Law needed to stop AGs from rig­ging bal­lot

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - By Kevin Ki­ley Spe­cial to CalMat­ters Assem­bly­man Kevin Ki­ley rep­re­sents the 6th Assem­bly District, which in­cludes parts of El Do­rado, Placer, and Sacra­mento coun­ties, As­sem­bly­mem­ber.Ki­ley@ assem­bly.ca.gov.

Ev­ery two years, Cal­i­for­ni­ans be­come law­mak­ers by voting on statewide bal­lot propo­si­tions, which of­ten have enor­mous con­se­quences for the state. To un­der­stand what it is they are voting for or against, many vot­ers rely solely on the de­scrip­tion of the propo­si­tion writ­ten on their bal­lot. But time and again, this “de­scrip­tion” has failed to ac­cu­rately con­vey what the propo­si­tion would do.

Oddly, the job of writ­ing these all-im­por­tant bal­lot de­scrip­tions falls not to an elec­tions of­fi­cer or some other neu­tral of­fi­cial, but is in­stead en­trusted to the par­ti­san, elected at­tor­ney gen­eral of Cal­i­for­nia.

Our cur­rent At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Demo­crat Xavier Be­cerra, is only the lat­est in a line of at­tor­neys gen­eral who have ex­er­cised this power with­out even a pre­tense of im­par­tial­ity, in­stead skew­ing bal­lot lan­guage to lead vot­ers to­wards their pre­ferred po­lit­i­cal out­come.

Last month, Be­cerra’s of­fice re­leased the bal­lot de­scrip­tion for a pro­posed $12.5 bil­lion a year in new taxes on busi­ness prop­er­ties.

The most salient fact about this propo­si­tion — that it is a mas­sive tax in­crease — is mys­te­ri­ously ab­sent from Be­cerra’s de­scrip­tion.

In­stead, the at­tor­ney gen­eral mentions three times in the 100-word sum­mary that the mea­sure would fund ed­u­ca­tion and schools. Not co­in­ci­den­tally, this ma­jor as­sist from the at­tor­ney gen­eral came af­ter polls showed the pro­posal, when ac­cu­rately de­scribed, fail­ing to gain trac­tion with vot­ers.

For many ob­servers, Be­cerra’s

lat­est at­tempt to sub­vert the elec­toral process is a bridge too far. Edi­to­rial boards and columnists across the state ex­pressed frustratio­n and out­rage, call­ing his bal­lot de­scrip­tion an “abuse of power,” “shame­ful,” “dis­hon­or­able,” “tak­ing po­lit­i­cal sides.”

This mis­use of power is not unique to Be­cerra or his po­lit­i­cal party. In 1996, Repub­li­can At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dan Lun­gren wrote a mis­lead­ing sum­mary for Propo­si­tion 209, an ini­tia­tive seek­ing to end af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in Cal­i­for­nia.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral, or any elected politi­cian, is sim­ply the wrong per­son to be tasked with writ­ing neu­tral bal­lot lan­guage. Af­ter all, bal­lot propo­si­tions are sup­posed to be a way for cit­i­zens to make laws di­rectly with­out politi­cians stand­ing in the way.

That’s why I pro­posed Assem­bly Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment 7, which would take the au­thor­ity away from the AG and put it in the hands of a non­par­ti­san en­tity free from po­lit­i­cal pres­sures by spe­cial in­ter­ests.

Specif­i­cally, ACA 7 would as­sign bal­lot de­scrip­tions to the Leg­isla­tive An­a­lyst’s Of­fice, which has proven it­self trust­wor­thy and ca­pa­ble of writ­ing im­par­tial analy­ses of ev­ery ini­tia­tive that qual­i­fies for the bal­lot.

This change would en­sure fair­ness in our ini­tia­tive process re­gard­less of who is elected at­tor­ney gen­eral— some­thing all vot­ers de­serve.

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