Recommendations for November 2014 General Election

October 19, 2014

To begin with, my apologies for having been so long in posting anything to my blog.  I have, to say the least, been very busy the past few months, and it’s only the prodding of friends (thank you for the prods) and the immanence of November that have prompted me to get back on-line here and put down my thoughts.

Let me start with some general comments.  With this election, we’re seeing the effect of California’s new open primary (AKA “top two”) electoral system, and I must admit I don’t like them at all.  Yes, it does mean that there’s almost always a contest in the November election, unless a seat is totally uncontested or one candidate’s such an overwhelming favorite that they get over 50% in the primary.  However, narrowing the choices to two often means you get a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee — two candidates who aren’t saying significantly different things.  Sometimes, it devolves into the choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber – two candidates who seem to be trying to outdo each other to mouth mindless platitudes and pretend there are no real issues.

My other preliminary comment comes in the context of the current Ebola panic.  Republicans are saying that the whole situation is Obama’s fault, while Democrats either chime in with blaming Obama (if they’re up for re-election in a red-tinged state) or assert he’s done everything right and it’s all the Republicans’ fault.  It seems to me that there’s more than enough blame to go around.

As was pointed out by an recent article in New York Times, after 9-11 George W. altered the mindset of the CDC to focus on the risk of a bioterrorism attack.  (Such an attack hasn’t come close to happening after thirteen years.)  Many at the CDC got disgusted with what they considered a silly distraction and left.  Further, there followed a series of budget cuts which, although they didn’t specifically target the CDC (as opposed, for example, to food stamps), nevertheless left it less able to address all possible risks and led to a triage mentality where only the most likely risks at any time got attention.    Since Ebola was half a world away, it didn’t get much priority.  While Democrats tended to object to the cuts, some of them were accepted, and others even proposed as a way to make the Republicans look bad.

It has also been pointed out that the budget cuts affected grant funding by NIH.  There are, and have been, people out there working on trying to develop a vaccine and other weapons against Ebola.  Unfortunately, there’s not a large political constituency in the U.S. to push for Ebola funding (unlike heart disease or breast cancer).  When cuts had to be made, guess which kind of research ended up on the chopping block.  (By the way, the people in charge at NIH have said that if it weren’t for the budget cuts, they’d have developed an Ebola vaccine by now.)  The U.S. has also not pushed to make sure that WHO has adequate funding, and Africa has not been a priority for foreign aid funding, especially not public health infrastructure.  It’s not “sexy.”  Again, Republicans were in the forefront in attacking U.N. funding, but many Democrats were not unwilling to let it go in favor of domestic priorities.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

So, with that diatribe out of the way, let’s move on to the ballot, starting at the top.

At the federal level, California’s contests are only the house seats.  In my district (13th), it’s pretty easy.  Regardless of what kind of job you think Barbara Lee is doing (and while she’s hardly a firebrand, she votes the right [or should I say left?] way on most issues, her Republican opponent is little more than a joke.  If there were third parties on the ballot, it might be more interesting, but as it is, I’d recommend LEE.

At the top of the statewide offices is, of course, the governor.  Here’s where the top two has really taken its toll.  We’ve got only two choices – Jerry Brown or Neel Kashkari.  Kashkari is somewhat moderate for a Republican, but that’s damning with faint praise.  On the other hand, while Jerry Brown has shown some competence in holding the Legislature’s spending sprees in check, his stance on water issues (the “twin tunnels”) and high-speed rail show his desire to want to outdo his dad in leaving a monument to himself.  Unfortunately, neither monument makes sense.  Better he should have proposed a 30 foot high solid gold statue of himself on a horse.  It’d cost much, much, less and be about as useful.  as you can tell, I don’t have a lot of use for Governor Brown.  You can make your own choice, but I’m leaving my ballot blank in protest.

Lieutenant Governor – Here you’ve got two not very competent (IMHO) politicians vying for a totally useless job.  We probably ought to abolish the post, although the Lieutenant Governor does sit on a few bodies, like the State Lands Commission, and the Board of Regents of UC and Board of Trustees of the California State University system.  Unfortunately, the Lieutenant Governor has no obvious credentials for sitting on any of these boards.  It would be far better if these boards had more knowledgeable, if less politically visible, members.  At any rate, I can’t get excited about either, but Newsom is probably the lesser of the two evils.

Secretary of State – This office has important, if mundane, responsibilities, including tracking various business entities and running California’s statewide elections.  Alex Padilla, the Democrat, is an undistinguished state senator.  Pete Peterson, the Republican, is part of the administration of Pepperdine University, a righ-wing oriented school in the LA area.  While much of what Peterson says has some logic to it (improving the business-friendly attitude of the Secretary of State’s business entity section, improving the technology of California elections, I frankly don’t trust someone with an ideological stance superintending California’s electoral process.  That’s not to say that I trust a Democratic politician like Padilla more.  This is another example where to “top two” process has left two choices, neither of which I like.Maybe you should flip a coin?  (Like deciding whether to issue $8.5 billion in bonds?)

Controller – This is the office that superintends California’s public funds, including supervising the disbursement of legislative appropriation and auditing the financial records of state agencies.  It’s potentially a very important office in keeping California government honest.  It probably should not be a partisan office, but it is.  If I trusted the Republican, I might actually want a Republican here t counterbalance Jerry Brown’s power.  Unfortunately, I have not trust in Ms. Swearengin, the current Mayor of Fresno.  I’ve had one person from Fresno ask me to vote for her so she’s no longer be running that city!  Not a ringing endorsement.  The Democrat, Betty Yee, has a more professional background in auditing and currently serves on the State Board of Equalization.  She may be the better choice, although I doubt she has the guts to oppose Jerry Brown’s administration of state agencies.

Treasurer – This is the person who handles California’s finances and investments.  Again, an important office that probably should be nonpartisan.  John Chiang has had eight years as State Controller, and his term of office has been very quiet.  Perhaps there should have been audits of things like the Bay Bridge construction, but there weren’t.  I’d expect him to do whatever Jerry Brown tells him to.  Greg Conlon, the Republican, is a CPA and businessman.  On this one office, I might end up voting for the Republican.

Attorney General – This is another office where the “top two” leave me cold.  I can’t see voting for a Republican, given how the last Republican who held it, George Deukmejian, pushed a “law and order” strategy that, to my mind, was a total failure.  Still, the incumbent, Kamala Harris, has underwhelmed me with her performance.  I was shocked when her office advocated preempting CEQA under federal law for California’s high-speed rail project, a huge project with enormous potential to do environmental damage.  I’m afraid I’m going to leave this blank on my ballot in protest.

Insurance Commissioner – This is about the only statewide office that I feel reasonably good about making a recommendation.  Former State Senator Dave Jones, the incumbent, has been consistently pro-consumer.  He deserves another term.

Superintendent of Public Instruction – This is one statewide office that IS (at least nominally) nonpartisan.  The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, has stong backing form the teachers’ unions.  I worry that his support for those unions may be getting in the way of making the best decisions, especially when it comes to the controversial issue of charter schools.  I am not an avid supporter of charter schools, which can draw off resources a top students from the conventional public school system, but I do think charter schools have their place as a laboratory of innovation and experimentation, and frankly many of our conventional public school systems are failing, so something other than the status quo is needed.  For that reason, I’m choosing the challenger, Marshall Tuck.

