November Election – Last Installment

October 14, 2010

OK.  Now we finally get to the nitty-gritty — the candidates.  I’m going to start at the top and work down.  That way, if you’re not living right next door, you can read as far as applies to your ballot, and then stop (unless you’re just curious about other people’s elections).

So, at the top of the ballot (figuratively speaking) is the U.S. Senate.  This is one of the easier races for me.  I happen to like Barbara Boxer and have found myself agreeing with her on almost every issue that comes up.  Fiorina has criticized her for being “ineffective”.  I’m not sure how you can be effective in a gridlocked Congress like we’ve got now.  Aside from that, the kind of places Carly wants to go are not places I’d like to be:  more restrictions on abortion, more outsourcing of jobs abroad, less environmental protection, more global warming, less spending on education and more on the military.  YUCK!!!  Boxer is an easy choice.

Once you get down to the statewide offices, I find it harder to get excited.  It’s not so much the lesser of two evils as it is trying to choose among levels of mediocrity.  But, choose we must.  This year (as in most years) I am guided by Ivins’ Rule — which I was introduced to by the late Molly Ivins.  Ivins’ Rule says that, just before you cast your ballot, look at the results from the most recent and reputable poll.  If the poll shows more than a five point difference between the Republican and Democratic candidate, you’re free to vote your conscience.  You’re vote is very unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.  If the difference is less than five points, however, hold your nose and vote for the Democrat.  It’s a rare day indeed (at least in California) when the Democratic candidate, no matter how wishy-washy and disgusting, would be worse than the Republican, and the winner is (sadly) almost certain to be one or the other.  So, with that as as introduction, on to the races:

Governor — GOD, I wish we had good candidates to choose from!!!  Between Jerry Brown and e-Meg Whitman, it seems to be a battle over who can talk and act in stupider ways during the campaign.  Neither one seems to have any novel or insightful ideas about how to address the state’s intractable deficit problem.  Jerry appears very beholden to the state employee labor unions, while Meg is the darling of the coupon-clipping millionaire set.  If there’s at least a five point difference by election day, please vote for your favorite minor party candidate.  Don’t let Jerry think the electorate really likes him, and please don’t let him win by a landslide.  He’d be even more insufferable than he already is.  If it’s less than five points, however, please vote for Jerry.  He may not be good, but Meg would be worse.

Lieutenant Governor — This position holds some minor power, mostly due the boards the holder sits on ex officio, like the State Lands Commission and the boards of UC and CSU.  The two major party candidates are as lackluster as the office.  Gavin Newsom is memorable for having turned most of his entirely Democratic Board of Supervisors against him and battling with them at every turn.  Abel Maldonado’s main claim to fame is that he eventually voted for a Democratic proposed state budget, after extorting what he could out of the Democratic leadership.  The best one can say is that neither would be in a position to do major damage to the state.  None of the minor party candidates look very impressive either.  Sigh …  However, Maldonado is still somewhat to the right of Newsom, and getting Newsom elected will benefit San Francisco by getting him out of the mayor’s office.  Newsom, by a hair.

Secretary of State — Debra Bowen hasn’t been a bad secretary of state.  She just hasn’t been a particularly creative or innovative one.  The Secretary of State is responsible for state elections.  Bowen has been a tepid supporter of ranked-choice voting, which is not as good as proportional representation but better than the conventional system.  After much hemming and hawing, she did approve it, which is something.  The Republican would be a step backwards.  Bowen, but without much enthusiasm.

Controller — OK.  Here, finally, we’ve got an incumbent who really deserves to get re-elected.  John Chiang has been willing to call a spade a spade on the state’s financial situation and has not tried to sugar-coat the failures of the governor and legislature to come up with a budget.  He was also willing to stand up to the governor on whether the governor had authority to unilaterally furlough state employees.  In other words, he’s got guts.  Chiang is an easy choice.

Treasurer — Bill Lockyer, the incumbent, has bounced around among state offices, first in the legislature, then as Attorney General, and now as Treasurer.  He’s done a decent job in each position, although in none of them has he been truly outstanding.  Nevertheless, he’s been pretty honest about the damage that the state’s budget crises is doing to California’s financial standing, and critical of both governor and legislature for not getting the budget done.  He’s done a good enough job to merit re-election.

