Tag Archive | "American West Briefing Tour"

American West Briefing Tour: Taking Lewis & Clark by storm

September 27, 2011

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By Kelly O’Keefe

Ballopedia Travel Journal

PORTLAND, Oregon: The final full day of our tour was an informative one. We took part in a day-long conference on direct democracy held at Lewis & Clark College [1].

The day began with a panel titled “Making the Initiative Work for Oregon: Discussing the City Club of Portland’s Report on Reforming Oregon’s Initiative Process.” Leslie Johnson and Arden Shenker, both members of the City Club of Portland, presented to the group. The City Club is a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is “to inform its members and the community in public matters, and to arouse in them the realization of the obligations of citizenship.” [2]

In 2008, the City Club issued a report on reforming the initiative, referendum, and referral systems in Oregon. The report included nine recommendations for improving Oregon’s system of direct democracy. One of the Club’s recommendations is to implement an indirect initiative system.

Ms. Johnson said the Club felt compelled to issue the report in the face of a number of perceived problems with Oregon’s system of direct democracy. One such problem is that statutory law is being added to the constitution, resulting in a state constitution that many people believe is too long and addresses too many minor points. Another problem is that initiative backers engage in a system of “ballot title shopping” by submitting numerous ballot proposals with nearly identical substance in the hopes of getting a favorable ballot title name from the Secretary of State.

In 2002, with the passage of Ballot Measure 26, Oregon prohibited petition drive organizers from paying petitioners on a per-signature basis. Mr. Shenker said there is no evidence that this reform has resulted in a substantive reduction in petition fraud.

The second panel of the day was titled “Ballot Measure Campaigning in Oregon–An Insider’s Perspective: Discussing how the Initiative Process in Oregon Works with Leading Ballot Measure Advocates.” The Panelists were Phil Keisling, former Oregon Secretary of State; Ross Day and Dan Meek, both attorneys; and Ted Blaszak, the president of a petition drive management company called Democracy Resources.

Mr. Meek, a self-described progressive, lamented the fact that in his opinion, the number of progressive measures placed on the ballot has been declining over the years, relative to the number of non-progressive measures. Himself a proponent of the initiative process, Mr. Meek said that “I’m sorry to say that it is Republicans who have voted 100% of the time to protect the initiative process.”

Panel discussion

Mr. Keisling noted that only about one third of initiatives placed on the ballot ever become law. He said that the initiative was a political tool used by progressives at the beginning of the century, but conservatives began using the initiative frequently starting in the 1970s. Mr. Keisling made the point that it is intellectually dishonest to attack the initiative process simply because we may not like the outcomes the process has given us.

Mr. Day said he believes Oregon’s initiative process is dying a death by a thousand cuts. He commented that “the problem with direct democracy in Oregon is not rampant fraud, it is rampant regulation.” He believes electronic signature gathering is the future of the initiative process.

Mr. Blaszak, whose petition firm qualifies two to four ballot measures each year, believes Oregon’s initiative process is unfairly favorable to conservatives. He said, “it’s easier to write ballot measures that attack parts of the social welfare state than it is to write ballot measures that expand the social welfare state.”

The day continued with more lively debate and discussion about Oregon’s initiative process. Stay tuned for more posts about today’s great event!

  • Current City: Portland

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: Dinner with Mayor Sam Adams

September 27, 2011

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By Kelly O’Keefe

Ballopedia Travel Journal PORTLAND, Oregon: Last night we had dinner at Portland’s Nel Centro Restaurant [1] with the city’s mayor, Sam Adams. Don’t worry, I refrained from asking Mayor Adams what it feels like to be the victim of not one, but two attempted recall campaigns.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams

Also joining us for dinner was Jeff Mapes [2], a political reporter for the Oregonian. Mayor Adams asked Jeff if our dinner was on or off the record. No one could make up their mind. But after it was announced that Al is from Texas, Mayor Adams said “welcome to civilization. And that is on the record.” Ouch!

We were very happy to be reunited with our friend Julius Anderegg, Swiss Consul General. Julius and one of his staffers, Martin, traveled up to Portland since the Swiss direct democracy exhibit that we saw in San Francisco is now on display at Lewis and Clark College.

Mary Jean Thompson, who serves as an honorary American counsel representing Liechtenstein, was another dinner guest.

