The winter holidays are fast approaching, and with them the advent
of a long season of being confronted by initiative petition circulators
outside almost every big box store, grocery emporium and shopping mall
That’s nothing unusual. What’s extraordinary this year is the
potential for destruction and divisiveness in the putative ballot
propositions those paid carriers will ballyhoo.
Best publicized of these is one calling for a constitutional
convention to reboot California government, backed by Google and other
high-tech giants that finance the Bay Area Council business lobby.
Why is this a bad idea? For one thing, despite sponsors’ pious
claims that their measure would limit action by that convention to
fixing the state’s budget and ballot initiative processes, cutting the
influence of special interests on elections and government, bettering
relations between state and local governments and making government
more efficient, there’s room here for enormous mischief.
Sponsors maintain delegates would be forbidden to take up other
topics, like gay marriage or the death penalty, immigration, abortion
or new taxes.
But constitutional lawyers have repeatedly opined that once a
convention starts, everything is fair game. That’s why many fear a
convention might eliminate the Proposition 13 property tax limits.
Others worry about an end to the Proposition 98 requirements for
funding public schools. Any report or TV commercial that says any
subject "would not be part of the debate" most likely will prove
Every stated aim of the convention sponsors could be accomplished by
a series of simple initiatives, with no need for a constitutional
convention, whose delegate makeup would be decided at least in part by
random chance, like jury pools. Since the sponsors don’t need a
convention to accomplish what they say they want, it’s an open question
why they insist on going this route. Might they eventually hope for a
reduction in corporate taxes?
Meanwhile, another public interest group called California Forward
has two rival measures on tap aiming to fix most of the stated problems
the convention advocates decry. Which can only lead to massive
But circulators will also shortly begin beating the bushes for many
other proposals. There’s a re-run of the twice-beaten measure to
require parental or judicial consent for girls under 18 to get
abortions. That one keeps coming back because when it loses, the margin
is always small.
Mercury Insurance is behind a measure to roll back part of the 1988
Proposition 103 and allow insurance rates based partly on the basis of
a driver’s record of having insurance coverage or not. Not on a
driver’s record of tickets and/or accidents – nobody argues with that.
This one would let companies collect more from drivers who have let
their insurance coverage lapse for any reason, ranging from illness to
giving up driving for a few months or years.
"Nothing in the petition summary for this tells voters about the
premium increases. … Mercury’s proposal would allow," says Harvey
Rosenfield, founder of the Consumer Watchdog group and author of
Proposition 103, which rolled back rates for all types of insurance in
California. Rosenfield calls Attorney General Jerry Brown "shameful"
for altering the summary, which initially pointed out the potential
There’s also a measure changing term limits to allow state
legislators 12 years in either the state Senate or Assembly, or both, a
change from the current limit of six in the Assembly and eight in the
Senate, which allows some lawmakers to stay 14 years. This one is not
particularly pernicious, merely innocuous. And there’s one to make the
Legislature part time.
Plus a plan to make it harder for cities to set up municipal
electric utilities and get rid of big companies like Pacific Gas &
Electric Co. and Southern California Edison. PG&E is the sponsor,
seeking to squelch competition before it starts. There’s also a
possible repeal of last year’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.
Another measure would require photo IDs before anyone is allowed to
vote. This one doesn’t speak to the huge, relatively new phenomenon of
mass absentee voting.
Silliest of all in this unusually silly season might be a proposal
to forbid divorce. That’s all divorces, anywhere in California. And
there are more.
While some of these ideas have some merit, most have little or no
benefit for anyone but the special interests promoting them and paying
the petition circulators.
Those circulators will usually be working for more than one measure,
bearing sheafs of signature sheets. It can be easy to sign for one you
So even if you do like one of two of these ideas, if you sign sheets
hurriedly, you could be helping put a bunch of highly questionable
ideas onto the ballot.
That’s why this is one year when it might be best to just say no to almost all petition carriers who accost you.