Like so many in California, I hold Chuck DeVore in high regard. And I suspect he has the most honorable of intentions in leading the cheers for Proposition 77, redistricting in California. But it won’t win, it will lose, and possibly deservedly so.
Gov. Schwarzenegger did not put Proposition 77 on the ballot. He adopted it, so that he could help explain his failure to gain a single seat in last year’s legislative elections. This was despite his (then) high popularity, and big money raised and spend on the state senate and assembly races. Indeed, one candidate, the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, an unabashed non-conservative, Steve Poizner, spent $6 million in a single legislative seat and lost; now, he’s backing Proposition 77 to score brownie points with conservatives.
The districts ARE malapportioned. And that did make it tough for the governor in last year’s elections. But he would have gained a seat or two, given his very favorable numbers at the time, and all the money put in these campaigns. But they chose some unattractive candidates, they ran poor campaigns, and their polling was nonstrategic. So, now, they watch to blame it all on the districts.
Proposition 77, if passed, could not be implemented in time for 2006. As for 2008, by that time, the census data from the year 2000 would be so old, that Proposition 77 probably would die a slow legal death. But the reality is that it involves 3 retired judges, chosen by the State Legislature. Who wants judges? Moreover, this same approach has been rejected by votes in the past. Worse, it requires the voters to approve a plan – -meaning such a plan could be rejected — which is pretty easy in California, where a no vote easily obtains.
I understand Chuck DeVore’s concern with the need to make these districts more competitive. But this measure is not especially well-conceived or practical. Moreover, and this is the key point, it will lose, with the other measures backed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. This is despite all the phony poll numbers regularly fed by the governor’s partisans to major conservatives and to right-wing radio shows, and possibly to Chuck DeVore. I have seen wild numbers published on conservative web sites that show all four of the governor’s measures leading, when two or three have always been down, and I’ve predicted all four will lose.
The reasons are uncomplicated. Most people see no need for a special election. The governor has some good ideas on public policy, but they have been totally discredited by a series of blunders foisted on him by his advisers. The result is that as he slates, he brings everything down. Consider, notably, Proposition 75 ("paycheck protection"). This is a reform people want, it had an attractive ballot label, and it had a commanding lead for months. But as the governor embraced it, he began to take it down, and down. This was entirely foreseeable. What will conservatives, who view this is an important national reform, say if and when it loses, unnecessarily?
What about the $50 million spent this year by Republicans and conservatives for these unnecessary battles? Are we better off waging battles virtually certain to lose, and achieving repudiation at the polls of meritorious ideas, like making it easier to fire incompetent public school teachers? These are campaigns for the sake of campaigns. They are equivalent to brokerage churning operations, where stocks are bought and sold to generate commissions.
When conservatives read glowing and optimistic columns and projections, their expectations are raised, only to be dashed by reality when the election results are in. Then, there is a weird rationale of voter turnout — some low-probability scenario supposedly occurred that would somehow explain the difference between months and weeks of "internal" polling numbers by Republican pollsters, and what really happened. This has gone on for years in California — in the past, Dan Lungren (1998) was always "2 points behind" although every public poll, and the private polls for the Democrats, showed him behind by the high 2 digits. There were "internal" polls for Bill Simon that kept showing him a few points behind, but like the Lungren polls, the numbers were simply erroneous or fraudulent.
Chuck DeVore has integrity. I believe that he honestly believes things are going well. And it’s important to be positive and optimistic. After all, I myself have created the strategy or managed many uphill campaigns that others predicted would lose, and I had the faith and confidence to persevere, because I felt they would win. But what is happening with these statewide campaigns in California should not be confused with passion and determination to win. These are make-work campaigns that are largely on auto-pilot to win. Their costly advertising campaigns have had no effect, and tracking polls have not shown any consequent improvement. Yet, more and more time was bought for messages that were not working.
Chalking up more losses for causes important to conservatives is not productive, but unproductive. It reminds me of the last campaign in California for school choice. The results were less than the placebo level for most initiatives. In other words, a generic school choice measure, with no campaign, at all, would have polled better. Why spend $27 million in order to get California voters on record repudiating school choice by a margin later than the last time it was on the ballot? Again, the results were largely predictable.
This reapportionment measure has no such philosophical meaning as school choice. But it is a measure, even if it succeeded, that would not have the dramatic effects predicted. The only consolation we might take is that, assuming it loses, its opponents soaked up some liberal and left-wing money, just as its proponents wasted conservative and right-wing money.