So, if you’ve already read Parts 1 and 2, you know my thought about all the ballot measures. (If not, maybe you ought to go back and read them.) This post discusses the various political candidates on the ballot – at least on my ballot. I’ll make a few comments about candidates not on my ballot, but I tend to go with Voltaire’s closing comment in Candide, “Let us take care of our [own] garden.”
Starting at the top, and working down to more local races.
U.S. President. – Californians have the luxury of having four choices on the ballot, plus the opportunity for a write-in vote. Most of the attention has focused on the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton [D] and Donald Trump [R], but there are also Jill Stein [G] and Gary Johnson [L]. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’re probably already aware that I’m not a big fan of either Clinton or Trump. From what I’ve seen of the various polls (which i do tend to follow), a lot of folks share my feelings. Clinton and Trump have the highest unpopularity and untrustworthy ratings of any major candidates in recent history.
Again, if you’ve read my posts from earlier presidential elections, you’re probably aware that I’m a believer in #Ivins’Rule – named for the late great Molly Ivins of Texas. More recently, it’s also been dubbed, #strategicvoting. The basic idea is that you don’t vote in a vacuum, but in the context of your state’s situation in the Electoral College, which is what actually chooses the president (at least in most years). Except for Nebraska and Maine, which break things down by congressional districts, each state’s electoral college votes are a “winner takes all” contest. Whichever candidate gets the plurality of the statewide vote is awarded all of that state’s electoral college votes. (Actually, that party’s electoral party delegate are chosen, which still leaves to potential for an “unfaithful delegate” to vote contrary to the popular vote.) What Ivins’ Rule says is that you wait until the late polling is available – like maybe a week before election day – and see what they day about your state. If a candidate has a lead of more than five points at that point, they’re going to win regardless of your vote, so you can feel free to vote for whomever you want. If it’s closer than that, your vote might actually matter, so you should limit your preference to the two [or potentially more] candidates that have a real shot at winning.
Here in California, Hillary Clinton is a runaway favorite to carry the state – only Hawaii and the District of Columbia give Clinton a wider margin. As far as actual policies go, my favorite by far is Jill Stein of the Green Party. Her platform is very close to what Bernie Sanders had proposed. (Indeed, she even offered him the vice presidential slot on her ticket, which he probably wisely refused.) Can she win? No way. However, if she rolls up credible vote counts in some states, it will send a message that the policies she espouses have some backing among the voting public. If she wins one or more counties or congressional districts, there may even be a push for some in Congress to claim a mandate for her policies (if they’re so inclined).
Why not the others? While Trumps’ policies are, in a few areas, better than those of the average Republican candidate (e.g., trade agreements), he still represents the Republicans’ racist, elitist, and ultra-capitalist policies, which can truly be called nineteenth century. As for Clinton, while she’s perhaps a bit more liberal that her husband, both of them represent the neo-liberal center-left establishment policies that have dominated the Democratic Party since the end of World War II. As such, her policies attempt to prop up the semi-monopolistic capitalist crony policies that run the U.S. and many other Western governments (e.g., particularly Germany). In this country, those policies have led to, as Bernie Sanders pointed out, the biggest gap between the rich and poor since the Great Depression. Worldwide, they reflect attempts to maintain the hegemony of multinational corporate titans and crush any attempt at populist revolts (as in Greece and Iceland). While Hillary pays lip-service to a concern for climate change, she, like Governor Jerry Brown, will not push the kind of needed reforms – like a nationwide revenue-neutral carbon tax – that are needed to truly reduce the world’s greenhouse gas production and prevent a global catastrophe. She’s also opposed to making healthcare and public education through college a right to which all citizens are entitled. Most European, and even non-European developed countries, already recognize those rights. She’s also been a staunch supporter of “free-trade,” which is basically a code word for allowing the multinational corporations to continue to rake in profits at the expense of the world’s workforce. As for the Libertarians, while their platform looks better than Trump’s in some ways, it’s still skewed in favor of corporate interests and against the poor.
U.S. Senate – No preference. With California’s “top two” primary system, we no longer even have the option of writing in someone. We’re stuck with the two front-runners, even if they’re both Democrats and don’t differ all that much. That’s the case here (IMHO). We’ve got two very much “mainstream” Democrats – one perhaps a bit to the right of the other – but neither is going to venture into the areas where, for example, a Bernie Sanders would go. That’s too bad. California’s voters deserve better choices. I’m leaving my ballot blank here in protest.
U.S. House – I have the luxury of living in Barbara Lee’s District. Perhaps the only thing I begrudge her is that she was unwilling to endorse Bernie Sanders. I can understand it, though. If she had, she probably wouldn’t have been picked for the party’s platform committee, and I suspect it was her influence that helped get many Bernie’s programs included in the platform.
