Jefferson got it wrong?

Sabato on referenda, the Free Lance Star, 5-23-05:

“Now, Virginia is not a populist state. But this rhetoric seems to be taking hold to a degree, dangerously so in my opinion. This is not Jeffersonian Jefferson was violently opposed to anything like initiative and referendum.”

And this:

“Referendum and initiative don’t work very well. It’s controlled by special interests and big money,” Sabato said. “It’s had exactly the opposite effect that the progressives thought it would have. It’s another bad reform idea that sounds good.”

Kilgore says Jefferson got it wrong. I don’t think so.

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  1. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Barnie, it would be helpful if you left a link to the article. Here it is:

    And here’s your 2004 column on referenda which has further explanation of your point of view:

    I guess it would also be helpful if I knew how to make these clickable links instead of cut and paste ones, but you all will have to make do with this.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Barnie, we’ll make a conservative out of you yet. One day Virginia will have another conservative governor. It has been too long since Mills Godwin…

    So who had “less than a year” in the pool on how long it would take Wilder to self-destruct?

  3. laszlo Avatar

    I remember Mills Godwin well, an outstanding Governor. He provided for the creation of the VCCS and sales tax funds for improvements in our public school system. If he were trying to do that today he could not be elected and would not be welcome in the republican party.

    From Godwin to Kilgore. What more can I say.

  4. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    I am always suspicious when someone, even so learned a personage as Professor Sabato, attempts to tell us what a historical figure would think about today’s issues.

    From my limited study of Jefferson, I always thought that he was more inclined to trust the people than the government, leading me to suspect that he might not have been so violently opposed to referenda as the Professor claims . I attempted a quick look at some things Jefferson actually wrote:

    “No man has greater confidence than I have in the spirit of the people, to a rational extent. Whatever they can, they will.”–Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1814. ME 14:208

    “It is a blessing… that our people are reasonable; that they are kept so well informed of the state of things as to judge for themselves, to see the true sources of their difficulties, and to maintain their confidence undiminished in the wisdom and integrity of their functionaries.” –Thomas Jefferson to Caesar A. Rodney, 1810. ME 12:358

    “The only point on which [General Washington] and I ever differed in opinion was, that I had more confidence than he had in the natural integrity and discretion of the people, and in the safety and extent to which they might trust themselves with a control over their government.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Melish, 1813. ME 13:212

    I am now going to look at the Free-Lance Star article to see if Professor Sabato quoted Jefferson.

  5. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Hmmm, no quote from Jefferson is offered by Professor Sabato in his comments to the Star.

    In my continuing search for Jefferson’s words on referenda, I found this:

    “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.”

    I certainly don’t claim that Kilgore’s embrace of referenda is rooted totally in the noble sentiments of Jefferson or any other great political philosopher, but I do believe that Virginia has managed to elect rulers from so many different points on the spectrum that agreement on a major issue like transportation is all but impossible. I see referenda as a logical and useful way to break the logjam.

    I might not be in favor of considering referenda if elected officials didn’t run as tax cutters and then raise taxes, for example. I recognize the contradiction in my position–if the people re-elect representatives who in effect mislead them, how can they be trusted to vote intelligently on a referendum? I guess one picks the contradiction that easiest to live with.

  6. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Will, keep looking. There is a dynamite quote from one of the founders–not Jefferson–in favor of referenda. But that one has a condition to it, too.

  7. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Ah, games to play: Find the quote. Jefferson was a populist, but he put his trust in an INFORMED electorate. Why don’t you discuss something more related to modern times, like this from a piece Lawrence Grossman wrote:
    “Some fear that the electronic republic will bring too much democracy. Soon online, keypad balloting will be able to replace voting machines, just as voting machines replaced paper ballots. Imagine this: ‘Press 1 to vote for candidate A. Press 2 to vote for candidate B. Press 3 if you think we should go to war. Press 4 if you think we should stay out. Press 5 if you want more information. Press 6 if you want to suggest which targets to bomb.’

    “We can vote wherever we are, at any time, whenever public feedback is useful, as often as any elected official wants to know what the public thinks.

    “Will it come to that? With the keypad ballot, we will no longer need to wait until election day to vote. We can vote wherever we are, at any time, whenever public feedback is useful, as often as any elected official wants to know what the public thinks. In effect, that is exactly what is happening now unofficially, with continuous electronic polling and focus group interviewing.

