SOMEONE APPARENTLY FAILED TO SEAL the coffin on one of the more ghastly proposed California ballot measures after it was seemingly safely buried a month ago. Like the walking dead, it’s ambling blindly but ominously back onto the political stage.
Fat-cat Republican donors have resurrected an initiative that would alter the way California divvies up its presidential electoral votes by abolishing its current winner-take-all system. Under the new scheme, and scheme is the right word, a presidential candidate would no longer “win the state” and its bounty of 55 electoral votes, but would instead be handed the votes on the basis of individual congressional districts. Bottom line: Instead of the Republicans losing the state, as expected next November, the GOP candidate could walk away with at least 20 electoral votes, enough to take the White House.
After this transparent ploy was floated last summer, heavy Democratic opposition and some public skepticism from the Governator killed it off. When Schwarzenegger went on TV and said, “There is something off with this whole thing,” money and signatures for the movement immediately shriveled and collapsed. At least, that’s what everybody thought. That is, until this week, when a new Republican-backed organization began raising $2 million to collect the 400,000 signatures needed by the end of the month to qualify the measure.
If you see some guy with a clipboard in front of the supermarket making you a pitch about reforming the Electoral College, keep on walking. If, instead, you sign, you not only make the signature collector $3.75 richer, but you help dismantle — the wrong way — our long-standing Electoral College.
The revived effort is being led by a group of Republican operatives, including a top fund-raiser who is close to Rudy Giuliani. Representative Darrel Issa, the San Diego–area car-alarm magnate — who helped finance the recall of Gray Davis — has already placed his ante on this measure in the form of a $50,000 check. Veteran GOP pollster Ed Rollins has also joined the effort. So has Ann Dunsmore, George W. Bush’s chief rainmaker in the last two cycles, who was raising money for Giuliani until a handful of weeks ago.
That said, the measure doesn’t have great chances for success even if it makes it onto the ballot. A clear majority of Californians already oppose the idea, and if it were put to a vote next June, you can be sure that Democrats would pull out all the financial stops to knock it down.
But while we’re on the subject of the Dems, they have their own little dirty ballot business under way. Democratic Speaker Fabian Núñez has reportedly asked all 47 of his Assembly colleagues to cough up $50,000 each to support his doozy of an initiative, Proposition 93. This Democratic campaign, run by longtime political hack Gale Kaufman, parades itself to voters as a measure that would strengthen California term limits, when in fact it’s a thinly disguised incumbent self-protection act. While the measure would indeed reduce a legislator’s maximum term from 14 down to 12 years, it would simultaneously extend for one more term all the sitting state senators and all 80 Assembly members who would otherwise be termed out this cycle. In other words, it jumbles the state’s entire term-limit system and promises empty reform only so Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata can cling to their perches for another term.
This political curve ball has been Núñez’s $3 million baby, his near personal obsession. It’s one of the reasons why earlier this year, he turned his back on or, better said, mooned his traditional labor allies and supported a move to expand gambling concessions for the state’s wealthiest and most anti-union tribes. Núñez was worried that if he didn’t buy off the Indian lobby, they could fund opposition to his incumbency-protection maneuver.
With these sorts of shenanigans from both sides — phony Electoral College reform from the Republicans and devious term-limit reform from the Democrats — is it any wonder that half the voters don’t bother to show up, even in a crucial election year like this one?