Where’s Wald…. uh, Political Reform in California?


By Richie Ross
Special to Calbuzz

Remember the dot com bust?  Lots of people invested lots of money in lots of web stuff that didn’t end up doing much.

Too many of them were selling e-stuff about selling e-stuff.  They didn’t make real stuff.  They didn’t create value.  They were based on processes. And in the end, their over-priced stocks weren’t worth anything.  The dot com bubble burst.

For the last 18 months there’s been lots of breathless chatter about the need to “reform” California government, especially the two-thirds vote requirement.

Leading the charge for reform was Waldo.  You know him. He’s the geeky guy in the red-and-white striped shirt, glasses and knit cap who’s hard to locate.  So where was Waldo?

The signs of Waldo’s reform bubble busting surfaced last year.

First, the Bay Area Council announced that their much-discussed Constitutional Convention wouldn’t address Proposition 13 and its two-thirds vote requirement.

Then on January 14, one of the Bay Area Council’s key corporate sponsors, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced they had qualified their initiative to expand the two-thirds vote requirement to communities seeking to establish or expand a public power alternative to PG&E’s monopoly.

Finally, on February 13, we read that the Constitutional Convention effort had “fizzled.” The Bay Area Council “didn’t have the money” to qualify the initiatives necessary to allow a vote on having a Convention.

PG&E went on to spend $46 million on Proposition 16.  Where was Waldo?

Before rushing to mount a high horse and condemn PG&E, let’s take a moment for introspection.  Was PG&E unique in their insincere association with “good government reform” throughout 2009 followed by a banal display of self-interest?

All through 2009, California Forward competed for the “Waldo Top Reformer” title with the Bay Area Council.

But when it came down to it, they too tried to put together a “reform” which would expand the two-thirds beyond taxes and apply it to fees adopted by the legislature for environmental protection.

Putting aside both their motivation or the merits of whatever they thought they were doing, California Forward put themselves in a position where they were compromised on the two-thirds vote debate… they couldn’t attack Proposition 16 even if they were inclined.

And why did the No on 16 campaign only raise $90,000?

If the campaign against Proposition 16 had a dollar for every speech ever made about the evil of two-thirds, then it would have been able to compete against PG&E.  Thank God the newspapers stepped up their game and did a good job exposing the Proposition 16 scam.  Waldo didn’t.

PG&E is a big political contributor.  They give tons of money.  Lots and lots of that money goes to politicians who give speeches condemning the two-thirds vote.  But outside of three or four elected folks who contributed to the No on 16 campaign, PG&E bought silence.  Yes, even Waldo’s.

It seems that interest groups only oppose the two-thirds vote when it hurts their own stuff, not because of some high-minded majority-rule principle.

If the two-thirds vote violates what people think is right, why wouldn’t people who’ve taken PG&E’s money have donated it to the No on 16 campaign?

In the end, everyone talked more than they cared.  And some talked out of both sides of their mouth.

Next up:  all of those who did nothing will point to Proposition 16’s defeat as proof that the two-thirds vote is unpopular and ought not apply to their “stuff.”  Hmmm.

Waldo the Reformer’s bubble has burst.  Like the dot com bubble, there wasn’t much to it.

Richie Ross’s controversial Calbuzz piece on using the baseball arbitration system to deal with the state budget is looking better and better.

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There are 12 comments for this post

  1. avatar Vateor says:

    Mr. Ross nailed it: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time… but PG&E’s shameful scam didn’t work. And Ross is right – the newspapers – the free press did see the scam and save us. The question is will the media step up to expose the far left as diligently as they expose big business? Only if we show them the facts.

  2. avatar johngeesman says:

    As apparent PG&E customer Thomas Jefferson once put it:

    “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

  3. avatar Moderate Democrat says:

    But all is forgiven now because PG&E is giving out a couple of $25 thousand grants to commemorate 25 years of bliss with Diablo Canyon nuke power plant.

    That amount must be about what they spent per day on the evils of GOVERNMENT-RUN ELECTRICITY

  4. avatar efrainrojas says:

    Regarding the dot.com bubble, it was a tax bonanza for the State of California. The legislature spent accordingly without any regard for contingencies.This process repeated itself with the housing bubble. The 2/3 budget requirement is not what distresses rank and file voters. A simple majority budget resolution would have enabled the legislature to sink California into insolvency years sooner. It’s the difference between dead and dying.

  5. avatar efrainrojas says:

    Hey Richie,
    Do you feel the slightest degree of responsibility for the crushing incompetence of the Democratic controlled legislature? You can’t blame a minority party and a RINO governor forever. Sooner or later you will have to own the performance of your team.

  6. avatar stevefromsacto says:

    While the performance of the Democrats in the legislature is certainly nothing to write home about, the bottom line is that as long as the Republicans hold the two-thirds stranglehold on the state budget and refuse to allow any attempt to find new sources of revenue, gridlock will prevail. Trying to solve our budget problems without new revenue is like trying to fight with one hand tied behind your back.

  7. avatar BigCahuna says:

    The 2/3 budgeting rule is profoundly stupid, and it’s a shame no politician has the guts (or independence) to say so. People would respond positively to a candidate that forcefully advocated removal of the rule, particularly in this climate, by positioning it as a silly administrative obstacle which obviously has never achieved its intended effect of having government live within its means.

  8. avatar efrainrojas says:

    If you recall, the State of California experienced massive infusions of tax revenue from the two greatest asset bubbles in the history of mankind and they threw it all away-we have less than zero to show for it. New revenue means new opportunities to dole out money for crooked chiropractors and bloated state agencies. Does prop 13 create inequities-yes. Rescinding it would do absolutely nothing for the state budget cause the legislature will spend as fast as they possibly can.

    What would the current deficit look like if the opposition gave the democrats everything they wanted? Scary. What would the current deficit look like if the opposition gave the democrats everything they wanted? Scary.

    Every democrat pines for eradicating the 2/3 rule. They whine about it every single year. The benefit of the 2/3 rule is that it has made the difference between pending insolvency and realized insolvency. How much deeper would the deficit be if the opposition simply gave in to majority demands?

    Sounds like you are an apologist for absolutely shameful negligence. The only reason it isn’t criminal is because the criminals are in charge of creating the laws.

  9. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    I guess I’m Waldo. I gathered petition signatures to eliminate the 2/3 rule. I handed out literature and stickers at the convention. I spoke to local groups about it. I just finished a 3-week stint leading phone banks for the special election for SD-15. I’ve gone all over the state helping to organize voter registration canvasses. I tabled and spoke locally for Yes on 15. And that’s just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head.

    I’m a volunteer. Nobody pays me to do any of this. I do it because the future of my state matters to me.

    If you’re looking for Waldo, you just found her. I’ll be happy to introduce you to more. Just because we didn’t outspend PG&E doesn’t mean we’re not here. It doesn’t mean we’re not working. Or that we don’t care. It just means we don’t have the big bucks. There’s a big difference. Thankfully, voters sometimes seem to notice.

  10. avatar Silent Sleuth says:

    A BIG thank you to Chris Finnie for all the hard work she and other volunteers contribute to the election system. Without those great folks knocking on doors and standing out in front of Trader Joe’s a lot of ugly stuff could get past the voters. Those personal contacts can outweigh the ads IMHO.

  11. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Thank you Silent Sleuth. We Waldos appreciate the thanks.

  12. avatar patwater says:

    “I do it because the future of my state matters to me.”

    That sort of attitude should serve as an example for us all. (I know it’s what I aspire to.) California certainly could use more people with such a dedication to public service.

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