Sunday, October 30, 2005

Beverly Hills Ballot Party

the scribe attended a ballot party at the home of Ellen Stern Harris (pictured in cloudy fashion here), Doyenne of the activist world in Beverly Hills and environs.

In all, or at various times, 18 enlightened folk of differing political stripes and talent were on hand to get educated on the convoluted California “voter initiatives” up for consideration Nov. 8.

Worthy of mention were the carrot cake (from some famous bakery the scribe forgot to record) and the striking coconut cake sitting right next to it. Ellen also served coffee in some very cool coffee/tea china. The cakes were for Ms. Stern Harris's birthday (28) and we wish her a happy.

In her customary manner, the hostess invited everyone to talk a little about themselves and then interrupted to give her own version. This is standard procedure to which everyone acquiesces at these rather legendary events, because nobody can inflate the accomplishments of her friends quite like Ellen can.

The proceedings were then handed over to Bob Stern who, as always, ably guided the collection of opinionated chatterboxes through eight complex ballot initiatives in three or four hours' time. Stern is something of a crusader for clean money in political campaigns who appears a lot on radio and television shows.

the highway scribe knows this because whenever he’s taking a shower or reading or doing something very important for Western Civilization, Mrs. Scribe can always be counted upon to interrupt him by saying, “That guy Bill Stern from Ellen’s ballot party is on the radio/television!”

“It’s BOB!” the scribe will invariably edit her.

Anyway the initiatives were addressed in varying degrees of depth, and in numerical order, until some mucky-muck from the energy industry showed up and caused a jump to Prop. 80.

But the meeting started with Prop. 73, which would require doctors or health clinics to notify the parents of a minor 48 hours before she was to undergo a fetal termination (abortion).

There was not much discussion on this particular topic. A fellow and former business writer at the "L.A. Times" asked an important question regarding which parent would have to pay for the abortion in the case the child came from a split family. That’s because (the scribe thinks he got this right) once a parent is informed, their responsibility ($) for the girl’s welfare would kick in.

There was no answer forthcoming, which only served to point up the shoddy drafting of a conservative measure most present were convinced was designed to discourage doctors and health clinics from performing such procedures.

Bob Stern noted that the campaign in favor of this measure is very interesting because it is a “stealth” effort being waged through churches and not the television air waves.

Many people are unhappy about this expensive special election to sort out the sitting governor’s status with voters, and chances are turnout will be low. Such stealth campaigns would be very effective in this instance.

Theocracy not being much in favor among those gathered, the “straw vote” on this particular item was 15 against and 2 in favor.

Prop. 74 has to do with extending the time it takes for teachers to get tenure in California, from two to five years, and a few other issues the scribe blanked out on since he thinks most of this stuff is just a way for Schwarzenegger to weaken the opposition to his crappy ideas up in Sacramento.

Ellen’s brother (Fred?), who once sat on a Board of Education somewhere, held forth on the difficulties currently involved in removing a bad, tenured teacher from their post, saying it costs in the neighborhood of $350,000 per case to get this done, with the outcome uncertain. The upshot being, of course, that bad, tenured teachers stay on year after year in a system almost everyone agreed doesn’t work too well.

Folks went back and forth on this for a while, one lady pointing out that, while she’s all for reforming something that’s broken, this sounded like an attack on teachers.

The tally was 2 in favor, 8 against, and 7 undecided. The undecided category is a new addition to ballot party protocol and reflective of the complexity (or cloudiness) of the issues before California voters this year.

Next up was Prop. 75. This initiative would require public employee unions to get permission from their members to spend dues money on political purposes, causes, and candidates. Bob Stern pointed out that, were this to pass, the unions could be expected to circulate an ensuing initiative requiring the same permission from shareholders to their corporate boards.

the scribe felt this led to an unfortunate discussion about what that all meant when, in fact, this was an issue of union democracy and the governor trying to do away with his firmest opposition statewide.

Despite creeping middle age and disillusionment, the scribe launched into his outdated and impassioned defense of industrial unionism to what effect only those present know in their hearts. The vote was 9 no and 5 yes.

Then the mucky-muck (named Mark) from the energy industry showed up and a discussion of Prop. 80 was undertaken. From what the scribe could figure out (which wasn’t a lot) this measure would set right some of the colossal wrong established by deregulation of the energy industry in California a few years back.

Bob Stern said that, in general, this measure was meant to turn back the clock to the pre-regulation status quo, though not in any decisive or meaningful way.

the scribe noted that this measure failed his complexity threshold, because if he couldn’t figure it out, he didn’t expect his mom to either. That means regular folk have no business trying to sort it out and it should be left to the professional crooks who at least can boast of a technical proficiency.

Ten folks were in favor of this measure, 3 against.

Then there was a break for coffee and cake. the scribe didn’t want any cake and he told this to Ellen’s brother any number of times and still got the carrot cake for which he will be eternally grateful (attendees who know where the cake hailed from should let us know in a comment post, thank you).

After “tea,” as the Brits call such breaks, the group delved into Prop. 76, which seeks to address the California legislature’s chronic and perennial tardiness in passing a state budget as well as balance it.

It was agreed there were some good things in this measure, all of which were overshadowed by the provision that would empower the governor to cut where he wanted, without legislative consultation, to balance the ledger. It also would repeal Prop. 98 which carves out 30 percent of the general fund for education purposes. Eleven people were opposed to it, 2 were undecided, and nobody was for it.

Prop. 77 would do away with the legislature drawing district lines and preserving itself en perpetua. Three judges, appointed through a torturous process to take the politics out of this politics, would instead do the job.

Should the measure pass, the redistricting would have to be done next year instead of following the next census. Bob Stern said most county registrars and clerks are pretty sure they could never meet the deadline. That means the districts would be redrawn in 2008. The problem there is that the census information starts getting pretty stale by then.

No matter, 12 people were in favor, 2 opposed, and 2 undecided.

Props 78 and 79 were dealt with together. The former is backed by the drug companies and would set up a voluntary program that drug company’s could commit to for the purpose of rolling back their prices. Harvey, the retired doctor-cum-lawyer, scoffed at the whole darn thing and seemed to convince everybody it was all hooey. The measure was creamed 16 against to 0 in favor.

Prop. 79 would mandate discounts on drugs. Nobody is advertising in favor of it, while zillions are being spent by the drug companies to oppose it and pass 78 and so it looks like, despite its worthiness and necessity, Prop. 79 is dust. Eight present were in favor, 2 opposed and three undecided.

Three cheers for ballot box democracy.

When those opposed were asked to explain their position, one said something about “letting the market” handle it, but once Harvey the retired doctor-cum-lawyer and hostess Ellen shined a little light on the existing “market” for such things, the “no” folks changed their vote.

And that’s the way it was. Those present and divergent from this account are free to post a comment and set things right (at their own risk).

On December 15 the highwayscribe will read from his novel "Vedette" to the accompaniment of guitarist Omar Torrez, "the Latin Hendrix" It will take place 8 p.m. at 33 1/3 Books & Collective at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Alvarado.


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Anonymous said...

very true!!!!!!