Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Politics: California Initiatives

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - A few days ago, I noted the lack of John McCain signs in downtown Los Angeles. There's no such shortage in El Dorado County here around Placerville. Deep blue McCain/Palin signs dominate the landscape, along with the signs of local Republican candidates. Of course, it's hard to tell that they are all Republican signs as there is no consistency in design or coloration. For a Canadian used to blue signs meaning Conservative, red signs meaning Liberal, orange signs meaning NDP, green signs meaning the Green Party, and light blue meaning the Bloc Quebecois, the lack of uniformity is a bit disconcerting.

There are other signs along the highways and byways here, those about the state-wide propositions. California has twelve of them on the statewide ballot. Some started as proposals in the state legislature, some started as citizens' initiatives. Of the latter, some are amendments to the state constitution. Each requires just a simple majority to become law.

The mix of topics amongst the propositions is quite a potpourri. Proposition 1A would allow the selling of bonds to fund a high-speed rail system between the state's major population centers. Proposition 2 deals with animal rights, Proposition 3 deals with funding children's hospitals, Proposition 4 deals with parental notification about abortion, Propositions 5, 6, and 9 deal with criminal justice, Propositions 7 and 10 deal with renewable energy, Proposition 11 deals with redistricting, and Proposition 12 addresses funding for Veterans' Home Loans.

Clearly, the most attention is being paid to Proposition 8, with lawn signs in favor of the measure prominent even in urban areas. According to the "Easy Voter Guide" mailed to registered California voters, Proposition 8 "would change the State Constitution to say that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. This would mean that same-sex couples do not have a right to marry." Money is not in short supply on either side of this proposition with constant commercials on television. The "pro" forces seem to be more interested in restricting education about gay relationships than marriage based on their spots, and the "anti" spots feature Senator Diane Feinstein emphasizing that the measure is fundamentally about discrimination.

The measure is more meaningful in California than in other places where such a citizens' initiative has been on the ballot. Gay marriage has been legal in California since June 2007, following a May 2007 state Supreme Court decision that had overturned a 1977 law and earlier Proposition 22 that had defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. If passed, Proposition 8 would effectively nullify thousands of same-sex marriages.

It wouldn't be the first time that the seemingly-progressive state of California would appear to move in a regressive political direction. Who could forget 1994's Proposition 187 denying illegal immigrants public services including public education, or 1996's Proposition 209 to prohibit public institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity. The effect of each was ultimately mitigated by other government actions, but if nothing else they required a tremendous amount of energy to address their fundamental issues.

My great aunt commented that she generally just votes "no" on all propositions unless she's quite certain that a "yes" vote is really warranted. Her operating assumption is that the state assembly and governor can adequately govern the state without needing help from the citizenry--after all, that's what we elect them to do. If everyone followed that strategy, gay marriage and other rights would be safe in California.

No comments: