'Year of Reform' Back from the Brink in California

As the Los Angeles Times put it on August 13, “State Supreme Court Hands Schwarzenegger a Major Victory.”  And, with that, the die was recast for a make-or-break November 8 special election that will determine the course for California for the next 20 years.

By a 4-2 vote, the California Supreme Court ended a month long fight pursued in the courts over Proposition 77, the fair redistricting initiative, between liberal Democrat Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and the initiative’s supporters.  Prop. 77 removes the power to draw districts from the Legislature.

Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, newly appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger after the forced resignation of his scandal-ridden predecessor, Democrat Kevin Shelley, recently said that, if passed by the voters in November, Prop. 77 may result in new district boundaries in time for the 2006 elections.  This would strike at the heart of the controversial 2001 redistricting deal where Republican and Democrat lawmakers struck an agreement to draw districts to protect incumbents while locking in place the 53 member federal Congressional delegation at 33 Democrats to 20 Republicans. 

The districts were so well gerrymandered that in 2004 not one of 153 seats up for election in the Legislature or the state’s congressional delegation changed party hands.  Gov. Schwarzenegger has noted this lack of partisan competition as “not real democracy.”

As a testament to how much politicians enjoy the certainty of reelection in oddly-shaped and uncompetitive districts, both U.S. Reps. Howard Berman, a liberal Democrat, and John Doolittle, a conservative Republican, joined together to ask the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for permission to raise unlimited “soft money” to fight Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s redistricting reform measure.  On Thursday, August 18, the FEC voted 6-0 to approve the rare bipartisan request.  The decision opens the floodgates for threatened federal officeholders to raise unlimited sums from unions, corporations and other donors to counter Gov. Schwarzenegger’s massive fundraising ability.

Joining Prop. 77 on the ballot in November will be seven other measures, three of which will attract a tremendous amount of attention. 

Prop. 75 the “Paycheck Protection Initiative” could essentially defund the Left in California by requiring public sector unions to get their employees’ permission to deduct dues for political purposes.  The 330,000 member California Teachers Association (CTA) union has already mortgaged their office headquarters in the San Francisco area for $50 million to pay for ads to defeat this initiative. 

Prop. 76, Schwarzenegger’s “California Live Within Our Means Act” would give the governor more power to make budget cuts.  It is strongly opposed by the spending lobby.

Lastly, Prop. 73 would require parental notice and a waiting period for a minor to have an abortion.  It enjoys strong support from the public that sees it as a parental rights measure and will likely drive up social conservative turnout in what might otherwise be a low turnout election.

All of this off-year election cycle action comes courtesy of what Gov. Schwarzenegger called the “year of reform” in his State-of-the-State address in January of this year and it has the forces favoring the status quo scrambling.  There is late word of eleventh hour negotiations being brokered by former Democrat Speaker of the Assembly Bob Hertzberg who is trying to forge a compromise between the governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature that would extend term limits in exchange for Democrats’ backing of an amended redistricting measure to protect it from legal challenges.

Just when you thought it couldn’t happen, California just gets curiouser and curiouser.