We enjoyed Oregon wine with dinner, and of course, the highlight of the evening was when I got to eat blackberry bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream. Well done, Portland, well done.
Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: Portland

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: A tale of two Arizona initiative campaigns

September 26, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

PORTLAND, Oregon: The tour group has now landed in the eccentric city of Portland, Oregon, but before we shift focus to the Beaver State, loose ends need to be tied up from our time in Phoenix.

What better way to wrap up the part two of the tour than to visit with two of the top leader is the initiative process.

Beginning our day in the American Southwest

We met with Eric Ehst on September 24, after our visit with a leader in health care reform, who helped organize 1998′s Proposition 200. Ehst is the executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, a group dedicated to “promoting and defending public campaign financing, independent redistricting, and citizens’ initiative and referendum rights since 1998.”

Ehst’s Prop 200 established the Clean Election’s Act, which in part provides for the following: Funds participating state office candidates dollar for dollar against non-participants, up to a limit of $2 million. According to the current Clean Elections Act, public funds are provided to Candidate A if his or her opponent, Candidate B, is running on private funds and outspends them. If Candidate B spends more money than the public funds given to Candidate A, that would trigger additional public funding to Candidate A.

The initiative has come under fire, though, Ehst says, with a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the matching funds provision of the law. Also, a measure has been placed on the Arizona 2012 ballot that would not completely repeal the law, but would water it down.

After speaking with Ehst, we then made our way to a lunch meet-up with Joe Yuhas, partner and Executive Director Public Affairs at the Riester Consulting Company, an organization who specializes in assisting initiative campaigns with signature collection, media advertising, initiative message development, research and other aspects of the initiative process crucial to voter approval, or disapproval.

Yuhas, along with his established business partner, claimed at the lunch that Riester has a 95% winning rate with the initiative campaigns it runs. But when they lose, “It’s very, very hard to take.”

The most recent campaign they oversaw was Proposition 203 in 2010, the measure that allowed residents in the state with specific medical conditions to be treated with certain amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The measure was approved with 50.1 percent of the vote. Let that squeaker sink in to your mind.

Other campaigns the Riester company organized, according to a document given at the lunch with our tour group:

Joe Yuhas discussing initiative matters with tour guests

More on our penultimate day in Phoenix is to come later on, as you know if you have been closely following our travels, we have a hectic schedule throughout our days. Along with closing the books on our Phoenix visit, we will open up a new chapter with the great city of Portland, Oregon. If there is any state in the country that might have a slight advantage over Arizona as far as initiative news goes, it would be this state.

  • Current City: Portland

What else to look for today

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

Follow the tour!

American West Briefing Tour: Tour group pages Dr. Eric Novack, leader of Arizona health care reform

September 26, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

PHOENIX, Arizona: Our time in Phoenix is beginning to wind down. Today, we’ll finish up the Arizona leg of the tour, and we will be departing for Portland, Oregon in the middle of the day. Before that happens, however, our meeting with the fascinating Dr. Eric Novack yesterday must be noted.

Dr. Novack, one of the key proponents for health care reform in the state of Arizona, sat down for breakfast with our group to discuss his experiences in the state initiative process, as well as his beliefs behind his efforts.

(Side note: It seems like every meeting we have involves food. Weight gain is starting to be a problem with yours truly)

Novack circulated an initiative in 2008 to place a measure on the ballot that would have barred any rules or regulations that would force state residents to participate in a health-care system. His measure failed to make the ballot. However, all was not lost for Novack and his fellow supporters, as in 2010, a measure with similar effects was placed on the ballot by the state legislature.

The constitutional amendment passed with 55.3 percent voting in favor.

According to Novack when referring to his 2008 efforts: “Losing is a good thing. You can learn more by losing than from winning.” The orthopedist, who grew up in Connecticut and picked up on his political desires in 2005, stated that there is a natural vetting process behind trying to achieve goals in the initiative process. If you fail to place an initiative on the ballot, you can go back and see what you did wrong, what you can fix and how to improve on certain things, says Novack.

In short, according to Novack: “Losing keeps you humble.”

Dr. Novack giving the run down of his initiative experience

Aside from the nuts and bolts of the political process, the doctor commented on his beliefs that spurred his activity in creating “health care freedom” for the state of Arizona: “As someone who takes care of patients for a living, I’ve seen that when you put families in charge of their own health care, it becomes less dangerous.”

