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Voters Tackle Reform and Climate Policy on Nov. 2

Government reform and pollution curbs on ballot

Californians will vote on ballot issues that they might have thought were settled — the drawing of political boundaries as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature global warming law.

The Nov. 2 election has two competing government reform measures, one to repeal and one to expand a law that yanked the job of drawing legislative district boundaries from the hands of self-interested lawmakers and turned it over to a citizens commission. A third proposition, underwritten by oil companies, asks voters to hold off on the Schwarzenegger-backed law that established California as a leader on climate policy.

The propositions in a nutshell:

  • Proposition 20 would expand the Citizens Redistricting Commission's authority to map boundaries for the 53 U.S. House members. AARP urges a yes vote.
  • Proposition 27 would toss out the citizens commission that voters approved in 2008 to draw state legislative boundaries, and return that power to the legislature. AARP recommends a no vote.
  • Proposition 23 would suspend state-required cuts in greenhouse gas pollution. AARP recommends a no vote.

AARP California is taking a leadership role on these ballot measures as part of its government reform work, building on the initiative voters passed in June that replaced partisan primaries with all-party open primaries. "AARP is trying to take on issues that bring about social change for all generations of Californians," said David Pacheco, state president. AARP is joined by the California Chamber of Commerce, California Common Cause and the California State Conference of the NAACP in their "Yes on 20/No on 27" position.

That includes fighting to save the 2008 change to the politically charged process of mapping state legislators' election districts — a chore required after each census.

"There are some good elected officials but the nature of the safe seats and politicians picking their voters instead of voters picking their politicians upends the democratic process," Pacheco said.

The citizens commission does not sit well with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress whose Democratic allies control the state legislature. They are spending money to defeat Proposition 20 and promote Proposition 27, along with the state Democratic Party and unions.

On the other side, the California Republican Party has endorsed Proposition 20, expanding the redistricting commission's role to thwart Democrats from drawing districts to favor themselves.

With the nation's largest congressional delegation at stake, political ramifications loom large. "When you change the way the lines are drawn in California you can potentially change the balance of power in Washington," said researcher Eric McGhee at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, although he said some studies show redistricting does not dramatically affect election outcomes.

Supporters of Proposition 23, including oil interests and Republican candidates, have seized on the poor economy to attack California's landmark global warming law. Oil companies are bankrolling the effort to suspend state-required cuts in greenhouse gas pollution until state unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for one year, which has only occurred three times in the last four decades. Industries forced into compliance claim the 2006 mandate to reduce emissions to 1990 levels will cost jobs and raise energy prices.

The clean-tech industry counters that the law makes California a leader in curbing pollution. The opponents of Proposition 23 say the law will fuel investment and green jobs for the state.

AARP, along with the American Lung Association and other groups, opposes Proposition 23 as an environmental and economic step backward.

Rita Beamish is a freelance journalist based in San Mateo, Calif.

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