Michael Mahoney's article "How Taking the Initiative Undermines Democracy" {Close to Home, Nov. 4} claimed that D.C. officials don't need the added burden of being forced to respond to voters' initiatives.

On the contrary, voter initiatives reinforce representative government. The will of the people is clearly expressed in the initiative process when elected officials fail to represent the citizenry.

In 1978 Initiative America, a nonprofit political reform organization, succeeded in persuading a number of U.S. senators and members of Congress to sponsor initiative legislation for the District. The right of initiative, referendum and recall was subsequently adopted as part of the new D.C. home-rule charter.

Since then, the initiative process has been used by the District's citizens to propose policies the mayor and D.C. Council failed to address. Among the initiatives considered were those on tuition tax credits, bottle recycling and mandatory minimum sentencing for specific drug offenses and crimes committed with handguns. The latter passed by a wide margin, despite overwhelming opposition from the D.C. Council and the mayor.

Why does the system of elected representatives need improving with the initiative process?

Because it is a political fact of life that politicians are highly concerned with being reelected. In order to accomplish this they must satisfy the wishes of the most organized and monied interest groups, wishes that are often inconsistent with the wishes of the general population. As a result, the political interests of legislators are often at odds with their constituents' interests.

If the rascals betray constituents' interests, why won't ousting them in the next election suffice?

Because with the politics of personality, it is difficult for citizens to translate issues into candidates. Politicians are adept at blurring the issues or changing their minds after the polls are closed. Politics takes precedence over issues, and public concerns are denied or ignored.

Mahoney also asserted that the D.C. initiative that proposed restoration of the city's right-to-shelter law was instructive of the mischief initiatives can wreak. Quite the opposite; the resulting defeat of Referendum 005 by the voters buttressed the council's stand and redressed a prior initiative that proved too costly.

Mahoney didn't like the results of California's Proposition 13 of 1978 or the nationwide tax revolt that ensued. But like it or not, it was the will of the people. Without the process, this alternative tax and fiscal policy might never have been considered. After all, the issue is the taxpayers' money, and they ought to have a say if they feel their legislature is going on a spending binge.

The initiative process is a time-tested citizen option. Since the process was first adopted in South Dakota in 1898, it has been used successfully in 23 states and the District. When politicians forget who they represent, the people have a powerful way of letting them know. It is democracy in action. -- Edward A. Dent is director of Initiative America.