See John Run: Forget about the gubernatorial race. John Garamendi's bid for lieutenant governor is the most important office on the ballot.
Nov. 7 is a step in regaining our government. Your vote is crucial.
FOR THOSE keeping track, this is the 10th election that California has held in the last six years, costing us some $2 billion to enact, mostly because the governor and legislators refuse to do their jobs. The recurring theme is that if there is an unpleasant decision to be made, the voters have to make it; if such infrastructure items as roads and schools need attention, borrow it from the grandkids.
Money issues aside, this election is important for other reasons. With the pileup of GOP scandals—each more sickening than the last—this is an opportunity to shake up our elected offices and regain a moral center in those offices currently open. With even President Bush admitting last week that the violence in Iraq resembles the Tet offensive of Vietnam, strong midterm voter turnout will remind the neocons that U.S. citizens still carry a mantle of humanity. Change must come.
You'll find some of the usual knee-jerk reactions you'd expect below, as well as surprises. We're quite sour on the bond issues this year, flat-out angry about them, as a matter of fact.
California Democrats, like their counterparts in Washington, have fielded such miserable candidates in recent elections that it's hard to find a reason to support them. Luckily, the Reep in Sacramento has done a better job than the one in D.C. Instead of tanking a prosperous economy like Bush did, Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled California back from the economic abyss that Gray Davis left behind. Despite the bad example set by his choice of vehicle (or personal jet), he has signed the nation's most ambitious global warming bill as well as another to make the state less dependent on oil by developing solar energy. These initiatives have won him praise from world leaders and deserve support from Californians as well. While certainly no slouch in the law-and-order department, he has shown a willingness to parole inmates and take on the powerful prison guards' unions, whose claim to the state budget creates a structural economic problem. Positions like these, and the fact that he's wedded to Democratic royalty, show Schwarzenegger to be a more complex political actor than the one-dimensional action hero critics mistook him for early on. Moreover, he's shown leadership to break logjams in a sometimes ungovernable state and has been an effective and high profile champion of California on the broader stage. Since he's going to win anyway, and no candidate has made a compelling case to the contrary, we'll just have to hope for the best these next four years.
This is absolutely the most exciting race among the state offices. As insurance commissioner, and in his campaign this year, John Garamendi has been a force to reckon with, a bright spot in a mostly disappointing slate of candidates. In defending the rights of Californians against big insurance companies, he's been fearless; he's got the fighting spirit that has eluded most of the Democratic party's slick Gray Davis types over the last several years.
People often complain that the California lieutenant governor doesn't do anything; Garamendi has big plans to change that. He'd like to exert his influence in education and environmental issues, revolutionizing the importance of the office. At a time when the UC system is out of control and California is on the brink of sealing the deal as the leading state for alternative-energy solutions, both changes could be critical. Garamendi is the man to get them done.
Secretary of State
McPherson is running on the notion that he has cleaned up this office in his short time there; and indeed, he has. When he came in last year, it was a mess, with Kevin Shelley having resigned in disgrace. McPherson is a true bipartisan type, and has patched the lines of communication between his office and county election officials back together. That's crucial, since California's election system still needs a lot of work. The technology is constantly changing, as are the challenges, and McPherson has proven itself up to meeting them. His challenger Debra Bowen is an upstanding legislator whose crusading as an open-government advocate wins her high marks from Metro. Unfortunately, she didn't get quite as good a response from county officials as chair of the state Senate's committee in charge of elections. We foresee great things for her, but think McPherson is the best choice for this particular office.
Eminently qualified, State Board of Equalization member John Chiang is perfectly poised to move up the ranks. Endorsed by outgoing controller Steve Westly, Chiang has fought for fair property-tax assessment for domestic partners, helped organize the janitors union for those workers who clean the Board of Equalization's offices and is a former board member of Planned Parenthood. His decisions and actions are fair and balanced, progressive and far-sighted, and his devotion to the welfare of children and the indigent is to be praised. We welcome Chiang to the higher ranks of government.
This office is another important choice for voters who want state government to actually get things done. Bill Lockyer has been an effective attorney general with a bipartisan popularity. Just look at the comprehensive list of endorsements he's won from progressive officials, law-enforcement organizations, environmental groups, women's organizations—you name it. The reason? He's shown courage and tenacity, whether it's fighting for $5 billion in refunds for consumers victimized by energy companies in the artificial energy "crisis" or doubling the size of the elder-abuse prosecution program. We think he'll bring the same relentless energy to the office of the treasury.
