November 2012 Election Comments

OK.  I got my sample ballot & voter information booklet in the mail, and I’m sure the absentee ballots are going out shortly, so it looks like it’s time to give my usual rundown of candidates and issues.  as usual, I give my standard disclosures and disclaimers.  [Hey, what do you expect, I’m a lawyer!]  These are obviously just my own personal opinions, and while I have read through candidate statements and ballot arguments (and in some cases, the text of the measure as well), and have talked to some of the candidates personally, I don’t claim to be an expert on evaluating candidates or ballot measures.  Well, I guess I can claim some expertise on the latter, having helped to write a few local measures.  That having been said, HERE WE GO!


Obviously, the two major choices are Romney and Obama.  Between those two, for me Obama is the obvious choice.  I’m not anywhere close to entirely happy with Obama and how he’s run the country the past four years.  Our foreign policy is still far too militaristic (although lightyears ahead of where it was under George W), Obamacare is a sorry substitute for the single-payer healthcare we ought to have, and, as Paul Krugman has said innumerable times, Obama’s economic policy is anemic compared to what’s needed to pull us out of our current doldrums.  [However, he does have the excuse that with the Republican majority in the house, nothing can be done in the legislative arena.]  BTW, see my separate post critiquing Obama’s performance in the first debate.

All that having been said,  I think that, DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE, you should take a serious look at some of the third party candidates.  With that, I will once again recite  Ivins’ Rule, named for Molly Ivins, the late Texas [don’t hold that against her] political commentator.  The basic rule is, regardless of what your state or locality allows, don’t vote early unless you absolutely have to.  Wait until, at the earliest, a week before election day, and then look at what the polling results are FOR YOUR STATE.  Because we have the electoral college system, each state is its own election [exception — in Maine, each congressional district is its own election].  Regardless of what’s happening in the national polls, what really matters is who wins a plurality of the vote in each individual state.  Except for Maine, that candidate get ALL that state’s electoral votes for president.

So, now let’s get back to Ivins’ Rule.  When you look at your state’s polling result, the crucial question is whether the difference between Romney’s and Obama’s polling results in greater than five percent.  If either of the two is ahead by more than five percent, then barring a nuclear war or something equally calamitous, the election in your state is essentially over.  That means you can vote for whomever you want, because it won’t make any difference.  If, however the difference is less than 5%, you better choose between Obama and Romney, or you may be kicking yourself for the next  for years.  Luckily, here in California Obama’s lead is unassailable.  (I think it’s  currently over 20% statewide.)

So, if you’re lucky enough to have the luxury of voting for a minor party candidate, my suggestion would be to look seriously at Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.  I say that not just because I’m registered as green.  From what I’ve seen of her, she’s just as smart as either of the major party candidates (she’s a Massachusetts physician), and her platform makes enormous sense — cut the defense budget, enact single-payer healthcare, promote a justice system that, as Jesse Jackson famously said, puts our money at the front end, rather than the back end – i.e., promotes restorative justice, puts the U.S. squarely at the forefront in trying to reverse climate change and promote sustainable care for our ailing planet, etc.  Of coure there’s no way she’ll get elected, but just think.  If she got 5% of the vote nationwide, even if she didn’t win a single electoral vote, wouldn’t that make a statement that there’s a significant number of people who think as she does?  Who knows, maybe a few Democrats might even start paying attention in a real way.

U.S. Senator

Again here, the choice is pretty simple, even simpler because there are no minor party candidates on the ballot.  😦  I don’t particularly like Feinstein.  She’s incredibly wishy-washy on lots of issues, and just plain bad on some, but as with Obama, she’s in a whole different league (or century) from her Republican opponent.  Unless you’re a “tea partier” [and if you are, why are you reading this blog??], you gotta vote for Feinstein.

Note – if you’re not in California, see my discussion of Ivins’ Rule above and act accordingly.

U.S. Representative

Again, given my location in the East Bay, the choice is pretty simple.  Barbara Lee has been on the right side (or perhaps I should say the left side) of just about every issue before Congress.  Her opponent waves her hands around to try to look more reasonable, but we all know that the last reasonable Republicans here in California have already left that disaster of a party.  Unless you want to go back to the gilded age where workers could, if they were lucky, get 10 cents a day for pay, vote for Lee.

If you’re in another district, re-read Ivins’ Rule again.

State Senate

Here’s another place I get to apply Ivins’ Rule.  Loni Hancock has been one of the better senators in the state senate, based on her voting record.  That’s as it should  be, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state.  She’s going  to win this race overwhelmingly.  Since that’s the case, it’s a place you could show that you’d like some more space on the left of the ballot by voting for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate, Mary McIlroy.

