A Vote to Quit the Electoral College

Times Staff Writer

Lawmakers sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill Wednesday that would make California the first state to jump aboard a national movement to elect the president by popular vote.

Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide -- not the most votes in California. Get enough other states to do the same, backers of the bill say, and soon presidential candidates will have to campaign across the nation, not just in a few key “battleground” states such as Ohio and Michigan that can sway the Electoral College vote.

“Frankly, the current system doesn’t work,” said Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico), the only Republican to vote for the bill. “Presidential candidates don’t bother to visit the largest state in the nation.... California is left out.”


If Schwarzenegger signs the bill -- AB 2948 by Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) -- California will be the first state to embrace the “national popular vote” movement, though legislation is pending in five other states: New York, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado and Louisiana.

The California legislation would not take effect until enough states passed such laws to make up a majority of the Electoral College votes -- a minimum of 11 states, depending on population.

The governor’s office said Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill.

Many Republicans spoke against the legislation, arguing that it was an “end run” around the U.S. Constitution and would drive presidential candidates to campaign in big cities and ignore rural areas.

“Those who are running for president,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), “are going to talk to Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Late Wednesday, a measure that would impose a container fee at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to raise half a billion dollars a year for tougher security and cleaner air passed the Assembly. .

The vote on the bill -- SB 927 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) -- was 36 to 41, the minium needed to pass.

Republicans had warned that the $30-per-container fee would be passed on to consumers. Democrats who voted for the bill argued that the money would be used to clean up diesel soot that now sickens thousands of Southern Californians a year.

Republicans compared a purplish chart of the estimated health risks from port pollution to a map of the Soviet Union while Democrats saw it as a malignant cancer growth.

“What we will have is about 2,000 more bureaucrats running around, driving their cars around, figuring out how to regulate trucks,” said Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta).

“I think this is the most critical public health crisis facing the Southern California region,” responded Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

The Assembly Appropriations Committee had killed a different bill with the same content earlier this month, but Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) revived the measure last week by gutting and amending another bill.

Nunez acted after environmental activists surrounded him at a youth sports clinic in Los Angeles and handed him a soccer ball with the port container fee bill attached.

The bill charges $30 for each container unloaded at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles -- a complex responsible for 40% of the country’s port cargo. A third of the estimated $500 million a year the fee would generate would be earmarked for improving infrastructure to handle the tripling of cargo expected by 2020.

Another third would be spent buying equipment or hiring workers to improve security; only 2% of containers moving through the ports are inspected.

The final third would go to the California Air Resources Board to reduce truck, ship and rail pollution associated with the ports, which are the largest source of air pollution on the South Coast.

Two other Lowenthal port bills died this month in the Assembly Appropriations Committee: SB 1829, which would have limited trucks to idling no more than 30 minutes as they line up to get into the ports, and SB 764, which would have required the ports to reduce air pollution to 2001 levels by 2010.

In other action, the Assembly passed a bill to toughen penalties for sex offenders, including those who arrange to meet children over the Internet.

Estimated to cost the state an additional $200 million in prison, mental hospital, probation, training and treatment expenses, SB 1128 by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) passed with bipartisan support, 66 to 0.

It is a Democratic attempt to counter a Republican-backed initiative on the November ballot -- Proposition 83 -- that would require electronic monitoring of convicted sex offenders for life and ban child molesters from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.

The bill returns to the Senate for a final vote.