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


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.


IRV and the Oakland Mayor’s Race

November 5, 2010

Instant Run-off Voting (IRV for short) has made a big difference in this year’s Oakland mayoral election, and it’s not over yet.  Under Oakland’s traditional primary -> run-off system, there would have been a primary election in June, with lots of money spent.  The two top candidates (in this case, Don Perata and Jean Quan) would then have faced off in a November run-off, with a lot more money being spent in that election.  Essentially, the election could well have boiled down to who was better at raising the huge amounts of money needed to fight two back-to-back electoral battles.  In the past, that’s usually meant that the candidate with better connections to big-money special interests wins.

(Parenthetically, in very old-style elections, there was no run-off.  The candidate with the plurality of votes cast won outright.  This led to people putting up phony candidates whose main purpose was to draw votes away from the prime opponent.  Having a run-off at least allowed a clean match-up of the top candidates.)

With IRV, only one election is held, but the voters get to pick more than one candidate.  (IRV is also called ranked choice voting.)  If there first choice gets knocked out of the running, their vote  transfers to their second choice, etc.  Thus, unless all the voter’s choices are eliminated, the voter’s voice still makes a difference.   Here’s how it played out in the Oakland mayoral election this year (the first time IRV was used in Oakland).

There were ten – yes, ten, count them – candidates in the elections.  Some of them were pretty minor and ran only token campaigns; others tried to run low-budget grassroots campaign — a very hard thing to do in a city of over 400,000 people.  Most observers acknowledged there were four “major” candidates with sufficient funds and supporters to run credible citywide campaigns — former state legislator Don Perata, city council members Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, and professor and media pundit Joe Tuman.  Shown below are the preliminary results of the IRV calculus.  (The results are preliminary because several thousand absentee and provisional ballots remain to be tallied.)

IRV mayoral election results

How IRV chose Oakland's mayor

As you can see, the IRV procedure shifted votes from lower ranking to higher ranked candidates.  Significantly, however, the shift was nonrandom.  About two-thirds of Rebecca Kaplan’s votes shifted to Jean Quan when Kaplan was eliminated, while only about one-third went to Perata.  Even more striking (although smaller) was the shift from Green Party candidate Macleay.  Quan got almost half of his 1500 or so votes, while Perata only got a little more than fifty.  The unequal distribution of second and third choice votes allowed Quan to close the gap against Perata and eventually surpass his total.  One potentially important factor in the election was candidates’ recommendations about whom to vote for other than themselves.  Several candidates, notably Quan and Kaplan, urged their supporters to choose any other candidate except Perata as a second or third choice.  It appears many voters followed that advice.

Back when ranked choice voting was being debated, Perata, and several city council members who supported him, came out in opposition to IRV.  At this point, it’s pretty clear it was in his self-interest to do so.  If not for IRV elections, it’d almost certainly now be Mayor Perata, rather than Mayor Quan.


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/


“Oakland Jobs PAC” — Who ARE those guys?

October 19, 2010

Yet another election flier came in today’s mail.  This one, yet another extolling the virtues of mayoral candidate Don Perata, came from a shadowy committee called, “Oakland Jobs PAC.”  It apparently cost $30,155.  Remembering deep throat’s advice of “follow the money,” I set out to try to figure out where that $30,155 came from.  It’s not easy.  The Secretary of State’s website lists it as a “Recipient Committee,” but shows no recent donation or expenditures.

Since it’s spending money on the Oakland mayoral race, Oakland Jobs PAC presumably has to file with the Oakland City Clerk’s office.  Unfortunately, none of those filings are available on-line.  [Note to city officials — if you’re going to go to the trouble of passing campaign finance legislation, it only makes sense to require that the filings be posted on-line.  There aren’t too many people with the time, energy and knowledge to go down to the city clerk’s office and sift through the hundreds of filings that have been made to find out, for example, who gave the $30 K that Oakland Jobs spent on Perata’s behalf.]

There is a little more information available about Oakland Jobs PAC.  They’re the same people who spent a wad of money supporting Kerry Hamill two years ago in her run for the at-large seat on the city council.   If you’ll remember, part of that was for posters that tried to tie Hammill to “safe neighborhoods”.  Both Hamill and Oakland Jobs PAC supported the Safe Streets Initiative, which would have required Oakland to beef up its police force to over a thousand officers.  (It didn’t however, provide any explanation about where the city was going to find the funds to pay for all those extra officers.)  Seems like there’s a theme here, with both Hamill’s  and Perata’s campaigns hitting heavily on public safety and the need to hire more police officers.  (It should also be noted that Hamill was Perata’s chief of staff in the legislature from 1996 to 2000.)

