Politics

California Electoral Vote Reform Lives

Less than two weeks ago, a controversial proposal that would have changed the apportioning of California’s electoral votes from winner-take-all statewide to winner-take-all by congressional district (See “California Initiative Would Redistribute State’s Electoral Votes,” by Chuck DeVore, September 24.) was pronounced dead on arrival. Alarmed that enactment of the Republican-backed initiative would dilute the 55 electoral votes of the Golden State that their party has quadrennially won since 1992, Democratic consultants and contributors had mobilized against Republicans gathering signatures to put the proposed Presidential Election Reform Act on the ballot next year. Supporters were intimidated, money dried up and the pro-change committee folded. 

The issue appeared to be dead and over. 

But all that has changed in the last two weeks. Like a phoenix, the measure under which George Bush would have won 22 of California’s electoral votes in 2000 and thus avoided the weeks-long election dispute is back. A new campaign committee, California Counts (www.CalCounts.com), has been formed, and supporters include such well-heeled Republicans as hotelier Duane Roberts, a Bush Pioneer (big-dollar fund-raiser). In addition, Ann Dunsmore, the top California fund-raiser for George W. Bush (and now with Rudy Giuliani), has signed on to help get the resources to collect the 433,000 signatures needed to place the Presidential Election Reform Act on the statewide ballot next June. Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), who was pivotal in getting the 2003 recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on the ballot, is also expected to weigh in for the electoral initiative. (Contributions can be sent to California Counts, 1150 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 450, Los Angeles, Calif. 90025; 310-914-9100.)

As for the earlier initiative movement that collapsed, Sacramento political consultant Dave Gilliard told me: “[Attorney and original change proponent] Tom Hiltachk is a friend of mine and a very able man.  But the original committee wasn’t ready to raise the money that was required. And they weren’t ready for the firestorm from opponents.”  |

Gilliard is now running California Counts. He recalled that when a Field Poll showed the electoral change measure winning among state voters by 47% to 35% last August, panicked Democratic operatives banded together in an opposition group provocatively called the Lincoln Brigade (the same name as the Communist-riddled international mercenary band that supported the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s). 

With major donations coming from reliable Democratic donors such as developer Walter Shorenstein and producer Norman Lear, the group began its offensive against the change movement with TV and radio ads. Leftist activist blogs such as Daily Kos rallied opponents, and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean jetted to San Francisco, vowing, “we will stand and fight” against getting the electoral change on the ballot. (The Republican National Committee and the Bush White House said and did nothing, and liberal GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dismissed the pro-change movement as “loser mentality.”)

Hiltachk’s group was fatally wounded by reports that it had received a $175,000 donation from a separate organization run by Charles Hurtt, III, a Missouri attorney and Giuliani supporter. When Hurtt’s group wouldn’t reveal its donors, a Democratic attorney announced plans to file money-laundering charges. Soon donations dried up and the committee died. 

“I read about this when I was in California visiting my mother in Vallejo a few days later,” recalled veteran political consultant Ed Rollins, onetime top political operative in the Reagan White House. “I liked the idea of electoral votes by congressional districts because, like Nixon and Reagan, I think we should run campaigns in all 50 states.  Right now, this red-state, blue-state business means too much is written off.”

Suspecting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and other Democrats “put tremendous pressure on folks who do business in Sacramento not to support the change measure,” Rollins telephoned friends Dunsmore and Gilliard about the prospects of reviving the movement for electoral change. As he put it, “Both were positive and said they felt the money was there.”  

According to Gilliard, the committee plans to gather 700,000 signatures—a “cushion” for the 433,000 that must be certified by November 19 in order to qualify for the June primary ballot. The White House and the Republican National Committee have shown no interest so far in helping a project that could be of major benefit to the GOP in presidential elections. 

Former State Republican Chairman and longtime conservative activist Shawn Steel described the electoral vote reform battle as “the biggest political earthquake since the recall [of Davis in ’03.].”


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