Election time is upon us. Both parties have girded up their loins — one for a counterattack, the other to face certain disaster with aplomb — and we’re down to it. As in past years, and the recent primaries, I’m happy to do my part to reduce your free will by suggesting how you might vote here.
Overall, what I want out of my elected officials is simple: to fix this mess we’re in before I’m canning the fruit that falls in our backyard off the neighbors’ tree in order to stave off starvation. I expect specifics on policies, why they’ll work, and how they relate to what’s going on now. And that’s about it. Yes, I’m a lefty, but I’d rather that things actually get better than any particular valence of political outcome. The only major wrinkles I’m going to throw in here are:
With all this in mind, here are my endorsements:
Senator – Barbara Boxer (D). Fiorina comes into this race with two big problems: her record at HP, which was filled with major missteps; and her endorsement of policies that meet the national mainstream of Republican thought for this election cycle, but which are, however, well to the right of anything that California has voted for in the recent past. Fiorina’s pledge to not raise taxes, period, worries me; the cuts required to balance the Federal budget are truly deep and large (the Republicans have not to this point seemed to show the cojones to truly try them) and I have serious doubts that anyone would actually implement them. That makes this pledge equivalent to no plan to balance the budget at all. Fiorina also supports Arizona’s immigration law, which seems out of place in California, with our farms so dependent on dubiously-legal migrant labor. Let’s not shut down our entire agricultural economy by accident! She also supports Prop 23, which, as we’ll get to soon, is a strikingly awful idea.
In contrast, Boxer has recast herself, over the past 4-6 years, as California’s smart, insightful Senator, essential after Feinstein unexpectedly became a lap dog for George W. Bush. Let’s keep Boxer in office.
US Representative, 36th District – Jane Harman (D). Jane Harman has done a great job for our district for a long time now. Her record speaks for itself. Her opponent, Mattie Fein, is a recent transplant from Florida, with little to no background in this legislative district. Fein’s personal history shows substantial financial irresponsibility, including defaulting on two mortgages, multiple tax liens, and some funny business with donating money to her own campaign just this year. Compared to Jane Harman, she’s vague on the issues. It’s disappointing that this is the best the Republicans can do in this district, which has shown itself prepared to vote for one of the most conservative Democrats in the House over and over again.
Governor – Jerry Brown (D). I came into this less than thrilled with the idea of a retread, but Brown’s impressed me. He has pretty specific policy plans, which is a reliable way to get on my good side. He also scores well on his ability to fix what I believe is our #1 problem: our budget mess.
Fundamentally, we’re in trouble because there are a variety of interests in Sacramento that are unwilling to work together, from legislators to unions to lobbyists to administrators. Our Governor must be able to somehow work with all of these groups and drive them forward in some way. Brown’s record shows that he can do this. Brown also scores well on my #2 priority, driving forward with new green technology both to make California cleaner and to create a basis for economic growth.
At the same time, I’m deeply unimpressed by the Republican candidate, Meg Whitman. She came into this race with a big handicap: her poor jobs running FTD and eBay. That second requires qualification, given how well eBay has done, so let me say this: I think eBay was run very well in the ’90s and early ’00s, but, as the company matured, it lost its ability to do interesting things and grow. The eBay of today is essentially the same eBay there was 10 years ago, while the Internet has moved on and the company has lost the dominance it had at the time; that’s a failure of strategy, if you ask me. There have also been failures of execution, particularly with the Skype acquisition, which was structured so badly (they didn’t acquire the core technology, only had a short license to it!) as to be the business equivalent of burning a pile of money, except without the novelty value. This destroyed billions of cash and shareholder value. Me, I would’ve fired Meg Whitman for that. As for FTD, she literally ran away from it when she realized what bad trouble it was in and how many stakeholders she had to actually collaborate with to make changes there. This experience seems to me to be analogous to what she’d have to do in CA, so her failure there worries me deeply.
Whitman has a wide-ranging set of policy positions (or, at least she has to the extent that I can navigate her truly awful site). She’s vaguer on her plans to implement most of these positions than Brown is. Worse, her key plans to balance the budget seem to play to Brown’s strengths, not hers. She wants to cut pensions, salaries, and headcounts in state employment; this requires her to negotiate with unions, an area in which she has little experience. (It’s also worth noting that California has some of the lowest per-capita spending on government administration, after years of staff cuts by other governors, so it’s not clear what fat is left to trim. The same goes for her plans to divert education money from administration to classroom; our spending per pupil is so low that there may not be money to divert.)
