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Arnold's Very Special Election

Nix the first six: A guide to California's November 8 special election.
 
 
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[Editor's Note: Jan Frel's analysis of today's special election originally ran on October 24, but we're reposting it in time for the election.]

Eight initiatives. Hundreds of millions of dollars corralled by interest groups for ad buys to move the voters. And a 77-page voter guide mailed to each California citizen that, while obscure and incomprehensible, communicates in a crisp, bold font that the political process is safely out of their hands.

The November 8 special election in California has been presented by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a way for voters to join him in his revolution for the Golden State; something the Democratic-controlled State Legislature wanted absolutely nothing to do with since he showed up in Sacramento in 2003. So it's now up to the voters. If they reject the proposals Arnold has backed to the hilt, then it's a sudden end to a rather unspectacular political career.

The four big ones on which Schwarzenegger has staked his political career are, as Bill Bradley described in L.A. Weekly , a "shrunken agenda of toughening teacher tenure rules (Proposition 74), weakening public-employee unions (Prop. 75), gaining new budget powers (Prop. 76), and taking redistricting out of the Legislature's hands (Prop. 77)."

Gosh, and you wonder why the Democrats in the Assembly don't want anything to do with Arnold.

One way of looking at this is that since Schwarzenegger failed to destroy his opposition in the normal political process, he outsourced the battle to the established clique of Republican funders in California. Bob Mulholland, a strategist for the California Democratic Party, told me that "Schwarzenegger is backing initiatives that he and his supporters could never pass in the Legislature." We'll see if the people want to have anything to do with Arnold.

There are two progressive initiatives on the ballot as well: 79, which would help folks get discounts on their pharmaceuticals and allows big Pharma to be sued by anyone for profiteering; and 80, which would, to blur its extraordinarily complicated proscription, make the energy market in California better for both consumers and the environment. Prop 79 is so progressive that drug companies created their own, pseudo-79 initiative, 78, which would make a discount process voluntary for the drug companies to partake in.

Finally, there's Prop 73, which would require teenage girls to get consent from their parents before they could have an abortion. The plan is that 73 will do for Schwarzenegger -- who is ostensibly pro-choice -- what the 18 gay marriage amendments on state ballots did for George Bush in 2004; function as a blooming, fragrant rose that beckons Christian conservative bees to come and vote their Leviticus as they pollinate his corporate agenda.

Breaking It Down

Here's a breakdown of the propositions, with ballot measure "summaries" from that vile 77-page voter guide, and background from research and interviews with activists and public interest groups.

Prop 73: This initiative would prohibit "abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after physician notifies minor's parent/guardian, except in medical emergency or with parental waiver. Mandates reporting requirements. Authorizes monetary damages against physicians for violation."

The California Catholic Bishops' guiding light for their support of Prop 73 is that their "Catholic Catechism teaches that the family is the 'privileged community' wherein children are meant to grow in wisdom, stature and grace. We are also counseled to work with public authorities to ensure that the family's prerogatives are not usurped."

Good luck, girls, if you and your parents share different prerogatives.

The key argument "against" Prop 73 in the voter guide, co-authored by the president of the California Nurses Association, is summed up nicely in the last sentence: "Please join us in voting NO on Proposition 73."

Prop 74: "Increases probationary period for public school teachers from two to five years. Modifies the process by which school boards can dismiss a teaching employee who receives two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations."

A misleader if there ever were. The fact is that all California teachers get no guarantee of anything after two years, except for a "right to a hearing before they are dismissed," as Barbara Kerr of the California Teachers Association puts it. After reading up on this proposition, it looks to me like this effort is an attempt to Wal-Martize the public school teaching profession and create a dispensable and "flexible" employment stream.

Schwarzenegger's "Join Arnold" campaign that pushes his four signature initiatives fails to conceal its true goal for 74, weakening the teachers' union: "Union bosses have blocked many education reforms and just want voters to throw more tax money at education with no reform!" Karla Jones, the 2004 California Educator of the Year, hailing from the worker's paradise of Orange County, is the shiny buckle on the belt that holds Schwarzenegger's pants up on Prop 74.

Prop 75: "This measure amends state statutes to require public employee unions to get annual, written consent from a government employee in order to charge and use that employee's dues or fees for political purposes. This requirement would apply to both members and nonmembers of a union. The measure would also require unions to keep certain records, including copies of any consent forms."

If that language doesn't get the point across, here's a simpler one: let's make it hard for unions to collect money in support of political candidates who might protect them from bastards like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Untold millions have been poured into this one by both sides. And millions were poured into a similar measure in 1998, which was soundly defeated. Columnist Harold Meyerson wrote a great article about 75, saying in effect that it's a move to help kill the California Democratic Party:

Proposition 75 ... was crafted to sound like a union-democracy issue, requiring public-sector unions to obtain members' written permission for political spending. In fact, such union members already have the right to withhold their dues for such purposes, and roughly 20 percent of unionized state workers do exactly that. The greater goal of the measure is simply to hamstring unions' electoral endeavors and thereby remove the linchpin of the Democrats' mobilization efforts.

But Schwarzenegger has a counter to all this "spin." He's dubbed Prop 75 the "Paycheck Protection Act." He's got the Nobel Prize winnin' economist Milton Friedman on his side, whose longstanding contributions to the CEO-worshipping society we live in still garner moments of silence in Chambers of Commerce across the country. Arnold also dug up a Zell Miller turncoat type to parade around with him: Deputy Sheriff Allan Mansoor, who hails from that gritty, sweat-stained heart of the workers' movement that Woodie Guthrie sang so often about, Orange County.

