Monday, July 18, 2005

#174 - California Special Election Du Jour

I had promised to blog eventually about our upcoming Useless Special Election, and so I shall.

In California, the term "Special Election" is political shorthand for "I Ain't Got the Cojones to Ram This Legislation Through On My Own." It's a red flag that means that the sitting (or travelling) Governor is having serious trouble with his political agenda, and needs the voters to sort it all out for him.

We voters get a little tired of bailing out our failed Legislature.

Let's be honest: Governors are really not much more than political figureheads. Their primary purpose is to put a face on whichever political platform they support. Schwarzenegger became Governor not so much because he has any real political prowess, but because he was the Anti-Davis. The Face that would get us past Gray Davis's own political ineptitude and save us from the dreaded Energy Warmongers.

Two years on the Energy Warmongers have largely imploded from lack of infrastructure ("What? You mean we need actual money to be a viable company? Who knew?"), and even some Republicans are beginning to think back on Davis with wistfully reminiscent looks on their faces.

The problem is our state initiative process. While I'll grant you that the ability to send critical issues directly to the voters has proven to be beneficial in many cases, it also represents the idea that we voters become a supplanting Committee of the Whole; effectively replacing the Legislature by bypassing their constitutional authority.

In other words: Why have a state Legislature?

The redistricting issue is a classic example: No one, it seems, will admit that redistricting should never be in the hands of the very people who have a vested interest in furthering their own political careers. Political powerfeeders will do everything they can to stay in power, one way or another. Because of Terms Limits (with which I do not necessarily agree, even though it could represent another Willie Brown fiasco), legislators can only serve two terms in any given office. This means that in the best case they would serve two terms as Assemblyman, two terms as State Senator, then (hopefully) have enough face power to become a High Elected Official.

In order to get around these pesky limits, some legislators try to get their districts gerrymandered out of existence, so they can be eligible to run for a new district, meaning they start the clock over. Also, the art of gerrymandering itself has become so ludicrous, that even legislators themselves understand just how transparent their power grabs really are. And when they have to admit that they're being transparent, that's pretty bad. It's like having temperatures drop so low that lawyers are suddenly forced to keep their hands in their own pockets. (Old joke - no apologies.)

In the meantime, thanks to Terms Limits, no single legislator has a snowball's chance of getting enough face recognition in time to run for Governor without doing something that will land them in federal prison during that time when they should be governing, so we end up with actors, who are the only ones with both face recognition and copious amounts of time on their hands. A dangerous formula, in my mind.

All of this means that ballot initiatives will forever be a part of the California political scene, and special elections will be called by junior-grade Governors who cannot, on their own, handle the Legislature. It also means that we voters tend to be perpetually overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the things we supposedly elected our legislators to handle for us. Aren't they adults, these legislators? Are they not capable of working things out without our constant hand-holding? And if not, why do we continually elect them?

Maybe it's not chlorine in our water supply. Maybe it's Kool-aid.

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