Archive for the ‘Proposition 11’ Category



Sundheim: Prop 34 a Roadblock on Road to Reform

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

By Duf Sundheim
Special to Calbuzz

That renowned philosopher, Mick Jagger, gave us great political advice when he reminded us, “You can’t always get what you want.”  However, in California, we’re singing “I can’t get no satisfaction” in unusual unison.  The Legislature seldom receives overwhelming approval ratings; when they pass legislation, they usually please some and displease others.  But lately, those who think they are doing a good job is down to friends and family.  No one is getting satisfaction.

Recently California voters approved two measures:  redistricting (Props 11 and 20) and the two-tiered election system (Prop 14), that when fully implemented will make our representatives more responsive to the will of the voters.  However, Prop 34,  passed in 2000, which dramatically reduces the amount that can be given directly to a candidate, stands as a significant roadblock to this effort.

Before redistricting reform, elected officials literally picked their voters by genetically engineering their districts.  This led to outrageous results such as a district that runs from Magic Mountain in LA County to within spitting distance of Carson City, Nevada!

Under the new system, an independent commission will stop such outrages and elections will be determined not by how the lines are drawn but who local voters want.  Second, with the passage of Prop 14, an action bitterly opposed by the parties, the voters took further control away from the party bosses by enabling every voter to vote for the candidate of their choice in the first or “primary” round, with the top-two squaring off in the second.

So how does Prop 34 impact these reforms?  First, irrespective of such impact, Prop 34 is an utter failure.  The sponsors promised it would “control campaign spending” and “reign in special interests”.  It has done neither.  Since its passage, campaign spending has exploded, not decreased; over $1 billion has been spent on campaigns through 2009 alone.  In terms of “reigning in special interests”, between 2000 and 2006 there was a 6,144% increase in independent expenditures in legislative elections. Point One:  Prop 34 should be revoked because it has failed of its essential purpose.

In terms of the reforms, Prop 34 is a major roadblock because it radically shifts power towards the party bosses and special interests.   By placing severe limitations on how much individual candidates can raise and at the same time allowing parties and special interests to raise unlimited funds, the backers of Prop 34 created a perverse universe where small contributions that have limited impact go to candidates, and big contributions that often make the difference only can go to party bosses and special interests!   Thus, candidates are dependent on the party bosses for funds and the bosses have not been reluctant to use the power such dependence creates.

Recently an outspoken Democratic Latina legislator, Nicole Parra, voted against the party bosses.  The leadership changed the locks to her offices and made her relocate across the street from the Capitol.  Needless to say, her colleagues got that not-too subtle message: buck the bosses and you literally are out on the street.

The system also prevents us from seeing who is supporting the candidates.  For example, say Bernie Madoff wants to donate to Dave Smith’s race.  If Madoff gives directly to Smith, even if he “maxes out”, his contribution probably will be less than 0.004% of the funds spent on Smith’s behalf — and such contribution will be disclosed.  Smith gets little help and a big black eye for taking Madoff’s check.

But if Madoff gives millions to the party and the party runs the funds through the fifteen plus accounts the law requires, Smith gets the kind of help that makes a difference and no one has any way of making the connection between Madoff’s contribution and Smith’s campaign.  Pretty neat, huh?   Hence political parties have become the repository of all “toxic” contributions – those no candidate wants to touch.  But it is these toxic contributions that often determine elections.  Talk about a brownfields problem!

The goal of the reforms is to have the voters, not the party bosses, decide who is elected.  To do so, the candidates voters support need to be able to compete financially.  And if in raising money candidates continue to be limited to squirt guns while the parties and special interests are allowed to use fire hoses – well, you know who is going to win, and it is not going to be the voters.

Prop 34 is a serious roadblock on the road to reform — a roadblock that should be removed immediately.

Sundheim, a Palo Alto attorney, was chairman of the California Republican Party from 2003 to 2006.

Yes: Candidates Will Have to Appeal to Independents

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Lou Cannon
Special to Calbuzz

California’s political system is broken. Hamstrung by unbending partisanship and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget or a tax increase, a dysfunctional Legislature has persistently failed to deal with the state’s pressing problems or its debilitating structural deficit.

Reformers have responded with grandiose proposals for change, such as a constitutional convention, which have come to naught. Since the Legislature and the major political parties resist any and all reforms, Californians who want to take back their state have no choice except to make a series of incremental changes through the initiative process.

The first useful step in this process came in 2008, when voters approved Proposition 11, which will take redistricting out of the hands of the legislators and vest it in a citizen’s commission. The new districts will be drawn after this year’s census for the 2012 election. The next step is to pass Proposition 14, opening up elections so that the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This provision would apply to most state and federal elective offices but not to presidential primaries.