Get off the "Moonbeam" thing, already. Here's the difference between the two main candidates for attorney general. State Sen. Chuck Poochigian is the kind of right-wing candidate who sees this office as strictly severe law-and-order. His campaign for this office is like something from another age, one that we don't want to go back to. He calls his opponent "soft on crime" and mocks him for not supporting the death penalty, yet he himself opposes the banning of ammunition for assault weapons. Jerry Brown is a thinker with progressive values who wants to innovate within the office; for instance, using its powers not only to protect Californians from violent crime but also from environmental crime and corporate crime, legacies begun by outgoing Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Brown is the only choice for intelligent leadership of California's legal system.
Why is Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Poizner a better choice for insurance commissioner than Cruz Bustamante? Perhaps a better question is, why in the world is Bustamante running for this office in the first place, other than to make a safe landing in another state job? He's one of the worst choices we can think of. He landed on the side of insurance companies far too often as a legislator and has taken large sums of money from the industry. He still has not made good on his promise to return hundreds of thousands of special-interest insurance monies that he should never have taken in the first place. Graft, scandal and backdoor deals are surprisingly out of favor this election year.
By refreshing contrast, Poizner has cast himself in the mold of the outgoing John Garamendi—a protector of consumers' rights and a staunch defender of hard-won state regulations. It's true he has yet to prove himself, but his reputation in the business world is outstanding collateral on his upright agenda.
Yes on 1A
This ballot measure ties up the loose ends on 2002's voter-approved Proposition 42, which says all of the state's gas-tax revenues have to be used solely for transportation purposes—constructing, maintaining and operating public streets and highways, building public transit and mitigating the environmental impacts of these efforts. Unfortunately, Proposition 42 lets the legislature "borrow" this money in an "emergency," without precisely defining those terms. Big surprise: the state has already siphoned off this money for other uses, taking part of the funds in the 2003-04 fiscal year and all of it in 2004-05.
Proposition 1A will fix that by putting strict limits on any borrowing and requiring repayment within three years, with interest. Generally it's not a good idea to earmark money for only one purpose, because it limits flexibility in a true emergency. Do we really want highway funds to be sacrosanct while vital social programs are cut? However, Proposition 1A is merely tweaking the law to make our state leaders act the way the voters intended when they passed Proposition 42.
Propositions 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E
No on 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E
These initiatives all pay for extremely worthy causes by having the state sell general obligation bonds to raise money that has to be repaid, with interest, over many, many years. Over the 30-year life of the bonds, Proposition 1B is estimated to cost $38.9 billion in principal and interest for street, highway and transit projects with an annual repayment cost of $1.3 billion; 1C would spend some $6 billion total to fund low-income housing in urban areas near public transportation and would require a yearly repayment of some $204 million; 1D would tally up $20.3 billion for repairing and upgrading public school facilities statewide for K-12, community colleges and universities; and 1E calls for an approximate debt of $8 billion for disaster preparedness and flood-prevention projects at the state and local level.
What's not to like in these ballot measures? Debt, that's what. Hundreds of billions of dollars that will have to be repaid by our grandchildren because the governor and the legislature are unwilling to do their jobs in an election year. Bringing bond measures to the voters is the easiest way for politicians to wipe their hands clean and still make everyone happy. Except, of course, those Californians footing the bill in 2036.
It's important to support these vital projects, but having the state go deeper into debt by selling more bonds shouldn't become standard operating procedure. Depending on how France is doing on any given day, California is reported to be either the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world. We should be able to pay as we go instead of incurring crushing debt. At the risk of sounding (shudder) like the knee-jerk, no-more-taxes folks, enough is enough. The proposed projects are great ideas; financing them through bonds is an extremely bad idea.
No on Proposition 83
This election is all about targeting bad guys: pedophiles, smokers, sexually active teens and oil companies. While we are outraged by the heightened wave of sex crimes against adults and children, Proposition 83, which attempts to get tough on sex offenders, is seriously flawed in its sweeping scope and lacks foresight in planning. Whereas current law provides for global positioning system (GPS) monitoring of roughly 1,000 sex offender parolees who are deemed at high risk to commit sex crimes again, Proposition 83 would require GPS monitoring of nearly all felony registered sex offenders throughout their lives—even if they are unlikely to reoffend and even if their crime had been nonviolent.
For example, a 19-year-old boy who has consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend but is convicted of statutory rape would be subject to lifetime GPS monitoring. Proposition 83 would also require many registered sex offenders to live further away from schools and parks than is currently mandated, pushing them into rural areas. According to the ACLU, this provision could also be used retroactively to force someone guilty of indecent exposure decades ago to move from his current community, with very few options for resettling. Who will fund, track and oversee this growing nation of the GPS-braceleted, and where will they live? We side with the ACLU and the Green Party on this one, unpopular a decision as it may be.
