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Self-Appointed Rebuttal Writer : He Can't Resist Saying 'No' to Ballot Measures

May 04, 1986|United Press International

SACRAMENTO — His most recent works--a total of four half-pages--have been published and circulated to 9 million California households, but Gary B. Wesley remains a modest man.

The 33-year-old San Jose attorney and self-appointed rebuttal writer said he makes the effort to get his opinions printed in the official California ballot pamphlet simply because if he didn't, probably nobody would.

Nearly all of the arguments for and against the propositions on the June 3 ballot are signed by prominent state politicians or leaders of citizen groups that at least sound like they might have some clout.

So who is "Gary B. Wesley, attorney at law," to tell us not to vote for Proposition 44--the Water Conservation and Water Quality bond law of 1986--or Proposition 50--titled, simply, "Property Taxation. Disasters"?

An Attorney Friend

He is "one of our attorney friends," said Melissa Warren, spokeswoman for Secretary of State March Fong Eu. "For a couple of years it was a fellow named Timothy Weingarten who sent us his arguments--now it's Gary B. Wesley."

Nobody else bothered to send in arguments opposing Propositions 44 and 50, Warren explained, so once Wesley's were determined "reasonable," they were printed on the ballot.

In them, he contends that sales of tax-free bonds for water conservation would create "hidden costs" for taxpayers, while benefitting agribusinesses and wealthy investors. He also says a "no" vote on Proposition 50 would send a message to lawmakers that the people don't want property to be reassessed every time it changes hands. Wesley even managed to get in a plug for campaign reform.

It's not that Wesley feels passionately about either ballot measure, although he said he is "inclined" to vote against both.

No Strong Feelings

"I don't feel that strongly about it," Wesley mildly said in a telephone interview. "I would submit an opposing argument to almost anything."

The point is, he said, "the voters ought to be able to hear both sides."

Wesley, who has a private civil law practice, said that since he began writing ballot rebuttals in 1978, he has received some phone calls from people who disagree with him but has "never gotten a client out of it. Never."

Registered as a "decline to state" independent voter, Wesley said he is not interested in running for any partisan office. He said he usually sides with Democrats on issues, but is a fiscal conservative who doesn't "think too highly of taxes."

Wesley took on the task of rebuttal writing shortly after he graduated from law school at the University of Santa Clara, when he looked at a ballot and noticed that some of the measures were submitted without any opposition. So far, eight of his arguments have been published.

As a private citizen, he said, getting on the ballot requires some effort.

No Specific Timetable

"I think the basic problem is that the Political Reform Act of 1974, which created the ballot pamphlet, doesn't contain rules necessary to control the timetable for collecting ballot arguments or their criteria for selection," he said.

Because the deadlines for submitting arguments aren't widely publicized, Wesley simply "keeps in touch with the secretary of state's office" in election years, asking whether any measures have been submitted without opposition.

In 1978, when Wesley wrote an argument against the normally non-controversial Veterans Bond Act, he said, proponents of the measure found a "special rule" that said when it came to Cal-Vet bonds, the Speaker of the Assembly was to appoint the person who would write the opposition argument.

"I protested rather loudly," he said, and although his argument wasn't chosen that year, his rebuttal was picked two years later, when Cal-Vet bonds were on the ballot again.

Housing Costs

Not that Wesley has anything against veterans, he insisted. "I just feel the program doesn't reach enough vets, that the state could do more in that area and that (the program) drives the cost of housing up."

Wesley is not sure how many California voters are likely to actually read his arguments when they get them in the mail sometime this week.

"Over the years," though, he said, "I've noticed that it seemed as though my arguments made a difference in the outcome. When I wrote against amendments to Proposition 13, using a very technical objection, the voters rejected (the measure). I was pleased.

"Unless somebody's paying attention and reading these ballot arguments," Wesley said, legislators and other sponsors of ballot measures "can get almost anything past the voters."

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