Sunday, November 8, 2009




The winter holidays are fast approaching, and with them the advent of a long season of being confronted by initiative petition circulators outside almost every big box store, grocery emporium and shopping mall in California.

That’s nothing unusual. What’s extraordinary this year is the potential for destruction and divisiveness in the putative ballot propositions those paid carriers will ballyhoo.

Best publicized of these is one calling for a constitutional convention to reboot California government, backed by Google and other high-tech giants that finance the Bay Area Council business lobby.

Why is this a bad idea? For one thing, despite sponsors’ pious claims that their measure would limit action by that convention to fixing the state’s budget and ballot initiative processes, cutting the influence of special interests on elections and government, bettering relations between state and local governments and making government more efficient, there’s room here for enormous mischief.

Sponsors maintain delegates would be forbidden to take up other topics, like gay marriage or the death penalty, immigration, abortion or new taxes.

But constitutional lawyers have repeatedly opined that once a convention starts, everything is fair game. That’s why many fear a convention might eliminate the Proposition 13 property tax limits. Others worry about an end to the Proposition 98 requirements for funding public schools. Any report or TV commercial that says any subject “would not be part of the debate” most likely will prove grossly inaccurate.

Every stated aim of the convention sponsors could be accomplished by a series of simple initiatives, with no need for a constitutional convention, whose delegate makeup would be decided at least in part by random chance, like jury pools. Since the sponsors don’t need a convention to accomplish what they say they want, it’s an open question why they insist on going this route. Might they eventually hope for a reduction in corporate taxes?

Meanwhile, another public interest group called California Forward, has two rival measures on tap aiming to fix most of the stated problems the convention advocates decry. Which can only lead to massive confusion.

But circulators will also shortly begin beating the bushes for many other proposals. There’s a re-run of the thrice-beaten measure to require parental or judicial consent for girls under 18 to get abortions. That one keeps coming back because when it loses, the margin is always small.

Mercury Insurance is behind a measure to roll back part of the 1988 Proposition 103 and allow insurance rates based partly on the basis of a driver’s record of having insurance coverage or not. Not on a driver’s record of tickets and/or accidents – nobody argues with that.

This one would let companies collect more from drivers who have let their insurance coverage lapse for any reason, ranging from illness to giving up driving for a few months or years.

“Nothing in the petition summary for this tells voters about the premium increases…Mercury’s proposal would allow,” says Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the Consumer Watchdog group and author of Proposition 103, which rolled back rates for all types of insurance in California. Rosenfield calls Attorney General Jerry Brown “shameful” for altering the summary, which initially pointed out the potential rate hikes.

There’s also a measure changing term limits to allow state legislators 12 years in either the state Senate or Assembly, or both, a change from the current limit of six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, which allows some lawmakers to stay 14 years. This one is not particularly pernicious, merely innocuous. And there’s one to make the Legislature part-time.

Plus a plan to make it harder for cities to set up municipal electric utilities and get rid of big companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. PG&E is the sponsor, seeking to squelch competition before it starts. There’s also a possible repeal of last year’s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriages. Another measure would require photo IDs before anyone can allowed to vote. This one doesn’t speak to the huge, relatively new phenomenon of mass absentee voting.

Silliest of all in this unusually silly season might be a proposal to forbid divorce. That’s all divorces, anywhere in California. And there are more.

While some of these ideas have some merit, most have little or no benefit for anyone but the special interests promoting them and paying the petition circulators.

Those circulators will usually be working for more than one measure, bearing sheafs of signature sheets. It can be easy to sign for one you don’t like.

So even if you do like one of two of these ideas, if you sign sheets hurriedly, you could be helping put a bunch of highly questionable ideas onto the ballot, where anything can happen.

That’s why this is one year when it might be best to just say no to almost all petition carriers who accost you.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment