Democracy and Its Foes

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Democracy and Its Foes:
From the Legislature to PG&E
by NORMAN SOLOMON
Democracy is dangerous -- for those who are eager to concentrate power in the hands of a few.

For many years, in California’s legislature, a minority of lawmakers -- Republicans enjoying an inordinate proportion of corporate backing -- have thwarted moves to boost state revenues with more progressive taxation. The conservative legislators have been able to send the state budget into a tailspin.

Right now, as the California Democracy Act Coalition notes, “one third of the legislature can block the will of the majority on both the budget and revenue. This means that the majority of our representatives, who are elected by the people, are unable to run the state the way voters want them to. As a result, California, one of the wealthiest economies in the world, is billions of dollars in debt and can’t protect and empower its citizens.”

A solution is a proposal called the California Democracy Act, which would amend California’s constitution with 14 words: “All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.”
 
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     This effort, sometimes known as the California Majority Rule Campaign, has a steep uphill climb to gather enough signatures for getting the measure onto the statewide ballot in November. (To find out how you can help, go to www.CaliforniansForDemocracy.com.) It’s a growing campaign, but it doesn’t have big money behind it.

     In sharp contrast, Proposition 16 has very big money behind it -- PG&E, the massive investor-owned utility. Mega-dollars have already financed signature-gathering that secured a place for Prop 16 on the June statewide ballot.

     A detailed critique is at www.PowerGrab.info. It’s not necessary to agree with everything on the website to see that its opposition to Prop 16 is fundamentally sound. The ballot measure is an outrageous attempt to set up a blockade of election democracy with a two-thirds requirement.

     The Prop 16 initiative “is about a monopoly seeking to expand its fossil empire based on captive customers who have no alternative but to pay for it,” PowerGrab.info says. “PG&E doesn't want Californians being able to find other suppliers that might reduce local need for their foreign fuels and their power transmission infrastructure. The power grab would strategically threaten California's energy security by eroding local control over energy and climate planning -- the very ability of local governments to govern themselves.”

     Many millions of dollars are in the chute from PG&E to try to convince voters to support the measure -- the purpose of which, in the words of a state filing by proponents last summer, is “to guarantee to ratepayers and taxpayers the right to vote any time a local government seeks to use public funds, public debt, bonds or liability, or taxes or other financing to start or expand electric delivery service to a new territory or new customers, or to implement a plan to become an aggregate electricity provider.”

     But the two-thirds requirement goes way beyond guaranteeing people the right to vote on major decisions.

     The reason we should support efforts to get the California Democracy Act initiative on the ballot is the same reason we should work to defeat Prop 16 -- in a word, democracy.

     In one instance, activists across the state are trying to end the tyranny of the two-thirds rule in the legislature. In another instance, PG&E is trying to establish the tyranny of a two-thirds rule for local approval of efforts to change electricity arrangements.

     These are issues of process that go to the core of democracy. And here in West Marin, where passions run high and civic engagement is widespread, we have vital opportunities to stand up for democratic principles.

     We can -- and should -- vigorously debate proposals on revenues and budgets in Sacramento. We can -- and should -- scrutinize any proposal for a deal that commits local governments to energy contracts.

     But requiring a two-thirds vote? That’s corporate obstructionism, not democracy.



Norman Solomon is a national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign and the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is a co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay.

[This article appeared in the March 18, 2010 edition of the West Marin Citizen newspaper.]  
 

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