VOTERS will become lawmakers again in Tuesday’s primary election, saying yes or no to nine state propositions with significant impact on the lives of every Californian.
And for the first time, an “open primary” erases party lines, puts all candidates for statewide nominations in a single list and allows the voter to pick one – but only one.
Petitions signed by registered voters produced five initiative-proposed amendments to the state Constitution (Props. 223, 224, 225, 226 and 227), three Legislature-sponsored constitutional amendments (Props. 219, 220 and 221) and one Legislature-sponsored statutory amendment (Prop. 222).
As a service to our readers, The Examiner Editorial Board has heard and reviewed arguments for and against each of these measures. Our views, as expressed in a series of editorials, are repeated here along with our recommendations for the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial nominations.
In Monday’s Opinion Page (in the National Edition, Tuesday), look for The Examiner’s editorials for or against measures on the San Francisco ballot.
Be sure to vote.
For governor Harman (Democratic) Lungren (Republican)
ONE CANDIDATE for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination stands out. The congresswoman combines the brains, heart, courage and energy to lead California as governor into the 21st century. We endorse her candidacy.
When Harman speaks, she looks you directly in the eye. She doesn’t equivocate or weigh the political correctness of her every word. She means what she says. Her appeal will be even stronger if she’s brave enough to override a staff that sometimes seems intent on stirring the campaign into reheated oatmeal.
Harman has formidable competition in fellow Democrat Gray Davis. The lieutenant governor is a smart, experienced politician who would serve this state well as governor. But he lacks Harman’s fire and forcefulness.
The other Democrat in the race, Al Checchi, has spent $30 million of his own money. Californians won’t allow a candidate to buy elective office. Checchi, the virtual candidate who dislikes debate or meeting the press, has further damaged himself by airing TV commercials that misrepresent his opponents’ actions. The problem isn’t that his ads are negative; the problem is that many of his charges are blatantly untrue.
In response to Checchi’s cash blitz, Harman has spent more than $10 million of family money, but she’s wise enough to support future limits on campaign spending, as well as on contributions.
Harman offers a detailed plan for school reform, including merit pay for outstanding teachers. She is pro-choice and favors gun control. Although she supports capital punishment, she favors alternatives to building more and more prisons.
On the Republican side, Dan Lungren, the incumbent attorney general, is running for governor without major opposition in the primary. As he illustrated in the gubernatorial debates this month, he is cool, competent and thoughtful. He has nearly two decades of experience in government, first as a congressman and then as the state’s top law enforcement officer. He’s not aping Pete Wilson. He’d make a capable governor, and we endorse his nomination.
If Harman is to win the right to oppose Lungren in the November election, she must distinguish herself from her Democratic rivals. She needs a stronger response to Checchi’s attacks on her record and character. She also needs to let voters know she is not a Gray Davis clone.
One way for her to do this is by renouncing the notion of rebating a few dollars to every driver in the state by cutting the motor vehicle license fee, as Davis wants to do. This money should go to schools, where it will make a difference.
In this and other ways, Harman can show Californians she is a candidate who stands up vigorously for what she believes. Voters are tired of candidates whose assets are only financial and campaigns so cautious they leave no footprints.
Prop. 219: Yes
IT’S simpler than it seems. The title is daunting enough: “Prohibition on Excluding Areas from the Impacts of Ballot Measures.” What the measure boils down to is this: Voters should know exactly what they’re voting on, and they shouldn’t be punished selectively for voting one way or another.
In November 1993, the Legislature and Gov. Wilson placed on the ballot Proposition 172, which allowed counties to receive money from a statewide sales tax increase for law enforcement. But a county was eligible only if a majority of its voters had approved Prop. 172. Critics correctly called this “blackmail” at the ballot box. All citizens would have to pay the new tax but some would get no benefits from it.
Nineteen rural counties did vote against the victorious Prop. 172, but fortunately the measure allowed boards of supervisors to pass subsequent resolutions that garnered them the money. Still, the experience served as a warning that future propositions might not contain such a saving grace.
Prop. 219 also prohibits ballot measures with provisions that change depending on the size of voter approval.
It guarantees against ballot shenanigans. Vote yes on 219.
Props. 220, 221: Yes, Yes
TWO MEASURES dealing with courts and the administration of justice deserve voter approval.
The first is Prop. 220, which would allow counties to consolidate their Superior and Municipal court benches. This unification of the state’s trial courts, along with 1,500 judges, should save money and boost efficiency.
As it is now, Municipal courts handle misdemeanors, infractions and civil matters involving less than $25,000. Superior courts handle felonies, divorce and juvenile cases and civil matters involving more than $25,000.
Under Prop. 220, each county could merge its courts, elevating its Muni Court judges to Superior Court status. These larger county courts could handle more easily the crush of felony trials precipitated by the “three strikes and you’re out” law.
Initially, the salaries of Muni Court judges would be boosted by $9,000 to bring them to a par with the pay of Superior Court judges at $107,000 a year. In the long run, consolidated courts could save millions of dollars by requiring fewer administrators and making fuller use of all judges.
