Pete Rates the Propositions
Sensible opinions on the California ballot propositions      since 1980      by Pete Stahl

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Pete Rates the Propositions
June 2016

Pete recommends:
50   YES   Suspension of Misbehaving Legislators
        Voting in "Top Two" Primary Elections

Proposition 50: Suspension of Misbehaving Legislators – YES

Summary: Establishes rules for suspending legislators. Raises the suspension vote from a simple majority to two-thirds. Allows the state Senate or Assembly to withhold pay and benefits during suspension. Prop 50 is a helpful piece of Constitutional housekeeping.

Details: Two years ago, three state Senators were indicted for felonies including voter fraud, perjury, bribery, money-laundering, and racketeering. Clearly it would have been wrong for these Senators to serve while they were being tried for such serious crimes. What should the Senate have done?

The state Constitution has provisions for permanently expelling legislators, but Senate leadership deemed that too harsh; there was still a chance they’d be exonerated. Temporary suspension seemed to be the right course, but the Constitution is silent on suspension.

So, lacking clear direction or precedent, the Senate had to improvise the rules of suspension, and the results were imperfect. For instance, just a simple majority was required to enact the suspensions, and the suspended Senators continued to receive salaries and benefits.

Prop 50 will improve and clarify all this. Prop 50 adds suspension of legislators to the Constitution, and enacts sensible rules.

Under Prop 50, two-thirds of the Senate or Assembly must vote to suspend a member, and there must be a stated reason for the suspension. This will help prevent abuse of the process, such as politically-motivated suspensions.

Prop 50 will give legislators the option to withhold pay and benefits during suspensions, and it will allow suspensions to be indefinite or expire automatically on a specified date. This flexibility is important because of the wide range of suspension-worthy misbehavior. Sure, a felony indictment merits indefinite suspension without pay, but maybe an unpaid traffic ticket should result in just a one-week suspension with pay.

The Los Angeles Times opposes Prop 50 on the grounds that a suspended legislator’s constituents lose their representation for the duration of the suspension. But that will be true regardless of whether Prop 50 passes, so it’s no reason to oppose the measure. In fact, by raising the threshold for suspension from simple majority to two-thirds, Prop 50 actually makes it less likely that districts will be deprived of representation due to suspension.

It takes a vote of the people to change the state Constitution. That’s why Prop 50 is on your ballot. Prop 50 clarifies a procedure we need to deal appropriately with misbehavior by legislators. Give it your vote.

Voting in "Top Two" Primary Elections

As my regular readers know, I do not rate candidates. However, I do have a few words of advice on how to approach our "Top Two" primary elections.

Top Two was passed by voters as Prop 14 in 2010. This year’s election cycle is the third to use it. In Top Two, your primary ballot contains all candidates for state and federal* offices, regardless of party. If you're a Democrat, your primary ballot will contain not just Democrats, but also Republicans, Libertarians, "no party preference," and so on. You may vote for any of them.

The top two finishers in the June primary advance to the November general election, again regardless of party. In some contests, two Democrats or two Republicans will advance, freezing out all other parties.

The pile-up of candidates on your ballot can be very confusing. For example, there are 35 people vying for U. S. Senate, including both experienced politicians and novices. Candidates are listed in random order, so you may have to wade through dozens of entries before you find your choice. Be patient and be careful; the potential for error is high. We don't want to become a laughingstock electorate like Florida was in 2000.

With that many people running, you can probably find an obscure candidate to fall in love with, one who shares your views on virtually every issue. It will be quite tempting to vote for that candidate, even if he or she is not among the poll-anointed "front-runners."

That was the right way to vote before Top Two, because even if your heartthrob lost, you knew your party would nominate somebody more or less acceptable, and that nominee would appear on the November ballot. But that's no longer the case. Your party is not guaranteed a slot in the November general election. Only the top two vote-getters will advance. And they will be chosen by voters who vote for the major contenders.

Surely one of those three or four front-runners must be acceptable. Not perfect, maybe, but better than the other major candidates you really can't stand. You can help that imperfect-but-acceptable front-runner win a spot in the November run-off, or you can vote your heart's true desire let the rest of us nominate two finalists you may despise. Your choice.

It pains me to say that. You should be able to support your favorite candidate without risk. It can be unpleasant to vote for a front-runner tainted by unsavory special interests, political naïveté, excessive dogmatism, or vicious attack ads. But you've got to play the hand you're dealt. You have just one vote. Use it as effectively as you can.

*Unlike the other contests on this ballot, the primary for President is partisan. Registered Democrats will see only Democratic presidential candidates on their ballots, Republicans only Republicans, and so on. If you aren’t registered in any party, you won’t see any candidates for President. But if you like, you can request a Democratic, Libertarian or AIP ballot by mail or at the polling place. To vote Republican, Green or P&F, you must re-register in that party before May 23.

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