State Assembly

I could just invoke Ivins’ Rule again in urging a vote for the Peace & Freedom Party candidate (Eugene Ruyle), but there’s something more at stake.  I have followed Nancy Skinner since she first ran for the assembly (when I supported her), and have been very disappointed in her performance.  Again, she represents one of the most liberal districts in the state, but she has followed in lockstep whatever the Democratic legislative leadership has told her.  Overall, she’s voted against the party leadership only 0.7% of the time.  By comparison, Hancock, while no eccentric, bucked the party leadership on 1.2% of votes, Leland Yee, from San Francisco (perhaps the only place more liberal than the East Bay), opposed Democratic leaders 2.6% of the time, and Jared Huffman, a liberal stalwart in Marin, voted differently 1.8% of the time.  Maybe Skinner just likes whatever the leadership says.  If so, that’s a disappointment in itself, because the leadership has been, in a number of cases, like its support for the high-speed rail project, just stupid.  Maybe she votes that way to “go along to get along.”  If so, that says nothing any better about her.  We deserve better.

State Ballot Measures

Let me start with a general statement.  California’s initiative and referendum processes are in serious need of reform.  I say that as an attorney who regularly advises local groups on their initiative and referendum battles, and knows the turf pretty well.  Between picayune requirements that make it harder and harder for grassroots campaigns to succeed, and the overwhelming force of a tidal wave of  special interest money that at this point almost totally dominates the statewide ballot measure scene, we’ve got a real mess in California.  Not only that, but because of the nature of California ballot measure law (in the state constitution, no less), if a mistake gets made with a ballot measure, it’s very likely to be permanent, or at least very long-lasting.  I’ve already made it clear in past postings that I think passing Prop. 13 was unwise.  Yes, it did some good and necessary things that the legislature was unwilling to tackle. but its left state and local government in a long-term fiscal disaster.  Likewise for the “Victims Bill of Rights”, “Three Strikes”, and term limits.  The state’s voters aren’t always smart enough to get it right on the first try, but it’s incredibly hard to revise anything the voters have done.  Maybe things enacted by the voters should automatically go back on the ballot in five years, so people get to think about it again, and competing or correcting measures can be put on at that time?

So. Rant finished.  Now on to the specifics:

30 – Jerry Brown’s tax measure – a reluctant yes.  I’m not 100% happy with it, but if it fails, the draconian school cuts are unacceptable.

31- NO!  This initiative, put on the ballot by California Forward, at first glance seems appealing, and it would indeed do some things that would improve how the legislature handles budget issues, like going to a two-year budget cycle.  HOWEVER, it makes radical changes in the relations between state and local government, including allowing local government to exempt itself from various “inconvenient” state laws and regulations, including CEQA, and potentially state labor laws.  This is a really bad idea!  Not only that, but it locks all of its changes into the state constitution, making them extremely hard to change in the future.  [See my rant above.]  A number of members of the initial taskforce pointed out the problems, but California Forward refused to budge.  They subsequently resigned.  (See ballot arguments against.)  Shame on California Forward!!

32 – NO!  A fraudulent attempt to disable labor union political activity while leaving corporate political power basically unchecked.

33- NO.  One insurance company (Mercury) makes a second attempt to tilt the playing field in its direction.

34- YES – the death penalty makes little sense as a deterrent, as public policy, or financially.

35 – No –  Human trafficking is without question a bad thing.  Whether we’re talking about actual enslavement or just the “normal” pimping and prostitution stuff.  There need to be serious consequences for those who screw over their fellow human beings.  However, this measure seems to play into the general punitive bent of three strikes and other efforts to just, “lock ’em all up and throw away the key.”  Our prison system is clear evidence that  this approach hasn’t worked and isn’t working.  Again, once something gets passed by the voters, it’s very hard to change.  This is an issue for the legislature to tackle, not the voters.

36 – YES – again, as with the death penalty, three strikes is a punitive, ineffective, and financially damaging measure.  This reform will help.

37 – YES – truth in labeling for genetically-engineered foods.  People should have a knowing choice about supporting Monsanto’s fiddling with the agricultural gene pool.  BTW, the no argument points to the measure’s enforcement against local retailers.  Unfortunately, California has no direct leverage against national food producers, only against businesses operating in California.  Enforcement against retailers is the only leverage we have against national big business.  It’s a big one, though.  If, for example, California retailers wouldn’t carry General Mills foods because they don’t own up to using genetically engineered ingredients, General Mills could lose A LOT of business.  We need to use our market share power to change the market.