Proposition 11 and Proposition 14 are best understood as companion pieces. Proposition 11 was needed because legislators protect their careers at the expense of the rest of us by gerrymandering their districts to protect themselves and their parties. The cozy, one-sided districts they created assured that there would be no competition in the general election. This effectively disenfranchised independents (known as “declines-to-state” in California), most of whom do not participate in the primaries. It also tended to drive both major parties to extremes.

Liberals have a disproportionate advantage in the Democratic primaries, conservatives an even more decisive edge in most GOP primaries. Moderates in either party who might appeal to independents in the general election had so little chance in the primaries that most of them chose not to run. As a result, many Democratic officeholders tend to be reflexively liberal—or at least in thrall to the public employee unions who finance them. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are rigid conservatives who stand ready to block even the most reasonable budget if it contains a whiff of a tax hike.

For the past decade, budget compromises have occurred only when a GOP legislator broke with his party on tax issues. The occasional courageous Republican who did so incurred the wrath of his party and often the loss of his job.

Anyone old enough (as I am) to remember the creativity of the California legislature in the mid-20th Century, when it was acclaimed as the best in the nation, can’t help being appalled by the present collection of ideologues and party hacks. Proposition 14 could change this by greatly increasing the number of independent-minded moderates in the candidate pool. Every voter would receive the same ballot, putting independents on an equal footing with party regulars.

Such a ballot might also encourage the parties to forth candidates of broad appeal to assure themselves a spot on the November ballot. There is, of course, no special virtue to being a moderate. On any given issue moderates can be as wrong (or right) as liberals or conservatives. But Proposition 14 would level the playing field. Polls show that some 40 percent of the voters consider themselves to be moderates, and they are conspicuously underrepresented in Sacramento. Proposition 14 is an incremental reform that would give sensible centrists a chance.

Lou Cannon of Santa Barbara is the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan in the world, and a former political writer for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

Swap Meet: Greasy Poll, eMeg Patrol, GOPer Trolls

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

oilrigMargin of error: The oil company based in Houston that is trying to win a lease for drilling in state waters off the coast of Santa Barbara is e-blasting an alleged summary of poll results about the controversial project, providing a case study of how scientific public opinion surveys can be manipulated for political purposes.

Days after Calbuzz examined the misuse of polling data, both on our site and in the L.A. Times, Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) is circulating a memo titled “Highlights from Statewide Poll,” which claims – surprise, surprise — that two-thirds of California votpxpers favor their proposed Tranquillon Ridge project. The sheet consists of a series of bullet points, all of them purporting to show statewide support for the project among some genus or species of Californian.

PXP said the survey was done by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates — a polling firm for which we have high regard but which does a lot of work for advocates and candidates with clear-cut agendas. Our request for the oil company to send us the actual survey results, questions and cross-tabs was unsuccessful, as were those of Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, Pedro-Navawho’s led the legislative fight to defeat the project last month.

Nava is putting out a daily press release demanding PXP cough up the data, and sarcastically asking if they asked a series of slanted questions that would favor the anti-drilling position: “I intend to ask a question every day until I get some answers,” Nava told us. “It’s obvious they don’t intend to release it – they intend to continue to mislead us.” Calbuzz sez: Free the Secret PXP Poll – and All Political Prisoners!

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Oleaginous update: The proposal to authorize the T-Ridge lease, which was earlier rejected by the State Lands Commission, has been resurrected by Assembly minority leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, Nava told us, using a “gut and amend” maneuver to dump the substance of an energy bill and insert the PXP project language previously voted down in the Assembly.

Lots of subplots on this one, including the fact that fingers were pointed at Blakeslee  last month when Capitol Weekly disclosed that the Assembly vote on the PXP measure had been expunged from the record. Blakeslee, who denied it, nonetheless sure had a motive: he represents a coastal area but voted in favor of the lease. If he, as expected, goes after the Senate seat now held by Abel Maldonado, who opposed the offshore project, he’d represent even more coastal constituents.

Calbuzz has a hunch that the endgame of all of this will be a PXP-sponsored ballot initiative seeking to circumvent the Legislature and win voter approval for T-Ridge. The strategy would run some risk, however, as it could also trigger support for proposals to impose a severance tax on companies extracting oil in California, the only state that doesn’t have such a levy.

megyoutubeSteve (doesn’t) Heart eMeg: Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, whose team rolls out an average of 316 press releases a day bashing GOP guv rival Meg Whitman, may finally have gained some traction with one of his attacks.  It’s a You Tube spoof of the “Love Boat” which skewers Her Megness for some gushy comments she made about Van Jones, the former Oakland lefty who’s become Obama’s green jobs adviser – and is now in the free-fire zone over at Fox News.

