California’s crowded Nov. 6 ballot to decide questions of life, death, taxes and free speech
By Kevin Uhrich 09/27/2012
The old cliché about voting as though your life depended on it could actually be true this election.
If not individual voters, certainly someone’s life will hinge on which side Californians come down on such emotionally charged issues as cracking down on human trafficking, softening the state’s three-strikes sentencing law and ending capital punishment.
Other ballot measures are just as urgent and no less important, with voters being asked to decide on labeling genetically modified food, whether the state should raise taxes to fund schools, if local governments should assume budgeting and fiscal oversight responsibilities from the state, and whether corporations and unions should be banned from contributing to candidates. That last measure, Proposition 32, would prohibit the use of worker payroll deductions in political campaigns.
Yet, for all the important questions facing California voters — with the exception of Proposition 32, with both Big Business and Big Labor airing opposing TV ads over the past few weeks — there doesn’t seem to be much ballot-measure campaign buzz, judging from the lack of advertising and the little bit of phone soliciting being done by backers and opponents of the other 10 propositions.
“I have friends working on all of [the campaigns], and there isn’t the passion” yet for most of the measures, said Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College in Eagle Rock and author of the book “The 100 Greatest Americans: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.”
“I did get a call from [Mitt] Romney the other day. I’m not sure how that happened,” quipped the noted liberal.
Kidding aside, Dreier said he’s closely watching a number of the races, especially Proposition 32. He opposes that measure, primarily because it’s backed by major industries and special interests that would be exempt from its provisions.
As a father with children in public schools, Dreier is also anxious about the education-related propositions. Competing with Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike initiative, Proposition 30, is Proposition 38, a tax increase measure sponsored and financed in large part by Pasadena civil rights attorney Molly Munger, daughter of billionaire Charles Munger and sister of Charles Munger, Jr., who reportedly gave $650,000 to the yes on Proposition 32 campaign. Charles Munger, Jr., the Los Angeles Times reported, contributed $4 million to the Small Business Action Committee, which also opposes Brown’s initiative.
The $10 billion a year expected to be raised by the 12-year-long tax mandated in the education ballot measure backed by Molly Munger, whom Dreier calls a “saint” for her dedication to schools and philanthropy, would be used primarily for K-12 education-related expenses. The $6 billion a year Brown hopes to raise with his temporary hikes in income and sales taxes would be used for education and in other areas, such as public safety.
Brown and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature may have realized their tax-increase initiative would do better with voters in the fall, moving all of the ballot propositions from June to the general election, according to Dan Schnur, head of the Jesse Unruh School of Politics at USC.
“The crowded ballot didn’t happen by accident. The Legislature earlier this year passed a bill signed by Gov. Brown, which moved all ballot initiatives from the primary to general election ballot. Under the circumstances, several of these are matters on which Californians would have already voted,” Schnur said. “Critics say it was an effort to make it more difficult to pass Proposition 32 … to give as many voters as possible a chance to weigh in.” Then again, Brown may have believed a strong showing for President Barack Obama would translate into votes for his initiative, Schnur speculated.
“Regardless of the motivation,” he said. “It’s the result of a very specific action taken in Sacramento earlier this year.”
If approved, Brown’s initiative “will stop things from getting worse, but it won’t make them better. It’s broader [than Munger’s initiative] but not really deep enough,” Dreier said. Unfortunately, he added, “If the governor’s proposition doesn’t win, Pasadena Unified [School District] has to cut another $5 or $6 million; if it wins, it won’t have to cut, but it won’t get any more money.”
Brown, according to the Sacramento Bee, has said the defeat of Proposition 30 would trigger more than $5 billion in cuts to schools and community colleges.
In contrast, Molly Munger’s proposition, the Tax for Education and Early Childhood Programs Initiative, would raise $10 billion a year from taxes raised over the next 12 years to help fund K-12 schools, child care, preschool and state debt payments. The money would then be distributed to school districts in the form of grants, to be used as needed. Brown’s sales tax hike would end after three years and his income tax hike, the Bee reported, would end after seven years.
A Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)/USC Rossier School of Education poll conducted in early August found that 55 percent of those questioned supported Proposition 30, with 36 percent opposed. When it came to Proposition 38, 40 percent of those surveyed in that poll supported it, with 49 percent opposed.
In the Proposition 32 campaign, another recent poll shows that slight majorities of Republicans and independents support the proposal, but Democrats appear to be solidly against it at 61 percent. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week shows 49 percent of the 2,003 people surveyed were opposed, while 42 percent, according to a report in the Times, said they would vote for it.
