June ballot measure “orphaned,” but poised to pass

FILE -- In this Jan. 23, 2013 file photo, Gov. Jerry Brown gives his State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, have proposed indentical bills that would require all legislation to be in print and online 72 hours before it can come to a vote. Both bills would be constitutional amendments and would have to be approved by the voters. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

While dozens of measures are vying to make it on the November general election ballot, one proposal is ready for the June primary — even though no one is campaigning for or against it.

Proposition 50 is a constitutional amendment empowering legislators to suspend other legislators without pay with a two-thirds vote of the respective chamber.

The measure is in response to three suspensions with pay in 2014: Democratic state Sens. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello. Wright was suspended after being convicted of felony perjury and election fraud and the other two were suspended after federal corruption charges were filed.

The measure has a good chance of passing, as public perception of the Legislature took a hit following the rash of incidents in 2014 (in February of 2015, it rebounded a bit but was still in the low 40 percent range).

“From a voter’s perspective, it’s pretty straight forward,” said Kathay Feng, the executive director of the good government group California Common Cause. “There’s not much love for misbehaving legislators.”

Feng said some may question whether this measure violates the spirit of innocent until proven guilty, but others are sure this won’t be an issue.

“Guilty until proven innocent when it comes to legislators,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic campaign strategist, noting that the measure is “totally non-controversial.”

Politics and Process

The measure doesn’t have any opponents actively fighting it. But no one is pushing for it either. When contacted by CalWatchdog, former Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the measure, deferred through an aide to sitting senators or the Senate Rules Committee for more info.

But sitting senators would refer it to an outside group to handle the campaign, yet no such committee has been formed. No one is campaigning for it.

“All of the people who were originally involved seemed to have left this as an orphan for somebody else,” said Feng.

If the measure’s passage is truly inevitable — a slam dunk — then there may be little need to push for it, especially in the absence of opposition. But some observers say it could be that the pressure is off now that no one is in trouble.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “The idea may regain currency if another legislator gets into major trouble, but until then it is in the political memory hole.”

The measure will appear on the June ballot because it is a constitutional amendment added by the Legislature. Measures that go through the signature gathering process can only appear on the November general election ballot — of which it appears there will be plenty.

How Else Can They Be Punished?

Besides suspension, legislators have other punitive actions they can take against lawmakers, although they are rarely used.

According to Alex Vassar, who runs the California political website One Voter Project, censure (it’s basically a public shaming by peers) was last used in 1982 to strongly condemn comments made about abortion rights protesters by O.C. Republican John G. Schmitz.

Expulsion, according to Vassar, was last used in 1905 against legislators colluding to solicit bribes (Wright was threatened with an expulsion vote). And members can also be stripped of committee assignments, which was used last with Yee, Wright and Calderon.

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