But, that still doesn’t say where the money’s coming from.  Another hint — a campaign filing listed their address as Nielsen Merksamer, a Marin County law firm that specializes in election law and was hired by Signature Properties to help keep a referendum on the Oak to Ninth Project off the ballot.  Also  perhaps significant is that the executive director of Oakland Jobs PAC, Greg McConnell, is a lobbyist who lists Signature Properties (along with another big Oakland developer, Forest Cities) as among his chief clients.  McConnell was also apparently instrumental in forming another group, the Better Housing Coalition, that organized Oakland’s large developers to oppose an inclusionary housing ordinance that was being considered by the city council.  Based on this, my guess is that a Perata administration would not be very interested in pursuing inclusionary housing.

Not having pored through the city clerk’s files, I can’t yet tell you where the “independent” money supporting Perata’s campaign is coming from, but if the past is any indication, there appears to be a strong likelihood that the dots will eventually connect to the major developers doing business in Oakland.  As for why they would do that, well, again, if the past is any indication, it’s because they expect there to be a large pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with Don Perata’s name on it.

I must say that all this is not very surprising to me.  It’s exactly how I’d expect Perata to run his campaign.  It certainly doesn’t give me any cause to revise my voting recommendations for Oakland mayor.


Prison Guard Union Muscles into Oakland Mayoral Election

June 28, 2010

If you’re like me, you get bunches of political ads in the mail.  I just got two today: CSC mailer & filing, both from “Coalition for a Safer California,” which is identified as a political committee sponsored “by public safety organizations.  OK, so what kind of public safety organizations?  Well, it couldn’t be police or fire departments, or the CHP, because they’re all governmental organizations and can’t contribute to political campaigns.  Well, maybe it’s a bunch of police and fire chiefs?  Nope.  It’s a couple of police unions and the state prison guards’ union.  In fact, the group’s latest filing shows the biggest single source of their money is the state prison guards’ union ($100,000 in their most recent filing).  Huh??  I didn’t know there were any state prisons in Oakland, or even near Oakland.  There aren’t even any state prisons anywhere in Alameda County.  So what gives??

Well, although the fliers are nominally about proposed layoffs of Oakland police (and factually inaccurate at that), what they’re really about is the November mayoral election, and they target two mayoral candidates, Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan. 

So, why are the prison guards trying to put  the finger on these two Oakland politicians?  The answer isn’t hard to figure out.  The third major candidate in the mayoral election is none other than Don Perata, former President Pro Tem of the state senate, deal-maker extraordinaire, and close ally of the prison guards during past state budget processes.  (It’s one reason the prison guards have gotten such sweet deals on their contracts — to the detriment of the state’s huge deficit.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Oakland Police Officers Association has endorsed Perata’s candidacy (using a public appearance by Oakland’s new police chief [who hasn’t endorsed Perata] as the venue to announce the endorsement).  In the best political “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” tradition, Perata has returned the favor by coming out four-square against any police layoffs.

What Perata’s bold stance doesn’t answer is:  How is he going to balance the city’s budget and address its $30 million deficit, which is projected to balloon to $50 million next year?  Maybe he’ll finance it by selling bonds or push it over for the next mayor to deal with — what he did when he was leading the legislature.

As you may be able to tell, I have not endorsed Perata.


Thoughts on the Oakland Special Election

June 27, 2009

Yesterday, I got my absentee ballot in the mail.  That might not seem so special, except that here in Oakland, everyone is getting an absentee ballot in the mail.  This is the first time I can recall a mail-ballot-only municipal election.  (There have been, of course, numerous mail-only elections for assessment districts and the like.)  With the high and increasing cost of running elections, it’s probably the wave of the future.  In fact, while there will be no polling places open, the City has called a special election for July 21st.

As to the subject of the election itself, the City Council called this special election as a last-gasp effort to avoid truly draconian cuts in the Oakland city budget.  Even as it is, the City is looking eliminating maintenance for many city parks, cutting back or eliminating a number of city programs, and generally cutting back city services.

