Thoughts on the November 2008 Election (Oakland, CA edition)

The following is the text of an e-mail I just sent out to semi-local (i.e. Californian) friends and relatives.  It gives my thoughts on the California ballot.  If you’re not a Californian, most of it probably won’t be of much interest (although I am not such an elitist as to think California’s problems are unique to the state).  If you do live in, as our Gouvernator might call it, “Khaleefohrneyah”, please read on.
Well, my absentee ballot came in the mail yesterday, so that must mean it’s time for my periodic rant about the election ballot.  As always, let me start with my usual statement.  I try to only sent this out to people I think would want to receive it.  If I made a mistake in including you on the recipient list, please let me know and I’ll try to see that you’re not included in the future.
Second, since this is going out to people living in a variety of different places in California, I’m hitting the statewide measure more than local stuff.  If I haven’t covered something local in your area, more likely than not it means I don’t know enough about it to feel I’ve got something worth saying (and to modify a quote from Bambi, “If you can’t say something worth saying, don’t say nothin’ at all.”)  Nevertheless, if I haven’t covered something you’re interested in, you can shoot me back an e-mail or give me a call, and I’ll let you know if I’ve got anything that I think is worth telling you.  So, without further ado, on with the show:
State ballot measures:
As usual, there’s lots of fun for all ages here.  (Well, maybe not for the under two crew, but you can always fingerpaint on the ballot pamphlet.)  As time goes on, I get more and more chary about signing initiative petitions.  I always start by asking who the sponsor is, and if the circulator doesn’t know or gives me a BS answer, I won’t sign.  I wish more people would do that.  There’s a huge amount of money wasted pro and con on ballot measure campaigns, and we Californians have only ourselves to blame for some of the worst things to happen in our state.  (At least I don’t have to blame myself for Prop. 13 — I didn’t live here yet.)
Prop 1A  — No.  As some of you may know, I’m not entirely neutral on this, but I probably know more about this issue than 98% of Californians, having represented a coalition of environmental and transportation groups fighting the current high speed rail authority board for the past five years.  I certainly think high speed rail would, in the long term, be a good thing for the state.  However, now isn’t the time and this isn’t the way.  With the state’s huge deficit and budget problems, taking on $10 Billion in bond debt as only a down-payment doesn’t make sense to me.  Further, over the past five years of watching the High Speed Rail Authority, I’ve become convinced that this is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, except when it comes to political patronage.  This project has become an enormous boondoggle that will benefit San Jose at the expense of the rest of the state.  It’s hardly a coincidence that the proposed system centers on Diridon Station in San Jose.  Ron Diridon, the Authority’s past chair, and Quentin Kopp, its current chair, are, just in themselves, two very good reasons to vote down this bond measure.  Sad to say, probably the best thing to be done with the current project and Authority is to throw them both out and start over.
Prop 2 — This is one of a number of measures that’s got good arguments on both sides.  There’s little question that we can and should do better in treating the animals that are grown for food.  However, the measure’s opponents note that since this only affects California, there’s a good likelihood that its passage will just move the offending operations to other states, without helping animals and losing lots of California jobs in the process.  However, on balance I think this is a place where California can move things forward.  If we vote this in, I think other states will follow — Yes.
Prop. 3 — How can you be against childrens’ hospitals?  Well, when we don’t have the money to spend, that’s how.  This is one of several bond measures that, in better times, I might have favored.  Not now.  Perhaps if it was limited to funding earthquake retrofit work, I’d support it, but the range of allowable spending is way too broad to support in the state’s current financial condition — No.
Prop. 4 — NO, NO, NO — The religious right makes another try at taking down abortion rights in California.  They’ve given up on the frontal attack, so now they try to nibble in from the sides.  If you have any connection to teen-aged girls, you should already know this measure is a really bad idea.  The one thing most pregnant teens — especially those under 16 — generally don’t want to do is to tell their parents about it and get a huge, long lecture.  This is a recipe for a lot of unwanted kids to get born.
Prop. 5 — This one’s a hard one for me.  I’ve voted for the previous decriminalization initiatives, but it’s not clear how well they’re working yet.  It is clear that a lot of the criminal activity that goes on in places like Oakland is linked to drugs (that and gangs, which often, in turn, are linked to drugs).  As the short arguments pro point out, taking drug treatment out of the criminal justice system could save us a bundle in prison costs, and there’s little question that throwing people into prison only changes their behavior for the time they’re incarcerated, and even then, only to the extend that they’re limited as to who they can rob.  Clearly, solving society’s drug addiction problem is an enormous task that the current “correctional” system hardly touches.  Will this do better?  I don’t know, and doing it by initiative makes it very hard to make “mid-course corrections”.  By the time of the next initiative, I may switch sides, but for the moment, still mark me down for Yes.
