The initiative system was a populist program. It put power in the hands of the people in the days when legislators were bought and paid for by corporate and business interests, and represented them rather than the citizens who elected them.
It worked for a while.
Before Prop13, initiatives were last-ditch efforts to correct the failures of the legislature. After Prop13, the failure of the legislature was just assumed, and initiatives sprouted like weeds.
We've titled and qualified more initiatives in the last 30 years (less than 30, actually) than in the first nearly 70 years of the initiative. By a factor of 2. We've passed as many initiatives in the last 30 years than in the same period. That's crazy.
These days all it takes to title and qualify an initiative is money. We're no longer in the realm of bought-and-paid-for officials, because the folks with money can buy the system and buy the signatures.
This is even better than buying legislators. It's a riskier expenditure, but the benefits are forever. The voluntary prescription drug benefit program that the drug companies were trying to buy would have been forever. No pesky legislative attempts to tamper with it, and perhaps make it mandatory instead of voluntary. It cost them, and they didn't win, but neither did they lose.
Here's the quandry.
From historian Jules Tygiel:
IF GOV. ARNOLD Schwarzenegger really wants to "blow up the boxes" in Sacramento, he should sponsor one two-line initiative:
"There shall be no further initiatives.
"All previous initiatives may be modified by a majority vote of the Legislature."
I think there's still a need for an initiative process to correct failures of our elected officials...
...but I think that giving initiative statutes perpetual protection is crazy. This makes legislation by initiative desirable to absolutists who don't like the idea that the will of the people may change over time so choose to cast a moment's feelings into "the will of the people." This actually makes reform involving anything where an initiative is concerned more difficult.
The initiative process is a good stick to use on elected officials who aren't serving their constituents (including the constituents who voted against them).
I'd love to see a "sunset" on all initiative statutes. Not one that expires the statute, but one that after 10 years allows the statute to be modified by a majority vote of the legislature. That would allow the people to temporarily take power away from elected officials and show that we're not happy with their performance or their position on an issue. If opinions change, the legislature has room to tinker in a decade. If opinions don't change and the legislature tries to tinker, it can be qualified and approved again. It's a tool to show your representative that they're not representing you.
It's not an alternative to representative government, though.