Powerful interests are making last minute decisions on which initiatives to put forward to achieve their goals. At the same time they are practicing a bit of brinkmanship, determining which measures their opponents truly back, while deciding which ones their side will file if opponents put up an initiative they abhor.

Call it MAD – a case of Mutually Assured Destruction. The old Cold War term has been defined as a doctrine that “assumes that each side has enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force.”

Over the next three weeks or so, initiatives will be filed in hopes of qualifying for the November 2010 ballot. Some initiatives would prompt counter moves setting off a true initiative war. There are, of course, a number of initiatives that have already emerged from the Attorney General’s Office but we’re looking for the measures that expect to receive big money support.

Public employee unions, advocacy groups, business organizations and taxpayer associations are busy running focus groups and fielding polls to determine the voters’ appetite. These organizations are also taking the temperature of their own memberships to determine what measures they might support or demand be put forward.

There has been a public disagreement among union and left leaning advocacy groups whether an initiative should lower the two-thirds vote to pass the state budget, or if the measure should go all the way and lower the two-thirds vote for budget and taxes. While some leaders advise that the tax part of the formula would be difficult to pass, activists say without the power to increase taxes by less than a two-thirds vote, making it easier to pass a budget is meaningless. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Filing an initiative can be a legitimate effort to change policy. Or it could a weapon to drain the other side of resources, not expecting the measure to pass in the end.

Either way, costly campaigns could be just around the corner. If the teacher’s union files a split roll initiative to raise taxes on commercial property the business community would probably respond with a paycheck protection proposal. Such a plan, if passed, would weaken public union political clout by allowing union members to opt-out of their political dues reducing the union’s campaign treasury. Both the split roll and paycheck protection initiatives have been written, polled and are ready to file.

Other measures on both sides are lined up in the bullpen ready for the campaign managers to call them into the game. Repealing corporate tax incentives, public employee pension reform … the list is long.

Working feverishly to stop an all out ballot war are groups like California Forward, headed by Democrat Bob Hertzberg and Republican Tom McKernan. They are trying to work out reforms with input from both sides in hopes of easing the pressure which will stop at least some measures from being filed.

Another Cold War icon was the Doomsday Clock. The closer the symbolic clock got to midnight, the closer the world was believed to be facing disaster. Not to be overly dramatic – and frankly, I admit this metaphor is that: As initiative decisions are being weighed, chances for success considered, cost of strategic campaigns tabulated, and interveners scrambling to find a middle road; the Initiative Doomsday Clock is ticking toward midnight.