Part of this is the City’s own doing (e.g., the failure of the city council to maintain adequate oversight over Mayor Jerry Brown and his city administrator as they spent money the city didn’t really have), but much of it is the result of a “perfect storm” of outside factors.  Those factors include the dismal state of the local, state, and national economy (and associated drop in business tax and sales tax revenue), the precipitous drop in the Oakland real estate market, with consequent drop in property tax  and transfer tax revenue, the cutbacks in state contributions to local programs (hopefully to be partially offset by federal “stimulus” dollars), and, of course, the long-term impacts of Prop. 13.  Added to that is the self-inflicted wound that Oakland voters perpetrated last November by enacting the “Kids First II” measure, Measure OO, which funded non-city kids’ programs at the expense of the city budget.

The four measures on the ballot are the city council’s attempt to reduce the damage from Kids First II and cobble together some additional short-term revenue sources.  If these measures fail, even more drastic budget cuts are lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce.

What are the measures?  Measure C increases the City’s hotel tax from 11% to 14 % to fund cultural and educations institutions (including the Oakland Museum, Oakland Zoo, and Chabot Science Center), as well as the convention & visitors’ bureau, that are currently funded from the general fund.  It requires a 2/3 majority vote to pass.   If it fails, those institutions will probably lose their City funding, and some or all of them may be forced to close down.

Measure D would replace the Kids First II measure (Measure OO).  That measure dedicated a percentage of total city revenue to kids’ programs.  Measure D would change this to a percentage of unrestricted general fund revenues.  This makes far more sense, since restricted funds are locked into their uses and essentially are “untouchable”.  It requires only a majority vote (as did Measure OO).  If Measure D fails, Measure OO would remain in effect and the City would be forced to cut many other services in order to provide the mandated level of funding for (non-city) childrens’ programs.  Measure OO was, to put it bluntly, a stupid and poorly-written measure.  We shot ourselves in the foot by passing it.  We’ll be adding a second bullet hole if we don’t pass Measure D.

Measure F would increase the business tax on medical marijuana sold in the City from $1.20 per $1000 (0.12%) to $18 per $1000 (1.8%).  It’s a whopping increase, but the current tax is miniscule.  (Compare it to the roughly 10% sales tax on general merchandise!)  As a general tax, this would only require majority vote approval.  Taxing medical marijuana may not be the best way in the world to gain revenue (a city tax on cigarettes or alcohol would be far better), but it’s one of the few politically acceptable revenue sources that isn’t pre-empted by state or federal law.  Again, if this goes down to defeat, there will be even more programs cut from the city budget.

Bottom line — If you don’t mind dealing with humongous potholes in the streets, broken streetlamps that don’t get fixed, closed fire stations, and being put on permanent hold when you call 911, by all means vote these measures down.  It’ll be one more step towards reducing government services to the point where government can be “drowned in the bathtub.”

If, on the other hand, you’d like Oakland to be something other than the world’s biggest cesspool, I’d recommend a YES vote on these four measures.

Incidentally, here’s the Oakland League of Women Voters’ recommendations on the ballot measures.  Like me, they recommend a YES vote on all four:

http://www.lwvoakland.org/VOTER-June-2009.html#election

Don’t forget, you do need to mail your ballot in so that it’s received on or before July 21st.  (Unlike a tax return, just a postmark won’t do the trick.)


Thoughts on the November 2008 Election (Oakland, CA edition)

October 17, 2008
The following is the text of an e-mail I just sent out to semi-local (i.e. Californian) friends and relatives.  It gives my thoughts on the California ballot.  If you’re not a Californian, most of it probably won’t be of much interest (although I am not such an elitist as to think California’s problems are unique to the state).  If you do live in, as our Gouvernator might call it, “Khaleefohrneyah”, please read on.
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Well, my absentee ballot came in the mail yesterday, so that must mean it’s time for my periodic rant about the election ballot.  As always, let me start with my usual statement.  I try to only sent this out to people I think would want to receive it.  If I made a mistake in including you on the recipient list, please let me know and I’ll try to see that you’re not included in the future.
 
Second, since this is going out to people living in a variety of different places in California, I’m hitting the statewide measure more than local stuff.  If I haven’t covered something local in your area, more likely than not it means I don’t know enough about it to feel I’ve got something worth saying (and to modify a quote from Bambi, “If you can’t say something worth saying, don’t say nothin’ at all.”)  Nevertheless, if I haven’t covered something you’re interested in, you can shoot me back an e-mail or give me a call, and I’ll let you know if I’ve got anything that I think is worth telling you.  So, without further ado, on with the show:
 
State ballot measures:
 
As usual, there’s lots of fun for all ages here.  (Well, maybe not for the under two crew, but you can always fingerpaint on the ballot pamphlet.)  As time goes on, I get more and more chary about signing initiative petitions.  I always start by asking who the sponsor is, and if the circulator doesn’t know or gives me a BS answer, I won’t sign.  I wish more people would do that.  There’s a huge amount of money wasted pro and con on ballot measure campaigns, and we Californians have only ourselves to blame for some of the worst things to happen in our state.  (At least I don’t have to blame myself for Prop. 13 — I didn’t live here yet.)
 