If you haven’t seen the video, it’s pretty damn funny and you can watch it here. Chronicler Joe Garofoli has the play-by-play of the Stevie Wonder-eMeg exchange on the issue here, including Team Whitman’s Friday statement, which tries to make the whole thing go away. The defensive tone, the length and detail of it, however, shows that Poizner has stung her by highlighting associations with lefties for the edification of conservative GOP voters. Only 276 days until the primary!

More on eMeg: Whitman’s 493-second encounter with reporters in Santa Barbara Tuesday  smoked out some interesting new nuggets (block that metaphor!) about her views on key issues, demonstrating why it actually matters that All Right-Thinking Journos in California keep pressing her campaign for interviews, avails and accessibility.  Examples:

1-When Calbuzz asked her about offshore oil drilling, she disclosed that she’s changed her position since the beginning of the campaign:

“I would say that when I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells – slant drilling and other things and I think we ought to look at this very carefully because there’s no question that the resources off the coast of California and other parts of the country can help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil…I don’t think it’s sending a bad (environmental) signal. You have to look at the situation in which we find ourselves…We have to say times have changed and we’ve got to look at this again.”

2-When Susan Rose, Calbuzz correspondent on women’s issues, asked her about abortion rights, eMeg filled in some blanks, both on her position and on her perspective of how it may affect her among pro-life GOP voters:

“I am pro choice…I’m not for late term abortion or partial birth abortion and I did vote ‘yes’ on the parental notification proposition that went on the ballot. And I don’t want to take choice away from women…(Her position) will help in some sectors and it will not be helpful in others… (P)eople will know my positions on the social issues and if they are single issue voters and I don’t agree, they won’t be for me but hopefully they will put the whole package together and say ‘got it.’”

3-When Mark Mason (CB handle: “Planet Santa Barbara”) asked why voters would think she’d do a better job than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made similar promises, she expounded on the differences between them:

“The governor has done a number of good things. Workman’s compensation…I’m a fan of Proposition 11, the redistricting (measure) but I will say that the results – unemployment, infrastructure, the health of the economy, are not good and the governor has to be accountable for the results…The biggest difference …is my business experience.”

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eMeg fun factoids: She’s a Leo and the youngest of three kids (which explains a lot, as all astrological students of birth order know); her mother served four years with the Red Cross in New Guinea during WWII (“she knew where the need was greatest”); she was a high school jock (tennis, swimming, soccer); Princeton ’73 (fourth class in history with women in it); came to California when her neurosurgeon husband had to choose between Harvard and UCSF for a residency (“your mother lives in Boston, we should go to California”); her favorite Hasbro toy while working there was Mr. Potato Head (NOT  Barney or Teletubbies, she pointed out).

But what about the little guy? In recent months Jerry Brown has been putting on a clinic on how to align his public duties as Attorney General with his political aspiration to be governor again, getting his fingerprints on  high-profile cases from Anna Nicole to Michael, all the while attacking international drug rings, sleazy investment firms and consumer scams of every persuasion –- not to mention pushing to include climate-change impact statements as a requirement for new developments.

govjerrybrownNow Brown is taking aim at the mother lode of populist outrage, launching an investigation of Health Management Organizations, in which he promises to probe how HMOs “review and pay insurance claims submitted by doctors, hospitals and other medical providers” amid reports that the state’s top five insurance provides are denying nearly 40 percent of claims.

“These high denial rates suggest a system that is dysfunctional (ed. note – ya think?),” Brown said in statement put out by the AG’s press office, “and the public is entitled to know whether wrongful business practices are involved.” Cue it up, Omar: “In-DEED.”

Three-dot Republicanism: Here’s how Whitman is playing among right-wingersTonyStricklandBball

Latest sign that the quixotic crusade to ban independent, decline-to-state voters from GOP primaries is in trouble comes from Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark. Taliban Tony is the real, hardcore deal, a drown-it-in-the-bathtub movement conservative who made his bones playing Ronald Reagan in his 4th grade class debate in 1980  and came up through the ranks serving as squire to Skinflint Tom McClintock;  Timm Herdt reports that Strickland turned thumbs down on the no-indies rule, which can’t be good news foken-khachigian-copyr Flashreporter Jon Fleischman, sponsor of the plan…

Hell freezes over: Ken Khachigian, the squish-squishing senior statesman of California Republicanism, caught giving advice to Barack Obama.

Have a great weekend.

