The California Democratic Party’s 2011 drive to reshape the 1911-vintage initiative process to its political advantage appears to be picking up steam as the legislative session nears adjournment.
Gov. Jerry Brown has already vetoed one bill that would have banned initiative petition signature-gatherers from being paid for each name. But the state Democratic Party has called for change, several other restrictive measures are pending and Democrats are noodling around with requiring all initiatives to go on the November ballot, rather than having some decided in the June primary.
“We’re considering it,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Monday.
Democrats fear that pending measures opposed by public employee union allies might pass in June, when Democratic voter turnout would be low, but would be much less likely to win in November, a presidential election with a big Democratic turnout.
The so-called “paycheck protection” initiative, which would bar unions from deducting political funds directly from members’ paychecks, worries union leaders the most. It would severely reduce their political clout — which is, of course, why conservative groups want it.
Nothing has appeared in print yet, but to affect the 2012 elections, the shift would have to pass before the legislative session ends Sept. 9.
Whether Brown would sign it, however, is problematic, since he’s already indicated an aversion to partisan changes in election laws by vetoing the measure that restricted how signature-gatherers are paid. And it would overturn a legal interpretation 40 years ago by Jerry Brown when he was secretary of state.
The state constitution says initiative measures to enact new laws and referenda to overturn laws passed by the Legislature are to be placed before voters at a “general election,” unless a special election is called.
For 60 years that meant the November election held every two years, but after the Legislature voted in 1971 to place its own bond measures before primary voters, the Secretary of State’s Office decided that qualified initiatives should also go on primary ballots. And Brown himself took political advantage of that interpretation by sponsoring a political reform initiative on the June 1974 primary election ballot as he was running for governor.
Were the election shift enacted, it could not only affect the union-opposed initiatives, but also the pending referendum on the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s new state Senate maps, and Amazon’s referendum to overturn a new law on taxation of Internet sales.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.