There’s long been a somewhat competitive relationship between the power of governors and legislators to make law and the ability of voters to overturn what the politicians wrought and/or make law themselves via the initiative process.
However in recent years that relationship has evolved from merely competitive to something approaching hostility.
Having achieved total domination of the Capitol, Democratic politicians clearly resent sharing lawmaking authority with voters. We have seen numerous attempts to kneecap the initiative process. We’ve seen Democratic attorneys general twist the ballot wording of measures they oppose, such as last year’s effort to repeal new gas taxes, and we’ve seen those attorney generals and governor refuse to defend voter-approved initiatives in court.
The latest wrinkle appears to be an increasing willingness by the dominant Democrats to thumb their noses at voters by pursuing policies that contradict what the voters decreed.
Two such examples popped up this month.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that he will not allow any more executions of criminals – murderers mostly – and ordered the state’s execution chamber to be demolished.
He justifies it as a moral issue, even though the state’s voters have repeatedly declared their support for capital punishment – twice in this decade alone.
Just days later, a bloc of Democratic members of the Assembly unveiled a package of housing bills, including one that would cap annual rent increases in local jurisdictions that do not have local rent control ordinances.
If enacted, it would, in effect, repeal the state’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits local governments from imposing rent control on units built after 1995.
Just four months ago, California’s voters had the opportunity to repeal Costa-Hawkins via Proposition 10, which was placed on the ballot by rent control advocates. Voters refused to pass the measure.
The author of Assembly Bill 1482, David Chu of San Francisco, justified his end run around voters by saying it’s needed to address the state’s housing affordability crisis.
“In recent years we have seen massive rent gouging. Not just 10 percent increases, or 25 percent, but 50 percent, 100 percent, 200 percent,” Chiu said. “Our bill would cap the amount a rent can be increased annually at a level sufficiently above the Consumer Price Index to allow a landlord to receive a fair return.
“Our Legislature has failed to act to address the plight of struggling tenants,” Chiu added, saying his bill “would for the first time create some rent certainty, allowing tenants to plan for their futures and remove the risk of unexpected rent increases.”
Capital punishment and rent control are serious issues and what Newsom declared and what Chiu’s bill would do face stiff opposition from those who believe the death penalty is a deterrent and that rent control would worsen California’s housing crisis by discouraging badly needed construction.
However, there’s another issue here: whether, indeed, ultimate political power is vested in voters, or in officeholders.
If governors and legislators can simply ignore the will of voters, or block them from making decisions politicians don’t like, then California becomes more autocratic and less small-d democratic.
That’s the sort of thing that Third World dictators, such as Venezuela’s current despot, do. It’s the sort of thing that Democratic politicians routinely accuse Donald Trump of doing.
It disrespects the people they purport to serve.