If one of those signature collectors in front of the grocery store asks you to sign a petition to get something called the 'Presidential Elector's Initiative' on the ballot, don't! It's a right-wing trick.
The PEI is a little gift to the Republican Party from itself that was approved for circulation last week by the state attorney general. If 434,000 people sign it within 144 days, the blatant power grab will be on the ballot. Oy.
CityBeat's Carl Luna reported on the imminence of the PEI in his 'Political Lunacy' blog last month: Carl grudgingly admires the hardball balls of the Republicans and bemoans the lameness of the Democrats in not foreseeing this. He reminds us that PEI may be dirty, but that doesn't make it illegal. Carl is correct.
And although it's too late to do anything now but fight the initiative, it is always instructive and entertaining to marvel at the specifics of Republican audacity.
This one has it all: mysterious PR hacks, shadowy front groups, links to the swift-boaters, attempted manipulation of--wait, I don't want to get ahead of myself. Let's start with the Electoral College.
As you probably know, your vote doesn't count as much as, say, a Nebraskan's. It's built into the Constitution that when you vote for president, you're really voting to enable your chosen party to send its posse of electors to the Electoral College to cast their votes for your party's candidate. The number of electors in a state is based on the number of state representatives, not the population. The Founding Padres put this method in the Constitution because they didn't want the uninformed rabble picking a moron for president. We all know how that turned out.
The way it works in almost every state is winner-take-all: if the Democrats win California--and they will--then all 54 California electoral votes will be cast for the Dems. PEI would change that by awarding those electoral votes to individual districts. So instead of 54 Democratic electoral votes, you'd probably get a little less than half of those votes going to the Republicans. PEI is a tricky way for Republicans to get their mitts on some of those juicy Democratic electoral votes.
But Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for Citizens for Equal Representation, the 'group' behind the PEI, told the San Francisco Chronicle recently that 'there's nothing partisan about the initiative.' And here are two more of his happy sound bites: 'The issue isn't Democratic or Republican; the issue is whether this initiative better reflects how people vote' and 'Votes belong to the voters, not to the parties.'
Eckery and other PEI supporters argue that the winner-take-all method of assigning electoral votes disenfranchised the 45 percent of California voters who didn't back Kerry in 2004. 'If this better reflects how California votes, what's wrong with it?' Eckery asked.
It's that kind of power-to-the-people rhetoric that could get the PEI on the ballot--that and a pallet-load of Republican donor cash. And I'll tell you what's wrong with it, Kev, but first I'll tell you what's wrong with you. You're lying. You say there's nothing partisan about the initiative, but you know damn well that's all there is to it.
Kevin Eckery didn't begin his career with Citizens for Equal Representation. He is a paid right-wing hack who, after working as a press aide for former Gov. Pete Wilson, went on to represent the timber industry and, more recently, the Sacramento Catholic Diocese, which has been under fire for allegedly coddling child rapists. Here's an enlightening sample of his work for the diocese from a news broadcast reported by Sam Shane of the Sacramento CBS affiliate just a few months ago:
Shane: Will the Bishop ever talk to us?
Eckery: I don't know.
Shane (narrating): For a second time, CBS13 requested an interview with Bishop William Wiegand of the Sacramento Diocese. And for a second time we were told Wiegand was not available. Instead the diocese provided spokesman Kevin Eckery.:
Shane: But why won't he come and talk to us?
Eckery: It's not a matter of why won't he come and talk to us.
Shane: Well, what is it a matter of?
Eckery: Timing, scheduling, whatever you want to call it.
So, then, who are these Citizens for Equal Representation? On the California Progress Report website, Frank D. Russo writes that it is 'a nice sounding name, but... there is no such group, leading many to call it an 'astroturf' organization, a term used by detractors to distinguish it from a 'grassroots' effort welling up from the citizenry.'
Russo points out that the initiative filed with the attorney general by Citizens for Equal Representation lists its address as that of Thomas Hiltachk's law office, the firm that--surprise, surprise--represents the California Republican Party (partner Charles Bell is general counsel to the CRP). Non-partisan? Yeah, right.
This is the same law firm that gave us the 'Economic Freedom Fund,' also known as the swift-boat hit job on John Kerry. The same firm that tried to have Jerry Brown's election as attorney general nullified.
Notice that the Republicans are attempting this strategy only in a blue state, where they have something to gain. I swear that if they launch a similar initiative in Texas, I will eat my ballot. It might be fair if all the states were to adopt something like this at once, or if we scrapped the Electoral College altogether, but the Presidential Elector's Initiative is straight-up sneaky chicanery.
Any good news? Yes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger--who fired Hiltachk as his personal lawyer the same month Eckerly represented the Sacramento diocese in the CBS interview--is painting the initiative as a girly-man strategy devised by sore losers who want to change the rules to give themselves an edge. Without his support, it probably won't pass. But the Democrats will likely have to spend some serious coin to fight it if it gets on the ballot. And that's where you come in. Please proceed directly into the store and buy your bottle of wine. Don't sign the petition. Thanks.