The Orange County Register

Opinion: Attorney General Rob Bonta’s Bad-Faith Rebranding of Ballot Initiative Threatens California’s Democracy

April 2, 2024

(The Orange County Register)—For more than 100 years, California citizens have held an extraordinary power—the right to bypass their politicians and vote directly on laws through ballot initiatives. Recent actions by Attorney General Rob Bonta threaten to permanently undermine that right.

In September 2023, Protect Kids California submitted a proposed ballot initiative—presented as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024”—for voters to consider this November. The initiative would allow California voters to weigh in on important issues, including: whether parents should be notified if their children are transitioning their gender in school; whether schools should ensure that the use of locker rooms and participation on sports teams align with a student’s sex; whether sex-change surgeries and treatments should be available to minors; and whether the definitions of “male” and “female” under state law should be based upon biology.

The proponents’ stated goals are to protect parental rights, ensure fairness in women’s sports, and protect minor children questioning their gender identity from potentially dangerous and irreversible medical treatments.

As required by California law, proponents submitted the measure to Bonta to receive a neutral official title and summary to use in petitions. Bonta then returned the measure with a new title with a negative and misleading slant: the “Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth Initiative.” And he gave it a summary that was not only completely prejudicial and designed to mislead the electorate—it also contained lies.

Bonta’s opposition to Protect Kids California was not a surprise. Bonta sued the Chino Valley Unified School District over its parental notification policy last August, arguing that California schools are legally required to deceive parents when their children ask to secretly socially transition their gender at school. And Bonta has devoted taxpayer resources to numerous out-of-state lawsuits to advocate for policies that undermine parental rights, change traditional policies concerning sex-separated sports teams and bathrooms, and promote minors’ access to dangerous, untested, and irreversible drugs and surgeries.

Still, Bonta’s effort to sabotage the Protect Kids California initiative is a new low. As the chief law enforcement officer of the state, Bonta is required by law to prepare a “true and impartial statement of the purpose” for all proposed ballot initiatives. That’s why the Liberty Justice Center has partnered with attorneys Nicole Pearson and Erin Friday to sue Bonta and make him follow the law. The case, filed on behalf of Protect Kids California and one of its advocates, Roseville City School Board Member Jonathan Zachreson, aims to hold Bonta accountable for violating state law by giving the ballot measure a misleading, politically-biased, and inaccurate title and summary—instead of a neutral title and summary as the law requires.

For example, the initiative states that “female students should have fair and safe opportunities to compete in athletic programs.” But Bonta’s biased summary does not include such language. Instead, Bonta describes the initiative as “prohibit[ing] transgender female students (grades 7+) from participating in female sports.”

Similarly, the initiative states that “parents or legal guardians of a student have the legal right to be informed of any psychosocial or psychological treatments. . . conducted by or through the school” and that “schools must provide the opportunity for parents . . . to be involved with the child’s experience at school.” However, Bonta falsely claims that the initiative “requires schools to notify parents whenever a student under 18 asks to be treated as a gender differing from school records without exception for student safety,” ignoring the portions of the initiative that specifically state that existing safeguards to protect children from parental abuse are unaffected by the initiative.

Bonta’s agenda is contrary to every facet of the measure, and he is wielding his power to eviscerate the rights of proponents by incorporating lies into his biased summary. He is well aware of recent polling finding that California voters, regardless of political party, are largely against schools keeping secrets from parents, sex changes on children, and biological males invading female sports and spaces. Therefore, he is using his office to mislead the public and do everything in his power to prevent the initiative from ever getting on the ballot. The attorney general is playing politics instead of doing his job as legally required.

Bonta’s title and summary for the initiative are biased and misleading from beginning to end; he is either unable or unwilling to exercise the neutrality that his job requires.

Government officials cannot use the power voters have entrusted them with to censor and shame those they disagree with. Every Californian, regardless of whether they agree with the initiative, should be concerned about an attorney general who ignores the law and uses his power to sabotage ballot initiatives. Today Bonta is targeting Protect Kids California, but tomorrow he could be targeting you.

We plan to hold the attorney general accountable for allowing his political agenda to get in the way of doing his job at trial, which is set to begin on April 19, 2024.

Emily Rae serves as senior counsel at Liberty Justice Center which is jointly representing Protect Kids California.