A century ago, California voters decided that we should be able to use popular initiatives to pass legislation that our elected representatives were not enacting. And for a while it worked. But as corporate money has taken over so much of our government, it has also pretty much taken over the field of ballot initiatives as well.
Click here for the March 8, 2011 ballot recommendations.
The first big, modern corporate success in ballot measures was Proposition 13. Although it was sold as a measure to protect homeowners from rising tax rates, the funding for the measure was mainly from big real estate investors. And the result of their campaign is that some downtown office buildings can now pay real estate taxes similar to what some single family homes pay.
Proposition 13 essentially destroyed the tax base for public schools. More recently, we have had corporate-funded campaigns to deny schooling and other services to Latin American immigrants. And then the corporate jackpot in the campaign to replace Governor Grey Davis with Gropenator Arnold Schwarzennegger. The Gropenator’s most consistent approach to state budgets has been to demand more and more cuts in school funding and education at all levels.
Do you see a common theme here? It isn’t just short-term financial gains that the corporate initiatives seek, but a long-term undermining and destruction of California’s once proud and world famous education system. Corporations see an educated population as the single greatest threat to their profitability.
Wander into any McDonalds or other fast food franchise and watch the workers as they ring up orders. They don’t need to be able to read the menu or total your bill. Picture symbols on the register buttons take the place of word labels. And the registers calculate both the total and the change from the money you give them. Fast food restaurants profit if neither the workers nor the customers are even able to read the terrifying nutrition information posted beside the counter.
The success of corporate ballot campaigns is revealed in the current noise about health care (let’s not call it a “debate” when one side has formally published its goal of disrupting and silencing the voices on the other side). Most people have either experienced, or know someone who has experienced an insurance company “death panel” denying coverage for care to someone who spent decades paying premiums. But all the noise we hear from bussed-in agitators at town meetings is about government death panels.
The bussed-in agitators, like the McDonald’s workers, may not be able to read the legislative proposals that they rail against. But for a few weeks, people who ignore them for all of their lives are paying attention and even putting them on TV. After trashing reforms which might have helped them, they will sink back into lives of drab obscurity and quiet desperation, but knowing that they had their brief moment in the spotlight.
And what of those who can read and who care about their own well-being and that of their parents, children, and grandchildren? Is it possible that the initiative process might provide solutions that our current crop of elected legislators will not give us? Could a voter initiative provide relief from, at least limit, some of the most egregious misconduct of insurance company death panels?