Editorials

California attorneys general can’t help themselves. They need an intervention

Senator-elect Kamala Harris speaks with immigrant families and their advocates, discussing the election results and the nation's future in Los Angeles on Nov.10, 2016. Harris came to the aid of labor by providing a questionable title for an initiative to roll back public employee pensions, as described by the nonpartisan CalMatters.
Senator-elect Kamala Harris speaks with immigrant families and their advocates, discussing the election results and the nation's future in Los Angeles on Nov.10, 2016. Harris came to the aid of labor by providing a questionable title for an initiative to roll back public employee pensions, as described by the nonpartisan CalMatters. AP file

Political animals that they are, California attorneys general have had a hard time not tipping the scales for or against initiatives, depending on their persuasion.

They load ballot titles and summaries before promoters head to the streets to gather signatures to place the measures on ballots; it has been happening for decades.

A bad title and summary can tank an initiative, as occurred when then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, came to the aid of labor by providing a questionable title for an initiative to roll back public employee pensions, as described by the nonpartisan CalMatters. It didn’t make it onto the ballot.

Favorable wording can help backers, as occurred in 1996 when then Attorney General Dan Lungren, a Republican, gave a title and summary to an initiative to end affirmative action, but failed to note that it would end affirmative action. Voters approved that measure.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, a former deputy attorney general, has a solution, in the form of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3. The measure would turn the duty over the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan entity that already develops fiscal analyses of initiatives.

Democrats who control the Legislature don’t seem to be particularly open to Kiley’s concept, which is unfortunate. We’re already in May, and Assembly leaders still have not set the measure for its first hearing. We get why. Democrats have held the office of attorney general since the 1998 election and show no signs of losing control any time soon.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, new this year to his job, has lots to do. Relinquishing one aspect is reasonable. Consider Kiley’s proposal to be an intervention intended to help ensure a measure of fairness in the initiative process.

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