Lakoff to headline voting threshold initiative fundraiser

George Lakoff

George Lakoff

UC-Berkeley Professor George Lakoff, expert in cognitive linguistics and author of “Don’t Think of Elephant!” is the featured guest at a Sunday event to raise money for a ballot measure that calls for reducing the California Legislature’s budget adoption threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is hosting the event in Oakland on Sunday from 4-6 p.m. Click here for the invite.

Hancock authored SCA5, a bill that would place before voters in 2010 the opportunity to alter the threshold. If she is unable to secure passage of the measure in Sacramento, proponents plan to circulate the petition and gather the requisite number of signatures to place the question on the ballot using the initiative petition process.

The folks advocating for the change hope that voters’ unhappiness with the recent, drawn-out budget fight in Sacramento will see fit to make the reform. But opponents are expected to wage all-out war against the effort.

California is one of a handful of states with a two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. Critics say it allows a few members of the minority party to hold the budget hostage while advocates say it serves as a check on out-of-control spending.

Lakoff is an expert in what he calls framing, or the way advocates and their foes describe their positions and how those choices tap into the public’s attitudes about everything from taxes to political parties.  Lakoff has said that while Republicans have mastered the art of framing, Democrats have fallen behind. But several years ago, Democratic Party leaders sought help in framing their messages from his book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.”


Politicians rake in $1 billion in past nine years

A new report from the California Fair Political Practices Commission shows that politicians seeking state office have collected a staggering $1 billion in campaign dollars since voters capped contribution levels in 2000.

It’s either an argument for public financing of campaigns or the complete abandonment of restrictions that don’t seem to be stopping the flow of special-interest money into politics.

Here’s what the FPPC had to say a few minutes ago:

A new report released today by the state’s campaign finance watchdog revealed that politicians vying for legislative and statewide office raised more than $1 billion since voters capped the size of direct campaign contributions.

The Fair Political Practices Commission’s report, “The Billion Dollar Money Train,” illustrates how officeholders and candidates use a variety of means to legally circumvent contribution limits enacted by Proposition 34 in November of 2000.

“The $1,006,638,463 directly raised by officeholders and candidates works out to $344,503 per day or $14,354 per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” emphasized FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson, “and this doesn’t even include the more than $110 million spent on their behalf in so-called ‘Independent Expenditures!'”

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Special election turn-out historically low

Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir

Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir

Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir has compiled some dismal turnout data for special elections in California.

The most recent congressional special election was in April 2008 to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos: Overall turnout was about 25 percent but turnout on election day was less than 7 percent.

Weir is among a growing number of election officials who would like Legislature to pass a law that would allow counties the option to hold mail-only elections if turnout is expected to be low. It costs a fortune to put on a precinct-based election where so few people show up at the polls, and money is especially tight in county coffers these days.

Contra Costa faces the prospect of two or more special elections this year in addition to the May 19 statewide election. An election to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, will likely occur sometime this summer and if voters select someone who occupied a legislative seat, a subsequent special election will be needed to replace him or her.

Here is what Weir found:

SD 26 March 24, 2009                7.91% turn out, 3.3% turn out at the polls         May 19, 2009*                Scheduled

CD 12 April 8, 2008                25.9% turn out, 6.9% turn out at the polls

June 3, 2008*                No Data Posted.

AD 55 December 11, 2007        11.56% turn out, 5.64% turn out at the polls

February 5, 2008*        43.29% turn out (vote by mail data not available)

CD 37 June 26, 2007                12.35% turn out, 7.12% turn out at the polls
August 21, 2007                9.02% turn out, 4.04% turn out at the polls

AD 39 May 15, 2007                14.27% turn out, 10.24% turn out at the polls
No Runoff

CD 50 April 11, 2006                38.86% turn out, 18.20% turn out at the polls
June 6, 2006*                41.04% turn out, 17.67 % turn out at the polls

