17 propositions also on California ballot November 8 : a more optimistic cut at democracy in America today?

Oct 20th, 2016 | By | Category: In Brief

Ms Carter Cruise, staunch opponent of California Proposition 60 in 2016.

Letting the sovereign voters decide complex public policy questions has been given something of a bad name lately by the still quite puzzling Brexit experience in the United Kingdom.

And in a Canadian city like Toronto (Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, etc) you are still slightly closer to news from the UK (and/or France) than you are in the United States.

In Canada as well our still more European political culture a little too smugly tends to see democracy in America as somewhat too obsessed with elections and voting.

Or, as a Canadian history source book from the late 1950s explained: “Canadians have continued to believe that the essence of democracy lies not so much in self-government as in the right to choose the government.”

This coming November 8 interested American citizens will be voting for president (and vice president), all 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 34 Senators. There will also be gubernatorial elections in 12 states and two territories, and legislative elections in 44 states. And then there will be local mayoral elections in such places as Baltimore, Honolulu, Milwaukee, Richmond (Virginia), Sacramento, and San Diego, etc, etc.

As if this weren’t enough, US citizens will vote on a grand total of 155 so-called ballot measures on November 8 as well — 14 in Alabama, 2 in Alaska, 2 in Arizona, 5 in Arkansas, 17 in California, 9 in Colorado, 4 in Florida, 4 in Georgia, 2 in Hawaii, 1 in Idaho, 1 in Illinois, 1 in Indiana, 1 in Kansas, 6 in Louisiana, 6 in Maine, 1 in Maryland, 4 in Massachusetts, 1 in Minnesota, 6 in Missouri, 4 in Montana, 1 in Nebraska, 4 in Nevada, 2 in New Jersey, 5 in New Mexico, 5 in North Dakota, 7 in Oklahoma, 7 in Oregon, 1 in Pennsylvania, 7 in Rhode Island, 10 in South Dakota, 3 in Utah, 2 in Virginia, and 10 in Washington state.

Bird n Diz at Birdland in New York, 1951 — noted marijuana (and worse) consumer Charlie Parker (alto sax), left, and Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), right, alleged founding partners of bebop jazz — still the hardest jazz to play, according to Parker’s old colleague, Red Rodney.

A US ballot measure, according to Wikipedia, “is a piece of proposed legislation to be approved or rejected by eligible voters. Ballot measures are also known as ‘propositions’ or simply ‘questions’.” The excellent website known as Ballotpedia : The Encyclopedia of American Politics has suggested four “notable topics” for ballot measures in 2016 : Marijuana, Minimum wage, Healthcare, and Gun laws.

Interested adult citizens in all of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota will be voting on one or another degree of “Marijuana Legalization.”  Five states will be voting on Minimum wage measures. Four states will be voting on Gun control measures. And four states will be voting on Healthcare measures — including “Colorado Amendment 69, which would create the nation’s first single-payer healthcare system” (or broadly what we already have in Canada — which started in Saskatchewan, on July 1, 1962 ).

California dreamin’ in 2016

In some ways it is not surprising that the largest number of 2016 ballot measures (or in this case “propositions”) is in California, which is also by far the most populous state (about 39.5 million people at the moment, compared to 36.4 million in all of Canada!).

At the same time, the second most populous state, Texas (28.2 million) has no ballot measures this coming November 8 — and neither does the fourth most populous state of New York (about 19.8 million).

According to Ballotpedia’s classification scheme, the 17 propositions California voters will be deciding on this Tuesday, November 8 cover 14 different subjects: Accountability, Business regulation, Campaign finance, Death penalty, Elections/Bonds, Education, Environment, Firearms, Healthcare, Marijuana, Movies, Taxes, Tobacco, and Trials.

This more or less obscures one of the more intriguing 2016 California ballot measures — Proposition 60, classified under the Movies heading above, but applying only to a particular kind of movie.  As explained by the official summary, Proposition 60 would require “adult film performers” [ie porn movie actors] “to use condoms during filming of sexual intercourse.”

It would also require “producers” of adult films to pay for medical tests and ensure condom use. A similar measure for the County of Los Angeles was approved in 2012, but is apparently indifferently enforced. Proposition 60 applies to the State of California at large, and would be subject to state enforcement. The California porn industry is strongly against this measure — and so are both the state Democratic and Republican parties, and the Los Angeles Times! Ballotpedia nonetheless reports : “Polls indicate that support for Proposition 60 is around 55 percent.”

