Voters confused about the propositions to be voted on next week might clarify their views by recalling the Preamble and Article I of the California Constitution. They control the purpose of that document and ought to be kept in mind, especially when amending it.
These words (aside from the dubious and superfluous addition of "privacy" in 1974) derive from the Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780, a practical application of the Declaration of Independence's majestic phrasing of our freedoms and purposes:
We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.
All people are by nature free and independent and have unalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.
Affirming these fundamental principles, a conscientious citizen might vote "no" on all of the propositions on the ballot. Yet that would be simplistic. One must consider the purpose achieved in adopting or rejecting the ballot measures. One should also wonder why our full-time legislature could not decide on these propositions themselves.
For example, how do we advance the principle of "safety"? America's Founders might look at DNA sampling as an ordinary crime-fighting measure, a perfect example of how science can be used in service of the objective of "safety." They would not have regarded "privacy" as having any weight here at all—which shows its political irrelevance. The rationale for California's three-strikes law, to be limited by Proposition 66, has already been well articulated by Edward Erler and Brian Janiskee; see "On the Road to a Safe and Secure California, Proposition 66 Is the Wrong Route." The founders would wonder why a civilized society would weaken protections of itself against criminals.
In Los Angeles County, voters are considering a sales tax increase to support law enforcement and, among other aims, "strengthened youth and adult crime prevention programs." Unfortunately, it is hard to tell what we are being asked to support—basketball leagues or cops on the street. That lack of clarity alone might jeopardize this law, but the founders have another principle that might help. Most of these propositions would be dismissed as violations of our rights of "acquiring, possessing, and protecting property," especially those involving bonds—borrowing for some current purpose. They would also disapprove of tax increases to serve a bureaucratic system in which fiscal responsibility is impossible.
Thus America's Founders would look askance at Proposition 61 (bonds for children's hospital projects), 63 (taxing millionaires to expand mental health services), 67 (phone tax for emergency medical services), and 72 (mandatory employer-provided health care coverage). The founders would ask the proponents of these measures what would justify a "free and independent" people insisting on one group subsidizing another. Proposition 64's attempt to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits might be deemed a property-rights protection measure and thus find favor with the founders.
Of course, the stem-cell research subsidy (Proposition 71) would be looked on as an egregious example of government waste: If it is at all warranted, Silicon Valley should be competing for this research, and the state should not require a $6 billion bond expense ($3 billion in principal, $3 billion in interest) for what the market might attract. In the Wall Street Journal, Francis Fukuyama, a proponent of embryonic stem-cell research denounced Proposition 71 as making "a mockery of good governance and public accountability." The bureaucracy it would establish threatens to produce a biotech Enron scandal. He also compares the $3 billion initial outlay with the $15 million California spends annually on breast cancer research and asks whether California has its priorities straight.
But there is another issue here. In contrast to the beneficent uses of science in Proposition 69, Proposition 71 implies that the health research aims can only be achieved through using embryonic stem cells, not adult stem cells. The implications for how we treat life—and ultimately each other—are frightening.
Several of the measures ask voters to make judgments about the character of the state. The other prime example involves Indian gambling expansion (Proposition 70) allowing a particular ethnic group certain privileges, a contradiction of the Preamble's insistence that "all people" —not a privileged few—enjoy inalienable rights. American policy toward the Indians continues to contradict our civil rights policies of equality, and the gambling propositions continue in this vein. While appearing to call for equality, Proposition 68 assumes this same inequality.
Finally, there are several measures on the nature of our governance. One measure, Proposition 59, would open public records and meetings to the public. This sounds like trusting the people, not the bureaucrats. Two others are more controversial. Proposition 60 seeks to guarantee as a constitutional right places for the two leading parties (meaning Democrats and Republicans) on the November ballot, while Proposition 62 would replace our current system with a Louisiana-style primary, in which the two top vote-getters (who might be from the same party) would advance to the general election.
Proposition 62 clearly advances the Progressive reforms of the early 20th century and thus undermines accountable government. In other words, it weakens the already atrophied political party system, while Proposition 60 subsidizes them in their weakness. Proposition 62 thus continues the Progressive promotion of more bureaucracy for political competition. Someone might object that it could encourage competition for the votes of those now excluded from party representation (e.g., blue-collar social conservatives), but there is no reason for lacking competition for those votes under the current system
Finally, Proposition 1A (an "improvement" of Proposition 65) initially sounds like a Jeffersonian Democrat's dream—the supposed restoration of local budget responsibility—a recognition that for all of Proposition 13's virtues, the accumulation of taxation power in Sacramento eviscerated local governments and made them less responsible and effective. Yet this initiative would freeze in place the current inequitable distribution of taxpayer dollars between southern California and northern California. The wealthier counties subsidize the poorer ones. Some Southern California conservatives support it in order to limit their exploitation. Would a "free and independent people" lock such an inequity into their Constitution?
This does not constitute a recommendation on voting for or against these propositions, as facts may upset the application of principles to a particular case. But without principles to guide us, we are lost. In thinking about these measures, voters must keep in mind the existence of a bureaucratic administrative state that obscures and undermines the real purposes of government. Will these measures further its elimination or increase its power? That is the real choice next Tuesday.
The Claremont Institute is a 501(c)3 foundation. Nothing in this document should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill or measure on the ballot or pending before the State Legislature or U.S. Congress.