There are 45 Initiatives in Circulation — And More Coming

Former Gov. Hiram Johnson, recently posthumously inducted into the California Museum’s Hall of Fame, helped create California’s initiative process to break the stranglehold of the railroads on the state Legislature.

Johnson, a Sacramento native who was governor from 1911 to 1917, is likely spinning in his grave.

As of December 14, there are 45 measures being circulated for voter signatures, another 38 are awaiting titles and summaries by the Attorney General.

So far, three initiatives have qualified for the 2010 primary election – the most significant of which would create open primaries in 2012 allowing voters to cast a ballot for any candidate regardless of political affiliation. The top two vote getters advance to the November general election.

The Legislature’s recently approved $11 billion water bond is on the November ballot.

A measure that would particularly rile Johnson appears headed to the ballot, as well. It amends the state constitution to require local governments to get approval by two-thirds of their voters before providing electricity to new customers or expanding such service to new territories if any public funds or bonds are involved.

Bankrolled by Pacific, Gas & Electric, the statewide measure is designed to end a service area turf battle between the utility and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

While the number of initiatives in circulation or awaiting action by the Attorney General is high, the valid signatures of more than 433,000 voters are required to place a measure on the ballot, which amends state law. A constitutional change requires a minimum of nearly 700,000 valid signatures.

PG&E, for example, used paid signature gathers in their effort to reach the ballot. Many of the measures in circulation will not have the financial ability to do so and will, as a consequence, not reach the signature threshold for qualification.

The 45 measures in circulation show a healthy amount of dissatisfaction among some state voters over the status quo. One measure would convert the Legislature to a part-time body. Another would shorten the legislative session and cut the salaries of state lawmakers by at least 50 percent.

Yet another would require drug testing of lawmakers.

(Editor’s Note: Seems implicit – Don’t they voluntary seek the thankless job? What else could prompt such madness but drugs?)

Conversely, three measures – one backed by former Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, a candidate for mayor of Oakland, would legalize marijuana, then tax it.

A fourth legalizes marijuana and requires the release of non-violent marijuana offenders from jail.

One proposal seeks to lower the approval threshold for a budget from two-thirds to three-fifths. Another wants to lower the two-thirds to a simple majority for budget passage.

Several propose the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass: Call a constitutional convention and rewrite the state constitution.

Two proposals would repeal some $1.7 billion in tax breaks demanded by Republicans to get sufficient votes to pass the February budget.

Two others would seek to unions from using dues or other wage deductions for political purposes. Previous measures on the issue have either failed to qualify or were defeated by voters, most recently Proposition 75 in the November 2005 special election.

Other proposals seek social change.

Couples could no longer divorce under one constitutional amendment. Five measures propose to amend the constitution to restore the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Voters approved Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot, which prohibited same sex marriages.

Two would require parental notification before a woman under the age of 18 gets an abortion. A third would include a mandatory waiting period.

The definition of a human being would be changed to include fertilized human eggs under another constitutional amendment.

The list of 38 proposed initiatives awaiting action from the Attorney General is inflated because several of the measures have multiple versions or extensive amendments, each of which counts toward the 38.

For example, there are three versions of the “California Cancer Research Act,” two of the “Best Practices Budget Accountability Act” and seven versions of a measure relating to community hospitals.


Filed under: Politics


  1. Um . . . Two-thirds is larger than three-fifths, so the initiative to change the threshold for a budget vote would actually lower the number of votes needed from 54 to 48 in the Assembly and from 27 to 24 in the Senate. Other than that, all great points.

    Comment by reality czech — 12.15.2009 @ 5:36 pm

  2. Initiatives! Warms my soul,so Gregster math at Stanford or SC?

    Comment by Howard Jarvis — 12.16.2009 @ 5:47 am

  3. Math was never chief correspondent’s long suit. Post has been changed accordingly. Thanks — The Editors

    Comment by admin — 12.16.2009 @ 10:40 am

  4. Very interesting and thought provoking. Thank you for publishing this and producing such an excellent blog. Keep up the good work, without people like you the Internet would be a very boring place!

    Comment by Jean Bertrand — 1.06.2010 @ 10:05 am

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