Board of Equalization – Another somewhat technical financial position.  The Board of Equalization administers the state tax system and is the board of appeal for state income tax and franchise tax disputes.  It’s the only elected board of its kind in the country.  Again, this shouldn’t be a partisan position, but it is.  I have no trust in either candidate.  Fiona Ma, the Democratic candidate is, in my opinion, nothing but a political hack, and I would trust her about as far as I could throw her (actually, not even that far).  I don’t trust her Republican opponent any more than her.  Pull the coin out again, or leave it blank?  That’s my quandary.

State Assembly (15th Assembly District) – Another “victory” for the top two approach.  There were some very good candidates in the primary, but they didn’t have as much money and political connections as these two.  I’m not enthusiastic about either.  Tony Thurmond served on the West Contra Costa School District Board.  You might remember that district went bankrupt a few years back.  I’m not sure if he was on the board when it did, but it’s a district that has not done itself proud.  His opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has even less to recommend her.  She has never held elective office, and was a federal bureaucrat before being drawn into this race by her friends in the local Democratic party machine.  Neither seems to have a lot to say other than the usual Democratic platitudes.  I’m going with Thurmond just because I’m so sick of the local Democratic Party machine.

COURT JUSTICES

If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know I think the idea of electing judges is stupid, and an invitation for mischief.  (Recall the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice who was thrown out of office for putting a sculpture of the ten commandments in the State Supreme Court’s courthouse, and then was promptly re-elected by Mississippi voters, who thought it was great fun to thumb their nose at the First Amendment’s establishment clause.)

Supreme Court – I suppose you might look at this vote as a referendum on how the Supreme Court is doing.  By that token, I might be tempted to vote no on all of them based on their refusal to take up the high-speed rail case.  However, I think that would be unfair and probably unwise.  I will, in this case, abstain.

Court of Appeal justices – A lot of the same principles apply here, but I follow the First District Court of Appeal’s decisions pretty closely, and I’d have to say I’ve been increasingly disappointed in them over the past few years.  This used to be one of the best districts, but IMHO it isn’t any more.  The one exception I’d make is Justice Ignazio Ruvolo, who I think is doing a good job.  However, I make no recommendations on any of these votes.

STATE BALLOT MEASURES

Proposition 1 (Water Bond) – There’s a common theme among most of this year’s ballot measures (both state and local) – the compromise.  The idea is that whichever side of an issue you’re on, the ballot measure gives you “enough” to vote for it.  Perhaps the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, but what about the “not too bad?”  In this case, the “not too bad” isn’t good enough for me.  Yes, we need to address California water deficiencies and the environmental and economic consequences.  Something must be done.  But throwing a wad of money at big surface storage project (i.e., dams) isn’t a good way to go.  It may be good, in the short run, for some farmers, but it’s bad for the fish and not good for the delta.  We could have done far better, but if this bond passes, nothing else will happen for a while.  Vote no and send the message – do better next time.

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 An add-on for Prop. 1.  I just heard that NRDC (who supports the measure) says that if the measure’s promises of environmental benefits aren’t carried through on , they’re ready to go to court to enforce those promises.  To which I say, “Good luck with that!”  As some of you know, I’ve been heavily involved in litigating on the failure of the state government to carry out the promises it made in the 2008 high-speed rail bond.  Just last month, the Court of Appeal said that at least some of the promises made in that measure weren’t enforceable.  Thus was overturned nearly 100 years of precedent, and the Supreme Court refused to grant review.  Bottom line, for any bond or tax measure placed on the ballot, you can no longer count on those ballot promises being carried through.  If they’re ignored, the courts could leave you high and dry.  [an appropriate analogy for a water bond measure]

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Proposition 2 – Budget Stabilization Account – “Rainy Day Fund” – This is an enforced savings plan for the state, but it lacks the needed flexibility to avoid damaging the state during recessions.  NO

Proposition 45 [I don’t know why there’s a gap] – Health Insurance Rate Changes – This would place health insurance rates under the jurisdiction of the insurance commissioner, as many other kinds of insurance already are.  If you trust Blue Cross implicitly, by all means vote no.  If you think there needs to be someone who asks them to justify their rate increases, vote yes.  I’m voting yes.  [add-on:  my wife, a physician, is voting no.  She’s worried the insurance commissioner could cut rates to the point where insurance companies start nickel-and-diming physician reimbursement rates, to the detriment of hospitals and community clinics.   Obviously, I disagree.]

Proposition 46 – Another one of the “compromises.”  The trial lawyers want to be able to increase damage awards in malpractice lawsuits (they’re currently capped by state law).    They figured they could make it more popular by putting the screws to doctors and their alleged tendency towards drug addiction.  If we’re going to start random drug testing folks, maybe politicians should be first in line, followed by trial lawyers.  NO

Proposition 47 – Reduces some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  We’ve already tried throwing everyone who commits crimes in prison for a long time.  It was called three strikes, and it didn’t work.  Now we’ve got overcrowded prisons gobbling up our tax dollars.  Let’s spend that money of getting people out of the criminal pathway instead.  YES

Proposition 48 -Indian Gaming Compacts referendum – We’ve had lots of Indian gaming compacts, allowing tribes to set up casinos on tribal lands.  This compact was for casinos NOT on tribal land.  Personally, I think expanding casinos was a bad idea, and this compact makes it worse.  NO

LOCAL RACES

These are all nominally nonpartisan races, but in Alameda or most of Contra Costa County, if you’re not a Democrat, it’s probably not worth trying to run.  That may be changing, however, as more and more voters switch to decline to state.  You’d think the Democratic and Republican parties might take a hint that maybe voters were getting dissatisfied.  Apparently not.

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools – I have to confess I’m at a loss to decipher which of these two candidates is the better choice.  Karen Monroe is clearly the establishment choice.  She’s now associate superintendent and is heir apparent to step in and replace Sheila Jordan, the retiring superintendent.  If you think the County’s currently doing a good job on its educational responsibilities (which i don’t particularly), she’s obviously your choice.  Helen Foster’s platform sounds very similar to that of Ms. Monroe, but includes more detail, and focuses on those students currently being left behind.  She lacks establishment endorsements, but is endorsed by the Alameda Newspaper Group.  However, I’m not sure I consider that a plus.  It’s definitely a  puzzle, and this is one race where I honestly don’t feel I can make a recommendation, but my leaning would be in Dr. Foster’s direction.

East Bay MUD Director – Ward 3 – This race, however, is one where I feel very confident in making an endorsement.  East Bay MUD, our water and sewer district, has a reputation of being at the forefront of progressive and pro-environment water policy.  That reputation is, at this point, largely undeserved.  EBMUD has focused, over the past 20 years, in trying to get more water, primarily by a cooperative project with Sacramento County to use its federal Bureau of Reclamation contract (yes, the folks who run the Central Valley Project for all the ag users) for water from the Sacramento River.  This year, with the drought, EBMUD is drawing on that water, at a cost of over $500 per acre-foot.  Not as costly as some water, but a lot more than its Mokelumne supply, and much more than the more environmentally benign groundwater storage conjunctive use option would be.  However, EBMUD would rather join the farmers at the straw than try to move forward into groundwater storage, which ag users have been slow to adopt.  EBMUD’s also been asleep at the switch on adopting a rate structure to addresses yearly fluctuations in water supply to send a price signal to customers about how important conservation is.  The incumbent, Katy Foulkes, has been on the board for twenty years, but somehow is just now thinking about a drought rate structure.  Her opponent, Marguerite Young, comes out of a progressive water policy background and is pushing for more emphasis on conservation, and on speeding up replacing EBMUD’s aged water pipe system.   Ms. Young is a clear choice.

