2012 Primary Election Edition

Posted by the Mad Propster on May 20, 2012

Welcome back, California voters! It’s been a year and a half since we saw you last. Are you ready to go to the polls? What? This primary election has sorta snuck up on ya? Well then, thank heavens for Mad Props, your 100% independent guide to California’s ballot propositions! We’re always here for you.

A reminder if you’ve voted with us before, a brief introduction if you haven’t: Mad Props labors under the belief that California’s initiative process, now largely driven by obscenely well-funded special interests, has become more harm than help to our beloved Golden State. In our eyes, any given initiative deserves a NO vote by default unless it is patently obvious that a YES vote will leave us better off. The burden of proof, in other words, lies with a measure’s proponents.

This June’s primary election brings us only two propositions, and for once we can breathe a sigh of relief, for neither of them spells doom for California, whether approved or rejected. But of course we still have opinions! Here are our suggestions for how you should vote, and why. (Don’t forget: By “suggestions” we mean “vote this way, or you’re part of the problem!”)

Proposition 28
Changes in Term Limits (A Good Start)

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: approved

For concrete evidence that we Californians sometimes really shoot themselves in the collective foot with a ballot measure, look no further than 1990’s Proposition 140, which instituted term limits for the California State Senate (8 years) and the California State Assembly (6 years). The result of the nation’s strictest term limits? Catastrophe. A state legislature with almost zero institutional memory, filled with strident, shrill newbies who haven’t a clue how to craft decent public policy. But don’t just take our word for it; here is Representative Tom McClintock (R-Roseville), who backed term limits in 1990: “Of all the mistakes I’ve made in public life, the one I regret most is advocating for term limits for the Legislature. It has harmed the institution badly.” McClintock is far from alone in his assessment.

In 2008, we tried to clean this mess up with Proposition 93, a measure that was voted down following fierce opposition from conservatives who wanted to see certain long-time leftish legislators (including Don Perata, the irrepressible reptile who narrowly lost Oakland’s most recent mayor’s race) termed out under existing rules. Proposition 28 differs by not applying to incumbents. It sets a limit of 12 years for all legislators elected after it goes into effect. With that difference, and given how clear California’s dire straits have become in the last 4 years, there’s good reason to hope we’ll finally reform our ridiculous term limits this time around. Listen to Mad Props, the unabashedly liberal San Francisco Chronicle, and even the renamed and somewhat fascistic San Diego U-T: We all implore you to vote yes on Prop 28.

Proposition 29
Soak the Smokers

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: rejected

Prop 29 had Mad Props thoroughly and completely torn. On the one hand, adding a buck to the price of a pack of cigarettes in order to fund cancer research sounds good enough, right? And then you take a look at who is spending vast amounts of money to defeat this measure — surprise, it’s Big Tobacco! — and you think “I’ll be damned if I’m going to vote the way they want me to.”

On the other hand, some other arguments against Prop 29 (which, by the way, is authored by the aforementioned saurian, Don Perata) are highly convincing. See for example the LA Times editorial against Prop 29, which argues that this well-intentioned measure comes at the wrong time for the state and provides rather poor oversight with respect to the money that will be raised and spent. An SF Chronicle op-ed makes the case that our state has a pretty good record of screwing up efforts like this one, and that if we’re going to raise new revenue, it should be spent on something else (like our poor schools). That’s not a bad idea, but we’ve never heard anyone suggest a tax on cigarettes to pay schoolteachers, and given that Prop 29’s revenues are expected to decline as cigarette smoking becomes more and more a thing of the past, we’re not sure how smart such a plan would be anyway.

So we have to admit being pretty much on the fence over Prop 29. What tips the scales in its favor is this: It’s pretty clear that higher prices on cigarettes have an impact on who smokes — particularly when it comes to young people. If we pass Prop 29, it is a near certainty that fewer young people will become addicted to cigarettes. Whatever the measure’s flaws, Mad Props feels they are trumped by the lives that will be saved. We admit it’s a bit of a close call. If you vote NO on 29, we won’t call you a cretin (we’ll save that word for folks who vote NO on 28), but all the same, we urge you to vote yes on Prop 29.

Guess what, kids? This is the last time you’ll be reading Mad Props this time of year: State Senate Bill 202, signed by Governor Brown last October, brings an end to ballot propositions on June primary ballots after this election cycle. You can expect bigger bundles of props on November ballots going forward. (Sigh.) We’ll be back sometime in October to get you ready for the General Election. Have a great summer!

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