In an opinion piece back in 2010, in the months leading up to the general election and the vote on the health care measure, Novack wrote: “Prop 106 will guarantee that all Arizonans have the right to spend their own money to obtain legal health care services. Second opinions; additional medical treatments; life-saving legal drugs: No government bureaucrat should ever be able to tell you that your life and health are not worth it.”

Opponents of this measure included Kyrsten Sinema, Assistant House Democratic Leader, who also stated in an opinion column: “Prop. 106 is completely useless because the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution establishes that laws established by Congress are the supreme law of the land. Through Proposition 106, the state may not tell the federal government what to do.”

Sinema also stated that the measure was a waste of time because the state had many other issues that it should have been tackling at the time. Sinema wrote, “With so many things wrong with our state – Republicans’ massive cuts to jobs, education and health care – we’ve to got to focus on the priorities, not ideological ballot initiatives that fail to yield results.”

The tour also met with two other initiative experts in the state, but due to time constraints, and a plane to catch, we’ll update that as soon as possible! It’s been a hectic visit to Phoenix.

Initiative and referendum process in Arizona

Below is a quick description of the signature gathering process in Arizona:

The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot is tied to the number of votes cast for the office of Arizona governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. The number of signatures to qualify a statute is 10% of votes cast for governor and 15% to qualify a constitutional amendment . The number of signatures required to qualify a veto referendum is 5% of votes cast for governor . Once the signatures are submitted, they are validated via random sampling by the Arizona Secretary of State. This process usually takes about a month.

Signature requirements for 2012:

  • Current City: Phoenix

What else to look for today

  • Flight to Oregon: Our last state in the American West Briefing Tour!

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: An appetite for direct democracy

September 26, 2011

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By Kelly O’Keefe

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Last night we had dinner at the home of Swiss Consul General Julius Anderegg [1]. It was a wonderful way to end the day, and a particularly great way to engage in one of my favorite hobbies, which is eating cheese.

I was feeling extremely carsick from my ride in the back seat of a ten-seater van. At several points I was sure that my car sickness would erupt into a very unwelcome stream of projectile vomit. Luckily, that was not the case.

Upon arrival at the house, I eagerly drank about seven glasses of water. After overcoming my nausea, I moved on to some Swiss red wine. Yum.

The dinner was amazing: there was a lot of cheese, as I mentioned, plus spatzle, beef, chicken, salad, and potatoes. Then came dessert: cheese cake with fresh strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. It was the best day of my life, obviously.

The conversation was another highlight of the evening. Topics of discussion ranged from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Icelandic fiscal policy to how many times all of us would need to go to the gym to work off that amazing dinner.

This morning, still running on Swiss cheese power, the tour group piled into our trusty van at 6:30am to make the drive to Sacramento. There, at the home of former California deputy state treasurer Mark Paul, we were welcomed with another amazing meal. Our breakfast included plum tart, the biggest pieces of bacon I’ve ever seen, zucchini quiche, and bread with homemade jam.

Obviously, all of the fantastic food that we’ve been eating relates very closely to direct democracy…in ways which I will let you determine.

Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: Sacramento

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: New America Foundation senior fellow Mark Paul provides jaw dropping statistics

September 26, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SACRAMENTO, California: What a way to start the day. Not only were we treated to a beautiful breakfast of frittatas and plum tarts, but we were also privileged to listen to a revealing presentation of California’s recent ballot measure history by Mark Paul.

Paul, senior fellow at New America Foundation, and co-author of the book “California Crackup“, exposed information about ballot propositions in California that awed those of us at his table. In a power point presentation, Paul showed that the annual cost of approved ballot measures from 1988 to 2006, both legislatively referred and citizen-initiated, makes up $21 billion of the state budget.

That’s approximately one quarter of the budget, according to Paul. Needless to say, a political bombshell was dropped on all of us. What was more eye-opening is that direct democracy wasn’t completely the subject of this presentation, unlike previous ones we have attended.

Refreshingly, however, Paul had some solutions of his own, including the idea that general obligation bonds should be self-financed. However, the most talked about solution at the tasteful breakfast was the “pay-as-you-go rule” for ballot measures. This means that in the ballot wording, sponsors should reveal how they would pay for their proposal’s project.

In my opinion, this was one of the most productive meetings we have had on the trip thus far. Paul’s thorough knowledge and organized visuals of California’s history in not only ballot initiatives, but all legislative referrals, added another unique dimension to our learning process of the state’s democracy as a whole.

