Monday, December 28, 2009

Please donate to the California Voter Foundation!

There is still time to donate to CVF before the end of the year and get a deduction on your 2009 tax return! Learn more about why the California Voter Foundation needs your help, then make a secure donation online or mail your contribution. Thanks to all who have already given generously to support CVF!

Initiatives aplenty coming to California voters in 2010

Folks who keep an eye on initiative trends have been noticing a significant uptick in the number circulating and attempting to qualify for the 2010 ballot. Recent articles by Eric Bailey in the Los Angeles Times and Torey Van Oot in the Sacramento Bee discuss the prospects for these measures and their likely impact on voters next year (excerpts below). For those interested in tracking initiatives in progress, you'll find the links you need in CVF's 2010 California Election Preview Guide.

Here are some excerpts from the December 27 Los Angeles Times story:

With heated contests looming for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide posts, 2010 stands to be a blockbuster year in California politics.

The state could also see a bumper crop of ballot measures.

In recent weeks, nearly 90 proposed initiatives have been in the pipeline, elbowing to become the latest entrants in the state's century-old tradition of direct democracy.

Gay-rights activists, abortion foes, marijuana proponents and government-reform advocates are getting into the act of citizen lawmaking. Insurance companies and consumer groups appear poised to rumble.

There is also the possibility of a high-stakes proposition fight between business and labor interests that some pundits liken to state politics going nuclear.

If historical trends hold, many of the proposals will fail to garner enough support and voter signatures to qualify. But the state remains on track to potentially see dozens of measures on the ballot.

The record of 48 initiatives set in November 1914 -- in the era of Gov. Hiram Johnson, progressive politics and the birth of the ballot measure -- almost certainly is safe. But in a state with a rich tradition of lengthy and complex ballots, "2010 is going to be extraordinary," predicted Kim Alexander, founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Voters are going to be cramming like never before."

Here are some excerpts from the December 28 Sacramento Bee story:

Even if just a small percentage of proposed initiatives clear the signature hurdle, voters are likely to face another long ballot in November, with anywhere between 10 to 20 measures having a shot to qualify. A legislative measure asking voters to approve an $11.1 billion bond has already been placed on the November ballot by state lawmakers and proponents of a measure that would legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use say they have gathered more than enough signatures to qualify.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, said a crowded ballot can cause challenges for communicating to voters the implications of the various initiatives as well as which wealthy interests put up the cash to put the measure on the ballot.

"There's a lot of mystery already in voting in California, and then that problem is compounded with the initiatives process and the fact that we have so many state and local measures to vote on," she said.

The ballooning ballot and increased role of money in both the qualifying and campaigning process have prompted calls to update the initiative system, which was adopted in 1911 as a direct democracy fix for widespread corruption caused by the railroad industry's control over state politics.

"The history of the process is just the opposite of what has evolved over time," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, the co-chairman of a select legislative committee that is generating recommendations for improving state government, including the initiative system.

"I think there is certainly strong recognition by voters that it's really important to constrain special interests from capturing the initiative process," Feuer said.

Ideas for updating the system include offering proponents the option of lowering the signature threshold if they give the Legislature a role in a measure, requiring two-thirds voter approval for passing constitutional amendments and mandating that initiative proponents identify how new programs would be financed.

Others have suggested raising the fee for filing an initiative to lower processing costs for the state – an estimated $6,800 for the attorney general's office to prepare the title and summary describing each proposal – and discourage the submission of less serious initiatives that clog the system.

But despite voters feeling fatigued by the lengthy list of measures at the polls and concerns over the role of money in the process, getting them to change their cherished initiative system could be a difficult task in itself. Polls have consistently shown that while voters recognize the shortcomings of the process, huge majorities support it.

"California voters have a love-hate relationship with the initiative process," Alexander said. "People love to complain how difficult it is, but don't even think about taking it away. It is sacred in this state."

Apply for the Citizens Redistricting Commission -- Deadline is Feb. 12

The California State Auditor's office is now accepting applications from Californians interested in serving on the new Citizens Redistricting Commission. To learn more about what to expect if you apply and find links to the application and additional resources, take a look at this CVF-NEWS commentary I recently wrote about the application process.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Live webcast today, 10:30 a.m. -- California Redistricting Reform

I'm heading downtown today for the State Auditor's event to kick off the new web site and application process for the Citizens Redistricting Commission, created through the passage of Prop. 11 last year. The event will be webcast live at 10:30 a.m..

The new "We Draw the Lines" web site will begin accepting applications next week on December 15. Already people can see drafts of what the applications look like and find out what will be asked of folks who want to apply.

Some have been wondering whether at the end of the application process there will be enough money to fund the actual commission? The initiative called for $3 million to fund the new commission, but the first time around there are of course start-up costs, like creating regulations and an application and selection process. The Legislature has allocated the $3 million Prop. 11 calls for, but clearly more money will be needed. Even the Legislative Analyst's analysis of Prop. 11 in the ballot pamphlet said $3 million was insufficient and the actual costs just given inflation would be $4 million.

Fortunately John Myers at KQED Radio has taken a closer look at this question, and today published a very thorough description of what is likely to be the biggest implementation challenge Prop. 11 faces -- how do you get more money for a worthy program in this fiscal climate?

Reform proponents have a good opportunity to try to lock additional funding in, but the window is closing. The current Governor of the state was the biggest champion of all of redistricting reform and Prop. 11. He used his fundraising powers to raise millions to support the measure, which barely passed. If it's going to take more than $3 million to do it right, proponents need to figure out how much and ask for it sooner rather than later while Gov. Schwarzenegger is still in office. There's no guarantee the next Governor, whoever he or she will be, will have such a soft spot for redistricting reform, and certainly most members of the Legislature aren't exactly eager to get this done, either.