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Ballot initiatives could drastically change the political landscape in California

by Mytheos Holt, published

The ballot initiative process, infamous for being dominated by controversial measures, special-interest funded projects, and the occasional jot of policy wisdom, looks to be set for a truly explosive set of options this November.

CAIVN contributor and independent blogger Bob Morris wrote that as many as 29 measures could be on the November ballot, a high number to begin with, and a buffet of options whose outcome for the California political system is anything but certain.

Morris wrote:

     Some compete with each other while others attempt to kill previous propositions. Some seem utterly obscure or appear to be favoring one thing while actually opposing it. Beware of hidden ulterior motives. Check who is behind an initiative. Stealth funding abounds. Those with deep pockets like corporate interests have a far better chance of getting propositions on the ballot than the little guy the system was supposed to enable.

Stealth funding does indeed abound, though contra Morris, this need not necessarily imply that corporate interests are dominating the scene – however, it does give the reader a good sign of what the political powers-that-be in California view as the crucial issues of the day.

The pattern that emerges from the ballot measures already approved thus for June far is fairly clear, but this could be complicated severely by election, and certainly there will be more complications by November, given that 83 measures are currently in circulation, of which any could qualify. Still, a cursory look at the ballot measures being considered is appropriate.

With respect to the June ballot, there seems to be no doubt that the issue on every voter’s mind is the process by which elections are held in California. Given the probability of a highly contentious election in America come November, and in California especially, the election reforms proposed in June will almost certainly be seen by all actors as potential game-changers, and will be treated as such in the campaign process.

As such, readers should expect major opposition from the two parties on one of the main measures, and from at least one of them on the other. It goes without saying that the major issue of the June election – the so-called Top Two Open Primary – will be decided in a battle of prevailing voter sentiment versus campaign cash. Both major parties are on record opposing it, even though individual politicians (such as Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Maldonado) have come out in favor.

Polls show extraordinary popular support prior to the election, but given the abysmally low turnout which state special elections usually enjoy, this is not necessarily a guarantee of electoral success, especially when you consider that hyper-partisans are more likely to vote.

Moreover, support may ebb, depending on how effectively the two parties can propagandize against the primary. Supporters thus should be prepared to aggressively make the case, just as opponents should be ready to do the same, though the opponents may be more assured of exposure, given the deep pockets on their side.

There is, however, another election-related ballot measure which is likely to get attention, and that is the Public Funding of Elections provision (Prop 15) – a bill which charges registered lobbyists for the purpose of providing public funding for politicians. This measure, while less innately controversial than the “Top Two” system, will probably draw fair amounts of GOP opposition, as well as skepticism from those Democrats with an incentive to keep their opponents defunded.

If it passes, the measure will have wildly unpredictable effects on the political system, as it will make citizen-politicians more viable, and may decrease some of the power which incumbency can secure.

Either way, this year looks to be a fascinating election year.


* Editor's note:  Please visit our Election Center to learn more about the upcoming ballot measures and participate in our online voting system

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