    “There are serious dangers to all this, of course:
    Those with the most money and greatest access to the media are in a unique position to manipulate public opinion.
    Without some system of checks and balances, in the electronic republic a runaway majority can trample on the rights of an unpopular minority. Thus, it’s one thing for judges to declare unconstitutional a law passed by a legislature. But imagine the overwhelming pressure on judges who decide to overturn ballot initiatives or referenda that directly reflect the expressed will of the majority, especially in states where judges are elected.
    An increased dose of direct democracy certainly makes strong leadership more difficult to achieve. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘The leader who constantly keeps his ear to the ground is hardly in a position to be looked up to by his constituents.’ Yet in the electronic republic no leader can afford not to keep an ear to the ground at all times.”

    Now, there’s something interesting to think about. Rest of the article is interesting too:

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Here’s the problem. The special interests have the money, focus and discipline to influence the electorate in a referendum. But the special interests also have the money, focus and discipline to influence elected officials in the legislative process. Pick your poison.

    For the record, the special interests did not sway the electorate in the last referenda, the votes in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to raise taxes to fund more transportation projects.

  9. Jefferson was an elitist like most of the founding fathers…he didn’t trust the mobs…

    Frankly…why does it matter he would think? He’s dead.

    When analyzing Kilgore’s referendum proposal, you can look at it from two angles:

    1. Is it a wise policy?
    2. What is the motivation for proposing such a policy?

    1. Who knows, don’t want to get into it.

    2. It’s a gimmick formulated by campaign spinsters to get elected and nothing else. It thrusts the responsibility for an issue to another sector of government where Kilgore doesn’t have to mess with it.

    If Kilgore said, “The state doesn’t have any business messing with transportation. This is a regional issue.” then that would be one thing. But his whole aim here is just to pass the buck on to somebody else. It’s a politically smart thing to do because means you don’t have to bare any responsibility for solving a problem. Nor do you have to risk proposing the wrong solution. His whole proposal just sounds like:

    “ummmmm……….let them deal with this problem. [insert platitude about leaving things to the people].

  10. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    This may read counter-intuitively, but I am against referendums unless they are required to change the VA Constitution. Counter-intuitive because I was the Vice-Chair of the kNOw Campaign which beat the Transportation Tax Scam better than 2:1 on The Peninsula after being outspent $2.2m:$30k. And then in 04 my side got snookered by 17 apostate Republicans and 11 of those boys are getting off scot-free in this primary.

    But, I am ‘agin’ the referendums. The Commonwealth outside the Federally-Occupied-Zone of NoVa, where I grew up, is The Commonwealth. We aren’t populist like Alabama, Minnesota and Wyoming. It isn’t in the water, dirt or our DNA.

    Now, I bow my head with that last remark in front of my betters because Daddy’s ancestor only came to Isle of Wight CO eight generations ago. Mother’s before that. But that is johnny-come-lately compared to my wife’s People.

    Virginians expect legislators and the Governor to do their duty to exercise limited government and not bother them about it – there are so many more important things to concern oneself with every day more than politics. Legislators, once elected, get an unearned loyalty that I don’t think exists in other states.

    If NoVa had public schools like the ones I went to in the 50/60s )even with our Yankee teachers) then I’d say we are raising Virginians in attitude and spirit from our move ins and come heres. I’m not so confident now. I just dunno.

    No referendums. And no new unelected taxing authority level of government – we voted against that twice.

  11. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Barnie: What’s the matter, don’t you trust the people?

    Sabato is dead wrong. It’s been stated before in this thread that the special interests spent big $$$ only to face a massive defeat in the 2002 Sales Tax Referendum.

    Colorado was mentioned in the article as one of the States that puts tax increases to Refernda. That’s part of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which has been responsible for holding the line on spending and for rebating billions in excess tax collections back to the taxpayers.

    If we had a TABOR in VA, state spending would be considerably lower, last year’s tax increase would only have been a wet dream for Commissar Chichester, and the taxpayers would be receiving tax rebates. And no tax increases could go into effect without voter approval.

    As usual, Kilgore has only gotten it half-right. His idea for referendums makes sense only if it’s part of the bigger TABOR package.

  12. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Hell no, I don’t trust the people. What’s the matter with you? The people gave us George Bush!

  13. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    I can’t believe you said that, Barnie. Are you suggesting that we should emulate the good old USSR, where the people were precluded from voting (or they all voted for the communist party’s candidate).

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