Why California Cannot Trust Giving "Power to the People!"
The initiative process was originally designed by the so-called “Progressives” in 1911 as a means to bring “power of the people," since the California Legislature was then in the tight grip of powerful railroads, which controlled the Democratic Party.
While the term “progressive” is most often associated with the Democratic Party today, these Progressives were Republican reformers. They successfully amended the State Constitution empowering voters to create new laws in the same way they elected legislators, placing California among the leaders of “direct democracy,” which has since spread to 24 states.
When the "Community Choice Aggregation" (CCA) state law was passed in 2002, it, too, was seen as a way to bring “power to the people” in the form of cleaner electricity supplies to Bay Area local governments tired of waiting for Washington, DC -- and Sacramento -- to do something about global warming.
The CCA law allows all local governments to choose their power supply portfolios by votes from their elected representatives, but leave the transmitting, distributing and billing for electricity service to investor-owned utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) -- which publicly supported the CCA law.
Enter PG&E’s Proposition 16 on the primary ballot this June. The proposition requires two-thirds of voters to approve switching to a power supply provided by any city or county agency. Allowing voters to make these decisions would be a disaster.
With an estimated advertising budget of $35 million (collected, by the way, from we the people), PG&E hopes Prop. 16 will tap into our distrust of government. It would not only hand cuff any CCA – such as the “Marin Clean Energy” program launched in February -- but also limit the abilities of existing municipal utilities (and all other local governments, including San Francisco’s) to expand service and help bring on-line renewable energy facilities that PG&E has itself repeatedly failed to bring on-line, despite state mandates.
PG&E claims Prop. 16 simply gives the public a voice. It was originally entitled the "Taxpayer Right to Vote Act," a clever way to market this ballot measure in these times of lingering fears about our pocketbooks. That Orwellian title caught the attention of Attorney General Jerry Brown, who renamed the measure the “New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act.”
PG&E left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the grounds that it disagreed with the Chamber's lobbying efforts to kill federal climate change legislation. Prop. 16 would, ironically enough, severely limit the ability of local governments to meet state carbon reduction requirements that PG&E helped lobby for in California’s AB 32, passed in 2006. Prop. 16 will also create chaos at the local government level, further institutionalizing gridlock.
Along with corporations, why are California voters equally to blame for manipulative measures such as Prop. 16? Because we’ve proven we too are incompetent when it comes to governing California via the ballot box, thanks to deceptive ad campaigns designed by special interests to exploit our own collective worst impulses.
My advice? Just say no to Prop. 16, and then whine to your neighbors about what a waste of $35 million of your and my money.