“The propositions are of enormous importance, especially the efforts to overcome the budget crisis, which is reverberating in every sector of the community,” said longtime Pasadena political activist Marvin Schachter, a member of the state Council on Aging, among other boards. “Programs and services for seniors are being taken away that could literally endanger their lives.”
Life and death
In the world of criminal justice, two propositions would change the way convicted felons are sentenced. Another, Proposition 35, would increase prison sentences and fines for human trafficking.
However, Proposition 36, which would allow some convicts with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commit certain non-serious, nonviolent felonies to be sentenced to shorter terms, and Proposition 34, which would repeal capital punishment, would apply retroactively to inmates already sentenced for their crimes.
Backed by LA County DA Steve Cooley, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his predecessor, Bill Bratton, among a host of law enforcement officials, Proposition 36 is expected to save between $70 million to $90 million annually on incarceration costs, according to the state Legislative Analyst Office.
According to The Committee for Three Strikes Reform Web site, yeson36.org, even über-conservatives George Schultz, Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, are behind the measure. “The Three Strikes Reform Act is tough on crime without being tough on taxpayers,” the site quotes Norquist saying. “It will put a stop to needlessly wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ hard-earned money, while protecting people from violent crime.”
Proposition 34 to repeal California’s death penalty would have men and women currently waiting to die resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition, the state would provide $100 million in grants for local law enforcement agencies to dedicate to rape and murder investigations.
With the number of Death Row prisoners swelling to 729, capital punishment has come under intense criticism over the past few years, one of its most strident opponents being lifelong Pasadena resident and former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp.
A one-time gubernatorial candidate and a former LA County district attorney, Van de Kamp headed the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which found implementation of the death penalty to be a “dysfunctional” process, as former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George described it. The commission also found that the state could save $1 billion over five years if capital punishment were abolished and the sentences of those inmates were commuted to life in prison.
Another top supporter of the Savings Accountability Full Enforcement (SAFE) measure is Jeanne Woodford, former director of the California Department of Corrections and warden of San Quentin State Prison who oversaw four executions. Woodford now heads the San Francisco-based anti-capital punishment group Death Penalty Focus.
When it comes to life and death issues, few people feel more passionately about their cause than supporters of Proposition 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food initiative, which would require labeling of food subject to genetic modification. As Pasadena Weekly reporter Elizabeth Zwerling found in August, “The November ballot measure’s proponents believe that labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could begin to address a host of environmental and health concerns related to genetic engineering in agriculture.” California Right to Know, a coalition of grassroots groups in support of the proposition, collected more than 1 million signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.
Major food producers, or “Big Food,” particularly DuPont and herbicide and genetically engineered seed producer Monsanto, which the San Jose Mercury News reported gave $4.2 million to the No on 37 campaign, has pumped tens of millions of dollars into efforts to defeat the proposition. DuPont, for instance, gave $4 million to No on 37. PepsiCo, Nestlé, ConAgra Foods and Coca-Cola, have each contributed $1 million. General Mills, according to The New York Times, donated more than $900,000.
A recent Modesto Bee editorial criticized the measure for being overbroad, applying to any food substance that contains any amount of genetically altered ingredients. While not opposed to such labeling, if warranted, “the standards should be developed by the Food and Drug Administration, based on good science and with the input of the food industry. The standards should not be set state by state,” the newspaper opines. “Proposition 37 is a classic example of an initiative that shouldn’t be on the ballot. It is an overreach, is ambiguous, and would open the way for countless lawsuits against retailers who sell food that might lack the proper labeling.”
In spite of the well-funded opposition, Proposition 37 supporters, The New York Times reports, have raised only $3.5 million so far, and enjoy nearly 65 percent support, according to a recent poll of 800 likely California voters by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University.
A little overwhelming
On the election in general, Schachter agreed that ballot propositions this year are especially compelling, important from both a criminal justice and quality-of-life perspective. But just remember, “Since there is already such a low percentage of people who vote, the drop-off is enormous with propositions, which are a significant democratic ability, a significant contribution to democratic control. We have this drop-off of people who vote intelligently, or don’t vote at all, for propositions.”
Along with general voter apathy and ignorance, another major drawback to a crowded ballot, Schnur pointed out, is the potential for information overload.
Historically, Schnur said, not only have most ballot initiatives been rejected by voters, but “when there have been many initiatives on a ballot, it tends to decrease the likelihood of passage of many of those initiatives,” he said. “A voter who feels somewhat overwhelmed, who doesn’t have the time to put into becoming informed on all the matters on the ballot, tends to more than likely to be a ‘no’ voter. But in this case, because some of the initiatives are so high-profile, they are going to receive such a great deal of attention that the possible outcome is less clear.” n
For more on all the Nov. 6 ballot measures, visit lao.ca.gov/laoapp/ballot_source/propositions.aspx