As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Friedman Unit Strategy For Perpetual Minority Rule

The deadline for filing an initiative that would make the November 2010 ballot is Friday. The initial measures to repeal the 2/3 ballot initiatives filed by Maurice Read failed at the end of July. There is currently an initiative to lower the threshold from 2/3 to 3/5 in circulation, but it does not have any backing.

And that's it. There is no pending initiative regarding any two-thirds rule, with the institutional support needed to get on the ballot, and the deadline is Friday.

As has been mentioned in a Contra Costa Times article, the political leadership in the CDP appears to be moving away from it.

A split between Democratic activists and the political pros who run the party may be growing over how to approach the issue that has bedeviled the party for years: the two-thirds vote required to pass taxes and budgets in the Legislature.

Most Democrats in the upper echelons of the party apparatus are convinced it's a fool's errand to try to persuade voters to hand the majority party unchecked power to raise taxes. Instead, they're gearing up for a campaign next year to lower the threshold — from two-thirds of both legislative bodies to a simple majority — on budget votes only, a path they believe voters can embrace.

But some grass roots liberals say they're frustrated with the caution of party leaders and believe, if sold right, voters would hand over both taxing and budgeting powers to the majority party.

"This is a doable thing, but it requires getting Democrats together and deciding to really do it," said George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley linguistics professor who has become a de facto leader of the cause and is preparing to submit by next week a ballot measure for the November 2010 election that would drop the two-thirds requirement on both taxes and budgets. "Either they want to give the state a future or they can let Republicans continue pushing it into disaster." [...]

But party leaders see him as quixotic, and dismiss his position as misplaced and uninformed.

"People are not ready to pass it," said John Burton, the Democratic party chairman and a former Senate leader. "He's got a theory. Good luck to him."

Mind you, that another guy had a theory before he entered the CDP Chairmanship: John Burton. At the time he committed himself to repealing the 2/3 majority for the budget and taxes, and listed it as a top priority. But I don't even know that the Burton fallback position is being considered; as of now, they have a little over 48 hours to file a 2/3 repeal on the budget. And of course, this would immediately put half of what a budget is - revenues - off-limits, while taking responsibility for bad budgets that cannot be fixed.

What I have heard now is that, with statewide offices being decided in 2010, party leaders don't want to put revenue on the ballot and increase GOP turnout against it, threatening their statewide officer candidates.

This is nothing more than a Friedman Unit strategy. We cannot put such a proposal on the ballot in 2010 because it might hurt candidates, so we move it to the next election. Which has candidates in it as well, so we have to just hold off past 2012. But our Governor's up for re-election/trying to defeat the Republican in 2014, so we have to hold off then, too. As a result, nothing proceeds.

And it's worse than that. We hear constantly that the public is not ready for a conversation about changing the rule, but in the meantime nothing is being done to prepare the ground for that shift in public opinion. It's not that we have to give the war a few more months to succeed, as in the Friedman Unit; it's that we have to give NOTHING more time for voters to, I guess, come up with their own ideas about state government.

The inescapable conclusion you must come to is that everyone in the system actually likes the system as it is. For Democrats, they personally prosper by getting elected and re-elected, and they can always blame the 2/3 rule for whatever failures occur. It's accountability-free government complete with a scapegoat, and it rocks their world.

We can talk about how Democratic leaders tend to view the electorate as static and unchangeable, rather than the starting point from where opinion can be shaped. We can talk about how small-bore goals or a major crisis can provide the spark for the change the state so desperately needs. But this isn't a failure of imagination. It's a general contentment with the status quo.

Which is why change will have to be imposed upon the system from the outside. The most intriguing initiatives to date are the one pushed by Lenny Goldberg to repeal the $2 billion dollar a year corporate tax breaks, and the proposal for a Constitutional convention (though that has also not gone into circulation by the Bay Area Council, but only through an independent effort from Paul Currier). This obviously cannot be left to anyone in Sacramento - they will always find a convenient excuse for delay.

Labels: , , , , ,