Lesson One in the Initiative Game Playbook

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


If you are trying to defeat an initiative measure destined
for the ballot, lesson one in the initiative game playbook is to cause
confusion and uncertainty with the voters. One of the chief weapons to
accomplish this goal is to file a rival measure of your own on the same
subject. If both measures qualify for the ballot, the voters will have the extra
task of not only trying to decide if a reform is needed, but also which reform is the
best one to solve the problem the measures are intended to address.

Once the campaign attacks start flying on the supposed
hidden agendas or flaws in the rival measures, the voters often throw up their
hands in disgust and vote NO on both entries. That is often an acceptable
result for the supporters of the second measure. They don’t want Measure A to
pass. If Measure B, their own initiative, goes down in the process, they will
accept that collateral damage because their first priority is to defeat Measure
A. 

Californians have seen that scenario play out time and
again. In 2005, the pharmaceutical companies filed Proposition 78 as an
alternative to what became Proposition 79, a measure its proponents had intended to
reduce the cost of drugs. Without getting into the pros and cons of each
measure, the defeat of both initiatives meant that Prop 79 did not become law,
which was a satisfactory result for the companies.

It’s happening again in this coming June primary. The League of
California Cities is determined to defeat Proposition 98, an eminent domain
reform put forth by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California
Farm Bureau Federation. The League qualified Proposition 99, a much softer
version of eminent domain reform. 

Frankly, the League would be just as happy to see both
measures go away. League spokespeople will argue they really want their measure
to pass because they can then claim eminent domain reform has been
accomplished. Their hope is the issue will not come back on a future ballot.
But, they also tell you there really is not an eminent domain problem in California, which is an
argument that the status quo is just fine.

This strategy doesn’t always work. In 1978, with the people
in revolt over out-of-control property taxes and Proposition 13 on the ballot,
the Legislature hurried a weaker measure onto the ballot that promised property
tax relief for homeowners. This measure, Proposition 8, was considered too
little, too late by the voters in the high profile debate over soaring property
tax bills. Proposition 13 passed with about 65% of the vote. Proposition 8 was
defeated, 47%-53%.

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