Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We're getting the government we deserve

Californians have a long history of complaining about their government. At one time the legislature was in the pay of the Southern Pacific Railroad. What SP wanted the legislature enacted. I wasn't around during those times, but I imagine that elections were much like they are today. There is plenty of information available about candidates for office and about the issues and problems of government. I presume there was then also. The public has other things on its mind and won't take the trouble to dig out the useful information. Instead, the public will read and believe what's put in front of it. Joe Smith is a crook but his opponent John Brown is honest - or vice versa. As a result, the candidate with the biggest campaign fund wins the election. Before 1909 the winning candidates had financial support from SP.

Hiram Johnson was a crusading reformer. It didn't occur to him to try to break the bond between money and winning election. Instead, he had the voters approve several devices of direct democracy, such as the initiative and referendum, to bypass the corrupt legislature an enact good legislation.

For a while direct democracy broke the influence SP had on legislation. Later other corporations and wealth businessmen realized that the processes of direct democracy were just as susceptible to manipulation by people with money as candidates for office. Today we have the worst of both worlds. We have a legislature beholden to various moneyed pressure groups and we have ballot initiatives that got there by paying signature gatherers a dollar per signature. We have not done anything to break the connection between money and legislation.

We still have the power to overcome the influence of money. We can choose to ignore the campaign ads paid for by candidates and initiative backers with deep pockets. We can instead go to libraries, the internet, and other sources to find out some real analyses of the initiatives and the candidates. But we don't. We take the misinformation that is spoon-fed to us and vote accordingly. We may not like what we get, but we get what we deserve.

We can also overcome the influence of money by establishing a system of public financing of campaigns, both for candidates and for initiatives. We have in elections past declined to do so. Again, we get what we deserve.


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