Friday, October 15, 2010

Endorsements in California election 2010

This isn't a wine post, though wine does play a part in one endorsement.

I had a hard time voting this year because my local daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, shirked its responsibility. I had to rely on the scraps the Chronicle gave me, superior but non-local endorsements from the Los Angeles Times, and admirably comprehensive coverage from the Bay Guardian, which is way too far left for me.

If you're a California voter, you face the same dilemma. I put some time into my choices and have decided to share my decisions and reasoning.

I'm a registered Democrat but an independent thinker with libertarian leanings. I voted for Schwarzenegger for governor four years ago (I did not vote for the recall) and think he's done a pretty good job; I wish he was running for the Senate. And of course I'm very pro-wine.

Here's how I voted Friday (early, at San Francisco City Hall), and why:

US Senator: Barbara Boxer
The Chronicle refused to endorse a candidate in this race, which spurred me to do this post. I don't have a vocabulary snarky enough to express my disgust with the members of the Chronicle editorial board who are drawing a salary but refused to do their job on the most important race on the ballot. The US Congress might hang in the balance, and the Chronicle expects us to do what, hold our head between our knees and wait for it to end?
To use baseball terms, Boxer is a replacement-level Democrat. She's not a leader or a coalition builder, she's not a great writer of policy, and she doesn't seem all that bright. She offers a reliable party-line vote, which any Democratic functionary could do. We could have a better Senator, for sure.
But is it Carly Fiorina? She's smarter than Boxer and a better speaker, although I don't find her policy discussions in depth or compelling. But look at her record: She took over HP when it was a strong company. The stock price fell, thousands were laid off, it's a much weaker company now, and she got a huge payout when she left. She's a "successful businessperson" in the same sense that George W. Bush was; yes, she was in charge of a big business, but that business didn't do very well (unlike Meg Whitman's.) I don't see any reason to reward her for that with a Senate seat.

California Governor: Jerry Brown
About Meg Whitman: This office would have been soooo easy for her to earn on merit. Brown is a retread, party-machine candidate who didn't start campaigning until recently. Whitman spent a lot of her own money campaigning for months beforehand.
But what did she say, when she had our attention? Nothing, except bad things about Brown. I've seen more than 100 TV ads of hers, but I don't know what she stands for.
So we look at the record. Brown was an adequate governor, neither great nor terrible. He was probably the best mayor Oakland has had in decades, and a surprisingly tough-on-crime guy too. He has been a decent attorney general. I don't think I'll get a great governorship from him, but I don't think he'll be awful either. He's a known quantity.
Whitman's a wild card. Ebay was fabulously successful under her. That said, her reputation there was as an autocratic bully, which won't work as Republican governor of a Democratic legislature. And nothing in her campaigning style has countered that impression.
Schwarzenegger tried governing by fiat in his second year, got swatted down by various unions, and retrenched, using a work-with-the-enemy approach. He has years of practice; he's married to the opposition. I don't get the sense that Whitman has ever been forced to work with somebody who disagrees with her, and that's a prerequisite for this job.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom
This was my second-hardest decision. Newsom tends to be all talk and no implementation, and it's tempting to reward Abel Maldonado for risking condemnation by his own Republican Party to get a budget bill passed.
Ultimately, I let wine be my guide. Newsom is a wine lover who once owned a wine shop and co-owns a winery, Cade, that is a leader in environmental responsibility. Besides, this job is all talk and no implementation.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris
This is the most interesting race on the ballot, between Harris, the San Francisco DA, and Steve Cooley, the DA in LA. The SF Chronicle and LA Times both wrote convincing endorsements for their local candidate.
To summarize, Cooley is by far a better manager, while Harris is an idea person who wants the state to address its high recidivism rate.
Some have tried to make this election about the death penalty, which Harris opposes (I'm pro-death penalty). That's focusing on a far less important issue than the one Harris is correctly talking about: We are imprisoning too many people for too long, and we simply can't afford it.
One of the biggest problems about combining crime and punishment with politics is that it's easy to win political points with "toughness." Unless we're going to give someone the death penalty or a life sentence, they're going to get out sometime, and after several years in the overcrowded hellhole of California prisons, with no rehabilitation services to speak of and no re-introduction, they're going to rob us again.
We need a more pragmatic system, with as many offenders as possible in home detention, paying for their own food and shelter, and possibly taking community college classes online so they don't have to commit crimes to support themselves.
Either of these candidates would do a good job. Cooley, frankly, would probably be better for the next four years. But we desperately need a huge philosophical change in the way we view the prison system, and maybe Harris can start to make it.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Larry Aceves
Another fascinating choice, this time non-partisan, between a career politician with teaching experience and a career educator. The LA Times swayed me with this endorsement.

