In his viewpoint piece in the (October 5-18 Estero Bay News) Jeff Eckles said that the citizen initiative process is a hallmark of direct democracy. That may be true, but I respectfully disagree with Mr. Eckles’ argument because that is not the form of government instituted in this country. The United States has a republican government, based on representative democracy and a constitution that protects minority rights.
The country’s founding fathers were most fearful of direct citizen control, which they associated with mob rule. They structured our government to prevent it. That is partly why they limited the vote to propertied white males. Over time, as the population has become better educated, the right to vote has been rightfully expanded. But we are still a representative democracy. As citizens, we vote for the people who make the laws. If we don’t like the decisions they make, we can vote them out of office.
Why is direct democracy a bad idea? Citizens are busy with their lives. We don’t necessarily have the interest or time to study complicated issues to make informed decisions. That is why we elect our representatives to do so. The citizen initiative process may sound like a good idea, but it tends to be a vehicle for special interest groups to enact laws that often are not in citizens’ best interests. It takes a lot of money to mount a successful initiative campaign, which is one reason most citizen initiative campaigns fail.
Mr. Eckles supports the initiative process because he is a signer of the citizen initiative campaign in Morro Bay to freeze the land-use designation for the old power plant site as visitor-serving. This is a good example of citizens having insufficient accurate information. The promoters of this initiative have sold it as a way to stop Vistra’s planned battery storage facility. The initiative will not do that because Vistra can bypass local government and apply for a California State permit to build the facility. Also, much of the site is contaminated so that visitor-serving businesses cannot locate there without expensive remediation. We need to let our elected City Council continue to make land-use decisions for our community.
Marlys McPherson is a Morro Bay resident and former city councilmember. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota.