Political Pilates: Reforming California

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with you.”  Through this seventies hit, some fans believe Stealers Wheel was singing about politics, and the ebb and flow of reform efforts.

Reform simply means to re-form, or change something that already exists.  But when used in politics, reform is the catch-phrase used in reference to a plan for how someone thinks they can make things better (and usually for their own gain).

Where would any political group be without the pursuit of some new reform?  Every day the halls of the Capitol building in Sacramento are filled with special interest groups and their representatives vying for some reform or another.

Both major political parties and special interest groups use “reform” as a marketing tool for their plan to cure whatever ills California faces.  Used to boost membership and polarize supporters, there is health care reform, prison reform, tax reform, civil rights reform, education reform, workers compensation reform, energy reform, and of course political reform, among others.

One of the most enduring, well, forms of all reform efforts, was the creation of the ballot initiative process.  In 1911, California voters were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted the power to go around the Legislature to enact, overturn, or change laws at the polls using a ballot initiative process.
While designed to give ‘power to the people’, the well-intentioned initiative process was soon perverted for selfish goals through message manipulation.

“If knowledge is power, and all power is inherent to the people, then why are the masses kept uninformed through intentionally misleading outreach?” says Matt Gray, a senior lobbyist with Capital Alliance.

Upon the passage of the initiative process, almost immediately there were special interest groups investing significant resources into putting their reform efforts onto the ballots for voters’ approval.  In a seemingly contradictory exercise, even lawmakers now use the initiative process when an issue is a political hot potato and they want to step out of the line of fire to effect a change in law. 

An example of this will be seen this coming (special) election, when Californians will be asked by lawmakers and our new Governor to approve tax increases to pay for public employee services.  We expect these reform initiatives to be carefully worded and promoted to sound like wonderful solutions to problems that continue to plague us.  More on that, later.

While most initiative reforms focus upon changes to state statutes, most recently California saw significant constitutional reforms on the ballot in the form of same-sex marriage (Prop. 8), crime and sentencing (Prop. 9), redistricting (Prop. 11), a shift into having an open Primary Election (Prop. 14), and change in state budget vote requirements (Prop. 25) from a super majority (two-thirds) to a simple majority (50% plus one more vote).

Have you noticed that now, at every election, voters are faced with upwards of a dozen different initiatives and usually they are financed by some big business conglomerate?  These entities use their profits from consumer purchases to push for self-serving reform to increase profits.

While the original initiative process was intended to be the peoples’ tool to push back against lawmakers and achieve change through volunteers gathering signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, now companies (and groups) enlist armies of paid signature gatherers who are armed with misinformation.  Inspired by a price upon each signature, these paid gunslingers seldom understand the initiative they are promoting in front of the grocery store, and have been known to use misleading statements or tactics to gather as many signatures as possible.

“If you wouldn’t trust some stranger to come into your home and rearrange your personal life,” says Gray, “then why would you give them your signature and approval to change the laws which impact your daily life?”

In the end, these political efforts inundate voters with confusing radio and television ads about initiatives, confusing ballot summaries and arguments, and rely upon votes for the lesser of two (or more) evils without an adequate understanding of what people are really voting on.  It is not surprising that many voters simply tune out and vote blindly, hoping that it will all work out somehow.

Critics of the initiative process would have us believe we are better off voting against every single initiative, but that doesn’t work either.  They argue you don’t have to vote for initiatives, and that an overwhelming majority of all reform initiatives could be defeated and California would be none the worse for it.  Using their own style of sound byte rhetoric, they tell voters “If they pitch it, switch it,” meaning switch the channel if initiative promoters pitch you their one-liners.

In a risky and stark contradiction to the ‘just vote’ mantra touted by elected officials and special interest groups, whether or not the voter truly understand what the are voting on, others urge voters to instead stop to consider the source of the information and reform effort (initiative or otherwise).

Aren’t the people who are telling citizens to ‘just vote’ the same experts (on both sides) who during their own campaigns use emotionally manipulative rhetoric to persuade voters into making emotional votes – instead of basing their votes upon a discussion upon the facts?

Rather than taking any extreme approach, as a seasoned advocacy firm that has been involved with decades worth of public policy discussions and lawmaking, Capital Alliance continues to support the notion that an educated and informed voter is always the best kind of voter.

If you don’t know about something, then don’t vote upon it until you can assess the facts.

Find out the facts for yourself.  If you cannot, then find someone you trust to explain the facts.  You are always welcomed to contact Capital Alliance for an unbiased statement of what the reform effort does, what proponents are claiming, and what opponents are claiming.  Visit us online at http://www.thecapitalalliance.com

In closing, here are some things to keep in mind as you come across reform efforts.  While there are few rules in politics, here are three important ones that should be kept in the forefront of every voter’s mind:
1) if the draft language of a proposed law comes back and the common person can understand it, then it is sent back for a re-write;
2) the passage of almost any law is about the transfer of wealth from one group to another; and,
3) always follow the money, and think about who stands to benefit from the (new) law.

We hope to have your active participation in each election, but only after your careful consideration of whatever you vote upon.  With California facing a $25.4 billion budget shortfall, and small businesses suffering, and our economy is in flux, we can no longer afford to determine our future through uncertain swipe of a pen at the voting polls.

Know before you vote!  Ask Capital Alliance.

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Capital Alliance is a full-service advocacy and public relations firm in Sacramento that promotes the well-being of California small businesses in the areas of economic development, water, green energy, public safety, agriculture, health care, education, and transportation.

Capital Alliance neither represents any candidate, political party, nor any entities associated with ballot initiatives.  As a free public service, Capital Alliance offers objective information to voters for the purpose of improving public awareness and increasing voter participation.

Find us on the web at www.TheCapitalAlliance.com or write to us at:
Capital Alliance
1029 K Street, Suite 25
Sacramento, CA  95814

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About Capital Alliance, Strategic Advocacy & Public Relations Firm

A 20 year veteran of the Capitol, Matt Gray has worked on every major public policy issue to come before the California State Legislature. He has worked as both as a Deputy Chief of Staff to the Dean of the Legislature, and most recently as a contract advocate for numerous HiTech and information technology (IT) clients as well as a venture capital firm on developing emergent technologies. Formally educated in communications and public relations, as well as the organic chemistry, Matt has extensive technical experience. In 2010, Matt was elected by Sacramento voters to the City Council for the proposed formation of Arden Arcade as California's newest city. While cityhood for Arden Arcade was ultimately defeated, Matt remains an active member of his community, and is known for being a strong proponent of improving California's small business climate. Matt is often called upon by the media for interviews on public safety and energy matters, juxtaposed with the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, and Senate Pro Tempore. He has also been a repeat guest on POWER 106 in Burbank, and on the Bruce Maiman show, Talk 1530 AM, KFBK, as well as The John & Ken Show, AM 640 in Burbank.
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