This is the first of several posts I’m going to do on the November general election. There’s too much on the ballot to put it all in one, or even two posts. Just in terms of statewide ballot measures, there are seventeen of them. That may not be a record, (The most in recent history was 20 in November of 2000) but it’s still a lot to get your arms around.
My starting point in commenting on them will be the recommendation of the Courage Campaign, a generally “Progressive left”membership group in California. (Membership is defined loosely – no dues or anything, just a willingness to call yourself a member and participate in occasional lobbying efforts and membership poll.) They polled their members and came up with a set of recommendations on the measures. I don’t always agree with them, but it’s as good a place to start as any (and probably better than either the official Republican or Democratic Party positions). In case you’re wondering what other groups’ opinions are, the Courage Campaign has put together a compilation of recommendations. Here‘s the link to it.
Proposition 51 – $9 billion bond to fix and upgrade CA school facilities — Courage’s position: Neutral. My position, Oppose. I have become more and more skeptical of bond measure as I’ve seen more and more of them get twisted out of shape from what the voters are promised. The state constitution requires that bonds be spent on what the voters approved, but the courts have been notably lax in enforcing those requirements, so I have become much less trusting. In this case, however, there are other problems as well. The $9 billion dollars is to be given out on a “first come-first served” basis, which will tend to favor the well-financed and well-organized (i.e., wealthy) districts who can get their applications in quickly. The measure doesn’t prioritize poorer districts or those with more pressing capital needs (e.g., districts with older, earthquake vulnerable building or with overcrowded facilities). The measure also take pressure off developers to pay for the schools needed to service big residential projects they build. They are making the profits; they ought to pay for the public improvements those projects require.
Proposition 52 – Make Hospital Fee Permanent to Pay for Healthcare Services — Courage’s position: Neutral. My position, Support. While ideally we ought to have a single-payer system where everyone gets the healthcare they need and we all pay for it collectively through taxes. (Clinton and Trump both reject single-payer, but what do you expect of candidates raking in donations from the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and private insurance industries.) Given that we aren’t going to single-payer any time soon, at least this will make sure the neediest people in our society get at least some healthcare. Yes, hospitals will pass on the fee to their users, but until we go to single payer, it’s probably the best we can do.
Proposition 53 – “Stop Right-Wing Millionaire from Blocking Infrastructure Projects” [Courage Campaign’s description, not mine]. Courage’s position – Oppose. My position – Support. Big public project can bring with them big problems. Nationally, there was Boston’s “big dig.” Here in California, we’ve had the new Bay Bridge project and the BART to airport projects (Oakland & SF), all of which have had large cost overruns and questionable results. (Both BART project have turned out to be big money losers.) The main thing motivating this measure is Jerry Brown’s twin tunnel “peripheral tunnel” proposal for shipping more water south. Because Southern California agencies would pick up most of the tab, this wouldn’t require a general obligation bond [which would already have to go on the ballot], but a revenue bond, which currently doesn’t require voter approval. This measure would require voter approval for such measures if the involve over $2 billion. Given the Legislature’s (and local agencies’) untrustworthiness, this seems to me to be a good idea. Also, what happens if the revenue doesn’t cover the costs, or if one of the agencies promising to pay goes belly up. Who do you think will end up picking up the tab? Us, the California taxpayers.
Proposition 54 – 72-Hour Publication of Bills Prior to Vote — Courage’s position – Neutral. My position – Support. Particularly near the end of the legislative session, the Legislature now often resorts to so-called “gut and amend” measures, which take a bill that has already passed one house, removes all of its substance, and quickly replaces it with something entirely different. Such “end of session” bills are notorious for being approved, with the connivance of the legislative (Democratic) leadership and the Governor, with little opportunity for public scrutiny or comment. IMHO, this is really bad public policy, and in the past has resulted in some really bad bills. Yes, this would slow down the legislative process, and might keep some measures from getting enacted, but that, to me, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Proposition 55 – Extend the Tax on the Wealthy to Fund Education and Healthcare — Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. This again is a stop-gap measure. As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly in his campaign, we all benefit from making quality education available to all, and healthcare ought to be a right, not a privilege. In almost all other developed countries, it is. Why not here, because moneyed special interests control the legislative process, both in Congress and the Legislature. This measure isn’t really what we need, but it’s better than the alternative of not having funding at all.
