November's Ballotapalooza

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Political consultants. Arnold Schwarzenegger. California's congressional Democrats. BP. The forever warring California Legislature.

Consider these some of the key early players worth noting in the ten measures that made it onto the November 2 statewide ballot, each of which received its official number today.

Some of the above players will lose... only one is guaranteed to win. Can you guess which one?

First, let's do the numbers.

Proposition 18: $11.1 billion water bond placed on ballot last year by the Legislature
Proposition 19: legalizing marijuana in California with regulation and taxation
Proposition 20: adds maps for Congress to work of Citizens Redistricting Commission
Proposition 21: $18 annual vehicle license fee to fund state parks and wildlife programs
Proposition 22: prohibition of state borrowing from local government/transportation funds
Proposition 23: links state's global warming law AB 32 to California unemployment rate
Proposition 24: repeal of business tax breaks contained in 2009 budget deal
Proposition 25: approval of state budget in each legislative house cut to simple majority
Proposition 26: approval of new fees in each legislative house raised to supermajority
Proposition 27: abolish the soon-to-convene Citizens Redistricting Commission

As not-so-subtly referenced earlier, the only surefire winners in the November slugfest are California's many political consultants, who appear poised to again make big bucks off of running campaigns, buying air time for political ads (remember, most get a 10%-15% commission on those ad buys), polling, and so on.

Now, to the other players.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

The lineup of ballot measures seems appropos as the final political chapter for the iconic governor, and it's a doozy. Almost every one of these proposals can trace some part of its lineage back to Schwarzenegger and his time in office. But the real question for his political team: how thin can you spread the Big Guy? Three measures directly affect the Schwarzenegger legacy -- the Prop 18 water bond, the Prop 23 fight over the global warming law he's been lauded for worldwide, and the effort under Prop 27 to erase independent redistricting from the California Constitution. Can Schwarzenegger win all three fights? And even then, do his dismal approval ratings relegate him to a low-profile role of raising dollars but staying away from the cameras? The strong odds of a long state budget stalemate might make that kind of stealth role easier to pull off.

But even the less obvious Schwarzenegger-related measures may color his legacy; three measures (Props 22, 25, and 26) are all products of the state's fiscal fights that the governor promised to stop when elected in 2003. The budget tinkering contained in Props 21 and 24 also feel like referendums on Schwarzenegger's record -- both represent budget actions he either tried to take (eliminating funding for state parks, thus prompting advocates to seek additional dollars) or actions he took and still defends (new business tax credits). Only the marijuana legalization measure, Prop 19, has a reasonable distance away from Schwarzenegger... and even there, a thin nexus (no, not that one): his 2009 comments that the issue merited a public debate.

What Arnold Schwarzenegger says, doesn't say, does, or doesn't do in relation to these ten proposals will be fascinating for those of us who have watched him govern.

Expand It Or Kill It?

Two years ago, voters narrowly approved the initiative that stripped legislators of their long-standing power to draw their own political districts and those for members of Congress. The new map drawers will be 14 citizens chosen through a long and complicated process that hasn't even come close to completion. And now, voters will be asked to again wade into the arcane but politically powerful world of redistricting. Prop 20 seeks to close an exception in the original measure that was the price of keeping powerful California members of Congress from killing it: having the commission add congressional maps to its marching orders. And knowing that Prop 20 was in the pipeline and well funded, the state's congressional Democrats decided to muddy the waters this fall with Prop 27, a measure to scrap the citizens commission altogether. The Democratic pols won't shed tears if Prop 27 fails... as long as voters also reject Prop 20, a 'voters say no to both' strategy. The real question is whether other critics of the independent redistricting process, one that's produced a pool of potential commissioners closely scrutinized, will step forward to be the face of Prop 27... while supporters of Prop 20 will probably focus their ire on one congressman in particular: Rep. Howard Berman, the veteran Democrat from LA who apparently played a key behind-the-scenes role in putting the anti-redistricting commission on the ballot.


The initiative to suspend the global warming law AB 32 (probably indefinitely) has already been mentioned... but don't be surprised to see the world's most villified oil company get dragged in to the Prop 23 fight, even if they don't have a single dollar invested in the campaign. Yes, BP. The British oil company, with apparently only one friend left in national politics (and none in California), has become the go-to shorthand used by many supporters of alternative and renewable energy for all that's wrong with Big Oil. And because other oil companies... from Texas! ... put up the vast majority of money to get Prop 23 on the ballot, the oil biz will become a hotly debated topic, and it's not a far stretch from there for images of the Gulf disaster images to be rolled out by the opposition campaign. Of course, backers of Prop 23 will work hard to try to link the regulatory hurdles some businesses face under AB 32 to a further weakening of the state's economy. But I'm guessing those two letters (and not the company's old name) will soon be coming to a TV screen near you.

The Legislature Is The Solution... Or The Problem?

And finally, every twist and turn of this long 2010 summer budget fight will prove tempting fodder for the campaigns surrounding Prop 25 and Prop 26. With recent polls suggesting California voters are reconsidering their long support for a supermajority budget vote in the Assembly and Senate, the Democratic and organized labor backers of Prop 25 may benefit from a summer full of newspaper headlines about budget gridlock; pass Prop 25, they'll say, and budgets will be ratified on time. Meantime, the business community backers of Prop 26 could benefit from any kind of budget proposal that raises some kind of revenue without calling it a tax; pass Prop 26, they'll say, and even insidious fees will require a supermajority vote. There's a lot on the line for the powerful labor vs. business, Dems vs. Reeps forces gathering on these two initiatives. And you can bet these interests are going to be jawboning their respective legislators about the campaigns at the same time those lawmakers are trying to find some solution to a very ugly $19 billion budget problem.

And what impact will the Jerry Brown v. Meg Whitman clash have on these proposition campaigns? How about the health of the California economy, which certainly seems to have left voters in a foul mood?

These questions and more make this a really fascinating election season on which to report. So, I suppose you have to count me, in a odd sort of way, as one of the winners. My journalist dance card is now full.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Mike Crenshaw

    Should be $11.1 billion after Prop 18, not $11.1

  • John Myers

    Good eyes, thanks.

  • EarlRichards

    Chevron gouged $24 billions in excessive profits in 2008, as per Schwarzenegger should put an excessive profits tax on these profits, instead of protecting the oil corporations from fair taxation, then, there would be sufficient public funds for all the vulnerable, people programs. Big business lost the fight to eliminate domestic violence funding, so now they are coming back with a vengeance. There is no funding provision for battered women shelters in the May Revise. Schwarzee picks on the most vulnerable, and not on corporate tax “deadbeats.” Schwarzenegger, Shriver, Maldonaldo and Whitman could not care less whether battered women live or die.