Editorial, THE VALLEJO TIMES HERALD (CALIFORNIA)
One of the most puzzling and troubling aspects of California elections is the abysmally low voter turnout even when voters have an opportunity to directly make important public policy decisions through ballot measures.
In last week’s primary, only 24.8 percent of registered voters participated, which translates to an even lower 18.3 percent of all Californians who are eligible to vote.
Low turnouts can produce odd results that are not representative of the state as a whole and can establish harmful policies. Fortunately, that was not the case last week, when two misleading ballot measures designed to benefit special interests at the expense of the public narrowly failed.
Propositions 16 and 17 each were heavily funded primarily by two corporations solely for their own financial benefit.
Proposition 16 had a single purpose — to protect Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s financial interests against competition from publicly-owned electric service providers.
Had Proposition 16 passed, local governments would have had to get a difficult-to-achieve two-thirds vote to create a publicly owned and operated utility.
The super-majority vote would be even harder to get if PG&E funded the opposition, which it has in the past.
PG&E spent at least $45 million of ratepayer and investor money on ads and mailers to promote its self-serving measure.
The utility tried to fool people into thinking Prop. 16 was a pro-voter initiative instead of a means of thwarting cities and counties from combining to contract with an electricity provider other than PG&E.
To their credit, a majority of those who did participate in last week’s primary were not taken in. In fact, Prop. 16 lost by a wide margin inside the PG&E service area and won narrowly outside the utility’s service region.
This says much about what customers think about PG&E. One also has to wonder why PG&E is so fearful of competition from publicly owned utilities that it would spend tens of millions of dollars to prevent their growth.
Proposition 17 was the other self-serving measure that was defeated last week. It was almost entirely funded by Mercury Insurance. It hoped to fool voters into thinking it was just a change in the law that would allow insurers to offer “continuous coverage” discounts on policies to new customers who changed auto insurance companies.
That was only half the story. Insurance companies also would have been allowed to increase the cost of insurance to drivers who dropped their car insurance for 91 days or more in the past half-decade.
Evidently, voters figured out that no insurance company was going to spend millions of dollars just to save its customers’ money.
While both of these harmful ballot measures failed, they did so by disturbingly small margins. Prop. 16 was defeated 52.5 to 47.5 percent, and Proposition 17 lost by a 52.1 to 47.9 percent margin. Both were winning early in the vote count.
Had either of these ballot measures passed, a far-reaching and dangerous precedent would have been set, severely undermining the entire initiative process.
If a single well-heeled company can pay signature gatherers to place a self-serving measure on the ballot and then successfully finance a misleading campaign to pass it, public policy could be distorted for the benefit of any number of special interests.
No doubt there will be future attempts by individual companies to fool the public with dishonest initiative campaigns.
We can only hope voters will continue to be vigilant enough to see through the propaganda and reject initiatives that are not in the public interest, as they did with Propositions 16 and 17 last week.