"Americans want a politics they don't have to hate.
Thursday, February 17, 2000
E.J. Dionne Jr., Why Americans Hate Politics
Ifthe 20 initiatives that will appear on the March 7 ballot statewide are any indication, voter/citizens of the state of California indeed believe that it''s within their power to demand changes to our democracy. Despite the kookification of the our political process, the hollywoodization of our candidates, and the lewinskification of our news media, people still have faith that the great experiment that is Western-style democracy still just might work.
Sure, 20 ballot initiatives means that a whole a lot of people think that our democracy is busted. If the elected officials and the bureaucrats were doing their jobs, so the argument goes, average people wouldn''t have to stand in front of libraries, post offices and shopping malls trying to persuade average people to sign petitions to get initiatives on the ballot so that average people can vote on them.
But they are. And to the extent that so many average people are collecting signatureseven though some of them might be earning eight bucks an hour to do itour democracy still does work.
As much damage as Prop 13 has done to our tax system, and to the reputation of ballot initiatives in general, in a representative democracy our right to take the job of lawmaking into our own hands is an awesome, if humbling, power. So awesome and humbling, in fact, that one could call it a fourth branch of government...the People''s Congress. (Kind of has a ring to it, eh?)
So what will the People''s Congress be considering on March 7? Appropriately enough, four of the 20 initiatives are designed to give citizen/voters even more power to shape public policy throughout the state and at home. And, handily enough, you''ll see them in successive order on your ballot: Prop 23 would allow voters to choose "none of the above" if no candidates appeal to them; Prop 25 would institute campaign-finance reform in state and local elections; Prop 26 would lower the threshold for passing school bonds; and Prop 27 would encourage Congress members to voluntarily limit their terms in office.
There are 16 other initiatives on the ballot, most of them dealing with dead-serious issues that most likely resonate with the lives of you and your family, neighbors and co-workers.
On the following pages, the Weekly editorial board has summarized and offered its opinion on each initiative. Readand votecarefully.
Mark Worth, News Editor
Props 1A & 29
A Gamble Worth Taking
In 1998, then-Gov. Pete Wilson moved to shut down video slot machines in tribal casinos, citing both a California constitutional ban on Nevada-style gambling and federal law that only allows tribes to offer gambling that is otherwise legal in the state.
At the same time, Wilson also entered into a controversial agreement with a few tribes that severely limited the number and style of slot machines in tribal casinos. This prompted tribal leaders to spend $67 million to pass Prop 5, designed to allow tribes to install more slots. Despite major opposition from Nevada casino owners, the measure passed by a nearly 2-1 margin.
Last year, however, the California Supreme Court tossed out Prop 5, again citing California''s constitutional ban. At the same time, Gov. Gray Davis was negotiating with tribes to create a new agreementallowing for more casinos and slots, a fund for non-casino tribes, and money for state regulation and treating gambling addictionto supersede Wilson''s, but that agreement can''t take effect until something is done about the constitutional ban.
Today''s Propositions 1A and 29 are the children of that convoluted history, and they''re different as night and day.
1A would amend the California constitution to allow video slots and make it possible for Davis'' agreement to be implemented. Prop 29, on the other hand, would uphold Wilson''s agreement, severely limiting the number and styles of slot machines. Prop 1A supersedes Prop 29: If 1A passes, it doesn''t matter what happens to Prop 29, it can''t be implemented. The primary supporters of 1A, predictably, are Native American tribes.
The prop is weakly opposed by a coalition of religious groups, as well as gambling- and alcohol-addiction treatment professionals, who fear an explosion of video slots and gambling halls in the state. The Weekly does not share those fears, and we feel the electorate spoke clearly in ''98 with passage of Proposition 5.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 1A; NO on Prop 29
The Greater Outdoors
If there is such as thing as a ballot-box no-brainer, this is it.
The combined effort of two of the state Assembly''s best and brightestSpeaker Antonio Villaraigosa and our own all-around good guy Fred Keeleythe Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond would generate $2.1 billion in an effort to save and even enhance what remains of California''s natural environment.