CA State Senate – Under the top two, our choice is between two liberal Democratic former assembly members, Nancy Skinner and Sandré Swanson. Nancy came out of Berkeley’s BCA and is aligned with Tom Bates. Sandré came out of Oakland and is aligned with Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee (for whom he worked). I am concerned about some of the company Nancy keeps, particularly with the building trades unions – not the most progressive element of the Democratic Party. My choice is Sandré.
CA State Assembly – As with Barbara Lee,the choice here is clear. Tony Thurmond has generally been a good representative of his district, and deserves re-election.
Superior Court Judge – as I have often said before, I don’t believe the public generally knows enough about judges and their work to make an informed choice, so i don’t believe judges should be elected. In this case, however, on of the candidates is really more a politician than anything else. Barbara Thomas served on the Alameda City Council and is presumably hoping her popularity there will get her elected. I was not impressed with her as a city council member, nor was I impressed with her judicial temperament. Her opponent, Scott Jackson, has an impressive background of public and community service and seems better suited as a judge for Alameda County’s diverse community.
Peralta Community College District – The current trustee, Cy Gulassa, is retiring. I know Cy well and think he did a good job. He has endorsed Karen Weinstein to succeed him. She’s had a lot of relevant experience. While her opponent, Nick Resnick, is a teacher, he hasn’t been associated with Peralta, and his candidate statement is short on specifics. I’m going with the more experienced candidate, Ms. Weinstein.
AC TRANSIT BOARD
There are two seats up in our area – Ward 2 and at-large. I know both incumbents, Chris Peeples and Greg Harper, quite well. Both take their position very seriously and are very knowledgeable about AC Transit. While they don’t always agree, that’s to be expected with the complicated decisions the District faces. Nevertheless, I believe they both deserve re-election, and nothing said by their opponents convinces me otherwise.
BART Board – District 3 – BART is an important regional transit agency, but one that has struck me as having a pretty incompetent board. Rebecca Saltzman was elected four years ago with a background of transit advocacy and a platform of reform. I haven’t seen much happening since in the way of reform. BART still seems focused on expansion, with proposals for expansion to Livermore and Brentwood as well as the ongoing and VERY expensive push down to San Jose (which essentially duplicates Amtrak service). BART has a $3.5 billion bond measure on the ballot, supposedly for repairing and upgrading its existing system. The bond language, however, includes a key groups of wiggle words – “acquisition of real property,” that could be used for expenditures for system expansion. I’m very uncomfortable with that, and while Ms. Saltzman trumpets a “fix it first” policy, it’s not clear what that means in terms of the still-planned BART expansions, which I consider ill-conceived money losers (like the two airport extensions). On the other hand, her chief opponent, Ken Chew, seems no better, and, based on his endorsements, perhaps even worse in terms of emphasizing support from the areas of future BART expansion. To say the least, I’m not comfortable with either choice.
Of the other two less visible candidates, neither has a lot of experience or a lot of campaign resources. Worth Freeman seems to talk in generalities. One doesn’t get the sense that he’s gotten his arms around BART’s problems. Varun Paul appear to have a better grasp, and seems more focused on addressing the dissatisfaction with how BART [doesn’t] work now. My first choice based on best candidate is Varun Paul. In terms of practical expectation of getting elected, it’s Rebecca Saltzman, with major reservations based on my discomfort over many of her positions.
East Bay Regional Park District – Ward 2 – The longtime incumbent for this seat, John Sutter, is retiring from the board, and there are four candidates to replace him: Dee Rosario, a retired Regional Park Supervisor; John Roberts, a banking regulator; Ken Fickett, an entrepreneur; and Audree V. Jones-Taylor, a retired City of Oakland Park Director. All four have backgrounds of involvements with parks. Two appear to be from East of the hills (Roberts and Fickett) and two from West of the hills. My personal concern is that areas west of the hills seem to get short-changed in park services. Thus I limit myself to Rosario and Jones-Taylor. Both have a long history of management of park lands. They type of lands differ, though. Jones-Taylor managed City of Oakland Parks, which tend to be focused more on the recreational than the wildlife and conservation side. That leans me more to Mr. Rosario.He managed Redwood Regional Park, which is one of the most successful Oakland area regional parks, and appears to me to have been well-run. Frankly, probably any of the four would probably work out OK (although I have my concerns about Mr. Roberts’ involvement with mountain biking – a problematic activity on EBRPD trails), but I plan to vote for Mr. Rosario, based on his long experience with regional parks and his endorsement by the Sierra Club, which knows the regional parks and their problems well.
OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL
At-Large Seat – With four candidates running against the incumbent, Rebecca Kaplan, and with ranked choice voting in play, this is a complicated election. Of the five, there are three I’d rule out immediately.
- Bruce Quan’s main qualification appears to be that he convinced Chinese investors to salvage the Brooklyn Basin luxury housing project after its developer, Signature Properties, appeared to get into financial trouble from overextending itself. Built next to the 880 Freeway without good transit access, this has always seemed an ill-conceived and doomed project. Saving it, to me, is hardly something to trumpet. His policy positions are all mom & apple pie, with no details.
