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Primary Instincts

A select guide to local and state races


Primary 2000 Endorsements: A quick-reference guide.


Supervisorial Races

A RECENT public opinion poll showed that huge blocks of respondents in two of the three supervisorial districts are undecided about whom they will be voting for on March 7. That says less about the issues in the election than it does about the inability of contenders or incumbents to make a strong impression in these races.

Three supes--Tim Smith, Mike Cale, and Mike Reilly (who is running unopposed)--are up for re-election.

Of course, the most hotly contested--and we use that term loosely--race is pitting three-term incumbent Tim Smith against challenger Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa city councilwoman. It's a classic battle: Smith is a super-slick, consummate politician supported by blue-collar conservatives and backed by big business and the county establishment; Evans is a liberal attorney with strong support from the local environmental community.

The challenger: Noreen Evans

Smith is the driving force behind Measure C, the local ballot initiative that would levy a 1/4-cent sales-tax increase for 16 years to help fund limited mass-transit improvements. The measure is seen as so much political grandstanding, a cheap ploy to steal fire from the Evans campaign (the tactic has worked brilliantly) and a half-hearted attempt to offer an alternative to Measure B, the big-money initiative that would levy a separate 1/2-cent sales-tax increase to raise funds for extra freeway lanes.

Smith has barely campaigned for his own measure and hasn't done a whole lot of campaigning overall, though he's raised a ton of money. He is the perfect Stepford candidate. Evans, on the other hand, has run an overly cautious campaign, treading the middle ground and failing to establish a political identity that would differentiate her from Smith, other than her vehement opposition to Measure C.

Overall, it's been a boring race.

And that's too bad, because there's a lot wrong with the county Board of Supervisors. Long dominated by five affluent white men, the board is the quintessential good-old-boys network. You'd be hard-pressed to find a less inspiring--or inspired--bunch. Each feverishly protects his own district, as well he should. But that means there is virtually no sense of a greater good for all, no one willing to take the initiative on issues that rest outside the purview of the districts. When Reilly tried to build consensus early in his first term, he was seen as an interference and summarily alienated.

Over the years, the supes have sat in stony silence while the District Attorney's Office failed to aggressively prosecute cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. And they again sat on their hands when the Sheriff's Department chalked up a litany of mess-ups that included an Internet porn scandal, a botched hostage-training exercise at the county jail that put inmates and visitors at risk, and questionable medical services that critics contend contributed to the deaths of several inmates.

One of their biggest failures resulted when the supes reneged on their pledge to back a countywide homeless services center--backed by everyone from the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce to most of the city and town councils--setting back by two years the drive to find a solution to this serious problem. More recently, Smith and Cale caved in to grape-growers (some of their biggest campaign contributors) and timidly watered down a much-needed hillside planting ordinance that should have helped save beleaguered waterways and threatened fish habitats.

We need leaders with vision.

The old Sonoma County was a playground for country club conservatives, and the old parochial mentality of the board served them well.

The new Sonoma County is a dynamic community intrinsically linked to the region, and beset by problems that follow in the wake of rapid growth.

We need consensus builders who listen to all sides and act for the greater good.

Smith and Cale have had their chance and failed to serve anyone other than their political contributors--they've even failed the local business community by not working in good faith to find a comprehensive solution to the county's transportation crisis.

We need fresh ideas, new perspectives.

Vote for Noreen Evans, Dawn Mittleman, and Mike Reilly

Transit Measures

HERE WE GO AGAIN. With Highway 101 a textbook example of traffic engineering gone awry, it's easy to understand why Sonoma County residents are ready to do something, anything, to relieve the region's daily dose of gridlock. Measure B instigator and ex- Sebastopol Mayor Sam Crump is playing on that frustration, tweaking it like a tightly strung guitar and betting that voters will levy a half-cent sales tax increase for the next eight years.

Imagine a 101 commute where cars actually go more than 10 miles an hour through Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma, he says.

It's a nice fantasy, but don't bet that Measure B's proposal to pay for widening the freeway with a sales-tax increase is going to bring it to fruition.

First, there already is money--$72 million of it--for Caltrans to widen the freeway from Wilford Avenue in Rohnert Park to Steele Lane in Santa Rosa. And according to Sonoma County Conservation Action board member Bill Kortum, there will be millions more in gas-tax revenues available over the next 20 years to widen more of 101 in Sonoma County. So why double-tax ourselves for the freeway?

