California’s Cross-dressing Ballot Initiative

When California voters read Proposition 28’s ballot title, they overwhelmingly support the June 5th measure. Yet, once voters get more details as to what the ballot initiative really does, that robust support not only dissolves, it completely reverses.

The Public Policy Institute of California poll shows 68 percent of voters in favor of the ballot proposition and only 24 percent opposed. Surveyed Californians were understandably responding to the official ballot title, which reads that Prop 28 “reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years and allows 12 years’ service in one house.”

Voters clearly want to reduce the time legislators spend in Sacramento. So, accordingly, they like Proposition 28. But then again, a poll commissioned by Citizens in Charge Foundation (the non-partisan, pro-initiative group I work with), addressed the same measure, except that voters were told, “Proposition 28 increases the total amount of time a person may serve in the state assembly from 6 years to 12 years. It allows a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both.”

Hearing that, voter support dive-bombed to a mere 28 percent, with almost twice as many, 49 percent, opposed. Gee whiz, the wording voters see on the ballot really matters.

This phraseology comes from then-state attorney general, now Gov. Jerry Brown, who wrote this title two years ago, ably making it seem Prop 28 would toughen the limits, while the measure, in fact, actually weakened the limits.

Jon Fleischman, the volunteer co-chairman of No on 28, charges that the ballot title was “written to fool the voters.” Former game show host Chuck Woolery became so offended by the ballot language trickery that he posted a YouTube video, telling listeners, “They’re lying to you. Passing Prop 28 will allow legislators to increase their time in office and the self-serving power that comes with it.”

So, what does this measure actually do?

If Prop 28 passes, the maximum time a legislator could spend in both houses will, indeed, be ever-so-slightly reduced from 14 to 12 years. Currently, a politician may serve six years in the House and eight in the Senate. Also, a politician termed out of one house may — voters willing — switch to the other, for a total of 14 years service. Prop 28 would indeed cut the total possible time in the Assembly down by two years. But it’s a trade-off, allowing members to serve the full 12 years in one house, effectively doubling the House limit and weakening the Senate limit by 50 percent. So who benefits more from this politic swap? The voters who want to limit politicians’ time in service, or politicians, who want to maximize their time in power?

Politicians.

An analysis by U.S. Term Limits found that few legislators will likely have their time in office reduced, since few legislators now swap houses. Though many politicians termed-out in one chamber certainly attempt to win a seat in the other, only 8 percent have successfully done so to hit the limits in both.

Thus, legislators will entrench in one chamber and stay for 12 years. That means the despised seniority system can once again strike deep roots. Already, the 37,691,912 people living in the Golden State are represented, or misrepresented, by too few legislators — just 80 state assemblymen and 40 senators. With dramatically weakened term limits, the power and duration of legislative leaders will climb, eclipsing the influence of the average representative and leaving a mere handful of legislators to decide for nearly 38 million people.

So, just who is behind the Prop 28 term limits?

“Proponents contend that existing law doesn’t give people enough time in one office to fully master complex issues and the lawmaking process,” the Los Angeles Times recently reported.

Gee whiz, sorta sounds like folks opposed to the very idea of term limits.

The biggest donor to the Prop 28 campaign has been the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has given close to a million dollars. The effort’s other major source of funding may have been a pay-to-play scheme between state legislators and two crusty crony capitalists trying to build a new NFL stadium. Californians for a Fresh Start, the campaign committee behind this suspicious squeeze play, pulled in $400,000 from Ed Roski Jr’s Majestic Realty and $100,000 from L.A. Live Properties, billionaire Philip Anschutz’s company, to put this measure on the ballot just as the Legislature granted both men exemptions from environmental regulations to build an NFL stadium.

Granted, one of Prop 28’s main advocates is the League of Women Voters, hardly a draconian-sounding special interest. But then again, for decades the League has been the most consistent and vocal opponent of term limits.

Everyone who hates term limits absolutely adores the “tougher limits” of Prop 28.

Mr. Fleischman’s claim that “the proponents of the measure are longtime opponents of term limits, who have long wanted to roll back California’s voter-approved legislative term limits” is obvious. But will the voters of California know?

Liberty Initiative Fund — for which I serve as president — recently contributed $100,000 to help alert Californians to the rotten trick being played on them. We hope to reach enough voters with the truth about Prop 28’s anti-term limits impact, that the measure will fail — but good.

If voters only read the misleading ballot title, the politicians will surely succeed in tricking the very voters they are supposed to represent.

Thus, making an air-tight case for the need for term limits.

Californians for Term Limits’ Jon Fleischman calls Prop 28 “a sham.” U.S Term Limits President Philip Blumel calls it “a scam.” I call it one heck of an argument for tougher term limits.