this precisely because they know they will not be ejected from office. I’m out in less than a year – CA is a lost cause.

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