Answer: See the instruction to "follow the money" below.

Second, by the time the third lane in each direction is complete (try not to think about the havoc that years of construction will wreak on the current snail pace), the projected population growth will add thousands more cars on the freeway to clog the new lane.

Third, during commute hours, that extra lane will be for so-called high-occupancy vehicles only--as will all future widening--so don't assume that your solo morning jaunt to Petaluma or Marin County (that's another story) will be any faster.

Fourth, follow the money. The Yes on B folks have amassed more than $600,000, and the biggest contributor is the Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti construction firm, which tossed in $60,000 in loans and cash. It's no surprise that another $70,000 came from California Alliance for Jobs, the North Coast Builders Exchange, the Peterson Tractor Co., and the Operating Engineers' local union in Alameda. The construction industry stands to gain a sizable amount of work from the massive undertaking of 36 miles of freeway widening.

Think: pork barrel.

Sonoma County's burgeoning high-tech industry is another Measure B booster, with $90,000 coming from Agilent Technologies, Advanced Fibre Communications, and Sola Optical USA. It's easy to understand why they want easier commutes for workers, but less easy to see why they don't understand that Measure B is a bust.

In contrast, Citizens Against Wasting Millions has raised a grand total of $17,000 to fight Measure B, with staunch support from the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and Greenbelt Alliance.

Sonoma County greens don't like the measure, period.

Fifth, raising sales taxes across the board to pay for widening the freeway subsidizes drivers while punishing those who don't rely on the freeway. With a half-cent increase, Sonoma County's sales tax will be the highest in Northern California, matched only by San Francisco's. Even people who never drive will have to pay more for diapers, clothing, a new lawn mower. Those in the market for a boat, a refrigerator, a pricey new bike are apt to head for Marin County, where they could save hundreds of dollars in sales taxes (Marin County auto dealers already are advertising on local billboards that customers should head south to buy vehicles).

Last, but not least, Measure B does nothing for public transit, which should be the focus of any sustainable transit plan.

Of course, there is Measure C, the transit measure's neglected stepsister that proposes a 1/4-cent sales-tax increase to pay for road improvements and rail, bus, and bike transit. Sounds good, except that it's a hastily crafted, thinly veiled campaign ploy by Sonoma County Supervisor Tim Smith that has no backing and doesn't have a prayer of garnering two-thirds of the vote. Even Smith has neglected to campaign for it.

Public transit in Sonoma County deserves a serious planning effort, not a doomed feel-good initiative that made it onto the ballot with a mere five votes from the supes--all of whom have failed to come up with a comprehensive transit plan and three of whom are up for re-election.

No on Measures B and C

Assembly Race

WITH 10 CANDIDATES running for Kerry Mazzoni's seat in the 6th Assembly District, the field sprawls almost as much as Sonoma County's urban boundaries.

After six years in office, the popular Mazzoni--currently chair of the powerful Education Committee--undoubtedly would have been welcomed back by voters. Term limits, however, have her heading for political retirement. The sole Republican, Ed Sullivan, and the one Libertarian, Richard Olmstead (the only Sonoma County resident in the race), are assured of nomination in their respective parties, but with the advent of open primaries, many voters are likely to cross over to participate in the Assembly district's real catfight: the eight-way contest for the Democratic Party nomination. While the topsy-turvy district--which spans parts of Sonoma, Marin, and Napa counties--once swung back and forth between the two major parties, Mazzoni's consensus-building style and impressive accomplishments have turned the 6th District into a Democratic stronghold.

The Democratic primary candidates share a glaring lack of name recognition, especially in Sonoma County, which is largely ignored by most of the candidates, since about two-thirds of the district is in Marin County. The brief media splash on candidate Paul Nave, a San Rafael native whose professional wrestling career brought the inevitable comparison to renegade Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, did nothing to elucidate the many issues important to Sonoma County.

Another San Rafael resident, Joe Nation, is a strong candidate, who briefly had the endorsement of Sonoma County's largest environmental organization, Sonoma County Conservation Action. But he was dropped like a political hot potato when he came out in favor of Measure B (the controversial sales-tax increase) and of throwing transit dollars at widening Highway 101.

