Damn, but I hate initiatives!

… but that’s the way we run this stupid state. My recommendations, if anyone cares.

… but that’s the way we run this stupid state. So here are my recommendations, in case anyone cares.

Proposition 19–Marijuana Legalization Initiative

I’m inclined to vote yes, now that the proposition seems sure to lose, because I don’t want to reinforce the drug warriors. But someone needs to tell the people who call themselves “drug policy reformers” that we’re not going to vote for garbage propositions. So pick your poison. MAYBE.

Proposition 20–Congressional Redistricting Initiative:

This, and Proposition 27, are about whether to let the legislature continue to gerrymander its own districts and Congressional districts -mostly in the interest of incumbent protection – or let a supposedly “non-partisan” commission do it instead. There’s a case to be made for keeping some people like Henry Waxman and Howard Berman in Washington, but the the state government is now so dysfunctional I’m inclined to roll the dice. NO on both.

Proposition 21–Funding for State Parks Initiative:

$18 on your annual license-plate renewal for State parks. The Howard Jarvis clowns are against it, so I guess I’m for it. YES

Proposition 22–Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010:

This further ties the hands of the legislature in its annual budget agony. I can’t see it. NO.

Proposition 23–California Jobs Initiative: Suspension of AB 32:

If you like global warming, vote Yes. Else, NO.

Proposition 24–Repeal Corporate Tax Loopholes Act:

This is about undoing some of the tax breaks corporations managed to lobby for as part of the last budget deal. The argument against is that they stole those loopholes fair and square, and it would be unethical for the voters to break the Gubernator’s pledge. Huh? I’m voting YES.

Proposition 25–Passing the Budget On Time Act:

This is the big one. Simple majority to pass the state budget. If it passes, there’s some vague hope the state won’t continue to circle the drain. Of course what we really need is simple-majority taxing authority, but half a loaf, and all that. Vote YES. Twice, if they’ll let you.

Proposition 26–Stop Hidden Taxes Initiative:

Another anti-majority, pro-bankruptcy measure. Vote NO.

Proposition 27–Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act

Again, NO. Let’s give the commission approach a try.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

18 thoughts on “Damn, but I hate initiatives!”

  1. 20 seems to transfer power to the commission, 27 wants to eliminate it.

    Wouldn't a vote in support of the 14 person commission be:

    20: YES

    27: NO


  2. Commissions tend to favor incumbents the most. Why? Well Democrats and Republicans in teh legislature will play a zero sum game meaning that if they can create districts that give them the most seats they will and put into play marginal districts if possible. "Non-partisan" commissions need to get Republican members and Democratic members to agree, and the one thing they both like to do is ensuring safe districts and returning incumbetns to Congress.

  3. Rob's clearly not from CA or IA. In some states, like Texas, the gerrymandering is in the direction of maximum seats for the reigning party. But CA is the poster-child for the opposite approach: maximum job security for incumbents. IA, which relies on a commission, has a decennial bloodbath in Congress, because the commission redistricts without any consideration of incumbent job security.

  4. Regarding Prop 20 & 27:

    No on both counts. No on Prop 20 because we still don't know what the commission looks like, so it would be premature to also give a nascent commission the job of drawing federal districts. I voted for Prop 11 (the initiative that created the commission) because I was sick of the kind of State reps were dominating the primaries. It was basically a pipeline from UTLA or whoever AJ Duffy anointed straight to Sacramento, blah!

    No on 27 because we should give the this experiment a chance to work out. If it doesn't, no big deal we can just re-draw the State districts in ten years, and I don't really worry that in 10 years CA is going to lose its overwhelming majority in the State legislature.

  5. Mark, I'm afraid MM is right. You got Prop. 20 the wrong way around. BruinAlum's nuanced view is of course possible, but his reasons aren't the ones you give.

  6. Andy, Mark got it absolutely right on 20 and 27. It is suicidal for Democrats and for California to screw around with districts on the federal level, but on the state level some level of experimentation might be worth looking at. It's not about "the commission," but whether you want to have the commission potentially screw up federal races and give the GOP nationwide even more structural advantages than it already has.

    I voted NO on 20 but Yes on 27, and I think that that makes sense. The key thing is NO on 20: if that passes and is upheld, then we get Tom DeLay doing redistricting in Texas (even if he's under indictment) but no way to respond in a Blue State.

