State and Local Government Comparing

Examination of Direct Democracy – Government of California

The United States of America as a whole subscribes to a representative democracy where citizens elected their representatives. Like any other state, California subscribes to a similar democracy. They cast ballots to choose their governor, senators, and representatives (Gerber & Philips, 2005). In any representative democracy, the chosen officials are involved in making, maintaining and interpreting laws and such citizens decide to abide by the laws, whether their favorite candidates won or not (Gerber & Philips, 2005). However, over the above disposition, citizens in California participate in the process of creating laws through what they call ballot propositions (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

Such propositions refer to concepts that voters have for fresh laws or amendments to existing laws. This process of casting votes on whether or not to create fresh laws is termed direct democracy. This distinguishes California from all other states in America (Gerber & Philips, 2005). This is different from other states who uphold representative democracy and not a direct democracy. Direct democracy grants voters and interested associations to distort traditional representative structures and take it upon themselves to create and approve new laws (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

The California system of direct democracy affects the performance of the government in providing services in various ways. The budget-making process is one aspect that direct democracy has affected (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012). Direct democracy affects policy either directly or indirectly. Direct refers to a situation where interest groups come up with an initiative, propose laws and commit them to referendum (Gerber & Philips, 2005). The outcome necessarily affects the policy process because it involves new laws or amendment to old laws (Gerber & Philips, 2005). Indirect refers to a situation where the legislators get to know of an impending initiative beforehand. Instead of waiting for the initiative and yet it might be worse for them, the legislators enact laws that are friendly with the interest groups (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

Direct democracy affects continuity in leadership especially when citizens recall elected official. This renders the elected representatives unable to concentrate fully on the pending issues and may be tempted to please the voters so that they do not recall them (Gerber & Philips, 2005). In addition, it is very hard to balance the budget process since ballots have become divisive and tools for unique groupings at the expense of the universal good. Money changes hands to defeat laws that do not please a certain group (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

The governor and the legislature do not have powers as such in California as long as direct democracy is in place. One, they can be recalled anytime and fresh elections called. Secondly, special interest groups act through initiatives rendering the elected officials powerless (Gerber & Philips, 2005). Legislators are supposed to create laws but as much as they do, such laws can be overruled any given time. The governor might not be able to execute the enacted laws necessarily as the recall clause could frustrate such an attempt (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

Provision of funds to local and state efforts is affected so much by direct democracy since interest groups fight to have their needs fulfilled first (Gerber & Philips, 2005). The only advantage of direct democracy is the fact that people are able to set the laws they really feel they need. Unfortunately, the disadvantages override the advantage. As seen earlier, infrastructural development maybe ignored to cater to interests (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

French Governance Influences of Louisiana State Government

Louisiana has a unique legal system different from the other 49 states in that its legal code takes so much from the Civil Code put in place by the French emperor in 1804. Louisiana, colonized by both French and Spanish, assumed the Napoleonic Code (Gerber & Philips, 2005). The emerging methodology of civil law in Louisiana is quite different from the common-law tradition where method concerned. Consequently, court rulings in Louisiana take direct decoding of the law. Any judge in Louisiana adjudicates a case by interpreting the Napoleonic code instead of relying on any judicial precedent in America (Gerber & Philips, 2005).

In other states, judges ought to conclude cases based on judicial precedents unlike in Louisiana. This recourse to Napoleonic Code makes Louisiana different from other states (Gerber & Philips, 2005). In other words, the legal system in Louisiana is the most visible difference in comparison with the other 49 states. In effect, it means that Louisiana combines two sets of influences on their law bearing in mind that Louisiana was a colony of both Spain and France (Gerber & Philips, 2005). There are traces of Spanish laws as well in the Louisiana code and judges can take comfort in any of the two.