Leader of the pack: Frank Egger.

Fairfax Mayor Frank Egger, the longest-seated city council member in California, has the environmental and labor pedigree important to many Sonoma County voters. The Sierra Club, the Green Party, and environmental heavyweight David Brower, as well as many labor organizations, have endorsed him.

The biggest challenge facing Sonoma County, says Egger, is finding a balance between sprawl and sustainability: "Agriculture is Sonoma's heritage and needs to be protected and maintained as the alternative to sprawl."

He opposes Measure B as well as Measure C, the companion sales-tax increase initiative for rail and bus transit, which he accurately terms "hastily drawn." State and federal monies are responsible for maintaining the freeway, says Egger, who would support changing the voting laws so that a simple majority--rather than the current two-thirds required--would be able to raise taxes for a well-crafted program of public transit and car-pool lanes.

Egger is a die-hard environmentalist and, in a bent that may strike fear into Sonoma County's industrial-sized wineries, would like to see state laws to eliminate pesticide use. Egger has long opposed Eel River diversions into the Russian River and is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by the Friends of the Eel River against the Sonoma County Water Agency's plans to expand its water delivery system, which would feed the enormous projected population growth in the county.

Egger is impassioned--a characteristic that both helps and hurts his candidacy. His manner has been called disruptive. But his pushiness can also be viewed as commitment, and if he makes an unpopular decision, he sticks with it--a rare and commendable commodity.

Recommendation: Frank Egger

Judicial Race

JUDICIAL ELECTIONS usually proffer up campaigns as staid and scholarly as the pleated robe worn on the bench.

But Sonoma County's race for Superior Court Office No. 2 has provided a political bodice-ripper of a race, with charges of unethical conduct, an attempt to suppress a critical survey, and endorsers publicly jumping ship.

Judge Patricia Gray, vying for her second elected term, has gone from comfortable incumbent to defensive mode against challenger Elliot Daum, a trial lawyer with 26 years' experience.

Gray was elected Municipal Court judge in 1994 and was bumped up to Superior Court in 1998 with the consolidation of the California courts. Daum finds fault with the way Gray received her promotion, but it does not diminish her experience on the bench. Gray has been a respected advocate for victims of sexual and domestic abuse, and helped generate a $3.7 million grant for Sonoma County to address the rehabilitation of mentally ill criminal offenders.

What does diminish Gray's candidacy is her lack of support from colleagues. Normally endorsements can be taken with a grain of salt. And Daum's assertions that Gray was disqualified from cases at a rate 30 times higher than other judges because of her discourteous demeanor seemed, at first, to be simply campaign trash talk.

But when half of her colleagues--including all of the bench's women--threw their support to Daum, it merited notice, since judges have notoriously tight judicial ranks. "Judge Gray is disqualified so often because the people who appear before her have no confidence that she will decide their cases fairly and impartially," writes Judge Elaine Watters in a letter to the editor. At least one judge, Raima Ballinger, had to balk to get her name removed from Gray's endorsement list so she could support Daum instead.

Bench work: Candidate Elliot Daum.

While much of the campaign has been bash-your-opponent banter, Daum comes out above the fray more often than Gray. Her attempt to block release of a Sonoma County Bar Association survey that was highly favorable to Daum was based, she said, on a potential conflict-of-interest from the bar association director's connection with Daum's campaign. But Gray's actions seemed heavy-handed and petty, especially since the survey tallied the opinions of only 166 attorneys.

Daum has a calm, down-to-earth presence and a reputation for having legal smarts and a strong work ethic. His 24 years as an advocate in Sonoma County courts--18 of those years as a public defender handling felony and capital cases--qualify him for a shot at the bench.

Recommendation: Elliot Daum

2000 State Prop Rites

Pay attention to those tricky propositions. Thanks to millions of dollars in misinformation campaigns, things are not always as they appear.

WE WISH WE COULD SAY "Vote no on all the props." We think the initiative process, while a well-intended avenue for dealing with unresponsive elected officials, is now at the stage where it is overused, abused, and otherwise bastardized by special interests. We think the initiative process is no more an avenue for democracy than Dr. Kevorkian's work is a path to "healing."

There, now--we've said it.

