June 14, 2005
The elephant in the room
So, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after failing to carry through on his promise of trying to work with the Legislature resorts to an end run by calling a special election for Nov. 8. The only problem is that he is going into a venue that has already proved to be one of the main sources of California's problems letting the voters try to govern the state.
Ever since the original Proposition 13 passed, special-interests groups, disgruntled citizens and wanna-be politicians have used the initiative process for self-serving gain trimming taxes, locking in budget allocations, recalling a governor and just generally tinkering in areas where they have little expertise.
Can we expect anything different this time? Probably not. But thankfully, the historical record shows that California voters have defeated at least two-thirds of the initiatives that have appeared on the ballot. If the record holds true, let's hope the two of three initiatives defeated will be the one on spending and the one on teacher tenure.
That leaves the initiative on redistricting, which, if approved, would shift the 10-year process of redrawing legislative districts from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges. I know proponents of the initiative hope that if passed, districts could be redrawn in time for the 2006 midterm elections, but that seems hardly likely, given that one of the deadlines for potential candidates comes about nine days after the special election.
And I doubt the redrawing will be accomplished in time for the 2008 presidential election because proponents say congressional districts will be redrawn at the same time as state legislative districts. One tiny elephant in the room on this: Congressional redistricting is governed by U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, which states that representatives will be apportioned based on the number of people (the actual definition of the people was changed by the 14th Amendment), that number was determined by an enumeration (census) of the people three years after the first meeting of Congress and "within every subsequent term of ten years" after.
Congressional districts have been reapportioned once already this decade and since no new population figures will be available until after the next census in 2010, it could be argued, and probably will be, that congressional district must wait until the normal time for redrawing, after a census.
Proponents haven't yet addressed how they will get around that seemingly constitutional issue, but it's likely the courts will be called into play and that will only delay implementation of any new redistricting structure approved.
In fact, none of the initiatives Schwarzenegger wants will be quickly implement. They could have been voted on in the 2006 primary, at a great savings to California taxpayers, and the outcome would have been the same.
So why does Schwarzenegger seem to believe that is must be done as soon as possible. Does it have to do with him considering a run for re-election? Or does it have to do with the fact that his popularity has fallen to 40 percent, which makes him, like Gov. Gray Davis before him, an ineffectual governor?