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Progressive Argument in Support of Initiative and Referendum, 1911
Prepared by Senator Gates and Assemblyman Clark 

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This amendment, if adopted will secure to the people the powers of the initiative and referendum.

It will give the people power to control legislation of the state, and make it to represent what the law should always reflect, the will of the people. The INITIATIVE will reserve to the people the power to propose and to enact laws which the legislature may have refused or neglected to enact, and to themselves propose constitutional amendments for adoption.

The REFERENDUM will reserve to the people the power to pass judgement upon the acts of the legislature, and to prevent objectionable measure taking effect. In short, will enable the people to enact laws, or amend the constitution, and veto viscous or unsatisfactory laws enacted by the legislature. The first step toward good government is the making of good laws. This amendment will give the people power to make good laws or compel the legislature to so.


Electors equal to eight per cent of the total vote for governor, at the last general election, may, by petition, propose and cause a statute or constitutional amendment to be submitted to the people, for their approval or rejection, at the next general election, or at a special election to be called by the governor in his discretion. While electors equal to five percent of said vote for governor can require a proposed statute to be submitted to the legislature, and if the legislature does not enact such stature, then to the people. In this case however, the legislature has the privilege of submitting to the people, at the same time, a different or amended measure on the same subject. No initiative measure is subject to the governor's veto, nor, when adopted, can it be amended or repealed except by the people, unless the measure itself shall differently provide. If a conflict arise between provisions adopted and approved by the electors at the same election, that receiving the highest vote shall prevail.


Electors equal to five per cent of the total vote cast for governor at the last preceding election, by petition filed within ninety days after the adjournment of the legislature, may require any act of the legislature (excepting those calling elections, providing for tax levies and urgency measure declared therein to be such, and passed by a two thirds vote of both houses,) to be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at the next general election, or at a special election to be called by the governor at his discretion; giving to the people the power to arrest, and prevent the taking effect, of viscous or objectionable acts of the legislature.


The legislators knowing that the people can ultimately express their will in law, without the aid of the legislature, will actively endeavor to ascertain the will, of the majority of the people, rather than of some faction , and to do that will.

It will give men who think differently on general party affairs, but who agree on a particular measure, the chance to vote upon such a measure. It will enable electors to vote for a measure although it be opposed by their candidate, and at the same time for such candidate if they believe him right upon other issues.

Each measure will be considered more upon its own merits by the legislature, it knowing that unless such measure merits approval it can be held up by the electorate.


It will be unsafe and profitless for legislators to bargain with private interests, or to violate the people's rights; because the people have the power of ratification or rejection.

It will prove a safeguard against the "silent scheming of the crafty few" and at the same time serve as a safeguard against the enactment of laws noisily demanded by a mere faction. It will be effective against mob-rule (the violent few) and against machine rule (the wire pulling few).

Honest business will not have to bribe a legislature to get a square deal. Dishonest business will not be able to "influence" a legislature and get more than a square deal, for the final decision will be in the hands of the people. Washington's words of wisdom still hold true, "The people will always be nearer to right that those who have a selfish interest in controlling them."

In the last analysis the thing upon which we may finally depend, under our form of government, is the judgement of the people.

These amendments are not opposed to our form of government, not opposed to the ideals of the fathers of the republic, and are not contrary to the spirit of our institutions. Exactly the opposite it true.

The town meeting of New England trained our fathers in the principles of self-government. That self-government, is the spirit and essence of our institutions and the basis of all our law in state and nation. The people realized that they were, and have made themselves the source and foundation of power. They created our Constitution. They are the creators of legislatures. They are the employers, and they must be clothed with the power to issue commands, to exact obedience and to negative and nullify the acts of their agents and servants, if they violate the wish, or the will of their employers or the spirit of their employment.


The initiative and referendum are not untried experiments. Switzerland, admittedly one of the best, if not the best governed country of the world, had had it for nearly fifty years. At least eight states of our own country, beginning in 1902, have made the initiative and referendum an integral part of their frame work of government.

In California many cities have already adopted it. Los Angeles has had it since 1903. San Francisco and Oakland incorporated it into their charters last year. Berkeley and San Diego and other cities had done so prior to that time. While counties, and cities of the fifth and sixth classes were given such powers by the legislature at its last session.

The procedure for amending our state constitution by submitting the same to a vote of the people is one of the oldest and highest forms of Referendum.


One of the strongest arguments in its favor is the character of many of those who oppose it. Opposing it will be found without exception the servants of special interests, and those who profit through special legislation. Added to these are those who may be termed our "Political Aristocrats," who distrust and scoff at the people, who are accustomed to sneer at self government as "The rule of the Mob", or "The tyranny of Majorities".


Objection has been made that these powers would deprive the legislature of its functions. To refute this it is but necessary to remark that at the recent session of the legislature 2,877 bills were introduced, that 956 of these passed both houses and that 753 became laws. How utterly absurd, therefore, to think that the activity of the legislature thus evidenced could be duplicated by the people in their collective capacity.

It is not intended and will not be a substitute for legislation, but will constitute that safeguard which the people should retain for themselves, to supplement the work of the legislature by initiating those measures which the legislature either viscously or negligently fails or refuses to enact; and to hold the legislature in check, and veto or negative such measure as it may viscously or negligently enact. All objections finally and ultimately center in a distrust of democracy; in a challenge of the power of the people to govern themselves. The voters are to decide by the adoption, or rejection, of this amendment to the constitution, as to whether the people believe in themselves.

It is the step which brings legislation to the threshold of the individual and clothes him with the power to secure good laws by control over legislators and legislatures.

Are the people capable of self-government. If they are this amendment should be adopted. If they are not the amendment should be defeated.

Lee. C. Gates
Senator, 34th District

WM. C. Clark
Assemblyman, 50th District.

Submitted to Secretary of State Frank Jordan in 1911 for inclusion in a voters' information manual. This document currently resides in the California State Archives, filed under: Secretary of State Election Papers, 1911 Special Election.

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