Now, sitting at the airport in Sacramento, even with so many food courts around, I still can’t help but think about that delectable breakfast. The tour must go on, though. Our group shifts to Phoenix, where we have a dinner scheduled with one of the leaders in the Russell Pearce recall effort. Here’s where I think the tour is going to heat up, and not just in temperature.

  • Current City: Sacramento
  • Next City: Phoenix (Today)

What else to look for today

  • Los Pinos Mexican Restaurant: Dinner and discussion

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: Meeting with San Francisco City Supervisor

September 26, 2011

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By Kelly O’Keefe

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Scott Weiner [1], a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, met with tour participants today about the local initiative process in California. Weiner was elected to represent District 8 in 2010.

Weiner likes the direct democratic process because it gives a strong voice to voters, but he does think the process could be better. He says that trivial items (for example, San Francisco Alcatrez Peace Center, Proposition C, February 2008) can often get on the ballot, and that the system can be too rigid. Weiner is currently sponsoring San Francisco Board of Supervisors Allowed to Amend or Repeal Voter Initiatives, Proposition E (November 2011). This initiative would allow the Board of Supervisors to make changes to initiatives after they are passed.

Weiner said his job can be difficult due to the amount of unfunded liabilities the city carries. He says that one consequence of local direct democracy in San Francisco is that voters have permanently dictated budget choices through “ballot box budgeting.” He said that suggesting any budget changes is a huge political risk that is “the equivalent of World War III.” Politicians shy away from budgetary issues since talking about the budget is often perceived as an attack on children, parks, libraries, firefighters, and other public services.
Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: Sacramento

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

Follow the tour!

American West Briefing Tour: Law professor discusses the strong and weak points of California initiative process

September 23, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Bright and not-so-early in the morning (in order to give participants a rest), the tour group took the short walk to UC Hastings College of Law for a short discussion with Professor Michael B. Salerno, who attended yesterday’s roundtable luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club.

Professor Salerno, a clinical professor and associate director of the Center for State and Local Government Law, led a discussion about the both sides of the initiative and referendum process in the state. To start the event, Salerno had to make one thing clear to the group:

“I’m not against direct democracy. It is California’s version of direct democracy that I do not support.”

With that said, Salerno began his discussion of what was wrong with the initiative process in California, starting with the decry of the initiative process in the state, pointing out that the procedure takes away rights from people. He pointed out that “chickens have more rights in California than the gay community” because of the initiative and referendum process, a process that allows for a short time to go by before allowing ballot access.

Any solution?

“The Swiss process is a good example [of effective direct democracy]“.

According to Salerno, the process is slowly vetted and it takes a long time to review an initiative. This is a process, says Salerno, that California can learn from. However, when asked if any change seemed to be on the horizon, the situation seemed bleak. The former Executive Director of the California Fair Political Practices Commission stated that in order to change the process, a constitutional tweak had to occur. This, he said, was something California residents appear afraid to do.

What about a constitutional convention?

Try again. Salerno shot down that idea, citing fear among voters that those appointed to a con-con’s delegation would be legislators themselves.

One notable quote that was obtained from the end of this discussion was when Salerno was speaking about First Amendment rights when contemplating changing the state initiative process.

“You can’t take away people’s First Amendment rights. Even corporations are people.”

Then he remembered a bumper sticker he heard about that said:

“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

As a Texan, I really don’t know how to respond to that.

  • Current City: San Francisco

What else to look for today

  • Home of the Swiss Consul General: Dinner and discussion

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: Direct democracy advocates talk reform

September 23, 2011

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By Kelly O’Keefe

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: On Wednesday night, we headed to a panel discussion held by Zocalo Public Square. Our very own tour leader, Joe Mathews, moderated the panel. The tour participants joined about 100 other citizens for the event, which was called “How Do We Put the People Back in the Initiative Process?”

The participants discussed ways to strengthen the peoples’ involvement in direct democracy. The event was timely, considering that the 100th anniversary of Californian direct democracy is on October 10th of this year. The panelists agreed that the process of direct democracy should be more accessible and deliberative. The take away from the discussion: “mend it, don’t end it.”

The panelists were Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, Paul Jacob of the Citizens in Charge Foundation, Bruno Kaufman of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego.

Kim Alexander advocated increasing the role of technology and transparency in the democratic process. She thinks that the process of direct democracy should emulate the lawmaking process, and that voters should be aware of the sponsors of initiatives. She believes that lists of the top five initiative donors should be made available to voters at polling places.

