Comments on Creating the Citizens Initiative Review

Comments on Creating the Citizens Initiative Review

The Citizens Initiative Review was created in a meeting held in Washington state in the summer of 1999.  It was the culmination of two years of work done by my wife, Pat Benn, and me to find a way to use the Citizens Jury process to give advice to voters.  This was not the first time, however, that I had thought about linking Citizens Juries to the initiative process.  Chapter 9 of Towards a New Democracy presents a way in which Citizens Juries could be used to create an initiative, instead of merely evaluating an initiative, as the Citizens Initiative Review does.  This is not to discount the importance of the CIR – it was a long struggle to empower this process and requires considerable work to prevent its opponents from weakening or getting rid of it.

The selections on the CIR posted on this site come from my book, Healthy Democracy.  Chapter 4 presents an overview of the process as we saw it in 2003, while Appendix A discusses in detail the background work done to build a reliable method for the Citizens Jury process to be used to advise voters.

Pat and I worked for years to get the CIR introduced in Washington state.  During 2002 and 2003, we were focusing on writing Healthy Democracy, but starting in 2004 we made a strong effort to gather support for the CIR.  We traveled around the state extensively and finally obtained the endorsement of the Association of Washington Cities.  We worked with attorneys at the prominent Seattle law firm of Foster Pepper to write a bill to make the CIR part of state law.  We obtained what seemed to be solid support for a bill to be introduced in the legislature in 2007.  But the committee chairs who had promised to give the bill hearings moved to different committees and the new chairs had little interest.  The bill we introduced in early 2007 went nowhere.  It was at that point that we focused on Oregon as the most likely place to get the CIR adopted.

In 2006 Pat and I met Tyrone Reitman and Elliot Shufford, two young men who had recently received MAs in public policy in Oregon.  We spent considerable time introducing them to the work we had done in Washington.  Larry Pennings, who had helped in the design of the CIR in Washington, discussed the details of the process with them and helped extensively with the 2008 demonstration project conducted in Oregon.  Tyrone and Elliot worked very hard for the next three years to gather the support needed to finally get the CIR adopted into law in Oregon in 2011.

Once it was clear that there was a chance of getting the CIR adopted in Oregon, Pat and I adopted a low profile.  We wanted the people of Oregon to feel that the CIR was a process indigenous to the state.  Indeed, Tyrone and Elliot did a wonderful job of learning the details of the CIR and doing all the hard work to gather the support needed for the final passage of the bill.  For this reason, I never wanted until now to get attention paid to the sections of Healthy Democracy that dealt with the CIR (the book sold hardly any copies).  Also Pat and I hoped that our role as initial funders of the CIR would receive as little attention as possible.