Dan Walters: Jerry Brown’s bill helps his crime initiative quest

By Dan Walters

dwalters@sacbee.com

“Bribe” may be too strong a word, but a bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed last week, appropriating $16.3 million for election-related expenses, is certainly a big incentive for county clerks to count signatures on Brown’s crime initiative in time for it to make the Nov. 8 ballot.

As a condition of receiving Assembly Bill 120’s funds, clerks must by June 30 complete signature counts for ballot measures that are submitted by May 20.

That’s 23 days later than the April 26 submission date suggested by Secretary of State Alex Padilla to ensure signatures are counted by the June 30 deadline. So in effect, Brown is giving himself an extension.

Brown was very late in launching his drive for the measure that would soften criminal sentences. He took a shortcut by amending his proposal into another pending ballot measure, which a California District Attorneys Association lawsuit contends violated public notice requirements. Prosecutors also oppose the measure’s provisions, saying they will increase the danger of crime by lessening punishment.

The DAs won an initial ruling against Brown’s shortcut and the governor is collecting signatures pending a state Supreme Court appeal of that ruling.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday, the same day Brown signed the appropriation, that it will hold oral arguments on Thursday.

That’s probably not coincidental; the justices clearly were waiting until after the April 26 deadline to see if Brown’s measure was still alive and they would be compelled to rule.

Brown’s crime measure is one of many pending ballot proposals, and he and other sponsors have been spending $5, or more, for each signature in frantic efforts to get enough names to qualify, even though the record-low vote turnout in the 2014 election lowered the signature threshold to place measures on the 2016 ballot.

When Brown didn’t submit his signatures by Padilla’s April 26 date, he indirectly acknowledged that he was still short of the goal for a constitutional amendment.

However, Brown’s signature on Assembly Bill 120, with its May 20 submission deadline, effectively gives him an additional 23 days to make it.

Padilla had asked for $32 million in election aid, citing the high volume of pending ballot measure signatures needing verification and costs of producing voter education materials for the November election. In giving clerks half of the money, the Legislature and Brown signaled that the rest of the money for November’s election will be appropriated in the budget.

Brown’s office did not respond to questions about the effect of AB 120 on his measure, referring only to Padilla’s request for funds.

This entire episode – a governor apparently getting special treatment that no one else could have obtained – has a smarmy tinge. And if he’s successful, it could have long-term consequences for the political process.

Other ballot measure promoters would emulate his shortcut to the ballot – in effect adopting the Legislature’s unseemly “gut-and-amend” process to cut corners in passing bills.

In fact, that’s the very process Brown and legislators used to pass AB 120 into law.

Dan Walters: 916-321-1195, dwalters@sacbee.com, @WaltersBee