QUESTION TIME: Last year, San Francisco voted down a ballot initiative that would have required the mayor to submit to "question time" from the board of supervisors, in the same manner that British prime ministers must take questions in the House of Commons. But the board of supes hasn't given up, inviting Mayor Gavin Newsom to show up and take questions. He is declining these invitations. Newsom, who remains popular despite a public confession of adultery with a top aide's wife, has been deflecting requests for information of all kinds as he explores a race for governor in 2010. (Arnold is termed out, so the seat is open).
PAGING DANIEL PLAINVIEW: In California, Assembly Democrats are moving forward with a plan to establish a state severance tax on oil to fund education. It might not pass the legislature -- the Golden State requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes but it could end up on the ballot. And the proposal demonstrates where, with oil companies reporting record profits and states struggling to balance their budgets, legislators will look for new revenues.
The best evidence of this is in Arkansas, where politicians of both parties are competing to raise the severance tax. Gov. Mike Beebe is using the threat of a ballot initiative -- his aides say he is drafting one -- to demand that the severance tax on natural gas be raised. He wants the funds used to fix state highways. (Under severance taxes, states typically tax the market value of natural gas or oil at the time of extraction).
A daily diary of developments in the world of blockbuster democracy:
SILENCE IN MISSISSIPPI: Today is the presidential primary in the Magnolia State, the newest addition to the map of initiative states. But only 23 initiatives have been filed since Mississippi added the initiative in 1992. And there isn't a measure on today's ballot.
NEIGHBORS BACKED CALIFORNIA TRIBES: The support of neighbors of California tribes with fast-expanding casinos was important to the victory of four compacts -- Propositions 94-97 -- on the Feb. 5 ballot, according to this analysis from the Press Enterprise.
CHALLENGE TO STEM CELL: In California, something calling itself the San Jose Group has filed an initiative that seeks to roll back the funding mechanism of Prop 71, the stem cell measure passed by voters in 2004. The measure is here.
The Wall Street Journal devoted its lead op-ed last weekend (unfortunately, the link and story appear to have disappeared from the paper's subscription-based web site) to a battle between casino interests and its teachers’ union.
The Nevada State Education Assn. has drafted an initiative that would raise business taxes on the large casinos to 9.75 percent from 6.75 percent. If the measure makes the ballot, this would be the initiative equivalent of the heavyweight title fights that Vegas loves to host.
Teachers’ unions and gambling interests are the two of the biggest-spending entities in the country when it comes to direct democracy. And this battle could create problems for whomever emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee. The powerful Culinary Workers Union opposes the teachers on this measure, and both unions likely will pressure the Democrat to choose sides.
Tom Chorneau at the Chronicle has a solid look at the two competing measures, Propositions 98 and 99, on this June's California ballot.
As a regular feature, I'll provide updates measures as they qualify in California and around the country.
The LA Clippers don't win much. But to call one genre of ballot measures -- reapportionment initiatives -- the Clippers of initiatives is an insult... to the Clippers.
Or to put it another way. Such measures lose. Always. Dozens of such initiatives have been filed in California in the past 15 years. How many have been approved by voteres? Zero.
But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former state Controller Steve Westly are trying again. The two teamed up in 2004 to convince voters to pass Propositions 57 and 58, companion measures to refinance the state's debt and to establish a balanced budget requirement in the state constitution. The measures won, but the initiatives have failed to live up to Schwarzenegger's promise that they would fix the state budget "once and for all." Now they want to prevent a repeat of the "bipartisan gerrymander" the Golden State saw when new district lines were drawn seven years ago.
That gerrymander ended competition between the parties.Instead, the state was carved up into seats that were safe for Democrats and Republicans. Swing districts were eliminated. Democrats liked it because it locked in their majorities; Republicans embraced it because it prevented further losses. In 2004, not a single one of the 153 legislative and congressional seats changed hands from one party to another.