Your House Is On Fire — The Special Election Choice.

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I recently asked Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to respond to the argument against the special election ballot measures that I most often hear from people on the left. In its essence, that argument is: these measures were produced by a bad deal that was forced upon Democrats by Republicans using the leverage of the two-thirds vote requirement for passing taxes and the budget. So we should vote down these measures and use the crisis to push for reforms, like replacing the two-thirds requirement with a majority vote.

Bass responded to my question quickly and fiercely: “The house is on fire! The house is on fire!” she repeated. She went on to say that she’s for eliminating the two-thirds requirement too, and for other bigger structural reforms. But those will take time. Right now, the state is in a crisis. When your house is on fire, she argued, you have to put the fire out.

One could argue with Bass’ stance, but I think she’s 100 percent right in her choice of metaphor. The choice facing voters in the special election boils down to as much a question of strategy as ideology: when your house is burning, what do you do?

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Is SEIU Setting Fire to the House of Labor?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

After all the rumors and build-up and speculation about how much the Service Employees International Union might campaign against Prop 1A, the SEIU state council came out strongly against the rainy day fund proposal last week because… well, let’s look at the press release from SEIU and its coalition of anti-1A unions.

1A is disturbingly long…. (“close to 3000 words”)… and full of “confusing information”… and “complex formulas.” Who, the unions ask, would responsibly vote on such a document?

Of course, such a description – long, confusing, full of complex financial formulas — could apply to other documents. For example, union contracts. Except those union contracts would be closer to 30,000 words than 3,000. But I appreciate SEIU’s newfound devotion to simplicity. In the name of consistency, I’m sure the union will renounce its support for collective bargaining and ask the legislature and governor not to approve Local 1000’s new contract. After all, who would vote responsibly on such a long and confusing document?

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The State of California Owes Me Money

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

INVOICE

From: Joe Mathews
To: State Controller
CC: The Legislature, the Governor
Re: Unpaid Wages And Back Pay

Please consider this my bill for $7786 in unpaid wages and back pay for my work as a California lawmaker.

Yes, I know we have a highly professional, full-time legislature, but those guys keep kicking the toughest decisions about laws and constitutional amendments to me. They can’t even pass a budget these days without putting six measures on the ballot and calling a special election. And big interest groups and rich guys keep throwing things on the ballot for me to decide too.

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Do Editorial Boards Still Matter?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

One day back in 2005, when I was reporting a book on Gov. Schwarzenegger and his use of ballot initiatives, Todd Harris, then a political consultant for the governor, greeted me triumphantly.

“36 for 36!” he said.

Harris was talking about Prop 77, the redistricting reform initiative the governor was backing on the special election ballot that year. After many weeks of work, the governor’s campaign had convinced all 36 of the state’s largest newspapers to endorse Prop 77.

The editorials didn’t make a bit of difference. Prop 77 lost.

In recent weeks, when I ask people on different sides of the special election ballot measures what they’re up to, the answer is often: I’m on my way to meet an editorial board.

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Countering Fox On the Counter Proposal

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Joel Fox wrongly criticizes one of the few good ideas for reforming the initiative process: legislation in Oregon to permit the legislature to add a counter proposal to each initiative on the ballot.

He seems to think this is a trick to somehow limit the popular will, to sabotage the initiative process, or at least “attempt to undermine” it. Nonsense. To the contrary, the counter proposal is an established, time-tested procedure that strengthens direct democracy. Counter proposals have long been essential features of in Switzerland and other countries that use the initiative and referendum. In fact, the counter proposal gives more choice – and more information – to the people. Here’s hoping that Oregon adopts this legislation – and that California quickly follows suit.

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A $20 Million Campaign

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

After doing some reporting, that’s my conservative estimate of what the Yes side of the six ballot measures will have to spend before the May 19 special election.

Ordinarily $20 million is enough to run a good campaign. But this is not an ordinary campaign. The first five of the six measures have less than 50 percent support in public polls, and there’s no simple, direct way to sell any of those measures.

