Pure democracy isn’t always feasible. Imagine going to the ballot over a sewage and waste control ordinance. Presuming voter apathy was a non-issue; the sheer inefficiency and impracticality of having every citizen vote on every minutia of every act of government would turn this country into monolithic slug.
But, at times, we do have moments of pure democracy. And that is a good thing. Take the upcoming midterm elections. On top of being able to vote for our next governor and state legislators, we also get to vote on a string of important issues that almost all directly affect every one of us.
Of the 13 propositions on the Nov. 7 ballot, not a single one addresses healthcare, even though a 62 percent majority of the California legislature thinks it needs reform.
It wasn’t a shock to anyone when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 840, a healthcare reform bill introduced by Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that if he would have signed it, it would have been the country’s first single-player healthcare plan.
Schwarzenegger said, with the conciseness of any good script, that he vetoed it “because it is universal healthcare that is run by government. I don’t believe in that program. It has not worked. I think the private sector should do it.”
With an imminent midterm election looming, and a right-wing base snuffing him out to see how close to the left he has moved, Schwarzenegger would have to have been on a political death wish to sign this contentious bill into law. It isn’t surprising, however, that a few democrats in the California legislature were, perhaps naively, optimistic. Schwarzenegger’s bravado preceding his humiliating defeat at his 2005 special election has been tempered into a willingness to compromise. He has signed characteristically democratic bills, including one to increase the state minimum wage, and another to curb global climate change. But to sign a bill that would overhaul a system so politically controversial and complicated as healthcare would have been as unthinkable as Hillary Clinton suddenly opposing Roe v. Wade.
Doug Bungert, head of the Ventura County chapter of Health Care For All, a California healthcare advocacy organization, said that part of the plan to push this healthcare bill through the legislature was to “embarrass more and more politicians into” voting for the bill, which is slated for reintroduction in February 2007.
The disappointing aspect of these political theatrics is that something as important and directly affective of all of us, as healthcare certainly is, was not instead put on the November 2006 ballot for the people to decide.
“If it comes to” putting a single-payer healthcare initiative on the ballot they would do so, but only after exhausting the legislative process, Bungert said.
It is likely proponents of SB 840 shy away from the ballot option after the overwhelming defeat of the last single-payer proposition that was put on the ballot in 1994. But that was twelve years ago and public opinion almost always changes with the tide of time. The latest polls speak to that fact. A 2003 ABC News – Washington Post Poll found that about two-thirds of Americans favored a national health insurance to the current one. And a 2004 Gallup poll found that 62 percent of American respondents favored a universal government health insurance program financed by taxpayers.
But whether healthcare reform, or more specifically, a single-payer plan, would pass by the ballot is irrelevant to the point. We’re regressing as a democratically-loving nation when issues as important as healthcare are addressed behind the legislative curtain instead of being voted on directly by Californians.
Direct democracy is a legacy of this state, spanning back to 1911 when California voters passed amendments for initiative, referendum and recall at both the state and local levels. Since then, California has had a historical average of 18 propositions on the midterm election ballots. As of today, we have only 13 propositions on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Some say voter apathy is the downfall of direct democracy. Never is it considered that legislators have the obligation of informing and engaging voters so that they will feel empowered to get out and vote. That, of course, isn’t easy to accomplish. But it is a small price to pay for democracy.