Dec. 21 2011 12:00 PM

What are the Reader editor's repeat ballot measures really about?

Jim Holman handing out pamphlets at Planned Parenthood's Bankers Hill location in 2009
Courtesy: Planned Parenthood

Jim Holman's an enigma. He's the editor of the San Diego Reader, an alternative newsweekly, but also publishes the pro-life, anti-gay website California Catholic Daily. Often described as “reclusive,” he's spearheaded three high-profile ballot measures—2005's Prop. 73, 2006's Prop. 85 and 2008's Prop. 4, all of which failed—and is now making a go at a fourth. Two versions of a measure that, like its predecessors, would require unemancipated females under 18 to notify a parent or guardian before getting an abortion, entered circulation on Nov. 30. Backers have until April 30 to gather 807,615 signatures.

The measure would amend the state Constitution, which currently guarantees women privacy in matters concerning reproductive rights.

Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University who's studied California's ballot-measure system, said multiple tries to get the same law passed via citizen referendum is unprecedented.

“I'm not aware of any initiatives that have been on the ballot four times,” he said.

But does Holman really want parental-notification—currently required in 35 states—made law in California? Opponents believe his real goal is to drain Planned Parenthood's resources. His tack, they say, is to spend money getting it on the ballot, but then do little or no campaigning. For 2008's Prop. 4, for instance, a Planned Parenthood-sponsored committee ran a campaign that cost $9.3 million while the measure's main backers spent $2.5 million—most of which came from Holman—almost entirely on signature gathering.

“If you are a multi-millionaire who's spending $1.5 million in three consecutive general elections to qualify the initiative for the ballot, but then you don't spend any of your millions on television commercials to attempt to actually pass that initiative, it definitely raises a red flag,” said Vince Hall, vice president and spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.

“They did not pick this issue because they support a minor's right to reproductive healthcare as long as a parent is notified,” Hall said. “They picked this issue because it's the easiest restriction on reproductive rights to gather signatures for. Everyone's initial instinct, including my own, is to say ‘Well, yes, of course a parent should be notified.'” 

Neither Holman nor Katie Short, who served as a spokesperson for 2008's Prop. 4, returned CityBeat's phone messages.

Holman has put up more than $5 million in loans and direct contributions since 2005. On Dec. 5, KPBS's Kenny Goldberg reported that Holman was part of a recently formed fund-raising committee, “Californians for Parental Rights.” Indeed, paperwork filed with the Secretary of State's office on Nov. 3 lists Holman as “V.P. for Development” for the group. So far, wine mogul and former state Assemblymember Don Sebastiani has contributed $50,000 to the campaign, according to disclosures. (Sebastiani put up half a million dollars for Prop. 4.) The committee's mailing address is the Reader's offices on India Street in Little Italy, and its phone number is the Reader's main phone line.

Though organizations like the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics oppose parental-notification and consent laws—arguing that they put doctors in a difficult position ethically if a pregnant teen's par ents are physically or emotionally abusive—the issue polls well. Of the three Field polls conducted prior to the 2008 election, support for Prop. 4 outweighed opposition. But, the polls showed that support shrinking closer to election day. The 11-point lead that Prop. 4 had in July 2008 shrunk to a two-point lead by Nov. 1. Prop. 4 ultimately lost with 52 percent of voters opposed.

“It's an education process to get people to think outside the bubble,” Hall said. “In all three of our campaigns, we found what we really needed to do was have a dialog with the electorate that lasted months—which is why it's so expensive to defeat them.”

While Planned Parenthood's message has remained consistent— parental-consent laws put teens from dysfunctional households at risk—with each election, the measures' backers have tweaked the language slightly in response to opposition. The first measure, Prop. 73, would have redefined abortion in the state Constitution as “the death of the unborn child….” That wording disappeared from 2006's Prop. 85. For 2008's Prop. 4, backers came up with a politically appealing official title—“Parental Notification, Child and Teen Safety, and Stop Predators Act”—and the short title “Sarah's Law.” Sarah, they said, was a teen who got pregnant by an older man, had an abortion without her parents' knowledge, contracted an infection and died. Planned Parenthood's opposition researchers did some digging and found out that Sarah was really Jammie Yanez-Villegas who lived in Texas and was impregnated by her common-law husband—meaning she wouldn't be subject to any parental-notification law, let alone one in California.

Of the two petitions currently in the signature-gathering phase— both with the same title as Prop. 4—one version requires a 48-hour waiting period between notification and when the abortion can be performed; the other version doesn't. Secretary of State spokesperson Nicole Winger said it's not uncommon to see similar measures with slight variations being circulated at the same time so backers can get a sense of which one voters might prefer.

A measure that's more palatable to pro-choice Californians combined with a growing number of Latino voters—whom a 2009 Public Policy Institute of California study found were responsible for increasing support for parental notification—likely mean another expensive campaign for Planned Parenthood. 

Email or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.


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