Stateside With Rosalea: Coming Over All Political
Coming Over All Political, Like
It's been a while since I had a visit from the cartoon fairy, but this week I found on my pillow a little 'toon about U.S. politics. There's this big fat bully-type kid on a bicycle named Democracy, see, and he's riding along hitting himself on the chin alternately with his left and right fist.
On making connection with his left fist, he yells out: Take that, you ratbag Republicans! And as he hits himself with his right fist, he yells out: Take that, you dipstick Democrats! Meanwhile he has a sign around his neck declaring proudly: Look Ma, no hands!
But it's the last frame of the 'toon that I like the most: the bicycle still has training wheels.
And that, my friends, pretty much sums up the sorry state of U.S. democracy. So long as most facets of the U.S. electoral system virtually guarantee that the incumbent will get re-elected in their district--whether it be for their state legislature or Congress--then there will always be only two parties.
And the U.S. will always appear to the rest of the world like this dangerous idiot kid on a bike with training wheels, who brags about how special he is.
**California's special election**
First, some terminology. Basically, an initiative--which is called a proposition on the ballot--is, in Kiwi parlance, a binding referendum.
On Friday evening, I started going door-to-door for an organisation that is starting to suss out the vibe on a couple of initiatives that will be on the ballot for the special election Governor Schwarzenegger has called for November 8. By the time I got home, the latest news was that his advisors had held a conference call to discuss calling off the special election altogether.
They are, of course, just floating a balloon to test the wind after the court removed an initiative to do with redistricting from the ballot for the special election. More on that initiative later.
**Sticking it to the unions**
One of the two initiatives I was sussing people out on was Proposition 75, which seeks to have the public pass a piece of legislation that is unlikely to succeed in the California legislature because both the Assembly and Senate are dominated by Democrats. (In the cartoon world of U.S. politics, the Democratic Party relies on large contributions from unions, and the Republican Party relies on large contributions from big businesses.)
Prop. 75 is summarised thusly on the California Secretary of State's website:
Prohibits public employee labor organizations from using dues or fees for political contributions unless the employee provides prior consent each year on a specified written form. Prohibition does not apply to dues or fees collected for charitable organizations, health care insurance, or other purposes directly benefiting the public employee. Requires labor organizations to maintain and submit to the Fair Political Practices Commission records concerning individual employees' and organizations' political contributions; those records are not subject to public disclosure.
Now, as it happens, there is already law on the books that when you join a union you must specify if you do or do not want part of your union dues used to support its political activities. Which is rather more than what's offered if you invest in a public company, for example, and you do not approve of their contributions to political parties.
About 25 percent of members of public service unions choose not to have their dues used for political purposes. So it's difficult to see what good this initiative would do if enacted. And it's hard to see how it could be sold even to Republicans in the light of their vociferous concerns about privacy and First Amendment rights. Why the hell should the government know what you do with your union dues?
**Sticking it to the teachers**
The second initiative likely voters were being sounded out about, is an attempt to amend the Constitution of the State of California so that, among other things, billions of dollars that were earmarked for education but were sucked out into the general fund need never be repaid:
Changes state minimum school funding requirements (Proposition 98), permitting suspension of minimum funding, but terminating repayment requirement, and eliminating authority to reduce funding when state revenues decrease. Excludes above-minimum appropriations from schools' funding base. Limits state spending to prior year total plus revenue growth. Shifts excess revenues from schools/tax relief to budget reserve, specified construction, debt repayment. Requires Governor to reduce state appropriations, under specified circumstances, including employee compensation, state contracts. Continues prior year appropriations if new state budget delayed. Prohibits state special funds borrowing. Requires payment of local government mandates.
As you can see from reading it, there's a lot in there that's both good and bad, but the very persuasive advertising now playing on television focuses on the Governor having reneged on a promise to repay the money to education and how he's trying to overturn a voter-initiated proposition that was passed a couple of years ago. Not a good look for the self-proclaimed "people's Governor."
**Sticking it to the Governor**
The Governor's other initiative--the one which was removed from the ballot on Friday--was to do with redistricting. The text of Proposition 77 has been taken off the Secretary of State's website but it revolved around the Governor's plan to set up a three-person panel of retired judges to work on redistricting issues, rather than leaving redistricting in the hands of the State legislature. The proposition also required new districts for the 2006 election.
Back in February, a pretty liberal/progressive lobby group, Common Cause, joined with the Governor to "put an end to this rotten system." In a June press release, the president of Common Cause said the organisation had been "pushing for 30 years to establish independent commissions with fair and clear criteria to do the work of redistricting. We will continue to work with fair-minded Republicans, Democrats and others to fix this problem."
The Governor's proposal, she said, "is not perfect, but none ever is. But it does remove the process directly from the hands of legislators, and would ensure that the process be guided by many of the criteria which we have previously called for." It was a brave move for Common Cause to stand beside the Governor on this, because the proposition was widely touted as just a means of getting more Republicans elected in 2006.
It turned out that the wording of the proposition submitted for printing on the ballot was not the same as the wording on the petition that was used to get people's signatures supporting it. Those discrepancies opened it up to a challenge from the (Democratic) Attorney General Bill Lockyer, and it was removed from the ballot on Thursday. It's likely there will be an appeal.
The website for the special election is at: http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_j.htm#2005Special
**Meanwhile, back at the ranch**
Over in DC, of course, everybody is all abuzz about the president's nomination of a young conservative, John Roberts, for the Supreme Court. Just how stupid U.S. politics can get is epitomised by the administration supposedly admitting that it brought this nomination forward in order to get the media attention off Karl Rove.
Predictably, Democratic political action groups like Move On, are mobilising their supporters to demand the media does pay attention to the Rove story. And urging Democrats to vigorously oppose Roberts' appointment based on all the usual Democratic ho-hum--especially abortion rights. As far as I can see, Rove has nothing to do with the nomination coming up at this time.
Sitting on the president's desk is some legislation that he has the power to veto, and contained within that omnibus spending bill is a very large appropriation to keep Amtrak running nationwide service--something the president has previously said he opposes vigorously and *will* veto.
Ninety-four senators have Amtrak routes through the state they represent, and very few of those states would be able to afford the subsidies necessary to keep Amtrak running through them. All the president has to do is say: OK, you confirm my judicial nominee and I'll approve your Amtrak spending.
I may be wrong. It may be something else in that spending bill that's got the senators by the short'n'curlies, but that's how politics works isn't it?