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PATT MORRISON

Where're the lawmakers?

Enough with the ballot initiatives. Stand up and walk out, voters!

May 15, 2008|PATT MORRISON

Janitors in West L.A. went out on strike. Autoworkers in Kansas went out on strike. An entire Spanish pro soccer team just went out on strike. California voters should hit the picket lines too.

We vote, again, on June 3. Only two initiatives are on this ballot, but they are way, way beyond our "citizen first class" pay grade.

The vox-pop ballot plebiscites that ask us up-or-down questions about medical marijuana or the death penalty are swell. But when 15 million voters are asked to say yay or nay on complex matters that need months of hearings in the Legislature, or that wind up after the election mired for months in courts, let's just say no.

It's time to strike for better voting conditions, including:

* Ballot measures that don't require rocket science, brain surgery or forensic analysis to figure out.

* Gutsier legislators. Sacramento, stop these voting-booth train wrecks before they get to us. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger understood, after we whacked his initiatives, that voters are saying, "Don't come to us for every little thing ... you guys work it out." Sacramento, you've got the scalpel. All voters have is the blunt- instrument ballot. Don't make us club you again.

* Cartoons in the official voter information guide. (Seriously. A graphic novel telling of the real consequences of our vote would help immensely.)

Why a strike, with only Propositions 98 and 99 on the ballot? Because I'm tired of being played for a sucker on election day. Aren't you?

Proposition 98 sucker-punches us. It tantalizes us with something we like ("limits on government authority"). Then it scares us with words that make us uneasy ("eminent domain"). And then it flatters us that we don't have to be old dudes in buckled shoes to be Founding Voters ("initiative constitutional amendment").

It says 98 is all about limiting eminent domain, yet the proposed law barely whispers what it really wants to do. Its real mission is to end rent control in California forever, starting literally the morning after the election!

Proposition 98 isn't a Trojan horse -- it's a Trojan Rolls-Royce. Hiding in its belly are attack-ready platoons of multimillion-dollar property and landlord interests that are spending thousands to con us into giving them more millions. Because they haven't been able to browbeat lawmakers into repealing rent control laws, they're making an end-run to us voters, hoping we're too easily spooked to see through them. Insulted? It's only an insult if we prove they're wrong.

John Peterson is a Los Angeles lawyer, and the way he explained it to me, Californians already have more safeguards from eminent domain abuse than the rest of the nation. Property has to be found "blighted" before it can be targeted. Some cities won't use eminent domain on single-family homes, and some rural towns won't do eminent domain redevelopment. And some elements of eminent domain law are so "confusing and prone to being misinterpreted" that they have to be decided by a judge, not a jury (let alone a jury of 15 million voters).

This man, who represents people whose property faces being taken by eminent domain, thinks that Proposition 98, "as it's constituted, is really dangerous."

Here's another reason to sink Proposition 98. Like too many initiatives, it carries the "nuclear option." If it passes -- even by a single vote, no matter how low the turnout -- it automatically amends the state Constitution. Know what it takes to amend the U.S. Constitution? A two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and the approval of three-fourths of the 50 states.

But once something's in the state Constitution, you have to dynamite it out with a nearly impossible two-thirds vote of the Legislature and another majority vote of the public.

Initiatives like 98 shouldn't be getting to us voters in the first place. Proposition 99 is an alternative eminent domain measure with no rent control hidden agenda, but it's only on the ballot because Schwarzenegger and Dianne Feinstein and their allies had to give us a less thermonuclear alternative to 98.

The initiative process has been kidnapped. No more paying the ransom -- it's time to rescue it. Schwarzenegger agrees. When I interviewed him on KPCC-FM (89.3) radio recently, he told me, "I love the initiative process ... but the initiative system is also being abused," and it's time to change it.

So my final demand: a California constitutional convention. Hiram Johnson, another GOP governor whose ideas irked his own party, gave us the initiative, along with the recall and referendum. That happened on Oct. 10, 1911. For the 100th anniversary in 2011, let's repair the initiative so it can't be used as an instrument of deceit and a tool of the deceitful.

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patt.morrison@latimes.com

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