Damn, Not Another Election

It’s almost Election Day. Again. Your ballot is full and you better show up. This is the most important electoral decision you’ll make in your life. Since the last election. Until the next one. No joke. It’s the little ones, the quiet ones, that can do all the damage. A low turnout empowers the organized few who felt strongly enough to press for a special election in the first place. So this one’s important, even if it seems a bit redundant.November 8 brings the vote that will doom or cement the Arnold Schwarzenegger revolution (but wasn’t that what the 2003 recall was all about?). It’s the election that will decide whether pregnant girls who are not yet 18 will be denied abortions unless their parents are in on it (I could have sworn I voted on that about 10 years ago), and the one that will determine whether unions will have to ask each member individually for permission to use a portion of their dues for political lobbying (now, I know I voted on that before. Proposition 226. Didn’t that lose?).We’ve got the budget amendment. But then, we always seem to have the budget amendment. At least we don’t have the redistricting amendment, because a court threw that out. No, wait, another court threw it back in. So it could pass, and we could get a three-judge panel drawing district lines. Like we had a few years ago, until we voted to change it. And we have the school-construction bond. You know, the one that will be the last bond necessary to build all the schools we need, just like the first last bond we needed about a decade ago, and the one after that, and the one after that.This election will once and for all give direction to the Los Angeles City Council. (Wait, didn’t we do that in 2003? And what did we just do last May?)Election fatigue. Voting day comes too often, and the ballot holds too much. Each election brings more campaign spending in the form of nasty TV commercials, or glossy mailers featuring photos of some well-groomed candidate gesturing with his or her hands while talking earnestly to a firefighter or police officer.The former governor was re-elected in November 2002, recalled in October 2003, with presidential-primary campaigning already in high gear in the background. Deaniacs, Wesley Clark, aircraft carriers and “Mission Accomplished.” Diebold. California’s primary was in March 2004, followed by Kerry-Edwards, Swift Boats, Michael Moore, the Texas Air National Guard, Rathergate. Then the November presidential vote, plus, in California, nine ballot measures, covering stem cells, three strikes, DNA databases, employee-health coverage. It’s amazing that the state’s chief elections guy, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, could keep up. Actually, he didn’t. He resigned soon after that November election. And was replaced by Bruce McPherson. Remember voting for him? No, you don’t. No election for that one.You got Thanksgiving off, then it was time for the mayoral campaign. Jim Hahn (remember him? Vaguely?) and Antonio Villaraigosa. That got us two elections — last March, and last May. Then Schwarzenegger (remember him?) wanted a special election, because we had forgotten about him, and here we are. Election Day. Again.It didn’t used to be like this, although we’ve always had a lot of elections in California. That’s in part because the local races are nonpartisan, and local officials like to have them in off years when party politics doesn’t come into the mix so much. Truth be told, according to Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum, a lot of political consultants and policy wonks who specialize in local races also like to have local races in off years because they know not many people vote then. “They like it that they have this small group of people that they know,” he said. They know them so well that they can target them with direct-mail appeals or visit them at home on Saturdays or Sunday afternoons. Illustration by Mr. Fish Lately, though, we’ve had far more elections than usual, beginning with the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. You can agree or disagree that Davis had to be ousted, or that the recall would have succeeded without an action hero leading the charge against him, but you can’t get around the fact that we had a special election because tens of thousands of us wanted one. The same thing is true about the election coming up in a couple of weeks.“People are ambivalent,” Cal State Fullerton political science professor Raphael Sonenshein said. “They tell pollsters that voters have more direct decision-making, instead of the Legislature. But then they complain about the number of initiatives and the number of elections.”It’s not just Schwarzenegger and outraged voters who have brought us special elections. Job opportunities, and early death, have played a role as well. Just a few weeks ago, voters in Orange County went to the polls to replace Christopher Cox, who resigned from Congress to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Gordon was elected to represent the South Bay in the state Assembly last November but soon died of a brain tumor, and voters there had a special election last month to replace him. Miguel Contreras, leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, died suddenly in May, and Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow resigned his post mid-term to replace him. Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor, and left his old position vacant. We’re refilling Ludlow’s and Villaraigosa’s seats on November 8.There will be more special elections like that, thanks to term limits. City Council president Alex Padilla can’t run here again, so he’s hoping to leave his job to take a new position in the state Senate. That means voters in his part of the San Fernando Valley may be seeing a special election before long. Similar moves are to be expected from any local politician terming out and seeking a state post.It’s all too much. So can’t we just let a few of these go by? No. Not really. The elections we let go by are the elections we hand over to the people who actually do show up. In this election, for example, it is entirely possible that a governor with bottom-scraping job-approval ratings will succeed in silencing his most effective antagonist, the California Teachers Association, with Proposition 75. He could command unprecedented control over state spending. An overwhelmingly “blue” state could suddenly redden. We could wake up on November 9 with sweeping restrictions on abortion rights. Voter-approved restrictions. “I think the special election is a terrible idea,” Sonenshein said, “but it’s on.” The people who want to shut down labor clout, empower Schwarzenegger, and restrict access to abortion are showing up on November 8. You should too.


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