  7. As far as I can tell, 27 NO means you do not want elected officials to have a say in State redistricting.

    27 YES means you want the power to redistrict the state held by a group of elected officials.

    20 NO means Federal redistricting stays with elected officials.

    20 YES means a 14 person commission does the Federal redistricting.

    From this I've drawn a table to indicate what you're voting for, as in who sets the districts, as I've currently confused the hell out of myself:

    State Federal


    Pre Election : 14 comm. : Elected |


    20-YES/27-YES : Elected : 14 comm. |


    20-YES/27-NO : 14 comm. : 14 comm. |


    20-NO /27-YES : Elected : Elected |


    20-NO /27-NO : 14 comm. : Elected |


    A NO/NO vote keeps things the way they are. This table ignores the specific wording of 27 on "elimination of the 14 person commission", so YES/YES gets tricky as you've voted to transfer power to a group you've also eliminated. This table seems to indicate that BruinAlum and Jay-Z are making sense, whether one agrees or not, but I am not sure I follow what MK is on about.

    UTLA, seriously?

  8. MM said "27 NO means you do not want elected officials to have a say in State redistricting."

    I'm afraid that's not right. Saying NO to 27 means you want to allow the experiment that was Prop 11 to move forward. The rest of the table is unclear to me.

  9. Right, a No on 27 means the power to design state districts remains with the 14 man commission. The table looked way better in the comment box. Anyway, the columns are "Vote : STATE : FEDERAL" where the values for STATE or FEDERAL are "14 person commission" or "Elected" for elected officials, i.e. NO/NO means redistricting for state levels is done by the 14 person commission and for federal levels by elected officials.

  10. What does it mean that Mark, Andy, and Johnathan—three deeply policy- and politics-aware academics—are having trouble, even minor trouble, getting these initiatives straight? The average voter is going to be guessing utterly randomly or worse, without even the benefit of the party identification that makes down-ballot local races at least a little nonrandom. What a ridiculous way to run a state.

  11. No on 20, for the reasons Jonathan Zasloff mentions. Also, districts that are "fairer" and that do not protect incumbents would mean grater turnover of Congressmen – resulting in less seniority for Californians in the House compared to that of other states.

    Of all the major newspapers, only the Sacramento Bee came out against Prop 20. The idea behind Prop 20 is fine, but only if it affects all members that go to a body. The earlier Prop 11 was okay in that it affected all districts of California state Senators and Assemblymen. But Prop 20 does not insure that the districts in Texas be fairly allocated. BTW, in the past (1842, 1967) Congress has restricted General Ticket Representation, where all House members are picked by all voters in the state. So it would appear that Federal Law would be sufficient to insure a uniform way of redistricting, not a constitutional amendment.

  12. MM- ah ok, I get the table now. But I think you made it more complicated than it really had to be. As I understand it, Prop 20 and 27 are opposites and as such, the one that has the most votes will win out. So you can't end up with a situation where there Y/Y, or Y/N, etc. and have both of the initiatives in effect. The possible outcomes today in regards to re-districting is: 14-comm decides federal districts, elected get back to drawing all districts, or (hopefully) 14-comm draws up State districts but leaves the federal districts out of it.

  13. I'll complain again – you think it's bad in California? If you lived in San Francisco too, you'd have 15 (AA through N) little laws to vote on.


  14. @bruinalum: I can't tell you why Mark doesn't like initiatives, but I can certainly tell you why, as a JD/MPP, I hate initiatives.

    1) They are written to be confusing if not downright misleading.

    2) They are difficult to shortcut except in the rare cases in which the Jarvis nuts weigh in.

    3) They are empirical evidence that people will almost always vote to increase services, but will rarely if ever vote to fund these services.

    4) They have allowed the good people of our state to: shift funding for local services away from local government and on to state government while making it nigh impossible for our state to levy to provide this funding; place the debt burden from our state squarely on the shoulder of future generations; enact three strikes laws; recall Gray Davis; and turn our state and local law enforcement into an arm of the Border Patrol.

  15. This just in:


    State Elections: Republicans Gain Control Of Key State Legislatures

    Republicans seized control of about a dozen state legislative chambers Tuesday night, delivering a major blow to Democrats and picking up key redistricting powers along the way.

    Based on 2010 Census figures of population shifts, the legislatures in most states will draw political district boundaries for the U.S. House, often subject to a veto from the governor. The party in control has a huge advantage and can draw district lines in its favor, helping Republicans or Democrats dominate a state's congressional delegation for an entire decade, and possibly influencing control of the U.S. House.


    California passed Proposition 20, so while the rest of the states are going to create Republican-friendly Congressional districts that will last for a decade, California will not.

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