Surfing to the Governor’s Chair on an Initiative

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

To use an analogy that surfer (and assemblyman) Travis Allen might appreciate, can the ballot measure he champions to repeal the gas tax be the surfboard he needs to carve over the choppy waves of a governor’s race and get him safely to shore.

The Huntington Beach Republican is putting his hopes on the gas tax repeal initiative to get the support and recognition he needs to compete with better known, better funded opponents. The highest-profile names in the race, as of now, are all Democrats in a state where Democratic voter registration surpasses Republican registration by nearly two-to-one.

Allen hopes the initiative will get him the attention he needs from voters who have expressed disdain for the new tax. The UC Berkeley IGS poll found 58% oppose the tax passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in April; 39% strongly oppose—and the tax has not even been collected yet.

History tells us this initiative strategy to secure elected office has some merit, yet the record on using ballot initiatives as a battering ram as a campaign for public office is mixed. Yet, Allen is not the only candidate for governor in 2018 that believes initiatives can help propel a political career.

Perhaps, the greatest effort to mount initiatives to ride into the governor’s office—and the biggest failure of such a plan—was then Attorney General John Van de Kamp’s 1990 run for governor based on three initiatives he sponsored: on crime and drugs, the environment, and political ethics (he said he wanted to “drain the swamp” in Sacramento—sound familiar?). In actuality, funding the three measures drained Van de Kamp’s campaign coffers instead and he eventually lost the Democratic primary to former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Yet, four years later, trailing badly in his campaign for re-election, Governor Pete Wilson latched onto Proposition 187, a measure to prohibit illegal immigrants from using a number of state-funded services. The measure proved popular at the time passing in 51 of the state’s 58 counties, and helping to reverse Wilson’s fortunes to remain as governor.

The iconic measure that re-ignited the use of initiatives as a political tool for elected office was 1978’s property tax cutting Proposition 13, which appeared on the June primary ballot. In November, supporters of Proposition 13 stunned the political establishment and captured a number of legislative offices and became known as “Prop 13 babies.”

The governor at the time, Jerry Brown, opposed Proposition 13 in June but reversed course by the November general election so much so that voters thought he had supported the measure in June. Brown easily defeated his Republican opponent who never wholeheartedly embraced the measure.

Others looking to capture the governor’s office in 2018 also believe the initiative route can be a helpful tool in that quest.

Current gubernatorial poll leader, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, was not shy about putting his name on initiatives to build name ID and identify with certain policy issues. In the last election he was proponent of two successful ballot measures to legalize marijuana and to put new regulations on gun ownership.

Republican businessman and gubernatorial candidate John Cox is behind an initiative to change governance in California. The plan is designed to reduce money in politics by enlarging the number of state elected representatives so candidates can campaign door-to-door without the need of big media budgets thus eliminating the need to solicit major contributions to campaigns and the onus that might be attached to those donations.

Newsom’s initiatives were in the past and will only be a part of the gubernatorial campaign when those who were for or against the policy incorporate them in media and mailers.

The problem for both Allen and Cox is even if there measures qualify, they won’t appear on the ballot until November. First, they have to get by the June top-two primary to make it to the November run-off.

Cox’s message of reducing money in politics may have wide appeal but he has the task of explaining the workings of a new governance plan to voters.

Allen believes a tax gas repeal is easily understood and that voters paying the tax by election time would be willing to back the leader of the revolt against the tax. If he is right, his ride to the governor’s office would be gnarly.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.