By Tim Cavanaugh
In today's Los Angeles Times, Joe Mathews, co-author of California Crackup and an essential commentator on Golden State politics, uses this year's slate of ballot initiatives to demonstrate his view of what's broken.
Mathews' diagnoses are always worth a look, though I agree with few of his recommendations, and I think one claim here -- that the 2/3-vote requirement to pass a budget leads to "minority rule" by the Republicans -- is strong evidence of cranial-rectal inversion syndrome. If you believe the Republicans (who control 27 out of 80 seats in the Assembly and and 14 out of 40 seats in the Senate) have too much power (at least relative to the Democrats), well, you're smoking something.
Speaking of which, dig Mathews' strange case against Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize and tax cannabis:
Proposition 19, unlike many initiatives, includes special provisions that permit the Legislature to make some changes to the measure (as long as those changes further the purpose of making it easy to sell weed). The measure also grants local governments discretion in regulating cannabis.
But Proposition 19 also establishes a specific method for legalizing and taxing marijuana that, under California's Constitution, can't be altered without another vote of the people.
This is problematic when it comes to legalizing marijuana, because if California were to become the only state to legalize the drug, there undoubtedly would be a host of new issues that might require altering the fundamental structure of Proposition 19. And that would require more action by voters. If the Legislature had created the underlying law, it would be easier to make changes.
And if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'. The legislature will never create the underlying law, any more than it would have approved medical marijuana in 1996. Prop. 19 is on the ballot because it has no hope of getting through the legislature, because the major organs of the political and cultural establishment can't treat seriously the idea of not imprisoning people for consuming a naturally occuring variety of produce, because popular will is once again being thwarted by government. That's not the problem with the initiative process; it's the whole point of the initiative process. If California's ruling class had shown any seriousness on this issue, Prop. 19 would not exist.
Mathews' argument against 19 is a more informed version of the "Legal confusion is worse than criminalizing non-violent personal activity" sections Matt Welch includes in his extensive catalogue of anti-19 scaremongering. Mathews concedes that 19 is more reasonable than the average initiative in defining a regulatory role for politicians, but then objects that that role isn't broad enough. Why is a guy with extensive knowledge of the state's gruesome political class afraid of placing constraints on the authority of the state?
This is a goofy attitude for free people anywhere, but it's especially odd in California, where we now get annual demonstrations of state paralysis, with no ill effects. Long delays in passing a budget have occured in all but five of the past 30 years, and during those delays the state government effectively goes into sleep mode: reduced hours and limited public services, furloughs and layoffs of government employees, hiccups in corporate and personal welfare payments, delays in paying contractors. And you know what impact the annual government shutdown has on working Californians? Bupkes. A temporary reduction in government services is a small price to pay for keeping power out of the hands of politicians. In fact, it's no price at all.
L.A. Times extra: George "I Thought He Died Years Ago" Skelton objects that legalization will make California a "laughingstock" and could allow "folks" to "make millions" (as opposed to letting other folks making tax-free billions, as the situation stands now).