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November 3, 2005

What’s So Special About the Special Election?

Raphael J. Sonenshein and Jill Stewart duel on what you need to know.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/whats_so_special_about_the_special_election_20051104

On Nov. 8, the voters of California will have the chance to vote in a special election most of them did not want. That's no reason to stay home. After all, whether we like it or not, the election will take place, and all of California residents will have to live with the consequences. Constitutional amendments once enacted are hard to remove, and regular initiatives also have staying power. To guide you through the state ballot initiatives, The Journal has called on two of its columnists: Raphael J. Sonenshein and Jill Stewart. Here's the drill: Sonenshein summarizes key components of the bill. Then he makes his call on the measure while explaining why. Then Stewart answers with her own, and usually contrasting, analysis. Keep in mind that these are the opinions of our columnists, who have free rein to express themselves.

Proposition 73

What it does: A constitutional amendment that prohibits an abortion for a minor for 48 hours until the notification of a parent or guardian. Exceptions are made for medical emergencies, parental waiver or a judge's order. Does not require the consent of a parent or guardian.

Raphael J. Sonenshein: The idea of parental notification has won some support across the ideological spectrum. This measure is not as extreme as some other measures, in other states, that are crafted to make abortion harder. But this measure is part of the subtle effort to restrict choice by dribs and drabs. Republicans hope that social conservatives will flock to the polls for this one, so that they can help Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pass his Big Four measures. The governor announced that he would kill somebody who got his daughter an abortion without letting him know but also has not listed 73 as one of his main measures. And one other thing: This initiative defines abortion in the constitution as the "death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." That does it for me, because it opens up a whole range of new ways to limit choice. I'm voting no.

Jill Stewart: A phony issue in both directions. It will neither limit choice nor resolve the problem of young girls making a lonely decision without parents. Notification of parents has been supported by many liberal California voters in polls for years, and the concept is supported by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and other big Democrats. An abortion is a serious medical procedure that parents want to know about. The far-left and far-right have stolen this issue from the middle. For that matter, regardless of the wording, and regardless of the state constitution, girls can fake their age as easy as they can go down to Western Avenue and say, "Hi, can I buy a phony ID?" This initiative might provide a process that helps a few families -- and even a few teenage girls -- work through a difficult situation. But it's not a major fix for a family-based problem.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 74

What it does: Extends teacher probationary period from two to five years, and makes it easier to fire tenured teachers.

Sonenshein: This is the first of the four ballot initiatives that the governor has adopted as his "reform" package. The others are Propositions 75, 76 and 77. From 1927 to 1982, California teachers had a three-year probationary period; it was shortened to two in 1983. The great majority of states have a three-year period. Only Indiana and Missouri have five years. A more sensible measure would be to go back to three years, where most states are, rather than way over to the extreme end. Incompetent teachers are not the problem most people cite in education. If there were a long line of credentialed teachers waiting for spots now held by incompetents, there might be a case. But when we are short of credentialed teachers, our main goal should be to get more and better teachers into the classroom. The governor is mad at the teachers because they are mad at him because he broke his school-funding pledge: This is not much of a reason to undertake this unproven plan. Send us a three-year measure -- and don't advertise it as the cure-all to student-achievement problems. On this one, I'm voting no.

Stewart: Insta-tenure was forced on state legislatures nationwide by powerful teachers unions as a job-protection move. Good teachers don't need fake tenure -- schools clamor for them, while the lemons quietly get shuffled from school to school. School officials in Los Angeles have told me they've spent nearly a decade trying to fire a dozen misfits (drunks, desk sleepers, no-shows) who had no business around kids. Teachers with two years of experience are green, still learning just to control their class; they don't qualify as experienced professionals, nor would they in any career. The victims of this nonmeritocracy are children and their parents, who are never clued in to the game.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 75

What it does: Prohibits public employee unions from using member dues for political campaigns without written permission. Currently, a dues-paying employee who is not a member of the union can refuse to have dues put toward politics; this measure makes it the responsibility of the union to get permission from all dues payers.

