The Future of the Initiative

The credit for the establishment of the initiative process in this country belongs with the Populists and Progressives. They worked steadily to dismantle the political machines and bosses that controlled American politics by pushing reforms eliminating the influence the special interest had on political parties and the government. Their goal, as is today’s proponents of the initiative process, was to ensure that elected officials remain accountable to the electorate.

But it is hard to predict what will happen with the future of the initiative process. The expansion of the process seems to be an uphill battle. Due to the reforms that the citizens have been successful in promoting through the initiative process – reforms that have limited the power of government – legislators in states without I&R have been hostile to advocating it and unfortunately its expansion can only occur by legislators giving it to the people. This in itself is a perfect example of why we need I&R.

As to the future use of the process, there is no doubt that in the upcoming election cycles, there will be numerous initiatives that will have a tremendous impact on our daily lives. These initiatives will be derived from the brains of activists of all political persuasions, including those who wish to diminish the size of government and those who wish to increase it.

The impact on state governments will be substantial. Whether the impact is positive or negative will be entirely up to the individual observer. However, if history is any indicator, there is no doubt that the fiscal and social implications will be far-reaching.

Excerpted from the Initiative & Referendum Almanac by M. Dane Waters.