Tell me if you have you seen this movie before: a corporate special interest, frustrated with the Legislature, dreams up a ballot measure designed to protect its profits. An army of high-priced consultants tells the naive corporate backers they can win — notwithstanding public polls showing just the opposite.
The corporation, often from another state, shells out a few million bucks hiring signature gatherers and qualifies for the ballot. They plow ahead. Then, battered by editorial boards, and then by voters, they go down in flames $30 million or so poorer and with a sullied corporate reputation.
In 2008, that’s just what happened to Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro when they attempted to gut AB 32, the state’s popular greenhouse gas law, with Proposition 23. Ditto with PG&E’s Prop 16 to pre-empt local power producers, two attempts by Mercury Insurance to reform rates (Prop 17 and Prop 33), and T. Boone Picken’s Texas sized energy flop, Prop 10 , in 2008. And on and on.
You’d think they’d learn. But no.
Wasting no time Within days of its signature by Gov. Jerry Brown the state’s pioneering single-use plastic bag ban drew the ire of South Carolina-based plastic bag company HilexPoly (now Novolex) that’s owned by a Chicago-based equity firm, Wind Point Partners. Aided by bag makers from far flung places like China and Texas, Hilex Poly (under the guise of the ill-named American Progressive Bag Alliance), has dumped nearly $1.8 million into an effort to force a referendum is on the plastic bag ban.
Signature gatherers are on the streets, fetching $1.50 per signature, to try to overturn the law by putting it on the green-friendly November 2016 ballot. Their deadline for gathering the 504,760 signatures is December 29th.
The consultant egging them on is Tony Russo, Lest you forget, Russo’s last appearance in California was secretly trying to funnel $15 million in Koch Brothers money into an anti-Prop 30 effort, only to be busted by the FPPC, leaving his clients to pay a $1 million settlement.
If Russo succeeds into convincing Hilex Poly to turn in their signatures, California’s bag ban will be on hold from its scheduled effective date of July 1, 2015 until the November 2016 election.
Local bans, however, will continue to move forward (some 129 already are on the books in the state). Sacramento, San Diego, and dozens of other cities are itching to enact local bans if the state ban is frozen — a nightmare for retailers having to adapt to various versions of bag bans.
Polls are unambiguous Meanwhile, two polls show solid backing of the ban. The first, by USC/Dornsife reported a 2-1 margin of support (including 49% saying they “strongly” back it). The ban’s only weakness came from a small number of Nanny State-hating Republicans.
GOP pollster David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican half of the USC polling team, said “If this becomes an ideological thing, that’s not enough to persuade voters in a Democratic-leaning state where voters aren’t necessarily opposed to more government if they agree with …what it’s trying to do.”
Democratic pollster Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research came to the same conclusion. “At this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much to say to change people’s minds. I think this is something that people like, they adjust to pretty quickly, and would have a tough time going back.”
Pollster Dave Metz of Oakland’s FM3 Research has piled on with a new poll he did for the referendum’s opponents. He found that 60% of Californians would support the law if it were on the ballot today, “a solid majority that both grows and becomes more committed after voters hear an exchange of pro and con arguments.”
Moreover, both the Metz and USC polls found that support was more intense in communities with bag bans already in place. Which means that the plasticteers move to freeze a statewide ban for nearly two years may backfire: As more communities enact bans, their attempt to overturn it becomes increasingly more difficult.
Waste, fraud and abuse Meanwhile, taking a cue from the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign, bag ban supporters already are circling their wagons. The state’s leading grocers and major environmental groups (including Californians Against Waste, NRDC, Environment California, and the Sierra Club) have formed a bipartisan campaign team and have rounded up more than 100 local officials opposing the referendum. Their “California vs. Big Plastic” campaign is expected to be well funded; this won’t be a David vs. Goliath battle by any means.
The state’s major news outlets already are jumping into the fray, skewering HilexPoly and the plastic companies aiding its effort. The Sacramento Bee compared HilexPoly’s referendum attempt to a chicken that has had its head cut off but keeps running around, The Los Angeles Times noted “Listening to the plastic-bag industry oppose bans on their product is eerily similar to what carmakers said decades ago in opposition to seat belts and air bags.” Even national Fox News seemed a little baffled about the effort, noting the plastic bag litter is indeed a big pollution problem.
Steven Maviglio, former press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis, is co-campaign manager of California vs. Big Plastic