AC Transit At Large Director – There are three candidates, and almost no information about them.  Joel B. Young, the incumbent, has been on the AC Transit board since 2009 and  ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly in 2012.  That suggests his heart isn’t in his current position.   I’ve also heard not very good things about him as a board member.  His endorsements come entirely from labor unions, which suggests he’s a pro-labor vote an the board.  That may or may not be a good thing.  Of the three, Dollene Jones’ twenty years experience as an AC Transit driver givers her a perspective not found on the current board.  On that basis, she’d be my choice.

Oakland Mayor – OK, this one’s a biggie.  With fifteen candidates on the ballot, it’s not easy making a choice.  The ranked choice election makes it a little easier, because you can pick up to three candidates.  My strategy in using ranked choice is two-fold.  First, pick out the candidate you like best, regardless of their chance of success.  make them your number one choice.  It they win, you’ve helped make it happen, and hopefully you’ll be very happy.  If not, you’ve still got your second and third choices.  For the second and third choices, pick candidates that have a realistic possibility of winning, and then, again, choose you most favored as second and next most favored as third.  If you’ve got major reservations about a candidate, DON’T PICK THEM!!!  Better to leave choice blank than help elect a candidate and end up kicking yourself later because you knew better.
So, who are my top choices?  Let me start by saying who I’ve eliminated:  1)  I eliminate those who’ve never held an elective office.  You don’t start your political career as mayor of a large and difficult-to-manage city.  That kind of on-the-job training we definitely don’t need.  2)  I eliminate those who seem overly ambitious.  We need a mayor who’s going to focus on being mayor, not running for their next political office.  We had enough of that with Jerry Brown.  Between those to, it knocks out most of the candidates.  Here are my choices among those left:
1.   Dan Siegel – I frankly don’t think he has much chance of getting elected, but he’s got a lot of experience and is still idealistic enough not to get dragged down by the political deal making that’s all too common in Oakland.  Like Jean Quan, he’s got a lot of experience with Oakland schools, and that’s something that is one of Oakland’s weakest links.  He’s also got a focus on restorative justice, which is, to my mind, an approach that could work well for Oakland.
2.  Jean Quan – Jean Quan has certainly got more experience than any other candidate, and has had four years of handling the City.  She’s certainly made her share of mistakes, but I think she’s learned from them.  As with Dan Siegel, she’s got a strong focus on education and a generally progressive attitude.  I also think she’s realistic in what she can hope to accomplish, unlike some of the candidates’ pie-in-the-sky approach to police staffing.  Sure, we need more police than we have now, but how are you going to pay for 900 sworn officers???  Better, perhaps to spend more money one putting people on non-criminal tracks than running around trying to arrest and jail them all.
3.  Rebecca Kaplan – I make this third choice with some trepidation.  Ms. Kaplan strikes me as someone who’s aspiring for higher office, which is not my ideal choice for mayor.  She also strikes me as somewhat too prone to posturing, and I fear she’s too doctrinaire on some issues (like Bus Rapid Transit) which makes her not open to listening to things she doesn’t want to hear [but needs to].  Nevertheless, her generally progressive approach would, IMHO, be better than that of her equally ambitious but more conservative sister council member, Ms. Schaaf, or the even more conservative Mr. Tuman.  Call this pick a defensive move to avoid electing someone I’d like even less.

City Auditor – This is potentially an important office.  My sense of Oakland’s administration is that it’s rather inefficient and could use a strong critical eye.  However, the auditor should NOT be a political office.  It’s not the place to sharpen knives.  The two candidates are both CPAs, and hence at least qualified to conduct audits, but Len Raphael is a strong political slant.  He ran unsuccessfully for City Council (District 1) in 2012 on what was basically a “law and order” platform.  as i said, i don’t think we need a politician as auditor.  His opponent, Brenda Roberts, is an experience corporate auditor.  I worry that she may bring too narrow a financial focus to the auditor position, as opposed to looking a functional as well as financial audits, but I think a strong financial auditor would be helpful.  I pick Roberts.

LOCAL BALLOT MEASURES

Finally, we have the local ballot measures.  There’s one county measure, one Oakland Unified School District Measnure, and five Oakland city measures.  Here are my takes on them:

Measure BB – 30 year 1/2 cent sales tax INCREASE, bringing the county transportation sales tax to 1%.  The last attempt to pass this tax, with NO time limitation, just barely failed.  Now they’ve gotten slightly less ambitious and are ONLY asking for a 30 year tax.  I will probably expire before it does.  I think thirty years is too long.  We don’t even know what the transportation of 30 years from now will look like.  We shouldn’t already be giving it funding, sight unseen.
Further, this is a classic “something for everyone” measure with enough boondoggles to satisfy any advocate of government waste.  We’re already funding the ridiculous BART to Warm Springs, and now this adds BART to Livermore – a give-away to construction contractors and unions that will be an even bigger boondoggle that the Oakland Airport Connector (which is now expected to cost $7 one-way for a ten minute ride!)  There’s also lost of money for highway expansion, to further feed our appetite for gasoline, along with an uncritical subsidy for any and all transit.  We could, and ought to, be doing much better.  NO

Measure N – this money would help pay for services to make graduation rates higher and make Oakland’s graduates more successful.  The OUSD isn’t one of the best run school districts around, but it’s got an enormous job to do, and needs all the help it can get.  YES

Measure Z – This continues Oakland’s Measure Y – a public safety funding measure – that provides both money for police services and money to provide help getting people (particularly youth) off the criminal track.  YES!!

Measure CC -an attempt to give the Oakland Public Ethics Commission at least a few teeth (which it badly needs).  YES

Measure DD – Establishes an independent redistricting commission for the City Council and OUSD trustee seats.  Badly needed to get the politics out of the redistricting process.  YES

Measure EE – Would replace one of Oakland’s retirement systems with a fixed annuity to be paid for with existing funds.  Would get the City out of the business of administering this system.  YES

Measure FF – sets a $12.25 per hour minimum wage within Oakland.  This was a compromise between the current grossly inadequate minimum wage and the $15 per hour wage advocated by labor groups but opposed by businesses.  It will help considerable, and isn’t that high that it will drive business out of the city.  (We really need to have at least a countywide, or better a Bay Area uniform minimum wage, gut at least this is a step in the right direction.)  YES

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Recommendation for June 2014 California Primary Election

May 28, 2014

I finally have enough time to put down my thoughts on the June primary election ballot.  To start with, I have to say that this is not an impressive crop of candidates.  My personal feeling is that we’re seeing the effects of Citizens United and its progeny.  As special interests continue to pour money into election campaigns, the cost of running for office continues to escalate, and those special interest dollars come at a steep price.  The interests want assurance that their money will be a good investment.  Whatever the interest, be it the Chamber of Commerce or a labor organization, they want to know that the candidate’s vote is “in the bag.”  If a candidate doesn’t feel comfortable pledging themselves to that special interest’s agenda, they’ll get no money, and no money, in most cases, means no campaign.  Hence elections are more and more becoming a battle between special interests, and the public interest gets left in the dust.

