Well, it’s that time of year again. The absentee ballots have already been mailed out for the June 8th primary election in California. (I know; I already got mine.) That makes it also time for me to provide my comments and suggestions on the ballot. So, with no further ado, here they are, starting with the statewide ballot measures and then working their way down to the local level.
Proposition 13 — Famous number, not so memorable measure. This measure would permanently exempt all property improvements made for earthquake retrofit purposes from any related property tax increase.
Ordinarily, if you make a significant improvement to your property in California, your property’s assessed value increases accordingly. This is one of the exceptions to the original Prop. 13’s rules limiting property tax increases. This measure would permanently exempt all earthquake retrofit improvements from that increase. There are some unanswered questions — like whether it would grant a permanent exemption for already-made improvements whose fifteen year limited exemption has already expired, but EQ retrofitting definitely deserves encouragement, even if it means losing some property tax revenue. A qualified yes.
Proposition 14 — This measure is a variation on the “open primary” measure that was approved by voters and then declared unconstitutional. It says the two highest vote-getters in a primary election go on to the final election (assuming neither one get more than 50% of the vote) regardless of party affiliation. As a result, a November election might be between two Democrats, or two Republicans, or whatever. It was put on the ballot as Senator Maldonado’s “price” for voting for last year’s budget. Aside from the disgustingness of trading a budget vote for a ballot measure, this is a case where there’s a better option staring us in the face. That better option is “instant run-off” or ranked-choice voting. San Francisco already does it. Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro will start in November. There’s no reason it can’t and shouldn’t be done for state offices. If we had instant run-off elections, there’d be no need for a primary. We’d have one election, vote for whatever candidates we most favored, and the candidate with the most votes, including second and third choices, would be elected. That’s a far better choice. let’s wait for it. Vote NO.
Proposition 15 — Public Financing Pilot Project. This measure would do two important things. First, and perhaps foremost, it would repeal the prohibition on having public financing of election campaigns in California. If we’re going to avoid having our elections dominated by billionaires and corporations, public financing has got to be on the table. second, this provides a demonstration project using the Secretary of State’s office. That’s a good choice, because the Secretary of State administers both elections and corporate lobbying regulations, so it’s a key office to keep trustworthy. Eventually, we really need to have public financing available for offices at all levels of government. Otherwise, we’ll continue to have what we have now — effectively a corporate plutocracy, where the rich and mega-corporations control public policy. VOTE YES!!
Proposition 16 — Want an example of what happens when corporations make public policy? Proposition 16 is a case in point. (So is Proposition 17 — see below.) Proposition 16, funded almost entirely by PG&E, is deceptively entitled the “Right to Vote on Taxes” measure. It’s really an attempt by PG&E to put such a high barrier in the way of any attempt to establish a public power system as to be prohibitive. It requires that any attempt to establish a public power system first be approved by a 2/3 majority of the voters. PG&E call it democracy, but 2/3 majorities are not the usual requirement for democracies. They’re a highly restrictive provision intended to prevent measures from getting enacted. That’s what PG&E’s measure is really about — preventing public power systems from competing with its monopoly. This ballot measure is a good example of why the initiative process in California is broken and badly in need of reform. VOTE NO!!
Proposition 17 — This is another corporate-sponsored ballot measure; this time from the insurance industry. Put on the ballot by Mercury Insurance company, this would allow auto insurers to charge people more if they haven’t had continuous coverage. (They flip it around and call it offering a discount for having continuous coverage.) California used to allow such provisions, but they were prohibited by Proposition 103, the insurance reform initiative. Having failed to defeat or repeal Proposition 103, this is part of an industry attempt to repeal it one piece at a time, deceptively labeling each piece a “reform”. Reform, my ass!!! This is a ploy to punish anyone who hasn’t had continuous auto insurance coverage. What if you decided to live without a car for a few years (say, in Downtown Berkeley) and then moved somewhere where you needed one? Bingo, your insurance premium goes through the roof!! If this passes, expect the next piece to be allowing insurers to take a driver’s residential address into account in setting insurance rates. If you liked the old days of high and discriminatory insurance rates, this is your kind of measure. VOTE NO!!
Governor — I don’t really like any of the candidates, but the Republican candidates are particularly offensive. Vote for whomever in the primary, but PLEASE don’t vote Republican in November!!
Senator — I happen to think that Barbara Boxer has been doing a very good job in Washington. I think it would be a shame and a disaster if any of the Republican candidates beat her in November. Not only should you vote for her (assuming you’re a Democrat), but you should send her campaign a contribution regardless of your party registration.
Lieutenant Governor — This is an office that probably needs to be abolished, and the current candidates demonstrate why. I can’t get enthusiastic about any of them. The best I can say is that, given the nature of the office, none of them could do that much harm (although they could do some damage on the State Lands Commission — which administers public trust lands, and on the governing boards of the state’s two university systems). No recommendation.
Attorney General — This is a very important position. However, as a practicing attorney, none of the candidates truly excite me. Among the Democrats, (I am hoping I can ignore the Republicans, and there are no contests in the minor party races) Pedro Nava waves his prosecutor banner vigorously. The attorney general is not a prosecutor. He/she is an administrator and policy advocate. Alberto Torrico loudly boosts education as the answer to crime. Why isn’t he running for Superintendent of Public Instruction instead? Mike Schmier isn’t a serious candidate, and Ted Lieu says little about what his policy priorities will be, other than generalities and platitudes. Among an unimpressive field, I might mildly recommend Torrico.
Insurance Commissioner — This is also an important office. Among the Democrats, Hector De La Torre’s candidate statement addresses mainly health insurance, but the insurance commissioner has much broader responsibilities. Dave Jones seems a better choice. Again, there are no minor party contests.
Secretary of State — also an important office, but there are no intra-party contests.
State Board of Equalization — again, there are no intra-party contests (except for the Republicans, and I refuse to comment on them).
Superintendant of Public Instruction — Running for Superintendant of Public Instruction in California now is like asking to be elected captain of the Titanic as it approaches the iceberg. What’s the best way to arrange the deck chairs? As with the AG, what’s needed here is not a teacher, but an effective administrator with an understanding of how education works (and doesn’t). I’m not convinced that being a state legislator is particularly good training, so I can’t recommend Torlakson or Romero. Of the remaining candidates, Larry Aceves, with a background in school adminstration, seems the best choice.
At the local (Alameda County) office level, the only contests are for superior court judge and County Board of Education. For judge, I guess I start by saying that I don’t think we ought to be electing judges. Voters know too little about the law and the legal system to be able to make rational decisions about who’d make a good judge. The system badly needs reform. That said, in this race we have a prosecutor, a former prosecutor, and an administrative law judge. I must confess that after twenty years of litigating in front of judges who were formerly prosecutors (appointed by Republican and Democratic governors), I’m ready for a change. On that basis alone, I’d recommend Victoria Kolakowski. She also seems much more sensitive on social justice issues.
For Board of Education, 1st Trustee Area, it’s my impression that this is an office with very limited powers. I must confess to knowing little about either candidate. Both appear to have good backgrounds in education. I am concerned about Joaquin Rivera’s strong association with the California Federation of Teachers, and whether he’d be sufficiently independent of undue influence from the union. On that basis, I’d express a slight preference for Lois Corrin.