Many Muni judges already hear Superior Court cases on assignment. Consolidation would smooth that process.
No reason exists to defeat Prop. 220 – except nostalgia for a traditional system of trial courts with upper and lower divisions. The “people’s court,” as the Muni bench is sometimes known, would exist no more. But its functions would be handled – and handled better, we’d argue – by the new unified court.
Prop. 221 concerns the discipline of officers of the court.
If approved, it would place under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Judicial Performance the 370 commissioners and referees around the state who are allowed to function as judges in matters where the law is cut and dried, such as traffic and small claims cases.
The commission oversees the discipline of state judges. In the last dozen years, it has undergone reforms placing public members on its board, making its process more open and toughening the punishments meted out to errant members of the judiciary.
Placing other court officers who act as judges under its umbrella makes good sense. As it is now, the discipline of commissioners and referees is left up to the presiding judge in each jurisdiction. Why should bad behavior in one court be tolerated in another? Consistency counts, and Prop. 221 will help to ensure it in the administration of justice. Additional costs are minimal.
Neither Prop. 220 nor Prop. 221 is earthshaking. But both can bring real, if modest, benefits to the courts and to the citizens who finance them and sometimes appear in them. We advocate a yes vote on both measures.
Prop. 222: No
ON THE SURFACE, Prop. 222 on Tuesday’s ballot isn’t even controversial. It asks California voters to confirm two get-tough-on-bad guys statutes that legislators have enacted in the last year or two. Passage of Prop. 222 would set these laws in initiative concrete. They could be amended only by a future vote of the people or by the courts.
We oppose it. The ballot measure is like the iron bed of the highwayman Procrustes in Greek mythology. He would put travelers on the bed. Short ones were stretched. Tall ones had their feet cut off. Prop. 222 takes discretion away from judges and parole boards. It fails to acknowledge the profound differences in every homicide case.
For second-degree murder ( “intentional but unpremeditated” ) of an on-duty peace officer, Prop. 222 requires life in prison, no possibility of parole.
For murder cases that don’t involve peace officers, Prop. 222 would eliminate “work credits” or “good behavior” to allow early release on parole. Conviction for first-degree murder would require no less than 25 years in prison; for second-degree murder in drive-by shootings, no less than 20 years; for all other second-degree murders (except cop killers), no less than 15 years.
We assume voters will approve the measure. Only one legislator opposed it. Gov. Wilson signed it. No opposing argument was submitted for the ballot pamphlet.
That’s too bad. The taxpayers are being soaked for judges and parole officers at considerable expense to assess each criminal’s punishment according to the differing facts and circumstances of each case.
Perhaps the state could save a lot of money by putting Procrustean computers on the bench to hand down sentences according to inflexible programming. But in our opinion, Prop. 222 should be rejected. Future legislators can fix any problems with the existing statutes.
Prop. 223: No
NOW YOU see it – now you don’t. Prop. 223, by setting a 5 percent limit on the portion of school district budgets that can be spent on “administration,” is supposed to save $700 million statewide on these costs. But you’ll never see the money. Most of it would disappear into the maw of the Los Angeles Unified School District, thanks to the electoral inventiveness of United Teachers of L.A.
The “Educational Efficiency Initiative” advances a “95 / 5″ formula that requires that 95 percent of school expenditures be used for “direct services to children.” The one-size-fits-all rule steamrolls over the 95 percent of California school districts that spend more than 5 percent on administration. They could be fined almost $200 a child if they do not or cannot comply with the proposed cap. The money would go into an educational fund to be redistributed – guess where. And the penalized districts could be forced to raise local taxes to make up the loss.
Fairness is not to be found in the Prop. 223 dictum. Small districts cannot match the big-city economy of scale that can hold central administrative spending well below the 7.3 percent statewide average, in part by easily shifting administrative functions to school sites where they are not counted against the 5 percent limit. How can a sprawling, lightly populated rural district scrimp on the vital school-bus maintenance (counted as administration) required to bring the kids safely to school?
There undoubtedly is administrative waste in California public education, which sharp auditing could root out and eliminate in a sensible way. But local conditions have to be considered, and local decision-making should be preserved. An arbitrary administrative-spending limit should not be allowed to shift unsupportable burdens onto teachers and principals, or hurt the schoolchildren who don’t happen to live in L.A.
Prop. 223 would create an unworkable mess discriminating against most of California’s school districts. L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan and Sen. Dianne Feinstein should be ashamed of their signatures on the official argument favoring it. The rest of us should vote no.
Prop. 224: No
CALIFORNIANS have learned not to swallow whole the labels given to initiatives by their self-interested sponsors. So the “Cost Savings and Taxpayer Protection Amendment” has to be examined for what that label does not tell us.
The proposed constitutional change is really designed to guarantee more work and job security and an enhanced membership base for the 6,000-strong Professional Engineers in California Government union.
The backers, mainly employed by Caltrans, claim their plan would save the state millions of dollars by making it harder to award contracts to private engineering and design firms for state-funded work. Such contracting out would be prohibited if the state controller determines that civil servants can do it for less. A rigged system of comparing contract costs with the “additional direct costs” for state employees to do the work is set up to make such determinations. And for contracts exceeding $50,000, competitive bidding must replace the present practice of negotiated pricing.