SD 35 April 11, 2006                19.14% turn out, 14.14% turn out at the polls
June 6, 2006*                28.18% turn out, 12.13% turn out at the polls

CD 48 October 4, 2005                22.80% turn out, 8.3% turn out at the polls
December 6, 2005        25.70% turn out, 8.,89% turn out at the polls

AD 53 March 8, 2005                17.69% turn out, 11.09% turn out at the polls
No Runoff

CD 05 March 8, 2005                27.72% turn out, 12.34% turn out at the polls
No Runoff

CD 32 April 10, 2001                35.25% turn out, vote by mail results not available
June 5, 2001                37.60% turn out, vote by mail results not available


Voter registration bills pass out of Assembly committee

The New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank with an office in Sacramento, is touting a bill in California that would allow the state to automatically register to vote all residents who fill out a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles or file a state tax return.

AB30 passed out of an Assembly elections committee yesterday.

Lawmakers also gave the nod to a related bill, AB106, would preregister all 16-year-olds in the hopes it will foster more interest in politics prior to automatic registration at age 18.

There has been considerable debate over the years over how to increase voter participation but it remains an open question as to whether an automatic registration process will translate into actual voting.

Here’s the press release from the New America Foundation:

Sacramento, CA–The New America Foundation applauded the advancement of two bills designed to increase the number of Californians who are registered to vote.  The bills, AB 30 (Price) and AB 106 (Price), were approved yesterday by the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting by a solid 5-1 vote. If passed, the bills would make great strides toward bringing California closer to 100 percent voter registration.

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Constitutional Convention measure in the works

After sitting through a daylong presentation put on by coalition of business leaders and government reform groups in Sacramento, it seems increasingly likely that voters will see on the ballot in 2010 two measures that would lead to the California Constitutional Convention since 1879.

What is a Constitutional Convention? It’s a group of people charged with developing recommendations for amendments to the state’s Constitution, all of which must be ratified by the voters. How those members are chosen and the scope of their work is still up in the air.

Californians may not realize it but they frequently amend their Constitution through the initiative process.

As the Bay Area Council and its partners — the Center for Governmental Studies, Common Cause, Courage Campaign and League of Women Voters and others — envision it, this convention would focus primarily on governance reforms designed to help resolve some of the state’s intractable problems.

This is scary stuff to people who fear that well-intentioned reforms could carry unintended consequences and leave the state in shambles.

But most of the crowd gathered in Sacramento today seemed to feel that the state is already in shambles thanks, in large part, to voter-approved initiatives that carved out dollars for everything from education to public safety to roads but left state leaders with decision-making authority only over 7 percent of the budget.

Potential reform topics include … Continue Reading


Poll shows record high discontent in California

A new poll released a few minutes ago at the California Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento shows that 82 percent of voters believe the state is on the wrong track.

It is the highest level of unhappiness since the Bay Area Council began doing the survey in 2002. (The council is the chief sponsor of the summit.) Pollsters conducted the telephone poll of 800 voters between Feb. 3-5 and it has an error rate of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Just 11 percent though the state was on the right track. (Who are these people, anyway? Did they take this survey while they were on the beach in Hawaii?)

Reasons for the gloom cited included the budget deficit, gridlock in Sacramento, bureaucracy, poor schools and high taxes.

Disapproval ratings for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are in the tank, too, at 60 and 71 percent respectively. (For comparison purposes, Obama’s disapproval rating was 17 percent.)

The chief purpose of the poll, though, was to gather public opinion on whether state should convene a Constitutional Convention, a group that would examine some or part of the state Constitution and place reforms before voters.

Most voters have never heard of it. It was 1879 when California last convened such a group.

But after a series of explanations about what a convention could accomplish, about half the respondents said they would support it.

In an interesting side note, the poll found that 67 percent of those asked supported an open primary in theory. The poll was taken before the Legislature placed an open primary measure on the June 2010 ballot.