Some states have functional legislatures and folks there probably don't think much of them. Here in California we have a state government hamstrung by decades of rightwing pseudo-populist ballot measures, so we govern by initiative. (And we also don't think much of our legislature.) Prop. 87 is a California classic: it aims to enact policies to encourage use of alternative fuels and energy efficiency using proceeds from a per barrel tax on oil produced in the state.
The oil industry is spending some $78 million on spreading the usual arguments against any initiative: the measure costs too much, goes too far, and is too complicated. People we are supposed to identify as firemen and other public servants (but are probably actors or hacks) tell us this on TV, constantly. Proponents are spending only slightly less money to make sure we know that former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore say that Prop. 87 will make us less dependent on foreign oil, reduce air pollution and asthma, and help develop wind and solar power.
As of a couple of weeks ago, the No side's ads seemed to be working, showing Prop. 87 only 3 points ahead. This seems quite a triumph of money, since people hate the oil companies. And well we should; it turns out that, despite all their bleating, California is the only oil producing state that doesn't levy a tax like the one proposed. I sure hope the voters figure this one out and don't get scared off by big oil.
However, the real subject of this post is not Prop. 87, much as I hope it wins, but Al Gore's appearance at a rally in Berkeley today.
In my professional role training community groups to work on elections, I put a lot of energy into discouraging the urge to hold rallies. In electoral terms, it doesn't matter a hill of beans if you got 200 or 2000 supporters to turn out to cheer your candidate or position if you don't collect their names and contact information and get some work out of them. The Yes on 87 campaign did pretty well at getting the names by insisting that we give them up on their website in order to get a "ticket" to get into the Berkeley event. I trust I'll be hearing from them daily. And they also didn't give a damn whether people actually produced the "tickets" to be part of the crowd, a wise choice that filled the audience with folks on their lunch breaks and high school students.
I'd never seen Gore in person before. I had seen An Inconvenient Truth and been impressed. But I wasn't prepared for how effectively Gore presents himself -- perhaps as a future president? His rap [as paraphrased from my notes]:
I suspect that last bit might include something about triumphing over communism when he gives it outside Berkeley.
Gore is a pretty effective speaker, at least in person. I wonder whether his seriousness might come across as angry on TV -- in person, he exudes strength. Gore preaches. He proposes a moral vision and promises moral leadership. We're not used to hearing this from a Democrat.
If Gore throws down for the presidential nomination, I think he'd be formidable. The high school kids next to me ate it up -- there are millions yearning for leadership that asks them to rise above the grubby realities of this failing empire. They hate Bush and more vaguely "the Republicans" but they are want desperately something, someone, to be for. They threw down in 2004 for Kerry as "not Bush," but they could get excited about a candidate who challenged them. Gore is speaking to this hunger.