Ballotpedia also reports statistics on funds raised by each of the Yes and No sides on the 17 November 8 ballot measures. Not surprisingly, the largest sums raised are on the No sides are for Proposition 56, Tobacco Tax Increase ($66,532,474.00), and Proposition 61, Drug Price Standards ($86,915,660.28). It seems reasonable to guess that most of these amounts come from negatively impacted large business corporations with deep pockets.

Trying to make sense of the 17 propositions (and more)

The Los Angeles Times has published recommendations for California voters trying to simplify  the complicated question of what to do about the 17 propositions. On Prop 60 re condom use in adult films, vote no.  Re Props 62 and 66 on the death penalty, vote “yes on 62 to repeal the death penalty, and no on 66” (which would speed the death penalty up in certain cases).

On Prop 63 to make “some of the toughest gun laws in the country … even stronger,” the LA Times recommends voting yes. On Prop 64 to “join the ranks of enlightened states around the country such as Colorado and Washington that treat marijuana less like heroin and more like alcohol — as a regulated but acceptable product for adult use,” it also says vote yes.

Finally : “The Times supports banning … single-use [grocery] bags for good in California with the passage of Prop 67.” As for all the other propositions, well … see the “complete list of the L.A. Times‘ 2016 endorsements.”

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. (Doug Ball/CP).

Someone who has lived their North American voting life in Canada is bound to be somewhat overwhelmed by the 17 California propositions, to say nothing of an additional 9 LA County “Measures,” and decisions about President. Senator, US Representative 44th District, LA County Supervisor Districts 4 and 5, and Judge of the Superior Court Offices No. 11, 42, 84, and 158, that figure on the  complete list of the L.A. Times‘ endorsements.”

All we have to do in a Canadian federal election is vote for the one Member of Parliament in the electoral district (riding) where we live. Democracy in America is  more demanding on the voters.

It is also, it seems clear enough, harder or more demanding to register (or be registered) as a voter in the United States than it is in Canada (where we have a permanent federal voters’ list administered by Elections Canada, and so forth). And that may not be such a good thing.

A final more optimistic conclusion?

What the 17 California propositions and the ticket from top to bottom ultimately make clear enough is that the great act of democracy on November 8 is considerably more complicated (and decentralized) than it would have to be for any aspiring autocrat to truly take over and mold to his or her will.

Or, as a former Speaker of the House once said, all politics is local. Democracy in America today involves a lot more than the election of the president and congress in Washington.

And that probably isn’t such a bad thing — even if it also means that, as President Obama has urged on the worthy followers of Bernie Sanders, it just ain’t easy to move a mountain like the early 21st century American political (and economic) system, in whatever direction you want to try …

For a very last word, an expert interviewed by CNN on the question of election rigging in the USA today explained that the election on November 8 is ultimately being managed at the county level in all 50 states. And there are now just over 3,140 counties and “county equivalents.” If Hillary Clinton could figure out a workable way of organizing all this so as to rig the election in her favour, that in itself would be a good argument for electing her president.

Note on (most of) the photo illustrations

Most of the photos illustrating the scribbling here (or typing, as Truman Capote might say) come from a page on a Turkish website (uludağsözlükgaleri) featuring the toast of North Carolina, Ms. Carter Cruise — who is strongly opposed to California Prop 60, and has written against it.

Ms Cruise “calls herself ‘your girlfriend’s favorite pornstar.’” Others have called her “the Meryl Streep of porn due to her electric on-screen performances and natural acting ability.”

According to Wikipedia : “Cruise was born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Cary, North Carolina. She is of Cherokee and Welsh descent. She was home schooled during her childhood. In 2009, she enrolled at East Carolina University, majoring in psychology and pre-law… In late 2013, she left her psychology studies at ECU to pursue a full-time career in the adult industry. Prior to becoming an adult film performer, she worked as a Hooters girl and lifeguard.”

Marshall McLuhan (r) with Woody Allen in Annie Hall, 1977.

Ms Cruise started her adult film career in Florida, but moved to Los Angeles in March 2014. She has won nine adult film awards (and so far been nominated 30 times). The wantickets website notes that : “Equal to Carter’s love for acting is her love for electronic dance music and song writing. Having recently collaborated with emerging beat makers Styles & Complete to release the single ‘Dunnit,’ Carter has several more songs in the works.”  It may or may not be rigorously arguable that her career has a lot to do with the 2016 US elections (beyond California Prop 60). But that seems a good excuse for using her photos here, in support of the new feminism that hopefully lies ahead.

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