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The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Molly and Jerry Should Debate. Now.

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Enough is enough. Gov. Jerry Brown and civil rights lawyer Molly Munger have filed competing ballot initiatives that would raise taxes ostensibly to fund schools.

They're spending millions to qualify those measures. And the two Democrats and their allies are sniping at each other in the press.

The result: a relatively narrow back-and-forth about these measures. And plenty of false claims and confusion.

The solution: public debates between the two. Right now.

The fact that such an idea seems outlandish -- the political class in California will laugh it off for a variety of reasons -- speaks volumes about the state of the state, and of the initiative process.

Initiatives are public lawmaking -- laws and constitutional amendments considered by voters. They should be accompanied by a vigorous, open debate and serious public deliberation. But California has little serious tradition of this kind of deliberation and debate.

Initiatives are argued via spin and TV ads; each sides offers up phony narratives, and voters choose between them. We often don't find out what the initiatives will do until well after they pass.

That's a big problem in California because once an initiative passes we're often stuck with its provision -- forever. This is the only state in the union -- indeed the only place on planet earth -- where a statute passed by initiative can't be amended except by another vote of the people.

Now would be the time to start taking this seriously, and what better opportunity for public debates and deliberations than these competing measures?

Let me deal with the objections to such a debate. Gov. Brown and his backers will say that he shouldn't be reduced to debating Munger, who is not an elected official. Please.

In ballot initiatives, the governor is another citizen, offering up an idea to the public. There could be strategic reasons for avoiding debate -- since his measure is doing better in polling than Munger's.

If that's the case, why not add to that advantage with debate.

Munger's camp could try to say that it's unfair for her to be expected to debate a seasoned politician who debated Bill Clinton. Munger has been a skillful advocate for education and kids for years; she can hold her own.

If the campaigns claims such a debate would be too much trouble to organize, yours truly will find the space and the sponsor.

So no more excuses. Time to step up, Molly and Jerry.

One last suggestion: don't make this a debate in which media blowhards like your blogger ask the questions.

Convene a representative sampling of California voters, and let them ask the questions. The initiative is supposed to be the people's process. Let this be the people's debate.

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