Prop 76: "Limits state spending to prior year's level plus three previous years' average revenue growth. Changes minimum school funding requirements. ... Permits Governor, under specified circumstances, to reduce budget appropriations of Governor's choosing."

This description from the voter guide captures just how profoundly antidemocratic this election is. Why don't they have jail sentences for the people who write these in such fashion? It's criminal. Basically, Prop 76 gives significant power of the purse to the executive branch, and oh yeah, is expected by its opponents to slash funding for public schools by $4 billion. Join Arnold calls it an effort to "stabilize education funding to make sure our public schools are getting the money they need." Schwarzenegger's campaign makes no mention of the power grab buried in the legal text.

Prop 77: "Amends state Constitution's process for redistricting California's Senate, Assembly, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts. Requires three-member panel of retired judges selected by legislative leaders."

Here's the one proposition worthy of some debate. It's got the support of progressive groups like Common Cause and California Public Interest Research Groups, who argue in essence that party-controlled redistricting is so refined, so insane, that among all 153 of California's congressional and legislative seats that were voted on in the last election, not one changed parties. There's obviously something wrong with that.

As Steven Hill wrote for AlterNet, "The 2001 redistricting in California was a travesty. The Democratic incumbents paid $20,000 apiece to the political consultant drawing the district lines -- who happened to be the brother of one incumbent -- to draw each of them a "safe seat" where they would easily win re-election. It was like paying protection money to a Mafia don for your turf."

That's not a functioning democratic system. However, just because there's something wrong with California's redistricting laws doesn't mean this approach is the answer. Although this observation is powerfully obvious, it's one that the reform groups supporting Prop 77 must have overlooked. The approach of 77 stinks, as the L.A. Weekly explained in its endorsement list of initiatives: "Under this plan, the district boundaries would be set only after national parties spend millions, perhaps billions, to persuade voters to adopt (or reject) a proposal for district lines. Then the court hearings. Then back to the judges to try again, even though they already submitted their best effort." Not only this, but 77 establishes that makeup of the judges will be chosen by ... politicians.

Steven Hill offers an alternative, something -- gasp! -- slightly more radical for California: "If Governor Schwarzenegger and others really want to do something about the ills of redistricting, simply changing who draws the district lines won't accomplish much. It's necessary to get rid of California's antiquated winner-take-all system, and adopt some version of the more modern proportional representation system."

Prop 78: "Establishes discount prescription drug program for certain low- and moderate-income Californians. Authorizes Department of Health Services to contract with participating pharmacies for discounts and with participating drug manufacturers for rebates."

Sounds great. We all want this, don't we? Once again the evil lurking in this neutral language from the voter guide is overwhelming. Why doesn't it say that this is a voluntary measure that these drug companies can opt out of? I'll tell you why. Because the California government isn't run by you. It's in someone else's hands.

When I spoke with CalPIRG healthcare advocate Emily Clayton, she told me that Prop 78 was born on the day drug companies heard about the proposition that her group and others were working for, 79 (which I'll get to in a bit). So four companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, kicked in $10 million each, and another four kicked in $5 million, and by the time the snowball stopped rolling, they had assembled an $80 million war chest. Eighty million dollars for a meaningless initiative, aimed at undermining another one.

As Prop 78's opponents point out with a devastating piece of logic, the drug companies don't need a ballot initiative to establish a voluntary discount system. If it's voluntary, they could start right now. If drug companies care about discounts for the poor and elderly, as they claim to do, to the tune of $80 million, why haven't they already?

Clayton told me she was heartened that despite a constant barrage of TV ads, field polls indicated the public understood 78 bad, 79 good . Good thing too, because Prop 79's advocates have a shade under $2 million to get their initiative through.

Prop 79: "Provides drug discounts to Californians with qualifying incomes. Funded by state-negotiated drug manufacturer rebates. Prohibits Medi-Cal contracts with manufacturers not providing Medicaid best price."

Real help, real savings to "Californians with catastrophic medical expenses who spend at least five percent of their income on medical expenses; the uninsured who earn up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; Californians on Medicare for drug costs not fully covered by Medicare; Seniors, the chronically ill, and others with inadequate drug coverage through private insurers or their employer."

The drug companies' prediction of what will happen if 79 passes is tell-tale and prophetic: "The measure is so poorly written it will result in years of legal challenges and will never get approval by the federal government." Read here, we'll take this to court and spend another $80 million, and if that fails we've got friends in higher places who will stomp on California's laws.

And there's one more thing about the 78 vs. 79 feud. If both pass with a majority, then the one with the most votes wins, and the other is null.

Prop 80: "Subjects electric service providers to regulation by California Public Utilities Commission. Restricts electricity customers' ability to switch from private utilities to other providers. Requires all retail electric sellers to increase renewable energy resource procurement by 2010."

Last and the most arcane, I actually don't mind this description offered in the voter guide. Except that the "customers" referred to aren't you and me, they are huge consumers of electricity, like factories and large corporations. And that opens up a discussion about the fact that some lucky businesses are allowed to "switch" their energy sources while the rest of California isn't.

After a conversation with Emily Rusch, another CalPIRG advocate, I learned that big corporations in California get to pick and choose the low-hanging volts, while everyone else is stuck with whatever wrinkled electricity provider is thrust upon us. As a result, companies have less of a stake in the quality and efficiency of a particular energy grid, because they can cut and run when the power supply is spotty or less convenient. Prop 80 also requires energy companies to meet new energy demands with renewable energy resources and higher energy efficiency measures as first options.

A ballot initiative like this one doesn't begin to lock horns with the fundamental flaws in California's energy market. But a heavy vote in Prop 80's favor will at least signal to Sacramento that energy reform has popular public appeal.

Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.