The California Proposition Process

We, in California, are blessed, or cursed, with two of the propositions on the June ballot sponsored by corporations. First of all, let me say that I don’t like the initiative system in California. This system was born as an antidote to powerful (translated railroad) interests controlling the state. It gave the “people” a chance to level the playing field from the powerful. That was over 100 years ago.

Today, the initiative system is used to promote all sorts of special interests. And once in a while, something for the public good shows up on the ballot. If anyone gathers enough signatures anything can be on the ballot, provided a lawsuit doesn’t cause it to be rejected. This results in many propositions on every ballot. I got so disgusted, I vowed to vote no on all propositions, because I was tired of seeing a bunch of them every time I voted. I never did that (except maybe once) because there was at least one worth voting for.

So all sorts of things have either become law or as amendments to the constitution. The famous Proposition 13 is one. (Remember, there have been so many propositions that the numbering needs to start over again from “1.”) Prop 13 rolled back property taxes and put in restrictions on tax increases. It also required a 2/3 vote on the state budget. Granted property tax reform was greatly needed, but Prop 13 was not the answer. It has helped contribute to the mess California is in now. Then there was the proposition that was the famous “Three Strikes Law.” People getting caught shoplifting received life sentences to prison. Like many propositions, which seem like great ideas on paper, turn out to be failures in execution (no pun intended). The justice of getting a life term for a minor infraction aside, the voters had no idea that the state prisons would burst at the seems, draining money out of the state budget. It was a logical consequence, but the hard decisions were left to the legislature. This, too, helped put California in the fiscal mess it is in now .

Propositions are very poor ways of legislating. Instead of thoughtful conversations of the pros and cons, we get misleading ads on TV and radio. (That is nice way of saying we are lied to.) There is no provision for amendments to fix flaws in a proposition. So, the voters blindly vote for things that end up biting them later. And California gets harder and harder to govern.

Now take Propositions 16 and 17 on this year’s June ballot. The former is written and sponsored (largely) by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the latter by Mercury Insurance. Prop 16 is the voter’s rights act. Bull. It makes it harder for municipal utilities to be formed, offering lower electricity rates for people, which take customers from PG&E. PG&E doesn’t like competition. Prop 17 was written by Mercury Insurance so that they can charge big rate increases to poor people and, yes, to dead-beats. It amends Prop 103, which prevents Mercury from raising rates for someone whose policy had lapsed.

The sad thing is is that people will vote for both of these propositions. We live in a republic, not a democracy. We elect people to make reasonable, informed decisions for us. We don’t directly do this, except for propositions. If we don’t like what our elected leaders decide on our behalf, then we vote them out of office. That is how our republic works. But in California, we get saddled with misinformed, uninformed laws passed in the ballot box. Woe to us. 

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