Sunday, January 31, 2016
November's big ballot probably won't be downsized by California's new election law la times jan 31-16
November's big ballot probably won't be downsized by California's new election law la times jan 31-16
A voter shows off his sample ballot with "no" checked on all the measures after a statewide special election in California on May 19, 2009.(Los Angeles Times)
In a state where direct democracy is considered a birthright, activists have often bypassed legislators and asked voters to write laws at the ballot box.
But one year after the enactment of what was hailed as a major electoral reform to encourage compromise between the two lawmaking processes, there's still skepticism of working inside the world of Sacramento politics.
Even from some politicians who work there.
"We don't have the time, in California's future, to water down critical legislation," said Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) as he joined organized labor groups last week in submitting voter signatures for a November ballot initiative to raise the state's minimum wage.
The wage measure, plus a handful of others likely to secure a spot on what may be a blockbuster statewide ballot this fall, covers a topic on which there are now negotiations at the state Capitol for the Legislature to act on its own. And the overhaul of the state's initiative law,signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, is designed to give backers of would-be ballot measures a prominent role in those negotiations.
Most notably, it allows legislative hearings on an initiative any time its backers gather at least 25% of the voter signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
Backers of the minimum wage initiative crossed that threshold last September. But no hearings have been held.
In fact, documents provided by the secretary of state's office show that the Legislature has now been notified that there are six initiatives aimed at the November 2016 ballot that have gathered enough signatures for formal hearings, with some having been eligible for almost a year.
That kind of delay wasn't what some advocates of the initiative reform law were expecting.
"I think we would all like to see those hearings take place sooner," said Trudy Schafer, senior program director for the League of Women Voters of California.
The concept of compromise to stave off ballot fights was part of the original initiative process created in 1911. But the mechanism was never used, and was eliminated in 1966.
The 2014 law is, in some ways, a return to the old system but with new flexibility. Not only can initiatives now be amended after a period of public comment, but they can be withdrawn if proponents hammer out a compromise with lawmakers — a window for deal-making that stays open even after many initiatives have qualified for the ballot.
Those modifications notwithstanding, skepticism remains.
"In most cases, there's not a whole lot of room for negotiation," said Jerry Meral, an environmental advocate and former state official who is the proponent of a $6-billion water bond he hopes to place on the fall ballot. Meral said he wrote his initiative and started collecting signatures after watching how hard it was to reach political consensus over the last legislative water bond, Proposition 1 in 2014.
"We felt the prospects of a new legislative bond, signed by the governor, were very dim," he said.
The idea of more political compromise has long had appeal with voters. In a 2013 statewide poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, almost eight in 10 voters who were surveyed endorsed the idea of more time for initiative backers and lawmakers to work together in search of common ground.
But that presumes there's actually a willingness by the Legislature and powerful interest groups to work together.
"In many cases, there's not a deal to be had," said Dustin Corcoran, chief executive of the California Medical Assn. The doctors group is backing a pending initiative to extend a temporary income tax on the state's highest earners, an effort that would have met certain defeat had it been proposed in the Capitol.
Gathering signatures for an initiative is also costly — in some cases, as much as $3 million to qualify for the ballot with paid signature gatherers — and wealthy interest groups may be unlikely to back down once that kind of money is spent.
Did supporters of the 2014 law promise too much change?
"Only history can judge whether it was oversold," said Rob Lapsley, a former top state elections official and now president of the California Business Roundtable. A supporter of the new law, Lapsley nonetheless admits that it will at best only defuse some initiative battles.
"It's better to have the opportunity than not," he said.
Legislators are making plans to look at the pending initiatives, but some of the mandated public hearings may not happen until spring. Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who chairs one of the committees that will review tax initiatives, argues that early discussions aren't the key to avoiding expensive ballot measure campaigns.
"If you're actually going to come up with a compromise, these things always happen at the last minute," he said.
Hertzberg said the new law is designed to better "harmonize" the relationship between those elected to write laws and the system that allows voters to do so on their own. Still, though, he admits there's no way to avoid many of the nastiest and most expensive ballot fights through which California voters are often dragged.
"It doesn't guarantee a change," said Hertzberg of the new process. "But it does guarantee a discussion."
Lincoln High School student gets perfect score on AP Calculus exam -- 1 of 12 in the world to do so la times Jan 31-2016
Lincoln High School student gets perfect score on AP Calculus exam -- 1 of 12 in the world to do so
la times Jan 31-2016
Cedrick Argueta, left, a senior at Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights, and his math instructor, Anthony Yom, show off one of the AP Calculus T-shirts that students wore to their exam last spring.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
The call from Lincoln High School's principal's office came unexpectedly, as they often do.