Prop 1A  — No.  As some of you may know, I’m not entirely neutral on this, but I probably know more about this issue than 98% of Californians, having represented a coalition of environmental and transportation groups fighting the current high speed rail authority board for the past five years.  I certainly think high speed rail would, in the long term, be a good thing for the state.  However, now isn’t the time and this isn’t the way.  With the state’s huge deficit and budget problems, taking on $10 Billion in bond debt as only a down-payment doesn’t make sense to me.  Further, over the past five years of watching the High Speed Rail Authority, I’ve become convinced that this is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, except when it comes to political patronage.  This project has become an enormous boondoggle that will benefit San Jose at the expense of the rest of the state.  It’s hardly a coincidence that the proposed system centers on Diridon Station in San Jose.  Ron Diridon, the Authority’s past chair, and Quentin Kopp, its current chair, are, just in themselves, two very good reasons to vote down this bond measure.  Sad to say, probably the best thing to be done with the current project and Authority is to throw them both out and start over.
 
Prop 2 — This is one of a number of measures that’s got good arguments on both sides.  There’s little question that we can and should do better in treating the animals that are grown for food.  However, the measure’s opponents note that since this only affects California, there’s a good likelihood that its passage will just move the offending operations to other states, without helping animals and losing lots of California jobs in the process.  However, on balance I think this is a place where California can move things forward.  If we vote this in, I think other states will follow — Yes.
 
Prop. 3 — How can you be against childrens’ hospitals?  Well, when we don’t have the money to spend, that’s how.  This is one of several bond measures that, in better times, I might have favored.  Not now.  Perhaps if it was limited to funding earthquake retrofit work, I’d support it, but the range of allowable spending is way too broad to support in the state’s current financial condition — No.
 
Prop. 4 — NO, NO, NO — The religious right makes another try at taking down abortion rights in California.  They’ve given up on the frontal attack, so now they try to nibble in from the sides.  If you have any connection to teen-aged girls, you should already know this measure is a really bad idea.  The one thing most pregnant teens — especially those under 16 — generally don’t want to do is to tell their parents about it and get a huge, long lecture.  This is a recipe for a lot of unwanted kids to get born.
 
Prop. 5 — This one’s a hard one for me.  I’ve voted for the previous decriminalization initiatives, but it’s not clear how well they’re working yet.  It is clear that a lot of the criminal activity that goes on in places like Oakland is linked to drugs (that and gangs, which often, in turn, are linked to drugs).  As the short arguments pro point out, taking drug treatment out of the criminal justice system could save us a bundle in prison costs, and there’s little question that throwing people into prison only changes their behavior for the time they’re incarcerated, and even then, only to the extend that they’re limited as to who they can rob.  Clearly, solving society’s drug addiction problem is an enormous task that the current “correctional” system hardly touches.  Will this do better?  I don’t know, and doing it by initiative makes it very hard to make “mid-course corrections”.  By the time of the next initiative, I may switch sides, but for the moment, still mark me down for Yes.
 
Pro. 6 — No.  This one’s a lot easier for me to deal with.  Throwing people into jail doesn’t usually solve much.  Hiring more police doesn’t solve that much either.  (Bear in mind this is a statewide measure — how much of that money do you think would ever get to Oakland or Berkeley?)  They’re both band-aid approaches to deep-rooted societal problems.  Especially with money being as tight as it is in the state budget, and this measure not generating any revenue, just spending it, I think the answer has to be no.
 
Prop. 7 — initially, I thought this sounded like a good idea.  Then I read through the Union of Concerned Scientists’ analysis of what it does, and concluded that this is another one of those ballot measures that sounds good when you first hear about it, but looks worse and worse the deeper you dig into it.  The rigidity of the measure is problematic.  What if a public power entity is having trouble meeting the goals due to funding shortfalls?  Do they have to close up and transfer their customers to PG&E?  Could PG&E even handle the extra load without a big rate increase?  Why can’t we rely on the public to press public power entities to do the right thing?  Again, the rigidity of the initiative process for this kind of planning seems inappropriate.  No.
 
