Governor Jerry Brown refused to go along with a labor unions’ scheme to swing the initiative process in their favor. Brown vetoed AB 857, a bill authored by Assemblyman Paul Fong and sponsored by unions, that would have required ten percent of the signatures gathered on statewide initiative petitions to be collected by non-paid signature gatherers.  The problem is that the bill defined non-paid signature gatherers to include members of non-profit organizations. Union members would qualify as non-paid signature gatherers. At the same time, signatures collected through direct mail would not qualify.

Gov. Brown recognized the gimmick in the measure. In his veto message, Brown wrote that the bill’s requirements would not “stop abuses by narrow special interests – particularly if ‘volunteer’ is defined with the broad exemptions as in this bill.”

The governor saw that a special interest was trying to take control of the initiative process.

But there was another reason for the veto besides the pure audacity and unfairness of the bill. Allowing unions to have greater influence over initiatives could result in some uncomfortable times for this and future governors.

Unions would drive their agenda through the initiative process when they couldn’t get what they wanted from the legislature.

Look how unions and their allies in the non-profit realm were pushing a tax initiative that the governor did not agree with for the 2012 election. He ended up compromising with the proponents to develop what became Proposition 30 to avoid their approach.

If AB 857 became law it would have increased the unions leverage in the initiative world. Do you think the governor wants that?

I take issue with one comment in the veto message. The governor writes that, “monied interests have historically manipulated it (the initiative process) at will.”  Money can usually manage to put a measure on the ballot but the record is clear that money cannot buy wins. Just ask PG&E and Mercury Insurance if they can win initiatives with more money.

However, I’ll agree with the governor that it’s worth looking at fair and just reforms with the initiative process. AB 857 wasn’t it.