"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Monday, September 29, 2008


Few statewide ballot measures face Nevada voters

By SANDRA CHEREB Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 09/20/2008 12:03:47 AM PDT


RENO, Nev.—Nevada voters will decide only a handful of ballot measures in November after what started out as a dizzying scramble of competing initiatives was reduced by court challenges or behind-the-scenes compromise.

Of the four statewide questions remaining, one deals with eminent domain; two involve tweaking tax law oversight; and a third would remove from the Nevada Constitution a six-month residency rule for voter eligibility—a requirement the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional more than three decades ago.

The bigger, still-simmering issue involves what won't be on the ballot—a dozen or so citizen initiatives that were either withdrawn by their backers or scrapped by the courts for failing to meet tougher new qualifying requirements adopted by the 2005 Legislature.

Legal challenges over Nevada's revamped petition procedures continue and ramifications for this year's ballot remain uncertain. But with time running out before the November election it's unlikely voters will see any of the previously tossed measures on the ballot.

Advocates of the disqualified measures and political observers say they are likely to re-emerge in future elections.

First, a snapshot of what voters will be asked to decide:

— Question 1: Amends the Nevada Constitution to remove an unconstitutional requirement that a person must reside in Nevada for six months before being eligible to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 and later years ruled that lengthy residency requirements for voter registration were unconstitutional. State law already imposes a less restrictive, 30-day residency requirement, which has been deemed reasonable by courts.

— Question 2: A constitutional amendment restricting government use of eminent domain to acquire private property for public use. Voters in 2006 passed the measure 63 percent to 37 percent. It needs final voter approval in November to become part of the Nevada Constitution. But after critics feared it would cripple local governments and public works projects, a compromise law that took effect in October, along with another proposed companion constitutional amendment, was passed by the 2007 Legislature. Lawmakers in 2009 must pass the amendment again before it goes to a public vote in 2010 for final action. It would supersede Question 2.

— Question 3: A constitutional amendment approved by lawmakers in 2005 and 2007 setting parameters that must be satisfied before the Legislature can grant property, sales or use tax exemptions. It requires a finding of specific social or economic benefits and mandates that exemptions have an expiration date.

— Question 4: Amends the state Sales and Use Tax Act of 1955 by authorizing the Legislature to amend or repeal provisions to comply with federal law or interstate agreements. Any tax increase still would require voter approval.

Voters in Nevada's two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, also will vote on an advisory question backed by the Nevada State Education Association and some Las Vegas casino giants to increase hotel room taxes in those counties by up to 3 percent initially to fund public schools. The cooperative effort was forged in a deal that included teachers dropping an earlier initiative that called for a 44 percent increase in casino taxes.

As of this week, voters were not going to be asked to decide other contentious issues, such as various measures taxing casinos, funding education and capping property taxes. The property tax cap pushed by former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has failed three times to qualify for the ballot. Though Angle is pursuing an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mark Gibbons questioned whether any legal remedy is available, since Nevada's secretary of state already has told local election officials to remove the measure from November ballots.

Supporters of the failed initiatives point to changes made by the 2005 Legislature that they say effectively hog-ties citizen petitions.

Kermitt Waters, a Las Vegas attorney and supporter of several measures removed from the Nov. 4 ballot, on Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, arguing the state law that limits initiatives to one subject and requires a 200-word explanation is unconstitutional.
"The fact they knocked them all off (the ballot) makes our case that much more stronger," Waters said.

Political observers are split over whether the initiative requirements are for the better or worse.

Supporters argue the requirements will bring simplicity and clarity to a process prone to "hijacking" by special interests, and point to the 2004 election as an example of why reforms were needed.

In that election, a group tied to the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association backed two measures that purported to roll back insurance rates but instead sought to prohibit limiting damage awards or attorneys fees in malpractice cases. Both failed.

Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said while initiative backers are generally "well intended," the process is "really subject to abuse."

The only way to preserve the opportunity for citizens to actively push law changes is to "come up with some logical ways to sort of clean it up ... and tighten the language so that everyone can understand it," he said.

Others worry of unintended consequences.

"It's an effort to restrict this aspect of direct democracy," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "I say you tread there at your own peril.

"We're in this odd kind of anti-initiative backlash, but it's coming from within government, which I think is very dangerous.

"I don't disagree that the initiative process has been hijacked by special-interest groups," he added. "But you're still taking away the right of voters to review that hijacking."

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