Prop. 8 — No, No, No — Another right wing attack on California’s “Godless liberal culture”.  Thank you very much, but I think each of us, as an adult, can make decisions about how to run our own lives, so long as other people aren’t being hurt.  Aha! say the right-wingers, but what about if they have kids?  Well, what about it?  I know any number of gay and lesbian couples who are raising kids, and for the most part they appear to be doing at least as good a job of it as the heterosexual couples I know (perhaps better!).  I think it’s highly ironic that the right wing seems to want to keep government out of our lives, except when it comes to the bedroom.
 
Prop. 9 –No — Sounds innocuous.  Why not allow crime victims to have input into the decisions affecting the perpetrator?  But don’t they already have a lot of opportunities for input?  Seems like we’ve already had several “victims’ bill of rights” initiatives, and they’ve all passed.  I don’t see that this does much that isn’t already part of the current criminal justice system; but locking even more of it in by initiative is, again, making things more costly and inflexible.
 
Prop. 10 — No — Here’s another measure that initially sounds good and beneficial and ecological.  Only when you look closer and realize that it was written and funded by one of the biggest producers of natural gas do you start to see, perhaps, an ulterior motive.  Yes, we need to move towards renewables, but no, moving everyone over to natural gas vehicles, paid for with bond money the state can’t afford, is NOT a good answer.
 
Prop. 11 — Yes — OK, I’m bucking the Democratic Party powers that be on this one.  There’s no doubt in my mind that California’s (and the whole country’s) political system is very seriously broken.  We’ve been waiting for about the past 20 years for the legislature to do something to reform the current legislative redistricting process.  It hasn’t happened.  We can probably wait another 20 years, and it still won’t.  It’s something called self-interest.  Is this plan perfect?  Far from it.  Can we expect anything better in the near future?  I doubt it.  This probably won’t pass anyhow, but maybe if it did we’d finally break the stranglehold the current Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments have over statewide politics.  It certainly can hardly make things much worse!
 
Prop. 12 — Given that I’ve recommended against all the other bond measures on the state ballot, you’d think I’d oppose this one too; but there’s a big difference.  This bond gets paid off by the veterans, not the taxpayers.  Given that difference, I’m not against allowing the state’s credit rating (such as it is) to be used to benefit veterans.  (I may not always have agreed with the wars they fought in, but I certainly accept that many of them took major risks for what they felt was the country’s best interest.)
 
Local measures:
Oakland
 
Measure N — School teacher pay parcel tax — I couldn’t understand why the teachers’ union opposed this measure, until I learned it would also apply to charter school teachers’ pay.  (Charter school teachers aren’t necessarily union members.) The other school employee unions are similarly opposed because only teachers would get raises from it.  My feeling is that you’ve got to start somewhere, and that Oakland teachers are currently grossly underpaid.  I also think that charter schools can sometimes be a good thing.  With all the union opposition, and the 2/3 majority requirements [thank you, Prop. 13], this will probably lose, but I’d recommend YES.
 
Measure NN — police services parcel tax — Unlike the state measure, this local police funding measure attaches revenue to the expenditure.  As I said above, more police is really just a band-aid measure, but when you’re bleeding, a band-aid can still be a good thing.  Oakland needs to do a better job of recruiting, training, and controlling its police; but more funding is probably part (but NOT all) of the answer.  Yes.
 
Measure OO — NO — “Kids First II” — Unlike the police measure above, this measure sucks money out of the Oakland city budget for specific non-city kids services, but doesn’t put any money in to pay for it.  So, you get to choose — fund Boys Clubs – and close down the libraries; fund girl scouts — and close down city swimming pools.  This is stupid, narrow, self-interest on the part of the sponsoring groups.  it’s a really bad idea.  (I got into a big argument with some petition circulators when they misrepresented the measure to me trying to get me to sign the petition.)
 
Regional Measures
 
Measures VV — Yes — Parcel tax to continue funding for AC Transit services such as senior and youth discount fares.  It’s too bad that we have to resort to parcel taxes for these services.  We really ought to raise the gas tax, but the governor has been unwilling to allow that to be done at the local level, and there are too many Republican areas in the state to make it happen statewide.
 
Measure WW — Yes — East Bay regional Park District land acquisition bond measure (will be repaid out of property tax funds).  Detractors carp about the possible use of some bond funds for non-regional parks projects, like the Oakland Zoo.  Sadly, that’s the political cost required to get this passed by the park district board and supported by local elected officials.  Again, it’s the triumph of narrow self-interest.  Nevertheless, Regional Parks has been hamstrung in buying additional park areas because the measure AA funds we voted on some thirty years ago have now been used up.  There’s still places that ought to be public parklands, and if this doesn’t pass, some of them will probably become condo projects instead.
 
