Meg Whitman is running for the California governorship. Obviously, Whitman very much wants Californians to cast a vote for her this year. And then, apparently, she wants to stop Californians from casting a vote on much of anything else in the future.
Repeatedly, the billionaire former CEO of eBay has attacked California's ballot initiative and referendum process. Last May, right after California voters clobbered a number of issues referred to the ballot by legislators, measures that would have raised taxes and played three card monte with parts of state spending, Whitman told an audience, "In many ways, the proposition process has worn out its usefulness."
Last week, she told the gang on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program:
I mean, the referendum process, you know, dates back to 1918, I think. And it has its useful purpose, but there's no question we have too many referendums on the ballot and too much spending has been, ah, you know, propositioned into process. So, I think you got to have a different approach, no question about it.
Some might argue that Whitman simply isn't a fan of voting at all, period, since she didn't vote for 28 years until she was 46 years old, and then only voted sporadically. But she has repeatedly apologized for her serial omissions, or at least repeated the same apology over and over again, refusing to elaborate. (Her latecomer status as a voter echoes in her latecomer status as a party member: She waited to register as a Republican until 2007.)
Frankly, I can better understand someone being too busy or even uninterested in voting than someone wishing to actually remove the other voters from the process of government in whole or part.
What is she against, exactly? Golden State citizens being permitted to propose laws or constitutional amendments or to force a referendum vote on acts of the state's majority Democrat legislature. Why? Well, she predicates her opposition on the propensity of voters to spend money via the ballot box.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that's the charge hurled forth again and again by California's elite, from politicians to pundits to judges. The only problem is that the charge is false.
Oh, sure, people have occasionally voted to spend tax money or protect education funding. But this misses the forest for the scrub brush.
As three analysts with the Reason Foundation wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal: "Whatever the wisdom of ballot initiatives . . . they are not the root cause of California's fiscal disaster. That cause is the government's spending addiction. From 1990 to 2008, California's revenues increased 167%, but total spending soared 181%."
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, recently told legislators on the select committees on Improving State Government, "Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you." The Center found that 84 percent of ballot measures that required additional state spending between 1988 and 2009 were put forward by legislators, not through citizen initiatives.
Yet, we certainly don't hear Meg Whitman suggesting the legislature has "worn out its usefulness."
Beyond the statistics lies another important element in the debate: The long shadow cast by Proposition 13.
Prop 13 cut property taxes back in 1978, when an arrogant and out-of-touch government splurged on programs, while ignoring the plight of citizens losing their homes to soaring tax bills. The citizen initiative, championed by the legendary Howard Jarvis and opposed by virtually every politician of any stripe, also required a two thirds vote of the state legislature to hike taxes.
Those looking for ways to destroy or severely curtail the ability of Californians to initiate ballot measures have a very clear goal: Kill Proposition 13. Why? To make it easier to raise taxes. Side goals include such things as slaying the state's legislative term limits, which again came from the people by initiative . . . not from the legislature.
Are there too many initiatives or referendums? Since most regular folks are not looking to run government or seeking new programs, arguments that there are too many initiatives and referendums or too many amendments to the state constitution may hold some sway.
But do politicians share this perspective? Well, probably not. When politicians attack the initiative process they rarely, if ever, supply facts in support of their opposition. They seem not to understand the obvious comparisons. Or basic math. For instance, during the 2009-2010 legislative cycle, California's legislators introduced 3,251 bills; since 2007 voters have initiated only 15 initiatives and four referendums. Moreover, less than 10 percent of constitutional amendments have come via the initiative.
Certainly, Whitman's position against initiative and referendum is far from the only one that would likely disturb conservatives -- or members of her own Party, the GOP. She supports public funding of abortions, saying, "[I]t's unfair to women who cannot afford an abortion, and that's why I support public funding." She supported, contributed to and raised money for Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's 2004 campaign. And Whitman has a deep affection for Van Jones, who resigned as Obama's "green jobs" czar after his involvement in a communist group was exposed.
One has to ask Republicans: With friends like Meg Whitman, who needs enemies?
But for all Californians, her opposition to allowing them to vote on the issues that affect their lives provides the best reason to look for someone else.