But as fate would have it, we found that there are a few propositions in this year's lineup that we actually like. (And there are some we don't like, but think should be supported anyway.)

And despite our frustrations with the system, we empathize with readers who will try to arrive at sensible decisions with their voter pamphlets spread out on the table before them.

How does a person figure out who's behind what, what the language really means, who benefits and who loses, when special interests have paid millions to create confusion?

You may not agree with our final recommendations, but at least you'll know why.

Here's our shot at making the props easy.

Propositions 1A & 29
Indian Gaming

THE CALIFORNIA INDIAN tribes backing Prop. 1A say it's merely an amendment to the California Constitution that caused last year's gaming proposition to be overturned. But it hardly stops there. Prop. 1A allows house-banked card games like blackjack. It would also allow tribes to operate up to two casinos on tribal property, opening the door for some tribes to open casinos on newly purchased property in urban areas. If 1A passes, the state could end up with 113,000 slot machines in as many as 200 casinos.

And the kicker: It would also allow 18-year-olds to gamble. Rather than fighting to preserve their Nevada monopoly this time around, casino operators have actually invested--in California's tribal casinos. This can't be good. The scant opposition to 1A is an underfunded coalition of religious groups and community activists.

Prop. 29, the other gaming initiative on the ballot, is the compact that 11 tribes signed with former Gov. Pete Wilson. It limits the number of tribes involved in gaming, curtails the number of slot machines, and prohibits the kind of card games that opponents fear could turn the Golden State into the gaming state. If 1A passes, Prop. 29 becomes irrelevant. Neither side has spent much money on 29, and the tribes are quietly hoping it loses.

What a stinkpot. While gambling is hardly foreign to California (with a state-sponsored lottery, card rooms, horse racing, and day trading), the tribes want to push it further than it has been taken in the past. The language in Prop. 1A was approved by both Gov. Davis and the Legislature (tribes have donated campaign money generously to Davis and many lawmakers). While we think they have the right to ask for special treatment--tribes are nations, and it is only because of a 1988 federal law that they must negotiate with states over gambling at all--Prop. 1A goes too far.

Recommendations: No on 1A; Yes on 29

Proposition 12
Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act

THE LIBERTARIAN-backed opposition to this measure calls the $2.1 billion bond a wasteful expenditure on "more dirt for insects, rats and weeds." If prime agricultural land is "dirt," endangered species are "insects and rats," and redwood trees are "weeds"--and if preserving them is a waste--then they're right. This is a far-reaching bond with broad implications for the quality of life and the state's economy, and it's overdue; the last parks bond passed in 1988. If Prop. 12 passes, it will allocate $500-$700 million to fund urban recreation facilities like parks, playgrounds, zoos, sports fields and urban open space. Another $25 million will go to farmland protection.

The rest--some $1.5 billion--will pay for improvements to county and state parks, acquisition of more parklands and natural areas across the state, preservation of wildlife habitat and watershed protection. As the mosaic of supporting groups suggests (cheerleaders include the Sierra Club, California chambers of commerce, and the California Taxpayers Association), preserving California's beautiful environment isn't just for treehuggers anymore.

Recommendation: Yes on 12

Proposition 13
Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Bond Act

PROPONENTS of this $1.9 billion bond act couldn't have asked for a better ad campaign than the recent drenching of central California. If the flooded streets in Pescadero and the mudslides in the Oakland Hills didn't convince people that $292 million spent on flood control is a good idea, then maybe the angry brown of a Pacific Ocean sullied by river erosion in the days after the storm makes the point. Worse yet, the California Department of Water Resources predicts that in five years water shortages are going to be a serious problem unless the state changes its water management strategy. Here comes the new Prop. 13 to the rescue. The measure covers a range of services. If it passes, $70 million will go to improve public water systems, $292 will fund flood protection (including special attention to Santa Cruz), $468 million will flow to watershed protection, including acquisition of coastal salmon habitat, and $1.2 billion will fund water recycling, seawater intrusion control, water conservation, and groundwater storage. This one we really can't live without.

