A phony prop and Fat Boy

Question: When does the state Legislature act with speed on an issue?

Answer: When lawmakers’ jobs are on the line.

The latest example of this occurred a few weeks ago, when the state Senate, acting with rare speed and bipartisan cooperation, approved a stealth measure that would undermine an upcoming ballot initiative intended to change the way primary elections are held.

Proposition 62, the initiative that has lawmakers in a dither, would replace the current party primaries with a contest open to all participants. The measure would allow citizens to vote in primaries for the candidate of their choosing, regardless of how they are politically registered. The top two winners—no matter what party affiliation they claim—would then duke it out in the general election.

Most Senators don’t like this idea a bit because they seek to hold on to their grip on primary elections, which, because of redistricting, has made most seats safe. So, the Senate pushed a competing measure (Senate Constitutional Amendment 18) through in just an hour. Then the Senate sneakily attached the measure to a popular constitutional amendment to reduce state debt.

Now, Proposition 60, which seeks to undermine the goal of Proposition 62 by guaranteeing that every political party participating in the primary gets a candidate in the general election, will appear on the November ballot.

Ordinarily, it’s fine that primaries are largely intraparty contests. But California has become so corrupted, with legislators carving out such safe districts for themselves, that minority-party voters in these districts have become disenfranchised. Throwing open the process would end that.

Had lawmakers been interested in giving voters an honest choice, they would have passed their amendment as a separate measure.

Enron is back in the news this month with a vengeance, with former company Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay heading to trial. But even more important is recent word that federal energy regulators have agreed to review new and shocking tapes that reveal exactly how that company manipulated the energy market in California during the crisis of 2000-2001.

The obscenity-laced audiotapes were transcribed by a Santa Cruz-based energy consultant who offered his services to officials trying to figure out what caused the energy crisis. The tapes were presented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week after a municipal utility in the state of Washington subpoenaed them from the Justice Department.

The transcripts are appalling in the greed they display. “Burn, baby, burn,” scoffs one Enron trader on the tape as a core transmission line burns in the West. Other traders openly, greedily discuss manipulating the energy market, using fraudulent trading games dubbed Death Star, Get Shorty and Fat Boy.

The scandalous tapes no doubt will give California and other Western states new ammunition with which to get the FERC to impose higher fines and tougher penalties on companies like Enron. Stay tuned as things continue to unravel.