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.