May 19th Election Predictions

by Randy Shaw on May 11, 2009

I am issuing my predictions a week early this election for two reasons. First, voters are widely confused over the measures, which have longtime allies on different sides. State Senate President Darrell Steinberg is supporting Proposition 1E, which changes an earlier ballot measure — Prop 63 — that brought him his biggest political victory. This election is more interesting for its back-stories than the eventual outcomes. Second, it appears that voter turnout at the polls will be rather light on May 19th, and that most will cast ballots before the end of this week. So here are my thoughts …

Prop 1A: It’s All About Schwarzenegger

The 800-pound gorilla in this election is Prop 1A, which is said to be necessary to cement the legislature’s budget deal. For reasons best known to his therapist, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to make himself the issue in the race, even though George W. Bush knew enough to stay out of voters’ sight when his approval ratings fell into the 30’s.

So many voters intensely dislike Schwarzenegger that he has turned what could have been a nuanced and potentially helpful debate about budgets, tax and revenue caps into a pure litmus test on him. And we saw what happened the last time there was a California special election where Arnold was the top issue — November 2005, when everything Arnold backed on the ballot, along with two measures he did not back, lost.

If Arnold had not made it easy for voters to decide to vote No on 1A, the split in usual alliances might have made this a tough outcome to predict.

My colleague Paul Hogarth has been adamant against Prop 1A, while State Senator Mark Leno — a progressive champion who knows the state budget as well as anyone — backs the measure. The California Teachers Association has spent over $7 million for Yes on 1A, while East Bay State Senator Loni Hancock has expressed more outrage over the initiative than anything I can think of over her past decades in public life.

Propositions 1A and 1B will both go down, giving voters momentary happiness before the realities of having to craft a new budget sinks in.

And let’s be clear about one more fact: California Democrats knew prior to 2008 that the state’s Republican legislators were wing-nuts, and that they could not assure a 2/3 vote on any rational or acceptable budget. Yet the state Democratic Party ignored this, and did not put a measure changing the 2/3 vote on the Novemeber 2008 ballot

And now Democratic constituencies are paying the price.

Prop 1C: The Lottery

After assuming that voters would see a technical change in the state’s lottery as an easy way to save $5 billion, I read that Prop C is doing worse than all other measures.

Here’s how I see it: everyone who voted for the lottery originally is against changes to the measure, while those who oppose lotteries do not want to support Prop 1C because they feel it will steal even more money from those that can’t afford it. This leaves us with the small number of voters who are looking at this just from a revenue standpoint — and this group is less than 40%.

Prop 1D and E: Reversing Progressive Initiatives

The two most dastardly measures on the ballot seek to repeal a ballot measure (Prop 63) providing increased mental health money and a measure (Prop 10, known as the Reiner initiative after Rob Reiner) that increased funding for early childhood education by raising cigarette taxes (both repeals keep the taxes in place, but spend the money elsewhere).

Amazingly, Prop 63 sponsor, Darrel Steinberg, backs Prop 1E, even though it seeks to damage his legacy. This shows what happens when one becomes part of the legislative leadership, and feels obligated to stand by deals that should not have been made.

Kassy Perry and Bill Bradley of the Perry Communications Group have used email expertly in the No on 1D and 1E campaigns, and I really credit them for helping to turn the tide against both initiatives. Their messages created a growing list of endorsers against both measures, circumventing the traditional media’s failure to provide much coverage of either campaign.

Prop 1F: Meaningless Victory

Prop 1F has nothing to do with the budget crisis or any other meaningful problem facing California. It was put on the ballot to meet the demand of Republican State Senator Abel Maldonado, who became the last vote needed to pass the state budget.

Prop 1F prevents state officials from getting raises during budget deficits, so it will make a lot of people feel good by voting for it. Heck, given voter mood in California, a measure to halve the salaries of University of California administrators would probably get 60% of the vote easy, and we can think of other positions where savings can yet be found.

This election culminates California’s longstanding political bankruptcy, largely generated by our out of date 2/3 budget rule and the lack of an effective, can-do governor since Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, who left office in 1966 (his son Jerry did many good things, but his fiscal mismanagement brought us Prop 13). Sadly, unless a real estate boom soon commences, things could get even worse before we have a chance to elect a new Governor and a new agenda next year.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the new book, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press)

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