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 42 – Veterans 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 42 – Public 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
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