Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Proposition - The Scourge of California

Some of the posts below, and the comments to them, have brought up what I think is California's greatest scourge - the initiative.

Originally, this was created by progressives at the start of the 20th Century as a balance to the entrenched conservative interests that ran the state up until then. Sinclair Lewis was running for governor (he lost), and entrenched conservative interests stopped him. Out of this was born some of the progressive changes to California that exist to this day - the chief one being the initiative process. (I realize that this is a very sketchy description of how the process came to be, I only mention it at all to note the dichotomy of the fact that it was created by progressives, and has since been used to great effect by conservatives).

The most well known proposition in California's history was Proposition 13, which slashed property taxes, rolling them back to their 1975 rate, and it put a cap on spending and taxation, making it impossible to raise taxes in the state without a 2/3 majority in the legislature. It also capped individual property taxes on a property so that the properties assessed value could only go up 2% per year (starting over again every time it sold). Conservative proponents said that the liberals were being Chicken Little, claiming all sorts of ills like closing of parks and after school programs, summer schools, cutting local governments and services to the bones, etc....

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the Democrats running the legislature in 1978 was that they tried to accommodate those cuts and make do, rather than cut government as dramatically as it should've been cut commensurate with the degree of cuts made. They resorted to gimmicks, created a lottery, cut things slowly, raised fees, but the fact of the matter is, California is a shell of it's former self due to Prop 13. Schools have never recovered, infrastructure is much worse, after school programs were dropped, and kids formed their own after school programs without any supervision (there's no doubt, growing up in California, that I can tie the rise of gangs to the late 1970s, and early 1980s, as Prop 13 took full effect.

The reason it was a mistake not to cut everything was because it would've let people see the quick results of their visceral votes at the ballot box. People thought they were sending a message, but they still wanted infrastructure, services, schools, and things of the like. In other words, they were able to make a 2 second protect, and screw over the state as a result.

Other initiatives have quickly followed, but the crime initiatives have been the ones that have really wreaked havoc on the state. As Dennis has written about below, and as others are commenting on, we have passed a series of initiatives that have essentially mandated huge increases in prison and crime budgets - often so that we can imprison 40 year old men for the rest of their life for stealing things or using drugs. The men - no longer a physical danger to others - have old convictions but have grown out of their violent phases. This is no concern to the people who helped push the original 3 Strikes (although, it should be noted that the grandfather of the murdered girl Polly Klaas, in who's name 3 Strikes was pushed through, has come out against these applications, indicating that he never thought the purpose of 3 strikes was to put away non-violent offenders for life).

Other initiatives preceded and succeeded 3 Strikes, such as a recent one which mandates lifetime GPS tracking of sex offenders, and prohibits them from living within a huge distance of schools and parks. This has been pushed in other states with disastrous effect, something that is happening here now. People who have been forced to register now can't live in places they've lived for a long time, and they can't even live in whole cities. They've been forced in many cases into homelessness, they've lost jobs, they've been pushed underground, and the stability that helped ensure that they would not re-offend has been taken away. Many feel no need to continue fighting the demons that they thought they had vanquished - life in prison is no different than the lives they're now leading. This, of course, will lead to greater sex crimes (whether this will make the proponents of these measure happy or sad is debatable - to the extent that any sex offender does not re-offend, he is a walking example of everything the tough of crime people having said as being incorrect. If they were leading good lives, get pushed into homelessness by these laws, and re-offend as a result, the laws' proponents will be able to say "see, I told you so." So, I'm not sure what the goal is among the measure's proponents).

All in all, the ability of lawmakers to sit down and say "what is best for California," "what is working, what isn't working, and what can we change" is impossible. The reality is that all levels of government are hamstrung by these initiatives, and no area is hit as badly as the criminal justice system. The prison system may go into a receivership soon because it is so big, so unmanageable, and so expensive. The result is that a federal referee overseeing the system may take over the system, force the government to give the system $5 billion more, or start releasing huge numbers of criminals from prison. I can assure you he will not do it in the most careful manner, checking to see which are the most violent, which should not be there in the first place, which should be first in line.

The reason is because people are so easily bamboozled by the titles of initiatives, by simple advertising (remember what Dennis said about the 3 strike initiative in 2004 and Arnold's commercials against it), and they lack the sophistication to read through the initiative and understand what it says. The result is government by 30 second sound bite on TV 3 weeks before the election. It has not served this state well.


Unknown said...

This is a tremendous insight into why initiatives are not the utopian ideal of democratic politics that I think many liberals, myself included, like to believe they are. The fact of the matter is, the average voter doesn't have the time or the inclination to get as educated as they should on these issues, to weigh the long term costs, to think about where funding for initiatives is going to come from, etc...This is why we elect people we trust to do that job. We need to stand behind that trust.

Anonymous said...

First, let me get this out. I am totally against ANY form of abuse to any human being. And I believe anyone who murders another human being should be in prison for the rest of their life (until they die). I do not believe in the death penalty for anyone. Also, I believe that once a person has been in and out of prison and has served their probation and parole, done everything required of them, and what was signed on the "contract" when they took the plea, none of this should be required of them, none of it. The state cannot tear up a contract like this, which they are basically doing, it's unconstitutional. Many people, if they had known they would be faced with all this, they would have NOT taken a plea deal. And the courts are very aware of this and this is why they made it retroactive; thus violating ex-post facto laws! They should be allowed to get on with their life as if nothing happened. I'm not saying for it to be removed from their record, but, the crime should be removed from public view and background checks, they should not have any more restrictions, shaming, etc. If they commit another crime, then they face a lot more punishment, like everything else is treated.

When are we going to move away from being "TOUGH ON CRIME" and move to being "SMART ON CRIME?" If you locked every single sex offender up, at this moment, or killed every one of them, do you think the problem is over? No, more will follow.

I've heard many people say "If these laws protect one child, then they are worth it!" And at the same time, if millions are tortured, it's ok. Offenders are losing their homes, jobs, families, and children and cannot find new jobs or homes due to the insanity of these laws. The families are also made into outcasts for associating with or being related to an ex-offender and their own children are harassed and bullied at schools due to a family member being an ex-offender.

I know these laws are a sensitive issue, but as all issues, they must be discussed and we must come up with a valid solution that will work. The laws, as they exist now, DO NOT WORK! People are always saying they cause unintended consequences. These laws have been on the books for years now, so nothing is unintended anymore. When are we going to set aside fear, hate, rage and anger and come up with a real solution? History has proven that these feelings NEVER get good laws passed but only create bad ones that punish and torture many people. These knee-jerk reactions to a slim number of high-profile crimes, like Adam Walsh and Jessica Lunsford, MUST STOP!

When an ex-offender is forced to move from his/her home, thus having to sell it, cannot find another home within the law due to the residency "buffer" zones, get fired from their jobs due to being on the registry, cannot find a new job due to being on the registry, their husband/wife lose their jobs due to a significant other being on the registry, their children lose their friends and are harassed and bullied in school due to a family member being on the registry, thus destroying the children's lives, ex-offenders are forced into homelessness and to live under bridges, harassed by police, neighbors and probation/parole officers, have to wear "I'm a sex offender T-shirt" or have a neon green license plate on ALL their cars, have "sex offender" on their drivers license and forced to renew their licenses every year, forced from shelters during tornadoes or hurricanes, cannot give blood at some places due to being discriminated against for being on the sex offender registry, denied housing due to being on the registry, signs placed in their yards inviting harassment and ridicule from the neighbors, forced to move when the neighbors start picketing outside the ex-offenders home, the list is endless.


Anonymous said...