Proposition 56 – $2 per pack tobacco tax. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. Opponents of this measure label it a “nanny tax” – government using its tax powers to force us to do “what’s best for us.” If it’s approved by the voters, this won’t be government telling us what to do; it’ll be us deciding what WE want to do. I sympathize with people who’ve been sucked into tobacco addiction; and there’s absolutely no question it’s an addiction, just as much as heroin or cocaine; and far more than marijuana. Problem is, it’s a really harmful addiction, and we, as a society, end up picking up much of the tab for dealing with its harmful results – heart disease, emphysema, cancers of all sort – you name it and whatever harmful medical condition you think of is probably either caused by or worsened by tobacco use. At least the proceeds of this tax will help somewhat pay for all those costs, as well as help pay for programs to get people to kick the habit. Big tobacco, of course, opposes this. I can’t think of a better reason to support it.
Proposition 57 – Reform California’s Broken Parole and Juvenile Trial System [Courage Campaign’s label]. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. You should read up on the details of this measure. How things are run now is the sad legacy of twenty years of “tough on crime” ballot measures that have left our prisons overflowing with inmates, destroyed many thousands of people’s lives, and haven’t really worked in terms of reducing crime. Californians have had a schizophrenic attitude towards crime – on the one hand wanting to “correct” bad behavior and on the other wanting to punish it. Even with pets, it’s become clear that punishment isn’t a good way to teach behavior. People are much more intelligent than pets (at least mostly) and all punishment does is build resentment. Prisons ought to be a last-resort place to put people that we can’t prevent from harming others any other way. This measure was really forced on us by the federal courts’ acknowledging that California’s current way of running its prisons – overcrowding them and focusing on punishment – violated the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. We’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this measure, but at least we’re there. Much more needs to be done before our criminal justice system begins to bear any relation to justice and recognize the realities of what we’ve learned about correction in the past hundred years.
Proposition 58 – Repeal the ban on bilingual education. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. We’re finally undoing some of the mischief done by the over-simplistic and ideologically motivated ballot measures of the ’80s and ’90s. Remember “English Only”? Supposedly, bilingual education let non-english speakers go through school without learning english, and “immersion” in english would be “tough love.” It didn’t work. All it did was further reduce non-english speakers’ motivation for staying in school. Without bilingual education, many non-english speakers will get no education. How does that help us as a society?
Proposition 59 – Overturn Citizens United. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. For any of you who may have been asleep for the past few years, “Citizens United” was the name of a U.S. Supreme Court case where the court, by a 5-4 majority, decided that 1) corporations had a right of free speech, and 2) donating money to political campaigns was equivalent to free speech and therefore could not be regulated. Since then, corporate control of our government has mushroomed even beyond where it was before, with “dark money” political committees able to raise unlimited funds from corporate sources while those contributions were hidden from public disclosure. Is it any wonder that our two major presidential candidates are both almost totally beholden to Wall Street and other big-money interests? Unfortunately, this measure does little more than register whether California’s voters are unhappy with the current situation. It remains to be seen how much California’s congressional delegation will pay to the results.
Proposition 60 – Mandatory Condom Use in Adult Films. Courage’s position – Neutral. My position – Support. This has been one of the more controversial measures on the ballot, because it deals with California’s huge porn movie industry. There are two issues here: 1) should California outlaw unsafe sex in porn movies as a public health measure, and 2) should California stop porn movies from showing, and thereby glamorizing, unsafe sex? My answer to both questions is yes. We’ve known for more that 20 years that sex without condoms can spread sexually transmitted disease. Maybe if people were all totally monogamous, and only had sex with one person – ever – condoms would only be needed for birth control (but isn’t that a good enough reason in itself?), but porn movies more often than not portray casual sex which is exactly where condoms are most needed. Yes, it’s true we show lots of stupid human behavior in movies. How about we eliminate one of the stupider ones?