Sonenshein: The balance of power in Sacramento rides on the battle between corporations and unions, and this measure would clearly skew the balance toward business. This measure is consistent with the governor's theory that the only special interests are those that oppose him, namely public employee unions, and that big business is as pure as the driven snow. There is no clamor among union members for the "freedom" offered by this measure, and the latest poll shows a sizeable majority of union members against it. True reform means taking on both sides of the power equation, not just one. I'm voting no.

Stewart: The vast majority of teachers, I bet, have no idea their dues went to last year's failed attempt to water down "three strikes and you're out." Union honchos back awful bills, and their me-first attitudes were a key factor in driving up the state's over-spending, which led to the massive Gray Davis deficit. It should be up to union members to say, "I trust my union. Go ahead, and use my dues to pursue this specific political goal." The default position should be not spending the money of these busy working folks. If a lot of workers don't push that "spend" button, union leaders are more likely to clean up their corrosive act in Sacramento.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 76

What it does: Limits state spending to prior year's level plus three previous years' average revenue growth; amends Proposition 98 guarantee for education; gives governor power to reduce spending under certain circumstances.

Sonenshein: Anti-government conservatives have turned to states to cut public spending. But while Californians are considering this measure, Colorado's Republican governor is begging his state's voters to abandon a spending limit he once supported -- because it has gutted public services. Once again, we need balance. The governor says we have only a spending problem, but we really have a spending > taxes = budget problem. But that's only the beginning of what's wrong with this turkey. California is already handicapped by its two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. During future budget deadlocks, this measure would allow the governor complete authority to cut nearly any spending. Because of the two-thirds requirement, the minority party and the governor could easily collude to block the budget, and then rewrite it as they please with no vote of the Legislature. So the budget for a largely Democratic state could be written by a Republican governor and a Republican minority in the legislature. If that's not enough, the measure also significantly amends Proposition 98, the school-funding guarantee passed by the voters in 1988. Now, there may indeed be problems with Proposition 98, and these ought to be addressed openly with the voters. This measure, however, buries the school-funding cut in mathematical confusion, and the voters might not see it coming. I'm voting no, big-time.

Stewart: This law could work if it didn't set up huge political confrontations between whoever is governor and a Legislature that is utterly incapable of slowing its spending. It will just move the fights to another date on the calendar. Here's the underlying problem: There's little extra money to play with each year because almost all spending is preset, locked in by big programs -- including recent massive increases for education and social welfare. Most of which cannot be trimmed back without a new law -- and legislators willing to make it happen. In Sacramento, spending is driven largely by huge unions that ghostwrite much of the legislation. Standing up to unions can break any Democrat, and it has. The only way to control spending in California is to vote against whichever legislator you just put into office.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 77

What it does: This constitutional amendment changes the way that the boundary lines of districts for members of Congress and the state Legislature are drawn. It transfers the job of redistricting from the state Legislature to a panel of retired judges, who would be selected with input from both major political parties. It also accelerates redistricting so that the process would begin immediately, rather than after the next census.

Sonenshein: It's odd and self-serving for elected officials, once every 10 years, to draw the boundary lines for the districts from which they will run for reelection. There's a nationwide movement to take this power away from politicians and give it to judges or to citizen commissions. When Schwarzenegger was popular, he was close to a deal with the Legislature to make this change but only after the 2010 census. This plan would have been an extraordinary victory, while also accounting for changing population patterns. When negotiations broke down, Schwarzenegger insisted that the new process take place right away, in 2006. This started to smell like the partisan machinations in Texas orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Yet Schwarzenegger confounded his critics by supporting a similar measure in Ohio that is opposed by Republicans, a taste of that much-missed bipartisan edge he once had. For their part, county election officials are horrified by this measure, because of the daunting logistics of getting new lines ready in time for the 2006 primary. I'm wavering because I like the principle, despite some questionable particulars. And I am offended by the anti-77 ads saying that "politicians will be in charge," when that's really not true. I'm leaning very reluctantly toward a "no" vote, in hopes that a better plan can be crafted to take effect after 2010.