Cedrick Argueta's friends joked that he might be in trouble. Cedrick didn't think so.
He was right.
It turned out that Cedrick, the son of a Salvadoran maintenance worker and a Filipina nurse, had scored perfectly on his Advanced Placement Calculus exam. Of the 302,531 students to take the notoriously mind-crushing test, he was one of only 12 to earn every single point.
"It's crazy," Cedrick said. "Twelve people in the whole world to do this and I was one of them? It's amazing."
Since word of his feat has spread, the lanky 17-year-old senior – who described himself as a quiet, humble guy – has become something of a celebrity at Lincoln High, a school of about 1,200 students in the heavily Latino Lincoln Heights neighborhood.
At a school assembly, students shouted, "Ced-rick! Ced-rick!" when Principal Jose Torres announced his score. Friends started calling him "One of Twelve."
And Torres said this week that he might as well become the teen's booking agent, laughing as he held up a typed schedule of Cedrick's media interviews.
"It's mind-blowing," said Torres, who has worked within LAUSD for 31 years. "It's the first time I've had something of this magnitude. A lot of kids expected him to be the one."
Cedrick and his classmates took the AP Calculus AB exam, a 3-hour and 15-minute test administered by the nonprofit College Board for possible college credit, in May.
Cedrick learned over the summer that he had scored a 5 – the top score – on the exam but had no idea he'd gotten every single question right until last week.
In a letter to Torres last week, the College Board called it a "remarkable achievement."
As far as math whizzes go, Cedrick is unassuming. He likes to play basketball with his buddies, and his favorite reading of late was the Harry Potter series. Knowing he was going to do television interviews this week, he donned a blue LHS hoodie and sneakers.
Math has always just made sense to him, he said. He appreciates the creativity of it, the different methods you can take to solve a problem.
"There's also some beauty in it being absolute," Cedrick said. "There's always a right answer."
When asked about his perfect exam score, Cedrick just thanked everybody else in his life.
"It just sort of blew up," he said. "It feels kind of good to be in the spotlight for a little bit, but I want to give credit to everybody else that helped me along the way."
Cedrick is the son of Lilian and Marcos Argueta, both of whom came to the United States as young adults – she from the Philippines, he from El Salvador. Lilian, a licensed vocational nurse, works two jobs at nursing homes. Marcos is a maintenance worker at one of those nursing homes. He never went to high school.
Lilian Argueta, pausing during one of her shifts this week, said her son's accomplishment is still sinking in. He texted her when he found out, and she told him it was great but, she said, she didn't understand the magnitude until reporters started calling.
Argueta said that she always told Cedrick and his younger sister to finish their homework and to "read, read, read," but that they knew she'd be proud of them whether or not they got straight A's.
"I'm just thankful," she said. "God gave me two perfect kids."
To celebrate, the Arguetas took Cedrick to Roy's, his favorite restaurant in Pasadena, where he ordered a big pork shank. He was still excited about the free souffle the waiters brought him after learning his score.
Cedrick Argueta, right, is congratulated by his mathematics instructor Anthony Yom, left, in his Calculus classroom.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
On Wednesday, Cedrick hung out in the classroom of his calculus teacher, Anthony Yom, which is decked out with signs that say "Mathlife" and a picture of Homer Simpson.
All 21 of Yom's AP Calculus students who took the exam last year passed; 17 got the highest score of 5. It was the third year in a row that all of Yom's kids passed the test.
Yom, 35, said he treats his students like a sports team. They'd stay after school, practicing problem solving for three or four extra hours, and they'd come on weekends. On test day, they wore matching blue T-shirts sporting their names, "like they're wearing jerseys to the game," Yom said.
"I think they don't want to disappoint each other," Yom said. "Talent can only take you so far. These kids put in so many hours."
Yom said he knew most of his kids would score 5s, but even he was blown away by Cedrick's perfect exam. The odds of such a thing, he said, are like winning the lottery.
As if that weren't enough, Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the science and math sections of the ACT exam last year, he said. This year, he's taking four more AP exams, including the Calculus BC segment. Friends are pushing him for a repeat perfect performance.
"There's a lot of pressure," he said, laughing.
Cedrick graduates in June and hopes to attend Caltech and become an engineer. For his family, a scholarship would be a godsend.
Cedrick's got big plans. He wants to maybe "design something really cool." He wants to have his name on something that's known around the world.
But this summer, he just wants to hang out with his friends.