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California’s 2/3 supermajority rule for spending legislation is addressed in an article for by George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

To paraphrase George Tenet, this should be a slam dunk.  As a simple principle of democratic rule, legislation should be enacted by majority vote.  Lakoff is absolutely right that California law as it now stands in effect gives a one third minority of legislators veto power over the will of the majority.

Of course it is true that rule by simple majority at the moment would give Democrats the legislative advantage, but this will not always be so, depending on which way the electoral winds blow.  Whatever one thinks of pending legislation, budgets, etc., Lakoff has a strong case that the supermajority rule as it now stands is a recipe for gridlock and undemocratic on its face.

  3 Responses to “Ending Minority Rule in California: One Sentence Can Do IT”

  1. I’ve taken these statements to mean he’s blaming all California’s problems on supermajority:

    “Minority rule has brought our state to near bankruptcy, causing crises throughout the state.”

    “One sentence can end economic uncertainty and provide for an improved credit rating, for payment of our bills with money instead of IOUs, and will bring stability to our schools, nursing homes and universities. One sentence can make California a well-run state again.”

    “Minority rule is closing California. State parks: closed. Schools: closed. Fire departments: closed. Nursing homes: closed. Medical clinics: closed. Libraries: closed.”

    If there are mitigating remarks, I missed them despite careful reading and re-reading, but would be glad to have the error pointed out.

    In fact he is just trying to push the progressive agenda:

    “Since the minority is a strongly conservative Republican minority, progressive Democrats running for the legislature in 2010 can run on a prodemocracy platform, placing the blame for gridlock where it belongs, on their opponents. The main question is whether we can run such a campaign successfully.”

    A web search will reveal many many liberal organizations suddenly rising to dispel the evil supermajority. I say suddenly, because in 2008 the Democrats recommended changing the vote requirement for constitutional amendments (the type of vote needed to change supermajority) from the current simple majority, to…you guessed it, 2/3rds supermajority! But wait there’s more. They suggested the requirement for constitutional amendments should be 2/3 majority vote in two consecutive elections! Oh, but that was way back in ’08.

    So this fellow should be ignored completely. Pat, however, we should listen to. It turns out 3 states have a 2/3 rule like California. Would seem to me if 47 states use simple majority, there is little for California to fear and they should change. It is certainly true it leads to delay, which isn’t helpful or apparently necessary.

  2. Of course California’s ills are many and complex, and it
    won’t do to pin them all on supermajority legislative
    requrements, if that is what Lakoff is attempting to do.
    I have not followed California closely enough to have much opinion on the ongoing, and worsening,multiple
    sources of its legislative/budgetary crises.

    I have always had a problem with supermajority dictates
    in spending matters, though. I think it is hard to get
    around Lakoff’s basic premise: why should one third of the legislature–or the electorate, in supermajority bond
    issues–have what amounts to veto power over the wishes
    of the (clear) majority? This stands majority rule on its
    head. Does a 51% majority impose a heavy burden on the
    49% in opposition? Yes, but that is a risk of majority
    rule, whether in spending matters or choosing candidates.
    That burder, however, is only more onerous when one
    third or thereabouts of a body imposes its will on the
    If Lakoff intends to blame all of California’s governance
    problems on supermajority rule that is undoubtedly grossly oversimplified, but I still agree with the indignation behind his premise.

  3. Pat’s call for majority voting may be valid, but this UC Berkeley Professor’s case is not. It is yet another example of astoundingly shoddy reasoning in public discourse, so pardon the tone of this comment but this sort of thing bothers me.

    The arguments for and against super majority votes turn on issues like tyranny of the majority. The argument for it tends to be along the lines that whatever is being proposed is sufficiently important/intrusive/disruptive that we must be all the more certain. For example, should jury trials be decided by majority rule? How about impeachment of the President? The argument for supermajority in the case of spending legislation is that 51% can potentially impose heavy burdens on 49%. I don’t have an opinion myself, but surely this is the sort of discussion the issue needs.

    It does not need unfounded, thinly veiled partisanship. The repeated assertions that California is on it’s knees because of the supermajority requirement is simply that, an assertion. He makes no argument whatsoever that one caused the other. What about the massive financial disruption caused by energy trading that crushed California’s finances and led to the recall of it’s Governor? California is in crisis because it’s tax revenue has dropped off a cliff. Why? Most commentary points to it’s regressive tax structure that doesn’t work when the rich are getting poorer, which they tend to do much faster than average in an economic downturn. It also hurts when the rich leave, which they are doing in droves.

    Funny these things escaped his attention. Perhaps he will notice the bipartisan tax commission that released it’s recommendation to overhaul the tax structure yesterday. At UC Berkeley.

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