Stewart: This is the most important measure on the ballot and long overdue. Because it so badly calls for a "yes" vote, and because so many Jewish Democrats are against it (see story by Bobbi Murray on page 16), The Journal is giving me an entire column to offer a counterweight (see page 17).

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: Yes
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 78

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 78 establishes a voluntary drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: When it looked as though backers of drug discounts were going to get a mandatory discount program on the ballot, pharmaceutical companies created this voluntary alternative. Proposition 78 is modeled on a voluntary system in Ohio, which like many voluntary programs hasn't attracted a lot of takers. There are no penalties if drug companies choose not to participate. Tens of millions of dollars in drug company money are supporting Proposition 78. And when voters learn that the drug companies are behind 78, support for it drops like a stone. The Proposition 79 folks should take all their limited money and just run ads that say, "The drug companies love 78 and hate 79 -- you do the math." I'm voting no.

Stewart: Another mess created by committee, because the legislature is so inept it can't come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from the business crowd, and is filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. It deserves a "no" vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Proposition 79

What it does: One of two dueling drug-discount plans, Proposition 79 establishes a mandatory drug-discount program.

Sonenshein: Modeled on a program in Maine, this measure requires drug companies to participate. If they don't, they could find themselves excluded from the lucrative Medicaid program. This process could require federal approval. On the plus side for consumers, this measure benefits a larger income range than Proposition 78, meaning it aims to help more than just the poorest of the poor. It could be a solid program. One drawback, however, is the section making it a violation to profiteer by charging an "unconscionable price." Opponents are now blasting the presumed litigation that would ensue from 79. It would certainly be better to craft a drug-discount program in Sacramento, but, realistically, it might be years before that happens. For that reason, I'm leaning "yes," although I want to smack somebody upside the head for adding the profiteering section.

Stewart: At the risk of repeating myself, Proposition 79 is another mess created by committee, because the Legislature is so inept it can't come up with its own workable plan. This one comes from consumer groups and unions, and it's filled with foolish Laws of Unintended Consequences to make it palatable to voters. Guess what? It also deserves a "no" vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Proposition 80

What it does: Subjects electric providers to further control and regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC); mandates increasing targets for production of energy from renewable energy sources; limits the ability of large electricity consumers to change from one provider of energy to another.

Sonenshein: I was going to say that you need a doctorate to understand the ballot information on this one, but then I remembered I have a doctorate and still had to work pretty hard. The back story here is that California's ill-fated experiment with electricity deregulation ran up against the Bush administration's FERC and Enron -- and we Californians got wiped out. The state has been inching back toward regulation ever since, with the PUC increasing its regulation of the electric-service providers. This measure would transform some of this new regulation from PUC policy into state law. Proposition 80 also would make it difficult for big institutions to shop for energy. I wonder whether something this complicated belongs on the ballot and whether its solutions are too rigid. I will probably vote "no."

Stewart: Every time I see a law aimed at how and where to control consumers, I shudder. This law utterly misses the point about California's energy problems. Here's the real deal: We love our open spaces, and in pursuing this preference, we have chosen to stop or impede refineries and big power plants. As long as that is our choice, we will continue to pay far, far more for our power -- as well as our gas -- than folks in other Western states. The mishmash of fixes in Proposition 80 fails to address the systemic troubles. I know people like to have things both ways, but if we want to end the high prices and brown outs, we need to adjust our priorities. Proposition 80 isn't the ticket. Unplug it with a "no" vote.

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: No
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: Yes

Also on the Ballot: Measure Y

What it does: Authorizes the Los Angeles Unified School District to raise $3.985 billion from school bonds to build, repair and modernize schools.

From previous editions of The Journal

Vote "yes" on Measure Y: Stu Bernstein, executive board, Association of Jewish Educators. Can be found at: www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=14784

Vote "no" on Measure Y: Bob Hertzberg, businessman and former state Assembly leader. Can be found at: www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=14625

Local Editorial Boards
L.A. Times: Yes
L.A. Daily News: No
L.A. Weekly: No

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at www.jillstewart.net.

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