Pro. 6 — No.  This one’s a lot easier for me to deal with.  Throwing people into jail doesn’t usually solve much.  Hiring more police doesn’t solve that much either.  (Bear in mind this is a statewide measure — how much of that money do you think would ever get to Oakland or Berkeley?)  They’re both band-aid approaches to deep-rooted societal problems.  Especially with money being as tight as it is in the state budget, and this measure not generating any revenue, just spending it, I think the answer has to be no.
Prop. 7 — initially, I thought this sounded like a good idea.  Then I read through the Union of Concerned Scientists’ analysis of what it does, and concluded that this is another one of those ballot measures that sounds good when you first hear about it, but looks worse and worse the deeper you dig into it.  The rigidity of the measure is problematic.  What if a public power entity is having trouble meeting the goals due to funding shortfalls?  Do they have to close up and transfer their customers to PG&E?  Could PG&E even handle the extra load without a big rate increase?  Why can’t we rely on the public to press public power entities to do the right thing?  Again, the rigidity of the initiative process for this kind of planning seems inappropriate.  No.
Prop. 8 — No, No, No — Another right wing attack on California’s “Godless liberal culture”.  Thank you very much, but I think each of us, as an adult, can make decisions about how to run our own lives, so long as other people aren’t being hurt.  Aha! say the right-wingers, but what about if they have kids?  Well, what about it?  I know any number of gay and lesbian couples who are raising kids, and for the most part they appear to be doing at least as good a job of it as the heterosexual couples I know (perhaps better!).  I think it’s highly ironic that the right wing seems to want to keep government out of our lives, except when it comes to the bedroom.
Prop. 9 –No — Sounds innocuous.  Why not allow crime victims to have input into the decisions affecting the perpetrator?  But don’t they already have a lot of opportunities for input?  Seems like we’ve already had several “victims’ bill of rights” initiatives, and they’ve all passed.  I don’t see that this does much that isn’t already part of the current criminal justice system; but locking even more of it in by initiative is, again, making things more costly and inflexible.
Prop. 10 — No — Here’s another measure that initially sounds good and beneficial and ecological.  Only when you look closer and realize that it was written and funded by one of the biggest producers of natural gas do you start to see, perhaps, an ulterior motive.  Yes, we need to move towards renewables, but no, moving everyone over to natural gas vehicles, paid for with bond money the state can’t afford, is NOT a good answer.
Prop. 11 — Yes — OK, I’m bucking the Democratic Party powers that be on this one.  There’s no doubt in my mind that California’s (and the whole country’s) political system is very seriously broken.  We’ve been waiting for about the past 20 years for the legislature to do something to reform the current legislative redistricting process.  It hasn’t happened.  We can probably wait another 20 years, and it still won’t.  It’s something called self-interest.  Is this plan perfect?  Far from it.  Can we expect anything better in the near future?  I doubt it.  This probably won’t pass anyhow, but maybe if it did we’d finally break the stranglehold the current Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments have over statewide politics.  It certainly can hardly make things much worse!
Prop. 12 — Given that I’ve recommended against all the other bond measures on the state ballot, you’d think I’d oppose this one too; but there’s a big difference.  This bond gets paid off by the veterans, not the taxpayers.  Given that difference, I’m not against allowing the state’s credit rating (such as it is) to be used to benefit veterans.  (I may not always have agreed with the wars they fought in, but I certainly accept that many of them took major risks for what they felt was the country’s best interest.)
Local measures:
Measure N — School teacher pay parcel tax — I couldn’t understand why the teachers’ union opposed this measure, until I learned it would also apply to charter school teachers’ pay.  (Charter school teachers aren’t necessarily union members.) The other school employee unions are similarly opposed because only teachers would get raises from it.  My feeling is that you’ve got to start somewhere, and that Oakland teachers are currently grossly underpaid.  I also think that charter schools can sometimes be a good thing.  With all the union opposition, and the 2/3 majority requirements [thank you, Prop. 13], this will probably lose, but I’d recommend YES.
Measure NN — police services parcel tax — Unlike the state measure, this local police funding measure attaches revenue to the expenditure.  As I said above, more police is really just a band-aid measure, but when you’re bleeding, a band-aid can still be a good thing.  Oakland needs to do a better job of recruiting, training, and controlling its police; but more funding is probably part (but NOT all) of the answer.  Yes.
Measure OO — NO — “Kids First II” — Unlike the police measure above, this measure sucks money out of the Oakland city budget for specific non-city kids services, but doesn’t put any money in to pay for it.  So, you get to choose — fund Boys Clubs – and close down the libraries; fund girl scouts — and close down city swimming pools.  This is stupid, narrow, self-interest on the part of the sponsoring groups.  it’s a really bad idea.  (I got into a big argument with some petition circulators when they misrepresented the measure to me trying to get me to sign the petition.)
Regional Measures
Measures VV — Yes — Parcel tax to continue funding for AC Transit services such as senior and youth discount fares.  It’s too bad that we have to resort to parcel taxes for these services.  We really ought to raise the gas tax, but the governor has been unwilling to allow that to be done at the local level, and there are too many Republican areas in the state to make it happen statewide.