38 – NO – The major alternative tax measure.  Too narrowly focused on education funding, and will impact the poor more than the rich.

39 – YES – levels the playing field for internet businesses who siphon off $$ from California without paying taxes.  Time to end the free ride.

40 – YES – For once, here was a ballot measure (redistricting reform) that was needed, and that worked. The redistricting effort was a resounding success.  Say no to Republican sour grapes!

A1 – NO – public funding for the Oakland Zoo – while zoos are a nice family amenity, I am bothered by the Oakland Zoo’s expansionistic policies, and I don’t think they should be feeding at the public trough [so to speak] when the zoo’s governing board has no public accountability for its actions.

B1 – NO!! – INDEFINITE  extension AND increase in county transportation sales tax.  Sales taxes are regressive.  This would give an unaccountable county agency permanent funding with no requirement to come back to the voters – EVER.  Their predecessor (ACTA) had to be sued to block it from spending money on a project the voters hadn’t authorized.  Would eliminate the ONLY real voter accountability this agency now has.

J – Yes – Another bond fund infusion for Oakland schools.  I’m somewhat bothered by adding more bond debt to a school district that just emerged from a major financial crisis.  On the other hand, many Oakland schools are seriously physically deficient.  We really need to change Prop 13 to allow adequate funding for local schools, cities, and counties.  Until then, band-aid measures like this are the best we can do.

Local Candidates

If you live outside of Oakland/Alameda County, you can stop here if you want.  The rest is just for “local yokels”

AC Transit — Chris Peeples is knowledgeable and listens to the community.  I don’t agree with him 100%, but he’s a good choice.

BART Board – Rebecca Saltzman would seem the obvious pro-environment choice, but I’ve been disturbed by some of her statements in support of high-speed rail and BART extensions, which seem to indicate a knee-jerk support for extending transit even where it may not make economic sense and actually be sprawl-inducing.  I like Anthony Pegram’s candidate statement and plan to vote for him.

Oakland District One Council member:

Top three [ranked choice]  — for more detailed information, look at the write-ups in the recently-initiated Rockridge Patch, or view some youtube clips from a candidate forum:

1) Dan Kalb (knowledgeable, intelligent, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood. Lives in Rockridge.)

2) Donald Macleay (local green party member, pro-environment & pro-neighborhood.  Lives in Temescal) – Update (11/3/12) –

3)  No choice.  See below for why I can’t endorse any of the others:

I DON’T like: Len Raphael – confrontational and pro-development (although he does oppose Safeway’s College Ave. project);

Amy Lemley – knee-jerk smart growth (married to smart-growth fanatic who works at NRDC & pushed for BRT on Telegraph).  Her background is not in the broad public policy areas North Oakland needs.  I fear she’s a stalking horse for her husband, and would be too obeisant to Kernighan and Schaaf, both of whom endorse her and both of whom are aggressively pro-development.  She’s refused to take a firm position on the College Ave. Safeway project, just saying that she’d encourage negotiations.

The other candidates:

Don Link’s a nice guy and supportive on Safeway, but I worry he’d be out of his depth.  Focus is mainly on public safety

Richard Reya – his candidate statement reads very well.  He seems to be saying a lot of the right things.  BUT, it turns out that he’s the policy director for California Forward.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, go back and re-read my discussion of Prop. 31.  Sorry, but as policy director, his allowing Prop. 31 to move forward and go on the ballot shows, in my estimation, very bad judgment.  He’s also non-commital on the College Ave. Safeway project.  Not who I want representing me on the City Council!

Craig Brandt is also pushing for more police, but where’s the money going to come from???  As of late, he seems to have dropped out of the race.

At Large Council Member – Sorry, I’m afraid you’re on your own here. I can’t honestly and wholeheartedly recommend any of the choices.  Neither Kaplan nor De la Fuente have been supportive on Safeway.  De la Fuente is a dealmaker in the Perata mold.  He hopes to use the at-large seat as a stepping stone to another mayoral run.  Kaplan is, in many ways, pretty good, but she’s so focused on smart growth that she loses sight of neighborhood values.  She was the only council member to enthusiastically push Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph despite strong community opposition.  I fear she’d favor major densification around the Rockridge BART in spite of its damaging traffic impacts.  As for the other candidates, none of them is qualified by background or experience, and Carol Tolbert has a gruesome history on North Oakland redevelopment around the Old Merritt College site — can you say corruption??