We like the idea of requiring more competitive bidding to curb cronyism and help the state get more bang for the taxpayer’s buck. But Prop. 224 is a bureaucratic monstrosity that would cost millions to administer and could strip cities and school districts of control over local projects.
Under the mechanism for discouraging private contracts, the state controller would face thousands of loaded cost comparisons for which it is not equipped. The legislative analyst estimates it would cost the controller $2 million a year to do this work. That would be all right if as a result the state realized greater savings. But the legislative analyst says that prospect is too uncertain to forecast.
Maintaining additional battalions of state engineers to do the $150 million worth of work now contracted out, and letting them sit on the payroll doing crossword puzzles during slack seasons, would be a waste of taxpayers’ money. We envision costly delays in making earthquake retrofits and building badly needed schools as the state machinery backs up. Prop. 224 is a winner only for Caltrans engineers. The rest of us should vote no.
Prop. 225: No
FOR POSSIBLY the first time, California voters will be confronted with an initiative bereft of support even from the people who put it on the ballot. The abandoned measure seeks to put the California electorate on the record favoring a U.S. constitutional amendment setting term limits for members of Congress: two terms (12 years total) for U.S. senators and three terms (totaling six years) for House members.
Prop. 225 would direct state legislators and the California congressional delegation to support this effort. And any legislator who did not act accordingly would be labeled the next time he or she appeared on the ballot seeking re-election: “Disregarded voters’ instruction on term limits.”
The text of this strange proposition starts out with a diatribe against “career politicians” in Congress, blaming them for a range of outrages including the $5 trillion national debt and their own “lavish” pensions. “The abuse of power, the corruption and the appearance of corruption brought about by political careerism is ultimately destructive to representative government by making Congress increasingly distant from the People,” say the proposition’s authors, who are linked to a national term limits campaign.
Prop. 225, in a legal sense, is stillborn. Similar measures in other states have been demolished in federal court for intruding on the U.S. Constitution in presuming to set qualifications for federal office. So the official argument “for” 225 in the state ballot pamphlet does not exactly recommend a yes vote. The embarrassed spokesperson for the measure explains it reflects a defunct strategy that would “likely result only in needless and costly litigation.”
Whether you’re for or against term limits (and we have supported the concept), don’t even think of voting for a measure already stiff with rigor mortis. Bury 225 with a no.
Prop. 226: No
PROPOSITION 226 is billed by its advocates as “campaign reform” or as “paycheck protection” for union members. Lock up your valuables when an initiative purports to be so saintly. This one is part of a multistate effort by conservative Republicans to curb the pro-Democratic, liberal-cause politicking of labor organizations and increase corporations’ enormous edge in campaign contributions.
California labor unions are spending millions in an all-out attempt to beat 226. They have a major problem: The measure appeals to the political differences and pocketbook interests of some of their very own members who don’t want part of their dues channeled to political causes they oppose. The unions counter that their political choices flow from their internal democratic processes in which all members have a say. Dissidents can even drop out as members and still receive collective bargaining representation by paying a fee.
The proposition would require the filing with employers of annual written permission by each worker before any part of a payroll deduction for union dues could be used for political purposes. The legislative analyst says the paperwork would cost state and local governments $2 million a year, plus a onetime state cost of $2 million to $5 million. Costs would amount to millions more in the private sector.
Unions point to all this as silencing them in the political arena – an overstatement since, if 226 passes, they can still seek voluntary contributions from their members for political causes. But the anti-226 camp is persuasive on the real motivation behind the measure – tilting the playing field away from labor unions and toward big corporations. Such mischief doesn’t benefit the working person at all.
And following the rule of unintended consequences in the free-wheeling initiative process, United Way officials discover to their horror that 226 could throw a wrench into their fund-raising for charities by payroll deduction.
On grounds of unfairness and cynical manipulation of California politics, Prop. 226 deserves a “no.”
Prop. 227: No
IF PROPOSITION 227 were a plebescite on teaching English through total immersion in the language rather than through bilingual classes, we’d be sympathetic. But it is not.
Instead, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It will harm more students than it helps. It will create bureaucratic obstacles to sound educational policy. It will take choices out of the hands of parents.
It subverts its own goal: helping more students become fluent in English faster.
Like all true believers, Ron Unz – the author of Prop. 227 – thinks he has the answers. But he’s no educator. He’s a millionaire businessman who dabbles in politics. He has discovered half a truth: that bilingual education in California doesn’t work very well. What he hasn’t found out is how to fix it.
Give Unz credit, though. His crusade forced action. The Legislature sent to Gov. Wilson a bill by Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, that would have removed bilingual education from the straitjacket of state control. It would have given local districts, and parents, power to shape how English is taught to the 1.4 million California students with limited English ability.
But Wilson vetoed the bill.
Prop. 227 masquerades as a friend of parents, teachers and local schools. But it would enact a set of ini