The political leadership of California is increasingly characterized by one-party rule with few, if any, checks and balances. The only substantive check that still remains on the ruling elite is Californians’ right to propose voter initiatives.
So it is not surprising that those who have consolidated extraordinary power are now directly attacking the people’s power to hold them accountable. The latest example is Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s unscrupulous attempt to prejudice voters against the initiative to repeal Gov. Jerry Brown’s unpopular gas tax increase.
Although the California constitution obligates the attorney general to provide voters with fair and truthful initiative titles and summaries, Becerra refused to mention the words “tax” or “fee” in his ballot title. His intent is clear: Deter voters from signing the initiative petition by fooling them into thinking that it reduces transportation spending rather than repealing an unpopular tax hike.
As the proponent of the initiative, I filed a lawsuit that resulted in a ruling against Becerra that declared the title and summary is “confusing, misleading and likely to create prejudice against the proposed measure” and “does not fairly and reasonably inform voters of the real purpose of the measure in clear and understandable language.”
The ruling ordered Becerra to substitute a new title and summary stating that the initiative “repeals recently-enacted gas and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees” and “eliminates road repair and transportation programs funded by these taxes.”
In other words, the attorney general was ordered to tell voters the truth and allow them to vote their conscience. But instead of complying with the court order, Becerra appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which overturned the ruling and rubber-stamped the attorney general’s electoral deception.
I am now appealing this decision to the California Supreme Court because this is no longer simply about repealing the gas tax, but about the larger issue of protecting the constitutional right enjoyed by every Californian since 1911 – the right to check the power of their elected officials.
Unfortunately, Becerra’s actions and the appeals court’s decision are part of a larger pattern of attacks designed to dilute the initiative process and direct democracy in California. In 2011, Brown signed a bill to delay voter initiatives from the June ballot to November. In 2015, the governor signed a bill increasing the cost of filing a ballot initiative from $200 to $2,000. And just a few months ago, he signed a bill extending the timeline for recall elections by months to protect Sen. Josh Newman from facing a recall for voting to increase the gas tax.
I am calling on the Supreme Court to protect the right of every Californian to honest democracy and fair elections. The time is at hand for the court to uphold the state constitution, rein in powerful politicians and restore voters’ trust in the initiative process.
Travis Allen represents the 72nd Assembly District, in Orange County; he is a 2018 Republican candidate for governor. He wrote this for The Sacramento Bee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.