Constitutional and Statutory Provisions
Among the earliest initiative and
referendum advocates in Pennsylvania was Charles Fremont Thylor, M.D., of
Philadelphia. Dr. Taylor, one of the movement's most successful publicists,
edited and published its periodical Equity (originally Equity Series) for over a
decade. Thylor collaborated with Prof. Frank Parsons of Boston in publishing
several of Parson's reformist works. Parsons' The City for the People, a guide
to the reform of city government, included a 132-page chapter on initiative,
referendum, and recall, which they later published separately.
Although Thylor's publications
had a nationwide impact, efforts for I&R foundered in his own state. Under the
leadership of Finley Acker of Philadelphia and Clarence Van Dyke Tiers of
Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Direct Legislation League waged an unsuccessful,
20-year battle against "the rule of the corporation machine" headed by
Republican boss Boies Penrose. In July 1909 State Rep. Hyatt M. Cribbs wrote
that the state house of representatives "is so overwhelmingly machine that I
have little hope of ever getting my [I&R] bill out of committee."
The biggest victory for I&R
advocates came in 1914, when they succeeded in persuading the legislature to
pass a law allowing I&R in third-class cities - a category that included most of
the major cities of the state except the two biggest, Philadelphia and
Few initiative campaigns in
Pennsylvania have attracted much attention outside the local jurisdictions in
which they have taken place. One exception was the May 1983 vote in Bucks County
(an elite rural area just north of Philadelphia) to block construction of a
massive pump that would have drawn water from the Delaware River. The project
drew opposition from environmentalists and voters, who passed the anti-pump
initiative by a 56 percent margin. The Philadelphia Electric Company, which
wanted the water to cool a nuclear plant, fought a five-year legal battle to
build the pump anyway, and won a state ruling in its favor in 1988.
See David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot
Initiative Revolution (Temple University Press, 1989).