Literally every city and county in the state would get a piece of the action, based on its population. Name a way to make the outdoors more pleasurable and the Villaraigosa-Keeley bond would pay for itfrom protecting lakeshores and preserving habitat for endangered flora and fauna, to removing non-native plants and saving redwood stands, to setting up volleyball courts and laying out soccer fields.
Who could oppose the seemingly unopposable? Sen. Ray Haynes and Assemblymember Brett Granlund could. The Republican duo both earned a seemingly unearnable zero percent rating from the California League of Conservation Voters for opposing reforms that would, for instance, encourage green construction methods and ensure that contamination warnings are displayed bilingually. We swear we aren''t making this up. Haynes writes on his Web site: "The government will use the vast majority of the money to buy more land for insects, rats and weeds." (Check it out for yourself at www.rayhaynes.org/bonds/prop12-argument.html.)
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 12.
Clean Water, Safe Water
With a global drinking-water crisis in the offing, now''s the time to invest in preserving that-without-which-life- would-cease. This $2 billion proposal would enhance underground storage, protect watersheds, stave off contamination, encourage recycling and conservation, and generally better manage our water supply. It''s a good thing.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 13.
Books for All
With cities and counties scrounging for every penny of tax money they can get, the state wants to help them pay for libraries. This $350 million measure would cover two-thirds of the cost of building, renovating and expanding libraries. And, schools and libraries would team up to provide after-school study havens. Read on!
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 14.
Under the Microscope
It''s tough to deny law enforcement agencies of resources, a political reality that sometimes results in police departments being packed to the rafters with high-tech gizmos with no real crime to fight. That''s not the case with this proposal. More than $200 million would be spent to modernize crime labs, helping to ensure than DNA, toxicology, ballistic and other tests are done right the first time. No truth, no justice.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 15.
Care for Vets
With World War II veterans deep into senior citizenship and Viet Nam vets firmly in middle age, this proposal to spend a mere $50 million to build two new veterans'' care homes and renovate another facility is the least we can do for men and women who risked their lives for their country. We salute this idea.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 16.
Why Regulate Raffles?
For some reason, our own Sen. Bruce McPherson thinks that those cute little kids who sell raffle tickets at the mall should be regulated by Sacramento. Though technically illegal, small-time raffles that raise money for parks and scholarships should be left alone, and not subjected to bureaucratic meddling. Let them sell tickets!
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 17.
Enough Death, Already
Just when you think the punishment industry has run out of ways to justify its existence, they come up with another idea to execute more people. This proposal would make it a capital offense to murder someone after kidnapping them, even though the original intent of the culprit was not to commit murder. It''s time for a pro-life criminal justice system.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 18.
Yes, police officers are a special breed, but are their lives worth more than those of non-cops? The backers of this proposal think so. They would sentence someone convicted of second-degree murder of a BART, UC or CSU officer to life in prison without any possibility of parole. If this is meant as a deterrent, anyone crazy enough to shoot at a cop is not going think twice about it.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 19.
Don''t Bet on Books
Seeing as it''s ultimately teachers, not books, that are responsible for educating kids in schools, the idea of setting aside half of any increases in Lottery revenues for textbooks seems ill advised. Instead, that money should go toward ensuring that teachers earn a living wage. Pay your teachers well.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 20.
Proposition 21 is telling Americans to give up on a generation of our young people. Prop 21 supporters propose to lock up youth offenders with career criminals, undermine the goals of juvenile courts, and submit youths involved in gang crimes to harsher consequences than non-gang offenders.
Spawned by ex-Gov. Pete Wilson and corporate supporters, Prop 21 intends specifically to transfer authority in juvenile cases from judges to prosecutors, favor the use of secure detention over probation, release the identities of youth suspects and offenders, unseal juvenile records, and sentence youth as young as 14 to life in prison.
Prop 21 also targets gang members (primarily minority youth) by making gang recruitment a crime and lowering felony vandalism to $400 in damages.