City attorney – I’m not real keen on Jane Brunner, but I’m also not excited by Barbara Parker.  I worry that she’s got the typical black Oakland establishment (e.g., Geoffrey Pete, Mary King, Bill Patterson) supporting her.  Yet Jane Brunner’s often been too much of a dealmaker.  No recommendation.  (As with judges, I think this really shouldn’t be an elected position.)

School Board – Jody London has, in my opinion, been doing OK.  The schools are in a tough place, and her opponent fought to keep Santa Fe School (in the Golden Gate area of Northwest Oakland)  open when it was an absolute disaster – probably worse than no school at all. Yes, we need to do more to help children in the poorer parts of the city, but that requires money that the district doesn’t have.  (Can you say Prop. 13?)  It also bothers me that Ms. Pecot was endorsed by the teachers union.  One wonders about the quid pro quo that may have been involved.  Teachers need fair pay, but I’ve also seen the teachers union defend poorly performing teachers just because they were active in the union.  Not how I think a school district should be run.


8 Responses to November 2012 Election Comments

  1. stuflash says:

    Latest update: Met with De La Fuente, along with other community folk. He said he feels Safeway’s College Ave Shopping Center proposal is too big and will be problematic. Wants it redesigned to something smaller. Kaplan has said she doesn’t have time to meet until after the election. Maybe tilts things somwhat towards De La Fuente.
    Also, went to a District 1 candidate forum where everyone except Brandt spoke. It just reinforced my feelings. Lemley and Reya were slippery as eels about taking positions on issues. All about “consensus”. You can’t reach consensus unless there’s one to be found. I read “consensus” to mean, we’ve got to keep corporate special interests happy, even if it’s at the expense of the community. Just strengthened my feeling these are two candidates NOT to vote for.

  2. Jeff Hoffman says:

    I agree with most, but disagree with the following:

    I live in Berkeley now, but just moved from Oakland and am well aware of the city council races. Rebecca Kaplan is light years better than right wing De La Fuente, who’s on the wrong side of many major issues. The shameful and selfish opposition to Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph was thoroughly disgusting. Anything that gets people out of cars is good for the environment, and there’s absolutely no excuse for opposing this project. Kudos to Kaplan for ignoring the selfish jerks who opposed this project.

    As to Greens v. Democrats, I’d say vote Green if that’s what you believe in, regardless of whether it’s a close race. If you vote lesser of evils you’ll never get what you believe in. You have to be willing to lose some battles in order to win a war, and losing some elections to Republicans could be a good thing if it empowers or otherwise increases the chances of Greens and other progressive parties in the future.

    I have not voted for a Democrat for president since we were devastated by the late George McGovern’s trouncing by that famous war criminal, Richard Nixon. McGovern was the last Democrat nominated who deserved a progressive’s or radical’s vote for the presidency (though Jimmy Carter did provide a significant improvement over Ronald Reagan, another criminal). Obama is just another corporate Democrat and has been horrible on the environment and war/peace issues and does not deserve the vote of anyone who cares about those things. It’s great that someone who’s not all white gets to be president, and Obama looks good and is a great speaker, but his hideous policies on the big issues of the environment and war/peace are just as bad as Romney’s.

    • stuflash says:

      On Kaplan vs. De La Fuente, there’s no question that De La Fuente is far more conservative than Kaplan, and if we were talking state or national elections, I’d go with Kaplan every time. At the local level, “liberal” and “conservative” labels get fuzzier. It really comes down to who listens to local folks and can make local government work for the city’s residents? I submit that the answer there isn’t so clear, especially for BRT, which would have been disastrous in the Temescal.

      On voting for third party presidential candidates, votes and results have consequences, even for president. We’re only one or two appointments away from having a truly fascist Supreme Court majority. True, Obama is way far from ideal, but at least he won’t appoint another Scalia. Romney undoubtedly would. That’s enough of a difference right there to convince me; and unlike the Weathermen of the 1960s, I don’t believe you want to make things really horrible to make them get better. The radical communists during Germany’s Weimar Republic were totally destroyed by Hitler’s fascist government. It could happen here.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        I don’t agree about local v. state or federal elections. While it’s true that a progressive in a larger context often end up being quite conservative on local issues, getting people out of cars, for example, would be good for the environment in any context. To say that BRT would have been a disaster for Temescal (my old neighborhood, BTW) prioritizes human convenience over the environment. I lived in Temescal without a car and it’s easily done. Regardless of the slight inconveniences for humans, it would have been a victory for the planet. Again, the opposition was selfishly trying to hang onto their parking spaces with no concern for the extreme environmental and ecological harms to which their and others’ driving directly contributes.

