California

California

An attorney who specializes in election law said timing, not signature validity, may prove to be the toughest obstacle to a ballot measure seeking to require public approval of any subsidies for a new downtown Sacramento arena.

Tom Hiltachk, of Bell McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP in Sacramento, said the wild card is if approvals for the arena go through in the spring, as both city and Sacramento Kings officials have said was the plan.

Read More: here

Sheer math suggests the number of signatures submitted for a 2014 ballot measure on the Sacramento Kings arena may have a narrow margin to succeed.

According to the city clerk’s office Friday, there were more than 34,000 signatures in support of the measure submitted to the Sacramento County registrar’s office, along with more than 15,000 signature withdrawal forms. Typically, not all signatures submitted hold up as valid; some people who signed either won’t be registered voters, or won’t be registered in the city of Sacramento. Some duplicates or signatures that can’t be verified because of illegibility are also possible.

In Sacramento, California, a planned basketball arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings is the flashpoint of citizen action.  Two citizen groups, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal are opposed to the fact that the arena would be largely financed through a taxpayer subsidy totaling $258 million.

The two groups have gathered 40,000 signatures, almost double the number required to place the issue of the subsidy on next June’s ballot.  The groups are expecting to have enough valid signatures to qualify the referendum despite opposition groups claiming they have 15,226 “rescissions” from citizens who reportedly want their signatures removed from the petition opposing the subsidy, though no signatures have yet been validated.

After months of controversy and door-to-door politicking, opponents of the public subsidy for Sacramento’s proposed NBA arena say they will submit as many as 40,000 signatures to city elections officials today in their quest to get the issue placed before voters on June’s ballot.

It will be several more weeks, however, before Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and a spinoff group, Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, learn whether their signature-gathering campaigns were successful. The groups need only 22,000 valid signatures but realize that many of the signatures they’ve gathered, as is typical, will be proven invalid.

Direct democracy, and specifically the initiative process, is advancing around the world.

Except in the U.S. and in California.

Ireland’s constitutional convention has voted overwhelming to introduce a new initiative process that would include both petitions to the government (what some Californians persist in calling, misleadingly, the “indirect initiative” even though it is a direct appeal to lawmakers) and petitions that would trigger popular votes.

Read More: here

While much of the country is gearing up for the holidays, political forces in Sacramento are girding for battle.

Already, special interests are lined up with plans that could shape next year’s general election ballot. They are considering propositions to increase medical malpractice awards, hike tobacco taxes and give local governments the right to scale back public employee pensions, among other ideas.

Each of the proposals could spawn campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars. Decisions about whether to proceed will be made in the next couple of weeks as de facto deadlines loom.

California has a rich tradition of citizens taking control through the initiative process. Nothing should be done to diminish that.

However, the Public Policy Institute of California has released an interesting report on possible reforms of the process. The 20-page report released in October concludes with three proposals:

• Connect the legislative and initiative processes. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed by the institute supported the idea of having initiative sponsors meet with legislators to seek compromises before an issue is placed on the ballot.

Read More: here.

While much of the rest of the country is ramping up for the holiday season, political forces in Sacramento are girding for political battle.

Though the 2014 election is nearly a full year away, a series of de facto deadlines are fast approaching that will shape the makeup of next November’s ballot.

Initiatives to raise medical malpractice awards, hike tobacco taxes and give local governments the right to scale back public-employee pensions are among the ballot measures being considered. Each of those proposals, if they go forward, could induce campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars. Decisions about whether to proceed will be made within the next couple of weeks.

The Legislature might be flatlining and cobwebs are gathering around the White Sepulcher’s Corinthian columns, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lotta politickin’ going on in the Golden State.

A largely under-the-radar industry is shifting into second and third gear in anticipation of 2014, even-numbered election year that it is. This motley band is the ballot measuremongers who profit off pimping and pillorying initiatives they help put before voters.

They are pollsters, strategists, ad buyers, signature gatherers, lawyers, videographers, direct mailers, fundraisers, mouthpieces and coalition builders—a phalanx of folk who critics claim feast off the host body of the vox populi. If that’s true, it’s quite the sumptuous spread.

This week’s qualification of a referendum for the November 2014 ballot will be the sixth time in a decade that voters get the final say on a state law.

A “yes” vote will uphold this year’s legislation ratifying the state’s casino compact with Madera County’s North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. A “no” vote will overturn it.

The as-yet-unnumbered referendum is the 49th to qualify for a California ballot since 1912, after the process was included in then-Gov. Hiram Johnson’s package of government reforms.

Read more: here

Californians have a love-hate relationship with direct democracy.

We love that we have the ability to set the politicians straight, either by getting a jump on them on the next big issue or reversing course when we think they’ve made a big mistake.

But we’re not wild about reading through all those damn initiatives that appear on the ballot every year, or sorting through the claims and counter claims of the interest groups that sponsor and oppose them. And we don’t like the way that big money pays to get most measures on the ballot and then underwrites the campaigns.

Read more: here

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Steven Greenhut wrote at Reason.com last week that “Californians will need to pay close attention” to proposed reforms of the state’s initiative process, arguing that, “Unfortunately, some recent initiative reforms have been more about self-interest — about rigging the football game, if you will — than about helping the public have a more fair and informed political debate.”

Noting that Californians have enjoyed the power of the initiative for 102 years, Greenhut explained that even though some questionable special interests have “proposed” some questionable initiatives for their own benefit, the initiative process in the Golden State remains a critical check by the people on their legislature.

Willie Brown, the legendary Assembly speaker and former San Francisco mayor, says he has never voted for a ballot initiative.

“Not one,” he asserts emphatically without hesitation.

“I’ve always, without question, been opposed to the initiative process. Period,” he told an initiative reform conference in Sacramento last week.

Read More: here

A key rule for political reform is that it should be as neutral as possible. Think of it in terms of a football game. It may be wise to add a penalty to, say, better protect quarterbacks, but such a change should not be done to help a particular team with a shoddy front line. The rules should be adjusted only if it’s better for the game.

Californians need to keep that in mind as they face renewed efforts to revamp the state’s 102-year-old experiment in direct democracy — the initiative, referendum and recall. Gov. Hiram Johnson and the Progressives ushered in these far-reaching reforms to check the power of corrupt political machines and corporate interests. Progressives had deep faith in the ability of average citizens to vote for the “public interest.”

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the much maligned Assembly Bill 857 over the weekend, blocking for now the legislation that would have placed a number of unconstitutional restrictions on the collection of signatures for initiatives in the Golden State.

In his veto message, Governor Brown stated: “Requiring a specific threshold of signatures to be gathered by volunteers will not stop abuses by narrow special interests – particularly if ‘volunteer’ is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill.”