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Prop. 8 ruling: A marriage made in hell for Californians

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POSTED July 3, 2013 5:57 p.m.

Jerry Brown was governor in 1978.

He - along with the Democrat-controlled legislature - were adamant opponents of Proposition 13 to reform how property was assessed for taxation.

In high growth areas such as San Jose, people were being forced out of their homes. Those homes’ assessed value was based on comparable selling prices within roughly a two block area. If someone sold a house for an amount 10 times above what it was last assessed, all property within a two-block radius was automatically reassessed. That meant property tax bills on such homes impacted also increased 10-fold.

The legislature for more than 10 years had promised property tax reform but did nothing.

So voters who were fed up with the legislature that was essentially kowtowing to special interests that feasted on the growing flow of property taxes for their pet project, took matters into their own hands.

They signed petitions to get the Jarvis-Gann Property Tax Reform Act or Proposition 13 on the ballot.

Proposition 13 passed by an overwhelming majority. Brown changed his tune and became a convert to Proposition 13 after the election.

But what if Brown Version 1.0 did what Brown Version 2.0 did in regards to Proposition 8 regarding marriages if a legal challenge was undertaken by voters disgruntled with the outcome of the Proposition 13 election?

If he had simply refused to defend the initiative in the courts and had an attorney general who mirrored his opinion, we now know that neither Howard Jarvis, Paul Gann or other Californians who voted for the measure could not have argued its constitutionality in court.

That is what U.S. Supreme Court decided this past week when they declined to take up the Proposition 8 case effectively striking it down.

The court’s ruling indicated authors of Proposition 8 had no legal standing to defend it since that was the state’s prerogative.

The court essentially has weakened the California initiative process that is a century old by giving state government the opportunity to null and avoid it by simply not defending challenges to successful initiatives that they do not like politically.

And make no doubt about it. Brown’s decision with both Proposition 13 and Proposition 8 were politically motivated.

Brown and every other elected politician since the beginning of time make moral judgments. They are not, as they’d like you to believe, simply neutral guardians of public trust. They have biases, opinions, and beliefs. It really can’t be any other way. You couldn’t even program a computer to make political decisions because it ultimately has to be programmed by humans that have biases, opinions and beliefs.

Brown Version 1.0 was adamantly against the death penalty based on his Jesuit upbringing. When voters passed an initiative upholding the death penalty he viewed to continue working against its implementation. He did not, however, short-circuit efforts to defend challenges to the initiative involving the death penalty.

That may have been because the attorney general back then was Evelle Younger. The governor and attorney general shared neither political views or political affiliation. That wasn’t the case this time around with Kamala Harris in the attorney general’s office.

While you may agree with the ultimate outcome of the high court’s refusal to hear arguments in favor of Proposition 8 because the state did not make them, the decision invested bullet-proof veto power with the governor and attorney general over initiatives brought forth and passed by the people.

It effectively waters down the last remaining intact element of the reform movement headed by Gov. Hiram Johnson a hundred years ago in California that the people can access to counter government  corrupted by special interests or one that is simply unresponsive.

The initiative process gave California something unique - direct democracy. Over the years initiatives have increased taxes, decreased taxes, established environmental standards such as the Coastal Commission, taken on toxins, legalized pot for medical use and has taken on a host of pressing concerns the legislature had refused to address.

The issues in the initiative process cut across political lines and almost always go after an issue that has been effectively controlled by special interests showering the legislature with campaign funds and enjoying lobbying access that the typical voter does not possess.

The reason there is no cry and hue in Sacramento over the mechanics of the Proposition 8 decision that has nothing to do with marriage, is obvious. It restores even more power to politicians of both Republican and Democratic persuasions.

They have a mutual interest in seeing the initiative process weakened.

It is the same interests that prompted elected officials to do nothing as the California Public Utilities Commission  has been watered down over the years by packing the commission as well as key posts within the CPUC with former high-ranking officials of the very industries they are supposed to regulate.

The California Rail Commission — the name of the CPUC before it was changed — was also born in the reform movement. It was in response to ineffective politicians who were in the back pockets of Southern Pacific Railroad that used its monopoly status and power to set freight and passenger rates artificially high and to prevent competition from emerging in the markets they served.

Today, the CPUC is a shell of itself as shown by how PG&E has molded the supposed citizens’ watchdog agency to bend to its interests..

Where is Hiram Johnson when you need him?

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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