Friday, October 29, 2010

My Guide for the Perplexed

I spend about 12 hours going through my ballot and surf the web doggedly for information about candidates and issues. Even after a pretty diligent effort to become informed, I will be making a number of choices by hunch. I presume some day we will be able to vote on-line and the ballot will include video presentations about the candidates and propositions. Until then, the ballot is daunting, and I dare to say that I am better educated than a lot of my fellow citizens and it concerns me that complicated issues are decided by people who don't have the time and/ or ability to ferret out and parse through pertinent information.

I am comforted that Jerry Brown will most likely be our governor and that there are a couple of good propositions that I hope will pass. It is reassuring that the people of California are too smart to be swayed by Meg Whitman’s checkbook and it is painful to think about what could have been accomplished with the money she poured into self aggrandizement had it been applied instead to social welfare. Perhaps this will be the kick in the ass we need to move towards publicly funded elections.

If Jerry Brown is not your obvious choice for governor you can probably stop here. I am not voting as a party line Democrat but in most cases I favor more progressive candidates and despite being the owner of a business I place more importance on matters of justice and social wellbeing. I am not in love with Barbara Boxer but I think that issues that are important to me are better represented if there is a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate. Therefore in my district, while he doesn't make my heart go pitty pat, Xavier Becerra will get my vote for Representative. Neither of my local candidates for the state legislature, Kevin De Leon for State Senator (actually running unopposed) and Gil Cedillo for State Assembly needs my vote but there is no compelling reason to withhold it.

With regard to Lieutenant Governor, I've settled unenthusiastically on Gavin Newsom. His political ideology is actually similar to my own but I think he has some problems with impulse control. Newsom has been pretty candid about his personal lapses and I think given his confessions and apparent desire to atone, his behavior will always be subject to a lot of scrutiny which may, unless he’s the bastard son of Gary Hart, keep him in line. I can relate to Newsom's ebullience, but to proclaim, gloating self righteously, that we were going to have gay marriage in California whether "you like it or not" may have provided the soundbite that defeated proposition 8. I might consider voting for a moderate republican in favor of Newsom but Abel Maldonado is too deeply beholden and campaign antics, like showing up unannounced and disrupting a Newsom campaign stop indicate that he too is lacking in cool headed common sense. There are also allegations that Maldonado's family farm mistreats workers. Newsom, as an employer, when he owned the Plumpjack wine store in San Francisco, also had his share of run-ins with regard to labor and safety violations, the evidence suggests he acted immediately to set things right, where it appears that Maldonado has balked and obfuscated.

I also make my choice for Secretary of State not manacled to the party line but because Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen is well qualified and has an impeccable record. Her Republican opponent, former NFL player Damon Dunn has no political experience and admits to not having bothered to vote until 2009.

For the office of state Controller, I also choose the incumbent Democrat, John Chiang, who has showed extraordinary grace under pressure by keeping the state solvent for the last four years. His Republican opponent, Tony Strickland is an oldtime poltico with no financial training. I rejected him as a candidate because of longtime ties to the political machine but I didn’t realize that he is truly sleazy until a huge postcard from the Strickland campaign arrived in the mail bearing an unfortunate snap of opponent Chiang speaking heatedly and resembling Kim Jong Il.

Another incumbent, Bill Lockyer will get my vote for treasurer. He is endorsed by the L.A. Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Sierra Club. His Republican opponent, Mimi Walters suggests as a remedy for the financial crisis that California default on certain bonds that have been issued. This would be disastrous for the state's already flagging credit rating, not to mention plain immoral. Walters indicates that "bonds that go towards taking care of the environment and studies and stuff like that, I can't agree with." Her syntax suggests she attended the Sarah Palin school of public speaking.

