It’s late September, and Californians across the political
spectrum, from the labor left to the good government center to the Tea Party
right, are still cooking up ideas for initiatives for the November 2012 ballot.

Here’s some
good, if unsolicited advice: they should knock it off. Because when it comes to
2012, it’s already too late.

How’s that?
If you want to change the state with a big reform push, a year before the
election is not nearly enough time to be successful. Yes, the election calendar
seems to permit success. But the realities of reaching and convincing people in
a state this big – particularly of anything bold enough to move the needle –
mean that a year is a blip on the time screen.

A big
reform push requires literally years of work, preparation, deliberation and
convincing. Those who made the biggest impact in California politics worked for
years before having success on the ballot.

The 1911
special election that established the initiative, referendum and recall – as
well as women’s suffrage, public utilities, workers comp, and a new railroad
commission – was the culmination of more than a decade of work across the state
to build support for direct democracy. And the campaigning for putting
initiative and referendum in the statewide constitution was a three-year
campaign that had dominated the conversation over the 1908 and 1910 election

And Prop
13, passed in 1978, was the culmination of 13 year (13 years) of debate, legislation,
and failed initiatives to do something to reduce property taxes. Prop 13
started with scandals involving tax assessors that first surfaced in the mid

the mentality that prevails in California is that the calendar for the next
election should determine how fast you could move. That calendar, however, is
not a guide. It’s a siren song. And many good ideas have been dashed on the
rocks because they rushed.

A better
approach is to pursue and develop your idea, seeking the best advice inside and
outside California. Take as much time as you need and meet with anyone, even
potential opponents, who has an interest in the subject. Seek advice. Be open.
And work to convince people, from elites to media to the public.And when –
probably after several years – you have broad and authentic support for your
idea, you then might take a glimpse at the election calendar.