Opinion: This week in the perpetual election


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Is Antonio Villaraigosa really fundraising for the governor’s race instead of his mayoral re-election? Are gay Republicans really trying to get the California Supreme Court to remove the same-sex marriage ban from the November ballot? Did Zev Yaroslavsky actually demand to know whether Dean Logan and the other candidates to be county registrar underwent criminal background checks? Who is Joe Canciamilla and why should you care? When does Jamiel’s law go to voters?

The summer is moving quickly and there has been a lot of election news — not just for November 9, but for next year’s mayoral election and the 2010 race for governor (already?) as well. Find it all here, and keep up to date on the facts — with an opinionated twist — on Los Angeles’ (and California’s) perpetual election at Vote-O-Rama.


First things first. November 4: There’s a chance that your roster of 11 California propositions will get shorter, and you may have a gay Republican research attorney to thank.

Legal experts call it a long-shot, but on June 20, several petitioners asked the state Supreme Court to toss Proposition 8, the initiative to restrict marriage to a man and a woman (find a the one-line text of the initiative in pdf, plus the attorney general documents, here). The justices, fresh from their 4-3 ruling that same-sex couples in this state have an equal right to marry (see a pdf of the opinion here), will now have to decide whether their decision turns the ballot measure from a constitutional amendment into a constitutional revision.


It’s like this: Amendments supposedly fine-tune the existing state Constitution, and voters have the power to put them on the ballot by petitioning for initiatives, then adopting them by majority vote. Revisions are rare — sweeping constitutional re-inventions that can be adopted only by convention or placed on the ballot by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Backers of Proposition 8 went old-school, filing an initiative petition with Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who certified the proposed amendment for the ballot on June 2. Their opponents argue that in the intervening time, the meaning of the state Constitution changed — because of the Cal Supremes’ May 15 ruling in the marriage cases. Now, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights and others asking the court to block the vote, reversing course on equal protection would be not just an amendment but a revision, and thus it can’t go on the ballot without legislative action or a convention.

There is some spirited disagreement on the origin of revision-versus-amendment argument. “This is something we have been looking at for years,” said NCLR legal director Shannon Minter.

Others argue that approach was crafted just after the court’s ruling by Kevin Norte, a research attorney for the Los Angeles Superior Court and a member of the gay GOP organization Log Cabin Republicans. See his May 21 opinion/analysis in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise here, and his June 17 follow-up here. Follow Norte’s blogging on the issue in the Log Cabin’s Blog Cabin, here. The MetNews also published a July 2 opinion piece by attorney Jack Rosenfeld, who argues that Proposition 8 abuses the initiative process.


The analysis Norte articulated forms the basis of one argument put forward by NCLR and other petitioners asking the court to toss the initiative. Another, as explained by Times Staff Writer Maura Dolan in her July 2 story, is that voters who signed the petition were misled into believing that the initiative would not change state law, although that was true enough at the time.

The petitioners’ brief in reply to the opposition by Folsom attorney Andrew Pugno — who is representing backers of Proposition 8 — is due today. It is not yet clear whether the state high court will hear argument or simply rule on the written briefs, but whatever it does must be done quickly. Ballots go to the printer, with or without the initiative, on Aug. 8.

More November 4 news: There’s a key hearing today in the Senate Appropriations Committee on a bill to shape Proposition 1, the high-speed passenger train bond. That measure is already in final form on the ballot, but important details are left to the Legislature. The most important move may have come on July 1, when the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee voted to drop plans to spend bond money on side routes to various communities. Assembly Bill 3034 now goes back to basics, requiring the bond money to be spent on an Anaheim-Los Angeles-San Francisco bullet train. Check out the thumbs-up from the California High Speed Rail Blog here.

The train bond is, for now, the only November ballot measure sponsored by the Legislature, but in the coming weeks lawmakers may add a water bond, a prisons bond, and a government reform measure.

Tomorrow, the City Council votes on whether to add to the November ballot a $3 parcel tax to pay for anti-gang programs. Later this month, the MTA and Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to add a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects. The school district is also mulling a revenue ballot measure.

By the way, the county Board of Supervisors named Dean C. Logan as permanent registrar-recorder/clerk (the top elections official in the nation’s most populous county) and, yes, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made a point of getting on the record the fact that criminal background checks were done on all applicants, apparently to reassure election conspiracy theorists.


Moving on to March 3, 2009, and beyond: Could Antonio Villaraigosa use any of that money he is raising for his mayoral re-election campaign on a future run for something else? Governor, for example?

He could, but with restrictions. Candidates for mayor can raise only $1,000 from each contributor per election, but candidates for governor can raise a whopping $24,100 per donor. Under Government Code Sec. 85306 and an accompanying regulation, candidates have to identify where their money originally came from, they can’t pick and choose which contributions to roll over, and the donor caps come with the money. If, for example, you were the very first to contribute $1,000 to Villaraigosa’s re-election campaign, and he decides to use $5,000 of his mayoral pot in the governor’s race, you’re now deemed to have donated $1,000 to his gubernatorial campaign and can now donate only another $23,100 instead of the full $24,100. But wait -- if his campaign chooses instead to use last-in-first-out accounting — it’s his choice — your $1,000 only counts against your donations to the governor’s race if you were one of the last people to give. Confused? I don’t blame you.

Just to refresh your recollection of summertime campaign events so far, check out the Times story on Villaraigosa’s fundraising agenda (and Israel trip) by David Zahniser and Phil Willon here, and Zahniser’s L.A. Now miniseries on the mayor’s June-July fundraising sprint here. Just for fun, you can also take a gander at invitations to other Villaraigosa fundraisers, like the one hosted by Chicago’s mayor (pdf) and one by his counterpart in New York (pdf). The City Ethics Commission has copies of all campaign materials, including fundraiser invitations, here.

In other city election news, the Daily Journal reported Monday that Councilman Jack Weiss has raised $1.1 million in his campaign for city attorney, far more than rivals Carmen Trutanich and Michael Amerian. The story by Peter Matuszak also noted that Weiss has hired political consultant Ace Smith, who works with Villaraigosa and Jerry Brown, and who led Hillary Clinton’s successful California primary campaign. The story is available online to subscribers only.

On the same March 3 ballot, voters can expect to see at least two ballot measures. The City Council last week decided to hold until then a measure to employ instant runoff voting, in which voters pick not just their first choices but their second and perhaps third as well. Hear a KPCC story on IRV here. Also on that ballot, voters may see Jamiel’s Law, a proposal being carried by mayoral challenger Walter Moore to require LAPD officers to arrest gang members suspected of being in the country illegally.

And, finally, in 2010 — who’s running? July 1 opened the season for exploratory campaigns. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and former Congressman Tom Campbell, a Republican, filed notice of plans to run for governor. Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown is also making noises. No (official) word yet from Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, or other likely filers, but keep your eyes open over the coming weeks.


Former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, meanwhile, opened a committee to raise funds for a run for attorney general. He made it clear he will run only if Brown opts against a second term. Maybe in order to run for, uh, something else.