Insurance Commissioner: Mike Villines
The Chronicle won me over with this endorsement, which suggests rewarding this Republican for his independence. Makes me wonder where the person who wrote that was when it came time to make a choice for the Senate.

US Representative: Nancy Pelosi
I wish she had used the power of her office to get us some federal goodies for the city, other than that stupid curving train line from Chinatown to the ballpark. But there's no real other choice here.

Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Board of Equalization member: I voted for the Democratic incumbents. If they had been screwing up, we would have heard about it.

State Propositions:
19 Legalizing marijuana: YES
Of course it's a Yes! It's not perfect legislation, and the Feds can still impose federal law. But come on, in 21st century California, nobody should be in prison for growing, owning or smoking marijuana. We don't have the prison space. And we could use the tax dollars from what would instantly surpass wine grapes as a cash crop. We don't get many chances in a lifetime to vote for paradigm-shifting legislation; this is one.
Addendum: The Obama administration, through US Attorney General Eric Holder, has issued fightin' words about this proposition.
Shame on you, Eric Holder. I thought your boss represented democracy. And what happened to "change"? You're taking the same stance as J. Edgar Hoover.
This proposition allows Californians to send a message about whether or not we think marijuana possession should be a crime. The Obama administration is trying to intimidate us into saying something that we don't believe.
Ignore the eventual outcome for a moment; that will take years to shake out. Ask yourself that basic question, because voters might not in our lifetime get another chance to answer it. A Yes vote will lead to more legislation; a No vote ends the debate.
My response to Eric Holder: Yes We Can.

20 Redistricting congressional district: YES
The only good argument against this is that if you're a Democrat, it lessens the party's power in gerrymandering. Bad argument: If Democrats have the numbers, they'll win majorities anyway, and if they don't, they shouldn't.

21 Vehicle license surcharge for state parks: NO
This type of ballot measure is why this state's finances are screwed up. Voters should not micromanage where our tax dollars go; what if there's a crisis, but we can't touch this money? That's why we elect representatives. I wish I could vote for a ballot measure that would outlaw this kind of ballot measure.

22 Prohibits state from borrowing funds from local governments: NO
See 21

23 Suspends air pollution control law: NO
A cynical initiative funded by polluters to get out of complying with a well-written, necessary law.

24 Repeals legislation regarding business tax liability: NO
See 23

25 Allows budget to pass with simple majority: YES
This is the most important ballot initiative. The state is paralyzed every year in passing a budget because of the 2/3 vote requirement. It just doesn't work; we have to change it. Please, if you ignore me on every other endorsement, vote Yes on this. I'm begging you.

26 Requires 2/3 vote for fees: NO
Hello, state budget crisis here. This is going to make it worse, not better.

27 Eliminates state redistricting commission: NO
See 20

Judicial races: The interesting one is for Superior Court Seat #15 between Richard Ulmer, recently seated, and Michael Nava, running against him.
This is another important election The Chronicle wimped out on, leaving me to parse the Bay Guardian's reasoning. (My sincere thanks to the Guardian for doing the most legwork.)
There are two issues here. Where do you stand philosophically? Nava is more liberal. And, do you think a sitting judge who hasn't screwed up should be unseated?
I'm not sure where I stand with these guys on issue #1; I believe I'm between the two of them. But I don't like judges running for office at all, and think contested elections for judgeships are a terrible idea. We want judges independent, not pandering for votes. Unless you're really, really liberal, I think you should vote for Ulmer, even if he's more conservative than you want.
I never know how to vote in the other judgeship elections. I don't like to vote Yes for somebody I know nothing about. The LA Times recommended Yes votes for the Supreme Court candidates, and that's good enough for me. I had a fit of snark in the voting booth Friday and voted No on all the associate justices, figuring that if somebody wanted to mount a last-minute recall campaign, they could use my vote. I don't have the information to seriously recommend a vote one way or the other, and for that I blame my local papers, including the Bay Guardian.