There is a clear separation of power among the three organs of the state, i.e., the executive branch, the legislative brand, and the judicial branch. Louisiana espouses representative democracy and very effective running of affairs (Gerber & Philips, 2005). As seen during the hurricane Katrina, compared to New Orleans, Louisiana got past the catastrophe rather quickly, as the management in Louisiana dealt with it very well (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012). It is interesting to know that employees of the state received their salaries promptly regardless of the calamity of Hurricane Katrina (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

I would not say that the Legislature or governor have more power. What there is proper functioning of different organs as they exercise the powers conferred to them by the constitution and the representative democracy. There is no interference from any sources whatsoever and this creates a proper environment for execution of policy and budgets. Compared to states with direct democracy, Louisiana is far much better as it confers the powers to its elected representatives (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

Rule of law and separation of powers have made it easy for funds to flow to various state agencies as planned for and without any interference or delay of any kind. The effects of direct democracy in Louisiana are not as adverse as are in California. Any initiative is geared towards a noble cause not just for special interest groups but also for the whole state.

Direct democracy in Louisiana works to the advantage of the whole state as divisive politics do not exist. In fact, those in power do support some of the initiatives especially when the cause is noble. Power is not exercised for the sake of it nor is the citizens so much into the recall clause or change of laws or creating of new laws as is common in California.

New York City Local Government

As of 2008, the New York City local government was known for all the bad reasons in comparison to the other states. It is in the public domain that New York City has poor fiscal policies with several attempts at reforming them bearing no fruit (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012). Budget negotiations are poorest in New York after a record 20 consecutive budgets in the past failed to beat the deadline set by the state (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012). Incessant fights between the different institutions of elected representatives of state lead to this. The governor, the Senate, and the county assembly members rarely come to a compromise (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

New York is different from other state and local government in that it has full-time legislative institutions composed of several committees and a big number of staff members. (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

All along, New York has practiced representative democracy vested in the county assembly members, the Senate and the office of the governor. Unfortunately, the three institutions are never in agreement when it comes to the budgeting process and the pending reform of fiscal policies (Barrett & Greene, 2008). This has affected the performance of the government in providing services. The absence of performance measures only makes matters worse for New York (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

The New York City Local Government structures are as follows. There exists the office of the Mayor who is in charge of New York City executive branch. The office of the mayor falls vacant every four years necessitating fresh elections. The mayor’s office is in the City Hall. Then, the city council follows from the Mayor and is the legislative branch of the New York City government (Slocum, n.d.).

Council Members create new laws, which are then subjected to the committee and public debate during which they may be amended. The committee then casts ballots for or against the bills and if passed, they forward the bills to the Mayor who must consult the public and signs or rejects the bills (Slocum, n.d.). New York City Council is currently composed of 51 Members of the Council drawn from 51 Council Districts in the five Boroughs of the City.

Slightly below the City Council is the New York City Board of Elections, which is tasked with executing all laws, concerning elections in the New York City (Slocum, n.d.). The other body, known as the New York City Campaign Finance Program, has three basic roles. The body executes the New York City Campaign Finance Program through giving out of campaign funds as well as making sure that candidates comply with election rules (Slocum, n.d.). They also publish and supply the Voters’ guide and execute a debate necessity for candidates running for various offices (Slocum, n.d.).

The local government structure allows funds to be utilized for the purposes intended as long as the budget is passed. This is known as state aid given to local authorities and local authorities spend as per their discretion and since there local government is well organized; the funds are utilized at the right time and the right way (Cuomo & Perales, 2009). New York tested direct democracy in 2011 on spending public funds with a lot of success (PEW Charitable Trusts, 2012).

The local government structure is quite effective due to strict regulations that govern the council. This is advantageous to the residents because there is no delay when it comes to implementing projects, as there are no conflicts. However, it is a disadvantage to the citizens because the council might engage in activities that do not represent the priorities of the citizens since they have no say in funds channeled to the local government (Cuomo & Perales, 2009).

