Arizona-Style Immigration Initiative Going Nowhere in California

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The California initiative process remains one of the best marketing deals anywhere. For $200, you can file an initiative with the attorney general's office -- and get a bunch of publicity if it involves an idea that the media are interested in.

But that doesn't mean your initiative is going anywhere.

Such is the case with the much-publicized new initiative filed by a Tea Party activist in Belmont. This initiative proposes to enact an Arizona-style immigration law (giving the cops broad discretion to investigate the immigration status of people they question) while also making it a state crime to hire an undocumented immigrant or to seek a job if you're an undocumented immigrant.

What are its chances? Not good. It's unlikely to qualify for the ballot. The proponent tells the Sacramento Bee that he's planning to rely on volunteer networks of Tea Party types to gather signatures. That almost certainly won't work. No measure has qualified for the ballot on the basis of an all-volunteer gathering campaign in the past three decades. Why? Because California's tight, 150-day limit for signature gathering makes qualification even more costly for volunteer groups than for those who pay-per signature. (The professional, paid gatherers are far more efficient, and it costs millions to field a volunteer effort that can gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify).

Why can't this group raise the money for paid gatherers? Maybe they can. But many of the big donors on the right who might be sympathetic to this initiative are also Republicans. And such an initiative is not in the best interests of Republicans, who need to reach out to immigrants if they are to rebuild their party. Such an initiative also could hurt Republicans by drawing to the polls younger, diverse voters who would want to kill the initiative (and would vote Democratic in the process).

But perhaps there's one out-of-state billionaire who won't care and will provide the money for a paid campaign. So what happens if this measure makes the ballot? It's hard to see how an initiative like this, which would face opposition from across the political spectrum, would have any chance of passing. But that's not really the point of filing this initiative. Getting attention is. And that mission has already been accomplished.

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