State Assembly: Tom Ammiano
He's further left than I like, but he's earnest and hard-working and will respectably represent his constituency.

Board of Education: Again The Chronicle let me down, leaving me with the Bay Guardian, which is far to the left of how I feel about education.
I parsed the Guardian's reasoning and read this non-judgmental Chronicle story, and voted for Natasha Hoehn, Margaret Brodkin and Hydra Mendoza.

Board of Supervisors, District 8: The biggest issue for SF supervisors is trying to get grownups who will act responsibly about governing the city. When Willie Brown was Da Mayor, I found the childish leftists on the Board amusing and not a terrible counterweight to his amoral backroom dealings. But with Newsom as Mayor, somebody has to be the grownup in this city, which is why I was generally happy with termed-out Bevan Dufty.
I can't trust either the Chronicle -- way too suburban -- or the Guardian -- way too unrealistic -- for Board of Supes recommendations.
I voted Scott Wiener first, followed by Rebecca Prozan. I didn't vote for Rafael Mandelman because he sounds a little too Daly for me. For some, that's an endorsement.

San Francisco measures:
AA $10 additional auto registration for transit: YES
It's not that much money, and we have a ways to go in improving transportation in this city.

A Earthquake retrofit bonds: YES
I don't know what the argument against this would be.

B Requires city employees to pay more for health care: YES
Hell yes! The rest of us are paying more for health care, why does the guy who gives me a traffic ticket or processes my library card get a free ride at my expense? Seriously, what's so special about city employees, that they should get unlimited perks?

C Requires mayor to appear at Board of Supes: YES
I don't know if it will make government better. But it won't make anything worse, and it would be fun to watch.

D Allows non-citizens to vote: NO
This is an example of San Francisco being wayyyy too liberal. You want to vote? Become a citizen. If you're not invested enough in this city to pursue citizenship, you don't deserve to make decisions regarding its future.

E Election Day voter registration: NO
It's not a hardship to register ahead of time, but it WILL be a hardship for already registered voters if a bunch of people show up on election day to try to sign up. Don't penalize those of us who are registered already.

F Reduces health board elections: YES
Seriously, I vote every time -- or thought I did -- but I didn't know we had health board elections.

G Changes MUNI payment formula: YES
MUNI drivers are overpaid and unmotivated, and that's the single biggest transit problem in the city. Once again, voters, I ask you: What makes city employees more special than the rest of us?

H Prohibits elected officials from serving on party central committee: NO
This might be unconstitutional. But even if not, I don't get it. Why wouldn't I want my party's leaders to be my party's leaders?

I Allows private parties to pay to open polls on a Saturday: NO
Privately sponsored elections are a slippery slope. Voters who work all week can vote by mail now; that's sufficient.

J Increases hotel tax rate: YES
I vote for this reluctantly, because every city always socks out-of-towners for its own problems. But we gotta get the money somewhere. Sorry, Iowans. At least have a freshly muddled cocktail while you're here.

K Maintains hotel tax rate: NO
The anti-J.

L Prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalk: YES
I'm amused by the loud controversy over this unenforceable law. Care Not Cash -- Gavin Newsom's signature plan from a few years ago -- was a real attempt at legislation to address the homeless problem here. For all the debate over this law, I don't expect it to do anything to decrease the number of homeless on our streets. We still make this city far too attractive for drifters. It's not like the homeless ever spend any real time in jail anyway; this just gives cops a tool to make them move along. But I'm OK with that. Maybe if we make them keep moving from the best begging corners, they'll decide to go to Portland for a while. I hear Portland's real nice.

M Requires police foot patrol: NO
Does this city have the money for this? Foot patrols are generally a good idea, but this initiative was written for the wrong reason, as the anti-L. Maybe in another election it would be worth talking about, but let's not rush into dictating how police allocate resources as a reaction to something else.

N Increases top-end property transfer tax: YES
We gotta get money from somewhere; sales of buildings over $5 million is a better place than most.

