The famous line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” seems to apply of late to the powers that be in California politics. The governor and his allies in the legislature continue to work the system to give themselves an advantage over fellow citizens in ballot contests.
Soon we’ll find out if the courts think they went too far.
On Friday, a Superior Court judge stopped the Secretary of State from numbering propositions on November’s ballot after civil rights attorney Molly Munger sued over suspect election procedures, including a new law the legislature passed to aide the governor’s tax initiative. Munger, who has a tax increase measure of her own, argued the governor received extraordinary privileges in both qualifying his measure for the ballot and getting it placed ahead of other measures.
The judge called for a full hearing on the matter July 9. I don’t know how the judicial court will decide, but in the court of public opinion, Munger will win.
Her charges against the governor include that despite filing signatures for her initiative ahead of the governor and needing fewer signatures to count being a statute compared to the governor’s constitutional amendment, the governor’s measure was certified for the ballot first. Secondly, that the bill to change the ballot order passed this week as an “appropriation related to the budget” was a sham to put it in effect immediately and allow the governor’s measure to be on top of the propositions and away from the other tax measures.
The appropriation was $1000 to carry out the dictates of the bill in changing the order of the measures. As I wrote last week, “Exactly what the $1000 is needed for besides allowing for this bald-faced chicanery isn’t clear.”
It’s obvious the governor and legislature have taken extraordinary steps to game the electoral process for advantage. Beyond the issues Munger raised in her suit, we know the legislature and governor changed the law before the June primary to move initiatives back to November where they felt their side had better odds. They moved a rainy day fund off of the November ballot because they didn’t want voters to vote on it. They probably will also move the water bond in hopes of placing the governor’s tax initiative ahead of all other ballot measures.
All this political gamesmanship will seep into the public consciousness. The sense that the politicians are not playing straight with the voters will take a toll. The voters already distrust Sacramento and these games will only make matters worse for them.
Voters, of course, do not pay close attention to “inside baseball” maneuvering. Where it will make a mark is with those who do play close attention – the media.
Not only will the media be suspicious of arguments and plans put forth on behalf of the government’s position, they will mention this chicanery time and again. The first evidence of that was Dan Walters column Friday taking the governor and legislature to task: “Lowering the budget vote threshold to a simple majority in 2010, may have, as its advocates said, enhanced democracy. But the way it’s been used is an anti-democratic regression to insular, arrogant and self-dealing governance.”
The legislature and governor’s continuous shifty behavior will be part of the back-story of this initiative campaign and will reinforce the public’s perception of an untrustworthy governor and legislature.
When Munger met the press for the first time after she announced her ballot measure she was asked why she wouldn’t follow the governor’s request and pull her initiative. She answered, “I don’t think we have a good functioning democracy if we let the person on the top get what he wants.” She made an allusion to this country removing that kind of government when we revolted against a king.
Given the underhanded attempts to set the stage for his measure, “King” Jerry seems to be just what Molly Munger feared.
*The article has been corrected from “Animal House” to “Animal Farm.” Thank you to our readers who caught that mistake.*