A ritual of California election seasons is the careful crafting of the arguments for and against ballot measures, each of which appears in the official statewide voter guide.
Campaign consultants labor over these arguments and rebuttals for one simple reason: research shows that voters read them. Carefully.
The crop of 44 November ballot arguments (pro and con on both support and opposition for 11 propositions) was released Tuesday morning by Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office.
They feature some interesting Californians weighing in on the politics of the day... and a preview of the intense election season to come.
The support argument (PDF) for Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hike, Proposition 30, was signed not by him but by the leaders of the California Teachers Association, California State Sheriffs Association, and League of Women Voters of California. It focuses on the fact that the income tax increase starts for "couples with incomes over $500,000 a year" -- though there's also an increase in Prop 30 on single taxpayers making more than $250,000 a year.
Anti-tax advocates take the lead in rebuttals to Prop 30 (PDF), arguing there's a "shell game" in the elaborate details of where the new tax dollars go and how they impact school funding and the state's general budget pressures.
On Proposition 34, the initiative to repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life in prison, the ballot argument in opposition (PDF) is signed by former Governor Pete Wilson.
"Prop 34 lets serial killers, cop killers, child killers, and those who kill the elderly, escape justice," says the argument signed by Wilson and Marc Klaas, whose daughter's 1993 murder made national headlines.
(Why focus on killers of the "elderly," you wonder? Perhaps because senior citizens are some of the most reliable voters there are.)
Prop 34 supporters counter in the voter guide (PDF) that no Death Row inmate could ever be released, with their argument signed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The pro and con arguments on Proposition 38, the broad income tax hike for K-12 schools, are also interesting. The support argument's signatories (PDF) include actor Edward James Olmos, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a California high school teacher. Their argument focuses on the impact on badly funded schools and the low income tax increase for the state's poorest taxpayers.
Prop 38 opponents, however, use their ballot argument (PDF) to hurting the economy and to the initiative's "twenty-seven pages of fine print."
("Fine print" may be one of the political world's favorite red flag lines. After all, who trusts the fine print?)
But for those who like it simple, there's Proposition 40, the attempt by the California Republican Party to overturn the new state Senate districts drawn by the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The state's GOP spent some $2 million to get the referendum on the ballot, but the California Supreme Court -- where Republicans really hoped to win -- upheld the districts' constitutionality earlier this year.
But once a measure is on the ballot, it can't be taken off. So what did Prop 40's backers do with their voter guide argument (with a referendum, backers want a 'no' vote)?
"With the court's action," they write (PDF), "this measure is not needed and we are no longer asking for a NO vote."
If only weighing the pros and cons of the other ten initiatives would be so easy.