        Re 3d party candidates, I do not support the idea of making things so horrible that people will get fed up and revolt. It has been shown, conclusively as far as I’m concerned, that this does not work. What I said was that you have to be willing to lose some battles in order to win the war. The ecological and environmental messes that we and the planet are now in didn’t happen overnight and won’t be fixed overnight either. We’re talking about a minimum of centuries before we can even begin to restore native ecosystems on an ecologically viable level (i.e., very large areas) and live a lot more simply and naturally, and decades before we’d see any significant progress toward that goal. (For old farts like us, it’s very unlikely that we’d live to see any of this.) The only chance of getting a government that will be more in line with what we want is to do what it takes to create a system that would allow people who mainly agree with us to get elected. Voting for corporate Democrats like Obama is no way to do that.

        Every four years the fear mongering corporate Democrats convince people that this is the most important election ever, if fill-in-the-blank-Republican wins the world will end, etc. It’s a big lie, don’t fall for it. The Supreme Court is already fascist and has been for years. Once in awhile there’s a 5-4 vote in the right direction, but for the vast majority of decisions it makes no difference whether they’re 5-4 or 9-0, the end result is identical.

        It’s not that Obama is not perfect, it’s that he’s awful. Just because he’s not as awful as Romney or McCain doesn’t mean you should vote for or support him. If you vote for the lesser of evils you still get evil, and I refuse to support that.

  3. Mitch says:

    Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good (enough). If you vote for the lesser of two evils, you get less evil; if you voted for Nader in Flordia, you got the villiage fool and two wars. You say you want a revolution–fine, but in the meantime, please don’t saddle the rest of us less-than-holy survivors with the likes of Romney / Ryan. You want a better world? Be realistic, and keep voting for less evil over more. Stu has it right. Make a statement when making a statement matters, but not when it will be counter-productive.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Obama and the corporate Democrats are not “good enough.” They’re absolutely horrible and I would never support them under any circumstances short of a compromise where we got something significant. Obama is on the wrong side of the two biggest issues, war and the natural environment (“big” because these issues affect everyone and everything on the planet), and there is virtually no difference between a corporate Democrat and a Republican on these issues. As Jerry Brown described it before selling his soul, the only difference between Democrats and Republicans is the pace of destruction, and he certainly would know. Noam Chomsky recently described the difference as how enthusiastically the lemmings should head off the cliff. So much for your differences, they’re inconsequential.

      Re the Nader/Florida issue, Gore and the Democrats were far more to blame for that. More Democrats voted for Bush than voted for Nader. Perhaps if the Democrats actually stood for something beside Republican light they might have won.

      if you are not willing to lose some battles, you will never win the war. I think the people who vote lesser of evils are more conservative than those of us who refuse to do that, but that’s just my guess. At any rate, none of you have ever explained how getting people like Obama or Clinton elected could possibly further progressive ideals, nor could you. In fact, the world would be a better place of Bush I would have been reelected instead of Clinton, because the investors’ rights treaties of NAFTA, GATT, etc. would never have passed Congress. (In case you don’t remember, they were about 40 votes short in the House and Clinton was a good enough politician to turn that around. Bush I was not a good politician and would never have been able to do that.) Same with Obama and restarting the nuclear power industry.

      As I said before, if you want a better world, you have to support people who stand for that. Supporting corporate politicians from either of the two gangs will not only not accomplish that, it actually causes more harm that whatever tiny good it does to elect someone who’s not as evil as someone else, because instead of using your time, energy, and vote for someone or something progressive, you’ve wasted it on supporting the evil status quo.

  4. Mitch says:

    Where are my manners!??! Thanks Stu. Your thoughts are always very enlightening.

  5. stuflash says:

    Update on Oakland District 1 City Council race: In the last week, I’ve met with Amy Lemley and Richard Reya. Both candidates impressed me with being intelligent and articulate. However, both also re-impressed me with being somewhat slippery and not committed to protecting and representing North Oakland and its neighborhoods.
    IMHO, if either of them gets elected, we can expect various development “deals” in North Oakland that will make local folks unhappy but will, from these candidates’ view, benefit the larger Oakland community by providing jobs and other trade-offs. (For example, a big College Ave Safeway in return for a promise from Safeway to “consider” putting a store in East of West Oakland.)
    Whether that’s a good bargain or not is something for you to consider before casting your vote.

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