What Happens If Proposition F Passes?

November 6, 2011

By: Larry Bush

There are lots of things we might want to let City Hall handle.

Setting the rules for their own campaign consultants isn’t one of them.

That’s what will happen if Proposition F passes this week in an election where this proposal barely merited a whisper among all the loud shouting by other campaigns.

City Hall already had its turn at setting rules for their own campaign consultants, including a rule that consultants shouldn’t lobby officials they helped elect who still owe them money.

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The response: No thanks, we aren’t having any of that. A measure to require consultants to register and disclose their clients, as well as a ban on lobbying former clients who owe them money, was called the Honest Elections Act. It apparently was just a little too honest because after the Supervisors passed it, former Mayor Willie Brown vetoed it.

The Board didn’t challenge the veto, but tweaked the Honest Elections Act to remove some of the stronger provisions and passed it again. Then Mayor Brown vetoed it again. And for the second time, the Supervisors did not challenge the veto.

Finally the idea was presented to the voters who, in their wisdom, passed it with 61 percent of the vote.

Because it was made law by the voters, it can only be changed by the voters.

Except if Proposition F passes, under the fiction that it is only about a few technical updates, City Hall will again be able to decide on eliminating any of the rules it wants – and the voters will no longer be in charge. A little noticed provision would authorize the Ethics Commission and Board to make changes in the future without voter approval.

Some of the old hands from City Hall, including five former Ethics Commissioners, are opposing Proposition F because they know what can happen when politicians get in a room with their campaign managers and decide on the rules.

The opponents span the traditional political divide and include former Mayor Art Agnos and retired Judge Quentin Kopp, who people rarely find on the same side. It includes most of this year’s mayoral candidates, from Tony Hall to John Avalos, and even City Attorney Dennis Herrera says he will vote against it. It includes good government groups like the League of Women Voters and passionate partisans like the Bay Guardian.

But mostly it has been a contest fought out of public sight, with almost no public discussion in the media about what Proposition F would do to our system of checks and balances in City Hall.

What’s at issue in Proposition F touches on only one measure passed by voters.

A second ballot measure, Proposition E, would affect nearly all the laws that voters approve in the future.

Proposition E would allow the Board of Supervisors to use its own judgment to decide that the voters made a mistake when they passed something at the ballot, and allow the Board to amend or even repeal what the voters said we wanted.

After some heads were banged at City Hall, the original version was amended to only apply to measures put on the ballot by the mayor or the Board of Supervisors and not measures placed on the ballot by citizen petition.

About 95% of measures passed by the voters came from the mayor or the Board, so this is not much of a concession.

So instead of allowing voters the ability to pass laws that the Board balked at, in future the voters’ will would be “advisory.”

While the supporters of Proposition E can’t give examples of laws they want to amend or repeal, we can look back to see what happened when voters approved measures that were “advisory” rather than having firm legal standing.

Virtually none of the measures passed as “policy statements” then were enacted into policy by the Board of Supervisors. Not the requirement that Treasure Island contracts be put out to competitive bid. Not the policy requiring the mayor to appear before the Board of Supervisors to answer policy questions. And on down the list.

Eventually the measure requiring the mayor to attend the Board became law but only because a second measure enacting the policy into law was approved by a second election. Under Proposition E, even that could be trashed by the Board in future elections.

The time for opponents, including members of the Board, to make their objections known about measures before the voters is before the vote takes place, not after the voters approve it.

Proposition E treats voters like they are poor students and the Board, acting like an elementary school teacher, then red pencils what it decides were errors and flunks what the voters approved.

It may not be remarkable that politicians seek ways to give themselves more power, including power over the voters.

It is remarkable that this is taking place at a time when the appetite for voter involvement and participation has never been greater – whether through crowdsourcing solutions, transparency in government decision-making or platforms for Government 2.0 and Reset.

It is so 1950. Not even this decade, but last century. Propositions E and F are long steps backward into the past.

It will be up to the voters to bring City Hall into the present, much less put us on the path to the future.

For more information on these measures, check www.facebook.com/friendsofethics.

 

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Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137