Candidates
 
I left these for last because there aren’t a lot of choices.  Yes, theoretically, you could vote for Republicans.  You could also throw yourself off a cliff.  The latter would probably, in the long run, be less painful.  Here are my selections.  Very likely, they won’t agree with yours.  So it goes.
 
President — Nader/Gonzalez  — Here in California, we’re lucky to have the freedom to vote for whomever we want without worrying about the national consequences.  If I lived in Florida or Ohio, maybe I wouldn’t be voting for Nader.  Still, having listened to as much of the debates as I could stomach (about five minutes was all of the VP debate that I could stand), I really would have loved to hear Nader and Gonzales answering the questions.  Neither major party really wants to give straight answers– they’re afraid of alienating one or another constituency.  Sometimes, they don’t even want to deal with the issue, like how do you reduce the federal deficit or keep social security solvent in the long term.  I especially like that Nader isn’t afraid to upset the foreign policy establishment applecart by questioning the wisdom of trying to maintain America’s world empire (which is really what we’ve now got).
 
U.S. Rep. — Barbara Lee — She votes the right way, but it’s sure frustrating that very little leadership seems to come out of her office.
 
State Senator — Loni Hancock — Loni’s been a force for good in the Assembly, pushing through a campaign finance measure and providing major support for single-payer healthcare.  I expect she’ll be a force for good in the Senate too, probably more so than Don Perata, who all too often chose pragmatism over doing the right thing.  Frankly, the one thing I worry about is how much influence her husband has on her.  (I used to like Tom Bates, but not any more.)
 
State Representative — Nancy Skinner — She’ll probably do OK.  We’ll just have to see.
 
Superior Court judge — Dennis Hayashi — To me, this one’s pretty straightforward.  Given the choice between a prosecutor and a public interest attorney, I look around at the past twenty years of gubernatorial appointments to judgeships and say, there are already more than enough former prosecutors sitting up on the bench.  It’d be nice to have someone with a public interest perspective.
 
AC Transit Directors
At Large — Chris Peeples – I’ve know Chris for more than 20 years, and have always found him intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  Joyce Roy, his opponent, is a vehement transit advocate, but I sometimes think she doesn’t look long or hard enough before she leaps.  She has jumped on Chris for AC Transit’s continuing purchase of the European-made Val Hool buses.  I’ve ridden the Van Hools, and I’m not sure I understand what all the fuss is about.  True, they’re not the most comfortable bus in the world, but I haven’t ridden on a comfortable bus in more than forty years — when they stopped putting padded seats in buses.  Apparently, the Van Hools are problematic for some disabled passengers, but I’ve never seen any problems.  They are, apparently, some of the cleanest running diesels available.  Given the Bay Area’s air problems, that’s important.  I think Chris’ long-standing devotion to AC Transit deserves to be rewarded.  I support Chris.
 
Ward 2 — I’ve also know Greg Harper for a long time — over thirty years, from when I first voted to appoint him to the Emerville Planning Commission back in 1985.  Again, Greg is also intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working.  It’s interesting to me that he and Chris Peeples sometimes clash on the AC Transit board.  Nevertheless, they seem to, for the most part, agree on what works (and what doesn’t) in that system.  Greg’s opponent doesn’t appear to be running an active campaign and didn’t even place a candidate’s statement in the sample ballot booklet.  That doesn’t say much for his ability to run a transit district.  Greg is the clear choice.
 
Oakland at-large councilmember — This was my toughest choice among candidates.  I know both the candidates and they’re both intelligent, hard-working women.  While I don’t agree with either of their programs 100%, I found things to like in what each of them have to say.  What swayed me the most, however, was who was supporting them.  When someone supports a politician, there’s usually a pay-back.  Sometimes its overt, often it’s not, but it’s almost always there.  In this case, what alarmed me was Kerry Hammill’s endorsement by the entire conservative wing of the Oakland City Council, led by Ignacio DeLaFuente.  Ignacio has led the pro-business wing of the council for a long time, and may well try yet another run for mayor when Dellums’ term is up.  Regardless, I find Kerry Hammill’s connection to him and his supporters disturbing; even more disturbing than that the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s PAC is supporting Rebecca Kaplan.  (I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out yet.)  Put that together with Kerry’s close connection to Don Perata (she used to work for him), and it leaves me very worried about her independence on the council.  In the end, my vote goes for Kaplan.

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