The issues of education, criminal justice and particularly the death penalty greatly influence my vote. With regard to Attorney General, I think that the Republican candidate Steve Cooley is smart, earnest and hard working but he is ardently in favor of the draconian three strikes laws and the death penalty. Kamala Harris, his Democratic opponent also takes a tough on crime/pro death penalty position. I am aware that when you are elected to office there is an obligation to uphold the law of the land. Jerry Brown has indicated that while he is obliged to enforce the death penalty, he is personally opposed to it. I e-mailed Ms. Harris twice, once during the primary and again this week, to ask what her personal position on the death penalty is and I received no response. Because I see no real substantive difference between Cooley and Harris, I am voting for the Green Party candidate Peter Allen who states clearly on his website that he is in favor of abolishing the death penalty, revisiting three strikes, and legalizing marijuana.

All of the health care lobbies and consumer protection groups endorse Democratic State Assemblyman Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner. His Republican opponent, Mike Villines avers that he has taken no insurance company contributions but actually 1.2 million dollars from an insurance industry financed PAC has been funneled into his campaign.

The Board of Equalization collects California state sales and use tax, as well as fuel, alcohol, and tobacco taxes and fees that provide revenue for state government and essential funding for counties, cities, and special districts. Membership is not very sexy and there is not a lot of information available about the candidates. Incumbent Jerome E. Horton was elected by the board as Vice Chair. He is a Democrat and endorsed by the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, without a lot of other information to go on and no Republican opposition, he is a shoe in and I am unable to find anything on the Internet to indicate that this isn't totally fine.

The pages of judges always trouble and confuse me. There is very little information available and one has to rely pretty much on the LA Times, the LA County Bar and a Wikipedia sponsored website Judgepedia which is helpful but unfortunately full of gaps. For the offices of Supreme Court Justice and Judicial Court of Appeal Justice the only choice is “yes” or “no” for each individual candidate. 16 candidates appear on the ballot, all are rated qualified or well qualified by the Bar and have been carefully vetted and actually serve on the bench before their names appear on the ballot for official approval. All 16 will get my “yes” vote.

There are two Superior Court judgeships being contested. Randy Hammock is running against Mark Ameli for office #28. Both are rated as qualified by the bar. The L.A. Times endorses Hammock but I am voting for Ameli who has a mind blowing list of endorsements on his website. Ameli, of Iranian descent, will be the first Middle Eastern seated on the California bench and he has worked extensively as a mediator. He is supported by a number of clergy due to his long participation in and sponsorship of interfaith and intercultural programs.

Alan Schneider and Tom Griego are in contention for office #117. Schneider is rated highly qualified by the Bar and is also endorsed by the L.A. Times. Griego is deemed "unqualified"by the county Bar. Amy Hogue is running unopposed for office #136. She is considered qualified by the bar and I can find nothing detrimental with regard to her record.

Both of the candidates, Tom Torlakson and Larry Aceves, for Superintendent of Public Instruction have good progressive pedigrees and both have actually taught in a classroom. I emailed both candidates asking why I should vote for him instead of his opponent and as of this writing have received no responses. Torlakson is strongly endorsed by most teachers’ unions which suggests perhaps a beholdeness. I am voting for Aceves because, while his platform is not really much different from Torlakson’s, he has taken a strong stand on the unfair allocation of property taxes to public schools, pointing out that San Jose receives $7000 per annum per student and nearby Palo Alto receives $14,000. Aceves learned to speak English in California schools and I think his insights as a second language learner will be beneficial in a state where 25% of students are not native speakers.

I am voting for John Wong for County Assessor. He is well qualified and widely endorsed. The L.A. Weekly suggests that his opponent, John R. Noguez engaged Mario Beltran as a political advisor. Beltran has a verifiable record of shadiness and appears to be quite entrenched in the scandal that recently rocked the City of Bell.

Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana use and possession for those over age 21, is not well drafted. The main concern is that the language is murky with regard to ferreting out those who may jeopardize themselves or others while under the influence of marijuana. Based on my reading of the bill I glean that marijuana use in the workplace will be dealt using the same criteria as the use of alcohol or other substances that can impair function. There is also concern about overriding federal laws. The feds haven’t wasted a lot of times with medical marijuana dispensaries and I can’t imagine, in the face of much more egregious narcotics violations, that public relations will permit an emphasis on the enforcement of marijuana laws given the state referendum to abolish them.

