Jerry Brown’s Super Tuesday Strategy

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In the 1970s, Jerry Brown, then California’s Secretary of State, allowed voter initiatives on the primary ballot, although the Constitution mentioned only general election placement.

Flash forward to 2011.

One of the 11th-hour bills Governor Brown signed last week mandates that initiatives once again be placed only on November general election ballots.

What’s up with that?

Political junkies who have tracked Brown over his years in public office know that he can be, um, flexible.

When Prop. 13 passed in 1978, Brown pivoted instantly from staunchly opposing slashing property taxes to declaring himself a “born-again tax cutter.”

Why did the governor change his mind this time?

In his signing message, Brown wrote “…there are dramatically more voters at a general rather than a primary election…The idea of direct democracy is to involve as many voters as possible This bill accomplishes that.“


But…it accomplishes that by practically guaranteeing a more liberal, Democratic and union-friendly, electorate will have the final say on controversial ballot issues.

No more targeting GOP-driven initiatives for the primary ballot, whose electorate tends to be smaller, more conservative and more Republican.

Interests and political operatives of all stripes are struggling to adapt their ballot strategies to this new calendar.

They’re already scratching their heads trying to divine what will work a year from now; they’d better do it soon, because running an initiative takes loads of time and loads of money.

The new law also “pushes a legislative constitutional amendment for a more robust budget rainy day fund from next June's ballot to the November 2014 ballot," blogged KQED’s John Myers. "That's more than four years after the measure was approved by the Legislature as part of the 2010 budget deal.”

But the legislative stalemate over the budget and revenues continues, risking California’s already-dicey fiscal health.

So voters should look out for a blizzard of initiatives pushed for the November 2012 ballot.

The pushers? A myriad of business and conservative tax reform groups, liberal activists, unions and “good government” coalitions—all of whom are anxious to have their whack at solving the state’s budget problems (with the least harm to their own interests) and who want to do it ASAP, rather than wait for 2014.

Governor Brown recently announced he will propose needed pension reforms, which would require a constitutional amendment and a public vote—probably next year.

Brown’s already expected to seek voter approval of tax increases on next year’s ballot.

Next November California voters will face big policy decisions, on one very long ballot. They will likely determine how the state’s fiscal picture will look in the years ahead.

Who will get taxed? How much? What services will get cut? Which services will be funded? Will unions or businesses be protected from economic misery? Which long-term or short-term budget reforms will prevail?

The stakes are incredibly high.

In fact, you might call California’s 2012 General Election the “Super Tuesday” of the initiative process. 

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