Fat Cats, Horse Meat And Lame Ducks
Introducing the state ballot measures for November.
Thursday, September 3, 1998
What do you get when you combine Meathead, horse meat, lame duck, three cherries, fat cats, oxygen and trapped game? What else but the California initiative lineup for the November 1998 ballot?
Unlike June''s initiative wars, the upcoming ballot will hold no "Armageddon" measure, like the Proposition 226 union dues initiative, which could have completely altered the balance of political power in the state. Nor does there appear to be any initiative that would significantly alter the turnout of specific blocs of voters, as the 1996 minimum wage increase and the 1998 union dues measures did. At least at first glance, there seems to be no measure that could have a major influence on the outcome of the gubernatorial battle between Gray Davis and Dan Lungren.
Instead, this November''s ballot appears to be a lot closer to previous election years'' lists of propositions, with education, environment and animal issues at the fore. Still, a ballot measure that will mandate early childhood interventions throughout the state and another that will mandate class size are far-reaching enough in their impacts to constitute a social restructuring of California family and school life. And should the utilities reform initiative qualify, there will also be a good old-fashioned consumer fight against the fat cats. So for those with time on their hands, here''s an early preview of the good, the bad and the ugly on the Nov. 3 ballot.
In addition to the following initiatives placed on the ballot by citizen groups, three propositions were placed on the ballot by the state legislature. Proposition 1 would transfer the base year value of contaminated property to a piece of replacement property under certain circumstances. Proposition 2 authorizes the loans of motor vehicle use fees and taxes to the general fund under certain circumstances, and Proposition 3 would amend provisions of the open primary act to revise balloting for direct presidential primary elections.
Here are the propostions placed on the ballot by voters like you.
Trapper John, R.I.P.
Onthe animal front, a coalition of the largest animal rights groups in California and the nation have banded together as PROPAW (Protect Pets and Wildlife) to pass an initiative banning the steel-jawed leg traps commonly used by the state''s 250 licensed fur trappers. "Over 20,000 wild animals a year are killed in California, mostly using inhumane traps like those," says Aaron Medlock, statewide coordinator of the initiative.
Medlock says the animal rights groups attempted to pass a bill with similar strictures through the legislature. But the author dropped the protective provisions.
The Animal Protection Institute (API), headquartered in Sacramento with 16,000 members statewide, is one of the seven groups united under the PROPAW umbrella. Dena Jones, program coordinator for API, says similar initiatives have passed in three other states:Arizona, Colorado and Massachusetts.
"In some instances, the trappers have gone out and recruited the NRA and hunters'' groups to oppose this kind of initiative. But I don''t foresee that occurring here," says Jones.
Medlock and Jones estimate that they will have $1 million to spend on a media campaign promoting the proposition, in addition to the coalition''s 750,000 combined members doing volunteer work.
If the wildlife "body-gripping" trap prohibition passes, trappers may turn to cage traps or whole-body traps. But Medlock believes that at least some trappers will leave the business altogether. Currently, trappers receive around $2 for a muskrat pelt and about $50 for a bobcat fur.
The other groups making up the PROPAW coalition are: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the Humane Society of the United States; the Doris Day Animal League; the Fund for Animals; the Ark Trust; and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Cowboys and Indians
Thewell-financed, heavy stakes poker game that the state''s Indian tribes and politicians have been playing over gambling rights and regulations will come to statewide view with an initiative that will define the terms under which the tribes may continue and extend their gaming operations. According to Sacramento attorney Howard Dickstein, who represents several tribes that have not yet taken a position on the initiative, this proposition has its positives and negatives for the tribes and for California. On the net side, the initiative would allow increased revenues from slot machines to improve tribal revenues that fund increased economic, social and cultural improvements for the tribes. On the downside, says Dickstein, polls show that the measure is vulnerable to defeat, in which case the tribes could spend millions on a losing cause that would also result in a loss of political leverage.
The great unknown factor at this point is the stance that the Nevada gambling industry will take. The Nevada industry has an interest in limiting gaming in California. An agreement that would confine gaming to Indian reservations would serve Nevada interests just fine. On the other hand, no greater threat exists for this group than if the initiative passed and catalyzed California to become a wide-open casino state. The politics on this initiative remain fluid. But since both sides want to be the house in this poker game, tens of millions will be spent on this initiative.
