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Op Ed: Vote June 8th
updated: Jun 05, 2010, 8:00 AM
By Sharon Byrne, Deputy Director, California Common Cause
Common Cause California is a non-profit, non-partisan citizens' lobby organization. We believe that by banding together, citizens can make a difference. We throw a spotlight on issues that affect all Californians. We work to strengthen public participation and to ensure that the political process serve the public interest, rather than the special interests.
Our purpose is clear: make public officials and public institutions accountable and responsive to citizens.
With that in mind, voters face 4 ballot propositions June 8th, and need to understand what it is they're voting for. The following is somewhat abbreviated, to help people understand the ballot propositions as they vote on June 8th. Common Cause has not taken a position on all of these, but where we have, we note it. Voters are encouraged to research these propositions further, and vote on June 8th. Further information on Propositions 14 and 15 can be found on our website at http://www.commoncause.org/ca.
Prop 14 - Top Two Primaries Act
This proposal is aimed at reducing partisan gridlock in state government. It was placed on the ballot by the California Legislature as part of the February 2009 budget deal. If passed, Prop 14 would establish a "top-two" primary system for electing California's statewide constitutional officers, Congressional representatives and U.S. Senators. It would not apply to not to local elections or presidential primaries.
California's primary system features political parties that nominate candidates through a closed June primary who then appear on a general election ballot in the fall. Prop 14 would eliminate the party primary in favor of a single "voter-nominated primary elections" ballot open to all voters regardless of their registered affiliation. Candidates would choose whether or not to list a party affiliation under their name on the ballot, and all voters would have the option of voting for any candidate. The two candidates with the highest vote totals, regardless of party affiliation, advance to a general election in the fall.
Possible Outcome: Under this process, some districts could see two candidates from the same party appear on their November general election ballot.
Arguments For Prop 14: It has the potential to increase the chance that moderate candidates will survive the primary process. Less people vote in the primaries, and those that do vote do so more along extreme party lines than is true in the general election, so officials elected through the current modified closed primary may not reflect moderate majorities in their districts.
The top-two primary could also result in increased primary voter turnout as decline-to-state voters are able to cast primary ballots more easily and more choices on an elector's ballot and the ability to vote across party lines could lure in voters who traditionally don't vote in primary elections.
Arguments Against Prop 14: Eliminating the partisan primary for the affected offices encroaches on the political party's right to determine its own future and choose its own nominees. Voters who have little or no interest in the party's success will have the ability to influence which, if any, of its candidates are advanced to the run-off election. Opponents have even argued that voters could seek to sabotage an opposing political party in their choices.
Since third-party candidates are rarely among the top vote-getters in a primary election, they would likely not appear on many general election ballots and write-in candidates would be prohibited. The consequences of this limitation would be to remove the voices of third-party candidates from the discussion and debate of the fall election, which is the election that a greater number of voters follow and participate in.
California Common Cause has taken a neutral position on Prop 14.
Proposition 15 - California Fair Elections Act
Put on the June 2010 ballot by the legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger to create a pilot project providing voluntary public financing for candidates running for Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018. Its passage will assure voters that the elected official guarding the integrity of elections has no need to raise private campaign contributions. Further, it will pave the way for expanding public financing of other offices in California. The Secretary of State is a key role as it regulates elections in the state. This office, in the state of Florida, was partly responsible for deciding the 2000 presidential election.
To Qualify: Major party candidates for Secretary of State must raise 7,500 five dollar qualifying contributions and signatures from registered California voters to prove that they have a broad base of support.
Fair Elections Candidates Receive: Enough baseline public funds to run competitive primary campaigns ($1,000,000). If they win their primary, they receive enough baseline public funds to run competitive general election campaigns ($1,300,000). These levels are comparable to what winning candidates spent in 2006, but future candidates will have fewer fundraising costs so this will represent more net funding.
Strict Rules for Participating Candidates: Once qualified, Fair Elections Candidates must agree to spending limits and accept no private contributions. They would be prohibited from raising or spending additional money beyond what they receive from the fund. Further, Fair Elections Candidates would be required to participate in two debates during the general election and one during the primary.
Paid For By Registration Fees on Lobbyists and Voluntary Contributions
CFEA will be paid for by voluntary contributions designated on state tax returns and by a registration fee of $350 a year on lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers, the same as in Illinois, raising an estimated $8.0 million over four years. Currently California lobbyists only pay $12.50 a year, among the lowest of any state. The Secretary of State is responsible for administering the lobbyist registration program, so it makes sense that elections for this office would be funded in this fashion.
California Common Cause recommends a ‘yes' vote on Proposition 15. Mayor Helene Schneider supports Prop 15.
Proposition 16 - Taxpayer's Right to Vote Act
The titling of this act is misleading as to its contents. Placed on the ballot by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), it requires a two-thirds vote of the electorate before a public agency could enter the retail power business. This will make it more difficult than it is currently for local entities to form either municipal utilities, or community wide clean electricity districts called Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs).
The CCA program, established in 2002, allows local governments to purchase blocks of power to sell to residents, and to construct municipal electricity generation facilities, which means that cities and counties can become competitors to private utilities. Some cities may wish to engage in forming a utility to provide alternative energy, and this bill would make it harder to so, requiring a 2/3 vote of the electorate.
Pacific Gas & Electric is the primary financial sponsor of the initiative, having contributed $46.1 million through May 25, 2010. Prop 16's opponents have raised less than $50,000 through mid-May.
California Common Cause has not taken a position on Prop 16.
Proposition 17 "Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver's History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute."
This will allow insurance companies in the state to give what are known as "persistency discounts" to new customers. "Persistency discounts" are discounts for those who have had continuous or nearly continuous auto insurance coverage. California has 23.7 million licensed drivers who collectively pay billions of dollars in auto insurance premiums. Currently 80% of drivers maintain auto insurance and qualify for a persistency discount. A flaw in current law prohibits drivers from taking this continuous coverage discount with them if they switch insurance companies.
About 20% of California's drivers fall into the category of those who have had lapses in their insurance coverage to the extent that they would not be eligible for the persistency discounts allowed both under current law and Proposition 17.
Mercury Insurance is Proposition 17's primary sponsor. Through May 28, Mercury Insurance was responsible for about 98% of the funding for the "Yes on 17" campaign, having contributed $14.6 million.
The Los Angeles Times is urging a "no" voting, saying, "proponents can't explain away is that insurers will have to offset the expected revenue loss from the new discount by raising rates on the people who don't qualify for it. By proponents' estimates, 80% of California drivers qualify for the loyalty discount, which means that the 20% who don't qualify pay a surcharge. But more than 80% of drivers have been continuously covered by various insurers, so more people will be eligible for the discount - and the fewer people who remain will have to pay for it.
Like Prop 16, voters have to question why a major corporation is funding it, and what they hope to get out of its passage.
California Common Cause has not taken a position on Prop 17.
Vote June 8th!
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