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2010: California's Ballot Initiative Thunderdome

by: Robert Cruickshank

Fri Jan 01, 2010 at 15:26:33 PM PST


A new year and a new decade are upon us, as is a new election year. But 2010 isn't going to be just any old election year in California. After spending 2009 watching state and national politics oriented around defending the status quo, we are finally starting to see the emergence of a politics oriented around change, spurred on by the most severe political and economic crisis since the American conquest.

The result is that 2010 will be the most important, consequential, and decisive elections in a long time in California. While there are interesting and significant races for elected office that will be decided, it's the ballot initiatives that really matter. Proposals from across the political spectrum will likely be on the November 2010 ballot in particular, setting up a major contest between right, left and corporate center to determine the future of this state at a pivotal moment in its history.

Even though it's still unclear which initiatives will be on the ballot, with 51 initiatives in circulation and 37 pending at the Attorney General's office, a significant number of which will likely make the ballot, it's clear that the initiative process is still the primary path by which genuine change happens in this state.

And as we'll see, it's a path that is controlled not by the people, but by those with access to the large sums of money needed to get the signatures and qualify the initiative for the ballot. Many of the initiatives we'll see on the November 2010 ballot will involve large corporations trying to use the state's crisis to change the law, or even the constitution, to further empower and enrich themselves.

More below, including an overview of the initiatives on both the June and November ballots.

Robert Cruickshank :: 2010: California's Ballot Initiative Thunderdome
Let's have a look at the Thunderdome contenders. Only a handful of initiatives have qualified for either June or November, but based on my own sources, a lot more are likely to qualify, almost all of them for November.

June 2010

Already qualified:

Seismic retrofitting - retrofits don't add to property tax value

California Fair Elections Act - creates a public financing system for the Secretary of State's race in 2014 and 2018

Top two primary - the fruit of Abel Maldonado's blackmail, this would change the way primaries work to send the top two finishers regardless of party to the general election. The practical effect will be to force intraparty primary battles out into the general election, diverting money and resources from other fights.

Signatures submitted for qualification:

2/3rds vote for public power: PG&E's effort to make it more difficult for localities to create public power utilities. A truly pernicious and anti-democratic proposal.

Mercury Insurance's effort to gut Prop 103 - would enable auto insurers to raise rates for those who, for whatever reason, have had gaps in insurance coverage. Designed to punish the poor and leech money out of the middle class.

November 2010

Already qualified:

$11 billion water bond - although environmental groups are split, I expect most progressive organizations to unite against this massive giveaway of scarce taxpayer resources to large corporations, undermining those with senior water rights to favor relative but well-heeled newcomers who waste our water resources.

Likely to qualify:

(In other words, I am very confident these will be on the November 2010 ballot)

Marijuana legalization - Richard Lee's effort has already gathered enough signatures, but they're holding off on submitting them so as to ensure qualification for November. This may be one of the few genuinely progressive proposals on the November 2010 ballot, and will require a year-long effort from progressives to ensure it passes.

Term limits reform - backed by both the LA County Labor Fed and the LA County Chamber of Commerce and aided by a rather interesting donation of $300,000 to the qualification effort by the folks who got the legislature to pass a law helping bring an NFL stadium to the City of Industry. Unlike Prop 93, this would exempt current legislators from being able to serve longer in office, increasing its chances of passage. This too is a progressive solution, taking power back from the lobbyists and enabling voters to continue to send good people back to Sacramento if they so choose.

Parental notification, round 4 - this is the poster child for the need for initiative reform, the "bleed Planned Parenthood dry" strategy of trying to restrict women's rights or destroy the pro-choice movement's resources in the process. And it's all but certain to be on the November ballot.

Constitutional Convention - The Bay Area Council has some money set aside to run a campaign to get their two initiatives on the ballot to convene a limited con-con, and have hired San Francisco political consultant Clint Reilly to run the effort. This one's a bit less certain to make the ballot than the others in this category, but I still think it's likely we'll be voting on both proposals in November.

California Forward's budget and governance proposals - perhaps the most ambitious and immediate set of solutions to our political and fiscal crisis, it's also a center-right plan that would reinforce the momentum for spending cuts and having state government do less. It would also reinforce the 2/3rds rule for revenues by largely undoing the Sinclair Paints decision on fees. However, it may also be the only proposal on the ballot to restore majority rule on the budget.

Corporate tax loophole repeal - this proposal to repeal the $2 billion in corporate tax loopholes created in budget deals in 2008 and 2009 is probably going to get enough financial support to make the ballot in November. A welcome proposal it is - even if it doesn't solve the whole budget crisis, it would help reverse the corporate-friendly nature of our budgeting.

