How May 19 Election Is Just Like “Rashomon”


rashomonbwGov.  Arnold began his budget speech to the Legislature Tuesday with a touch-all-the-bases analysis of the meaning of the May 19 special election.

“That message was clear,” he said. “Do your job. Don’t come to us with these complex issues. Live within your means. Get rid of the waste and inefficiencies. And don’t raise taxes.”

Well, two out of five ain’t bad.

Schwarzenegger’s opening line was just the latest effort by California politicians of almost every stripe to overreach and over-interpret the Just-Say-No votes on Propositions 1A-1E in the dismal turnout special.

Since May 19, the foregone election results have become like the crimes at the center of “Rashomon,” the famous 1950 Akira Kurosawa film, in which the same incident is described – in mutually contradictory ways – from four different subjective perspectives.

As a political matter, however, conservative Republicans have been extremely successful in selling their version of events. In dominating the fight to frame the narrative about May 19, they’ve not only pushed Schwarzenegger back into paddle-to-the-right, no new taxes mode, but also apparently intimidated majority Democrats (including even Dianne Feinstein back in DC) into buying into or fearing to protest their predictable, antediluvian interpretation.

So on the one hand the California Republican Party boldly declares that the election sent a “national anti-tax message,” and our friend John Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, insists that “voters were crystal clear in statement about their tax burden.” And on the other hand, it’s left to former liberal lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, who argues voters were saying Sacramento shouldn’t “keep balancing the budget on the backs of average Californians” and Democratic poll taker David Binder, who says voters actually favor some tax increases over cuts in education and other programs, to make the case on the other side.

How about this, Calbuzzers? There was one and only one overarching message from the overwhelming majority of voters who DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO SHOW UP: Work it out among yourselves and stop bothering us. (On this point we agree with Arnold’s analysts.)

As we wrote on the morning of May 20 the election was “a clear signal that voters are way beyond fed up with half-measures, marginal fixes and smoke and mirrors in Sacramento.” And the plain fact is that all the over-wrought interpretation of the May 19 results since then is little more than spin, propaganda and self-interested commentary.

Let’s look at the facts:

* The latest voter turnout number reported by the Secretary of State shows that 27.5 percent of the 17,153,012 registered voters (or 20 percent of those eligible) bothered to show up, which hardly scores as a broad-based populist message about anything beyond the fact that they found the ballot props incomprehensible.

* While the Sacramento establishment poured millions into passing the props, much of the money spent against them came from normally Democrat/left constituencies, like SEIU and CFT. The fact that these groups got into bed with anti-tax Republicans, normally their mortal enemies, shows that the resounding “No” vote had multiple roots and represented anything but a “clear” — let alone “crystal clear” fercryin’outloud — message about anything.

* Binder is the only guy who has anything remotely resembling quantitative data on the special. His close ties to Democrats and labor give those on the right an excuse not to even look at his research on what was on voters’ minds. But, as Binder wrote, it shows that voters surveyed before and right after the election “do not trust the leadership in Sacramento, and recognize that the failed special election was just another example of the inability to bring real solutions to voters.” And, as the pre-election Field Poll found, voters favor a blend of cuts and taxes to address the deficit. (The key here, of course, is that they want taxes that affect someone else – tobacco, oil royalties, the very wealthy, for example.)

It is an abiding mystery why wussy, wimp Dems have so passively allowed knuckle-dragging Reeps to seize control of the narrative. That aside, the over-interpretation of May 19 has gotten plain silly, and it’s well past time to throw a yellow flag.

Let’s be crystal clear: Calbuzz isn’t making an argument for or against taxes, or for or against specific program cuts or anything else to do with policy. Our mission remains unwavering: to watch the battle safely from atop the hill, then swoop in bravely to shoot the wounded.

We’re just sayin’.

