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What's the Problem? Legislative Staffers Should Work On Initiatives

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Legislative Staffers Should Work On Initiatives

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Assemblyman Martin Garrick was arrested near the state Capitol for driving under the influence.

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Questions are being raised about attempts to get legislative staffers to help out with the qualification of Gov. Brown's temporary-tax-hike initiative for the November ballot.

This Sacramento Bee story lays out the potential concerns: that staffers might be dabbling in politics on government time, or that they might be coerced. The fear here is that the work of government might become entangled in campaign politics.

This fear is wrongheaded.

Yes, keeping legislative staffers out of the campaigns for candidates makes sense; a separation between the election of particular officials and the people who must serve those officials makes sense.

But legislative staffers should be deeply involved -- indeed, more involved than they currently are -- in the initiative process.

That's because the initiative process is different.

It's not like candidate politics -- even though California foolishly treats it like regular election politics in many regards, including scheduling votes on initiatives at the same time as candidate races. Initiatives are government -- they are, quite literally, acts of legislation. And legislative staffers should be involved in the process.

Indeed, a big problem with the California initiative process is that it is so separate from the legislative process that takes place in the Capitol in Sacramento.

Initiatives, just like legislators, seek to make laws and constitutional amendments. But initiatives live outside the budget and other structures.

They aren't vetted by the same people as legislation, and as a result don't often fit well within existing law.

With California's system so dependent on initiatives, it's not asking too much for a politician to pressure his or her staffers to participate in initiative campaigns, particularly for a priority of that politician. This shouldn't be questionable.

To govern in California requires initiatives in this day and age. The less separation between that process and other legislation and budgets, the better.

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