Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Voting Suspicion Over Reason

Some perfectly reasonable ballot measures are likely going down to defeat tonight, and I think I know why. ln an exchange on an online neighborhood forum, discussing Prop 77 (which would create an independent commission to draw district lines), one of my neighbors wrote this: "Though I still disagree with you, I welcome such a reasoned response and hope to learn from it. . . I truly wish there were an impartial body to set boundaries and not the legislature. Problem is, I absolutely don't trust the motives of who's sponsoring this bill and the set-up that will ensue." [emphasis added]. And therein, I think, lies the crux of a lot of our political problems: many people look at the world through blue-and-red glasses, and can only view the other side with deep suspicion. Rather than examine a ballot proposition on its merits, their instinct is to look at who is behind it, and if it's "the other side", then to immediately suspect dark motives. Despite a measure like Prop 77 being eminently reasonable, if it's backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, then it must somehow be a clandestine attempt to smuggle insidious right-wing evils into our state Constitution.

According to Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, "the corporate takeover of California is what is being proposed". Her arguments against Prop 77 were disingenuous and designed to appeal to left-wing emotions rather than reason. She says "No state uses retired judges. In fact, almost all of them do it the way we in California currently do it." In actual fact, 20 states have some form of district drawing commission separate from the legislature, and the only reason 29 other states currently do it the way California does is that it is notoriously difficult to wrest the district drawing power away from the legislature, when keeping it is one of the few things that both red and blue partisan politicians will agree on. She goes on to say, "Think about retired judges. Currently almost all of them are going to be Anglo males, largely drawn from the men appointed by [Republican] Governors Wilson and Deukmejian. This does not sound 'non-partisan' to me." The statistical claim about retired judges is debatable, but more importantly, she obtusely ignores the provisions in Prop 77 that make it scrupulously non-partisan, similar to a jury selection process, with representatives from both major parties getting both selections and vetoes over candidates drawn from a random pool. And then voters get to approve it. It should sound very non-partisan to anyone who will bother to actually read and consider the proposition, but for Democrats like Assemblymember Goldberg, the actual details of the measure are irrelevant. It was put up by Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, so it must be evil. (Ironically, a very similar measure, in aims if not methods, on the ballot in Ohio is being strenuously opposed by the Republicans, as they are the ones who currently control Ohio's state legislature.)

According to activist Jamie Court, a whole slate of our ballot measures are part of a vast right-wing conspiracy emanating from Washington: "Some of the nation's leading conservative thinkers and strategists are seeking, through Schwarzenegger's initiatives, to alter the balance of power between the right and left wings of California politics. Their hope is to turn California red in '08 and pioneer a new gospel that can spread across the country." With hysteria like that, all of the oxygen is sucked out of the room for any reasoned debate on the merits. What could one possibly say in response?

Voting on such an irrational basis really galls me, but at the same time I'm not sure I can blame them. In a better society, such suspicion would be uncalled for. The problem is, people have been given reasonable cause for suspicion. After Tom DeLay's baldly partisan hijacking of the redistricting process in Texas, any reasonable person's hackles should be raised when redistricting is put on the table. And while President Clinton famously surrounded himself with policy wonks, President Bush infamously surrounds himself with political strategists and spin-doctors like Karl Rove. While the untrustworthiness of most politicians is as old as dirt, it sure seems as though today's politicians are breaking new ground for shamelessness. (Republicans are by no means alone in this, but they're doing the worst of it at the moment, only because they are in control at the moment.) If Prop 77 goes down, I lay some of the blame at the feet of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.

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