Whitman, like many Republicans, also wants to cut Welfare, but seems to have forgotten that the Republicans reformed Welfare in the ’90s, and there’s not much left to cut anymore. Finally, she fails badly on my #2 priority, by supporting the “suspension” of AB 32 that essentially is equivalent to a repeal (more on that below).
Does she have good ideas? Some. Is there any evidence that she can execute on them? No. We elected this same story 8 years ago, and it didn’t work out for us at all.
Lieutenant Governor – Gavin Newsom (D). This endorsement actually gave me some pause, as I think Maldonado’s done a good job in Sacramento to this point. He’s certainly a man who actually moves the legislative process along, which is rare enough in this state. Unfortunately, he’s against higher taxes, and, as we already found out, higher taxes are good for California. In addition, if we can pass Proposition 25, then it becomes the responsibility of the minority party, whoever they are, to participate in the process; they can’t just hold it up. With Prop 25, our priority has to be someone with vision and leadership. Newsom has been a very effective and innovative leader in San Francisco, and will do good things for our state.
Secretary of State – Debra Bowen (D). Bowen has done a great job over the past 4 years putting business resources online and making it easier to do business in this state. She’s earned another term. Her Republican opponent, Damon Dunn, wants to do exit interviews of companies leaving California — clever, but something that Schwarzenegger already has done. Rehashing old ideas won’t do it; why not come up with a new one? Dunn also wants to require photo ID to vote, which may sound nice to some but has been ruled unconstitutional in the past. If you know something won’t pass legal muster, then don’t pretend you’ll do it. (If you don’t know a voter ID law won’t pass legal muster, you shouldn’t be running for Secretary of State.)
Controller – John Chiang (D). Another “let’s keep the incumbent who’s doing good work” recommendation. Chiang has kept the boat afloat even in our current budget disaster — who knows how he did it, but California’s bonds are BBB-rated, not junk. Let’s keep this up.
Treasurer – Bill Lockyer (D). Can you see a trend of keeping effective elected officials in? Lockyer has managed our state’s pension funds well (it’s not his fault they’re underfunded), moderating losses and practicing socially-responsible investing. He was also a vigorous opponent of the truly awful 2009 budget. He’s a responsible guy. His opponent, Mimi Walters, is on the wrong side of the tax issue — she’s a one-issue tax-cut person, which, as already reviewed, would hurt California.
Attorney General – Steve Cooley (R). Cooley and Harris are both extremely-qualified candidates who have turned around up poorly-operating DA systems. Cooley gets the nod here substantially on regional grounds — that is, I can see what a great job he’s done in LA and am confident he’d do well statewide. He’s more of a moderate than some have made him out to be, with a restrained take on three strikes, and has instituted a system for fairly sharing evidence with defense attorneys that’s a national model; he has prosecuted environmental crimes at the Port less than I’d like, but his shift of money towards serious crime prosecution was a needed response to the underfunding of that area under his predecessor. I’m disturbed that he said he’d sue to overturn Obamacare, but, to be honest, I’m sure that we will sue to do that if Whitman wins and we won’t if Brown wins in the Governor’s race, Cooley or Harris notwithstanding.
Insurance Commissioner – Dave Jones (D). Another tough call with two qualified candidates. Healthcare insurance reform is the next great frontier here, however, and health and insurance issues are what Jones has focused on during his time in Sacramento. This is the experience we need. Republican Villines has great ideas to moderate insurance companies’ costs, and some dedication to consumers as well, but lacks the deep background.
State Senator, 28th District – Jenny Oropeza (D). Unfortunately, Oropeza, the incumbent who had been effective in Sacramento, recently passed away. Her death came too close to the election for her to be replaced on the ballot. By law, a vote for her would trigger a special election to replace her. The citizens of the 28th district deserve a real choice and that special election will deliver that choice — we’ll get to see the nominees from each party. Vote for Oropeza to trigger that election.
State Assemblyperson, 53rd District – Betsy Butler (D). I’m actually kind of sure that Betsy Butler worked for a client of a company that employed me a long time ago; if that was her, then she’s really nice. That’s great, but the thing that counts on a statewide basis is the issues. One issue that I’ve figured out to my satisfaction is that California would do well to get away from a fixation on tax cuts. Betsy’s Republican opponent, Nathan Mintz, is endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, a one-issue group that works only to cut taxes (and not to pay for tax cuts in any way). That’s a strike against him. He also shares this strange fixation that many on the right have about making some law against “Sanctuary Cities.” Somehow, these people — many of them, like Mintz, potential legislators who need to understand these things — fail to grok that a “Sanctuary City” has only made a statement that they won’t enforce laws that they have no legal obligation to enforce, which no city has traditionally been asked to enforce before, and which the vast majority of cities nationwide make no effort to enforce, because they’re not their laws. I’m not sure how one cracks down on such a city, since they’re not disregarding any law they’re responsible for enforcing. That’s another strike against him, and two is enough for me here.