Prop 21 ignores proven crime prevention methodssuch as mentoring, after-school recreation, and empowerment programsand focuses on the much more costly tactic of putting everyone behind bars as early and as long as possible. If Prop 21 passes, California tax payers should expect prison construction costs of $750 million and an additional annual burden of $330 million.
Considering that juvenile crime declined by 21 percent from 1991-96 and that California already spends almost $4 billion a year on prisons, it''s time we invested in education and prevention methods proven to steer young people away from crime and into productive, healthy lives.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 21.
The text of Proposition 22, or the Knight Initiative, is short and to the point. It simply says, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
A "no" vote isn''t a vote to legalize gay marriage; that will still be illegal in California if the initiative fails. But if a same-sex couple gets married in another state where it''s allowed, then Prop 22 says their legal union wouldn''t hold weight in California.
A number of enlightened groups in the state have endorsed against Prop 22, including the League of Women Voters, California Teachers Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and the California Council of Churches. The initiative is backed by the California Catholic Conference.
Prop 22 is such a shameless attempt of rightwingers to further wiggle their way into our bedrooms, you can almost smell the fire and brimstone. It''s an initiative based on fear and intolerance, and it''s a slap in the face to millions of gay citizens who are entitled to basic civil rights. The Constitution of this country says we all have equal protection under the law; nowhere does it say "except for gays."
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 22.
Something is Better than Nothing
Pebble Beach computer entrepreneur Al Shugart, founder of Seagate Technology, is the driving force behind this proposition. If it passes, voters in California will be able to vote for "none of the above," rather than choosing between the lesser of evils running for office. Votes cast for "none of the above" will be non-binding, and whichever candidate receives the most votes would still be declared the winner.
Shugart says the option will lead to increased voter participation, as previously disenchanted voters will come to the poll to make their disgust heard. He is quick to point out that during the campaign to get the initiative on the ballot, 60,000 new voters were registered. The Green Party opposes the bill, arguing that it does nothing to reform the process and only gives voters a false sense they accomplished anything. We agree.
A "none of the above" vote seems about as sophisticated as a we-don''t-like-you-neener, neener, neener childhood taunt. Voters serious about making a difference can (and should) support third-, fourth- and fifth-party candidates, run for office themselves or get involved in party politics to find better candidates. Voting "none of the above" is a cop out.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop. 23
Removed from the ballot by the California Supreme Court.
Politics Money = Integrity
You may not be surprised to hear, based on the corruptibility of so many of our elected officials, that California is only one of six states that doesn''t limit campaign contributions. Yep...candidates can stuff as much money in their pockets as they like and, if elected, spend the next two or four years repaying their supporters with special treatment. As a bumper-sticker once said: "If you think campaign finance reform is painful, just think of the alternative."
Why support Prop 25 when an arm''s-length list of taxpayer associations, unions, chambers of commerce, Democratic and Republican party organizations, and business groups oppose it? That''s whybecause so many powerful people who depend on our corruptible system seem so afraid to fix it.
Sure, Prop 25 is sponsored by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, a Republican who challenged Pete Wilson in 1994 and led the bilingual education-ending Prop 227 in 1998. But Unz is onto something. His proposal would cap contributions at modest levels, offer publicly funded ads to candidates who voluntarily limit spending, ban corporate contributions (like in federal races), cap soft money donations (though at a level some feel is still too high), and ban non-election-year fundraising.
Unz''s three main backersthe only three backers you''ve probably ever heard of, in factsupply enough credibility: Sen. John McCain, California Common Cause and the Quakers. The P.C. set is on the wrong side of this one.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 25.
HR> Prop 26
Teach Your Children Well
Do you think that if 63.3 percent of the voters approve a school bond that the bond should pass? That''s what happened in the Salinas Unified High School District two years ago, but the seeming landslide wasn''t enough. Neither was the 61.7 percent of the vote in favor of a bond for Salinas middle schools.
