Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bad Day For Good Government

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the good government measures went down to defeat. As I wrote last night, I believe that the propositions suffered because many people were voting out of partisan suspicion rather than reason, and I lay some of that blame on reprehensible Republicans such as Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, whose baldly partisan machinations make Republicans worthy of suspicion. However, I also lay some blame on Governor Schwarzenegger, as I don't believe he did as good a job as he could have in making the case for the most important propositions (76 and 77, which I note were the most roundly defeated). I think his strategy fueled partisan flames, both by making the propositions about him, and by pushing 74 and 75 so hard, which reaffirmed the definition of the election as "Arnold vs the public employee unions". Perhaps I'm naïve, but I'd like to think that a good strong presentation of the facts and merits, instead of the personalization of the issues, would have served much better. When you actually look at the facts (starting with current district maps), I think Prop 77 practically sells itself. (I would note that every major newspaper in the state, ranging from the Orange County Register to the San Francisco Chronicle, all endorsed Prop 77.) Props 74 and 75 were a sideshow, and caused the Governor to not put enough wood behind his two best arrows. This point is proved by the surprising (to me at least) results that the two union-antagonistic propositions (74 and 75), which were the most vehemently and directly opposed, were defeated much more narrowly than the good government propositions (76 and 77).

It should also be noted that "good government" propositions (i.e., the sort that propose a general improvement in some aspect of government function) seldom succeed even when they are superbly sound and reasonable. This comes down to just plain politics and social psychology. By their nature, good government proposals are something that a broad number of people may approve of, but won't feel very strongly about. At the same time, any constituency whose ox is gored by the proposal will oppose it vehemently. And in elections, when it comes to putting "wood behind the arrow" (raising campaign funds), the vociferous few will decisively overcome the mild inclinations of the many. When it comes to something like independent redistricting, those who will be most vehemently against it (incumbent politicians and partisan hacks, often of both parties) are by definition those who are most politically powerful. It's a wonder when any such proposal passes. Note that as the alleged "Republican power grab" was going down in flames in California, a similar redistricting measure in Ohio, labeled a "Democratic power grab" by the GOP-dominated incumbents in that state, also went down. If only our Governor had put more muscle into pushing the merits of good proposals rather than picking fights with teachers and nurses. Alas, it was a bad day for good government.

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