What’s in a number, part 2

Gay-rights activists everywhere are abuzz with political strategy in the wake of last week’s decision by the California Supreme Court to uphold the ballot measure, Proposition 8, in the face of a challenge to its constitutionality.

I admit I’m a little confused. Proposition 8 was clearly flawed, but why do gay-rights activists in particular care so much about a mildly hysterical attempt to keep drugs out of K-12 classrooms, toughen teacher credentialing standards, and reduce class sizes? Besides, even though it was a long time ago, I seem to recall that measure failing at the ballot box, so what is there to uphold, and why all the furore now?

Ohhh… it’s the Proposition 8 of 2008 that everyone’s buzzing about, outlawing gay marriage; not the Proposition 8 of 1998. Well that explains everything…

…except why California has two Proposition 8’s. I arrived in this state in time to vote on propositions 152 through 154 (and to choose Bill Clinton as my party’s candidate). I still remember the controversy over Prop 187 a couple of years later. Even today people still refer to 1978’s Prop 13 as shorthand for the state’s constant budgetary woes. For decades, California’s ballot initiatives were numbered sequentially, which meant that important propositions, which were occasionally burdened with awkward titles (“Permanent class size reduction funding for districts establishing parent-teacher councils; requires testing for teacher credentialing; pupil suspension for drug possession”), had a unique, handy-dandy built-in nickname.

Until 1998. In the primary election that June, voters weighed in on propositions 219 through 227. Then, unaccountably, the numbering system reverted to 1 for the November ballot, started at 1 again in 2000, counted sequentially for a while, then rolled over to 1 once more in 2008 after reaching only 90 in 2006.

I know California’s education system is badly broken (thanks, most agree, to Prop 13 — the 1978 one), but really, I think most voters can count at least a little higher than 227.

(Previously in inexplicable innumeracy.)

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