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Local Politics 101: What's The Case For The Ballot Measure System?

May 22, 2018 1:44 p.m.

Local Politics 101: What's The Case For The Ballot Measure System?


Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College and University of San Diego

Related Story: Local Politics 101: What's The Case For The Ballot Measure System?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> It is not only candidates we have to choose in the June primary, there are issues, as well. Our series San Diego politics 101 looks into ballot measures, why we see so many of them and how to find out about the issues they address. Once again Mesa College professor is here to answer those basic questions about elections and political process. Welcome back.
>> Good to be here again, Maureen.
>> What is the case for the ballot measure system? Why do we have a?
>> About 100 years ago, we had a progressive revolution in California. The legislature had been captured by the railroads. We were the state from the Southern Pacific so the governor Hiram Johnson, allowed direct citizen action to change the Constitution to recall elected officials and veto legislation and pass new legislation initiated by citizens independent of the legislator. It would provide people at direct control over their government. About 27 states do it now.
>> To all the ballot measures begin as citizens initiatives? Aren't they sometimes passed along to the voters?
>> Under the California Constitution, any amendments proposed by the legislature have to be presented to the voters.
>> How much does it cost to get this on the ballot?
>> Money changes everything, it has become such a big-money business. This is what Hiram Johnson never envisioned, to be able to use money to relegate the process.
>> You need to get hundreds of thousands of signatures based on the percentage of the last gubernatorial election. You have to pay money, it is not like people are going door to door out of the goodness of their heart to get signatures. These people are paid by a company, there are about four companies that dominate that market. You can pay up to $12 the signature, that is 1 million or more you need to qualify for the ballot. These companies will tell you -- that means either really big citizens groups or --
>> In this primary there are five statewide ballot measures, there were also measures for voters in other cities. How many measures can there be?
>> We have been averaging between 10-20 measures poor election for the last 20-30 years. It used to be, from the 1940s-80s, we had less than 50 ballot initiatives total. We have had close to 200 since then. Groups have discovered that with the right money you can circumvent the legislative process and get things on the ballot. It can confuse voters and oddly enough, it has probably contributed to a decline in voter turnout.
>> Do we know whether voters tend to like or dislike this initiative process?
>> Impulse, they love it. It is two thirds of Californians that think it is a good idea. In 2016 we passed a proposition to overturn citizens United saying we had to get the money out of politics. We recognized that problem but whatever campaign spends the most money on these initiatives, tend to win. You overwhelmed things through the advertisement.
>> Are there cases where the measures turn out well or better than just going through the normal legislative process?
>> That is in the eye of the beholder, if you win you think it is a great outcome. Take proposition 13 where we are living in the shadow of, that froze property taxes with a small incremental increase. That has had a profound increase on public policy in California. Marijuana was legalized through this process and gay marriage was legalized -- Pete Wilson was going to run for president, it banned any public services going to immigrants in 1994? That passed by 60% of the vote. Depending on your side of the political spectrum and interest it can be great or the worst thing ever.
>> We have two questions for the -- from the League of Women Voters, what is the best way to see if special interest are behind a ballot issue?
>> Research. The easiest way, go to your California direct primary guide or your local primary guide and take a look at who is putting in arguments for or against propositions. If you can figure out if it is a big environment or big oil that will give you an idea. There are all kinds of websites, KPBS has a very good series online talking about follow the money. Voice of San Diego, if you put in the time you can trace this through. Often enough, just seeing that the taxpayer Association in favor of this, gives you an idea of who will be benefiting from the proposition.
>> How can we ensure that ballot measures are accurate and honest in their claims?
>> When they are written into the ballot they have to pass the Attorney General's office to make sure they pass legally is. When people run campaigns, you have to figure out you believe the claims or not?
>> Voters may be wondering about election day procedures, contact us and we will try to get your question on the air in our next San Diego politics 101 which will air on primary day, June 5. You can email us your questions at KPBS Midday Edition or at I have been speaking with Mesa College , thank you so much.
>> You can find our election coverage and stories on our website at /election.