Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Super-Duper Majoritarianism

I need to file my Sunday column on Thursdays, so imagine my chagrin when Ted Prezelski put up a post on this same initiative (and making most of the same arguments) on Friday. I’ve got the sent email to prove I wrote before he posted, but being a dead-tree columnist means I’m older (of course) and more stale (too bad) than these younger, strictly pixilated digital guys. I wasn't happy with my proposed headline (above) and I have to go with the editor's choice this time. Newspaper version is here.

East Valley Tribune, Jun. 1, 2008

Certain ‘wingers can’t criticize Hillary Clinton for arguing that Michigan voters who picked “undecided” should get counted for her, because they’re trying the same tactic here in Arizona.

It’s called the “Majority Rules” initiative. Their slogan is “Let the People Decide!” but it really should be “Let the Non-Voters Decide!”

If it passes, any initiative that involves a tax, fee, or other revenue source would have to be approved not by a majority of those voting, but by a majority of all registered voters. In other words, if you don’t vote, you voted no.

For a typical presidential election year in Arizona, if 60 percent of registered voters (including all those “dead” registrations that haven’t been purged yet) cast ballots, an initiative would need at least 83 percent approval. For a typical off-year election, with under 50 percent turnout, no initiative involving a spending or tax requirement could pass, even with absolutely every voter in favor. They wouldn’t be a majority of all registered voters.

Initiatives for taxes are pretty much the ballgame in Arizona, because legislative tax increases require supermajority votes, so a 33 percent minority can block everything. Making initiatives pass with a majority of registered voters would give a minority of 25 or 15 percent the same power to block everything. It’s not accurate to call requiring -- without saying so -- 80 or 90 percent approval a “supermajority” requirement. It’s more accurately a “super-duper impossibility” requirement.

And when I say block everything, the initiative means pretty much everything. Any initiative that “mandates” a “spending obligation” on either the state or any “private person, labor organization, [or] other private legal entity” needs approval of a majority of registered voters. So our statewide smoking ban might have needed 80 percent approval, because lawyers could argue that banning smoking imposed spending obligations on bar owners or on the state for enforcement.

The initiative depends on a cute legal trick, switching the way people usually talk about elections with a phrase that means something entirely different. We’re comfortable deciding things based on a majority of voters. That’s how we elect candidates, right? But switching the common term “voter” for “qualified elector” means that those people who actually vote no longer get to decide, because those who don’t vote suddenly count.

The initiative campaign has raised all its money so far from TCAG Management Services of Irvine, California (which is Jim Click, the Tucson auto dealer and big GOP donor), the Beer &Wine Distributors of Arizona, and Services Group of America of Scottsdale.

Services Group is one of the country’s largest privately-held businesses, distributing food to schools, hospitals, and government and military facilities. While it also sells to restaurants, the company makes most of its money on government contracts. So, of course, the owner’s politics are all based on reducing taxes, excepting only those that go to purchase food distributed by Services Group.

Services Group and its owner both admitted to campaign-finance fraud in Washington state in 1998. Over four election cycles, the company paid bogus bonuses to employees that were shifted to the corporate political action committee. The owner was sentenced to 60 days home confinement, 160 hours of community service, and a fine of $100,000; Services Group was fined $4.2 million. And these are the people who want to lecture Arizonans about the proper role of government?

And let’s raise a toast to the beer and wine distributors. You know, if they believe so deeply in true majority rule, then let’s have an initiative that would make liquor licenses subject to approval by a majority of qualified electors. Want to sell beer or wine? Just get approval from a real, he-man majority. Not one of those namby-pamby majorities of a city council or government board, and certainly not a mere half-baked majority of those voting. Nah, beer and wine licensees should have to get a majority of all registered voters.

After all, what sauce goes with both goose and gander? Beer and wine, baby, beer and wine.

No comments: