30 November 2005
Although the legislature is not in session in Sacramento, political initiatives are being planned, election campaigns are already underway and the impact of the failed special election in November is still being analyzed.
The political landscape has shifted somewhat in Sacramento. Some democrats and union leaders believe they are controlling the direction of the state while the Senate President Don Perata (D) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D) seem to be trying to work with the Governor on planning a modified reform platform for the state.
Did the “clean sweep” against the ballot initiatives mortally wound the Governor or just give him a temporary black eye? Only the next nine months will tell for sure despite the negativity of the political pundits and pollsters. But, the question remains: what went wrong for the vastly popular Governor elected on a government reform program when he tried to implement the reforms people wanted?
Some mistakes were made early on in the process that made the election more difficult. According to State Senator John Campbell (Republican), the budget initiative (Prop 76) was not what it should have been and had drafting issues. The attacks on the “three judge panel” that helped kill the redistricting initiative (Prop 77) could have been avoided with a larger panel and more controls. Because the reform package was put together with great haste, it was not as comprehensive nor as appealing as it could have been.
Note that all eight initiatives failed. Two of these were initiatives that were promoted by liberal interests: Prop 79 to socialize prescription drugs and Prop 80 to re-regulate the electricity market. Those two actually lost by the greatest margin! So, this was not a repudiation of just conservative proposals. It was a rejection of all proposals. It appears that supporters of reform were carefully voting for some initiatives and against others. But those opposed were voting “no” on everything. The “no” side was able to communicate and deliver voters with a simple vote “no” on all reforms message. It worked.
Approximately $250 million was spent to urge a “no” vote on all the initiatives. Conversely, there was only about $50 million spent on the “yes” side. It is hard to win an election when you are outspent 5 to 1. Most of that money was from unions against the Governor. And, because Prop 75 failed, they will be able to raise their dues and do it again in 2006.
Some argue that the failure of these issues was a protest against the initiative process overall—Californians are tired of signature gathering governance.
Yet, as of November 16th, there were 27 NEW initiatives in circulation and another 22 in the Attorney General’s office awaiting title and summary! Some initiative are statutes, some are constitutional amendments. The topics range from border police to elimination of domestic partnerships to tax increases for preschools. Even dog breeding, casino-style gaming and alcohol surtax make the list.
It doesn’t appear that Californians are opposed to initiatives.
Possibly, Californians are opposed to special elections.
Current law permits the governor to call a special election for a recall; to replace a vacancy in the Legislature or Congress or when an initiative qualifies for the ballot.
Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer will introduce a constitutional amendment that would restrict the governor’s power to call a special election when an initiative qualifies.
Under this proposal, the governor could only call a special election after declaring a state of emergency and only ballot measures dealing with that emergency (passed by a vote of the Legislature) could appear on the ballot. All other qualifying initiatives would have to wait for the next regularly scheduled statewide election. This proposal would also allow statewide bonds (passed by the Legislature) to go on the special election ballot.
According to Frommer, since 1911, only 14 special elections have been called in California, with five taking place over the last 35 years.
As we contemplate the ramifications of reforms and special elections, the State should not pass a measure that will hog tie any governor in the future and prohibit the successful implementation of the initiative process. The initiative process was developed for the people—let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
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