Recommendation: Yes on 13

Proposition 14
Library Bonds

IT'S FAR TOO EASY to overlook libraries. Quiet, unassuming, and not exactly known for attracting employees who are rabid politicos, local literary havens have gotten the shaft for far too long. California's libraries did receive $90 million from state and federal governments over the last decade, but that amount only covered about 10 percent of their operating costs. Prop. 14 would allow the state to help out by selling $350 million in general obligation bonds, which could then be used to fund grants for new facilities, renovation of existing branch locations, and better equipment. Like a similar proposition that passed in 1988, Prop. 14 requires that local agencies in areas benefiting from bigger and better facilities help foot the bill. It may have an ugly name--the California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 2000--but its heart is in the right place.

Recommendation: Yes on 14

Proposition 15
Crime Lab Bonds

PROP. 15 ISN'T getting much press--bond measures, even for worthy causes, are not politically sexy--but it is worth a few minutes of your time to consider.

Prop. 15 would authorize the sale of $220 million in state general obligation bonds for new local forensic laboratories and the remodeling of existing labs. The money could be used only for construction and equipment, not for administrative salaries.

The two houses of the Legislature voted a combined 100 to 15 to put Prop. 15 on the ballot, and we side with the majority. Modern crime fighting requires modern tools, but the best reason, in our view, is to make it tougher for rogue cops like the cowboys in the LAPD's Ramparts Division to frame and convict innocent citizens. Prop. 15 would upgrade the ability of local law enforcement to analyze DNA evidence--a scary prospect for the guilty, but a godsend to the falsely accused.

Recommendation: Yes on 15

Proposition 16
Veterans' Homes

HERE'S A GOOD example of a problem that needs fixing, but with the wrong proposal to fix it.

Prop. 16 would authorize $50 million in general obligation bonds for veterans-home facilities for U.S. military vets who are California residents. Such homes generally receive 65 percent of their funding from the federal government, as will be the case here. But only $26 million of Prop. 16 will actually go to building new homes. The rest will go to replacing more costly bonds on previous homes with cheaper bonds. With a $4 billion surplus going into the last budget negotiations, why couldn't the Legislature have found a paltry $26 million to build these facilities? Bonds are not cheap, and paying them off generally doubles their cost in taxes. Big-ticket items like parks and schools sometimes need alternative funding sources, and bonds can be used as a funding source of last resort. But this is not a good candidate.

Recommendation: No on 16

Proposition 17
Charity Raffles

ALL RAFFLES in California are illegal except the state lottery. If passed, this proposition would lift the ban on charitable raffles--not commercial raffles--allowing private nonprofits to raise money. As anyone who's ever paid a buck to win a trip to Bermuda and raise money to fight pancreas disease knows, legitimate charities have used raffles for decades. These worthy albeit illegal raffles, however, are misdemeanor crimes and are punishable by up to six months in jail. Prop. 17 supporters, including the California Association of Nonprofits and the California District Attorney's Association, say the current law forces local law enforcement to shut down legitimate fundraisers or to "look the other way" and ignore the law. Opponents argue that the initiative invites crime and opens the proverbial doors of opportunity to phony charities waiting to prey on honest people. As if scam artists don't have enough chances to do that already. However, nonprofits themselves aren't buying into the anti-Prop. 17 argument, which should count for something.

Recommendation: Yes on 17

Proposition 18
Crime and Punishment

READY TO SERVE up a little law and order? Prop. 18 would set new guidelines for so-called special circumstances calling for either the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole in first-degree murder cases instead of the current sentence of 25 years to life. It's a probable shoo-in, since voters already have shown their support for this kind of issue. It's also a bit esoteric. As described in the summary prepared by the attorney general, Prop. 18 would provide that a special circumstance exists for killings committed "by means of lying in wait" rather than "while lying in wait."

Proponents of Prop. 18 argue that the change is needed to eradicate the last vestige of the liberal state Supreme Court once headed by the late Justice Rose Bird, who opposed the death penalty and, they say, who scrupulously interpreted the law to favor the defendant. Whatever.

When DNA testing is revealing that a fair number of men and women on death row are innocent and the state of Illinois has declared a moratorium on executions because of concern that the innocent are suffering with the guilty, Prop. 18 only further entrenches the death penalty.

Recommendation: No on 18

Proposition 19
More Crime and Punishment

PROP. 19 WOULD increase the penalty for killing a BART or state university patrol officer in second-degree murder cases in which the killing is deemed unintentional and even if the officer is off duty. Such convictions currently carry a sentence of 15 years to life. This initiative calls for a prison term of life without the possibility of parole.