That's it; those are my endorsements. I think the biggest political problem we have in this country is that we don't talk about politics enough, especially with people with whom we disagree. This is my attempt at a civil discussion, and hopefully at actually helping people with a ballot make some hard choices.

Whether you agree with me or not, please vote.


Jim Caudill said...

Very thoughtful, in keeping with Citizen Blake. Just a couple of things though: HP is a stronger company today, not weaker, and Carly is getting some revisionist credit for the strategy that led to this. (Not an indication I think she's a great candidate for Senate.) I agree with you on having a ballot measure that would stop ballot measures that proscribe how money should be spent, but the tax you support for city transportation is the same kind of tax that would support the parks, at least philosophically. We're lucky to have a great park nearby (Annandel) and we use it and treasure it, so I'll happily add $15 or whatever to my fees dedicated to keeping it open. You should too. Please do vote and, of course, go Gigantes!

W. Blake Gray said...

Hi Jim, I realize there's a little disconnect in the two tax decisions. The biggest difference for me is state tax vs. city tax.
Also, I'm loath to set aside state money for parks when we have so many needs. I love our state parks, but let's face it -- leave them alone and unfunded, and with luck they become wilderness. We can neglect them for a little while and hopefully make things right if we ever have an economic recovery.

I suppose you could say the same thing about city streets, but that wouldn't be a positive outcome. I'm a huge proponent of alternative forms of transportation for a lot of reasons and I've got to put my $10 there.

Re Fiorina: Interesting point, I grant you. That said, I know it's modern political strategy not to talk about what you plan to do in office, but from somebody who has no record in public office, I want to hear more. With Boxer, we know what we're getting.

Anonymous said...

You're right to call out the media on the lack of coverage on the judicial race, but see today's (Saturday, October 16) Chronicle.

Bob Egelko wrote a pretty comprehensive article about the race between Judge Richard Ulmer and Michael Nava. The article is entitled "Partisanship raises the ante in judicial race".

It's to Nava's benefit politically to label Ulmer a conservative, but if you look at what Ulmer's actually done (decade of pro bono work reforming the California Youth Authority, over 50 pro bono cases on behalf of battered women, California Lawyer of the Year) and his supporters (Senator Feinstein, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and John Burton - the Chair of the CA Democratic Party), you see that Judge Ulmer is actually more progressive than his opponent would like him to be.

What the media has failed to pick up is that Nava's campaign funded a ballot argument supporting Measure M, the community policing measure that is a poison pill for sit lie. See Voter Information Pamphlet pg. 156. This is grossly inappropriate for someone who wants to be a judge.
This measure is definitely going to go to court.

How would you like to go before a judge who already favors one side?

Judges should be fair and impartial, not taking stances on issues that could come before them.

W. Blake Gray said...

Anon: Thank you for pointing out a valuable article. Bob Egelko's a good reporter.

Of course, I'm not the only Californian who ALREADY voted when that was published. Can't blame Egelko for that.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you choose to go this direction as I have always abhorred the way politics seems to have become so pervasive. True, I don't agree with your politics, but more importantly, i don't care about your politics because you are a wine writer. I have now deleted you from my favorites so I can focus on those bloggers who actually write about wine.

W. Blake Gray said...

Anon: We differ in that I would listen to whatever you say about politics as long as you said it in a rational and entertaining way, and as I stated in the post, I think the fact that we don't do this enough is the reason we have extremists on both sides ruling our overly loud, underproductive political climate.

But I never miss anonymous cowards who take potshots, so don't let the door hit you on the way out.

W. Blake Gray said...

By the way, I just got the East Bay Express today and want to commend them for making endorsements, which SF Weekly always refuses to do.

Endorsements are reader service, whether we agree with them or not. I only agree with the Bay Guardian about 75% of the time (that's including all the no-brainer propositions), but their endorsements are always tremendously useful to me because they explain their reasoning.

That's what I've tried to do: whether you agree with me or not, I want you to have a little more info to vote with.

CedarBough said...

thanks for this, amazing how hard it's been to find decent election coverage!

SF_Gal said...

Amazing that I found your blog while looking for election endorsements...wonders & the internet never cease to amaze.

Thank you for your astute and reasonable opinions!

Now, I'm gonna continue to read your blog for the wine...yum!