Friday, July 3, 2009

Power to the people: Committee files petitions to get Taxpayer Protection Initiative on city ballot

Cindy Barks' front-pager is factual and clearly not designed to cover debate over the merits of the initiative -- which surprises me given the Courier's usual editorial practice around political issues. But there's a certain glow of approval in the headline that leads me to suspect the editors may decide to support a yes vote on this despite its connections to the water issue and what I see as the likely follow-on vote to kill the Big Chino pipeline.

It may surprise some readers to learn that while I would very happily turn off the tap on that boondoggle, I don't support this method for doing it.

I've spoken with George Seaman at length about this. George insists that while he supports the initiative he is not in a leadership position, and that while many of the people involved have been in the pipeline fight for years and there are no other projects of eligible size on the horizon, the initiative is not about the pipeline per se.

George was able to address some of my concerns about the initiative. I've looked at the text and it seems to be competently written. But I won't support it.

Governance by popular initiative was one of the great progressive ideas of the late 19th century, and many of the new states of that time built it into their constitutions. The upshot for us in Arizona in the early 21st century has been a general hog-tying of government at the behest of narrow, monied interests, often based outside our state, using simplistic and misleading propaganda to stampede people into hasty and ill-considered decisions -- exactly the sort of thing that representative government was designed to prevent.

I hasten to add that I don't think this particular group has a hidden agenda or is using malicious tactics, although if Cindy's competent coverage is any indication, the insistence that it's not about the pipeline is clearly not sticking.

Rather, I'm concerned that putting this idea into play will bring exactly the sort of acute and arbitrary problems we see every year at the capitol into city government, and prevent the sort of big, long-range thinking we most need.

Its supporters think it's reasonable to trust the voters to make better decisions on big spending than their elected officials. Its detractors will say trust the elected officials, not the mob. My concern is that if this thing wins we'll have to trust the propagandists, who are cagier than both and generally win the fight. Speaking as a professional propagandist, I say don't trust us, brother, this group will rob you blind and make you feel good about it.

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