When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger defied public opinion and scheduled an expensive special election for this November, there was at least the prospect that voters might vote themselves two genuinely needed changes.
One was contained in the governor’s package of three initiatives, the other was put on the ballot by an alliance of consumer advocates. But blunders by the sponsors of both measures make it unlikely either will become law this year, even if appeals courts reverse the rulings of lower courts and allow them back onto the ballot.
The legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell expressed well the current public demand for information: “Who goofed? I’ve got to know!” he shouted in one off-the-air moment accidentally recorded for posterity.
The answer this time is the sponsors.
For years, Ted Costa — best known as the man who filed the original recall papers against ex-Governor Gray Davis — has fought to reform the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn in this state. As many have noted, the current system lets politicians decide who their voters will be, rather than the other way around.
Costa long pushed a plan where retired judges okayed by legislative leaders from both major parties would draw new district lines every 10 years, rather than letting lawmakers do it themselves. He finally acquired a major ally early this year, when Schwarzenegger adopted Costa’s idea as his own and dumped enough money into the petition circulation kitty to qualify the measure easily as Proposition 77.
But then the mistakes began. Costa sent Schwarzenegger’s campaign team a version of the measure slightly different from what he’d submitted to Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office, where all initiative titles and ballot summaries are vetted. Later, he pointed out the error to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. About a month later, McPherson asked Lockyer for advice on the issue. Lockyer responded by suing to prevent McPherson from putting the measure on the ballot because of the inconsistency.
“We screwed up,” admits Costa, head of the People’s Advocate public affairs group. “There’s no other way to say it.” He doesn’t say so, but the governor’s highly-paid corps of aides should also have caught the error before they began circulating flawed petitions.
Maybe the biggest screw-up was Costa’s informing McPherson: Similar errors have been made in the past, but never noted before the vote. And whenever such measures passed and the mistakes did not affect the meaning or application of initiatives, courts have allowed them to stand.
Even if this one makes it back onto the ballot after one judge ordered it off, chances are now much slimmer for passage and an end to the system that saw not one party change in 153 legislative and congressional races last year. Much momentum and money has already been lost.
Sponsors of the putative Proposition 80, which aims to turn back the clock on electricity regulation, also goofed, but differently. An appeals court ruled this much-needed measure, which would return to the state Public Utilities Commission most regulatory powers it lost in the disastrous 1996 deregulation law, should have been filed as a constitutional amendment, not an ordinary initiative. That way, it would have taken about 600,000 voter signatures to reach the ballot, rather than the almost 400,000 gathered for it as an ordinary law.
Because of that blooper, which attorneys who wrote the measure should have caught early in the qualifying process, it will likely be at least a year before power generators are re-regulated and large consumers like factories and oil refineries absolutely forbidden from buying super-cheap power in deals that doom residential electricity customers to ever-higher rates.
Schwarzenegger and his business-dominated cadre of big-money backers were ready to fight that measure with all their strength, but it had a shot at passage because of the governor’s own travails and relatively fresh memories of the energy crunch of 2000 and 2001. The longer it takes to bring this issue back before the voters, the more those memories will fade, along with the sense of urgency for needed re-regulation.In short, mistakes by the very people who want these changes most will leave Californians either without the chance to vote on two sorely needed improvements or with much-weakened campaigns for those measures. It’s a tragedy that was avoidable with nothing more than thorough legal research and simple proofreading.