Proponents of Democracy Act Work to Gain Support

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While a California ballot initiative championed by UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November 2010 state ballot, the initiative may soon enjoy a second chance.

Voters will get to decide whether to support The California Democracy Act, which would change the state constitution to end the necessary two-thirds majority of the state Legislature required to pass the state budget, but only if Lakoff and supporters can gather more than 600,000 signatures within 10 weeks to resubmit the initiative.

None of the signatures gathered for the first initiative can be transferred to the resubmitted version.

Lakoff said in a letter to supporters that he has resubmitted the initiative to Attorney General Jerry Brown in an effort to get a new title and summary for the initiative. A previous title linked it to potential tax increases, turning potential signatories away, supporters of the initiative said.

"If we get an accurate title and summary this time, we will seek funding for a professional effort on the second round," Lakoff said in the letter. "The timeline will be tight."

The campaign had hoped to meet an April 16 deadline. As the date approached, it seemed increasingly unlikely the grassroots campaign would gather enough signatures to qualify, said Tom Camarella, the Southern California field director for the campaign.

"As far as people-centered and people-powered initiatives go, they have not been very successful in this state," he said.

Even with professional signature gatherers, it is "near impossible" for the campaign to meet its June deadline given the expensive nature of the initiative process, according to Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a non­profit political group located in Los Angeles.

"There is no chance that he can do it," Stern said. "Financially, it's just about impossible, unless he has a sugar daddy."

Stern said other initiative campaigns have cost upward of $30 million dollars. Very few groups have gotten an initiative on the ballot without paid signature gatherers, none of which have been successful since the 1980s, he said.

Lakoff's campaign had hoped to gather the signatures without paid assistance, instead utilizing volunteers and college students, including UC Berkeley freshman Eli Wirtschafter.

Wirtschafter is the educational coordinator for The California Democracy Act Coalition-a collection of several groups across the UC, CSU and community college systems.

The student coalition will rework itself to serve as an educational campaign if the initiative acquires new language and the campaign hires professional signature gatherers.

"We tried to do it the first time totally grassroots," Wirtschafter said. "We knew what we were up against. I guess we are going to do it the more conventional route."


Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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