CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT HEARINGS:
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION,
S.J. RES 67
95TH CONGRESS December 13 and 14 1977. Page 132
Senator HATCH. MS. Koupal, we look
forward to your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF JOYCE KOUPAL,
PEOPLE’S LOBBY, LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
Ms. KOUPAL. A representative democracy
is strong to the extent that elected officials are able to represent clearly the
citizens from whom they derive lawmaking power. There are many times when
citizens choose to give their representatives license in creating solutions to
problems. But there are also times when voters wish to reserve lawmaking power
to themselves. It is that freedom of choice, exercised by the citizenry, which
makes representative democracy strong and responsive to the needs of the people.
That freedom of choice—the citizens’ right to resolve issues directly rather
than through a representative—is lodged in the initiative process, a tool of
self government needed nationally as well as locally.
The initiative is the citizens’ tool of self-government and by gathering
signatures on initiative petitions, citizens in 23 States may propose laws for
consideration by the electorate. The extent of citizens’ powers under the
initiative, and the time and expense involved in implementing it vary from State
to State. Using State initiatives involves researching and drafting a proposed
law; organizing large numbers of people to collect the signatures necessary to
qualify a ballot measure; in many cases, categorizing each signature with a
precinct number; and always, educating voters on the measure once it is
qualified. An attempt to responsibly enact a law by initiative at the State
level requires proponents of the measure—which sometimes include a number of
organizations and individuals—to commit at least 1 year of their time and
Such a commitment may appear burdensome, especially since there are
procedures for lobbying elected representatives. Yet the initiative process is
used by both, well organized and ad hoc interest groups, and by state and local
officials, in spite of the increasing costs and numbers of people necessary to
Careful study of the initiative shows that concerned citizens write and enact
particular laws because elected representatives do not enact them in their
legislative capacity. In some cases, initiative measures are a clear
contradiction of actions taken by a legislative body. Other times, initiative
proposals offer solutions to problems on which legislators have taken no action,
either by design or by neglect. But in almost all cases citizens attempt to
influence their representatives to enact laws before using the initiative
The fact that citizen groups have not been as successful in their lobbying
efforts as they had originally hoped has caused a recent increase in the use of
State initiatives. Successful lobbying requires the financial means of support
for full-time legislative advocates and researchers to follow the activities of
the legislators. For example, unions and professional and trade associations
achieve the tenacity required for effective legislative advocacy through stable
and well established funding systems, and lobbying functions are only one of the
services provided their members. But citizens newly organized around an issue of
concern do not generally have access to the funding mechanisms used by
The initiative process is a much needed balancing force among interest
groups. In an initiative campaign, well established organizations still have a
financial advantage over citizens newly organized but the advantage is not as
great. Since use of the initiative generates a highly visible educational
campaign with a definite beginning and ending, funding sources are drawn to ad
hoc groups. Citizens unable to represent themselves effectively in the moneyed
area of professional lobbyists are able through the initiative to function in
the forum of the voting public.
The initiative is basically the citizens’ tool of self government. It is that
nagging little voice which speaks above all others to elected officials,
establishing the will of the majority. The initiative ensures the security of
self government in a representative democracy. It lightens the citizens’ burden
of responsibility for Government by providing them with the authority to shape
Government. And it strengthens the legislators’ method of representation by
providing a mechanism for meaningful citizen input.
Consideration of a national initiative is founded on one basic question: Can
the people of this country be trusted to govern it? There is an illogical
argument presented by some scientists and voters alike which contends that the
initiative is harmful because Government is a specialized area in which
lawmaking should be confined to elected representatives. Under our system of
Government that argument makes little sense since the initiative does not
eliminate a function of the legislature nor should it. Legislators play a
crucial role in Government and would perform legislative functions with or
without a national initiative.
It is important to remember that legislators are elected by citizens—the
same citizens who would use the initiative. While voters can make a decision on
a proposed law by analyzing a body of objective data—the same method used by
elected representatives—selecting a legislator to act on behalf of citizens
requires analyzing the candidate’s ability to legislate, as well as the fiber
of a candidate’s heart. The latter decision is the more difficult, and the one
now entrusted to citizens. While the safeguards of the Constitution and the Bill
of Rights protect us from ill-conceived laws, we must now bear the burden of our
mistaken judgment when we are poorly represented.
We have three branches of Government to enact, implement, and interpret laws.
Those functions are premised on the assumption that citizens retain control of
government because their representatives are elected. The truth of this
assumption rests on legislators’ abilities to represent their constituents. We
need the initiative for those situations in which the assumption does not hold
true, for in the collective talent and creativity of the citizenry lay the means
to improve the quality of Government and the health and welfare of this nation.
Why but the citizenry can be safely entrusted with the final authority to govern
With most good ideas, there are problems as well as advantages in their
implementation. The initiative is no exception. Barriers can be built into the
initiative which only serve to frustrate and further alienate the citizenry.
Some of those barriers are apparent in state initiative provisions and in the
proposed constitutional amendment.