It is precisely underhanded and sneaky actions like the passage of AB 1832 — a Democratic-sponsored piece of legislation which raises the ballot initiative filing fee over a six-year period from $200 to $2,000 — that make me raise an eyebrow whenever I hear a lawmaker proclaim how important California voters are to the political process and that our ideas matter.
Authored by Democratic Assemblymember Lori Saldana and passed through California’s majority Democratic Assembly 43-22 with no debate and no Republicans voting for it., AB 1832 now heads over to the California State Senate for approval.
This political trickery has me congratulating the State Assembly on outdoing both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the City of L.A. in sending the worst mixed message ever. Yes— the Assembly’s passage of AB 1832 outdoes the LAUSD’s “I believe the children are our future…but let’s cut the school year down a smidgen and reduce the amount of teachers on staff, while raising classroom sizes to alleviate budget constrains” and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s “The, uh, City of uh Los Angeles has, uh, run out of money…but I will, uh, still continue to uh, get paid while I ask, uh, that city employees take furloughs and, uh, be laid off.”
There are very few avenues for the People to advance their ideas in today’s political climate. If support for new legislation can’t be found from a member of the state’s Legislature willing to carry it, as is often the case, ballot initiatives have been a popular way for the People to take their concerns straight to the voters, bypassing the State Legislature.
One might look at the pending initiatives vying to qualify for this year’s ballot and conclude that the Assembly’s support of the fee hike directly relates to the number of recent anti-Legislature initiatives up for consideration. With proposed statutes dealing with everything from California’s budget process to the ability of lawmakers to vote on legislation that’s directly related to their campaign contributors and the popular Citizens for a Part-Time Legislature—a constitutional amendment to cut the legislative session and lawmaker’s pay by 50%— it makes you wonder if Sacramento lawmakers are trying to put an end to—or make more difficult—what they foresee as potentially problematic movements by the People.
According to the California Secretary of State’s office, since 1911, more than 1,600 initiatives have been circulated in California, of which 338 have qualified for the statewide ballot, with a third of those being adopted by voters.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that I don’t agree with most of the initiatives that actually qualify for the statewide ballot. There was California’s infamous 1994 duo — Proposition 184, the Three Strikes Initiative, and Proposition 187, also known as the Save Our State initiative — designed to prohibit illegal immigrants from using social services, health care, and public education in the U.S. State of California, and more recently in 2008, Proposition 8, the California Marriage Protection Act. Undeniably, one of the most controversial ballot initiatives ever to make a California ballot, it was nevertheless an initiative that in theory was put forth by the People for the People to decide on. Of course, behind the scenes, it was a well-funded, well-oiled conservative machine backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a coalition of conservative groups against same-sex marriage to the tune of tens of millions of dollars—as is the case with most ballot initiatives.
But just like all three strikes criminals aren’t Black, and all immigrants into California aren’t brown and from Mexico, and all gay couples wanting to get married aren’t white, California’s ballot initiative system isn’t just used by well-funded corporations and organizations in an effort to strip the rights of others, promote religious beliefs, or limit local and state government. It’s also a tool for the everyday person and the not so well-funded community based organizations trying to make a change in state law.
Take, for example, Josie and Kent Whitney’s idea to tack on an additional $6 tax on a six pack of beer, $17 on bottles of scotch, gin, tequila, and other liquors, and a whopping 12.775% or $5.11 on any regular size 750ml bottle of wine. If passed, this initiative would put a permanent end to the liquor store’s deal of two Colt 45’s for $1.29 and Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck. However, although we Californian’s may not be able to agree on letting the gays get married and on just who is illegal and who isn’t—if this initiative qualifies for this year’s ballot, I guarantee you it won’t pass and glasses of alcohol will be raised statewide on Election Night in celebration of it’s failure.
But I digress. The point is that the Whitney’s had an idea and are going through the ballot initiative process set up in California. While they still have to collect about 434,000 signatures to put the measure on November’s ballot by August 23, as far as I know, they are not backed by the political arm of some multi-million dollar corporation, religious group, or organization. Personally, I may think the Whitneys are out of their mind if they think California voters would ever adopt an initiative that additionally taxes alcohol as law, but I’ll let my no vote speak for itself on Election Day.
An initiative that I will be supporting if it qualifies for the ballot is one that establishes private-school scholarships for foster children. One of just a few great ideas that Californian’s can and should be free to use the ballot initiative process for and all for the low price of a $200 filing fee, 5 to 7 hundred thousand signatures of registered voters—depending on whether or not it’s a constitutional amendment, meeting a few deadlines, and the usage of some legal political jargon.
Instead of increasing the ballot initiative filing fee to $2,000, Democratic lawmakers should be lowering it and spending more time educating their less than politically savvy constituents — the same ones who are so important and whose ideas matter but who are more likely to be used by these same lawmakers to fight the qualifying ballot initiatives of others than put forth their own ideas for change. Likewise these same organizations should have something to say about their Democratic lawmakers tacking on an additional $1,800 for them to be leaders and not just followers in the political process. Why they don’t is beyond me.
Unexpected and unapologetically Black, at Jasmyne Cannick, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.