It’s election time and once again Californians have to consider a whole host of ballot propositions on issues about which most of us know nothing.
As usual, the ones that have gotten the most attention are two hot-button social issues. A yes vote on Proposition 4 would require doctors to notify parents of pregnant minors seeking abortions. And Proposition 8 places the question of gay marriage before voters yet again.
There are 10 other state propositions that would issue billions of dollars in bonds in our nearly bankrupt state, improve life for farm animals, change sentencing rules for judges, force utilities to generate power from renewable energy, and so on.
In the past eight years, Californians have had more than 100 state propositions to consider ranging from Indian gaming compacts to chiropractor licensing. And that’s not counting the dozens of county and city initiatives. I, for one, am sick of it.
I used to spend considerable effort going through the phone-book sized voter guide. This time, I saved myself a lot of time. When I cast my absentee ballot a few weeks ago, I went down the line and filled in the “no” bubble for every single state proposition on the ballot.
Why? Because a no vote on a proposition changes nothing and puts the issue back where it belongs: in the California Legislature. It’s the legislature’s job to consider these issues, understand the implications pro and con, hold hearings, hear from lobbyists and their constituents, talk to their colleagues and make an informed decision.
California’s initiative process is completely broken. Time and again, the initiatives passed by voters turn out to be ambiguous and too complex with many exceeding 10,000 words. The courts often throw them out. If they don’t, we’re stuck with them: California is the only state that doesn’t allow its legislature to amend initiatives after passage.
Nearly a century ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative system as a way to wrest control of the political process from special interests like the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was supposed to empower ordinary citizens, but today it only serves the special interests. According to the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank, the year we last saw an initiative qualify on the effort of volunteers was 1982.
Who are these special interests? People with money. Two-thirds of all contributions now come in amounts of $1 million or more. In 2006, Hollywood producer Steven Bing spent more than $48 million to finance Proposition 87, an alternative energy measure, but lost to an even costlier effort financed by oil companies.
An industry has sprung up to cater to these people. It costs about $3 million to qualify a measure for the ballot by paying people to sit outside supermarkets and hassle you for your signature. But the big money is in advertising. Two years ago, a total of $330 million was spent on all the measures in the general election, including $154 million on Bing’s Prop 87.
This is madness. Money has corrupted the initiative process, subverted its noble intent of empowering citizens, and turned propositions into tools for wealthy, special interests who can’t get what they want from our hapless legislature.
It’s time for average citizens to stop pretending that we are lawmakers. Stop encouraging the special interests. Take back the process by voting no on ALL propositions this November and every November and help to fix California’s broken political system.
Voting no on all state propositions isn’t liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican. It’s a vote against the special interests and the money that ruined the process. It’s a vote in favor of good government. So, as Nancy Reagan liked to say, just say no.