Judicial Positions – None. If you’re following along in your Voter Guide, then you’ll see all sorts of judges here. I don’t take a position on these races for three reasons:
- I find it difficult to get the information needed to assess the candidates
- If I could find the information, I’m not sure that I’d be qualified to interpret it
- I’m not sure that judges should be elected; to some extent, you want them free from worries that somebody will or won’t like their rulings
Superintendent of Public Instruction – Larry Aceves. Both Aceves and his opponent, Tom Torlakson, are strong candidates, I’m inclined towards Aceves thanks to his record of actually running a school district, which would be a change. I’m also inclined to go against the teachers’ union, which endorses Torlakson, here — not because I think that teachers should be “punished” in some way for the current state of education (I definitely don’t think this!), but because I deplore the fact that teachers’ unions have failed to lead the national discussion of school reform. The teachers themselves need to come up with new solutions that meet the perceived needs of their customers, parents and society at large, rather than worrying about the uncomfortable (and, often, ineffective) solutions being proposed today.
County Assessor – John Wong. John Noguez, Wong’s opponent, is endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, which I ranted against above. It strikes me that there’s some conflict in being endorsed by such a group when you’re actually the tax collector. So, Wong it is.
Proposition 19 – No. This is the famous proposition to legalize marijuana. First, let me state that I think that the War on Drugs isn’t working, and that we really should consider legalizing and taxing many drugs, especially including marijuana. However, this is not the way to do it.
First of all, California has a very important, reasonably well-functioning medical marijuana system. Medical marijuana is an issue close to my heart — I’ve had friends who’ve only been able to eat during their cancer treatments because of pot (other delivery methods of THC didn’t work), and who’ve found marijuana to be one of their only effective pain medications, against medically-valid conditions that cause substantial ongoing pain. These people need their pot. The Federal government has been hands-off to people like this having access to marijuana. Unfortunately, they’ve stated they won’t be so accepting of people using the drug recreationally. Unless somehow grow and distribution systems are kept completely separate for recreational and medical use, this means that a Federal crackdown could deprive cancer patients of their THC. That’s not an acceptable risk.
Second, this law doesn’t do much to actually regulate and tax marijuana; it simply allows any jurisdiction with the ability to regulate and tax the right to pass a law that regulates or taxes marijuana. That means that we can’t know what local laws will end up being like, what crazy-quilt pattern of jurisdictions will or won’t permit smoking marijuana, or whether or not we’ll actually get any tax money from it (for instance, this law doesn’t actually tax marijuana on a statewide level; we’d need a separate 2/3 vote to do that; the claims of tax revenue are only of potential revenue, not actual).
Put these two together, and I think a “no” is justified. If you’re interested in legalizing marijuana, let’s either do it in a law that includes state taxes, or wait for the Federal government to come around a bit on enforcement. And, for God’s sake, stop expecting me to approve of your habit.
Proposition 20 – No. We don’t even know if the citizen’s commission that has just started to do redistricting really works at all on the state level; why give them another job already? Let’s see how the commission works out, and then think about whether or not we should expand this system. Also, redistricting is a critical problem statewide — the last redistricting drew many safe seats, giving us a lot of elected officials who can be sure of being re-elected if they advocate for the right thing, and who don’t need to worry about what actually gets done in Sacramento. We need redistricting to fix that. That same problem doesn’t (yet) exist nationally.
Proposition 21 – No. It sounds great to set aside money for parks. Heck, this is a clever way to do that. I even really like the idea and would happily pay the fee myself. But a big part of the reason that we’re in this big budget mess is that an enormous portion (Schwarzenegger once claimed 90%) of the state’s General Fund is non-discretionary — that is, nothing we send our lawmakers to Sacramento to do will change how that money is allotted. Much of that money has been set aside by well-intentioned laws like this one, laws that leave next to no opportunity for the state to respond to emerging needs. Voting “no” here is a first step to getting the budget mess back on track.