So, on to this June’s crop of candidates and ballot measures.

Let’s start with the ballot measures.  I always find a good place to start is the ballot arguments pro and con – not the subject matter, but who’s signing them.  That tells you what special interests have lined up on one side or another, and likely who paid to get the measure put on the ballot, one way or another.  So let’s get started.

Proposition 42Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act – This would authorize the state to issue $600 Million in General Obligation state bonds to fund “affordable multifamily supportive housing” specifically for veterans.  The bonds would presumably be used to build or rehabilitate multifamily rental housing for vets.  Why vets?  Well, lots of vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result of being screwed up by the military. Often, they’re mentally ill and prone to substance abuse.  That usually means they either can’t or are unwilling to hold down a job.  How, then, are they going to pay the rent??  The bond gives preference to “supportive” housing, but that term is left pretty undefined.  Bear in mind that the cost of this program, like that of any general obligation bond, is borne by us, the taxpayers.

The measure is supported basically by veterans’ groups, who obviously have a vested interest is supporting their members.  My feeling about the measure is: 1)  Good try – screwed up people, whether veterans or not, need lots more help than they’re getting; 2) This proposal impresses me as being pretty ineffective at helping those needing help most; 3)  Who it will really help is the building trades unions, which are who probably pushed to get it on the ballot; 4)  Do we really need another poorly thought out bond measure to add to the state’s debt burden?  (I confess I am thinking about the $10 billion we voted in 2008 for high-speed rail, another poorly planned and even more poorly implemented bond measure.  At this point, I trust neither the Legislature not the courts to assure that the bonds we vote for do what they’re proposed to do.)  NO

Proposition 42Public Records. Open Meetings. State Reimbursement to Local Agencies. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.  This measure would amend the state constitution [WARNING – another constitutional amendment!] to protect the public’s right to have local agencies follow the California Public Records act and the Brown Act, BUT, it would also eliminate the requirement that the state reimburse local government for the cost of compliance.

This measure arose out of a fight in last year’s budget, when Governor Brown proposed to allow local government to not enforce the Public Records act or Brown Act.  The reason was because under the constitution, when the state forces local government to comply with a mandate costing money, it generally has to pick up the tab for that compliance.  Brown, wanting to reduce the budget, proposed to drop the mandate for Brown Act & Public Record Act compliance, and reduce the state budget accordingly.  Of course it didn’t hurt (for Brown) that he’s not a big fan of open government anyhow, so if local government dropped compliance, who cares?  Well, a lot of Californians did, and the measure was hastily dropped.

Now, the governor and legislature still want the state not to pay, so this measure shifts the cost to local government.  How will they pay it??  Good question.  With Prop 13, there are fewer and fewer local government funding sources.  What it mainly means is that it will get much more costly to get documents from local government.  Some local courts are already starting to charge $1 a page to copy, or even just download, court documents available on-line.Expect the costs to see agendas, minutes, etc. to skyrocket.

In my humble opinion, this is a bad “solution” to the problem.  It will further guarantee that government will only provide services for the 1%.  NO

Alameda County Measure AA – This would reauthorize a 1/2 cent county sales tax for local healthcare facilities, especially the county hospital system (Highland Hospital etc.)   Highland and the county healthcare system are crucial, especially given the large number of low-income uninsured and Medical patients in the county.  If this measure fails, we’re in serious trouble!  YES

Candidates:

Statewide Offices:

Governor – To my mind, this office, and almost all the statewide offices, highlight the problem we face in getting good, thoughtful, candidates to run for office.  While I like some things Jerry Brown has done as governor, I think he’s autocratic, insensitive to the public, and has got many of his priorities totally screwed up as he seeks to leave a “legacy” in his last term – notably in his high-speed rail and water tunnel projects, both of which will spend huge amounts of public money to not solve the real problems (inadequate state transportation policy and inadequate state water policy.  Both of these projects are largely driven by construction contractors and unions who see huge profits and large number of short-term union construction jobs.  This is a hell of a way to set government policy.

Unfortunately, the alternatives aren’t very attractive.  The Republican candidates all follow the mantra of saying let’s reduce taxes and eliminate all government regulation (and, by the way, make sure everybody can have all the guns they want) and everything will magically get better.  Can you say fantasyland?  The other candidates don’t seem to have realistic programs either.  My recommendation would be to vote for the Green Party candidate – Luis Rodriguez – as a protest.  (It doesn’t really matter who you vote for any more.  With the “top two” primary, Brown and the choice of reactionary Republican – probably Donnelly – will end up facing off in a “choose who is less disgusting to you” November run-off.)

Lieutenant Governor – This office currently makes very little sense.It would probably make sense to have this be an office appointed by the governor for the sole purpose of temporarily acting as interim governor when the governor is unavailable (e.g., out of state).  Again, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, because in November it’ll be Newson vs. Nehring.  My protest vote choices?  Either Goodman (Green Party) or Korevaar (Independent Democrat)

Secretary of State – This race got a little more interesting when Leland Yee, the favored Democrat, got indicted.  I’m impressed by Cressman’s credentials as having worked on campaign finance issues with Common Cause and his open support to trying to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (although as Secretary of State, he can’t do what he claims and keep corporations from meddling in California politics, at least not without a federal constitutional amendment).  Cressman.

Controller – An obscure office.  One of its main characteristics is the controller is the state’s accountant and, theoretically, conducts audits (although there’s also a state auditor and a joint legislative audit committee.  Mostly, it’s who you sue when you want to sue the Legislature.  Betty Yee, one of two mainstream Democratic candidate, appears well-qualified, but I worry about her heavy set of labor union endorsements. Still, she’d be a far better choice that John Perez, a career Democratic politician. We might do better to have an outsider in this office.  Wells (Green Party)

Treasurer – This is the guy who signs the state’s checks.  He also makes the go-no go decision on issuing bonds and other major day-to-day state financial decisions.  The current controller, John Chiang, wants to move into this office.  If he does, expect status quo and no change.  I can’t recommend the Republican, however (who didn’t even put in a ballot statement).  Brown (Green Party)

Attorney General – The state’s top legal officer.  The AG prosecutes lawsuits (both civil and criminal) on behalf of the state, and conversely defends the state against lawsuits.  The AG also prepares legal opinions that provide guidance on interpreting state laws and writes ballot measure summaries for state ballot measures.  A very important office, but one that, in my humble opinion, has gotten way too political in recent years.  The current AG, Kamala Harris, epitomizes the problem.  She’s basically Jerry Brown’s mouthpiece (as the term was used in old gangster movies to refer to the mob boss’s attorney). I really can’t recommend any of the choices.  WRITE SOMEONE IN AS A PROTEST?

Insurance Commissioner – This is actually quite an important office.  The IC regulates insurance carriers in the state and enforces the requirements of Proposition 103, which dramatically changed California’s insurance laws and made the insurance commissioner an elected office.  The incumbent Dave Jones, appears to have been pretty effective in holding insurance companies to account.  Jones.

Board of Equalization, 2nd District – An obscure but important office.  The Board of Equalization oversees most tax collection (except income tax) and is the appellate board for disputes over income tax.  Sadly, there are only two candidates –  James Theis, a Republican who has no chance in this heavily-Democratic District, and Fiona Ma – a Democratic party hack whose performance in the legislature has been notably lackluster.  NO RECOMMENDATION.