While the language is imperfect, I favor Proposition 19, the passage of which would free up law enforcement resources and generate revenue for the state. It is interesting that a consortium of ostensibly not for profit medical marijuana dispensaries has funded a lot of the opposition to 19. There is money to be made and I would rather it go into the state coffers than into the bank accounts of mercenaries who hide behind the fa├žade of compassion.

There is a lot of confusion with regard to Propositions 20 and 27. Proposition 20 would remove elected representatives from the process of redrawing congressional districts and charge an independent panel to make decisions with regard to redistricting. Simply, Proposition 20 puts an end to gerrymandering which is why most of the state’s elected officials oppose it.

Proposition 21 is opposed by the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association which pretty much means I would vote for it without even reading the measure. Jarvis spearheaded Proposition 13 in 1978 which condemned California education and health services to mediocrity ever since. Proposition 21 isn’t at all controversial though and it’s one of the most straightforward measures on the ballot. Crippling cuts have closed and reduced services at a number of California’s state parks. 21 would institute an $18 per car annual license to help restore services and protect these California treasures.

Proposition 22 is strongly endorsed by the Jarvis taxpayers and developers. It makes funding for transportation, redevelopment and local government projects sacrosanct. Even if schools and health services are in dire straits, a freeway will take precedence.

Proposition 23 makes a backhanded stab at using the poor economy as an excuse to undermine much of California’s environmental legislation. It puts all efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions and other programs to reduce air pollution on hold until the unemployment rate is reduced to 5.5%. In the last 35 years, the annual unemployment rate has slipped below 5.5% only three times and we stand to generate an enormous amount of pollution before it dips this low again. Major funding for the proposition comes from Valero Gas, Tesoro Refiners and Occidental Petroleum.

The opposition to Proposition 24 is being bankrolled by Disney, Viacom, Cisco, Time Warner, Fox, Genentech, Amgen and other big players. This is probably all you need to know but the nitty gritty is that 24 aims to overturn some tax loopholes that allow corporations loss carry backs. That means, in the face of a bad economy corporations are eligible for refunds of taxes paid in the previous two years. Prop. 24 would end this and also a huge tax break that allows individual corporations to decide themselves whether taxation should be based on property, sales or payroll.

Proposition 25 would prevent gridlock in Sacramento, which nearly shut down California, because the annual budget must be approved by 2/3 of the legislature. This would change the requirement to a simple majority for passage of a budget but retain the 2/3 requirement for constitutional amendments and taxes. In the event of a stalemate, legislators would forfeit salary until a budget is passed. Based on the havoc budget stalemates have wreaked in recent years, this is prudent.

Proposition 26 is being bankrolled by Chevron, Phillip Morris, Shell Oil and other corporations who feel vulnerable to fines for damage they cause. It’s being touted as “tax payer protection” that requires certain state fees to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and certain local fees by two-thirds of the voters but the raison d’etre is to protect big corporations from fines and penalties.

Proposition 27 is last and definitely least on the ballot. Essentially it proposes the absolute opposite of the anti-gerrymandering Prop 20. 20 and 27, in tandem, are referred to as the poison pill propositions. If both pass, the one that wins by the higher majority will become law. Proposition 27 insures that politicians will remain in charge of drawing legislative boundaries instead of assigning the task to an objective committee. Haim Saban, the billionaire who brought us the Power Rangers and enjoys hob-nobbing with political powers from the Clintons on down, is the major contributor to the proposition. Speculation is that he is currying favor with California politicians which he will use as currency for the continued preferential treatment of Israel.

This is what I decided after a couple of days of pretty extensive research. My young adult son will be voting for the first time and I am trying to impart to him that it does take some effort to make an informed decision but it is urgent and truly a privilege. If he ever decides in a couple decades to run for office, if he gets into the habit of voting now and sticks with it, he won’t look like an asshole. For the rest of you, regular, sporadic, or too cynical to bother voters, here are some good resources so that you can be a well informed voter and not an asshole should you so choose.