Comparing and Contrasting

According to PEW Trusts, the following factors/parameters must be adhered to for development to take roots. The key parameters that PEW uses to measure government performance are data, populace, finances, and infrastructure (Barrett & Greene, 2008). The data element consists of sub-elements like planning, the setting of objectives, monitoring and evaluation, and the broadcasting of data (Barrett & Greene, 2008). The sub-elements under data overlap with the elements of populace, finances, and infrastructure, as they are crucial to how a state maintains infrastructure, budgets its finances, and handles the striking changes that affect the labor force of the state (Barrett & Greene, 2008).

The most important factor that determines if a government performs poorly or well is information. As seen above, the sub-elements of information – planning, the setting of objectives, monitoring, and evaluation, and broadcasting of data- overlap with the other factors of people, money, and infrastructure (Barrett & Greene, 2008).

If any state has to achieve steady development, planning is crucial. The case of New York is a clear example (Barrett & Greene, 2008). Due to poor planning and lack of consensus among various stakeholders, its budget has failed for more than twenty times to beat the statutory deadline. As such, the state lags behind in development.

Still, under information, the sub-element of setting objectives is equally crucial where money, people and infrastructure (Barrett & Greene, 2008). It is commonplace knowledge that a budget must have objectives. As such if a state outlines its objectives well and communicates to the citizens and the people involved in implementation, much can be achieved (King & O’Shea, 2003)

Monitoring and evaluation are equally crucial for the proper utilization of money if people have to benefit from state projects, and maintenance of infrastructure. Monitoring is a continuous measure of performance while evaluation is periodical and usually measures efficiency and effectiveness of a project (Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons, n.d.).

Lastly, the disseminating of information is crucial. Stakeholders should be able to access performance information for him or her to give in their input. States should come up with wikis through which to send information and the necessary feedback obtained.

Given a chance to start from scratch, I would embark on emphasizing the need for proper information performance. Each budget would have to receive inputs from the public, go through proper deliberations by the assembly and then taken back to the people for a vote of sorts. I would keep the members of the state well informed on the going on of the state throughout. The number of state officers employed, their inputs and the general performance would be in the public domain always. It would then be so easy to embark on people management, infrastructure development, maintenance, and financial management.

Comparing California, Louisiana and New York City

Based on the 2008 PEW grading of states, among the three states, Louisiana emerges the best comparatively. I too agree that Louisiana is the most effective government among the three mentioned above. There is a unique legal system, which influences the issues of development largely. Since the judges are free from local judicial precedents, rulings made are independent. Secondly, the three arms of the government, legislature, judicial and executive work in harmony and this leads to quick and proper developments. In the PEW grading of 2008, Louisiana has a B grade followed by New York at B- and California at C.

New York achieves much because of the Local government but not because of the direct democracy and elected officials. If New York went the California way of pure direct democracy, it would not achieve much. California misuses the concept of direct democracy by forming interest groups that seek to advance own interests at the expense of those of the state and citizens in general.

My choice of Louisiana is most effective since even the trusted PEW trusts place Louisiana way ahead of the other two states.


Direct democracy gives the citizens a chance to have a say in the running of affairs in the state. However, as seen in the case of California, direct democracy is abused and has become the base for under development. The other two states have direct democracy but not as pronounced as it is in California. New York tested direct democracy with positive results. To curb the excesses of direct democracy, some legislative measures should be put in place to avoid disruptions in the electoral process. The threshold for a referendum should be quite high as does the fees paid to the Attorney General to start the process.


Barrett, K. and Greene, R. (2008). Grading the States: The Mandate to Measure. Web.

Cuomo, A. M. and Perales, C. A. (2009). Local Government Handbook. Web.

Gerber, E. R. and Philips, J. H. (2005). American Politics Research in Direct Democracy and Public Policy Michigan: Sage Publications. Web.

King, C. T., and O’Shea, D. (2003). Integrated Performance Information for Workforce Development: Framing the Issues. Web.

PEW Charitable Trusts. (2012). Mission. Web.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons. (n.d.). Monitoring and Evaluation. Web.

Slocum, P. (n.d.). New York City Local Government. Web.