Measure WW — Yes — East Bay regional Park District land acquisition bond measure (will be repaid out of property tax funds).  Detractors carp about the possible use of some bond funds for non-regional parks projects, like the Oakland Zoo.  Sadly, that’s the political cost required to get this passed by the park district board and supported by local elected officials.  Again, it’s the triumph of narrow self-interest.  Nevertheless, Regional Parks has been hamstrung in buying additional park areas because the measure AA funds we voted on some thirty years ago have now been used up.  There’s still places that ought to be public parklands, and if this doesn’t pass, some of them will probably become condo projects instead.
I left these for last because there aren’t a lot of choices.  Yes, theoretically, you could vote for Republicans.  You could also throw yourself off a cliff.  The latter would probably, in the long run, be less painful.  Here are my selections.  Very likely, they won’t agree with yours.  So it goes.
President — Nader/Gonzalez  — Here in California, we’re lucky to have the freedom to vote for whomever we want without worrying about the national consequences.  If I lived in Florida or Ohio, maybe I wouldn’t be voting for Nader.  Still, having listened to as much of the debates as I could stomach (about five minutes was all of the VP debate that I could stand), I really would have loved to hear Nader and Gonzales answering the questions.  Neither major party really wants to give straight answers– they’re afraid of alienating one or another constituency.  Sometimes, they don’t even want to deal with the issue, like how do you reduce the federal deficit or keep social security solvent in the long term.  I especially like that Nader isn’t afraid to upset the foreign policy establishment applecart by questioning the wisdom of trying to maintain America’s world empire (which is really what we’ve now got).
U.S. Rep. — Barbara Lee — She votes the right way, but it’s sure frustrating that very little leadership seems to come out of her office.
State Senator — Loni Hancock — Loni’s been a force for good in the Assembly, pushing through a campaign finance measure and providing major support for single-payer healthcare.  I expect she’ll be a force for good in the Senate too, probably more so than Don Perata, who all too often chose pragmatism over doing the right thing.  Frankly, the one thing I worry about is how much influence her husband has on her.  (I used to like Tom Bates, but not any more.)
State Representative — Nancy Skinner — She’ll probably do OK.  We’ll just have to see.
Superior Court judge — Dennis Hayashi — To me, this one’s pretty straightforward.  Given the choice between a prosecutor and a public interest attorney, I look around at the past twenty years of gubernatorial appointments to judgeships and say, there are already more than enough former prosecutors sitting up on the bench.  It’d be nice to have someone with a public interest perspective.
AC Transit Directors
At Large — Chris Peeples – I’ve know Chris for more than 20 years, and have always found him intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  Joyce Roy, his opponent, is a vehement transit advocate, but I sometimes think she doesn’t look long or hard enough before she leaps.  She has jumped on Chris for AC Transit’s continuing purchase of the European-made Val Hool buses.  I’ve ridden the Van Hools, and I’m not sure I understand what all the fuss is about.  True, they’re not the most comfortable bus in the world, but I haven’t ridden on a comfortable bus in more than forty years — when they stopped putting padded seats in buses.  Apparently, the Van Hools are problematic for some disabled passengers, but I’ve never seen any problems.  They are, apparently, some of the cleanest running diesels available.  Given the Bay Area’s air problems, that’s important.  I think Chris’ long-standing devotion to AC Transit deserves to be rewarded.  I support Chris.
Ward 2 — I’ve also know Greg Harper for a long time — over thirty years, from when I first voted to appoint him to the Emerville Planning Commission back in 1985.  Again, Greg is also intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  It’s interesting to me that he and Chris Peeples sometimes clash on the AC Transit board.  Nevertheless, they seem to, for the most part, agree on what works (and what doesn’t) in that system.  Greg’s opponent doesn’t appear to be running an active campaign and didn’t even place a candidate’s statement in the sample ballot booklet.  That doesn’t say much for his ability to run a transit district.  Greg is the clear choice.
Oakland at-large councilmember — This was my toughest choice among candidates.  I know both the candidates and they’re both intelligent, hard-working women.  While I don’t agree with either of their programs 100%, I found things to like in what each of them have to say.  What swayed me the most, however, was who was supporting them.  When someone supports a politician, there’s usually a pay-back.  Sometimes its overt, often it’s not, but it’s almost always there.  In this case, what alarmed me was Kerry Hammill’s endorsement by the entire conservative wing of the Oakland City Council, led by Ignacio DeLaFuente.  Ignacio has led the pro-business wing of the council for a long time, and may well try yet another run for mayor when Dellums’ term is up.  Regardless, I find Kerry Hammill’s connection to him and his supporters disturbing; even more disturbing than that the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s PAC is supporting Rebecca Kaplan.  (I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out yet.)  Put that together with Kerry’s close connection to Don Perata (she used to work for him), and it leaves me very worried about her independence on the council.  In the end, my vote goes for Kaplan.

2 Responses to Thoughts on the November 2008 Election (Oakland, CA edition)

  1. […] A veritable slew of blogs endorsing Rebecca Kaplan for City Council indicate that the front-runner is continuing her dominance of the race. […]

  2. Martha says:

    I found these voting suggestions EXTREMELY helpful in filling out my absentee ballot. Whoever you are, THANK YOU, and thank God we have the same politics. 🙂

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