Proposition 61 – drug price ceiling in California. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. This measure would cap the price California pays for state-supported drug purchases (e.g., MediCal) to the price paid by the Federal VA, which negotiates prices with drug companies and does a very good job of it. Short of going to single-payer [strange how that keeps popping up] this is another way to at least get some handle on reining in the explosive increases in prescription drug prices. Not surprisingly, many mainstream organizations, like the Democratic Party, that get lots of money from the pharmaceutical industry, don’t support this measure. Also not surprisingly, the Sanders campaign’s successor group, Our Revolution, does. So do I, for the same reasons.
Proposition 62 – Repeal the Death Penalty. Courage’s position – Support. My Position – Support. Here we go again.For some reason, Californians still seem to believe that the death penalty somehow makes sense. Nevermind that study after study shows that it has virtually no deterrent effect, and that states and countries that have abolished the death penalties have no higher rate of what California calls capital crimes than states and countries that still execute people.To me, though, the most convincing argument is that juries are not 100% accurate. We’ve seen over and over cases where someone was convicted and sentenced to death, only to discover years later that they didn’t do the crime they were accused of. It’s bad enough when they’ve spent years in prison. What do you do when they’ve already been executed. Saying, “Oops, we’re sorry,” is so inadequate as to be criminal in itself. If California wants to call itself a civilized state, it must eliminate the death penalty. NOW.
Proposition 63 – Increased state controls on guns and ammunition. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. I don’t care what the NRA says. While guns, by themselves, don’t kill people (at least not usually), people with guns and ammunition do. As has been pointed out innumerable times, when private citizens have more guns, the amount of gun violence goes up, not down. In my humble opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court made one of its stupider decisions (other than Citizens United) when it decided the right to bear arms applied to individual private citizens. Well, since we’re stuck with that (and Citizens United) for the time being, at least this makes private gun ownership a little bit safer for those of us who aren’t NRA fanatics.
Proposition 64 – Legalized Marijuana use. Courage’s position – Support. My position – Support. OK, so marijuana isn’t a totally harmless drug. If you’ve been smoking wed, your probably shouldn’t be driving a car, or operating machinery; but it’s no more dangerous than drinking alcohol, and a lot less dangerous (and addictive) than smoking cigarettes. The prohibition on marijuana use is a hold-over from the days when the state was considered responsible for regulating private morality – along with prohibiting alcohol consumption on the Sabbath and prohibiting public displays of affection. Folks, this is not Iran, and we don’t need to have the government regulating private morality and creating victimless crimes that get people thrown in prison.
Proposition 65 and 67 – plastic bag fee versus repeal of plastic bag prohibition. Courage’s position – Oppose 65; Support 67. My position – Oppose 65; Support 67. Both these ballot measures are the result of the financial power of the plastic bag industry. It circulated and qualified a referendum [Prop. 67] of the Legislature’s prohibition on disposable plastic bag use (like in supermarkets) and then qualified its own initiative measure that would allow them but put a fee on them to go into a state fund. All you need think about is the huge island of plastic, much of it plastic bags, floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You can also think about the thousands of birds and sea creatures who die each year when they mistake plastic bags for sea creatures like jellyfish and choke on them. also think about how much cleaner beaches and parks have gotten where disposable plastic bags have been eliminated. We need to greatly reduce our use of plastic. Period. It’s bad for the environment. Yes, it’s regulating behavior, but so are many hundreds of laws that nobody complains about. Regulating objectionable behavior is one thing government does. Using plastic bags, unlike marijuana, isn’t victimless. Ask a sea turtle that’s died from one.
Proposition 66 – Make the Death Penalty more “Efficient.” Courage’s position – Oppose. My position – Oppose. As should be evident from my position of Proposition 62, I consider this proposition an embarrassing holdover from the years when Californian’s approach to crime was “lock ’em up” or “kill ’em.” That approach didn’t work. Making the death penalty more “efficient” – i.e., quicker to decide and carry out – will only increase the likelihood of mistakes. I consider this measure little short of barbaric. Hell, if we want to make the system more “efficient,” how about when someone’s accused of a crime, they’re immediately brought before a judge, who flips a coin. Heads you’re innocent, tails you’re guilty. That’s efficient, but it’s sure not justice.
Next post will deal with local ballot measures. Third post will deal with candidate.