At 8:40 am Friday morning Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio and a dozen or so supporters wheeled a U-Haul truck up to the City Clerk’s office and began unloading 39 boxes that they hope will be enough to put his version of pension reform on the June 2012 ballot. According to various press accounts, 120,000 of the 145,000 signatures were verified by the campaign; 25,000 signatures were rejected as invalid prior to submission. 94,346 signatures from registered city voters are needed to qualify the petition. A random 3 percent sample of all signatures will be checked by county Registrar of Voters before determining whether the petition is valid.
Two other recent petitions for conservative causes failed to make the ballot after failing to pass this test. Supporters of this measure say they are confident that their pension reform plan will appear on the ballot in next year. They have spent over $1 million to gather the signatures, with paid petition gatherers being paid $7 per voter at various locations throughout the City.
The proposed initiative would eliminate pensions for all new city hires except police officers and replace them with a 401(k)-type plan. It also includes a five-year salary freeze on the pensionable pay of current workers and a cap on future police pensions, among other things. City workers would not be eligible for Social Security under the plan.
The proposal is strongly opposed by organized labor, who characterize the plan as a punitive measure that places the solution to the city’s fiscal crisis unfairly on workers. Labor groups went so far as to send volunteers to popular canvassing locations to argue their point of view after receiving reports of petition gatherers making significant misrepresentations about the petition that they were asking people to sign. Stories about canvassers offering up free ponies to little girls whose mothers signed the measure were unconfirmed, however. City Councilman Carl DeMaio has historically touted legislation aimed at reducing influence, wages and benefits for both union and non-union employees.
Assuming that this measure qualifies for the ballot, it’s likely that a competing measure, supported by the City’s Democrats, will be placed on the June ballot through a vote of the City Council. This promises to be a big money, no-holds barred ballot box battle, with conservative business interests, tea party supporters and organized labor all throwing tons of money into these campaigns.
Even though supporters of the ballot measure have known for several weeks that they’d passed the threshold for needed signatures, the campaign has continued using a “we’re desperate” meme. Why? It turns out that signers information was being shared with the DeMaio Mayoral campaign. It’s probably illegal, but unlikely that the consequences will outweigh the benefits.
The other upshot of the DeMaio campaign’s success is that he will no longer be able to decline invitations to debate with the other Mayoral candidates running for San Diego’s top job. In the past. DeMaio’s stated reason for declining invitations to debate has been that he was too busy working on the pension reform campaign.
Organizers for the upcoming October 19th Mayoral debate shouldn’t be holding their breath in anticipation, however. Historically speaking, DeMaio is a politician who avoids situations where his basic assumptions about reality (learned in the hallowed halls of the Heritage Foundation) might be challenged. Reporters that are deemed critical of the City Councilman are simply denied access. His appearances are carefully calculated to insure that other points of view are excluded. Rumors of an “enemies list” abound in local political circles.
So, even if DeMaio continues to refuse or ignores (more likely) the standing invitation to attend the October 19th debate, I hope that they’ll at least put up a chair with his name on it. And one right next to it for Bonnie Dumanis, who is also refusing to debate.