Aug. 27 2014 09:13 AM

Lying signature gatherers add to undemocratic referendum process

Petition liar
This guy lied about how much the minimum wage will be increased.
Photo by Nico Fronterizo / Facebook

It started the very first day. Last Thursday, opponents of San Diego's recently approved minimum-wage increase kicked off their campaign to collect enough petition signatures to qualify a referendum for the June 2016 ballot. That day, City Council President Todd Gloria, who's led the charge to raise the wage, posted a video of his own encounter with a signature gatherer who wasn't telling the truth.

The guy said to Gloria, "Have you signed the petition so the state can't force the city of San Diego to increase the minimum wage yet?" That question has no basis in reality. The state has nothing to do with San Diego's minimum-wage increase. The state isn't forcing anything.

During the next few days, we heard reports of more lying: Some signature gatherers were misleading people into thinking that the petition was
in favor of a minimum-wage hike. Some were telling people that the City Council raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour and that the petition was for a lesser increase to $11.50. Video surfaced of one signature gatherer telling a voter that the minimum wage was being increased by 50 percent.

None of that is true. Here are the very simple facts: On a 6-3 vote, the City Council passed a law that would require all employers to give employees five paid sick days per year and raise the minimum wage to $9.75 an hour in January 2015, then to $10.50 in January 2016, then to $11.50 in January 2017. In 2019, wage increases would be indexed to the local cost of living. It's important to note that the statewide minimum wage went up from $8 to $9 on July 1. It will rise to $10 in January 2016. So, in 2015, San Diego's lowest hourly pay would be 75 cents higher than the state's minimum. In 2016, it would be 50 cents higher. In 2017, it would be $1.50 higher, unless the state raises the wage again. It would be accurate to say the council raised the wage 15 percent over the state-mandated minimum—effective two-and-a-half years from now.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer vetoed the law, but the City Council overrode his veto. Then the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce launched the petition drive and hired Revolvis, a leading Republican political consulting firm in San Diego, to run it. Using paid signature gatherers, Revolvis has 30 days to collect nearly 34,000 valid signatures from eligible San Diego voters. Gatherers are paid by the signature, so it's in their interest to say whatever they think will result in the most names on the petition. If the measure qualifies for the June 2016 ballot, the wage increase will be put on hold until then.

Not all gatherers are lying. For example, at Ralphs supermarket in Hillcrest on Sunday, a gatherer simply said that the petition would allow San Diegans to vote on the matter. That's accurate. But we've heard enough reports of lying that if the measure qualifies, it would do so based partly on misinformation.

Think about this: Voters selected members of the City Council to represent them. Those members thought raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do for their constituents. That's called "representative democracy"—the electorate that opted to vote in City Council elections theoretically gave their representatives the go-ahead to do what they think is best. In San Diego, 34,000 is 2.5 percent of the population and 5.1 percent of registered voters. Those 34,000 people will be able to kill the wage increase for at least the first year-and-a-half of its intended life. It would be one thing if that 2.5 percent of the population or 5.1 percent of the registered electorate were a scientific random sample. But it's not. It's mostly people who are either against raising the wage or were duped into signing a petition they didn't understand—all made possible because some powerful people who are against raising the wage have the money to run a petition drive.

That's all legal, but in our view, it's anti-democratic, at least when compared with representative democracy.

We can't say with certainty that Revolvis is encouraging the lies, but we can say with certainty that lying is happening, and that's unfair to the people who voted for two-thirds of the City Council—but it's especially unfair to the people hoping to get a modest increase in their pay. Please don't sign the petition, and if you must, just make sure you know what you're doing.

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