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 13 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Binder's conclusion is not supported by the actual vote pattern of Prop. 1A where it almost passed in liberal San Francisco but lost by more than 3 to 1 in fiscally conservative Orange County. Binder's contention would have seen a more evenly distributed vote across the state.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    come on guys–you're suggesting the "no new taxes" is just spin from the right–yet claim you're not arguing for more taxes. what have yu been smoking. and anybody who thinks its NOT "no more taxes" that was reflected on 5/19 is just delusional

  3. avatar Jim Alford says:

    Calbuzz is absolutely correct. For some reason, the Dems are allowing the "knuckle-draggers" to put out an uncontested message. Come on, Dems- it's time to lead.

  4. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    Guys, did you actually see the TV ad that the left labor coalition you prominently cite put on the air?

    Like your old colleagues at the Chron, you haven't mentioned that the ad attacked 1A from the right, not the left, for having a supposedly very leaky spending limit.

    Of course, those groups are opposed to any spending limit …

    If they believed Binder's polling, they probably would have run a different ad, don't you think?

    There is also the not so tiny problem of actually enacting more taxes in the next few weeks …

    The perfect box in which Democrats find themselves was constructed by a great many hands, including present critics.

  5. avatar Bond Shands says:

    I agee with the Governor's call to consolidate and/or eliminate some boards, commissions and departments. The legislature's continual stonewalling any effort to cut back government is one we shouldn't support. So far, I'm in the Governor's corner when it comes to addressing the current fiscal issues.

  6. avatar Anonymous says:

    Given the composition of the electorate, it makes sense to say that there were more voters on May 19 saying no to taxes than there were voters saying "no to these taxes, but possibly yes to other taxes." But the latter group was an important element in defeating the propositions, even if it was not the largest group voting that day.

  7. avatar Alan says:

    So when do you shoot the wounded?

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    These comments are offbase.

    The reason 5/19 didn't reflect a "no new taxes" sentiment, is this: 1B-1E didn't raise taxes at all and they all got creamed ! (Even 1A was hardly some unalloyed tax hike, as it was a complex center to center/right style measure with a fixed spending cap in it as well.)

    It's also not constructive to try to disparage Binder's results by comparing to the election results on 1A in SF v. OC. First, as mentioned above, 1A is not a clear ideological litmus test by any means. Second, with turnout atrocious, I'd say Binder's results are a more accurate mirror of Californian's sentiments than the election itself !

    There are lots and lots of garden variety traditional Democrats (you know, the ones who dominate California electorally) who favor certain types of new taxes.

  9. avatar MrDigs says:

    These 3 "facts" are dubious positions. First of all, the small turnout is a non-sequitor. Secondly, those left-labor groups had their own reasons for wanting the prop's to fail, but the resounding defeat indicates that this was not a left-right issue. It was a good government/anti-tax vote. The politicians who obfuscate this message do so at their own peril.

  10. avatar Jason says:

    Thanks, Calbuzz, for mentioning this obvious but underreported point. The argument that the election results were a resounding anti-tax mandate – or an informed call for $24 billion in hard cuts – is patently ridiculous and unsupported by facts. Only one of the six measures actually would have raised additional revenue and that was an extension of an existing increase in out years. In fact, one could argue that 1D and 1E were spiritually anti-tax since they (inaccurately) purported to make more efficient and accountable use of existing tax revenue.

  11. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Alan – as often as possible.

  12. avatar Anonymous says:

    If you think this was strictly an anti-tax vote, ask yourself this: What would be the result of an election tomorrow asking whether they'd rather raise the tobacco tax or eliminate health insurance for children?
    The tobacco tax would win by a bigger margin than 1A passed, and even Coupal knows that.

  13. avatar Anonymous says:

    Since polls show support for taxes as long as they are on someone else, we only have to find someone else who doesn't mind being taxed. I read other polling that said taxes were opposed by almost all groups, including Democrats.

    I have to agree with Bradley's analysis and the government spending lobby who joined forces with their enemies and used their enemies' arguments in a completely disingenous way will hopefully get their due. By the way polling question that I saw getting the highest level of support before the election was for spending limitation, which is perhaps why the spending lobby chose to use the issue like they did.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.