Bill Whalen

Could California Republicans get a boost from ballot measures?

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, discusses his support for the cap-and-trade bill that passed in July.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, discusses his support for the cap-and-trade bill that passed in July. Associated Press

Earlier this year, a New York assemblyman introduced a bill – it never made it to a floor vote – to ban tackle football for that state’s kids ages 13 and younger. Upon further review, how did Albany beat Sacramento to the punch?


It would be the natural order of things for California legislators, who rarely miss a chance to re-engineer society. Science, for one, is in their favor. A study released last month by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed 177 of 202 former football players who donated their brains to research suffered from the neurodegenerative disease known as CTE.

There’s also plenty of raw emotion. Bennet Omalu (the pathologist played by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion”) says kids playing football “is the definition of child abuse.”

If the Legislature echoed that sentiment and sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown ending tackle football for high-schoolers and younger, would he sign it? Three years ago, Brown did sign a law limiting full-contact practices for middle and high school football squads, so one never knows.

Indeed, it might inspire our pragmatic governor, who’s had his differences with the University of California system, to call an audible. Brown did his undergraduate studies at Berkeley. One look at the current state of Cal – a football team that struggles on the field and a sports program deeply in debt – and the governor might conclude it’s best to euthanize the Golden Bears.

But if football were really limited, there would be lots of outrage from folks protective of their Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, followed by a push for a referendum to overturn the law – again the natural order in California politics these days.

At present, one referendum could be headed the electorate’s way next year. It would repeal the 12-cent gas tax increase that begins in November.

A second referendum depends on what Brown does with “sanctuary state” legislation likely headed his way. Brown is savvy enough to signal to lawmakers that he won’t sign the bill unless it’s a lot more to his liking. But is he cognizant of public sentiment?

A Hoover Golden State Poll released in January found Californians less enthusiastic about sanctuary city policy than the elected class, with 41 percent in favor overall and 36 percent opposed. While Democrats were strongly in favor and Republicans opposed, support among independents was a mediocre 30 percent. That suggests passing a sanctuary state law won’t be easy.

Criminality would be the crux of the matter, but which would be the more compelling argument? Many in law enforcement say they need the policy so illegal immigrants will come out of the shadows and report crimes. But there’s the perception of a policy that harbors fugitives.

Speaking of football, contentious referenda might provide a boost to that struggling team – the California Republican Party. It spends too much time arguing in the huddle; some party activists want Assembly GOP Leader Chad Mayes’ head on a stick for cutting a bipartisan deal on cap-and-trade renewal.

And absent the talent to win on its own, the party needs help in field position. That’s one way to look at the potential effect of ballot referenda, which might turn out otherwise blasé conservatives and get the attention of middle-of-the-road voters interested in taxes and public safety.

Think of it not so much as a rejuvenated GOP offense racking up yards, but Democrats forced to back up as they’re flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Given their losing record in recent seasons, Republicans should gladly accept the penalties.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at