Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The tyranny of the minority.

The use of the super-majority vote in special circumstances has a long history and in many cases, the arguments in favor are strong. Overriding a veto, for example, should clearly need more than just a 50% +1 vote, since that was the type of vote that put the bill in the hands of the executive branch in the first place. The idea that the executive branch can sign treaties but the Senate has to ratify them makes sense, and by tradition it must be a two-thirds majority to ratify. We like to say that politics ends at the water's edge, but we know that's a lie. The Senate did not save us from NAFTA or GATT, but did protect the Big Agriculture monopolies and their patented seed protections. Still, we average less than one treaty per year, so this is not the day in, day out business of government.

But in many states, super-majorities are not needed only in rare instances, but at the very core of the business of government, the signing of a budget. The modern Republican party uses middle class taxpayers and the idealized "small business owner" as human shields against raising taxes on corporations and the super wealthy, and basic services used by the vast majority of citizens are starved to near extinction.

As bad as Schwarzenegger and the California Republicans can be, other places can be much, much worse. Tom Emmer is the Republican party candidate for governor of Minnesota, supported by outgoing governor Tim Pawlenty and Alaskan half-term governor Sarah Palin. According to Talking Points Memo, Emmer wants to institute a law in Minnesota that says no Federal law should apply in Minnesota unless it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the state legislature.

I don't much care if these people want to be called the Tea Party or the Teabaggers or the Dirty Sanchez Coalition, if they think this is the solution to the fact that they lost two elections in a row, they should think about what would happen if people they agree with are running Washington and people they disagree with are in power in Minneapolis.

And then we come back to the Golden State. On the June ballot, there is Proposition 16, sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and patriotically called The Taxpayer's Right To Vote Act. The idea is that if any local government wants to enter the retail power market, it would require a two-thirds majority of a popular vote to allow it. PG&E is promising to spend $35 million to get this to pass, while the anti Prop. 16 side hasn't mustered $100,000 yet.

The supporters of Prop. 16 include the usual suspects, the anti-tax group formed by Howard Jarvis all those years ago and the Chamber of Commerce. Just to show the bipartisan nature of scumbaggery here, it is also supported by Willie Brown, the alleged liberal who has never had any interest beyond getting richer.

I ask all my readers who are California voters to go to the polls next month and cast a no vote on Prop. 16. If it mandated a straight up-and-down vote on the formation of local public utilities, I could appreciate arguments both pro and con. But the super-majority vote is just plain wrong, and don't be surprised if the money PG&E shells out trying to pass this dishonest power grab later becomes "justified" rate hikes for California consumers.

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