Gosh! It’s election time again already. What fun! [Ha HA]. As usual, I’m putting up my opinions and recommendations for anyone who’s interested. Take them for whatever they’re worth.
This isn’t a presidential election, but there’s still a lot to vote on. A whole bunch of offices and eight ballot measures are on my ballot. (There may be more or fewer on yours, depending on where you live.) As usual, I’m going to start “at the top”, both in terms of candidates at the top of the ballot and those representing the largest constituencies. The closer where you live is to where I live, the further down the ballot you’ll get before our ballots diverge. However, don’t forget to look at the ballot measures after the candidates, as these are often the most important decisions you’ll make.
Starting with statewide offices:
Can you believe there are twenty-seven candidates on the ballot!!? I can’t recall an election with that many that everyone could vote for. I’m not sure if this is a plus or a minus of the new “top two” approach, where the primary allows everybody to vote for any candidate. The candidates aren’t even separated out by party preference.
I got my official statewide voter information guide last week. Not as huge as I expected it to be, with all the candidate statements to be included. One problem with having this many candidates, and only one vote, is that the likelihood of any random candidate getting to the November ballot is extremely low. The elections becomes as much a matter of name recognition as anything else. If you ask me, it’s a pretty stupid way to run an election. At the very least, we should be able to rank, for example, our top five candidates, and then narrow the number of candidates on the November ballot to no more than five. Ranked choice voting would also make sense in November. However, it is what it is, so you just get your one shot per race. Maybe someone will put up an initiative to change this disaster. [I hope]
Unfortunately, given the lack of name recognition, there may well be numerous very worthy candidates who won’t get to the November ballot. Consequently, since I presume many people would like their vote to mean something – in terms of actually helping to choose who’s on the November ballot, I’m going to limit my initial comments to the more high-profile candidates. I will probably add some more before election day, if I get time.
Among the main candidates, the Democrats clearly have a strong edge in getting to November. In fact, it’s not at all unlikely, given the low name recognition of the Republican, minor party, and unaffiliated candidates, that the top two candidates will both be Democrats in most if not all races (at least for the Bay Area). The same may well be true for all statewide races, especially given that California is a “bright blue” state. Consequently, I’m going to focus my comments on the major Democratic candidates. Late update (5/28/18) – it appears the top Republican gubernatorial candidate is currently outpacing the second-ranked Democrat, so at least in that race, November may be one Republican vs. one Democrat. Still not a lot of options!
Here’s my rundown:
Gavin Newsom – current Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor. He’s clearly the highest profile candidate. He’s also raised by far the most campaign funds ($14 M thus far!). One of my rules of thumb is “follow the money.” Contributors may not necessarily “buy” a candidate (although it’s been known to happen), but who the major contributors are tells a lot about where a candidate is coming from. Reyes Holdings is Newsom’s biggest contributor ($146K). They own beverage bottling and distribution companies around the U.S. What’s their interest in Gavin? Maybe they just like him, but more likely they think he’ll go light on taxing big corporations. Next is Creative Artists Agency ($127K). According to Wikipedia, it’s “is an American talent and sports agency based in Los Angeles, California. It is regarded as a dominant and influential company in the talent agency business and manages numerous prestigious clients.” Maybe they like Gavin because of his “star” qualities? Or maybe they think he’ll be sympathetic to Hollywood’s interests? After that comes Hueston Hennigan LLP, a big law firm specializing in commercial litigation and white collar defense. Why do they like Gavin, well, for one thing, they’re defending Southern California Edison in this winter’s Southern California wildfires. Maybe they think he’ll be sympathetic to that utility’s interests? Number four is Winklevoss Capital Management ($117K) – a big investment company and venture capital firm. I guess they figure Gavin will be good for big business. Rounding out his top five is Social Finance ($116K) – a big finance company (i.e., student loans, mortgages, commercial loans, etc.) One can guess that they’re hopeful that Gavin will NOT be doing something to ease student debtors burdens. Perhaps significantly, Gavin hasn’t put up any policy positions on the Voters Edge website; nor did he bother to put a statement in the voter information guide. Shows how much he respects California voters’ interest in issues. While Newsom has supported some liberal positions, notably on gay marriage, he’s become pretty establishment Democrat as Lieutenant Governor. He’d probably be a bit to the left of Jerry Brown, but for a Democrat, that’s not saying much.
