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Primary Election, Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Each election I research and analyze the propositions on the California ballot to create this voting guide, and they represent nothing other than my own personal view of these measures. I do this analysis on a non-partisan basis, but that doesn't mean I have no opinion. I do, but I believe it's transparent (note that transparency means only that I claim no hidden agenda, not that I'm trying to be unbiased).

I generally have no connection with any group supporting or opposing any of these propositions.

My main intent is to get to the bottom of these issues, knowing that the real purpose is not always evident. Once uncovered, I apply a mainly libertarian eye to them.

I'm more interested in examining the issues thoughtfully than I am in getting you to vote the way I do, so I hope these pages help you understand the issues in front of us.

Educated votes are better votes.

I hope my thoughts are helpful.

Other resources:

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position.

Proposition My Position Description / Title
California icon Prop 50 No Suspension of Legislators

California icon Prop 50: Suspension of Legislators

This measure was adopted by the legislature in the wake of the indictment of three California Senators for corruption, bribery, and gun running (!) a few years ago.

The California Constitution allows either house of the legislature to expel a member with a 2/3 majority, but a mere suspension is always with pay.

This is because of an unrelated clause in the Constitution that provides that the salary of an elected state official cannot be reduced during their term in office. The US Constitution has a similar provision: suspension without pay is not an option.

When the legislature (legitimately) balked at outright expulsion for merely being accused of a crime prior to conviction, there was public outcry for what amounts to a paid vacation for these members.

This measure provides for suspension of a legislator by a 2/3 roll-call vote, and this suspension may be with or without pay. The measure requires that suspension be done for a stated particular reason, and it can be for a stated time period, or it can be indefinite.

This table summarizes the actions available to the legislature for dealing with troublesome members:

Action Before Prop 50 After Prop 50
Expulsion 2/3 vote 2/3 vote
Suspension w/ pay 50% vote 2/3 vote
Suspension w/o pay not unavailable 2/3 vote

One has to be exceptionally suspicious anytime a political body attempts to impose restrictions on itself, because these are typically look-good measures to appease the voters, but it rarely has much real impact on their own behavior. The main concern ought to be the unforeseen shenanigans it might enable.

This measure does not impact expulsion, only suspension, and the latter had never been used before by the legislature, so it's not clear this is fixing a longstanding, ongoing issue.

I do have to say that superficially it's appealing, because it gives more options for dealing with troublemakers (however defined), and by raising the threshold for suspension it ought to reduce the likelihood of political gamesmanship by opponents even for the existing option of suspension with pay.

One of the objections is that "Even politicians accused of terrible crimes have the right to the presumption of innocence" (Los Angeles Times, 2 June 2016), which is correct only as it applies to a court of law, where one's very liberty can be taken away. For all other venues where a lesser consequence might apply, one need not wait for a guilty verdict to reach a conclusion about the matter.

Example: if you watched somebody assault a member of your family, what would you say to others who suggested that you should still presume innocence until a guilty verdict is rendered? Answer: not printable here.

A lower standard of consequence applies all the time, though I do agree that expulsion/suspension from the legislature is a serious matter, not so much for the individual legislators (who I mostly don't care about), but to the people they represent (who I do care about).

Other objections are that it's too vague, that it doesn't specify the circumstances where it's to be used (for instance: criminal cases only), and this does seem like a fair point. One worries about vague language enabling this to be used as a weapon against political opponents, but because suspension had never been used before, even with the simple majority requirement, I'm not sure that this is a real concern. I could be wrong.

Proponents argue that Prop 50 increases accountability, and it's hard to argue that it doesn't. Giving legislatures more tools to address issues like this, with more fine-grained responses (including a higher threshold for use) makes sense.

But in the end, the only thing it's really addressing is the notion that legislators are still receiving a paycheck while on suspension, which to me is not nearly important enough to warrant a Constitutional Amendment.

Yes, of course it bothers everybody -- including me -- that those who ultimately went to jail still got paid, but these suspended lawmakers were not participating in the political process in any way: - no votes, no committee memberships, etc. - so this doesn't impact the making of laws. And the voices of their constituents were not being heard whether they were being paid or not.

So, to me, this is feel-good legislation that's more about appeasing public outrage than it is about solving a real problem, and that's usually a recipe for bad law. This one may not be that bad, but - as the Orange County Register puts it: "Prop. 50 sounds like a good idea, but it's not worth further cluttering the state Constitution."

My vote: NO

More info:
This measure has had essentially no money spent on it one way or the other, and I couldn't find websites pro or against. This is the first time this has happened since I've been preparing these guides.

Those discovering bad/missing links, typos, or even errors in judgment are encouraged to report them to me:

Last updated: Mon Jun 6 15:29:45 UTC 2016