U.S. Representative – The incumbent for the 13th District, Barbara Lee, has been a stalwart liberal, inheriting that mantle from Ron Dellums, on whose staff she served.  She’s been a strong voice against the Democratic Party’s status quo, for example, consistently voting against U.S. military intervention abroad and for reducing the military’s budget.  Lee.

State Assembly – Lots of candidates here.  My personal feeling is that the two “leading” candidates, Thurmond & Echols, are both in the pocket of public employee unions and would be rubber stamps for the Democratic legislative leadership.  (I do not consider either of those to be a positive attribute.)  The two candidates who’ve impressed me are Pamela Price and Sam Kang.  I slightly prefer Kang because he has courageously spoken out about the need to change Prop. 13 to make it fairer.  Kang

Alameda County Schools Superintendent – This office sounds more important than it is.  Most local school districts run their own affairs, but the county superintendent sometimes steps in on occasional issues, like authorizing charter schools, and is responsible for education in the county jails, a potentially important function for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.  Given what the office is about, the two best qualified and most impressive candidates seem to be Jeff Bowser and Naomi Easton.  Of the two, Ms. Easton appears better qualified.  Easton

County Assessor, County Auditor/Clerk-Controller, District Attorney, Sheriff, and Treasurer/Tax Collector – Five important offices; all effectively uncontested.  (For Auditor/Clerk, Ms Kathleen Knox ran, but it turns out she doesn’t even live in the county, and has been indicted for violation of state election law.)  Thomsen, Manning, NO VOTE [D.A.], Ahern, White


More Thoughts on Money and Politics

November 7, 2012

I’ve written before on what a disaster the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case has been.  Yesterday’s election, and the campaign leading up to it, again emphasized how that decision has fundamentally changed and degraded the American political process.  While it’s true that in some cases a candidate or ballot measure won in spite of being badly outspent, I don’t think it shows that money has no influence.  To use a sports analogy, if I had gone into the boxing ring against Muhammed Ali when he was in his prime, and he started the fight with one hand tied behind his back, there is little question in my mind that he’d still win easily.  Likewise, when a candidate or ballot measure is so obviously superior, large amounts on money won’t necessarily save the inferior candidate or issue position.

This brings me to another analogy (also from sports) that I think shows clearly why Citizens United was wrongly decided.  We all know that Lance Armstrong was a great athlete.  We also now know that he used steroids to enhance his performance.  Whether he could have won his many championships without using steroids is, at this point, impossible to say.  However, I think virtually everyone would agree that for him to use steroids in a situation that gave him an unfair advantage was wrong.

I would suggest that allowing a candidate or political committee to raise, donate, or spend unlimited funds, and especially to allow that to happen without anyone knowing where that money is coming from is like allowing someone to go up to Lance Armstrong as he prepared for a race and inject him with a needle-full of lord knows what kind of drug.  That’s not allowed in sports, and it shouldn’t be allowed in politics.


November 2012 Election Comments

October 4, 2012

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!

President

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.


My June ballot election recommendations

May 28, 2012

I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my blog of late – too much work.  However, several people have pointed out to me that there’s an election happening, and at least one or two people like to know my comments and recommendations before they vote.  (That’s not to say they follow my recommendations.  They just like to know them. For all I know, they may turn around and do the exact opposite!

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents on the June ballot:

Presidential primary — what’s to say?  It’s already decided.  Let’s just move on.  We’ll come back to this
before the November election.

U.S. Senate — Well, this is the first time we’ve had all the candidates on one ballot.  Kinda interesting.  Lots of Republicans, a few Democrats, two Peace and Freedom, and one American Independent and one Libertarian.   I confess to knowing very little about most of the candidates.  I do note that most of the Republicans are businessmen/women.  I guess that kinda figures.  I’m not particularly thrilled with Feinstein, but it probably won’t make much difference; she’ll win by a landslide anyhow.  Just for the heck of it, you might try voting for Marsha Feinland, one of the Peace & Freedom candidates.  I think this is her third or fourth time running against Feinstein, so at least she’s got a bit of experience at being a candidate.

U.S. Representative — In the 13th Congressional District, where I am, there’s no real contest.  Barbara Lee has voted the way I would have on almost every issue, and has been one of the leaders in trying to get us extricated from Afghanistan.  Would that there were more like her.  Speaking of which, if you live in Pete Stark’s district, please vote for him.  He’s been a stalwart supporter of good things like single-payer healthcare and an opponent of military spending for years and years.  Yes, he’s getting older, but his votes still work for me.

For State Senator, Loni Hancock is running unopposed, as is Nancy Skinner for State Assembly.  Loni has been fighting the good fight for many years, so I can’t complain about her being unopposed.  Nancy Skinner, on the other hand has, in my opinion, been much less impressive.  However, since she’s unopposed, your only other option is to leave her space blank.  (A write-in wouldn’t count.)

For County Supervisor, in my district, District Five, there’s again no contest.  Keith Carson is running unopposed.  Being county supervisor in the current economic climate is no fun, so I don’t begrudge Keith his seat.

Finally, we do have one local contested race — Alameda County Superior Court Judge.  This is nonpartisan, and there’s no incumbent, so you’ve basically got three attorneys who want to be a judge.  I don’t know any of the three, and have only their  candidate statements to go on.  Based on that, however, I’d choose Andrew Wiener.  His emphasis on trying to reduce the adversarial atmosphere of the courtroom and promote negotiated settlements is, to my mind, a very worthwhile one.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the ballot measures.  There are two statewide measures, 28 and 29, and one local measure, a $48 per year parcel tax for the community college district.

Proposition 28 would modify the state term limit law by reducing the maximum [lifetime] allowance from 14 years to 12 but allowing those 12 to be served in either house, by the candidate’s preference.  I have never been a fan of term limits.  As a lawyer who deals with state laws, I’ve seen a definite decline in the quality of legislation since term limits were enacted.  What do you expect?  By the time you figure out how to write good laws, you’re termed out.  At least with this proposal, you could spend your years in one house and perhaps learn it better.  YES

Proposition 29 would put a $1 a pack additional state tax on cigarettes.  The No campaign is being funded almost entirely by the tobacco industry.  Now there is an evil empire!  The only [legitimate] thing that can be said against this measure is it may increase the amount of illegally sold cigarettes in the state, and perhaps in that way contribute to organized crime.  However, there’s more than enough money to be made selling other drugs, so I don’t think that’s a big concern.  Other than that, if the higher prices deter a few people from smoking, so much the better.  It is  sad, however, how many poor, uneducated people are smokers.  😦      YES

Measure B – $48 per year parcel tax to help fund Peralta Community College District.  This community college district has had more than its share of scandals, but whose fault is that?  Ours.  After all, we elect its governing board.  If they don’t do a good job, we ought to run better people for office.  All that having been said, Thanks to the recession and Prop. 13, the District, like all other public educational institutions, is strapped for funds.  The community colleges are especially important because this is about the only place left where working class kids can get an education beyond high school.  (That’s a sad commentary on the state of California’s once glorious higher education system!)  YES.


Ballot Measure Brain Teasers

November 3, 2010

Here’s a brain teaser for you — try to find a consistent frame of reference that makes sense of all the California ballot measure results from yesterday’s election.  It’s not easy.

