Calbuzz has picked up rumblings that California union leaders, their consultants and loyal Democratic retainers are quietly planning to jam a bill through the Legislature before the end of the session that would push onto the November ballot any initiatives that have or would otherwise qualify for the June election.
The idea is to guarantee that measures like “paycheck protection,” which would ban use of automatically deducted union dues for political purposes; “reforms” that would slash public-employee pensions to 60%; a requirement for secret ballots to determine union representation; or mandatory state spending limits all would face a November – that is, a larger and more Democratic – electorate, rather than a smaller, more conservative June electorate (when Republicans may have a competitive presidential primary and Democrats won’t.)
We stipulate that we have no on-the-record sources. What we have is pieced together from speculation circulating about such a maneuver, or sources aware of some of the closed-door discussions now under way among labor leaders and perhaps a legislator or two. Also from a close reading of the California Constitution and Elections Code.
And it all makes sense.
“It’s the end of the session,” said one Democratic source, “and a lot of things could happen.”
The Constitutional rationale: The idea is that by majority vote – which the Democrats have in the Assembly and Senate – the Elections Code would be re-written (or clarified) to establish that the June primary, technically known as “voter-nominated primary election,” would not be designated as a “general” or “special statewide” election. This would mean initiatives would be clustered on the November “general election” ballot, according to one interpretation of the state constitution’s language about elections.
If such a measure were passed and Gov. Jerry Brown were to sign it, “It would be a step toward California being a public union banana republic,” said one outraged Sacramento Republican who had also heard about the scenario.
The California Constitution, as recently amended by the voters to include the “top-two” primary system (Prop. 14 in the June 2010 election) delineates the primary and general elections this way in Article 2, Section 5 (a):
A voter-nomination primary election shall be conducted to select the candidates for congressional and state elective offices in California. All voters may vote at a voter-nominated primary election for any candidate for congressional and state elective office without regard to the political party preference disclosed by the candidate or the voter, provided that the voter is otherwise qualified to vote for candidates for the office in question. The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election. [emphasis added]
So you have two kinds of elections: a voter-nominated (or voter-nomination) primary election and a general election.
Article 2, Section 8 (c) of the California Constitution says once an initiative qualifies:
The Secretary of State shall then submit the measure at the next general election held at least 131 days after it qualifies or at any special statewide election held prior to that general election. The Governor may call a special statewide election for the measure. [emphasis added]
Thus, the Constitution creates a third type of election – the special statewide election – that may be called by the governor. Since use of the word “shall” is legalese for “must,” the SOS has two choices: put the initiative on the ballot at the next special statewide election or the next general election, whichever comes first.
Now, California Elections Code 324 (a) says:
“General election” means either of the following:
(1) The election held throughout the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in each even-numbered year.
(2) Any statewide election held on a regular election date as specified in Section 1000.
And Section 1000 says:
The established election dates in each year are as follows:
(a) The second Tuesday of April in each even-numbered year.
(b) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each odd-numbered year.
(c) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in each year.
(d) The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each year.
(e) The first Tuesday in February of each year evenly divisible by the number four.
In addition, Section 1001 says:
Elections held in June and November of each even-numbered year and held the first Tuesday in February of each year evenly divisible by the number four are statewide elections and these dates are statewide election dates. [emphasis added]
These are a function of statute, depending on when the Legislature, in its infinite political wisdom, decides to hold primary elections. But according to the election code as it now stands, established “statewide election” dates in 2012 include February (2012/4=53), April, June and November.
The Elections Code also notes:
356. “Special election” is an election, the specific time for the holding of which is not prescribed by law.
357. “Statewide election” is an election held throughout the state. [duh added]
The People United, etc.: So what’s labor’s play gonna be? If our sources are correct, the group working up the deal is the Alliance for a Better California, including the CA Teachers Association, AFSCME, CA Professional Firefighters, CA School Employees Association, United Food & Commercial Workers, CA State Council of Service Employees, CA Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.
They’ll likely get one of their Democratic allies – perhaps Sen. Loni Hancock of Oakland – to carry a bill or amend some other piece of legislation to alter the language of the Elections Code, which the Democrats can do with a majority vote.
Sneaky? Sure. Unethical? Maybe.
But faced with a handful of Republican legislators blocking majority rule and unwilling to compromise on anything, the Democrats are looking for whatever tools they can find to tilt the table their way. And oh yeah, elections have consequences, so nobody should be too surprised if the majority party uses a heavy hand.