Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
Published: Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

An oft-repeated cliché of political discourse – whose exact origin is unclear – goes something like this: “They didn’t see the light until we turned up the heat.”

Like many clichés, it has a valid core, and the California version is that the Legislature has tended to ignore a difficult issue until someone threatens to take it to the voters via an initiative ballot measure.

That was certainly true when Proposition 13, the progenitor of the modern era of ballot measure activism, qualified for the 1978 ballot.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature just fiddled around with the explosive growth of property taxes, but they didn’t get serious until after Proposition 13 qualified. They cobbled together their own measure on property tax relief, but voters soundly rejected it as they adopted Proposition 13.

Likewise, legislators got serious about bumping up sentences for repeat offenders only after they knew that a “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” measure was headed for the 1994 ballot.

Over time, the threat of an initiative has been wielded specifically to gain attention from otherwise uninterested lawmakers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger used it effectively in the first months of his governorship, when his popularity was still high, to bulldoze a very reluctant Legislature into making major changes in the state’s system of compensating workers for work-related injuries and illnesses, despite opposition from unions and their allies.

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