- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2010

The 2010 California ballot isn’t just a list of traditional ballot initiatives and propositions - at times it’s a toe-to-toe slugfest between the state Legislature and anyone standing in its way.

Most of the national attention has gone to Proposition 19, which would make California the first state to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. But look further down the ballot, and the recurring theme is of the Democrat-controlled Legislature fighting to expand its authority, while outsiders seek to curtail it.

The clashing resolutions have even spawned activist groups with names such as “Yes on 20/No on 27” to let Golden State voters know how to deal with clashing measures on the ballot.

Exhibit A: the budget. The state’s marathon budget battles are the stuff of lore - this year’s budget stalemate has already set a state record of 85 days through Thursday, with no end in sight. Proposition 25 would change the requirement for passing the state budget from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority, thus allowing the Democrats to approve budgets without any Republican support.

But Propositions 22 and 26 would restrict the Legislature’s ability to raise revenue by borrowing from the state’s transportation fund or by increasing fees and levies. Meanwhile, Proposition 24 would suspend the state’s much-vaunted climate-change restrictions until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or lower for at least a year.

Then there’s redistricting. Two years ago, voters passed Proposition 11, which removed the power to draw legislative districts from lawmakers in Sacramento and handed it to an independent commission - just in time for the 2012 redistricting battles.

Proposition 27, backed by state legislators, would eliminate the commission and return the power to the Legislature. But another measure, Proposition 20, would expand the redistricting commission’s authority to include congressional districts.

What happens if voters decide to expand the commission’s authority and to abolish it at the same time? According to the California Secretary of State’s Office, the proposition that receives more votes in November will prevail.

“There’s a lot at stake here on both sides,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

California boasts some of the safest congressional and legislative seats in the nation, thanks to decades of gerrymandering designed to protect both Democratic and Republican incumbents. Only one congressional district in the past 10 years has changed parties, said Susan Shafer, spokeswoman for the “Yes on 20/No on 27” campaign.

Critics say the result has been legislative gridlock, given that neither party has any incentive to compromise on divisive issues like the budget. Even good-government groups such as Common Cause and longtime Democratic Party allies such as the NAACP California State Conference have come out in favor of redistricting by commission.

Still, lawmakers aren’t giving up without a fight. Proposition 27 backers have raised nearly $5 million, most from Democratic state legislators and members of Congress. Rep. Judy Chu has contributed a whopping $600,000, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has donated $10,000 and Rep. Linda T. Sanchez has given $25,000, according to reports.

Their argument is based on power: Proposition 20 would cost California its clout in Congress. “Ultimately, it’s the fact that our delegation has been fairly influential in Washington, D.C., and anything that would change and lessen that would be detrimental to California,” said Victoria Hoang, spokeswoman for the “No on 20” campaign.

Republican political analyst Allan Hoffenblum predicts the lawmakers won’t find a receptive audience. “They’re swimming against the tide,” he said. “Most people do not expect this [proposition] to be successful. I don’t even know how you campaign on that.”

State legislators are finding more support for Proposition 25 on passing a budget, their other top election priority. The bill’s proponents, chiefly Democrats and labor unions, argue that reducing the votes needed would break the perennial budget gridlock and spare the state time and money - not to mention its national reputation - by streamlining the process. California is one of only three states that requires a two-thirds majority vote for the budget.

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