Translation: This is yet another opportunistic measure by politicians--both this and Prop. 18 passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature and were signed by the governor-- who want to look tough on crime.

Recommendation: No on 19

Proposition 20
Lottery Money for Textbooks

ANY CAMPAIGN that calls itself "School books for the children"--why not "Mom and apple pie"?--should set off voters' BS detectors. "School books for the children" was authored by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Van Nuys, an emerging power broker in the powerful Latino Legislative Caucus. Prop. 20 is a classic example of legislatiing by initiative. Here's the skinny: Under existing law, at least 34 percent of lottery monies are funneled to local school districts for "instructional purposes." Prop. 20 would require that half of any increase in education revenue be reserved for textbooks and instructional materials. Let local school district officials--who are already accountable to local voters and parents--decide what is best for their schools.

Recommendation: No on 20

Proposition 21
Juvenile Justice

TO HEAR the backers of Prop. 21 talk, California is drowning in a tidal wave of juvenile crime. Citing Bad Seed-style horror stories, the conservatives behind the Pete Wilson-drafted initiative want to dramatically revamp the juvenile-justice system and create stiff new penalties for kids caught on the wrong side of the law.

If the initiative passes, teen criminals will face punishments that make even many anti-crime activists uneasy. Kids as young as 14 charged with certain violent crimes would be tried as adults automatically. Kids as young as 16 would go to state prison. And even some minor crimes would be severely punished: petty vandalism would become a felony.

The truth is simple. Juvenile crime is declining, and the state already puts truly dangerous young criminals away for life. We don't need to spend millions of dollars to impose harsh prison sentences on kids who could be rehabilitated.

Recommendation: No on 21

Proposition 22
Same-Sex Marriage

REGARDLESS of one's feelings on same-sex marriage, it doesn't make any sense to vote yes on Prop. 22. It's an unnecessary law. The "Knight Initiative" reads, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." However, California law already says only a man and woman can marry. Leave it to the far right--radicals like the Christian Coalition and Sen. Pete Knight--to back a needless law that allows government interference into personal lives.

Proponents say that if passed, Prop. 22 won't take away anyone's rights, but recent history says otherwise. In other states, similar initiatives have been used to deny basic civil rights to lesbians and gays. After passing Limit on Marriage initiatives, courts in Idaho and Pennsylvania ruled against gay and lesbian parents, barring them from adopting their partner's children and denying visitation rights. In Florida, legislators argued that same-sex couples should not receive domestic violence protection because their relationships did not fall under the state's definition of marriage. A no vote does not legalize marriage between same-sex couples.

It does, however, block an attempt to single out a group of people for attack and discrimination.

Recommendation: No on 22

Proposition 23
None of the Above

JOURNALISTS are as cynical as they come, and typically applaud any forum for the public to voice its discontent. But Prop. 23, which would provide voters with a "none of the above" ballot option for federal, state, or local candidates' races, seems more like a waste of space than a medium for political protest. Al Shugart, self-described computer industry icon, says his proposition will get people disillusioned with politics all fired up and scurrying to the polls to voice their frustration. But Shugart, who tried to run his dog Ernest for Congress four years ago, assumes people are passionate about their apathy.

The greens' vocal opposition is probably overstated--they insist that a none-of-the-above ballot option will kill the chances of third-party candidates and democracy as we know it. Still, voters can already cast a write-in vote, and Prop. 23 wouldn't change the outcome of elections. Prop. 23 gets a big check in the none-of-the-above box.

Recommendation: No on 23

Proposition 25
Campaign Donation Limits

HERE WE GO again. California voters have passed campaign-finance reform propositions three times since 1988. Three times the courts have tossed out those laws as unconstitutional. This year Palo Alto millionaire Ron Unz and former Secretary of State Tony Miller are pushing the latest campaign-finance reform measure, Prop. 25. Under Prop. 25, campaign donors can give no more than $3,000 to legislative candidates and $5,000 to candidates for statewide office. Candidates who accept voluntary contribution limits will be eligible for publicly subsidized broadcast advertising. The legislative analyst estimates this element of the measure will cost state taxpayers $55 million annually. Finally, candidates would have to list their top contributors on ballot pamphlets and disclose all donations over $1,000 on the Internet.