No on Proposition 84
Air, water, earth. All should be provided in excellent condition to Californians by the state's general fund, yet once again, legislators and the governor come to us shaking and scared, afraid to pass funding to ensure clean water for every citizen. Rather, they want citizens to go into debt to the tune of $10.5 billion over 30 years to possibly ensure safe water, a bond measure that doesn't provide for dams, storage or adequate flood control. We are not in a spending mood for bond measures this election, particularly not at future generations' expense, particularly as none of them outline a payment plan. Clean water is a given right, and we demand that our politicians do their jobs.
No on Proposition 85
More creeping anti-rights legislation, this proposition was introduced under different guise last November and roundly rejected. Proposition 85 seeks to permanently amend the state constitution to prohibit a minor from having an abortion until 48 hours after the physician has notified her parents in writing. The sole exception is if the minor can prove to a juvenile court that she's mature enough to make the abortion decision for herself. Most adults would have difficulty navigating such a legal maze, let alone a panicked teenaged girl who might be carrying her father's child. This amendment pushes teens to seek illegal and potentially dangerous abortions. Proposition 85 aims to destabilize a young woman's right to self-determination. The era of the coat hanger must never return.
Yes on Proposition 86
Aimed squarely at reducing teen smoking rates, Proposition 86 requires a $2.60 per pack excise tax on cigarettes. The ensuing money will be spent on hospital and health services and children's health coverage and to combat cigarette-related illness in those who can still afford to smoke. This is another instance of California demonizing one segment of society to fund another segment—again providing monies that should come from our general fund. It is also a harsh, regressive tax against those who can least afford it, the less educated and the underemployed who make up the majority of California's remaining smokers. However, cigarettes are not milk, meat or fruit. They are not housing, clean water or winter heat. Regardless of how some of us may feel, they are not necessities. This is a tough fiscal pinch that promotes better health for the state at large and pays for important programs. We don't like it but we can't deny it.
Yes on Proposition 87
Proposition 87 aims to raise $4 billion by levying a "severance" tax on oil producers in California to fund research, production and use of alternative energy sources. The law forbids oil producers to pass the tax on to consumers, an abuse admittedly difficult to determine. However, according to the legislative analysis of the proposition, the very nature of economic competition will discourage oil producers from marking up the price of their product. By helping consumers afford alternative fuels and by setting up an infrastructure that will make using efficient energy more practical, Proposition 87 has the potential to make great strides toward reducing emissions and our dependence on foreign oil in the long run. California, the nation's third largest oil-producing state, would be setting a long-term precedent for the whole country to live greener. Oil companies aren't happy about Proposition 87, but Al Gore is, and we're going to side with him on this one.
No on Proposition 88
There are those of us who remember the exact day that John F. Kennedy was shot or where they were on 9/11. Then there are those who have an acute memory of the day that Proposition 13, California's disastrous property-tax revision, kicked in for California's schools. Poof! Gone were foreign language, art instruction, choir and music. Poof! Science became an elective in high schools. Poof! School nurses and guidance counselors and library hours and teacher's aides disappeared. Devised in part by the same evil brains that brought us Proposition 13, Proposition 88 aims to impose a $50 tax on most land parcels in California to fund schools, with exemptions to seniors—the biggest voting bloc—and the disabled. It will prove disastrous to small districts who ordinarily go to their constituents in time of need, and is opposed by the California State PTA.
No on Proposition 89
Proposition 89 seeks to institute cleaner political campaigning by divorcing candidates from corporate and labor interests. Through a 0.2 percent tax increase on corporations and financial institutions, Proposition 89 would create a public fund to pay for both primary and general election campaigns. Candidates could opt into the fund after demonstrating adequate public support through collecting a certain number of signatures and $5 donations from the public. The proposition also moves to decrease campaign contributions dramatically for candidates who decide to go the traditional, private funding route.
Proposition 89 would be a positive step in many respects. By scrambling up money that corporations would have spent on political candidates anyway, the strings would detach. However, Proposition 89 privileges select interest groups, and according to the NAACP, this violates both First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights and will prompt a legal mess. Furthermore, this proposition is written by one set of special interests as a volley against others. For these reasons, we must recommend against this flawed proposition. It aims toward where we should be going but falls far short.
No on Proposition 90
Eminent domain is certainly on the minds of Santa Clara County voters, who worry that the city of San Jose will abuse it. Eminent domain, however, built our national highway system for better or for worse and, used judiciously, gives us stronger, better local economies and places to live. Proposition 90 preys on Californian's fears that the government aims to swoop down at any time and snatch our property away. While such fear is not groundless, this particular proposition is written in such a way as to be a field day not for developers, but for attorneys. Witness the billions of dollars of lawsuits tying up Oregon courts right now after the passage of a similarly flawed measure. What a mess!
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