The Lone Dissenter Rides Again
Careful readers of their ballot pamphlets will notice that the arguments for why they should vote against four of the statewide measures in the Nov. 4 election are made by the same individual--"Gary B. Wesley, attorney at law.” Wesley also carried the ball alone in imploring a “no” vote on two of the ballot measures in the June primary.
Why would someone want to be the No. 1 California ballot pamphlet naysayer?
“Somebody’s got to do it” is Wesley’s reply.
More substantively, the San Jose lawyer said it bothers him that ballot propositions portending significant change in public life and expenditure of public funds often attract no organized opposition. He steps in to do so out of civic duty, he said, and derives no economic or political advantage.
For the Nov. 4 election, Wesley wrote the ballot pamphlet arguments against Proposition 57, which would block pension increases for 18 former state officeholders; Proposition 58, which would waive tax increases on property changing hands between parents and children; Proposition 59, which would require election of district attorneys, and Proposition 60, which would give a tax break to senior citizens when they move.
Being the lone dissenter, however, does not guarantee Wesley a place in the pamphlet.
He said he was snubbed by the secretary of state’s office earlier this year by being left off the secretary’s usual public mailing list and thus was denied the opportunity to write opposing arguments for four ballot measures.
As a result, Wesley said, the measures were presented to voters without opposition arguments.
All four passed overwhelmingly.
Caren Daniels-Meade, media director for Secretary of State March Fong Eu and a member of a four-person panel that selects the arguments that go into the ballot pamphlet, heatedly denied that last June’s four unopposed measures were the product of a nefarious scheme.
“Our goal is to have a pro and con on every measure,” she said in a telephone interview. "(Wesley) was not intentionally left off (the mailing list). I would stake my life on it.”
Wesley began challenging ballot measures eight years ago with his opposition to a bond act to provide low-interest loans for war veterans. Though Cal-Vet loans had been popular with voters since 1921, Wesley said the program was misguided.
“If veterans could receive 5% loans in a 10% world,” Wesley recalled asking himself, “why couldn’t everybody? Who was paying the bill? Mostly federal taxpayers.”
Wesley’s negative ballot argument was promptly mailed to the secretary of state’s office in Sacramento for insertion into the ballot pamphlet. And it was just as quickly short-circuited by legislators who, exercising their prerogative, preempted Wesley by appointing one of their own to write a contrary view for California voters.
As expected, the bond measure passed overwhelmingly.
That was 1978. But Wesley persisted in later years and made the ballot with two opposing arguments in 1980, applied but failed to make the ballot with arguments in 1982 and 1984, and this year scored his biggest success by having six of his arguments accepted.
“Voters deserve arguments on both sides,” said the 33-year-old Wesley in an interview in his downtown law office here.
He said he is concerned only with constitutional amendment measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature. Measures placed on the ballot by voter initiative--like this year’s Proposition 64 AIDS initiative, for example--are controversial enough to generate plenty of candidates and organizations to write negative arguments without anyone needing Wesley’s help.
“It’s the measures proposed by the Legislature that you have to watch out for,” he said.
Views Role as Crucial
Wesley views his role as a crucial one in stimulating the public to scrutinize what is on the ballot before going into the voting booth.
“I’m certain that people who see no opposition argument at all (to a ballot measure) very often will believe that there’s no legitimate argument to make against it,” he said.
So deeply does Wesley believe this that, he said, there have been times when he took the “no” position even though “I wasn’t certain how I would vote.”
But, ultimately, he said, “I generally believed (my) opposition argument was the better argument.”
Wesley said he does not write ballot measure arguments as a springboard to an elected post. To be sure, the California ballot pamphlet is mailed to 9 million households. But, Wesley said, “I don’t know that I’m a household name. I’m not interested in running for public office.”
Getting trounced in a 1980 race for the Mountain View City Council and again in a 1984 bid for a Municipal Court seat in Santa Cruz has undoubtedly cemented this view.
What’s more, Wesley, a bachelor who was a Fresno County deputy district attorney in 1981 and 1982, comes across as the antithesis of a politician.
Shy almost to the point of whispering during an interview, sometimes putting a hand over his mouth as if he did not want anyone else to hear his point, the clean-cut Wesley appeared almost uneasy even discussing the business of politics.
“It takes a lot of money” to run for public office, he said, almost disdainfully. Politics, he declared, “it’s a dirty business.”
Votes as Independent
Asked to describe his own politics, Wesley said he does not register under any political party and votes as an independent. In his civil law practice, he said he has never obtained a client through his work as a writer of ballot arguments.
So far, his only “victory” was the defeat of Proposition 5 in 1980, a property tax break for disaster victims that Wesley opposed.
Ballot pamphlets have been mailed to voters at least since 1909, according to the secretary of state’s records. Under the California Elections Code, proponents and opponents of ballot measures have two shots at an issue. The first is the argument in favor or against a measure--to run no more than 500 words. The second, the rebuttal to the argument against or in favor of a measure, is limited to 250 words.
In the pecking order of who can oppose legislative ballot measures, a lawmaker comes first, followed by organizations or associations and then private citizens like Wesley, according to secretary of state spokeswoman Daniels-Meade.
Then, Daniels-Meade said, “we decide which is the most convincing argument.”
Wesley said he will continue to write opposing ballot arguments as long as there is a chance that measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature have no written opposition. But, he added, he wishes more of his lawyer colleagues would get involved in the process.
“Attorneys have the ability to analyze the legal questions involved,” Wesley said.
“When I got into the legal profession, I was thinking and hoping that it was a profession of very good people, civic-minded people. But it isn’t turning out that way. I think most attorneys are interested in making money, and that’s their preoccupation. They certainly don’t positively engage in politics.”