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Shoot the Gays?

There has been a lot of commotion about the filing of an initiative in California that calls for killing LGBT people and imprisoning their allies.With $200, Huntington Beach attorney Matt McLaughlin filed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which calls for gays to be shot or killed by some other “convenient method.” Lawyers have pointed out a number of ways the proposed law violates the state and federal constitutions. There have been calls to have Mr. McLaughlin disbarred. Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the state Supreme Court to relieve her of her duties to prepare a summary and title for the initiative that would have to happen before supporters can print copies of the petition and gather signatures. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom has blasted out an email expressing his outrage, and by the way, reminds us he is running for governor. While I am happy to have their support, I disagree with Harris’ and Newsom’s efforts. How do I feel about the circulation of the Shoot the Gays petition? I say, “Bring it on!”

I would like to see the folks behind the initiative get their chance to gather the 365,880 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The first thing I would do is send a request to Mr. McLaughlin to send me 100 copies. If each copy has space for 10 signatures on a page, I am sure he would be eager to get those 1,000 signatures from me. Then, with petitions in hand, I will head straight to 18th and Castro in San Francisco and set up a table. There, I will invite the voters of California to write on the petitions exactly what they think of Mr. McLaughlin and his Sodomite Suppression Act. Being a believer in free speech, I promise not to censor any of the responses. I will send those “completed” petitions back to Mr. McLaughlin and, of course, ask for another 100 copies.

Even if the Sodomite Suppression Act sees the light of day on the streets of California, I doubt seriously it would becoming to a street corner near me. It takes a lot of money to circulate a petition and usually depends on paid signature gatherers. Initiative backers focus their efforts in places where those efforts will pay off with the most signatures. The plastics industry recently qualified a referendum to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban. I don’t know how many signatures they gathered in the Bay Area, but I did not see any signature gatherers here. I am sure a vast majority of those signatures were obtained from central California and other conservative parts of the state.

When Proposition 8 took away marriage rights from same sex couples, people began to question whether the initiative should be abolished. That was not the first time the California ballot has been used to take away rights. In the November 1964 election, a majority of voters overturned the Rumford Fair Housing Act that had been approved by the legislature and approved a proposition financed by theater owners to ban pay television. As with Prop 8, those propositions were invalidated by the courts.

We learned in history class that the ballot reforms of initiative, referendum, and recall are gifts of the Progressive movement. Progressives were alarmed about the power of the railroads and other big business interests to control the state government and act against the best interests of the people. Through initiatives, people can act when the legislature is inactive. Referendums can repeal unpopular laws enacted by the legislature. Recalls can remove elected officials when the people realize they made a mistake electing them in the first place.

Of the three, the recall has been used the least. The 2003 Gray Davis recall gave the state a ballot with 135 candidates for governor that included a former child actor and a porn actress. As with Prop 8, critics have cited that recall as an example of a dysfunctional process. However, the recall still has a reason to exist. It was an active recall campaign that convinced Bob Filner to resign as mayor of San Diego after being charged with sexual misconduct. While he could have been removed by impeachment, a lengthy trial process would have deprived San Diego of an effective, full time mayor. It should not be easy to recall a public official, but it a tool that should be available when needed.

The initiative process can and should be reformed. One method suggested by a friend is to require that a certain percentage of signatures come from every California county.  That means the Shoot the Gays supporters would have to collect signatures from San Francisco and Los Angeles. If most of their signatures came from Kern County and very few from San Francisco, they will fail to make the ballot.

There is one easy way to keep bad propositions off the ballot. When someone approaches you to sign a petition, don’t sign it unless you really understand what the initiative would do and you really want to see it on your ballot. Many initiatives are deceptive and signature gatherers will not tell you what you are really signing, many times because they don’t know themselves. Besides, the time they spend explaining it is less time they have to gather more signatures. To make you feel better, they’ll say, “Just sign it and get it on the ballot. You can still vote against in the election” They assure you that your signature will not count as an endorsement. Of course, when the backers file their petitions with the state, they will boast that all of those signatures show how much support they have.

Many times we sign because we know the gatherer is being paid for each signature. Petitioning has become a creative spare change scheme, a way of giving to a poor person without that change coming from your own pocket. Unfortunately, the money financing the initiative campaign is coming from special interests that are probably working against your interests and the interests of the person asking for your signature. It may be difficult to say no, but there are better ways to give people employment.

Finally, you can keep a lot of petitions off the ballot by doing one simple thing—vote. The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative is based on a percentage of the people who voted in the last general election The more people who vote in a general election, the more signatures the campaigns have to get, and they have go get them within a 3-month time period.

Some of the most satisfying political work I have done involved collecting signatures to get propositions on ballots, both state and local.Sometimes I was paid, and sometimes it was strictly volunteer. When I was paid, it wasn’t much. Sometimes, the campaign was successful, and other times, we fell short. In every case, it was an issue that was really important to me. Even in those losing campaigns, it was an opportunity to meet voters directly and discuss issues they probably would not have considered. I don’t want to abolish the ballot initiative. I want to return it to be what the Progressives intended it to be; a tool to make democracies even more democratic. The judicial branch would continue to protect minorities from being denied their rights, such as Prop 8 or repeal of the Rumford Act. California will certainly survive such silliness as “Shoot the Gays.”

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March 28, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment