California’s initiative process has long been a thorn in the side of the state’s labor unions and their allies in the Democrat Party. While they have occasionally utilized ballot measure to coax more money out of taxpayers, overall progressives have viewed ballot initiatives as the one aspect of the state’s government that they cannot fully control.
Their stranglehold on the legislature and deep pockets for election spending ensure their domination as California’s most powerful political influencer. For besieged conservatives and businesses, bypassing the union-controlled legislature and appealing directly to voters has been a saving grace and has slowed, if not halted, the state’s drive off the economic cliff.
Since the passage of Proposition 13 and its property tax protections in 1978 as part of the storied California tax revolt, unions and Democrats have sought to curb the influence and freedom of the initiative process. In the last few years alone, a dozen legislative bills have tried to wrest control of the initiative process from the people and place it within the capitol.
From disallowing payment for signature gathering (a necessity in a state as large as California), to increasing the number of voter signatures required, to mandating all initiatives receive two-thirds approval from the legislature, every angle has been played in curtailing the people’s ability to vote on measures via the ballot box. But none of these attempts have been as devious or anti-democratic as the latest union tactic.
Radio listeners were recently bombarded with ominous-sounding ads warning them against signing any initiative petitions for fear of their identity being stolen. These ads feature a husband admonishing his wife for submitting to the “pushy” signature gatherers outside the local grocery store, and warning her that they will have to watch their credit reports now because of her carelessness.
Examined for their veracity by newspapers and political professionals, the ads were deemed laughable and erroneous. They were simply designed to scare voters into bypassing signature gatherers and therefore torpedo the chances of their petitions qualifying for the ballot. For decades the initiative process has allowed the gathering of voter signatures and the information collected on petitions is no different than that already public in voter registration records.
There are a number of petitions currently in circulation trying to get on the June primary and November general election ballots in 2012, so at first it was unclear who was running the ads and to what end. The radio ads identify themselves as being paid for by “Californians against Identity Theft;” an altruistic-sounding organization, right? But the vast majority of voters are cynical or wise enough to know that those benevolent-sounding groups sponsoring political ads are usually a front group for the same old powers that have always run things.
After some careful sleuthing, it was discovered that the labor union State Building & Construction Trades Council of California was actually behind the ads. In fact, the Sacramento Bee interviewed the union’s president, Bob Balgenorth, who admitted that he was part of the cabal that devised this deceptive scheme to deter voters from signing any and all petitions.
“I’ve long been concerned about the whole ballot initiative process, the fact that it’s not regulated as much as it should be,” Balgenort told the paper. Not regulated as much as it should be? What he really means is not regulated by the unions as they want it to be.
So what would cause the unions to launch this campaign to frighten and intimidate voters? A new initiative, the Stop Special Interest Money initiative, would stop union and corporate paycheck deductions for political spending. Unions and corporations would be banned from confiscating money from members’ or employees’ paychecks and then using it to support candidates or causes that actually undermine their personal beliefs. The initiative has been successfully gathering signatures and will most likely appear on the June 5, 2012 primary ballot.
Unions should be scared. The Stop Special Interest Money initiative has an estimated $1.5 million in the bank and public sentiment is turning against the unions’ insatiable greed for tax dollars regardless of the damage to the private sector.
Unions claim to stand up for the little guy and protect the average Joe against powerful special interests. So how ironic that they are now engaged in a campaign to prevent the very people they purport to protect from exercising their constitutional rights.
It’s no wonder unions are willing to thwart democracy and intimidate voters with such detestable scare tactics. But it shows just how far unions are willing to go to maintain their power—they would even deny the fundamental democratic process and citizens’ right to participate in it if it means unions can keep their power.