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Proposition 40 fiasco by the numbers

October 24, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • California Republican state Sens. Bob Dutton and Mimi Walters dipped into campaign funds to overturn new Senate district lines.
California Republican state Sens. Bob Dutton and Mimi Walters dipped into… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Proposition 40 is a measure to retain new state Senate districts. The California Republican Party, several GOP Senate campaigns and a handful of others paid more than $2 million last year to put it on the Nov. 6 ballot. So they’re in support, right? But wait -- when they succeeded, and their political re-mapping referendum actually got on the ballot, their objective was to get you to vote no. So they’re in opposition. Right? Well, yes. And no.

The Republicans were countered early on by one very wealthy supporter of their own party, Charles T. Munger Jr., who gave almost $600,000 to a campaign to block the referendum. So if they were working against each other and the GOP was in support, Munger was opposed. Right? Kind of. But not really.

Why do campaign documents list both Munger and the GOP as being in support if they shelled out their money to fight each other? If the Republican Party changed its mind earlier this year, dropped its opposition and now wants you to vote yes -- which it does -- why did it recently give another $10,000 to the committee it helped form to get you to vote no?

ENDORSEMENTS: The Times' recommendations for Nov. 6

What do these people want?

It’s official: Proposition 40 is confusing. You can’t follow just the money or just the fine print. You need both.

First, though, let’s cut to the chase. Regardless of how much money everyone threw against each other, they all now like Proposition 40, a measure to uphold a new map of the 40 state Senate districts drawn up last year by a citizens commission. Republicans, Democrats, newspaper editorial boards, government reform groups -- they all say to vote yes. If that’s enough for you, stop here. If you want to figure why it’s such a mess, keep reading.

Retaining the Senate district map would be a good move. It would send the message that Californians meant what they said when they took redistricting power away from the Legislature -- meaning the majority party, Democrats -- when they created the commission in 2008 (Proposition 11), when they gave it additional powers in 2010 (Proposition 20) and when they turned back the Democrats’ attempt to scrap the commission, also in 2010 (Proposition 27). The commission was formed, did its job, drew the lines and adopted them in August 2011.

So why another ballot measure? Are the Democrats complaining again about losing their redistricting powers?

Not this time. It’s true that the Democrats formerly drew up these political maps themselves, so they expected to hate what the commission came up with. But when they saw the map they loved it, because they believed the reshaped districts would help them elect more Democratic senators, and maybe even capture two-thirds of the house -- enough to pass tax hikes. The magic number is 27; they currently have 25.

But Republicans, who thought they would love the state Senate district map, saw it, hated it and formed a committee to raise money to hire petitioners to gather signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to throw out the map and start over. The committee is called F.A.I.R. – Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting Ballot Measure Cmte. (the full title is even longer), and funds came from several GOP senators who were planning to defend their seats this year or in 2014 and were hoping for more favorable lines.

The campaign for Mimi Walters of Orange County re-gifted more than $75,000 to the committee. Tony Strickland of Ventura County was planning to move up to Congress but put in $25,000. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga is about to leave the Senate and is running for Congress, but he also had amassed a treasury to run for San Bernardino County supervisor in 2014, so he loaned $100,000 from that account to the petition effort.

From August through December of last year, the California Republican Party -- already millions of dollars in debt -- quickly made cash and in-kind donations and loans totaling about $1.67 million. Ballot petition drives aren’t cheap.

In official state campaign finance reports, F.A.I.R. is registered as being in “support” -- support, that is, of getting a referendum on the ballot.

Now there are a few things to know about referendums (or referenda, if you must). In various places around the globe, the word “referendum” means any question submitted, or referred, to the people. It’s a plebiscite. A ballot measure.

But in California, where ballot measures pile up and sometimes seem to breed, “referendum” means one very particular type of proposition. The word applies only to that type of measure that asks voters  to keep or reject a law already adopted. This is as confusing as it is important because it stands the usual voter question on its head.

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