Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee recently opined that a referendum of SB 202 (the bill moving all future ballot measures and the pending “Rainy Day” spending limit negotiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger) is a strategic chess move that could be trumped by Secretary of State reversing a decades long interpretation that allowed initiatives to qualify for both the June Primary election and the November General election.  Walters cites to the fact that the Constitution states that initiatives are to appear on a “general election” ballot.   Walters assumes that the term “general election” as used in the Constitution means only the November General Election.

What Walters failed to take into account is the state Elections Code, is the Legislature is empowered to implement the exercise of initiative and referendum power and has done so in a long series of statute. One such statute is Elections Code section 324, which defines the term “general election.”  Included within that definition is the November election held in even-numbered years, but also  “Any statewide election held on a regular election date as specified in Section 1000.”  Section 1000  then provides a list of  “established election dates” and includes “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in each year.”  Thus, pursuant to the Elections Code, the statewide June Primary is a “general election” as that term is used in the Constitution.

The Legislature clearly understood this since the very first words of SB 202  state:  “Notwithstanding section 324.”   A qualified referendum “suspends” the operation of the law until such time as the voters have an opportunity to approve or reject the law.  Thus, a referendum of SB 202 would preserve the status quo, meaning Elections Code 324 would still be operative and initiative measures that met the other requirements of law could still qualify for the June Primary election ballot and the “Rainy Day” spending limit would also appear on that ballot as originally intended.  In other words, “Checkmate.”

(Disclosure: Tom Hiltachk’s law firm, Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, filed the referendum on SB 202)