Part Four: Hey, Did You Know? Statewide Ballot Propositions – Mostly Bad News

by on May 19, 2010 · 10 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Election, Energy, Environment

vote yur futurePart of the legacy of California’s electoral process is that anybody with a pen and a clipboard can, in theory, get a proposed law placed on the ballot. The reality is that it either takes a grass roots campaign with thousands of committed volunteers or a major donor willing to write a check big enough to sponsor thousands of paid canvassers to gather signatures.

What interesting about this particular election is that three of the ballot propositions directly impact the voting process. In other words, they’re tinkering with your right to vote. In a later posting in this series, I’ll be discussing the big picture when it comes to voting rights. Suffice it to say at this point that I’ve concluded that there is, in fact, a campaign under way using clever language and marketing to convince the electorate to dilute or even give up their rights as voters. Let’s start with the most odious of the ballot measures, Proposition 16.

The Taxpayers “Right to Vote” Act

Proposition 16 will require a two-thirds vote of the electorate before a public agency could enter the retail power business. This will make it more difficult than it is currently for local entities to form either municipal utilities, or clean electricity districts called Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs). And it’s the aggregation business that has this proposition’s sponsor aggravated. Ultimately it comes down to just how “clean” you want your energy to be.

Pacific Gas & Electric is the primary financial sponsor of the initiative, having contributed $34.5 million through May 2, 2010. That makes PG&E the Goliath in a David-v-Goliath battle, since Prop 16’s opponents have raised less than $50,000 through early May. Looking it another way it’s the nuclear/coal/oil power industry pitted against wind mills and solar panels.

PG&E, through its political connections, hired Arno Political Consultants, or APC, is a petition drive management firm based in Carlsbad. Since1979, APC has collected more than 120 million signatures on 500 ballot initiatives in twenty states, focusing on conservative and libertarian ballot measures.

In a classic display of Orwellian double-speak, the public has been bombarded with TV ads over the past month, warning us that we DON’T even have the right to vote on matters relating to local governments getting into the utility business. Last time I checked we don’t have the right to vote on jaywalking laws either: that’s why we have elected officials.

As Californians should already know by now, the two-thirds thresh hold for approval at the polls allows and even encourages political gridlock. PG&E has placed this ballot measure before the voters for one simple reason: to protect their profits. All the rest of the arguments that they’re making in their advertising are just blue smoke and mirrors designed to fool the public. So let’s call a spade a spade here: this is some seriously undemocratic bullshit.

question-mark1The “Top Two” Primaries Act

Proposition 14 would provide for a “voter-nominated primary election” for each state elective office and congressional office, in which voters would chose via the primary elections candidates state elective offices without regard to political party. In short, the top two vote getters, regardless of affiliation, would face each other in the November election.

On the surface, this seems like a good deal. Such a system would reduce the pandering to the political extremes that candidates are forced into during primary races. Thus we wouldn’t be seeing Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner’s ridiculous posturing for the anti-immigrant vote. They’d have to appeal to all voters, which in this State includes a substantial Latino voting bloc not inclined to be motivated by such extreme rhetoric.

But if you look a little deeper, this “benefit” has other (and I would say intended) consequences. Proposition 14 would also mean that candidates from outside the current power structure (minority parties) would end up being excluded from the November ballot. In practice this will lead to more tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumber ballot choices. So the major political parties are the prime beneficiaries of this measure. And the only reason it’s on the ballot (IMHO) is that the parties are reacting to the increasing number of voters who, disgusted with the political process, register their political affiliation as “decline to state”.

The California Fair Elections Act

Unlike the two earlier propositions discussed above, Proposition 15 isn’t a straw man ballot issue designed to hide its real beneficiaries. The measure would repeal the current ban on public financing by allowing a tax on lobbyists and voluntary contributions to be used to finance only one elective contest, the race for Secretary of State (zzzzz). Proponents point to the fact that this is simply a step towards broader public financing of elections. But their good intentions overlook the recent Supreme Court ruling that limitations of corporate political donations are protected as free speech.

So, even with public financing and the limitations it places on individual candidates’ fundraising, nothing prevents a clever group of industry political action committees from setting up a “Don’t Vote for Candidate B Because He’s Probably a Terrorist” group that sponsors millions of dollars in TV ads that work in the favor of his/her opponent. In other words, this is a well-intentioned waste of money.

