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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Let Citizens Act Directly

Ed and Joyce Koupal, the indefatig­able leaders of the People’s Lobby in California, think Americans should re­discover those mechanisms of self-gov­ernment—the initiative, the recall and the referendum — and they’re taking their skilled signature-gathering expe­rience nationwide to build support for a constitutional amendment establish­ing a national initiative and national recall.

Last June the Koupals were instru­mental in the passage ‘of the California initiative known as Proposition 9, the political reform providing for state campaign-spending limits, disclosure of any potential conflict of interest by public officials, regulation of lobbyists and other “clean government” reforms. In an expression of dismay over cor­rupt politics, Proposition 9 was passed overwhelmingly.

Notice that it was the people who directly wrote and passed this state law, not the state legislature. This is what. an “initiative” involves—a pro­cess by which, through petitions, a pre­scribed number of people may write proposed laws for direct submission to the voters. More than 500.000 Califor­nians signed the petition that placed Proposition 9 on the ballot.

Twenty-two states have a statewide initiative; 2-5 states -have a statewide referendum (the process by which vot­ers may repeal or approve a bill passed by the state legislature), 14 states have a statewide recall (the process by which voters may remove or retain an elected official).

These direct-democracy measures were largely passed during the Popu­list-Progressive period of American history at the beginning of this cen­tury. But they have been dormant inmost states, unused and almost forgot­ten by most citizens. The Koupals want them revived to bring back dem­ocratic accountability to the people and make elected officials more ac­countable between elections.

For almost a decade, the Koupals, operating out of their small print shop, have perfected techniques of signature gathering. They can marshal 10,000 volunteers in California almost imme­diately for a petition drive to get a measure on the state ballot. Now they believe that what has been increasingly good for California should be good for America. They want to test whether the few corporate and government or­ganizations which hold so much of the country’s power can stand democracy in action—old-fashioned style.

Their proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution would read: “The people’ of the U.S.A. reserve to them­selves the power of the initiative. The initiative is the power of the electors to propose laws and to adopt or reject them. An initiative measure may not be submitted to alter or amend the Constitution of the U.S.

“Every elected officer of the U.S. may be removed from office at any time by the electors meeting the quali­fications to vote in their state, through the procedure and in the manner here­in provided for, which procedure shall be known as a vote of confidence, and is in addition to any other method of removal provided by law.”

The revival of the initiative, referen­dum and recall in state; which provide for them, the passage of similar mea­sures in other states and the adoption o f a national initiative and recall would reduce citizen apathy and quicken involvement in public matters.