Might qualify for the ballot:

(I'm less sure that these will make the ballot, and would put their chances at 50-50 at best, at least under present conditions)

Part-time legislature - this proposal to turn the legislature into a place only accessible to the wealthy has been withdrawn and resubmitted once. It's unclear whether they have enough resources to get this on the ballot.

End to raids on local government funds - I hear different things about whether this will indeed qualify, but it'd be welcome if it did. This proposal would end once and for all the theft of local government funds by the state legislature. This is a badly needed reform to not only protect local services, but to force the legislature to actually fight to make long-term revenue solutions part of the budget, instead of trying ever more damaging gimmicks.

State parks funding - a coalition of state parks advocacy groups have raised $1 million for an initiative that would increase the vehicle license fee by $18 to fund state parks. It's not yet clear if that'll be enough to put this on the ballot - if so, then this initiative would go under the "likely qualify" heading.

Redistricting commission for Congressional seats - Charles Munger's proposal to create a Prop 11-style commission for Congressional seats, currently exempt from Prop 11, would cause a big battle with Speaker Nancy Pelosi if it qualified. But it's pretty unclear whether Munger has the resources to do so, and it might be harder to get them as the Prop 11 commission faces problems with its budget and in recruiting enough applicants.

Paycheck protection, pension cuts, split roll property tax - A big fight between labor and corporations is unfolding over rival ballot initiatives. Big corporations want to gut public employee pension rules and try once again to limit workers' ability to organize politically, so CTA and other unions are threatening to put a split-roll initiative on the ballot. The link here goes to a Dan Walters column that says the corporate tax repeal is part of this battle, but I understand that initiative is likely to qualify anyway. This all could fizzle, or it could all go on the ballot anyway, dwarfing the battles in 2005 given everything else that'll likely be on the November ballot.

New Prop 187 - similar to the notorious Prop 187 in 1994, this is an attack on undocumented Californians and the public services they need and that the rest of us need to ensure they receive. I've heard a lot of different things about whether this has the money to qualify. Right now it doesn't look like it will, but definitely one to watch like a hawk.

Voter ID - similar to the New Prop 187 initiative, it's hard to judge whether George Runner's effort to limit democracy and voter participation has a shot at the ballot.

Unlikely to make the ballot:

Barring any surprise infusions of cash, the other dozens of initiatives circulating or pending at the AG's office aren't likely to make the ballot. Some of the more prominent ones that aren't likely to qualify include Prop 8 repeal, defining a fetus as a person, the Lakoff majority vote initiative, and a bunch of totally wacko religious fundamentalist proposals.

Finally, it's also possible, if not likely, that the upcoming budget solution will include tax proposals that will go to the voters in November as well.

The record for ballot initiatives in a single year in California is 1990, including 27 at the November election, including Prop 140 (which squeaked out a victory and created the term limits tyranny). Most of the November 1990 initiatives were defeated. November 2010 may not quite match that record, but in terms of the importance and significance of the proposals, this year's initiatives may indeed produce a turning point in our state's political history.

If nothing else, it will at least be a titanic political battle. Welcome to Thunderdome!

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Split Rolls (4.00 / 2)
What are the odds on this one?

When I was a baby plaintiffs' atty, we called the place Thnderdome. (1.00 / 1)
I am bored this evening and am liberal in the classical sense.  Tyranny is upon us, I fear the tyranny of the left and the tyranny of the right.  I could "pass" in either, it is all a question of the jargon.  The tyranny of the right definitely offers better wardrobe choices, though.  Off we go...solecisms intentional

Seismic retrofitting - retrofits don't add to property tax value

Seems fair, especially if the retrofitting is mandated

California Fair Elections Act - creates a public financing system for the Secretary of State's race in 2014 and 2018

I don't hate this but mostly because I believe that the overseer of elections, regardless of the sonorous title, should be non-partisan.

Top two primary - the fruit of Abel Maldonado's blackmail, this would change the way primaries work to send the top two finishers regardless of party to the general election. The practical effect will be to force intraparty primary battles out into the general election, diverting money and resources from other fights.

Hmmm...given my disdain for the tyrannical aspects of both sides, I kinda like this.

Signatures submitted for qualification:

2/3rds vote for public power: PG&E's effort to make it more difficult for localities to create public power utilities. A truly pernicious and anti-democratic proposal.

Do I even have comment about state ownership of utilities.  For the sake of completeness: Pernicious-no, undemocratic-yes.  That being said, I may as well confess, I am not an strong adherent of universal suffrage, I've been to a shopping mall.

Mercury Insurance's effort to gut Prop 103 - would enable auto insurers to raise rates for those who, for whatever reason, have had gaps in insurance coverage. Designed to punish the poor and leech money out of the middle class.

Unless you are trying to be cute with your own intentional solecisms, I think you mean "leach".  Maybe, just maybe, those with gaps are a higher risk.

