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Hating Our Way to Yes

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Opinion: Hating Our Way to Yes

AP

A radio ad for Proposition 32 -- the November ballot initiative that would limit, among other things, the ability of unions to raise money for politics -- asks rhetorically why you should support it. The ad's answer? Because special interests hate it.

You might think stoking hatred would be reserved for "no" campaigns, those against initiatives. You would think wrong.

Hatred, or at least intense dislike, is being offered as the reason to vote in favor of a number of the initiatives on the ballot. Many of these initiatives offer few positive reasons for their measure.

It's enough to make you ask: Is anyone actually for anything anymore?

Just listen to the campaign ads. Why should you vote yes on Prop 30, the temporary tax initiative from Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats? Because you hate cuts to schools, and those cuts would be triggered if Prop 30 were to lose. And because you don't want Sacramento legislators getting their hands on local government revenue streams, which Prop 30 would protect and guarantee by enshrining them in the state constitution.

What about Prop 38, the temporary tax initiative from attorney Molly Munger that is competing with Prop 30? It's all about your dislike of Sacramento politicians, who like to control education. Vote for 38, we're told, and you'll stick it to those guys and send the dollars to your neighborhood school.

Prop 31? You should vote for it because you don't trust politicians, which is why Prop 31 imposes a host of new budget formulas. Another reason to vote yes is hatred of Sacramento; Prop 31 includes a provision permitting local governments to come together and make regional plans that could include exemptions from state law.

And you love Prop 32 because special interests, especially public employee unions, hate it.

And so it goes.

Prop 35 is being billed as response to Sacramento politicians who wouldn't get tough on human trafficking. Prop 37, an initiative to require some labeling of some genetically modified food, is a way to stick it to agribusiness and big food companies that want to make you sick with their cheaper Franken-food. Prop 39 is something you should vote for to stick it to big out-of-state companies that don't want to pay their fair share of California taxes.

What should voters make of this messaging -- "You want to stick it to this guy? Vote Yes on our measure"?

Your blogger's take: be very wary of those selling hatred. They are likely doing that because the enemy they've picked is less popular than their measure would be if you understood it.

Indeed, these kinds of "yes"-side attacks are a way to deflect attention from and scrutiny of the language of measures. 

But what counts in initiatives is not the interests or people on one side or the other. What counts is what is in the initiative. Because initiatives aren't issues. They are laws and constitutional amendments. The words and details matter.

I'm sorry if you hate it.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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