One hundred seventeen years ago, direct democracy came to California with the adoption of the initiative, referendum and recall processes by way of a special election called by a newly empowered progressive wing of the Republican Party (yes, there was such a thing back then).
The push for direct democracy was a reaction to the excesses of the gilded age when millionaires and their corporate entities became powerful politically. In California, the entire state government was under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Bribery was the accepted method of doing business in the state capitol.
The state’s political establishment and its wealthy backers spent a decade trying to undo the process but eventually threw in the towel, opting for gaming the new system. Although California voters have generally been cautious at the ballot box when it comes to exercising their power (only about one-third of ballot propositions have passed), there have been some embarrassing exceptions and unintended consequences over the years.
Voters in 1964 approved Proposition 15, banning cable television in the state. Sponsored by theater owners fearing competition, the initiative promised to guarantee”free television.” The measure was eventually thrown out by the courts.
Proposition 13, approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in 1976, redefined the state’s taxation system, shifting a large portion of the burden away from property owners. Loopholes in the act benefitted corporate landowners as much or more than the mom and pop property owners it was supposed to protect. The resulting decline in revenues is a major factor in the decline of public schools and colleges in California.
Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187, the Save Our State (SOS) initiative in 1994 establishing state-run citizenship screening and barring undocumented people from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services led to the decline of the Republican party as a force in California politics.
Latinos in the state became a force to be reckoned with, running for office in increasing numbers and building political clout. There is no better example of this than the ascendence of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in local and state politics.
Initiative process successes in recent years include term limits, adopting animal protection laws, criminal justice, and drug reforms. Surveys show Californians overwhelmingly support the initiative process and have no desire for it to be abolished.
A growing problem with the initiative process is the ever-increasing number of signatures required to qualify a proposition. The concept of volunteer-collected signatures is almost as outdated as rotary telephones.
It now takes big bucks to put something before the voters. Professional canvassers getting as much as $10 per signature are motivated to entice low-information voters with whatever lies they think will fly. I simply refuse to sign anything placed in front of me as I come and go on shopping trips.
So it’s in this context that this fall’s batch of State Ballot Propositions must be viewed. Some are good, some are stupid, and some are evil. Thanks to the increasing influence of Dark Money in the electoral processes, the forces of evil have an ever-increasing role to play.
Two propositions not making it onto the fall ballot are examples of big money meddling in the process.
- The California Home and School Remediation Bond and Remove Status of Lead Paint as Public Nuisance Initiative disappeared from the general election ballot on June 28. A promise of continuing negotiations persuaded paint companies to withdraw a measure designed to get them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in court-ordered liability for knowingly selling a toxic product. I think this proposition would have lost in November, so the industry spent $2.6 million to–they hope–soften the blow.
- The California Two-Thirds Vote for State and Local Revenue Increases Initiative was withdrawn on June 28. It was a stealth measure pushed primarily by Big Sugar (soda) as a means of blocking localities from imposing taxes on soft drinks. They were able to tap into the proclivity of conservative business groups’ opposition to any taxes, spending $3.3 million to collect signatures. It was withdrawn after the legislature hurriedly passed a bill preempting local soda taxes until 2031.
The battle over Big Sugar isn’t over, however. Shortly after legislature acted, the California Dental Association and the California Medical Association filed paperwork to “implement a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, providing at least $1.7 billion in revenue for critical health programs and constitutionally preserving the ability of California’s local communities to make their own decisions regarding future soda taxes.”
Also not making the ballot (there was big money on both sides of this equation):
- The California Consumer Personal Information Disclosure and Sale Initiative would have allowed consumers to prevent certain businesses from selling or disclosing personal information. A compromise bill (AB375) will allow Californians to discover information is collected and who it is sold to. While people can opt out of having their data sold, companies are allowed to charge users more (within certain limits.) And the compromise isn’t the end of this story, as advocates for tech companies profiting off data sharing and privacy all agreed they’ll be asking for modifications down the road.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has assigned proposition numbers for a dozen ballot measures going before voters in November 2018.
Here’s a breakdown of what will be on your ballot, with my one-word preliminary analysis. I’ll get more into the arguments for and against and who’s funding what after Labor Day.
- Prop 1, the Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond: Allows the state to borrow $4 billion via a bond measure for veterans’ housing; $1 billion for subsidized home loans, $3 billion for construction. Placed on the ballot by the legislature. Good.
- Prop 2, the Use Millionaire’s Tax Revenue for Homelessness Prevention Housing Bonds Measure: Allows counties to use $2 billion from Proposition 63’s “millionaire’s tax” to fund supportive housing for those suffering with mental illness and to repay the cost of that bond with money set aside for mental health services. Good.
- Prop 3, the California Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative: Gives the state permission to borrow $8.9 billion funding projects aimed at improving water quality, fixing dams and protecting habitats. Didn’t we pass a $4.1 billion measure in June for the same reasons? Unsure
- Prop 4, the Children’s Hospital Bonds Initiative: Authorizes $1.5 billion in bonds to build, expand, renovate and equip seven private nonprofit children’s hospitals and five University of California children’s hospitals. It’s “for the children,” as the the last two measures in 2004 & 2008 also were. Good.
- Prop 5, the Property Tax Transfer Initiative: Gives a property tax break to homeowners over 55 (or severely disabled) when buying a new home. The real estate industry thinks this will increase the supply of housing. The problem here is 1986’s Proposition 60, which granted the break for seniors buying homes of lesser value within two years in the same county. I say–as someone who could benefit from this act– if we’re going to “fix” Prop 13, this isn’t a good place to start. Bad
- Prop 6, the Voter Approval for Future Gas and Vehicle Taxes and 2017 Tax Repeal Initiative: Repeals a $5 billion-a-year gasoline tax and fee increase approved (with a super-majority in the legislature) last year to repair California’s roads, and mandates that all future increases of this sort must be approved by a supermajority of voters. This is the GOP’s, led by Carl DeMaio, great white hope to remain relevant in 2018. Horrible
- Prop 7, the Permanent Daylight Saving Time Measure: Allows the legislature make Daylight Savings Time year round upon approval of the federal government. Good
- Prop 8, the Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative: Requires dialysis clinics to refund profits above a certain amount to incentivize spending revenue on healthcare improvements. A majority of these enormously profitable clinics in the state, which serve patients suffering from kidney failure, are owned by two companies: DaVita Kidney Care and Fresenius Medical Care. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers are trying to organize these companies, and have been made aware of shortcomings in patient care that they are seeking to address. Good.
- Prop 9, the Three States Initiative: Divides California into three new states: “Northern California,” “Southern California,” and “California.” Another great “idea” from a guy with too much money and too little common sense. Stupid.
- Prop 10, the Local Rent Control Initiative: Allow cities to introduce new restrictions on market rents or expand existing rent control policies, undoing the 1995 statewide moratorium via the Costa-Hawkins Act. The measure does not require any locality to enact rent control. Good
- Prop 11, the Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative: The ambulance industry wants a specific exemption made for its workers, requiring them to remain on call during work breaks. American Medical Response, the country’s largest medical transportation firm, is funding this measure in response to class action lawsuits in California courts over break time violations. Bad
- Prop 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative: Bans the sale of eggs and some meats from animals confined in areas below a specific number of square feet. A modification of the 2008 measure requiring farm animals be allowed to stand up and turn around in their cages. But wait! This measure pits the Humane Society against various animal rights groups, who claim there’s collusion going on allowing hens to be kept in “horrific multi-level “cage-free” factory systems.” Needless to say, the Big Ag lobby says any restrictions will cause prices to rise. Unsure
I’ll get around to the County and City measures in the near future.
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