Thursday, November 03, 2016

This initiative reporting rings too true

As a consequence of knowing I don't have more all out, 24/7, campaigns in me, this is the first election since 1994 that I haven't been at least somewhat involved with some California state initiative, for or against. It feels like a good year to be out of it: our 17 (!) propositions are simply more than smart citizens can realistically digest. In such circumstances, I fear money for ads and superficial decisions win. The California initiative process has run amok, created an industry of signature gathering firms that can get anything with enough funding on the ballot, and often been captured by sleazy corporate players. The voters have actually been pretty good at separating the wheat from the accumulating chaff, but the process remains unedifying.

Being out of the game, I can appreciate reporting that tells a true story about the sort of messy process that can happen when progressives try to use the initiative process affirmatively to win at the ballot box what we can't get through legislatures. David Roberts at Vox has the story of the carbon tax fight going on in Washington state. It's a doozy. Getting a broad coalition on board with your great idea is usually a prerequisite if you don't want to deliver a pratfall to your favorite policy. Enviros in Washington couldn't (or wouldn't) put in the angst to do this. Here's Roberts' introduction.

This is not an election year in which it is easy to get attention, unless your name rhymes with Gump. Nevertheless, it's worth taking note of a colorful, contentious, and counterintuitive political drama playing out in the top left corner of the country.

It’s a fight happening within the left, and like a great many such fights in US politics these days, it reveals sharp differences over how to make progress in the face of Republican intransigence. In this case, the subject is climate change policy, but the fissures being exposed are relevant to all of left politics in an age of hyperpolarization.

Here’s the situation. There’s a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington this November, meant not just to put the state on the path to its climate targets but to serve as an example to other states.

The measure, called Initiative 732, isn’t just any carbon tax, either. It’s a big one. It would be the first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.

And yet the left opposes it. The Democratic Party, community-of-color groups, organized labor, big liberal donors, and even most big environmental groups have come out against it. ...

His account is rivetting to any elections junky; this is exactly what it is like to try to advance public policy through the initiative mechanism. If you don't build your big tent, you can easily find yourself feeling unsheltered, lonely, and abused. Roberts does well to get and tell the inside story. The left needs to absorb these lessons.
For an entirely different telling, a far more conventional and credulous one, see how the New York Times handles Prop. 732.


Brandon said...

Do you know if California counts blank votes as no votes? They do so in Hawaii.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Brandon: no, that is not how it works in California. If it did, a whole lot of measures would fail! Maybe we should campaign for that. I'd have to think about whether I'd support it.

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