A win for direct democracy and taxpayers in San Bernardino County
Entrenched politicians loathe the tools of direct democracy, which include the powers of initiative, referendum, and recall. Both at the state and local levels, they do everything they can to limit the exercise of those powers, including going to court to nullify what voters do at the ballot box.
That’s what happened with Measure K in San Bernardino, which amended the County Charter to impose a one-term limit on members of the Board of Supervisors and reduce their pay from more than $200,000 per year to $5,000 per month. The Red Brennan Group, which spearheaded Measure K, said it puts the Board of Supervisors’ salary on par with the median household income in the county, and that a one-term limit would incentivize elected officials to focus on serving the public rather than maneuvering for reelection.
Unsurprisingly, Measure K was extraordinarily popular with voters who passed it by a two-thirds majority (66.84%). But while the citizens of San Bernardino County were celebrating, the Board of Supervisors launched a counter-attack by filing a lawsuit to get Measure K nullified. The Red Brennan Group stepped up to defend their initiative and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation sent a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the legality of the measure.
Along with their lawsuit challenging Measure K, the Board of Supervisors ran to their allies in Sacramento to change the law in a way that would undercut the initiative. Assembly Bill 428 would prohibit term limits of less than two terms for a County Board of Supervisors and further provided that a Board can set the pay of its own members. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association objected to the bill and argued that it thwarted the will of the voters in San Bernardino. The author of the bill, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, I-Yucca Valley, denied that his bill would have that impact but his representations lacked credibility. Eventually, he relented and agreed to insert language into the bill that made clear it would “not affect any term limits that were legally in effect prior to January 1, 2022, in any county.”
Last week, an appeals court issued a tentative ruling in the lawsuit and sided with the voters, upholding Measure K’s one-term limit and the cut to the supervisors’ pay. The court also vindicated HJTF’s interpretation that the original version of AB 428 was an attempt to thwart the will of the voters in San Bernardino.
Noting that the amendment resolved any ambiguity, the court wrote, “Plainly, then, the Legislature did not contemplate that AB 428 would undo Measure K. To the contrary, it agreed with the Jarvis Association that the unamended version threatened Measure K, and thus it amended AB 428 so as to let Measure K stand.”
It’s satisfying to be recognized for the work HJTA does in defense of taxpayers, not only the hundreds of thousands of HJTA members, but all the California taxpayers whose interests are rarely represented by their elected officials.
Moreover, the Measure K saga is a good reminder that the voters’ power of initiative, recall and referendum must be guarded jealously against politicians who scheme to evade the will of the voters.
Jon Couple is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.