Proposition 22 – No. It’s deplorable that the state basically steals money from cities every year to make ends meet. (Deplorable, but a predictable outcome of Prop 13, which took away the only taxing authority that many local governments had.) It would be good to prevent this diversion to state government coffers. However, Prop 22 is a law requiring the state to give local governments money that the state collects on their behalf… plus a dozen-billion-dollar-plus giveaway to local redevelopment agencies. Redevelopment is good. Redevelopment agencies, however, often seem to be bad. Until we fix the CRAs, this is a very bad idea. Also, everything I said above about how these set-asides are destroying the budget and strangling kittens.
Proposition 23 – No. In the strongest terms, no. This is a truly disgusting effort by out-of-state oil companies to bypass rules that Californians have put in place to improve California’s environment and invest in long-term job and economic growth. These Texas corporations have couched their mendacious plot in the language of “setting aside a job-losing regulation until the economy improves…” but have set that standard for “improved economy” at “the lowest single-quarter unemployment rate that California has seen in recent times, sustained for two whole years in a row.” That’s not a standard that’s likely to be met, ever, so Prop 23 is tantamount to repeal of California’s AB 32, an innovative law that set aside substantial funds to incentivize businesses to create green jobs in California. A vote for this law shuts down the potential for long-term green jobs in our state, in favor of adding more oil jobs in Texas. That’s all there is to it. I’ve got family in Texas, and I love ‘em, but I don’t need to give ‘em our jobs.
Proposition 24 – Yes. This proposition undoes a stupid deal our legislators made. You’ve gotta give businesses credit for this one — they played their hands well. Back when the original deal was made, the state needed cash, now; the state offered to let these businesses pay their taxes early, in return for tax breaks, to get cash now instead of later; the businesses asked for perpetual lower taxes instead of breaks that were related to the size of the monies they prepaid; California said yes. Let’s all have a good laugh at our idiot legislators, and then let’s pass this Proposition and make that giveaway proportionate to the size of the taxes prepaid, plus a bonus for pre-paying. Oh, have I mentioned later that higher taxes appear to help business in California?
Proposition 25 – Yes. In California, 2/3 of the legislature needs to vote for a budget for it to pass. This hurdle, higher than that faced by 47 other state legislatures, is a big reason why we haven’t passed a budget on time in 25 out of the last 30 years. Every time we don’t pass a budget, the state has to pay everyone from large vendors to janitors with IOUs. Banks hate taking IOUs, so this can be tantamount to not paying people.
Prop 25 lowers this hurdle to a simple majority. That’ll mean that budgets pass. It will also mean that the minority party needs to participate in lawmaking, or be left behind, instead of yelling about how awful the budget is; currently, they can hold things up so long as they represent more than 1/3 of the Assembly. It won’t mean that it’s easier to raise taxes, contrary to what the ads against 25 say; the constitution still will require a 2/3 majority for a tax increase.
Prop 25 also has the nice side effect that it makes legislators permanently forfeit pay and benefits for all the days when they haven’t passed a budget. That sounds like a good way to make Sacramento work!
Proposition 26 – No. OK, so there’s a 2/3 majority required to pass a new tax. However, this isn’t required for fees. Should taxes and fees be treated the same? Well, a tax is imposed on everyone, so you can’t avoid it; a fee is imposed only on people who use a service, so you absolutely can opt out of paying a fee by simply not using whatever service is associated with that fee. The 2/3 requirement has kept many new bonds from being issued; a city in the LA area failed to issue a school bond a few years ago because something like only 66.4% of the people in the city voted for the bond. Prop 26 essentially means no new fees, which puts us in an interesting position if we actually want to continue delivering services. Fees are one of the only revenue tools available to local government, so this proposition will make cities and counties even more reliant on Sacramento for funding, and less responsive to their constituencies.
Prop 26 also includes submarine language that prevents even free-market solutions, such as tradeable credits towards things like pollution, from being issued. It’s a bad law; vote no.
Proposition 27 – No. Prop 27 eliminates the stupid redistricting commission. The only thing worse than that damn fool redistricting commission idea that they put in with Prop 11 is how redistricting worked before they had that commission. Would it be better to have something smart, like a computer program + human review, handle redistricting? Yes. But is almost literally anything better than letting the Legislature draw their own districts, which is what they did before Prop 11? Absolutely. Including putting monkeys or toddlers in charge. Let’s just see how this one works for a little while, eh?
So that’s this election. I encourage you to vote this slate. And, if you decide not to vote this slate, I encourage you not to vote at all.