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Taking Initiative About Initiatives

Aug 28 2017

 

Image: My desk grows more chaotic with each day.
 

By Jamie Rodriguez
B.A. Political Science, 2018
Elections Intern
National Conference of State Legislatures

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

$1.25 million. That’s apparently how much it would cost for California to become a sovereign nation. This was calculated as part of a fiscal analysis of the initiative trying to achieve this very goal.

Initiative 17-0005 is still being circulated around the state, and personally I don’t believe that it will ultimately get enough signatures to appear on the ballot given its…divisive nature. This is one of the juicier ballot measures that I’m tracking for NCSL in order to update its current database of bills this year. There are plenty of other polemic ones—many pertaining to legalizing marijuana, abolishing abortion, limiting or expanding LGBT rights, or even the role of religion in government. And, of course, others are relatively drier (at least to me) that address things like property taxes or gambling restrictions. By merely looking at various initiatives across the country, I’m truly witnessing the full breadth of governance and what direct democracy can actually entail. It’s also evident how different partisan groups—on both the left and right sides of the spectrum—try to exert their influence via initiatives and referendum. Whereas NCSL is strictly nonpartisan, there are organizations that actually do quite similar research but implement their information in order to achieve certain political goals. Thus far, I’ve found this role quite fascinating in the context of I&R processes.

By merely looking at various initiatives across the country, I’m truly witnessing the full breadth of governance and what direct democracy can actually entail.

When I wrote my previous blog post, I was encompassed by the drama and legislative fallout of the Election Integrity Commission’s data requests. Given the fast pace of my department—and really NCSL at large—this is very much in my rearview mirror actually. I'm now neck-deep in my primary project, collecting data on the different processes of initiatives and referendum in each state. I initially assumed that each state governed similarly and therefore employed similar I&R processes—but, in retrospect, I couldn’t have been more incorrect. The varying styles of governance are very perceptibly reflected in even the mere extent and rhetoric of their statutes, let alone in the content of the laws. For example, when I first began my project, I started in alphabetical order with Alaska, whose statutes about initiatives are relatively simple and perhaps even minimalistic. Given that, at that point, this was all I knew about initiatives, I thought that the rest of the states would be just as easy to pick apart. Little did I know that weeks later I would spend over three days on just Massachusetts’ laws, whose length and syntax would take me forever to decode.

I'm now neck-deep in my primary project, collecting data on the different processes of initiatives and referendum in each state. I initially assumed that each state governed similarly and therefore employed similar I&R processes—but, in retrospect, I couldn’t have been more incorrect.

This is in no way a complaint, however. Examining the variety of constitutional and statutory language has actually dramatically increased my interest in law. My experiences at NCSL have in fact led me to strongly consider law school, as I’ve also had the opportunity to pick the brains of law clerks and other holders of JDs. This has just been one of the many ways in which my internship has caused me to surprise myself. For instance, in a different vein, I’ve had to combat any vestiges of awkwardness or social anxiety as I’ve stepped into the role of interviewer for the elections team. That is, NCSL publishes an election newsletter, The Canvass, for which I’ve been interviewing elections officials across the country about the issues their counties face and their relationship with their legislatures. I was originally mortified when assigned this task, but I’ve very much enjoyed hearing firsthand from the people behind-the-scenes of elections.

Most importantly, I’ve also been working on my backhand at the ping pong table in the cafeteria. My boss, Wendy, is an absolute master—an artist. I hope to return to school and find a table to make her proud.

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