Mr. Ed, Avec Sauce Vin Rouge. Oui ou Non?
The Save the Horses initiative, certified for the ballot just last week, is a measure put forward by California''s equine lovers to stop the slaughter of horses for food. Not that anyone in California is eating horse meat, as far as can be determined. But according to the initiative''s backers, thousands of California horses are purchased each year for shipment to slaughterhouses in Texas, which then export the horse meat to France, Belgium and Japan for human consumption. In those locales, horse meat is considered a gourmet steak.
Cathleen Doyle, an initiative spokesperson, says that the law is needed because 7,000-10,000 California horses a year are being sent to Texas slaughterhouses, where they are cruelly killed. Further, Doyle says, horses are pets and companion animals, not livestock for eating. Doyle and the horse lovers expect little opposition to their initiative, since there is only a "secret industry" of 15 or so buyers in the state dependent upon horse meat export. But she and her group decided to go directly to the ballot rather than attempting a bill in the state Legislature, because they feared that powerful agricultural interests would block or compromise the prohibition on horse slaughter on the grounds that it opened the door to other prohibitions on animal farming.
The Save the Horses PAC is running a sophisticated, well-financed campaign, spending over $600,000 to gather the signatures required, conduct an extensive poll and produce commercials for broadcast. While it''s hard to imagine any opposition group forming to argue for horse meat, Doyle admits that it is at least partly a matter of cultural definition.
Christophe, a native French chef at Sacramento''s Jouissance Cafe, says that horse meat "makes a very fine steak, very tasty when cooked with wine." In France, where you can find horse meat sold at the supermarket alongside beef, the horse meat is often served as >"viand de cheval avec sauce vin rouge:" horse steak in red wine sauce. But French-born Isabel Mattocks, hostess at another Sacramento eatery, says that horse meat is not for the Gallic palate. "A horse is too beautiful to eat," she says. "We in Marseilles enjoy fish. But my co-workers from Paris say in France, horse is what they eat."
While the sale or consumption of horse meat in California is not currently illegal, no local restaurant contacted admitted to having it on its menu.
Clearing the Air
GeraldMeral and the Planning and Conservation League are back on the ballot, with a clean air program that will award $218 million in state tax credits annually for air pollution-reduction devices and facilities through the year 2010.
Meral and the PCL have been tremendously successful in previous years, passing everything from park bonds to tobacco taxes. PCL has again brought together groups that will benefit from the financial incentives contained in the initiative to place it on the ballot. But Meral sees this as good politics. "We try to bring disparate interests together rather than using wedge politics." He says business groups are supporting this initiative "big-time," viewing it as "using the tax system to stimulate voluntary actions to clean up the air."
So far, the measure has garnered the support of the pro-business California Committee for Economic and Environmental Balance, and politicians from Democrat Gray Davis to Republican Ross Johnson. Without much in the way of opposition, there probably will also be little in the way of a campaign for or against this measure other than what appears in the voters'' pamphlet. The history of similar initiatives predicts this story: If the economy stays good, this should pass with ease. If the economy becomes rocky before November, it''s a toss-up.
Lame Duck''s Swan Song
Oneof Gov. Pete Wilson''s attempted final legacies will depend on the outcome of his initiative to permanently reduce class size in California public schools for kindergarten through third grade. Wilson''s measure would carve out a section of funding for class-size reduction in these grades, but with a catch; school districts that wish to qualify for the funding would need to establish a school-site governing council composed of two-thirds parents and one-third teachers. Such councils, in consultation with the principal, would then have the power over all curriculum and expenditure decisions for that school.
In addition, the measure also requires pupil performance be utilized for teacher evaluations; teacher examinations on subject matter for credentialing; teacher assignments to specific subjects; immediate student suspension for possession of illegal substances; and the creation of a chief inspector of public schools, to evaluate school performance and provide an annual ranking of schools.