Too bad the authors didn't separate the disclosure requirements--which would show voters who is trying to buy influence--from donation limits. Disclosure requirements might actually hold up in court. Prop. 25 instead offers a legally dubious combo-package.

Still, we think the need for some kind of reform is obvious.

By now, voters know the drill: Vote yes on campaign-finance reform and see you in court.

Recommendation: Yes on 25

Proposition 26
School Bonds

SINCE THE PASSAGE of Prop. 13 in 1978, California's schools have been in steady decline. Today our classrooms are among the most crowded in the nation, but Prop. 13 prohibits property tax increases to pay for them. In addition, the law requires a two-thirds majority to pass bond measures that would improve facilities.

Prop. 26 would change the two-thirds rule to a simple majority, allowing local districts to more easily sell bonds to upgrade classrooms.

Prop. 26 is the brainchild of Santa Cruz entrepreneur and charter schools advocate Reed Hastings, who worked with public school unions and others to put the initiative on the ballot. But there's more than bond money on the campaign agenda. Prop. 26 would also require public schools to make their facilities available, at a price, to charter schools. If public schools are so overcrowded, where is this extra space coming from? The hidden agenda here is that some portion of the easier-to-approve bond money could end up building facilities that will be used by charter schools--which gives us pause.

Still, Prop. 26 is needed.

Recommendation: Yes on 26

Proposition 27
Term Limit Declarations

HERE'S A POINTLESS exercise in futility: Force candidates for Congress--who would not be subject to term limits--to declare on their ballot statements if they support term limits. Poll-savvy politicians could simply check yes and then serve out the rest of their careers in Washington. Save the ink.

Recommendation: No on 27

Proposition 28
Tobacco Tax Repeal

THE PROPONENTS of Prop. 28 say that the fight over the initiative is really a choice between them--a megabuck cigarette-selling store--and activist/actor/director Rob Reiner. Fine, we'll go with Meathead.

A year and a half ago, California voters passed Prop. 10, which imposed a new 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes and earmarked the money for early childhood development and smoking prevention programs. Reiner was a major supporter of Prop. 10. Prop. 28 is a straight and simple attempt to repeal Prop. 10.

Cigarettes Cheaper!--the cigarette superstore that is sponsoring Prop. 28--uses the same arguments that California voters rejected in 1998: that Prop. 10 discriminates against cigarette smokers and that the tax money will go for another state bureaucracy and not to help children. Does anyone still believe the propaganda of the companies that sell cigarettes?

This one is easy. Children, yes; tobacco, no.

Recommendation: No on 28

Propositions 30 & 31
Suing Insurance Companies

THESE ARE A LITTLE complicated, so pay attention. Auto insurance companies are famous for delaying payment on claims, even if the claims are legitimate. California law currently allows drivers to sue their own insurance companies for unfair claims practices. But up until last year, if a driver was involved in a wreck in which another driver was at fault, the first driver could not sue the other driver's insurance company for failing to pay the claim.

Last year, the California Legislature passed a law allowing a driver to sue the other driver's insurance company, but the law was put on hold because Props. 30 and 31 were put on the ballot. Prop. 30 would affirm that law, meaning the other driver's insurance company could be sued. We recommend a yes vote on Prop. 30. Auto insurance companies should pay legitimate claims, and a defeat of Prop. 30 would take away a weapon to make insurance companies do so.

Here's where it gets a little complicated.

If Prop. 30 does not pass, it doesn't matter what happens to Prop. 31, because Prop. 31 won't go into effect.

But if Prop. 30 passes, allowing a driver to sue the other driver's insurance company, then Prop. 31 would limit some of the ways that the auto insurance company could be sued. For example, it would eliminate the right to sue even if the insurance company suggested binding arbitration.

We recommend a no vote on Prop. 31. Again, we think that auto insurance companies should pay legitimate claims. If they don't, the courts are a good way to force them to do so.

Insurance companies say that if they can be sued, they will have to raise their rates. But if they pay legitimate claims on time, then they don't have to worry about being sued, and the rates can stay the same.

Recommendation: Split the difference. Yes on 30; No on 31

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From the March 2-8, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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