Scattered thoughts on the upcoming California elections

Posted by Sappho on May 18th, 2010 filed in California Ballot Propositions, News and Commentary

Election time in California is often, for me anyway, a time of wondering whether there’s such a thing as too much direct democracy. You stare at a ballot with more propositions than you can keep track of, often including two competing measures trying to reform the same thing (in one election we had four competing measures to reform car insurance), and you think, wouldn’t it be a good idea if someone who had a clue about writing legislation had vetted this one, which sounds good in principle but looks to be horribly written when I check it more closely? Or wouldn’t it be good if someone with an overview of the budget as a whole weighed this budget measure, rather than having it be voted on by a plebiscite in which we don’t really understand what other budget areas may be affected? Or you look at your local elections and think, judges? Should we really be voting directly on judges? Do most of us actually have enough information to vote intelligently on our local judges?

In fact, there are other ways of doing plebiscites, and it’s possible our system could use be adjusted to better keep the good parts of direct democracy and lose the bad. This election, though, I can’t complain too much. Our list of propositions is pleasantly short, five in all, an easy number to read about. This morning I took Joel to have his tooth pulled (right now I’m at home with him for a while in case he has any problems in the aftermath), and had time to read my whole ballot pamphlet (well, except the actual text of the laws).

The propositions are all of sorts I’ve seen before. There’s the adjustment to Proposition 13 (itself numbered Proposition 13), this one to make sure that people who are retrofitting older, unreinforced buildings for earthquakes don’t see their property taxes go up. There has been a steady trickle of these ever since Proposition 13, all making sure that people get to keep their old property values for cases where you’d obviously want them to – house destroyed in a natural disaster, or repair or retrofitting that you really want them to be able to make. They are all, like this one, uncontroversial. This year’s Proposition 13 was unanimously approved by the California legislature before being passed on to the voters for our consent. Everyone is for it, and no one even bothered to file a ballot argument against it. I’ll vote yes. Then there are the two propositions that appear to have been written to benefit particular corporations: Proposition 16 for PG&E and Proposition 17 for Mercury Insurance. I’m planning to vote no on both of these.

The ones that require more thought are the election reform propositions, because our political system could well use reform, but the devil is in the details. This year, it’s Proposition 14, which proposes putting all candidates, regardless of party, on the same ballot in primary elections, and the top two vote getters in the fall election (elections for President, party officials, and nonpartisan offices would be unchanged), and Proposition 15, which would set up public campaign financing for the Secretary of State election. Joel’s planning to vote against Proposition 14, and I’m still undecided and open to arguments. I’m planning to vote yes on Proposition 15.

The FCL’s positions (up on their web site today, though they weren’t there a couple of days ago):

Proposition 13 SUPPORT. Property Tax Assessment. Seismic Retrofitting.

Proposition 14 NEUTRAL. Increases Right to Participate in Primary Elections.

Proposition 15 SUPPORT. California Fair Elections Act.

Proposition 16 OPPOSE. Two-Thirds Vote for Public Electricity Providers.

Proposition 17 OPPOSE. Auto Insurance Pricing

which matches the conclusions I’d reached before seeing their recommendations.

On to the candidates. I’ve learned, since my last post about local elections, that Joel actually knows Melissa Fox (one of the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for my local State Assembly seat) through the Obama campaign, and recommends I vote for her. I was leaning that way anyway, so this solidifies my leaning.

At the state level, I find, on reading the ballot pamphlet, that some of the candidates are interesting. One of the Republican candidates for governor, with apparently no political experience and no name recognition, leads with the fact that he is “a Christian living by principles in God’s Word,” and “not a politician.” Another leads by saying that “As your Governor, I will ensure all pedophiles will leave the State or volunteer to live confined to Santa Rosa Island, at no cost to Californians, as they will have their own self-supporting village, away from children,” and goes on to promise to “tri-fense our borders” while lowering taxes “to bare bones,” a feat he’ll accomplish by waving his magic wand to “cut government bureaucracy in half.” These two, I think, will not be giving Meg Whitman a run for her money.

As for the Secretary of State race, Republican friends, please, please, please vote for Damon Dunn. Not only does he have a spiffy life story:

Born to a 16 year-old single mother, and struggling through deep poverty, Damon graduated from Stanford University, played in the NFL, and became a successful small business owner.

but, more importantly, and unlike his opponent Orly Taitz, Damon Dunn lives in the real world. That real world being the place where a birth certificate that Hawaii has certified as being accurate and newspaper announcements at the time of his birth are evidence that Obama was, sure enough, born in Hawaii, the place where Obama really truly isn’t using FEMA to build internment camps, the one where Goldman Sachs doesn’t run the US Treasury, and Fox News isn’t partly owned by Saudi Arabia. I realize, of course, that in suggesting the Republicans pick the candidate most in touch with reality, I also increase the chance they’ll win, but, you know, the risks the other way are just too high. Sure, Orly Taitz would be facing an incumbent Secretary of State who would most likely win, but what if Debra Bowen died in an accident between the primary and the election?

Social media are making their appearance this year, with big name blogger Mickey Kaus challenging Senator Barbara Boxer in the Democratic primary, and Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Chris Kelly, competing in the race for Attorney General. It’s that race for Attorney General that looks most competitive, among the Democratic primary races. Not counting Mike Schmier, who is on the ballot but deemed ineligible by the Democratic party (but, hey, he still gets to use his candidate statement to beat his hobby horse of “nonpublication” of court rulings), there are six candidates, any one of whom might win (though Kamala Harris’ odds are better than Pedro Nava’s).

The demographics of the candidates definitely let you know you’re in California and not, say, Maine. Kamala Harris has a Tamil Indian mother and an African-American father. Alberto Torrico’s parents are both immigrants, his father from Bolivia and his mother from Japan. Pedro Nava and Rocky Delgadillo are both Latino, and Ted Lieu is Asian-American, leaving Chris Kelly, the Facebook Chief Privacy Officer, as the lone white man in the race (on the Democrat side – the Republicans for this race all appear to be white men), if you don’t count Mike Schmier (and he really doesn’t count). Deciding among these candidates is going to be tough, since several of them seem evenly matched in their positives. If anyone wants to make a case for or against any of them, I’m open to listening. I’ll be making up my mind this week.

The most crowded race is the nonpartisan race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. This has twelve candidates, but the crowdedness of the field proves illusory, as, unlike the relatively even Attorney General race, this one is dominated by three candidates: Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), and retired school superintendent Larry Aceves. The various articles I’ve read about the three describe Romero as a reform-minded candidate who favors charter schools and is sometimes at odds with teachers’ unions, Torlakson as the candidate with the most support among teachers’ unions, and Acevez as a candidate with a lot of support among school administrators who seems to fall between the other two in his relations with unions, or at least, that’s the impression I get from my reading. At any rate, you can probably ignore the other nine and narrow your choice to these three.

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