Propositions 1A and 1C present particularly formidable challenges, because supporters are contending with considerable public misinformation about both measures. (A significant part of the public thinks that the lottery provides a big chunk of education spending; in point of fact, only 2 percent of funds for schools come from the lottery). Given the high likelihood of defeat, it’s remarkable that the yes side has put together $20 million. It may end up being money wasted.

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The Education Special Election

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Few people realize it. But this is California’s Year of Education.

The phrase “year of education” has been somewhat discredited. Gov. Schwarzenegger initially had promised that 2008 would be the “year of education,” following up on 2007 as the “year of health care” and 2005 as “the year of reform.” But the budget turned so sour that he dropped the idea of doing more for education and education funding last year. Politically, that wasn’t a terrible idea. After all, his year of health care didn’t produce the major health care reform he wanted. And 2005? The less said about that, the better.

So what makes this California’s year of education? The special election ballot.

You wouldn’t know that from following the public debate about the election. Props 1A through 1E are being discussed, praised and criticized as if they were fundamentally about the budget. But in this state, half the budget involves education. The effects of passing – or not passing – each of these measures likely will fall harder on education than anything else.

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If You Want to Blame Someone for 6 Special Election Measures, Look In the Mirror

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Reading Mayor Riordan’s piece denouncing Gov. Schwarzenegger and the special election ballot measures, my first thought was: they need to decaffeinate the coffee at the Original Pantry in downtown LA (For you NorCal types, that’s the mayor’s greasy spoon on Fig). It’s hard not to think that some of this is personal. Riordan, after all, was gearing up to run for governor in 2003 when Schwarzenegger, without telling the mayor, threw his hat in the ring, and Riordan’s stint as Schwarzenegger’s education secretary didn’t end well.

My second thought was: It’s time for Californians to swallow hard and realize that they deserve these six measures.

Yes, as Riordan points out, the measures shouldn’t please liberals or conservatives or moderates or Greens or Hamas, for that matter. Chief among their flaws is one that Riordan hints at: the new spending in these measures — particularly the educating funding in Prop 1B — won’t kick in until after Schwarzenegger leaves office at the end of 2010. But the budget benefits — givebacks from health programs, new money from lottery securitization — would help him with the budget right way.

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PPIC Poll: Which of the Six?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The headlines from the new Public Policy Institute of California poll will emphasize that five of the six measures (everything but 1F, the populist blast on legislative pay, which has a huge lead) on the May 19 special election ballot are in a deep trouble. But a look at the PPIC numbers suggests there’s reason to believe that all six could pass.

Propositions 1D and 1E are in the best position of the five troubled measures. They have leads, though neither measure has 50 percent support. That has a good chance of changing when Republicans learn more about the measures. Right now, Republicans oppose measures to take away spending from these programs. Since Republicans tended to oppose the initiatives (Prop 10 and Prop 63) that created these programs, it’s likely that when they learn the history, enough Republicans will support these measures to get them over the line.

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Burton and the Pragmatic Democrats

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

This squishy centrist has spent so much time writing about the self-destructive, cult-like madness of California’s “heads-on-sticks” Republicans lately that he needed his fix of left-wing cant. So on Monday night, I took a drive over to the Santa Monica library.

In an auditorium there, the new chair of the state Democratic Party, the legislative legend John Burton, was addressing a crowd of Democratic activists. The evening didn’t disappoint (Except perhaps in his failure to use profanity. When Burton was leading the state Senate five years ago and I was a reporter haunting the halls of the Capitol, he rarely failed to say interesting things in language that I couldn’t quote in a family newspaper).

Burton talked dismissively of “business Democrats” and urged the room of liberals to “work in the primary and elect the libs.” He also thundered at one point: “I’m to the left of anyone in this state, including Barbara Lee.” Let’s just say he’s not exactly the Terry McAuliffe of the West.

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