The Voters Set the Democrats Free; Will They Act Like It?

06/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hooray! The outrageous propositions 1 A-E have been crushed by voters who just can't take any more.

California voters have rejected the nonfunctional minority-rule government that has bankrupted the state, along with the governor who led the state into bankruptcy.

The voters want a functional democracy, and that means majority rule. No more blackmail by a 1/3 plus 1 Republican minority.

In short, the voters have given the Democrats a new freedom -- if they will only take it.

The Democratic leadership should listen to its grassroots. They should immediately stop negotiating with the governor and other Republicans on how to destroy even more of what makes our state human. The Democrats, as a whole body, not just the leadership, should assert their majority, decide for themselves how they want to deal with the shortfall, and then invite the defeated Republicans publicly to join them and take their proposals to the public, first organizing serious grassroots support.

What is the point of doing this if the Democrats still don't have the 2/3 votes to pass a budget bill? The point is drama! Most Californians are not aware of the minority rule situation. This could dramatize it and place the blame where it belongs. Drama matters. There might still be a later compromise. But the drama would set the stage for a 2010 ballot initiative.

The Democratic leadership should immediately take the initiative on a 2010 ballot measure, a supremely simple one-sentence measure. It would go something like this:

All budgetary and revenue issues shall be decided by a majority vote in both houses of the legislature.

One sentence. Simple. Straightforward. Understandable. And democratic. It should be called the California Democracy Act. From grade school on, we associate democracy with majority rule. It will make sense to voters -- at last!

The term "revenue" would cover taxes without waving a red flag.

Up to now, Democrats have been acting like sheep being herded by the Republican minority. They need to show courage and stand up for what they believe. That's what the voters are waiting for.

On the 2010 ballot initiative:

Get rid of the 55% proposals. People understand that majority rule means democracy. 55% means nothing.

Even if you don't address taxes and just address the budget process, the Republicans will still say you're going to raise taxes. You may as well go for real democracy.

And finally, get a unified message that can be supported by the grassroots. Do grassroots organizing for 2010, starting now. Organize spokespeople to get that message out. Organize bookers to book your spokespeople in the media. You Democrats are a majority. Act like it. The public will respect you for it.

For example, if the Republicans claim that this vote showed a tax rebellion, point out that only Prop 1a was about taxes. The other propositions failed. And the voters rejected a spending cap. What are you waiting for, you Democrats. You have been set free.

If it is claimed that the vote was meaningless because so few people went to the polls, reply that the refusal to vote on these propositions was itself a vote against having such an election and such a lame way of running the state.

The voters have spoken. You Democratic office-holders have chance to come out on the side of the voters. Take it!

George Lakoff is the author of The Political Mind, just out in paperback. He is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.