Antonio Villaraigosa – Former Mayor of Los Angeles, and currently titles himself a “public policy advisor” (whatever that means – maybe lobbyist?). He’s raised just over $7M in funds, with major contributions by contractor Tudor Perini ($87K), various pipetrade unions and locals (just under $117K) and Harborview Capital Partners ($just under $117K), which describes itself as ” a full service commercial real estate finance, equity and advisory firm.” Let’s just say it’s representing real estate and development interests. So, I think one can safely say he’s well-liked by the real estate and development community – at least in Southern California. Like Gavin, he also hasn’t put up any policy positions on the Voters Edge, or in the voter guide, but one could safely say he’d be pro-business and pro-development – probably not all that different from Jerry Brown, although again maybe a little more liberal on social issues.
John Chiang – current California State Treasurer – rounds out the top Democratic candidates (at least by $ contributions). He’s collected about $5M, with major contributions from Northern California Carpenter unions ($58K), California United Nurses Union ($58K), and MWM Global Holdings, a financial consulting firm that “offers trust, wealth management, legal, corporate consulting, audit and accounting services” from its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands. One might guess that the firm has done a fair bit of business with the treasurer’s office. Mr. Chiang’s contributors suggest links to construction and other unions as well as financial management interests. That would fit with his history of public finance (he was State Controller before he became State Treasurer. Unlike Newsom and Villaraigosa, Chiang has put up some policy positions on voters’ edge, but not in the voter pamphlet. He emphasizes housing, public education, and generally opposing the policies being put forward by the Republican Trump Administrations. His platform appears considerably to the left of Villaraigosa’s and Newsom’s but there’s not a lot of policy history behind that.
Delaine Eastin – former Superintendent of Public Instruction – it’s an open question whether she should be considered a “main” candidate. While her fundraising has been significant – just under $1 million, it’s far below any of the other major candidates – even the main Republican candidates. However, she’s the only well-known candidate who’s a woman, and she has enough name recognition to possibly stage an upset and reach the November election. I actually like he platform far better than any of the other main candidates, (and she’s the only major Democratic candidate to bother putting information into the voters’ guide), so she’s my long-shot recommendation. Shame on the California establishment Democrats for their disdain for California voters!
John Cox (Republican) – added info (5/28/18) – Cox is a “mainstream” Republican – which at this point means he generally supports Trump, and Trump has endorsed him. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, the charter school movement is funding a major campaign effort against Cox, in the hopes it will allow Villaraigosa – a charter school supporter – to bump him out of second place, and bump Villaraigosa into the November election. (Maybe if you really hate Villaraigosa, you should vote for Cox in June??) He’s got a reasonably hefty campaign war chest (almost $6 million), but most of that is self-funded. (Cox is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite wealthy.) He’s anti-immigration, anti-regulation, pro-gun, and pro-Prop 13. In other words, if you’re anything close to a Democrat, he’s a total anathema. If he does make the November ballot, he’ll almost certainly continue the string of Republicans who lose resoundingly.
There are still a lot of candidates here, but nowhere near as many as for Governor or U.S. Senator. Because time is growing short, I’m going to just cut to the chase and give you my pick – Gayle McLaughlin.
This is a rather insubstantial office. The Lieutenant Governor does, however, get to sit on a number of significant boards, notably the State Lands Commission, the U.C. Board of Regents, the Cal State Univ. Board of Trustees, and the Economic Development Commission. Gayle, as mayor of Richmond, led a progressive city council majority (which she helped elect) to make some major reforms, including hiring a top-notch police chief who made major changes in improving the police dept.’s sorry reputation. She was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and carries his endorsement. None of the other candidates are anywhere near as impressive.
Secretary of State
This office is also considered a “minor” statewide office, but the office’s duties are considerable. The Secretary of State is the state’s chief elections officer, responsible for setting up and running the state’s formidable elections apparatus. The Secretary of State also maintains the state’s records of corporations and other legal entities, and maintains the state’s archives of historical materials.
