Citizen Initiative Review – media and arguments for it

Oregon’s new Citizen Initiative Review is a big positive step away from partisanship and is getting some great press coverage. I think the best so far is this one . I posted some comments…

When one commentator complained that the citizen panels only reviewed two of the seven ballot initiatives in this Oregon election, I replied:

They didn’t limit themselves to two ballot initiatives. Two was all Healthy Democracy Oregon organizers could get our Legislators and Governor to approve — and then HDO had to pay for both these CIRs themselves! The real “too bad” is that we don’t value this kind of citizen panel as highly as we do public hearings and juries and many far less useful forms of deliberation and public participation. My suggestion: Write to your legislators and candidates for governor telling them you want every ballot initiative to go through the citizen initiative review process as an official function of the secretary of state’s office. We won’t get it unless we demand it.

And to this debate I’d like to add three points:

(1) The Citizen Initiative Review isn’t the government telling people how to vote. It is more like a jury; a group of randomly selected citizens — a microcosm of the community convened but not controlled by the government — who hear arguments from advocates and pass judgment — except in this case it is about the merits a ballot initiative instead of the guilt or innocence of an accused criminal.

(2) While it is true that “the information is out there”, the really useful information is buried in landslides and blizzards of crap and spin. Not only that, there are literally hundreds of issues that voters need to tackle if they want to be “informed” beyond what their partisan opinion leaders tell them. There is literally no way any of us can be truly informed about every issue on our own — especially if we have kids or a job. Remember, these citizen panels took DAYS of intensive full-time research and interviewing experts and talking together to become truly informed. The idea that we citizens can hire a randomly selected group of us to research this stuff for us and report back to us — I think that’s just plain brilliant! To say nothing of handy…

(3) Lastly, the way I look at it, these panels come closer to being an informed, deliberative “voice of we the people” than anything else I know of — beyond opinion polls, beyond legislative politicians, beyond talk shows and pundits, beyond op eds in newspapers, beyond bloggers, even beyond the results of the voters voting in elections (because, as pointed out, so many of them are either uninformed or not participating or both). The idea that we can have a more or less clear, coherent, informed and legitimate “voice of we the people” brought into the middle of the partisan battle — not put in charge or anything, but just brought into the public dialogue — is a TOTALLY NEW THING. We haven’t had it before.

Frankly, I’d like to see citizen panels like this used to help us make sense of every single issue, not just ballot initiatives.

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