Proposition 14: Politics and Policy

A supposedly noble idea comes from a backroom deal—suddenly the bete noir of today’s populists, though such deals are as old as any committee—yet for many, the stain wears off. Leave to one side the fact that it had nothing to do with the budget—this was a “good government” proposal, a voting reform proposal. Yet unlike the “controversial” statistical census proposal, which good or not would advantage Democrats, this does not appear to advantage any one party. Just one man.

This is the origin-story of Proposition 14. This referendum is on our ballots this primary election because it was one of the conditions extracted by now-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldanado for his vote on one of the 2009 budget deals when he was a mere state senator. Yet those circumstances do not even form the largest irony. That belongs to the fact that it is promoted as a “good government” initiative that will empower the supposed silent majority—”centrists” [2]—yet it arose out of a mathematical situation of distorted power created by a Constitutional demand for 2/3rd supermajorities. In other worlds, one man, wielding a vastly outsized proportion of power with no qualms about that fact chose to force a vote on something claiming to improve democracy. That alone should raise an eyebrow. Shouldn’t the great champion of democracy simply supported the majority on that hallowed ground instead? OK, so take for the sake of the argument it was benevolent dictatorship.

But there’s another ethical problem with it. It was put forward by a politician who has mapped his career on being some kind of uniter: the Mexican Horatio Alger story who grew rich enough to be a Republican.[4] Or something. He’s Joe the Plumber the Rancher.

But this shtick ain’t playing in GOPtown, CA anymore. If his shit-kicking rancher pals in Santa Maria thought that they could control the mayor’s office there or the senate district with someone who was more likely to shoot someone speaking Spanish than responding, “hola,” he wouldn’t be where he is. But they knew better.[4] But now Abel knows better. He knows he won’t win any statewide primaries, mostly because most of his voters will want to apply the Arizona law to him, strip his citizenship and send him “back” to Mexico. For being “Mexican.” Also.

So, he passed this law for his own political advancement to the Governor’s mansion, or, more likely, a senate seat. That also makes this law reek.

What says the other side, the Dems? Many think it’s bad for them. A lot of races would end up being Dem on Dem porn. I have my doubts about that. Pols would adapt. They always do. It’s just that the Dems seem to adapt last and after losing too much.

Forget the ethos—what about the logos? Is it good policy?

I have no idea—and I suspect neither do most people—what this law would really do. I’m not sure I see the problem, in theory, of having a kind of runoff vote between the two largest vote getters. It would force the electorate to take ownership of someone—or it might totally depress participation. Who knows? No one does. This law isn’t even the typically cynical “reform” that distorts election results for one party. It’s simply the Abel for Governor/Senator advantaging law.

What I do know is that I almost never[5] vote ‘yes’ on any Proposition largely because it allows laws like this that aren’t even myopic—they don’t even take a look. I am completely opposed to the process. Money-talks direct democracy is not our system; it is essentially mob rule. Almost all of California’s troubles are linked to them. It wasn’t an accidental or trivial feature of American democracy that it was based on representative government, though the Internet’s lidless eye weakens the distinction to a large degree—even committee votes on procedure draw protests these days. Representative government was by design. Supermajorities only in the most unique cases was by design.

Therefore, the only two propositions I will support are (1) restoring majority rule to the legislature, and (2) abolishing ballot initiatives.

I would consider some form of (2) that had a quorum requirement of 50% turnout, did not permit state Constitutional amendments, and required a second revote 2 years later. But really it would be best to simply ban them.

Prop 14 doesn’t meet those requirements. I cannot say what it will do except serve the ambitions of a person whose political career exists to make a compromise I don’t need; I can simply vote for a real Democrat.

[1] read: a change to the voting system that sounds more “fair” even if it is half-baked, totally advantages one-side, etc.

[2] Accept for the sake of the argument that there is a normal, bell-curve distribution along the political spectrum (I doubt it anymore; I think the distribution is bimodal, but it’s not my conjecture). This is an axiom of the High Broderists, “bipartisan”-advocates, and “centrist” humpers. It is the base of their argument that the majority of voters belong in the middle and that all of the “bipartisan” “compromises” are a tribute to beautiful government. The further away you get from the center, the more “radical” or “ideological” you are. Also, this implies you are less normal and in a small distribution.

But here’s the problem. There are as many different kinds of centrists as there are issues. Do this thought experiment: roll two dice. The higher the score, the more conservative you are. The scale is 2-12, 2 being very liberal and 12 being extremely conservative. 7 is the lionized saintly centrist. What’s the problem? There is only one way to score a 2, only one way to score a 12, but there are 6 ways to score a 7 (1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, 6+1). There are 5 ways to score a 6. (1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, 5+1.) and 5 ways to score an 8. (2+6, 3+5, 4+4, 5+3, 6+2). So, of the 36 possible results, 16, or 44% are Centrist. This means only 27% are liberal or conservative at all. This seems to bear this view out, doesn’t it?

Not really. Each different combination represents an entirely different centrist. You could get a ‘1’ on abortion and a ‘6’ on gun control, or a ‘5’ on abortion and a ‘2’ on gun control. These two people would both have ‘7’s but would agree about nothing.

Centrists only appear to form a majority because there are so many more possible ways of forming them. It’s an illusion.

[3] People who buy this don’t know Santa Maria. If it weren’t for the housing pressure from San Luis Obispo County and southern Santa Barbara county that produced a strip-mall and cookie-cutter home overlay on the town, it would be a plantation town run by a few intermarried clans of ancient (for white people) origins in the valley who are extremely right wing and get away with it because of their “aww shucks” farmerisms. Abel simply wormed his way into that class with money. He did nothing to elevate the conditions there for other Latinos.

[4] They pulled the same trick in tiny nearby Guadalupe, CA, getting this mostly Spanish speaking, mostly Democratic hamlet to vote GOP for mayor a few years back.

[5] I recall voting yes on exactly 3: indian gaming, indian gaming redux, and medical marijuana.