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John Campbell

John Campbell (R-Irvine) is an Assemblyman representing the 70th District in Orange County. Mr. Campbell is the Vice-Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. He is the only CPA in the California State legislature and recently received a national award as Freshman Republican Legislator of the Year. He represents the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods and Lake Forest. He can be reached through his Assembly website and through the website for his California Senate campaign. [go to Campbell index]

Sharpen Pencils
Propositions, initiatives coming to a ballot near you.
[John Campbell] 12/2/03

Ever since the populist reforms of early 20th century under Gov. Hiram Johnson, California has been a place in which "direct democracy" has flourished. The recall of Gray Davis obviously is the most recent and visible example of the people of this state taking control through direct vote.

But the more common forms of direct democracy are the initiatives, bonds and referenda that appear on virtually every statewide ballot. Just to remind you of what you were taught in your high school political science class, all amendments to the state constitution must be approved by the voters, unless there is a constitutional convention (the last one in California was in 1879). Initiatives can include constitutional amendments or regular statutes which become law if a majority of the voters approve. Any general obligation borrowing by the state in excess of $300,000 also must be approved by a majority vote of the people.

Referendums are attempts to get the voters to overturn a law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Constitutional amendments and bond measures can make it to the ballot either through a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, or by collecting enough signatures from registered voters. Initiatives and referendums can only make it by collecting enough signatures from registered voters.

As of a couple of weeks ago, there were 45 ballot measures somewhere in the process to appear on either the March or November ballots. There are probably another 15 or 20 being worked on or contemplated that have not yet begun the formal state process. Only three of these actually have qualified for a ballot at this point, and many of the others won't make it. But if just half of those currently on the radar screen find their way, you could have 30 ballot measures in 2004.

Why all the activity? First of all, the resounding success of the recall leaves political analysts with the view that the voters are in a "populist" mood and that they are ready to "take charge" of things through the ballot. This view, however, has a counterweight: The two propositions on the recall ballot were resoundingly defeated. Secondly, Gov. Schwarzenegger has made it clear that if the Legislature does not pass the agenda that he outlined and that the people supported in October, he will use the initiative process to go directly to the people. Third, liberal constituencies that were unable to get their issues done before the recall now face a Schwarzenegger veto and therefore are going to the ballot to get around him. Fourth, the failures of state government under Davis have prompted both liberals and conservatives to propose major constitutional structural changes that require voter approval.

Now, some people don't like the initiative process and believe that it weakens accountability for the Legislature and the governor. Others point to the 25-year-and-counting record of such populist voter revolts like Proposition 13 as proof that direct democracy works and is a good thing. Regardless of your view, the right of the people to vote on ballot measures is with us and no one is proposing a ballot measure to take it away.

Here are some of the ballot measures briefly explained and grouped in the categories described above. After the letter "E", I have included my personal editorial comment about each. I am, after all, an assemblyman never shy to offer my opinion:

Bond Measures:

$12 billion school construction bond. This would be on top of a bond of a similar amount passed in 2002. E: We can't afford this right now on top of all of the debt and deficits created in the last five years.

$6 billion high-speed passenger train bond. E: We can't afford this either. And by the way, this and the school bond contain all kinds of restrictions on using non-union labor that drive up the cost of all projects above what is reasonable.

The Davis Deficit Debt bond in the range of $15 billion. This is the bond to refinance the leftover Davis deficits and debt that he put on in the last few years. E: I don't like to do this, but we have no alternative now. The money has already been spent. This is an essential part of Gov. Schwarzenegger's workout plan for the near-bankrupt state.


Repeal of SB 60, the law just passed in September that allows undocumented non-citizens to get California driver's licenses which look just like yours and mine, with no background check. E: Repealing this law is essential to our public safety.

Repeal of the recently enacted law that gives domestic partners nearly all of the rights and privileges of marriage. E: I voted against this law and strongly support the repeal.

Repeal of SB 2, the law just passed in September that will require all businesses with 20 or more employees to provide a state-mandated health insurance to employees and (in some cases) dependents or pay into a state-run single payer pool. E: This is yet another law that will cost companies billions and drive businesses out of California. It too should be repealed.

Constitutional Amendments:

Spending limit, balanced budget and "rainy day fund" amendment that would limit the growth in government spending to increases in population and inflation, require a balanced budget (that is not actually required now) and sets up a reserve in good years to sustain the state in period of recession. E: This is the most important and best single thing we can do to reform the state's fiscal structure. I have been advocating this concept for more than two years now.

Proponents call it the "budget accountability act" and opponents call it the "blank check" initiative. It allows the Legislature to raise taxes and increase spending on a 55 percent vote instead of the two-thirds vote now required. It repeals Proposition 13. E: It is a blank check and an absolutely terrible proposal that would have allowed Davis and his minions to tax and spend even more than they already did. Look out for this on your March ballot.

The opposite of the blank check initiative, this proposal closes the loophole that now allows some taxes and so-called fees to be raised on a majority vote. This constitutional amendment would make all taxes and fees subject to a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. E: Good idea.

Defines corporate income tax deductions, exemptions of credits as "corporate tax preferences" and sunsets them and makes it easier to repeal them. E: Haven't we driven enough jobs and business out of the state already without this?

A Proposal to eliminate the car tax altogether. E: Lowering taxes is always good.

A plan to put the drawing of legislative and congressional districts in the hands of court-appointed masters rather than letting us (the Legislature) draw our own districts. E: Another good idea. There is a conflict of interest when legislators draw their own districts.

The so-called "Home Rule" plan to return property taxes (now mainly used by the state) to local cities and counties and to give those local governments protection against the state taking away their money again. E: Local governments should have diverse, controllable and secure sources of revenue. This should do it.

Rob Reiner's plan to raise property taxes by 50 percent on all commercial property, apartments and other multi-family residential property. He says the money will go to fund universal state-paid preschool and other educational stuff. E: Let's increase another tax on every business and apartment dweller in the state and then create another voracious out-of-control over-spending bureaucracy. Yeah, right. This is horrible.

Other Initiatives:

Prohibits enclosing a pig for all or the majority of a day in an enclosure. E: Yes, you read that correctly. This is a proposition proposal dealing with housing for pigs. (Heavy sigh).

Reforms the "shakedown lawsuit" 17200 statute to end these frivolous claims by making the plaintiffs show they were actually harmed by the defendant's actions. E: I still can't believe the Legislature won't vote to do something so logical and fair.

Oh, yes I can. The trial lawyers don't want this. So you should.


You can see that I did not list all 45. And it still is a long list. And it does not include any of Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposals such as worker's compensation insurance reform. The new governor has made it clear on many occasions that if the Legislature does not pass any of the proposals that were cornerstones of his campaign promises and his election, he will go directly to the people to pass those proposals. So, there could be additional initiatives from the governor.

We are all in for quite an interesting year as citizens and voters in California. And, literally, the eyes of the world will be on us. Many of these initiatives will not make it to the ballot, but many will. Some will be good and some will be bad. We citizens should not "check out" because there are too many proposals. Instead, we should recognize that the recall was just the first phase of a populist revolt against a misguided and monolithic government in Sacramento. The March and November ballots are the next phase. Our work is far from done. Let's stay engaged and complete the job.



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