"Gov. Wilson borrowed the idea of an inspector of schools from England," says Mitch Zak, spokesperson for the Pete Wilson Committee, which is coordinating the initiative drive. "The theory is that by ranking schools according to performance and making that information public, students and teachers will be motivated to perform better."
Zak says that "after quite a primary season for the governor, we are just now getting refocused." He adds that the governor plans to run a "substantial" campaign for the initiative, with a budget for media.
The California Teachers Association is opposing this measure on the grounds that the bill is being used to create state-controlled site councils and curriculum.
Utility Reform Redux
In1997, with barely a note of opposition, the state legislature passed Assembly Bill 1890, designed to restructure California''s utility industry in the new era of deregulated electric power production. In a deal primarily brokered by State Sen. Steve Peace, D-San Diego, everyone seemed to get something they wanted, including a renewable energy fund for the environmentally minded.
But the bill also included a $28 billion bail-out of private utilities like PG&E, which were facing the new deregulated era with expensive elephants like the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. The utilities logic was that since these plants were approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the general public, and not stockholders, should pay off the debt on those assets that were producing power at non-competitive prices.
While consumer groups were caught napping, in all probability there was little they could have done to alter the Peace pact. Not so surprisingly, enter Harvey Rosenfield, leader of the successful voter revolt against the insurance industry in 1986 with Proposition 103. Rosenfield has teamed up with TURN (Toward Utility Rate Normalization), the state''s pre-eminent utility consumer watchdog, and the Public Media Center to launch an initiative that will pull the plug on the consumer bailout provisions. Uniting under the banner Californians Against Utility Taxes (CUT), this initiative will prohibit the assessment of charges to utility customers for payment of utility debts and mandate at least a 20 percent reduction in electric utility bills.
The utilities will go all out to prevent being CUT. They have filed a lawsuit to prevent this initiative from qualifying for the ballot. Rosenfield says, "Their suit is completely without merit and will be tossed out by the courts."
Rosenfield says he will run his signature grassroots guerilla campaign, depending on consumer self-interest and industry overreaction to pass the measure, as occurred with Prop. 103. The utilities, in the meantime, seem certain to focus on the legislative analyst''s estimate that if passed, this initiative will reduce funds for education and potentially increase state taxpayer''s liability for $7 billion of utility industry debt.
Meathead Goes Statewide
RobReiner, who came to fame as the TV son-in-law of Archie Bunker and has since become an acclaimed director of movies such as A Few Good Men and When Harry Met Sally, has almost single-handedly put the Great Society approach to social problems back on the state''s agenda with the Early Childhood Development initiative.
As the story goes, Reiner''s experience in psychotherapy demonstrated to him the importance of childhood nurturance. As he investigated the topic, he realized that society places little attention on assuring an adequate environment for its infants, although that is the building block for all subsequent growth. Bolstering his view, he claims, are recent findings in neuroscience indicating that the substrata of brain connections are mostly made during this very early period.
When former Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Mike Roos, who has been heading up LEARN, an organization devoted to improving Los Angeles schools, heard Reiner discussing this subject on TV, Roos arranged a meeting to talk with Reiner about implementing his concerns at the state level. Thus was born the California Children and Families First organization, which is placing the State and County Early Childhood Development Programs on the ballot. With substantial contributions from Republican L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael Huffington, as well as from Hollywood figures such as actor Dustin Hoffman, superagent Michael Ovitz and producer Norman Lear (the creator of Meathead), this initiative seems fated to be Hollywood''s political cause du jour this fall.
With a 50-cent per pack increase on cigarettes and an equivalent amount on other tobacco products, this initiative will create state and county commissions to develop strategic programs for early childhood development. Fiscal analysts estimate that this will raise up to $700 million per year for these purposes.
Reiner, Roos and company expect that the tobacco industry will oppose their initiative. "I''ve never seen a measure affecting the tobacco industry that they didn''t respond to," Roos said in a phone interview. Phil Dowd, Sacramento lobbyist for The Tobacco Institute, did not return calls requesting the industry''s position on the initiative.
Whatever else may turn out to be confusing about this November''s initiatives, at least one thing will be made easier for voters: State law requires that the numbers on propositions again begin at the number one.
Ralph Brave is news editor of the SacramentoNews & Review.