If it seems like the system''s sick, Prop 26 is the cure. The measure would reduce the threshold for passing school bonds from a supermajority (two-thirds of the vote) to a simple majority (50 percent of the vote plus one). That would be good news for educators, parents and children alike, considering that Monterey County schools are bracing for an estimated 3,000 new students over the next seven years.
Of the 28 local school bond attempted statewide in November, all of them drew at least 55 percent of the vote, but only 12 fetched a supermajority. Ours is one of just four statesalong with Idaho, Missouri and New Hampshirethat require supermajorities in school bond elections. It''s time to end the madness.
The Weekly says: YES on Prop 26.
Term Limits Light
On first brush, this one sounds good. Short of trying to institute term limits for members of Congresswhich the U.S. Supreme Court says states aren''t allowed to implement anywayProp 27 allows candidates to make their intentions known to their constituents: whether they''ll leave office in a handful of years or try to make a career out of it.
Despite the Throw the Bums Out Revolution, 98.5 percent of congressional incumbent won reelection in 1998. Why? Because incumbent-friendly campaign finance laws and minor party-hostile election regulations severely stack the deck against challengers. Result: a status quo that''s the envy of lobbyists and the disgust of well-meaning reformers.
Though term limits is still a concept worthy of debate, the wishy-washiness of Prop 27 fails to impress. Congressional candidates could sign public statements pledging to leave the Senate after 12 years or the House after six, but it''s strictly a voluntary thing.
This is Californians'' third go-around on this issue since 1992. That year''s Prop 164, with its mandatory term limits, passed but was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. Prop 225, calling for term limits to be enacted via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also passed, but it, too, met a judicial death. Sadly, the third time doesn''t appear to be the charm.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 27.
A Drag on Health
There is one reason, and one reason only that supporters of Prop 28 are trying to repeal Prop 10, the 50 cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes: Prop 10 is working.
Since its enactment last year, Prop 10 has reduced tobacco sales by 30 percent, a significant decline that''s helping reduce the number of teens who smoke. Prop 10 has also raised about $670 million for statewide child healthcare, pre-school education and smoking prevention programs. In Monterey County alone, about $7 million has been earmarked for such programs.
Supporters of Prop 28, like sponsor Ned Roscoe, president of Cigarettes Cheaper! Stores, are quick to use code words like "waste," "fraud" and "bureaucracy" to convince voters to cast a ''yes'' vote on Prop 28. Their concerns, however, have nothing to do with smaller, better government, and everything to do with more dollars in the pockets of the cigarette industry.
The Weekly says: NO on Prop 28.
Props 30 and 31
Making Insurers Insure
Last summer, the state Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis approved Senate Bill 1237, which reinstated people''s right to file third-party lawsuits following auto accidents. Basically, the bill says that if the insurance company of a driver who is at fault in an accident handles a third-party claim unfairlya claim filed by the driver not at fault, that isthe victim has the right to sue the insurer.
As soon as Gov. Davis signed the bill into law, however, a coalition of big-name insurance companiesincluding State Farm and Allstateimmediately launched ballot initiatives to strike the law down, spending upwards of $30 million on the signature-gathering campaign.
The result is Prop 30, which would affirm third-party legal rights, and Prop 31, which sets certain restrictions on those suits. Those restrictions had also been passed by the Legislature. (Prop 31 would not go into effect if Prop 30 fails.)
Here''s the tricky part. The insurance companies that initiated the proposition are asking for a "no" vote. They contend the bill would cost them $1 billion in additional claims (which they would certainly pass on to the consumer). Besides causing an increase in insurance rates, taxpayer advocates say that more taxpayer money will be wasted as insurance rates increase for local schools and governments.
However, fighting formidable insurance companies staffed by professionals trained in giving claimants the run-around can be a losing battle. Props 30 and 31 would hold insurance companies accountable and force them to treat third-party claims fairly and expediently, or face the consequences. It''s good for the consumer, and it''s a fair law that was passed by our elected representatives in Sacramento.
The Weekly says: YES on Props 30 and 31.