BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Of course “gov” means cow in Armenian, in case someone didn’t know. The title was chosen because in the realm of improving government, all kinds of people at all levels seem to be voting for ways to make government, or at least its election, worse!
Let’s look at the June 8 California election and SCOTUS’s (Supreme Court of the U.S.) recent action regarding Arizona’s publicly financed elections. Two of California’s ballot measures, Propositions 14 and 15, addressed election related issues.
Prop 14, which passed 54.2 percent—45.8 percent, changed the nature of primary elections in California. Up to now, primary elections had people voting in partisan races to determine who would represent their own party in the upcoming general election. That is, a voter registered “Democratic” got to choose among the Democratic candidates for a position— from Governor to Assembly Member and everything in between. The same held for Greens, Republicans, American Independents, Libertarians, and Peace and Freedoms. Those who registered as “decline to state,” often confusingly referred to as “independents” (note the lower case “i” to differentiate them from members of the “American Independent” party) could choose, on primary day, which of the parties’ elections they wanted to vote in, that one time. With the change in the law ushered in by Prop 14, everyone will be voting on the entire, combined, list of all the parties’ candidates. As a sample of what that might entail, in this last election, that would’ve meant choosing ONE candidate, for governor, out of TWENTY-THREE!
Plus, as I’ve written before, the new system is like saying that members of the Ku Klux Klan should be able to vote in the elections of the American Civil Liberties Union, and vice versa. The new law allows non-members of an organization to have a say in choosing who will represent that organization. Does this make sense to you? I can only hope that Prop 14 will be challenged in court and found unconstitutional on first amendment grounds— it impinges on our right to assemble freely with like-minded people in pursuit of electoral office.
Prop 15, which did not pass, would have created a temporary (two election cycles long), optional, publicly financed election system for the office of California’s Secretary of State. This official is in charge of elections and related activities in the state. What better place to start eliminating the corrupting influence of money than in this position requiring the utmost integrity and defense of the public interest? Yet, voters didn’t get it. It failed, 42.5 percent—57.5 percent. And to think, this was a trial, impermanent, arrangement to test the benefits of such a system.
Which brings us to Arizona… This state already has a publicly financed election system in place, not obligatory. Any candidate may opt in or out. It even allows for additional funds going to publicly funded candidates who become the targets of big-money attacks or face deep pockets opponents. This aspect of the law has been taken to SCOTUS, claiming it inhibits fundraising and spending. Clearly, the moneyed special interests are afraid of the level playing field FOR IDEAS created by this Arizona law. They want, essentially, to be able to “buy” the elections. SCOTUS has temporarily dictated that Arizona may not implement this feature of its election law, pending SCOTUS’s decision as to whether they will hear this case or not. If they decide to hear the case, it might be another year before Arizona would be allowed to go ahead, assuming the law wasn’t overturned. You’ll remember this is the same Supreme Court that just this January unleashed corporate interests by overturning a century of law and allowing them to spend unlimited funds from their coffers in federal elections.
To paint a picture of what this means, take a look at some of these numbers I got from Jason Linkins’ piece,“The Supreme Court’s Citizen United Decision Is Terrifying” that appeared in The Huffington Post on January 21:
Total amount of bonuses paid in 2009 by:
JPMORGAN CHASE: $27 billion
CITIGROUP: $25 billion
GOLDMAN-SACHS: $16 billion
MORGAN STANLEY: $14 billion
Now compare this with the “unprecedented,” “record shattering” $1 billion spent by Obama and McCain on their 2008 battle for the presidency or the TOTAL $5.3 billion spent by all candidates, political parties, and special interest groups on the 2008 congressional and presidential election. That’s just 6.5 percent of what only four, out of hundreds, of huge corporations shelled out to their employees. In other words, corporate money can easily inundate anything “We the People” could ever hope to contribute to our favored candidates.
So we have people grabbing other people’s right to choose who will represent them (Prop 14). Meanwhile, the same people are allowing big money to render citizen participation irrelevant by not taking steps to reduce the role of money in elections (Prop 15). In this abdication of citizen responsibility, SCOTUS is fully supportive (the Arizona election-law situation).
Please, help me understand this. How can any citizen, regardless of their political party or other affiliation (business, environmental, Armenian, etc.), allow this to go unchecked? The end result can only be a new era of effective serfdom (or bovine existence) for the overwhelming majority of the population of the U.S.