The governor has a problem—his own ill-conceived changes to the initiative process now are creating problems for his own initiative.
A Sacramento judge ruled recently that the governor’s amendments to a sentencing reform initiative were improper. Instead of amending the measure, Brown changed it so much – and with problematic timing – that he should have had to refile an initiative and start the process again.
The California Supreme Court has put a temporary stay on the lower ruling – allowing Brown to move forward. But if he is force to start over, the initiative might not qualify in time for the November 2016 ballot.
Brown shouldn’t be blaming the judge or anyone else for this time pressure. His initiative is in trouble because of an earlier change he himself made in the initiative process.
Specifically, Brown approved legislation to move all citizen-initiatives to the November election—and prevent initiatives from going on the ballot in the first-run June elections.
I told the governor many times in this space that this was a terrible idea, for many reasons. It creates long lists of ballot measures that are too much for media to cover and voters to wade through in one seating; the change means that we know less about what we vote on. It creates incentives to errors and increases the costs of qualification as more people rush to qualify measures in the very same time period. And, ironically for a governor who has portrayed himself as a model of sober judgment and reflection, it made it harder for people to reflect and make sober judgment about issues.
Brown maintained that it was more democratic to have people vote in a November general election – an argument that betrayed his (and many Californians’ ) ignorance, given that November elections are no longer general elections, they are run-off elections. (The real general election is now in June).
So now, Brown, as initiative sponsor, may not have enough time to qualify for the only election that Brown, as governor, permits.
The governor’s statements have maintained that that would be a bad outcome—a denial of democracy.
I prefer to look on the bright side. I’d suggest a wait to 2018 would be a fitting punishment – and an opportunity too. Gov. Brown would have more time to lead conversation about the sentencing reforms he seeks. And even better, he could use the extra time to apologize for, and fix, this self-defeating mistake he made in the initiative process.