An Offer for the LAO’s 75th Anniversary It Won’t Want

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Here’s my salute to celebrate the 75 years of the Legislative Analyst’s Office—I think it should be put in charge of ballot titles and summaries. Probably the last thing that office wants but its a sign of my respect for an office that does diligent, fair work and can avoid political questions as a non-partisan office.

Currently, the Attorney General is responsible for creating titles and summaries of ballot measures. The Attorney General is a partisan office and titles and summaries often reflect a political bent. That’s true whether the AG is a Democrat or a Republican. A most recent example, supporters of a pension reform initiative pulled back on their initiative because they claimed the title and summary was biased toward labor unions that opposed the measure. They had a point.

There have been plenty of times initiative proponents challenged titles and summaries in courts. It takes a strong case to get changes in the reviews created by the AG’s office. Judges often side with the Attorney General.

If the LAO takes over the task, challenges to titles and summaries won’t be eliminated. I’m sure the LAO title and summaries will also face criticisms but the partisan attacks would be reduced or eliminated.

Despite millions of dollars spent on advertising in ballot campaigns, often the fate of an initiative depends on what voters read in the title and/or summary as they get set to vote.

My opinion that the Legislative Analyst should take over the job of creating titles and summaries for initiatives is not new and is not a reflection on the current Attorney General. In fact, before Kamala Harris was responsible for any initiative recaps, I sat on a panel in 2011 on the initiative process put on by Zocalo Public Square and sponsored by the League of Women Voters Los Angeles and the California Supreme Court Historical Society, and when asked what one reform to the process I would seek, I didn’t hesitate to say remove the title and summary responsibility from the AG.

I haven’t always agreed with the LAO analysis of initiatives’ implications that the office put out on initiatives I worked on, but the office has always given fair hearings to both sides of an issue, something that doesn’t happen so much with the current process.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has had only five leaders over the agency’s 75-year history. I’ve known four of them. A. Alan Post served from 1950 to 1977 and set the direction for this professional organization. I appeared at a couple of conferences with him. William Hamm, his successor and later a consultant, worked on studies on initiatives I was involved with; Elizabeth Hill oversaw the analysis of many initiatives I went into the Analyst’s office to speak for or against as did current Analyst, Mac Taylor. I found both to be fair-minded and incredibly able.

There are other alternatives to overseeing the title and summary responsibility. A citizen’s committee is one idea that has been floated and it is worthy of consideration. Yet, if a smooth change is desired to remove the appearance of partisanship, the LAO is steeped in the background of legislation and propositions. The office has the knowledge and even-handed approach to deal with the important task of offering a non-political title and summary.

I’m sure this is not another job the LAO wants given the current workload of analyzing bills and the state budget, writing reports and analyzing the impact of initiatives.

At 75 years, Californians should recognize the fine work the office has done on behalf of the state’s citizens even if that recognition comes in the form of making them an offer they can refuse.

For more information on the LAO’s history and mission go here.

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.