Why Conservatives Should Be Against Term Limits

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

By Bob Naylorbobnaylor
Special to Calbuzz

First, a confession. I served in the California Legislature for eight years. I am a Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan Republican. I termed myself out by running for higher office (and losing). I voted for term limits.

As Pete Wilson likes to say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Turns out, it’s a very bad idea. What made it seem like a good idea?

1. “Citizen legislators, not career politicians.”

That is the slogan from the website of U.S. Term Limits, where I searched in vain for any other philosophical justification.

There are some sad cases of career politicians  — especially when they cling to office too long, like Senator Robert Byrd, or the California equivalent, the late Senator Ralph Dills, who was first elected in 1939 and served continuously (except for a few years on the bench) into the ’90s, when he was termed out of office. His last campaign slogan was:   “Too old to quit.”

But for every old hack forced out by term limits, there are at least as many people who are superbly competent, bright and balanced with profound institutional and policy knowledge.

Examples include the late Senator Ken Maddy, moderate Democratic Senator Bob Presley, Senator Jim Brulte, and I would argue, Speaker Willie Brown, at whom the term limits initiative was aimed (Brown was at his best getting difficult budgets through for Republican governors).

Furthermore, “citizen legislators” are few and far between. Most new legislators have served for years in local office or are well connected as union organizers or are staff members to the incumbents or other influential officeholders. Some are independently wealthy. There aren‛t many “Mr. or Ms. Smiths” going to Sacramento.

2. Overcoming the artificial advantage of gerrymandering.

We don’t need term limits to do that because we have Prop 11 (redistricting commission), right? But Prop 11 will not likely make a big difference. Eighty per cent or more of all districts will still be safe seats, because our body politic is geographically polarized — red counties and blue counties, hardly any purple counties.

3. Incumbent advantage.

I used to argue that elections are never really competitive because incumbents raise lots of money, have a big name ID advantage, typically have safe districts whether gerrymandered or not and get a handsome salary while they are campaigning. Challengers rarely have a chance.

But what has happened under term limits? Because the stakes are so high, the existing incumbent or the local political party establishment recruits the successor and forces competition to drop out. There are fewer competitive primaries than there are complete blowouts, often no primary at all.

So term limits have not produced competitive elections or many citizen legislators, but the reason conservatives should oppose term limits has more to do with their negative impacts.

They have made our politics even more polarized. In place of people who are secure and long-serving enough to say no to their “anchor tenant” backers when the good of the state demands it, we now have people who are worried about their next primary election when they try to move up after one or two more terms. From their first day in office, they typically tow the line of the unions, or the trial lawyers, or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who dominate the low-turnout partisan primaries.

When the Legislature is polarized, the majority ideology is in total control. And in California, that means the left. The art of finding enough middle ground to do what is necessary to meet a crisis, whether it be attacking the budget problems, the water crisis, or infrastructure decay, is almost a historic relic.

It is also a simple fact that two to four years in office are just not enough time to master the political complexities of a 120 member bicameral Legislature, let alone attain the policy expertise that has marked the great legislators. First term chairs of major policy committees, sometimes bringing in their own all-new staff, can rarely match the skill of a Bill Lockyer as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, or Quentin Kopp as chair of Transportation. There are exceptional performers, of course, but they overcome huge, and generally harmful barriers artificially imposed by the cheap slogans of the term limits movement.

On balance, the Legislature as an institution for policy-making has nearly broken down. Ask anyone who has been around the Capitol for a long time.

As a conservative, I favor returning to the model of the Founding Fathers. The original constitutional qualifications for office are being a citizen, a resident and of age. There are plenty of other checks and balances without adding term limits. In California, we have added the recall and the referendum to restrain legislative abuse.

If a legislator has mastered the political art well enough to deserve another term, the people of that district should have the right to grant it.

Bob Naylor served in the California Assembly from 1978 -86, as Assembly Republican Leader from 1982 -84 and as California Republican Party Chairman from 1987 -89. He is a partner at Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller and Naylor.

How California Became Ungovernable

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

brokengovernmentA few hours after California voters approved his Proposition 13 tax-cut measure on June 6, 1978, a bibulous and exultant Howard Jarvis dropped his pants for the benefit of a few reporters gathered in his suite at the L.A. Biltmore.

A reporter had asked Jarvis why he was limping, so his ostensible reason was to show a large, ugly bruise, which he’d suffered in a fall a few days before, on his ample, boxer-clad behind.

The surprise gesture, however, also afforded the earthy and profane Jarvis a chance to display his contempt for the press and, by extension, the political class that had mocked him and opposed his cherished measure.

