First Peek at 2008

by Tony Quinn
Aug. 21, 2007
The dog days of summer are providing Californians their first peek at the issues that voters will confront in our two primary elections in 2008. For the first time since 1940, we will have a separate presidential primary (February 5) and a separate primary for state office (June 3.)

But don’t expect voters to confront any big issues on either ballot – the most contentious issues on the horizon right now involve the processes of government, and the byplay between the two parties, not issues like health care, taxes and immigration that are of real concern to the people.

For the political class, the most important issue before the voters will be whether to keep them in office. Sure to appear on the February presidential ballot is a measure to change the current legislative term limits from six years in the Assembly and eight years in the State Senate to 12 years in either house. While Attorney General Jerry Brown has done his bit for incumbent politicians with a very misleading ballot summary suggesting that this measure reduces term limits, it actually lengthens them for every current incumbent legislator.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez would not leave office as planned next year but could serve another six years; Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata would not leave office even though he has already served 14 years in the legislature; he would also get four more years. How this measure will be viewed once the voters find out it increases term limits for incumbents is anyone’s guess, but it may be hard sledding for this initiative to get a “yes” vote on February 5.

While the term limits measure is important, to politicians at least, it may pale in comparison to the battle that is brewing between labor and four Indian tribes over tribal compacts labor bitterly opposed but which the legislature passed and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law.

Organized labor has filed four referendum petitions against the compacts, and they have the support of some tribes left out of the tribal compacts. The compacts would expand gambling at casinos owned by the Morongo, Sycuan, Pechanga and Agua Caliente Indian tribes.

If these measures make the ballot, count on a multi-million dollar political war between unions and the four Indian tribes. But time is the question here. A referendum must qualify within 90 days of the governor signing a statute into law. Here labor wasted one full month and only began circulating petitions a few weeks ago. The petitions must be signed and processed by the counties before October 8, a very short time. We will not know until October if this battle will eventually take place.

If the four referenda qualify, they will also appear on the February presidential primary ballot. It was assumed that the second primary, in June, would draw little attention since there are no statewide contests this year and no US Senate race.

That, however, may be a false assumption. Republican activists planned an initiative for June that would change the way California distributes its electoral votes. Rather than awarding all 55 of California’s electoral voters to the candidate who gets the plurality, this measure would award 53 of the 55 electoral votes to the winner of each of California’s 53 congressional districts.

This would completely change how we elect the president. Since 1992, the Democratic candidate has won all of California’s electoral votes, and most observers place California in the safe Democratic column for 2008. But under this proposed initiative, roughly 20 of California’s votes would go to the Republican candidate because California has 20 mostly Republican congressional districts.

Think of it this way, the GOP candidate would get additional electoral votes equal to the state of Ohio (the biggest battleground state in 2004), and the Democrat would lose electoral voters equal to Wisconsin and Minnesota combined.

Democrats already see this measure as a dagger aimed right at the their hearts. They will fight this proposal if it makes the June ballot with all their might. Plan to see a lot of Hillary Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, in California this spring. Democrats probably need all 55 of California’s votes to have any chance of winning the White House in 2008.

Words like “self serving” and “power grab” will be much in vogue next year. But discussions of such mundane subjects as jobs creation, fixing the crumbling infrastructure, and health care reform won’t be heard much. It is far more fun for politicians and interest groups to fight among themselves over how to divvy up political power.

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