DayTheEarthStoodStillAllows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute

Proposition 17 is one of the most outrageous measures to ever qualify for a ballot. Its sponsor, Mercury Insurance, is a Los Angeles based automobile and property insurance company founded by George Joseph in 1961. National Petition Management, the same company that put Maine’s anti-gay marriage ballot measure together last year, was paid $2,273,745 to collect signatures to qualify this act for the ballot.

Proponents of the statute argue that the measure simply fixes a flaw in the current law that prohibits drivers from taking any continuous coverage discount with them if they switch insurance companies. Opponents have pointed out that Proposition 17 is actually a rate hike in disguise because it .allows insurance companies to surcharge people who have not been previously insured — even if they are perfect drivers who weren’t insured because, for a time, they weren’t driving. Also penalized are people who had to drop coverage for more than 90 days during the last five years, or missed just one insurance payment.

By looking at Mercury’s record as an insurance company, it’s pretty easy to see through their smokescreen of rhetoric being pushed on TV ads that claim this initiative is about consumer choice. In other states where Mercury Insurance does business, it charges “whopping surcharges” to customers who have had a lapse in their coverage and, opponents say, this is “smoking gun” proof that Mercury Insurance will do the same thing in California, if they are legally allowed to by this measure. Then there’s the hard-hitting report from California’s Department of Insurance which says that Mercury has a “lengthy history of serious misconduct” and an attitude of “contempt toward and/or abuse of its customers, the [insurance] commissioner, its competition and the Superior Court.”

In short, these guys are bad guys.

Limits on Property Tax Assessment. Seismic retrofitting of existing buildings. Legislative Constitutional Amendment

This is 2010’s Proposition 13, not to be confused with the Proposition 13 that voters passed in 1978. In effect it’s an amendment to the property tax system in California that eliminates the time limit on a tax break to property owners that upgrade their structures to make them safer in the event of the earthquake. No opponents submitted arguments against the proposition for the State’s official voter guide.

Next Up: The San Diego Ballot Initiatives

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Molly May 19, 2010 at 8:47 am

Doug, it doesn’t look like you have time to cover local races like for sheriff or District 6, or does it?

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avatar doug porter May 19, 2010 at 9:20 am

i’m cranking out these pieces at an average rate of three a week. we’ve got three weeks till the primary. i plan on covering those races, but if you want in on the fun, by all means, be my guest. i started this because i got my ballot in the mail and realized just how many races/issues i was ignorant about about–and i consider myself an informed kinda guy.
i’m really gratified with the number of people who’ve stopped by to read these articles, even if they don’t comment. ultimately i believe that an informed electorate is one of the best defenses for democracy, and institution that i see as threatened by apathy, big corporate money and Orwellian doublespeak.

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avatar doug porter May 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

oops, typo… i meant to say “an institution”

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avatar annagrace May 19, 2010 at 10:32 am

Thanks Doug!

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avatar tj May 19, 2010 at 11:40 am

Good review & summary.

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avatar psd May 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I’ve read all five pieces up so far with great interest, thanks again for posting them. I’m just not commenting much because all my comments would fall into one of two categories:
1. I’ve researched this issue myself and reached the same conclusion you have.
2. I glossed over this one in the voter handbook, thanks for the Cliff’s Notes, you’re a trusted source.

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avatar Shane Finneran May 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

I’m bummed by the assessment of Prop 15 as “a well-intentioned waste of money.”

Not that I have an argument against that assessment. It’s just that campaign finance reform is so key, it relegates the other issues to almost deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic meaninglessness. Yet we can’t even get a proposition that offers real public financing in one minor state election. Frustrating.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I think the Coffee Party movement that Shane and I are part of, has a different take on Prop 15 – that it is a start towards campaign finance reform and should be supported.

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avatar psd May 30, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Am I the only one getting worked up into a frothing rage over the Prop 17 commercials that feature the ominous voice “There’s only one place to go for the FACTS about Prop 17 – the California Voter’s Guide!” followed by a couple highlighted pieces from the OPINION piece published there by the ‘pro’ side?

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avatar Pat Herron June 2, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Thanks Doug for the info. I hope you don’t mind but I do have to take issue with your (zzzzz)
comment about the Sec. of State’s Office in your remarks on Prop. 15. Our Sec. of State is
Debra Bowen. I belonged to a Voting Rights Group that worked hard for her election. She was
running after the 2000 coup in which Bush & Co. manipulated voting machines that were 100%
hackable. At the time we had the same voting machines in Calif. and were experiencing “voting irregularities.” Debra Bowen was elected Sec. of State. As she had promised, she tested the voting machines and de-certified almost all of them and made it possible for us to vote on paper ballots again. So even though it sounds boring it’s a pretty important office.

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