Thirty years later, the ghost of Jarvis and his legacy initiative still aim antipathy, scorn and disdain at California’s government and its leaders.

Proposition 13 was the first, and most far-reaching, in a cascade of political decisions over the last three decades that have shaped the thoroughly dysfunctional structure of governance in the state.

Simply put, California today is ungovernable.

As state and local officials struggle to weather a fiscal crisis that threatens to drive California into insolvency, they wield power with the damaged machinery of a patchwork government system that lacks accountability, encourages stalemate and drifts but cannot be steered.

In this system, elected leaders carry responsibility, but not authority, for far-reaching policies about public revenues and resources. That’s not governance — it’s reactive management of a deeply flawed status quo.

Here is a look at six key factors that have made California impossible to govern.

Proposition 13: The fiscal effect of Proposition 13 itself is only part of the damage the initiative did to California. Even worse have been the methods Capitol politicians devised to try to lessen the measure’s financial impact.

After Proposition 13 passed, then-Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrat-dominated Legislature realigned — “tangled” would be more accurate — the relationship between state and local governments by effectively shifting control of remaining property tax revenue to Sacramento.

In a crisis atmosphere, they radically transformed California’s political landscape, taking power and responsibility for health, welfare, schools and other local services away from city councils, boards of supervisors and school boards, thereby establishing today’s chaotic maze of overlapping jurisdiction, which defies efforts at accountability.

Budget initiatives: Proposition 13 also ushered in an era of ballot-box budgeting, as fiscal initiatives became a favored special-interest tool to take control of public fund expenditures.

A series of post-13 initiatives — including measures creating the lottery, financing public schools by mathematical formula and earmarking revenues for special programs, from mental health to medical care — established an exquisitely complex state budget calculus that has hamstrung the rational operations of government.

Gerrymandering: The once-a-decade process of redrawing political maps based on the census has created an increasingly partisan and polarized Capitol atmosphere.

Reapportionment has become essentially an incumbent protection effort, as lawmakers craft districts for themselves that are either safely Democratic or safely Republican. In this way, the crucial contests are party primaries, not the general elections. Because primaries draw the most partisan voters, the most conservative Republicans and the most liberal Democrats tend to win the nominations that guarantee election in November.

The dynamic locks in ideological polarization in Sacramento, where lawmakers have little motivation to compromise.

Term limits: Despite the claims of backers, the 1990 term-limits initiative did not get rid of career politicians — it simply changed the arc of their careers. Instead of spending decades in the same Assembly or Senate district seat, legislators now begin to position themselves for the next office — or job as a lobbyist — as soon as they arrive in Sacramento.

The up-or-out system rewards short-term, self-interested political thinking more than long-term policymaking in the public interest. Term limits also make lobbyists, not the Legislature, the repository of Capitol policy expertise; that lobbyists are happen to be useful in raising campaign cash adds an overlay of soft corruption to the process.

Boom or bust taxation: Since Proposition 13, state government has become increasingly dependent on volatile sources of revenue — the sales, corporation and progressive personal income taxes — that generate annual shifts in tax collections corresponding closely to the business cycle.

When economic times are good, as during the dot-com and housing bubbles, money pours in and there’s little political incentive — in fact, term limits creates a perverse disincentive — for long-term financial planning.

When revenues contract, the Capitol has rarely made real spending reductions, preferring to wait for the next boom.

The two-thirds vote: California is one of only three states requiring a two-thirds legislative vote to pass a budget, one of 16 requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes — and the only state to require both.

The budget requirement has been in the Constitution since the New Deal; the tax restriction began with Proposition 13. In the polarized atmosphere of Sacramento, the two-thirds rules effectively hand a veto to the minority party. Under these conditions, stalemate and deadlock on key fiscal issues have become the political norm.

So what can be done about the dysfunction? In the next few weeks, a blue-ribbon commission is set to recommend sweeping changes in the tax system to stabilize revenue collections. Voters last fall approved Proposition 11, which takes away the Legislature’s power to draw its their own districts in favor of an independent commission.

Next year, as they elect a new governor, Californians also will vote on a system of “open primary” elections aimed at aiding moderates, and they also will probably decide on one or more initiatives to dump the two-thirds budget vote requirement.

California Forward, a bipartisan good government group financed by major foundations, is crafting proposals to conform government systems and processes to modern management methods. And the business-oriented Bay Area Council is pushing initiatives for a state constitutional convention, the first since 1879, to wipe the slate clean and build a new, rational structure for state government.

“The seriousness of the problem has reached a crescendo,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council. “The public is making a statement, loud and clear, that they expect action.”

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

This piece appeared today, as well, in the Los Angeles Times.