- Nancy Sidebotham is a perennial city council candidate. She’s never won, and for good reasons. Here policy positions tend to favor not spending money and a naive belief that the free market can solve Oakland’s problems. She’s opposed to the soda tax (which I support), she says dealing with the homeless in Oakland should fall entirely on Alameda County, when obviously these are Oakland residents (even if they don’t have a permanent address). She has refused to support the police commission measure (LL), although she’s waffling on this issue. She strikes me as a reactionary person in the literal sense of someone who reacts against things, rather than approaching issues positively and creatively.
- Peggy Moore is a former aide to Mayor Libby Schaaf, and it appears she was recruited by the Mayor to run against Rebecca Kaplan, whom the Mayor perceives (perhaps correctly) as a threat to her hegemony over city government. Her positions again tend to be mom & apple pie, and focus on improving communication, rather that addressing real city issues. She comes across as someone who loves to talk, rather than act.
That leaves two candidate whom I think merit serious consideration: Rebecca Kaplan and Matt Hummel.
- Matt Hummel – the current chair of the City’s cannabis commission, has progressive positions on city issues, and correctly recognizes that the holder of the at-large seat needs to view the entire city, rather than any one district, and should take responsibility for seeing that groups that aren’t otherwise being listened to have someone hear them out and potentially be their spokesperson on the council. He supports the police commission measure and feels that the homeless need to have attention paid to their needs. Nevertheless, I have concerns about his lack of experience. He’s my second choice for the at-large seat.
- Rebecca Kaplan, the incumbent, is running for re-election to the at-large seat. She is generally seen as one of the leaders of the progressive “wing” of the council, along with Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo. She has taken the lead on a number of important policy initiatives, including addressing the city’s housing shortage and setting up the citizens’ police commission. When she first got on the council, I was somewhat put off by her ambitions, especially when she then ran for mayor. At this point, she is running for her third term as at-large member, and her ambition is now matched by her experience. In my opinion, while she can sometimes be abrasive, she’s one of the most effective council member, which is presumably why the Mayor has supported one of her opponents. She’s my first choice for this seat.
District One – There are two candidates for this seat: Dan Kalb, the incumbent after his first four-year term, and Kevin Corbett, a probate attorney with his office in San Leandro. The two are in stark contrast on their issue positions. Dan Kalb helped put the police commission measure on the ballot, while Kevin Corbett opposes the measure and feels the Mayor should continue to have total control over the police department. Dan Kalb also helped write and put on the ballot the renter protection measure, while Mr. Corbett also opposes this measure and believes that market forces should be allowed to set rental prices. He also opposes the City infrastructure bond measure, saying that higher efficiency is all we need to solve Oakland’s monetary problems. To me, this seems a glib and oversimplistic answer. Maybe Oakland’s administration could be made better and more efficient, but that’s the Mayor’s and the City Administrator’s jobs, not that of the City Council, which sets policy, rather than superintend the City’s day-to-day operations. His answer to the City’s housing shortage is let the market build housing wherever and however much it wants, with no direct intervention and nothing to make that housing more affordable. To be blunt, he appears a throwback to the Republican ideology of firty years ago that believed that the market would solve all of our problems. I, for one, think that’s a fairy tale. While I don’t always agree with Dan, and often wish he would be more forceful (like Ms. Kaplan is), he’s by far the better choice. Dan Kalb first choice; no second choice.
OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD
District One – This seat also has two candidates: Jody London, the incumbent after her first term, and Don Macleay, an OUSD parent and Green Party activist (he has previously run for Mayor and for the District 1 council seat). Ms. London deserves credit for having taken office with the City just having recovered from bankruptcy and state receivership and having to rebuild its financial and educational credibility. The school district has now largely recovered financially, but is still struggling educationally. In particular, the district has trouble retaining students, both because the drop out and because the move to charter or private schools. as district enrollment drops, so does its revenue and available resources, and the board doesn’t seem to have been able to reverse this drain.
Don Macleay promises to focus on this problem, and promises to gather community input on how the District can better meet student needs. He also wants to see the District restore some of its practically oriented courses, including shop and civic education, that were cut as the District fell into financial disrepair. I am concerned that Jody London has too much of a complacent attitude about the District’s current status. To me, the District appears to be still in somewhat of a crisis, and business as usual isn’t enough. I plan to vote for Mr. Macleay.
Oakland City Attorney – there is only one candidate for this important office, the incumbent, Barbara Parker. While she’s held the office for quite a while, I cannot say that I have been overly impressed with her expertise. It would have been nice if someone had run against her, if only to spark some debate. I plan to write in Dan Seigel, the former attorney for OUSD and a well-known Oakland attorney.