The California GOP’s plot to redistribute California’s crucial 55 electoral votes by congressional district as opposed to the current, winner take all method, is attracting increasing attention from sea to shining sea.
I blogged on the subject last month. My fellow CityBeat contributor D.A. Kolodenko wrote on the topic in last week’s edition, and earlier this week the New York Times published an op ed entitled “G.O.P.’s Dirty Tricks Begin. ” Even Steven Colbert got into the act Tuesday night, turning the Republican electoral coup into one of his “The Word” segments. All told, there are hundreds of articles on the topic and the blogosphere is ablaze with the righteously indignant of both parties flaming each other.
Democratic hand wringing over the possible loss of so much of the Golden States electoral gold focus on just how incredibly audacious, power grabbing and diabolical (read: so brilliantly Rovian ) the Republican ballot initiative slight of hand. It positively takes the breath away from Machiavellianly challenged California Democrats. The California GOP may not be able to win elected office at the polls but there’s still apparently some fight left in that beaten old dog.
OK California and National Dems. Enough with “oh, oh, the mean boy stole my lollipop.” Get over it. Do you really want to win the Presidency or not? (And that answer better be yes, if for no other minor reasons than the current Republican President has produced the worse foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam and has set up a potential economic slide to rival that of the stagflation-filled 1970s.) Time to get off your moralistic high horses and fight fire with fire.
I strongly recommend California Democrats immediately start digging into deep pockets to fund the signature collection campaign to qualify at least one (if not two) rival poison pill initiatives to counter the GOP plan. Something in the order of $3 million to $4 million should do, with another five million or so for the June campaign. And before you whine about the money, you need to remind yourself, for what does it gain a party save ten million dollars in California only to spend a half billion dollars and lose the Presidency?
The first proposition I propose would be called the “California Fair Play” electoral reform initiative. It should be written to basically say that any changes to California law regarding the awarding of California’s presidential electors made before or after the passage of this initiative would only go into effect contingent on the passage of similar electoral reform in states whose total electoral vote count equals a minimum of 270 electoral votes – half, in other words. Or if you want to keep it simpler, simply say until half of the other states pass similar reform. The argument in favor of this initiative would be a pitch to preserve the power of the nation’s largest state in helping pick the president. Dividing the state’s electoral vote amounts to reducing the nation’s most populous state to a couple of Ohio’s and a Mississippi, for cryin’ out loud. Why should California willingly diminish its own power to pick a President if no other state is willing to do so?
The second initiative would award California’s electoral vote to whichever national candidate wins the majority of the popular vote and would take be written so as to legally take precedence over any reform measure to divide California’s electoral vote . Call it the “The Majority Rules Initiative “or some such. State legislators were talking about trying to form a compact with other states to do just that in the wake of the 2000 electoral fiasco.
If the first initiative passes then the Republican initiative, even if it passes, is voided (as would be the second initative if it, too, were to pass) and the current status quo is maintained. State Republicans have already submitted their ballot language to the Secretary of State and would not be able to withdraw and rewrite their initiative to avoid this poison pill .
If just the second proposition wins the GOP scheme to divide the California electoral vote would fail though Democrats would run the risk that, in a close ’08 vote (except, of course, it ain’t gonna be close…) Democrats wouldn’t be able to do a reverse Florida (winning the electoral vote with California while narrowly losing the popular vote.
Then again, avoiding another Florida is in all of our long term political and constitutional interests. Which is what makes the GOP proposal in California so insidious. The real strategic hope of the authors of this initiative (and possibly the only hope for the GOP to keep the White House) is precisely to throw enough California electors their way so that their candidate can win without having to go through the quaint democratic motions of actually getting a majority of the vote. Thus their claims to be pushing a democratic reform is a smokescreen for what truly is yet another GOP attempt at an electoral coup. And this is the party of Lincoln.
Even if the two proposed initiatives fail, their presence on the ballot would create enough voter choice (and confusion) to likely divide the vote so that none of the three initiatives pass. California Democrats have to get over their queasiness at playing down and dirty politics. Putting rival propositions on the ballot simply to kill another one is not cynical politics at its worse. Okay, maybe it is. But sometimes the ends DO justify the means.
Big business didn’t hesitate to do so to kill Big Green,back in 1990. Industry, mining and farming groups fearful of the hit to profits they would take to comply with the ambitious initiative to promote environmental sustainability qualified two rival ballots deliberately created to confuse and divide voters. And it worked.
Democrats doing the same to kill the oh-so innocently entitled “Presidential Electors Initiative” would be more than justified to use the same tactic. If it’s any consolation to them, either of the two initiatives I’ve proposed here would make better law than the Republican plan.
Come on Democrats. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance, desperate times and all that. It’s time to pony up and play electoral hard ball.
Carl Luna is a professor of Political Science at San Diego Mesa College and a lecturer on politics and international political economy at the University of San Diego. Carl writes for CityBeat semi-regularly where this article first appeared. It is published with his permission.