Because the Secretary of State has a statewide platform, it’s a good place for someone to push for electoral reform, and as you can tell from my comments about our “top two” primary system, I think we badly need reform. That’s why I’m supporting Michael Feinstein, Green Party candidate and former mayor of Santa Monica. Will he get elected? Not likely, but he’s pushing reforms that ought to be taken seriously; notably proportional representation in the Legislature, which would give us a more diverse and representative Legislature, as well as campaign finance reform. While C.T. Weber (Peace & Freedom Party) supports much of the same platform, I think Feinstein has more visibility and credibility as a former elected official.
Another “minor” office. There are only three candidates. The Controller essentially is responsible for writing the state’s checks and ensuring there’s money to pay the bills. If there’s illegal state spending going on, the Controller’s who you sue. arguably, the Controller could refuse to write a check for something he/she felt was improper. That, as far as I know, has never happened. The Republican candidate says he’d make state spending more effective and efficient. I don’t think he has that power. The Democrat, Betty Yee, has been a loyal Democrat in various minor positions for many years. Don’t expect her to do anything revolutionary, or even reformist. The Peace & Freedom Party candidate says she’ll do things that I don’t think she has the power to do. No endorsement for any of these candidates from me. Maybe I’ll write in Bill Lockyer?
Yet another minor office, although the Treasurer does have the ability to refuse to authorize bond issuance if he thinks it would be unwise. (As Treasurer, Bill Lockyer at one point said he wouldn’t issue bonds for the high-speed rail system because he felt that, with the lack of investor trust, the interest rate would be too high. He eventually relented.) I emphatically would NOT vote for Fiona Ma. While she was on the State Board of Equalization, there were major scandals involving misspending of funds. Was she involved? She claims she wasn’t. I’m not so sure. In the Legislature, she voted in lockstep with the Democratic Party leadership. I think she’d be a well-oiled cog in the Democratic state party machine. I’d like to throw a shoe or two into that machine. Maybe Greg Conlon?? Yeah, I know, he’s a Republican, and has about a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting elected, but he does seem well-qualified and less likely to just be a rubber stamp on the Democratic leadership’s checks.
While a “minor” office, it’s probably the most important of them. Not only is the AG the state’s chief law enforcement officer, but he also heads up the state’s legal team, which both advises most state government entities and defends them in court. When a state entity seems to be doing something that’s “not quite right”, it’s supposed to the the AG’s job to set them straight. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, with the AG being filled by people with political aspirations who follow their party’s line. Sadly, I don’t expect that to change in a major way with any of the candidates, but Dave Jones may have the best shot at doing it, as he’s running against a Democratic incumbent and bucking the system by doing that. He’s also done a fairly credible job as insurance commissioner.
Speaking of Insurance Commissioner, this is one place I would NOT want to elect a Republican. The last time we had a Republican in the office, it was a mess. My choice would be Ricardo Lara. as one of the co-authors of the proposed state single-payer health insurance bill, he showed he was willing to take on some powerful opponents. The bill didn’t get very far, but maybe as Insurance Commissioner, he can do some good things with other insurance issues.
State Board of Equalization
This office really needs to be abolished! There’s no reason why its duties couldn’t be absorbed into the Franchise Tax Board. I frankly don’t trust ANY of the candidates particularly. I may leave my ballot blank.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tony Thurmond – This is where he should have been in the first place, instead of the State Assembly. His heart is in educational issues.
Lots of candidates again here, but it’s basically a two person race – Diane Feinstein versus Kevin De Leon. Of the two, I’m going with Kevin De Leon, even though the polls seem to show that Feinstein’s the runaway favorite. Feinstein’s middle-of-the-road stance has bothered me ever since she was San Francisco Mayor. I think it’s time for her to be moved aside.
Barbara Lee – this seat is uncontested.
State Assembly 15th District
There are twelve candidates here. There are three that seem to me worth voting for: Dan Kalb, Ben Bartlett, and Jovanka Beckles. Each of them is currently a city council member and thus has some legislative experience, although at the local level, and each has what appear to me to be some good ideas. Unfortunately, all three may be swamped by the deluge of outside money pouring into Buffy Wicks’ campaign. She has NO legislative experience and her money and endorsements come from having been a political flack in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. She also worked on setting up Obamacare, and we all know all too well the flaws in that system. (Yes, it’s better than nothing, but it was not well thought out and really needs to be replaced by something better and more inclusive.) PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, Don’t vote for Buffy!