Some parts fit together pretty well.  Propositions 22 and 26 are part of a consistent pattern of California voters asking government to keep its hands out of our wallets unless they ask nicely and we say yes.  Prop. 22 keeps state government (meaning the legislature) from taking money away from local jurisdictions to help balance the state budget.  It was sold as protecting local government resources.  As I noted in a previous post, the unmentioned major beneficiary will be redevelopment agencies.  I wonder why the no on 22 campaign didn’t play that up more.  I find it hard to believe, in between their taking money away from other local agencies and being able to exercise eminent domain to take property away from citizens, that voters have a warm spot in their heart for redevelopment agencies. [That’s not to say that they never do anything worthwhile.  To give them their due, for example, Emeryville’s redevelopment agency has had a big hand in transforming that city from truckyards and factories into a retail powerhouse.]  Prop. 26 also makes it harder for the state (or local agencies, for that matter) to collect money in the form of fees.  The complaint was that there were fees being created that were really taxes, and it was a subterfuge to get around Prop. 13 and Prop. 218’s voter approval requirements.  So now most fees will ALSO require a 2/3 popular vote.  The defeat of Prop. 21 also fits with the “keep your hand out of my friggin’ wallet” attitude of California voters.  Interestingly, for both this and Prop. 26, the Bay Area’s attitudes differed from the rest of the state’s.  Here’s a link to the voting map for prop 21 on the Secretary of State’s website:  http://vote.sos.ca.gov/maps/ballot-measures/21/  .  We in the Bay Area are apparently a bit more willing to pay the fare when it comes to government services.

This might all seem consistent, but at the same time voters also adopted Prop. 25, which eliminates the 2/3 majority requirement to pass the state budget.  Thus it’ll now be easier for the legislature to pass a budget, but harder for them to have it survive the laugh test of, “So where are you going to find the revenue to make this budget balance?”  Look for many more applications of smoke and mirrors to produce a “balanced” budget in the future.  Also look for the state budget deficit to continue to grow, since Californians seem to think they can have all the services they want without having to pay for them.

Props 20 and 27, like props 21,22, and 26, but unlike prop 25, also showed voters’ distrust of the legislature.  In 2008, the voters narrowly passed prop 11, taking legislative redistricting out of the (self-interested) hands  of the legislature and putting it into the hands of an independent “citizens’ commission”.  This year, the legislature tried to convince voters that they should reverse the decision.  No such luck.  In fact, the voters turned around and took congressional redistricting out of the legislature’s hands as well.  Perhaps, with the exception of prop 25, the theme might be that the legislature is not to be trusted with doing much of anything right.  Arguably, even prop 25 could be said to reflect that attitude.  i.e., “OK, you don’t seem to be able to handle passing a budget with a 2/3 majority.  We’ll make it easy for you — just get something out with a simple majority; and if you can’t handle that, we’ll take away your pay because you clearly aren’t earning it!”

Then we’ve got two “lifestyle” initiatives.  Prop 19, that would’ve legalized recreational marijuana use, and prop 23, which would have suspended the state’s global warming law. 

On the former, early polls seemed to show voter approval, but two things appeared to turn the tide.  First were a bunch of articles pointing to flaws in the initiative’s language that would result in litigation and unintended consequences.  Second was the U.S. Attorney General’s public announcement that he didn’t care what California did; he was still going to have MJ users, growers, sellers, etc. arrested and thrown in prison under federal narcotics laws.  This could, perhaps, have stirred up a states’ rights oriented state like Alaska or Mississippi to say, “Oh yeah?  We’ll see about that!  See you in court!”  But …  California is not a big states’ rights bastion, and with law enforcement groups up and down the state saying it was a bad idea, the voters apparently had second thoughts.

Prop 23 was a different story.  For one thing, Californians have long liked to think of themselves as being an environmentally conscious group.  After all, we have Yosemite, the redwoods, the sequoias, Lake Tahoe, etc.  We were also one of the first states to block offshore oil drilling after the big Santa Barbara oil spill, and Californians have bought more hybrid vehicles, not only in toto but on a per capita basis, than any other state.  So it only stands to reason that, having passed landmark legislation to try to curb global warming, Californians would not readily turn around and say, “Oops, we made a mistake.  Let’s put that law in the deep freeze for twenty years or so until it gets REALLY hot.”  It also didn’t help that it came out very early (thanks to California’s campaign finance disclosure laws) that almost all the money financing prop 23 was coming from out-of-state oil companies.  Hey, what the heck, they were in Oklahoma or inland areas of Texas.  It wasn’t their coastline that was going to disappear under water as sea levels rose.  Bottom line, Californians decided they didn’t believe the oil companies (who have, of course, tremendous credibility already — almost as good as Enron’s).

One thing that still leaves me scratching my head is that in spite of what appears to be a set of almost Tea Party-like attitudes  about government spending, Californians still elected an entire set of Democratic state office holders.  Like I said at the start of this post, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a consistent frame of reference for California voters.


Election Day!!!

November 2, 2010

If you’re looking at this on November 2nd, you’re probably looking for advice on how to deal with your ballot.  I’ve put up several posts with my recommendations and comments.  (However, they won’t help you very much unless you vote in California.)  Please go down through my posts until you find those of interest to you.  They start below continue from there.  Here are links (in chronological order) if you want to get there fast.  The titles are mostly self-explanatory:

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/first-comments-on-the-november-election-proposition-22/

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/more-on-the-november-ballot/ — statewide ballot measures

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/november-election-last-installment/ — candidate recommendations

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/on-the-oakland-mayoral-race/

https://stuflash.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/thoughts-on-local-ballot-measures/


Thoughts on Local Ballot Measures

October 15, 2010

The last piece of the election puzzle (for me) is the local ballot measures.  Here in Oakland, there are six — one county, one school district, and four city measures.  I’ll go through them in alphabetical order.

Measure F — County transportation supplemental registration fee.  The legislature in its infinite wisdom has decided (and the governor approved) that while the state will continue to short-change counties on transportation funding, it will allow each county to enact, with voter approval, a supplemental vehicle registration fee to be used for local transportation projects.  The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency — the state-mandated local agency with responsibility for general transportation and its funding, has decided to propose a $10 per vehicle fee to fund local transportation improvements.  The funds would be allocated 60% for roadway improvement and repair, 25% for a congestion relief program, 10% for transportation technology (e.g., “smart roadways”, electric vehicle charging stations, improved traffic signal technology — e.g., signal timing, transit override, etc), and 5% for pedestrian and bicycle related improvements.  The County’s other transportation agency, formerly called ACTA and now ACTIA, had to be sued over its misuse of country transportation sales tax funds.  (BTW, ACTIA and the county CMA have now been merged into an Alameda County Transportation Commission with control of all the county transportation funding.)  The ACTC does have a number of advisory citizen committees, but I’m not sure if there’s explicitly a “watchdog” committee over how the ACTC uses its funds.  There was no ballot argument submitted against the measure.  With the decreased state transportation funding, local funding is getting to be the wave of the future.  I would recommend a YES vote, but I’d also recommend keeping your eye on how this money gets spent.

