California Propositions: Prop 40 – Deciding the fate of new state Senate districts

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Proposition 39 is complex, then Proposition 40 – a measure that’s been abandoned by the people who put it on the ballot – is downright confounding.

Prop. 40 is a referendum on new state Senate districts drawn up last year by a citizen’s commission. A “Yes” vote upholds the new districts. A “No” vote rejects them and places control of the redistricting process in the hands of the California Supreme Court.

But here’s where it gets muddy.

Political consultant Leo McElroy said Republican lawmakers paid the tab to gather signatures to put Prop. 40 on the ballot, with the intention of urging a “No” vote. McElroy called it “probably one of the most extreme misadventures we’ve seen for the California Republican Party.”

Typically, propositions ask people to vote “yes” on something, such as new taxes or stricter gun laws. But referendums are different. In California the term applies specifically to a measure that asks voters to keep or throw out a law that’s already been enacted. Once a referendum qualifies, the law in question is suspended, and for Republicans that was the whole point. They were hoping the initiative would pressure the state Supreme Court to rule against the districts set by the citizen’s commission and go back to the old map. Only that didn’t happen, the court upheld the new districts and Republicans abandoned Prop. 44.

So why is on the ballot? The main reason is that more than half a million Californians signed petitions to put it there. A “Yes” vote is also a nod in support of the citizen’s commission, which was created by another ballot measure in 2008.

Stan Forbes, who chairs the Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, said the idea was to take the job away from legislators and de-politicize the process. “I think that the public should vote yes on this, because this is really a culmination of what they created and to vote against our maps would be really to vote against themselves,” he said.

Forbes said the commission held dozens of public meetings and considered 20- thousand public comments in crafting the districts.

Now he said he’s worried that voters will be confused. “It’s very concerning that you’ve got this long ballot and if people don’t know the issue, the default vote is typically no,” Forbes said.

And in a final twist, conservative activist Charles Munger Jr., who’s donated $70 million in support of Republican positions on Propositions 30 and 32, has been on the other side of this debate from the start. Munger, who supports the citizen’s commission, has given more than half-a-million dollars to the “Yes” campaign.