New information (as of 5/28/18) Follow the money. As I said earlier in this post, who’s contributing to a candidate can be more telling than what they say they will do, or even who endorses them. Here’s more information (from the Secretary of State via the groups – and websites – Maplight and Votersedge). Summary of major donor info and classifications of donors (large vs. small, in-state vs out-of-state, individuals vs groups) for some of the major candidates:
Take-home lesson – Buffy Wicks has gotten much more $$ than any other candidate [and it shows in how many mailers she’s sent out and other campaign expenditures], a much higher proportion of out-of-state donors, and a high percentage of large corporate donors. Draw your own conclusions! For the others, lots of union donations – with the type of union varying by candidate (again, what unions are donating says a lot about how you can expect the candidate to vote), and almost nobody getting a lot of money from small donors. (Jovanka Beckles has the highest percentage.) None of this is good news, but none of it is unexpected either, given how the courts (especially U.S. Supreme Court) have emasculated campaign finance reform laws.
Superior Court Judge
No Opinion – I don’t think we should be electing judges.
Board of Education – 1st Trustee Area
Thus seat is uncontested. It’s unclear to me what the County Board of Education does in incorporated areas of the county that have their own school board. At any rate, the seat is uncontested, which says either that the incumbent is doing a good job or nobody cares enough about the position to run for it. Since it makes no difference, I may leave this one blank too.
This is basically a technical job – the assessor doesn’t decide what gets assessed or for how much, just supervises the operation of getting the data. That may change if we go to a split roll in November. Given that, I’d go for John Weed, who’s the only candidate supporting a split roll.
This office is a peculiar mix of clerical and analytical responsibilities. To my mind, the most important responsibilities are as auditor. The auditor is supposed to look for honesty and efficiency in government. I’d go for Irella Blackwood, who emphasizes that aspect of the office, while Melissa Wilk emphasizes the more routine duties that really hardly need an elected official to do.
County District Attorney
To my mind, this is the most important county office on the ballot this election. While the District Attorney’s role in criminal prosecutions gets the most attention, the District Attorney also superintends the county civil grand jury, which studies and makes recommendations about county government. The DA can also prosecute “political” crimes, like violations of campaign reform laws, conflict of interest laws, or Brown Act violations. Usually, DAs are closely tied to the county’s political establishment, so these laws only get enforced against disfavored officials. I’d expect Nancy O’Malley, a very well-connected Democrat, to continue that tradition. My recommendation is Pamela Price. She’s definitely looking for reform of the criminal justice system in the county – which IMHO it badly needs. However, she’s also not tied in with the political establishment, which IMHO is another big pllus.
Prop 68 – YES –
while I distrust bonds these days, this one will do good things.
Prop. 69 – YES –
Well, Duh. You mean you want your transportation money frittered away? (Not that it won’t be even if it’s spend on some state projects)
Prop. 70 – YES –
Case in point – 1/4 of the cap & trade funds are now going to high-speed rail construction, a project that is NEVER going to get completed and, in the meantime, is INCREASING GHG emissions!! Here’s a link to a recent article about the debacle. This one-shot at demanding more accountability in what gets funded isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing. IMHO, cap & trade is a classic demonstration of the flaws in California’s Democratic Party establishment. Decisions get made based on political pull, rather any rational consideration of public policy. Shame on Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislative leadership!
Prop. 71 – YES –
very common sense measure.
Prop. 72 – YES –
water conservation measures like this should be incentivized, not disincentivized.
Regional Measure 3 –
NO,NO, NO – This is throwing bridge toll money at a laundry list of projects chosen to satisfy political and special interests. As U.S. Representative DeSaunier says, it won’t solve our transportation problems. MTC should be told to go back and start over!
Alameda County Measure A – YES –
childcare for low income families – badly needed
Oakland Measure D – YES –
library parcel tax – do we really want libraries to close???