Measure L — This measure was put on by the Oakland school board to provide supplemental funding for salaries of teachers and other instructional (i.e., non-administrative) positions.  This would be an additional $195/year parcel tax on top of the already-approved school parcel tax for facilities.  Like transportation (and everything else), the state has been starving schools because we’ve run out of money.  Us local taxpayers end up having to make up the difference.  I don’t like parcel taxes as a way of doing that, because they’re regressive.  You pay the same $195 whether you’re in a two-room hovel or a $5 Million mansion.  (And most leases allow the landlord to pass along parcel taxes to the tenants, even though the tenant doesn’t get to deduct it off his/her taxes!)  I’m also somewhat concerned that the school board is doing this at the behest of the teachers’ union.  This is the same kind of shenanigans that led to Oakland’s budget problems when the city council gave the police and firefighters unions everything they wanted.  I will leave you to make up your own minds, but I’m giving strong consideration to voting no.

Measure V — The medical marijuana tax increase.  The city put this on the ballot to squeeze a little extra revenue out of the lucrative medical marijuana industry that has sprung up since the passage of Prop. 115.  I see little reason to oppose it.  While some of the tax may get passed on to the consumers of medical marijuana, the small additional fee isn’t going to make medical marijuana unaffordable to those who really need it.  YES

Measure W — telephone tax increase.  The city already has a utility tax on “land line” phones.  This would add a flat $1.99 per month charge on both land lines and mobile phones, as well as a somewhat higher tax on trunk lines that serve multiple subscribers.  This not going to make or break the city budget.  My suspicion is that it will probably fail, because many people are tired of getting nickeled and dimed with little taxes.  we really ought to be getting to the root of things and re-addressing the inequities of Prop. 13.  We also need to reassess our public employee pensions systems, and move to a single-payer health insurance system.  If all those things happened, we would not need all these extra little taxes.  In fact, I’d suggest a measure that revises Prop. 13 and simultaneously sunsets all of these small taxes.  YES.

Measure X — Police parcel tax.  This is undoubtedly the most controversial measure on the Oakland ballot.  It represents a deal between the City Council and the OPOA.  The OPOA agreed to accept an increase in police contributions to their pension funds in return for the city putting this on the ballot, restoring the laid-off police, and promising no lay-offs for the remainder of the current OPOA contract.  Since it was placed on the ballot, virtually all of the council members have had “buyers remorse”.  I’m not sure there’s a single city council member who’s still supporting and campaigning for this measure.  It seems destined to go down in flames.  That may be appropriate.  Unfortunately, Oakland citizens will pay, with reduced police coverage, for the OPOA’s pig-headedness during the budget crisis.  I’m torn.  I don’t like the reduced police, but I also don’t want to reward the OPOA’s obnoxious behavior.  On balance, I’m afraid I must recommend NO.

Measure BB — modify Measure Y — This measure is a stopgap to prevent further hemorrhaging of the Oakland police dept.  It would temporarily suspend the minimum staffing levels established by Measure Y for the police force.  If this doesn’t pass, Measure Y funding gets cut off and Oakland would be forced to lay off another 150 police.  This would serve the OPOA right, but it would be a situation of cutting off your nose to spite your face.  We really do need to go after the OPOA and let them know that they can no longer play the games they’ve played.  That’s one reason why I’m so strongly opposed to Perata, the OPOA’s darling.  However, we can’t afford to lose another 150 police.  YES.


More on the November ballot

October 1, 2010

My sample ballot came today, which says to me it’s time for me to share my opinions on the ballot measures and candidates.  It is, as it usually is in a statewide November election, a pretty long ballot.  I’m going to start with the ballot measures.  This year, they’re a pretty easy group for me to decide on.  Maybe not so much for you.  For the first time I can remember, I’m 100% in agreement with the positions of the California League of Women Voters, where they’ve taken a position.  You can find their analysis here:  http://ca.lwv.org/action/prop1011/flyer.html  I go beyond the League, however, by sticking my neck out on the other ballot measures as well.

Proposition 19 — Marijuana Legalization —  Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s and 1930s.  Marijuana prohibition hasn’t worked either.  All it’s done is provide extra income to drug dealers and made it easier for people to transition from MJ to harder drugs.  I think we’d do far better to legalize, regulate, and tax MJ.  That’s not to say that I think MJ is a great thing.  I know some people who went overboard on MJ and got really messed up; butnothing like what happens with hard drugs, and not as badly as some people I’ve known have gotten messed up on alcohol or cigarettes.  YES

Prop. 20 — Congressional Redistricting Commission — I agree with LWV on this one.  While in principle having congressional redistricting done by an impartial redistricting commission would be a big improvement, we haven’t even seen whether it’ll succeed for the state legislature.  Let’s give the new system a chance to work and see how it does before we jump in with both feet.  (I should at this point disclose that I’m one of the sixty finalists for the redistricting commission, of which fourteen will be chosen.  Consequently, I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering the issue.  It’s not going to be easy, but I am hopeful that the commission will do a good job.)  That having been said, I’m not ready to go “double down” on it yet. — NO

Prop. 21 — State Parks Vehicle License Fee — The League is also neutral on this measure, but I’m giving it a “thumbs up”.   Like the League, I generally don’t like ballot box budgeting.  However, this measure matches new income to an existing need.  that’s very different from, for example Prop 98’s earmarking a set proportion of the state budget for schools or Oakland’s “Kids First II” measure, which locked a percentage of the city’s general fund for child-oriented services.  I think those kind of measures are a big mistake, because they pit one expenditure against another.  However, I have nothing against voting in a special tax to fund a special need.  It seems particularly fitting to use the vehicle license fee, because most people access state parks with their car, and the fee will be tied to allowing free park admission for California registered vehicles. — YES

Prop. 22 — Local Funds Protection — I have mixed feelings about this measure.  Having served on a local agency (the county mosquito abatement district), I’m well aware of the havoc a state “funds transfers” can wreak on local budgets.  However, there’s one budget I wouldn’t mind having havoc wreaked on — redevelopment agencies.  While redevelopment agencies can do some good — Emeryville’s agency being a notable example — they also can do a lot of mischief, and Emeryville has provided just as good examples of that too.  They also take money away from other local agencies, so when they complain about a state takeaway, it’s the pot calling the kettle black.  As I said in an earlier post, I don’t buy it. — NO

Prop. 23 — global warming suspension — If we could actually suspend global warming by a ballot measure, I’d be 100% for it, but this measure is to suspend AB 32, the California legislature’s recently-enacted measure to try to reduce CO2 emissions and limit global warming impacts.  This measure is funded almost entirely by out of state big oil and big coal interests, who want to keep fiddling while the whole world burns (or at least gets way too hot).  If this measure passes, it’ll tell the whole world that Californians can’t see beyond the nose on their face.  I will be extremely embarrassed; almost as badly as when Nixon won 49 out of 50 states in 1972.  At least then I was living in Massachusetts. — NO!NO!NO!

Prop. 24 — Repeal of corporate tax breaks — So, part of the 2008-2009 budget “deal” that the legislature passed was a set of corporate tax breaks that were supposed to stimulate the economy.  Are you feeling particularly stimulated yet?  Neither am I.  If I was going to stimulate California’s economy, I’d do it by keeping teachers, firemen, police, and other public employees from getting laid off.  That means giving government enough money to keep running.  You don’t do that by handing out corporate tax breaks to your friends at the expense of state revenue.  Maybe the Republicans, with a little more than 1/3 of the legislative seats, can extort this kind of crap out of our weak legislative leadership, but we, the voters, don’t need to let it continue. — YES!YES!YES!

