Democracy Derailed: The Initiative Movement and the Power of Money

David S. Broder, Author
David S. Broder, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-15-100464-5
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 300 pages - 978-0-15-601410-6
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Now available in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the voter initiative process has been used to abolish affirmative action, expand casino gambling and deny educational and health benefits to the families of illegal immigrants. It has forced yes-or-no votes on issues as diverse as nude dancing and term limits, and, according to Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post and syndicated columnist Broder (Changing of the Guard), it threatens to subvert the American form of representative government by allowing millionaires and special interests to rewrite state laws. In this well-argued and often chilling study, Broder scrutinizes the initiative process and delves into what one critic calls a ""multimillion-dollar cottage industry"" populated by paid signature gatherers, pollsters and public-relations firms. He finds democracy run amok: three wealthy men changed the drug laws of five states; billionaire Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen threw cash into a campaign to publicly finance a stadium for the Seattle Seahawks, a team he owned. The public, in turn, was stunned by initiatives and counterinitiatives on which anti-abortion, anti-hunting and pro-casino gambling forces, among many others, spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the 1998 election cycle alone. The centerpiece of the book is a balanced but tough-minded analysis of Proposition 226, the so-called ""paycheck protection initiative"" defeated in California after a viciously fought battle in 1998. Broder dissects the sloganeering of both sides to confirm a lobbyist's cynical assessment of the campaign as ""a lotta little lies fighting one big lie."" As tensions rise between direct democracy and representative government in America, this book gives a provocative critique of the initiative process as a panacea for democracy's ills. Author tour. (Apr.)
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