Hiram Johnson
Courtesy Photo

The late, great Hiram Johnson is best known as the California governor who brought forth the state’s renowned system of ballot initiatives.

Johnson is less remembered as a World War I–era isolationist U.S. senator who made this immortal declaration: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Johnson’s historic dictum comes to mind as warring campaigns prepare to fling tens of millions of dollars in lying, deceitful, mendacious TV ads for and against a dozen election initiatives — a spectacle he would be shocked his great reform would spawn.

Here is an issue-by-issue look at November’s ballot measures to help cut through the fog of political warfare.

SURREAL STUFF: Emblematic of his plutocratic class of Silicon Valley disrupters, venture capitalist Tim Draper seems certain that his private business prowess makes him a genius about public-sector matters. Why else spend more than $1 million in couch change qualifying Proposition 9, a vanity measure to “fix” California by splitting it into three separate, and very unequal, states? The Central Coast would be part of nouveau “California” — at least we get to keep the name — running from Monterey through L.A. County. Aside from countless political obstacles —the Legislature, governor, Congress, president, and probably Putin would have to approve — a legislative analyst report shows how Draper’s “Northern California” territory would reap huge financial benefits. Hmmm.

[Editor’s Note: After the Independent went to press, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously to remove Prop 9, the “Three Californias” initiative, from the November ballot, in a suit filed by the Planning and Conservation League. The court said it would consider at a later time the constitutionality of the measure, to determine whether it can appear on a future ballot.]

Speaking of secession, Prop. 7 seeks to make existing California the first state to operate year-round on daylight saving time (many additional approvals needed here too), the better to cure spring-ahead, fall-back sleep disruption.

The Humane Society is behind Prop. 12, to ban the sale of eggs delivered by hens not domiciled in free-range habitats and to improve quality of life for veal calves and pigs. Free Wilbur and All Political Prisoners!

HOUSING MATTERS: Look for a huge battle over Prop. 10, a tenants’ rights proposal to lift California’s quarter-century moratorium on rent control, allowing local jurisdictions to impose new restrictions on landlords. To the surprise of no one, real estate interests are amassing piles of cash in opposition.

Prop. 1 is part of the package of housing legislation that Sacramento passed in 2017. It would authorize the state to sell, and pay 30 years of interest on, $4 billion in bonds to build affordable units. Prop. 2 would authorize another $2 billion in housing, specifically for people with mental illness, and asks voters to approve a scheme to finance it with a previously approved income-tax surcharge on millionaires.

Prop. 5 would give geezer homeowners (we name no names) a break by allowing them to transfer their current tax rate if they move rather than pay higher property taxes likely to be imposed by buying a new place.

MEDICAL AFFAIRS: A trio of initiatives boosted by various health-care special interests may generate an outbreak of statewide head-scratching. Key question: Qui bono — who benefits?

The California Children’s Hospital Association, which won voter approval for more than $1 billion in infrastructure bonds in 2004 and 2008, backs Prop. 4, a bid for another $1.5 billion of taxpayer-backed bonding for repairs and expansions, primarily at nonprofit hospitals. Prop. 8, backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU), would require two big private companies that operate kidney dialysis clinics to rebate profits over 15 percent to insurers; according to the respected CALmatters.org, it’s part of an SEIU organizing strategy.

Prop. 11 would exempt private ambulance companies from a current law allowing EMTs to take a coffee break with their radios turned off. Seriously? Why are voters deciding stuff like this?

WATER, WATER: Prop. 3 is another huge legislative-sponsored bond measure, seeking authorization for nearly $8.9 billion in debt to fund a vast collection of water-supply infrastructure projects. The debate may be less about need than cost — should California add to its current debt load of $120 billion?

Amid all these complex decisions lies the politically loaded question, posed by Prop. 6, of whether to repeal a 12-cent gas-tax increase, as detailed in last week’s Cap Letters.

Hiram Johnson, RIP.


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