Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Power Proposition, Power Play

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Today’s post will do its best not a turn into a rant: the subject is Proposition 16 and what the marketing behind this one initiative says about California politics.

Prop 16, if approved by voters on Tuesday, will make it more difficult for municipalities to form their own public power agencies by requiring a two-thirds of voters to approve such an idea. Pacific Gas & Electric, the driving force behind this initiative knows that kind of supermajority is a super-rare occurence.

Here are links to more info on the yes and no rationales.

PG&E is a power player, here, in more than one sense. The utility has spent nearly $50 million to get the initiative passed. And that’s fine. Although, it bugs me when a business that’s charging a service has the kind of cash to burn in a political campaign. Sorta reminds of how the California Teachers Association bemoans the poverty status of public-school educators, yet has millions to spread in each and every campaign cycle (in fact, CTA has spent more than $212 million over the past decade on campaign financing and lobbying).

But getting back to Prop 16 . . . what bothers me isn’t so much the gaudy spending it’s the manipulative nature of the advertising. Not to mention the overt shallowness which, sadly, is par for the course for many a California ballot measure and candidate.

I say this looking at not one or two but three slick mailers that found their way to my doorstep — and that’s not counting the two other mailers that offered a slate of candidates, right next a the “Yes on Prop 16” logo.

One warns me about “politicians throughout the state” who “want to spend over $2.5 billion in public funds for government-run electricity — and they don’t want to let you vote on it.”

The second mailer warns me about politicians “in San Francisco and Marin [who] want to spend $2.15 billion in public funds” (well, at least we’re making progress — we’ve already trimmed $350 million in government spending).

It adds: “If they can get away with it here, it can happen anywhere” (cue the ominous music!!).

Mailer # 3, which arrived just the other day, is even less subtle: “In tough economic times like these local governments shouldn’t be spending billions of dollars to go into the electricity business. We have higher priorities like police and fire protection.”

Or so warns Lou Blanas, a retired Sacramento County sheriff and former president of the California Peace Officers’ Association.  I assume he makes these sorts of statements pro bono . . .

So if you’re following Prop 16 from the safe confines of your home (or not so safe, Sheriff Lou might tell you), then what you know if a no vote on 16 means you like politicians getting into the energy business, you’re in sync with folks in San Francisco and Marin County, and you’re begging for a crime wave.

It’s hard to think of three better buttons to push with regard to a conservative electorate: big government, Bay Area libs, soft-on-crime.

Is PG&E guilty of criminal wrongdoing? Of course not. It’s called power politics. Rather than fend off new competition across its empire, the utility is going for a one-shot, kill shot. It’s high stakes, in that the price tag for Prop 16’s passage isn’t cheap. But, from a strategic standpoint, it makes plenty of sense.

Keep an eye on 16’s outcome, on Tuesday night. If it passes, and by a wide margin it could beckon a bigger way of corporations going to the ballot. But if it doesn’t pass, despite an expected low turnout largely devoid of progressive Democrats who vote against utilities, then maybe it shows that, in these cynical times, there’s a limit to slick packaging and by-the-book button-pushing.

It’s not the only exaggerated campaigning in this primary, what with some candidates perhaps exaggerating their conservative credentials and some initiatives perhaps overselling their healing potential. But it’s just one more reason why voters in California don’t necessarily look forward to elections — just their completion.


Written by Bill Whalen

June 6, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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