Which Form of Democracy Will Define California?

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The honeymoon's over - if there ever was one. One month into office, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is at loggerheads with the legislative Republicans over whether to submit a ballot issue to the voters that would extend the temporary tax hikes for five years.

Even though Democrats have sizable majorities in each house, they are short by three votes in the Senate and two in the Assembly from the full two-thirds vote required in each house by the state Constitution.

Think about the logic: In California, a full two thirds majority is required to place an issue on the ballot to be decided by a simple majority of the state's voters.

All of this highlights the debate of how best to carry out democracy in California. For the legislature's Republican minority, democracy means that the people in their districts have elected their legislators to do what's best as they, the legislators, see it. The fancy term is representative democracy. For Brown and the Democratic majority, democracy is best defined by the people weighing in directly on perhaps the most important potential ballot issue in a decade.

After all, they're the ones who will foot the bill or face the consequences otherwise. Most observers call this participatory democracy.

It's a strange time to be debating the best way to express the people's will, but the bottom line is just that.

In the end, it's the Republicans who will be rolling the dice more than anyone else. If they prevent the issue from going to the voters, there will be howls up and down the state that democracy has been hijacked.

Normally, such cries might be ignored because most legislators come from safe districts where they are protected by huge majorities of their own party.

But that's under the old system where legislators redistricted themselves after the census. The system will change with the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is likely to create many more competitive districts for 2012. That's when pay back time may occur.

Forget any idea of a honeymoon. Several legislators may be facing a nightmare, depending on what they decide to do on Brown's proposal and how the electorate reacts.

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