Good sources of information:


League of Women Voters

And for the lazy and blindly trusting:

California Ballot, ala breve
Governor: Jerry Brown
Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom
Secretary of State: Deborah Bowen
Controller: John Chang
Treasurer: Bill Lockyer
Attorney General: Peter Allen
Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones
Member State Board of Equalization 4th District: James E. Horton
United States Senator: Barbara Boxer
United States Representative 31st District: Xavier Becerra
State Senator 22nd District: Kevin De Leon
Member of the Assembly: Gil Cedillo

Supreme Court Justice:
Yes for
Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye
Ming W. Chin
Carlos R. Moreno

Court of Appeal Justice:
Yes for
Robert M. Mallano
Victoria G. Chaney
Jeffrey W. Johnson
Judith M. Ashmann
Walter Croskey
Steven Suzukawa
Orville “Jack” Armstrong
Paul H. Coffee
Steven Z. Perren
Laurie D. Zelon
Frank Y. Johnson
Tricia A. Bigelow
Elizabeth Annette Grimes

Judge of the Superior Court
Office #28 Mark K. Ameli
Office #117 Alan Schneider
Office #136 Amy D. Hogue

Superintendent of Public Instruction:
Larry Aceves

County Assessor:
John Y. Wong

State Measures
#19 YES
#20 YES
#21 YES
#22 NO
#23 NO
#24 YES
#25 YES
#26 NO
#27 NO


Fionnch├║ said...

Thanks for this. I have to fill out my mail-in. It's disheartening that corporations and career pols run so many deceptive campaigns to hijack the initially idealistic citizen initiative proposition program that back around 1912, Hiram Johnson pioneered as the kind of populist Progressive we have few of today.

Randy Economy said...

I LOVE YOUR BLOG! Thanks for supporting JOHN Y.WONG for LOS ANGELES COUNTY ASSESSOR over Huntington Park Mayor John Noguez. I am going to start following your blog!

Randy Economy

Zach said...

Good analysis, but I think you have Cooley wrong on three strikes -- he is for reforming it.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this! it's helpful. i would suggest you do a little bit more research about the judges, as difficult as it may be. i'm not sure what your politics are, but for me, i went to different tea party & ultra conservative sites to see who they chose. anyone they highly recommended pretty much meant a "no" from me. people they voted against got a second look.

Layne said...

Cooley has intimated that 3 Strikes needed some changes but in the face of the election, he is certainly downplaying this. This is from his website:

With an overall conviction rate of over 95%, his office is a leader in the state for Three Strikes and death penalty convictions...

I suspect, that he is in favor of minimalizing the scope of three strikes but he isn't owning that right now.

Anonymous said...

A Google search of Kamala Harris and the death penalty seems to indicate that she is personally opposed to the death pemalty.

Layne said...

Yes, apparently she has stated her personal opposition to the death penalty but her committment to enforce it is pretty front and center on her website. I emailed the campaign twice there isn't even a canned response so she, at least as a candidate, gives the strong impression of being pro death penalty and strongly supporting three strikes.

RMP said...

Your blog was both instructive and amusing. One omission I noted concerned the choices for Superior Court Judge -- no mention of the massive warchest behind Ameli nor the issue that his preferred description (Superior Court litigator) was turned down as not being accurate. This two items made me less comfortable about his candidacy.

Anonymous said...

excellent! just - reviewed ballot w/girl twin - used yr points as part
of discussion. thanks again!
PS really want to see you

tamerlane said...

I believe we agree on the props, but I've already spoiled my ballot once, confused over 25 & 26 (I voted for Bowen even though she should use boldface instead of caps for better legibility), so I will stop thinking, as CA props always make me dizzy.

Kamala Harris is an egotist and a demagogue, so I cast my first ever Green vote there.

I voted for Newsom, even though I worked for, and interacted several times with, his father-in-law, who is a psychopath.