Attorney General — I differ from many of my Democratic friends on this race.  They’re enthusiastic about Kamala Harris.  I’m not.  To my mind, she’s far too political to be a good Attorney General.  IMHO, an AG needs to be willing to go after ANYBODY who’s violating state law, regardless of position or party affiliation.  From what I’ve seen of Harris in SF, she hasn’t done that.  She’s also very politically linked to Obama and his group within the Democratic Party machinery.  Like Jerry Brown, I suspect she’ll turn a blind eye to misbehavior if the offending party is well-connected.  Her main opponent, however, Steve Cooley, is a hard-line law-and-order Republican along the lines of George Deukmejian.  I don’t believe that kind of philosophy, with its emphasis of “lock ’em up”, is particularly effective in dealing with crime.  A reluctant nod for Harris.

Insurance Commissioner — So, here you’ve got two legislators — one Republican, one Democratic, who’ve attempted to push through some insurance reforms in the legislature.  BUT, the insurance commissioner isn’t a legislator; he/she is an administrator and quasi-judicial officer who gets to make determinations on the propriety of insurance rates and write administrative rules for insurance companies.  In the past, insurance commissioners have sometimes been “captured” by the industry they’re supposed to be regulating.  It’s again a danger with either candidate, but probably more of a danger with Villines.  I plan to vote for Jones (but will also think about Ivins’ Rule).

Superintendent of Public Instruction — This one’s a toughie: a legislator vs a school administrator.  Torlakson, the legislator, has been involved in education issues in the legislature, but he’s also been closely tied in with the teachers’ unions.  Aceves, a retired school administrator, has had experience at the local, but not the statewide, level.  Still and all, I think this  position needs to be filled by someone who’s not beholden to a special interest.  I’m afraid that Torlakson doesn’t fill that bill.  I’m going with Aceves.

Appellate Justices — I’m going to start with my standard statement, which I say every two years — the electorate had no business voting on these positions.  Voters don’t know enough about what judges do to be able to make educated decisions about whether they’re doing it well.  Further, the vote is far too easily turned into a political witch-hunt, as it was by right-wing Republicans against the Rose Bird court.  In addition, unless someone turns it into a witch-hunt, justices are routinely retained with greater than 90% of the vote in a meaningless show of “support”.  That having been said, here are my thoughts:  Cantil-Sakauye — Her reputations is that she’s a moderate to conservative judge, which would put her smack in the middle of the current Supreme Court, probably pretty close to where Chief Justice George was.  I personally would like to see the court move a little bit towards the left, or at least away from the right, but turning this justice down wouldn’t do much of anything. YES.  Ming Chin — This is one of the two or three most conservative justices on the current court.  IMHO, he’s definitely to the right of the California mainstream.  I wouldn’t be unhappy if he were replaced by a more moderate justice.  He’ll still get retained with over 90%, but if you’d like to protest the court’s rightward movement, this would be the place to do it by voting NO.  Moreno — Moreno has been the most liberal justice appointed to the court in the last fifteen years.  That’s not saying a hell of a lot, but he has been a pretty fair judge, IMO.  YES.

Moving down to the more local Bay Area First Appellate District Justices, here are my one word recommendations:  Banke — NO  [no opinion]; Dondero — NO; Lambden — YES; Jenkins — NO; Siggins — YES; Reardon — NO; Bruiniers –NO; Needham — NO.  And, at the county level, I’d recommend Kolakowski over Creighton, as I did in the primary.  IMHO, we have more than enough former DAs as judges.

FINALLY, getting down to local elections, here are my suggestions:

Oakland Mayor — I tend to generally agree with the recommendations of the East Bay Express.  Three of the major candidates:  Quan, Tuman, and Kaplan, deserve serious consideration.  I also personally feel that Don Macleay and Greg Harland have interesting things to say.  (See my post on the mayoral forum for more details.)  However, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT vote for Perata for first, second or third choice.  I’ve watched Perata for over twenty years, and IMHO he’s as sleazy as they come.  He is exactly what we DON’T need as Oakland mayor.

Oakland City Auditor — Cortney Ruby has done some good work as auditor, and on that basis, I think she deserves to be re-elected.

Berkeley City Council — While I don’t live in Berkeley, I’m going to throw in my unsolicited opinion on a few of the races:  District 4 – Jesse Arreguin ; District  7 – Kriss Worthington: District  8 – Stewart Jones

Richmond Mayor — This one’s easy.  I’ve watched Nat Bates over the past twenty years, and IMHO he epitomizes the worst of Richmond politics.  By contrast, the current mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, has been a breath of fresh air; willing to challenge the entrenched political powers that have run Richmond into the ground over the past thirty years.  Bates’ campaign has also cooperated with the police and fire unions in running a very nasty smear campaign against
McLaughlin, based on health problems she had some fifteen years ago.

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