A consumer advocacy organization marked the 100th anniversary of California's ballot initiative process at Occupy LA in downtown Los Angeles Thursday.
Staff from Consumer Watchdog – whose founder Harvey Rosenfield wrote Proposition 103, a 1988 insurance reform initiative that has saved Golden State drivers $62 billion – celebrated by blowing out 100 birthday candles on a giant cake decorated with the California state constitution language creating the initiative process and serving cake to participants of "Occupy LA" on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.
Occupy LA is one of the numerous demonstrations sparked by the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, against corporate influence in government.
On October 10, 1911, a special election called by Gov. Hiram Johnson established the initiative process by a margin of 168,744 in favor to 52,093 against. A nonprofit and nonpartisan group, Consumer Watchdog says that the initiative process was created to be a formidable tool of democracy empowering average citizens to protect themselves from the corporate interests that ruled the State Capitol and that this tool of populist power remains essential to California democracy.
"100 years ago, California voters created a new and powerful tool of direct democracy that could be used by the 99% when the 1% the wealthy and big corporations control California government," says Rosenfield. "The initiative process belongs to the People, and in this age when Wall Street occupies Washington and Sacramento, there's no better place to celebrate it then here, where Americans from all walks of life are gathering to regain control of our democracy and restore 'the people' to 'we the people.'"
Consumer Watchdog says it has spent 20 years enforcing the grassroots 1988 insurance reform initiative Proposition 103, which the Consumer Federation of America reports has saved California motorists over $62 billion on auto insurance premiums alone.
The organization cited data published in 2007 which show that between 1989 and 2004, California auto insurance premiums declined by 7 percent, while rates nationally increased by 47 percent. During that period, California went from the second most expensive state for auto liability premiums in the country to 21st. Californians, who paid 52 percent more than the national average for auto insurance in 1989, paid less than the national average in 2004.
Consumer Watchdog is drafting a proposal for the 2012 ballot to regulate out-of-control health insurance premiums and create an option for Californians to get health coverage through a public plan.
"Today Californians want to rein in skyrocketing health insurance premiums, but health insurance companies control enough votes in Sacramento to stop reform in its tracks just like the railroad barons gridlocked Sacramento in 1911 and auto insurance companies did in 1988, " says Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court, author of The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell. "Thanks to Hiram Johnson, a ballot initiative can be our answer to giving consumers control over their health insurance premiums and to take back control from the medical insurance complex."
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.