Political Animal


October 17, 2012 4:48 PM California Initiative Sinkhole

By Ed Kilgore

Californians who grumble about being left out of the national electoral conversation these days certainly can’t complain there’s nothing going on in the Golden State this year. For one thing, an independent redistricting process combined with the new Top Two ballot system (which basically abolished party primaries) have created a very turbulent congressional landscape that could produce significant Democratic gains even though some Democratic incumbents will lose to others.

But as usual, there are also a number of important ballot initiatives, several sponsored by very wealthy individuals with an ax to grind or some advantages to pocket.

The Big Bertha from the point of view of the future functioning of the state is Gov. Jerry Brown’s Prop 30, backed by virtually every Democratic office-holder or interest group in the state. It would temporarily raise sales taxes and high-end income taxes with the proceeds earmarked for schools—particularly California’s struggling higher education system. The usual anti-tax forces in the state (including the entire GOP) are opposing Prop 30, but the real problem is a competing initiative (Prop 38) sponsored by a wealthy liberal activist named Molly Munger that would raise income taxes across the board and directly distribute the proceeds to schools. Munger is spending big chunks of her own money to attack Prop 30, and the scene is complicated by her conservative brother’s heavy involvement in the anti-30 campaign (as explained in a fine TAP article by Harold Myerson). The fear among Democrats is that both 30 and 38 will go down in the crossfire, which would create a state budget crisis dwarfing those of the recent past, and a potential shutdown of admissions by some state colleges.

But potential financial support for Prop 30 is being threatened by the preoccupation of the state’s unions with another initiative, Prop 32, one of those duplicitous “goo goo” initiatives that claim to aim at “special interest” involvement in politics but actually just target labor through a “paycheck protection” provision that would ban union use of dues for political purposes. California unions have raised $54 million to fight Prop 32 (which is finally beginning to lose steam in the polls) and have also contributed around $30 million to the Prop 30 campaign. Something may have to give in the final stretch.

Meanwhile, other big-money folk are funding other initiatives that will soak up attention, including one to boost sentences for human traffickers (gratis of former Facebook exec Chris Kelley), one to kill a complicated corporate tax loophole, and still another to change an arcane auto insurance law.

Lord help poor California voters trying to negotiate the ballot this year. But they’re used to it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • John Sully on October 17, 2012 5:08 PM:

    Before I moved to MT, I just basically gave up on the CA initiative process and voted no on everything, unless it was necessary to the operation of the government. The initiative process in CA is so out of control that the government has become completely dysfunctional.

  • bobbo on October 17, 2012 5:21 PM:

    This isn't quite right. The initiative raising taxes across the board is 38. Molly Munger is Charlie Munger's daughter. Charlie Munger is an ultra-right-winger in his eighties who is also one of the big sponsors of the anti-union Prop 32. Charlie was Warren Buffett's lawyer and advisor for decades (and I believe still is a business partner).

  • Imaginary on October 17, 2012 6:27 PM:

    If only used to it meant good at it...

  • Old Uncle Dave on October 17, 2012 6:45 PM:

    I'm a California voter and thanks to the internet I had no trouble determining which way to vote on the Propositions.
    A few minutes of research into the people and organizations supporting and opposing a proposition made it easy.

  • jjm on October 17, 2012 7:04 PM:

    Prop. 30 is very well conceived and so far is winning.

    Prop. 38 starts taxing incomes as low as $7500 a year (not currently taxed) and mandates the tax raised be spent only for the schools. It is not a balanced tax plan and given that it's backed by right leaning millionaires and the PTA (not the teachers) it really should be sent down in flames.

    Prop. 32 is just a scam to get people to harm unions.

    Prop. 37 is crucial, labeling GMOs

    Californians are among the smartest voters around. Let's hope they're not duped.

  • bdop4 on October 17, 2012 7:17 PM:

    Same as it ever was. I think I'de keel over if the Voter Guide wasn't the size of a local phone book.

    My kids have recently reached voting age too, so I'm going to be going through it with them as well.

    Good citizenship is hard work and needs to be made a priority in the country if it is to survive.

  • punaise on October 17, 2012 7:24 PM:

    @ Old Uncle Dave: exactly. Hardly even need to read the text of the initiatives once you know who is funding them and who is opposing them. The League of women Voters and http://votersedge.org/california are good resources.

  • Tom Hilton on October 17, 2012 7:30 PM:

    Prop 32 is the worst thing on the California ballot that doesn't rhyme with Schmitt Glomney.

    Prop 30 is a must-pass, in order to stave off further dystopian catastrophe in the state.

    Those two are so crucial that I can't get excited about any of the others.

  • TCinLA on October 17, 2012 8:15 PM:

    Vote NO on Frankenfoods and KILL MONSANTO - VOTE YES ON 37M

  • janinsanfran on October 17, 2012 8:24 PM:

    Hey -- you didn't mention the really novel one in this batch: Prop 34 would replace death sentences with life without parole and save the cash-strapped state $184 million annually. This would undo a mess we made in previous initiatives that created a hopelessly cumbersome and expensive system that doesn't make anyone safer. An initiative whose time has come ..

    Yes, I'm working on it.

  • Lance Knobel on October 17, 2012 9:17 PM:

    But wait, there's more!

    Here in Berkeley we have ten city measures and two county measures to consider, on top of the state ones. The money at stake is much smaller (Yes on S, which would ban sitting on sidewalks in commercial areas, has raised $55,400, which tops the scales), but it's a heck of a lot for voters to get through.

  • beejeez on October 18, 2012 9:24 AM:

    So do Californians just bring camping gear and food supplies to the voting booth? Jeez, it must be like being at the supermarket checkout behind a line of survivalists.

  • julianne456 on October 19, 2012 11:32 PM:

    Nice start guys...I went through the website and I found that you made decent point here. Keep up the topic that everyone can choose one of the best. Thanks.

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