November 2010

Already qualified:

$11 billion water bond - although environmental groups are split, I expect most progressive organizations to unite against this massive giveaway of scarce taxpayer resources to large corporations, undermining those with senior water rights to favor relative but well-heeled newcomers who waste our water resources.

Gotta agree here.  My understanding of the water deal was that was as noisome as the teachers' union

Likely to qualify:

Marijuana legalization - Richard Lee's effort has already gathered enough signatures, but they're holding off on submitting them so as to ensure qualification for November. This may be one of the few genuinely progressive proposals on the November 2010 ballot, and will require a year-long effort from progressives to ensure it passes.

Yeah, it's too bad the hard left has made smoking anything else akin to ritual mutilation.  Blaze on with the flora of your choice!

Term limits reform - backed by both the LA County Labor Fed and the LA County Chamber of Commerce and aided by a rather interesting donation of $300,000 to the qualification effort by the folks who got the legislature to pass a law helping bring an NFL stadium to the City of Industry. Unlike Prop 93, this would exempt current legislators from being able to serve longer in office, increasing its chances of passage. This too is a progressive solution, taking power back from the lobbyists and enabling voters to continue to send good people back to Sacramento if they so choose.

Concur on this as well.  The voters had term limits, that they were never exercised can be used as an ominous portent for direct democracy. cf. shopping malls, supra

Parental notification, round 4 - this is the poster child for the need for initiative reform, the "bleed Planned Parenthood dry" strategy of trying to restrict women's rights or destroy the pro-choice movement's resources in the process. And it's all but certain to be on the November ballot.

That's democracy for you.  Though I find the zeal exhibited by both sides of this issue to be quite indecorous

California Forward's budget and governance proposals - perhaps the most ambitious and immediate set of solutions to our political and fiscal crisis, it's also a center-right plan that would reinforce the momentum for spending cuts and having state government do less. It would also reinforce the 2/3rds rule for revenues by largely undoing the Sinclair Paints decision on fees. However, it may also be the only proposal on the ballot to restore majority rule on the budget.

Corporate tax loophole repeal - this proposal to repeal the $2 billion in corporate tax loopholes created in budget deals in 2008 and 2009 is probably going to get enough financial support to make the ballot in November. A welcome proposal it is - even if it doesn't solve the whole budget crisis, it would help reverse the corporate-friendly nature of our budgeting.

These last two had too many big words and I dozed off.  Sorry.

Part-time legislature - this proposal to turn the legislature into a place only accessible to the wealthy has been withdrawn and resubmitted once. It's unclear whether they have enough resources to get this on the ballot.

I foresee fewer restrictions on personal and economic freedom if this passes.  I could be wrong.

End to raids on local government funds - I hear different things about whether this will indeed qualify, but it'd be welcome if it did. This proposal would end once and for all the theft of local government funds by the state legislature. This is a badly needed reform to not only protect local services, but to force the legislature to actually fight to make long-term revenue solutions part of the budget, instead of trying ever more damaging gimmicks.

Hell Yeah.  How about a tenth amendment for the counties

State parks funding - a coalition of state parks advocacy groups have raised $1 million for an initiative that would increase the vehicle license fee by $18 to fund state parks. It's not yet clear if that'll be enough to put this on the ballot - if so, then this initiative would go under the "likely qualify" heading.

I like the parks.  The parks should be/could be/ are/ will be self sufficient.  Let's keep the parks and eliminate all the state employees who have the words program, analyst, co-ordinator, diversity, liaison or a Roman numeral in their job titles.

New Prop 187 - similar to the meritorious Prop 187 in 1994, this is an attack on incidental Californians and the goodies we, through threat of force and impoverishment, supply for them. I've heard a lot of different things about whether this has the money to qualify. Right now it doesn't look like it will, but definitely one to watch like a hawk.

FTFY

Voter ID - similar to the New Prop 187 initiative, it's hard to judge whether George Runner's effort to limit democracy and voter participation has a shot at the ballot.

When I win the hourly high hand at the card room, I gotta show ID.  If the franchise is to valued, some effort must be made to protect its integrity.  Then again...shopping mall

Unlikely to make the ballot:

Barring any surprise infusions of cash, the other dozens of initiatives circulating or pending at the AG's office aren't likely to make the ballot. Some of the more prominent ones that aren't likely to qualify include Prop 8 repeal,great timing defining a fetus as a personcheck the penal code, the Lakoff majority vote initiativeGo Bears!  Now, Jeff Tedford is a state employee who earns his keep., and a bunch of totally wacko religious fundamentalist proposalsI gotta check these out.  I do not like queers, but the religious right scares the crap outta me.  


I'm slightly curious about (0.00 / 0)
...the "joke" initiative to ban divorce. Is there even a signature gathering effort for that one?

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