Prop. 25 — majority vote on state budget — Speaking of extortion and the state budget, the reason a Republican minority is able to exercise disproportionate control is largely because passing a budget requires a 2/3 vote in both houses.  Aren’t you just a little bit tired of having to wait until October for the state to have a budget, and learning about all the horse trading that happened to get one (often at our expense)?  ENOUGH! — YES!YES!YES!

Prop. 26 — 2/3 vote for all fees — This is another one of those deceptive special interest sponsored ballot measures, like Prop.23 on this ballot and PG&E’s measure on the June ballot.  This one’s sponsored primarily by the tobacco and alcoholic beverage industries, who don’t like having fees placed on their products to help pay for the health damage they cause.  This measure would also protect polluters from fees intended to clean up the damage they cause.  If you don’t mind living in a toilet, go ahead and vote for this measure, because that’s what you’re asking for.  NO!NO!NO!

Prop. 27 – send redistricting back to the legislature — So, How much confidence do you have in California’s legislature?  If you’re like most Californians (including me), the answer is, “Not much!”  This measure would kill the California Citizens’ Redistricting Commission before it even gets fully formed.  All the money spent thus far on getting it set up would be wasted, and instead we’d hand the control back to the legislature so they can re-gerrymander the districts and continue to get themselves re-elected.  How stupid do they think we are?!  [Please don’t answer that question.] NO

My next post will cover the local (Oakland and Alameda County) measures, for those blog readers who live right around here.


Making Sense of the Primary Election Results

June 9, 2010

Well, the election is over, and the  results are in.  What do they mean?  A lot of things.  Lets start with some big lessons:   

One key lesson is that money still talks; but money, by itself, isn’t always enough.  Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorini won their respective contests by landslides, and a large part of the reason is that they buried their opponents with huge personal campaign contributions.  Whitman’s was the more egregious example, even though both she and her major opponent were both multi-millionaires who threw more  of their personal resources into their campaigns than 99.99% of Californians even have.  That didn’t appear to bother Republican voters.  It remains to be seen if such lavish spending of personal resources will alienate independent voters.  (I think one can safely assume that the number of Democrats who’ll vote for a self-proclaimed conservative Republican is vanishingly small.)   

On the other hand, the “spend your opponent to death” strategy didn’t work for either PG&E or Mercury Insurance, both of which tried and failed to buy passage of a corporate-sponsored ballot measure.  In each case, though, they did come close (within five points) to getting their corporate perspective incorporated into California law.  What’s also interesting is the distribution of votes.  In both cases, it was a coalition of voters, primarily in coastal and urban areas, that defeated the measure.  Here, for example, is a link to a map on the Secretary of State’s website showing the county-by-county distribution of votes for Prop. 16:   

http://vote.sos.ca.gov/maps/prop16.htm   

I think several factors were at work.  One, urban voters are more sophisticated and less easily taken in by the simplistic arguments used in these corporate campaigns.  They’re also more skeptical of whether their interests are aligned with corporate interests — i.e., “I know what in it for you, the corporate sponsor, but what’s in it for me, the voter and citizen?”  Also important is that the coastal and urban areas tend to be more liberal and accepting of government.  Both PG&E and Mercury aimed part of their campaigns at public distrust of government.  PG&E, in particular, argued that the people can’t trust government with the money needed to run a public power operation.  That met a receptive audience in “Red State” California, but not in California’s even larger “Blue State” population.  I suspect that in a November election, when urban turnout is higher, the result would have been more lopsided against the two measures.   

Despite the skepticism of corporate-funded campaigns, however, California voters were not ready to allow public financing of election campaigns.  Prop. 15 failed decisively, although not quite by a landslide.  The vote distribution here is particularly interesting.  Here’s how the map looked:   

County-by-county map of Prop 15 results

County-by-county map of Prop 15 results

Here’s a link to the Secretary of State’s webpage, which allows you to see the actual county-by-county voter totals:  http://vote.sos.ca.gov/maps/prop15.htm   

Most Bay Area counties voted “yes”; but the rest of the state (including LA) voted “no”.  What’s this mean?  The Bay Area counties tend to be the most liberal, with the highest percentage of Democratic registration in the state.  They also tend to have some of  the most highly educated voters.  We’ll have to wait for detailed exit polls for a more precise analysis, but my suspicion is that the rationale for Prop. 15 — that public financing would allow better control on campaign spending and reduce the influence of big money on elections — didn’t get through to the public.   Also, especially in hard economic times, many people were probably averse to allowing government to spend money on financing political campaigns, even if that money would come from taxing lobbyists — certainly not a popular group.  This measure, unlike Props 16 and 17, might have done better in a November general election, with its higher turnout and more liberal electorate.   

Finally, Proposition 14, the open primary measure, won quite handily, although again not by a landslide.  The county-by county vote distribution was less lopsided, however, than for Prop. 15.  Only two counties voted against Prop. 14 — San Francisco and Orange.  (A few other counties: Alameda, LA, Santa Cruz, and — surprisingly — Fresno and Tulare, were close, with the measure winning by margins of less than four percentage points.)  SF and Orange represent, of course, opposite ends of the political spectrum.  What they have in common, however, is the strength of their respective primary political party.  Across the political spectrum, the parties were united in opposing Prop. 14 because it would weaken the parties’ role in elections.  It seems, however, that most Californians don’t consider political parties to be all that important.    

Prop. 14’s biggest impact may be in future budget negotiations.  Not only will it make it harder for “hard-line” candidates to get elected, but party leaders will have less leverage over legislators by threatening to run candidates against them in the primary.  Prop. 14 is likely to be challenged in court, and won’t take effect until at least 2012.  We’ll just have to wait and see if it survives, and if so, whether it changes the current toxic budget dynamic.   

Finally, a couple more comments on the candidate side.  For all the talk about “tea parties” and anti-incumbent fever, incumbents did pretty well, at least in the congressional and legislative primary contests.  Off-hand, I can’t think of a race in which an incumbent was defeated.  [Readers — please point out if I’m wrong here.  I haven’t followed all the races that closely.]  Maybe the mood will be different in November, but for now, it doesn’t seem like incumbents are carrying a big stigma.   

The other race that may be worthy of note is for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  This is nominally a nonpartisan office, although traditionally Democrats have had an edge.  It was basically a three-way race, between two legislators: Tom Torlakson — supported by the teachers’ union, and Gloria Romero — supported by “reformers” who favor charter schools; and Larry Aceves, a retired administrator who tried to chart a middle   course.  The November run-off looks like it’ll be between Torlakson and Aceves.  It seems likely that many of Romero’s supporters will gravitate towards Aceves, who already had a slight edge in the results.  However, one can expect the teachers’ unions to spend heavily on Torlakson’s behalf (and expect corresponding rewards if he wins).  Looking at the results, Torlakson’s strength centered heavily around the Bay Area.  If he’s going to win, he’s going to have to expand his base.  Conversely, Aceves is going to have to gain better name recognition outside of his South Bay base, although his Hispanic roots may help him in many parts of the state.  This election is generally, however, a low-profile race. It’s the legislature and the governor who, by their budget decisions, have the biggest say about whether California public education will improve from its current dismal state.


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