If you think politics in this state are dysfunctional, take solace in knowing the situation is far worse in California.
There, voter passions often rule through ballot initiatives, and each year the proposals seem to get more extreme. Directing its ire at Washington, D.C., a group is fighting to get onto the November ballot a kooky secession plan known as Calexit. Meanwhile, a different measure, Cal 3, would break up California into three separate states. It gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot but was halted last month after the state Supreme Court flagged it for constitutional problems.
Bottom line: The direct democracy model used by California and several other states gives extremism a platform and often handcuffs state Legislatures charged with balancing budgets and making sensible compromises.
Here in Wisconsin, we have an advisory referendum model that’s been working well for many years and keeping out California-like drama. Advisory referendums allow legislators to consider voters’ opinions on important topics but without obligating them to abide by the results.
In Rock County this fall, voters will be considering advisory referendums on marijuana legalization and the so-called “dark store loophole.” As we noted in our editorial last Sunday, the “dark store loophole” ballot question is so biased against businesses that—as written—it’s a meaningless measure.
Which brings up another problem with referendums: Whether binding or advisory, they’re often poorly worded and their implications difficult to grasp. And given many people’s apathy and reliance on questionable news sources, we shouldn’t be counting on an informed electorate to make important decisions.
Best to leave the law making to the lawmakers.
We take the view of state Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva. He believes the state is better off functioning as a republic not a direct democracy.
“Could you imagine if every single piece of legislation was sent to the voters for approval?” August told The Gazette for an Aug. 5 story about the state’s advisory referendum process.
Actually, we can imagine it. It’s called California.
OK, not all legislation goes to California voters, but many important pieces do. For instance, in 2016, Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana through Proposition 64. But we feel it’s a mistake to rely on voters—many of them drug users themselves—to be changing drug-related laws. States that have legalized recreational marijuana are coping with a surge in arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana, for instance. Legalizing marijuana comes at a price, which is beyond the general population’s ability to calculate.
Local legislators shouldn’t ignore the outcome of this fall’s advisory referendums, but they shouldn’t be the only information they consider, either. Unfortunately, what the voters want and what’s best for Wisconsin are sometimes different things.