Paul Jacob encouraged Californians to make it easier for average citizens to become involved in the initiative process. He noted that restrictions on the initiative process stop the grassroots, not the elite, from becoming involved. He thinks that the length of time that petitioners have to gather signatures should be increased.

Bruno Kaufman noted that California has an inflexible initiative process, calling it “a hammer, not a screwdriver.” He thinks a more effective system of direct democracy would allow conflict to be resolved, not to be enhanced through the initiative process. He advocated that California allow online signature gathering. He said the effectiveness of a system of direct democracy can be judged by whether or not citizens can be “happy losers.”

James Fowler, who researches genopolitics, or the intersection of genetics and political behavior, provided the audience with social science examples with parallels to direct democracy. He pointed out that people can be overwhelmed by choice, and that we can reach a decision-making capacity. He believes that the limits of human decision-making can hinder our ability to participate in a system that requires frequent voting as well as historically high numbers of ballot measures.
Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: San Francisco

What else to look for today

  • Hastings: Lunch with Professor Michael Salerno discussing the strong and weak points of initiative and referendum
  • San Francisco City Hall: Meeting with local administrators and practitioners of direct democracy.
  • Home of the Swiss Consul General: Dinner and discussion

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

American West Briefing Tour: Day 2 offers four hour lunch filled with great direct democracy lines

September 22, 2011

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By Al Ortiz

Ballopedia Travel Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Apparently, there really is no such thing as a free lunch, which was emphasized in a four hour long luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco. Those attending the lunch were required to participate in asking questions to those who presented their area of expertise in direct democracy.

Presenters at the roundtable discussion, entitled “California Direct Democracy: The Next 100 years”, included an array of leaders in the state initiative and referendum process.

Swiss Consul General’s welcome

The event kicked off with a panel discussion including Jim Fishkin of The Deliberative Opinion Poll, who conducted a survey of a representative random sample of the people about certain aspects of direct democracy. According to Fishkin, three components of public opinion were detrimental to the initiative and referendum process. Those three components were rational ignorance, phantom opinion and selectivity of sources.

Joining him on the panel were Zabrae Valentine of California Forward, Thad Kousser of UCSD and Mathew McCubbins of the University of Southern California. After the each panel member said a few words, questions were directed to them about the initiative process and how to better reform California’s direct democracy, with an emphasis on less legislative involvement.

After a few short proposals about alternate initiative and referendum processes, a phone Q&A was conducted with Nathan Gardels of the Think Long Committee. The Think Long Committee, a group “dedicated to exploring new ideas of good government.” Recommendations were given by Gardels, on behalf of the committee, in order to revise the existing direct democracy process in the state. Those recommendations included, but were not limited to:

  • Requiring initiatives to identify offsetting or revenue increases.
  • Allow Initiatives only in the general election.

St. Francis Yacht Club

One of the more controversial ideas given by Gardels was The Citizen’s Accountability Council, a body of 21 “eminent citizens” with four appointed by legislative leaders and the rest by the governor of California. The group would be able to propose legislation and send initiatives directly to the people. The idea was met with tension from some of those in attendance. One question in particular challenged Gardels to bring an example of an appointed citizen body that has effectively worked, to which Gardels offered examples that were unsatisfactory to the questioner.

The final leg of the roundtable discussion included another panel discussion entitled “Can technology and social media make direct democracy more participatory?”

Included in the panel was tour participant Salvor Nordal of the Iceland constitutional council, along with Tina Lee of Zero Divide, Michael Marubio from Verafirma, Dan Ancona from Democracy Dashboard and Bryan Merica from Activate Direct and ID Media Communications. Among the panel discussion was Marubio’s idea of electronic signature gathering, an application that event organizer Joe Mathews claimed the California Secretary of State wants to be illegal.

With all four hours under the belt of attendees, tour participants were able to interact afterward with many of those who presented.

Four hours in a room overlooking the bay and filled with ambitious and brilliant minds on direct democracy wasn’t the only event scheduled for Day 2, but it was certainly the most informative.

Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Current City: San Francisco

What else to look for today

  • Hastings: Lunch with Professor Michael Salerno discussing the strong and weak points of initiative and referendum
  • San Francisco City Hall: Meeting with local administrators and practitioners of direct democracy.
  • Home of the Swiss Consul General: Dinner and discussion

Learn more about the tour and its participants here.

Follow the tour!