Monday, October 13, 2014

Endorsements for November 2014 San Francisco election

After a dull June primary in California, November has a lot of interesting decisions, and I'm here to help you make them.

I read the endorsements from the Los Angeles Times, which did a fine job on statewide races, as well as the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle, which was even weaker than usual. This is a problem for local races and ballot initiatives, many of which the Chronicle simply didn't cover. As always, the leftist San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly did the most thorough job.

Bad news update: These were the last endorsements the Guardian will ever do, because the paper was shut down by ownership on Oct. 14. 

I also read the endorsements of the local Democratic, Republican and Green parties, and the profiles listed by candidates on the crappy new Smart Voter site. In some cases (you'll see) it still felt inadequate.

Election endorsements are a tradition at the Gray Report, and I urge other bloggers reading this -- whether your normal topic is food, fashion or feet -- to do them. The more that ordinary people talk about politics, the less extreme and more pragmatic our choices become.

Governor: Jerry Brown

He has done a good job. No reason to change.

Lt. Governor: Gavin Newsom

He hasn't done much, but there isn't much to do in this job. His opponent is the former state Republican Party chairman, a right-winger ordered up from central casting. Thus it's not a hard choice for anyone in either party.

Secretary of State: Pete Peterson

The secretary of state's job is to oversee elections. The LA Times makes a good case for the Republican candidate Peterson, writing, "As executive director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, he's spent the last several years training government officials on how to use technology to communicate with the public and how to get citizens to participate in civic decision-making." California hasn't elected a Republican state official since 2006, so the Democrat, termed-out California legislator Alex Padilla, is the favorite.

Controller: Ashley Swearengin

In June I recommended (and voted for) Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state board of equalization. She could do the job, but with a longer look at Fresno mayor Swearengin, I've switched. The Controller's job is as a budget watchdog, and the Bee and the LA Times make strong cases for Swearengin, who steered Fresno through an economic crisis. She has run away from the national Republican platform and refused to endorse its candidate for governor, pissing off her party. That may just be sensible politics in this state but it's comforting.

Treasurer: John Chiang

Chiang is termed out of the Controller's job. He made a couple of missteps in eight years, but generally did a good job during a financial crisis.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris

In four years Harris will run against Newsom for governor. As with Newsom, this year she has an easy path to re-election against a nondescript Republican.

Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones

Jones' Republican opponent is an insurance agent who doesn't think there should be an insurance commissioner. Hens shouldn't vote for foxes.

Member, State Board of Equalization, District 2: Fiona Ma

I'm not a fan of Ma, just another termed-out politician looking for another state paycheck. But her opponent is a cypher.

US Representative District 12: Nancy Pelosi

One of the main hatred objects for right-wing talk show hosts. They'll miss her when she's gone, but it won't be this year.

State Assembly, District 17: David Chiu

On the most emotional race in San Francisco, the Guardian (in endorsing doctrinaire leftist David Campos) fairly describes your choice: Chiu's "willingness to cut deals" versus Campos' "holding the progressive line." As president of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, Chiu presided over an unusually productive and embarrassment-free term for that often adolescent group. He's more likely to get things done in Sacramento.

Supreme Court and appeals court Justices: Retain all

The LA Times writes an excellent explanation of why judge retention is on the ballot, and why we should vote to retain them in almost every circumstance. In a nutshell, we don't want judges worrying about re-election and currying favor and funds. None of these retentions is controversial.

Superior Court Judge: Daniel Flores

Civil rights defense attorney Flores has a trifecta of endorsements from the Democrat, Republican and Green parties. His opponent is not qualified for this job.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Marshall Tuck

As head of LA schools, Tuck waived seniority in making staffing and layoff decisions for teachers. Tom Torlakson, incumbent in this office and his opponent in this election, filed a court action to block it.
That's all you need to know to decide. Teachers' unions resist performance evaluations as a matter of course and kids' educations suffer for it. I'm not a fan of expanding charter schools, which is where Tuck got his start, because I think we should put our resources into making the public school system better for everyone. We can't do that by giving "social promotions" to teachers; they need to be graded too. I wrote this in June and it still applies.

Member, city Board of Education: Hydra Mendoza, Emily Murase, Shamann Walton

The Chronicle bestirred itself to comment on this race, thankfully, unlike the one below. I'm going to vote for all three Chronicle endorsees. The school board has had an effective term; even the Guardian admits, "We must recognize the progress the board has made since its days as a fractious mess." (more on that below). Board chairman Mendoza and Murase are incumbents who deserve another term. Both the Chronicle and Guardian like Walton, director of a workforce development agency in Bayview-Hunters Point.

Member, city Community College Board, 4-year term: Rant Warning!

People sometimes throw around the slogan "the media's responsible" when the population at large is to blame. However, years of Chronicle and Guardian editorial policy helped lead to the fiscal and educational disaster at San Francisco City College, which lost its accreditation and faces a crucial appeal on Oct. 27. (Update: the hearing is over, but the judge won't rule until next month. Chronicle coverage of the trial made it seem as if the college won key points.)
If it loses, the college will likely close, but this election is already on the ballot.
How bad was the board? They lost all responsibilities in 2013 as the state appointed a special trustee to make decisions in an attempt to save the school. But city law requires an election, so the people running below are running merely to receive a $500 monthly stipend.
Why are the Chronicle and Guardian responsible for the mess? Even during years when it wasn't laying off employees, the Chronicle ignored this board come endorsement time. That meant the only media entity taking it seriously was the Guardian, which recommended the furthest left people it could find because that's what it does.
The Guardian's "clean slate" endorsements aren't decisive in races where people are paying attention, like mayor or board of supervisors. But who pays attention to the community college board? The Guardian exercised unusual influence over this board, filling it with ideologues, who bickered over which community was most at-risk (Teachers? Students who only speak Farsi? Disabled transgendered athletes?) without anyone ever paying attention to the budget.
San Francisco should have a community college system, but I hope the Oct. 27 decision goes against the one we have now. The best move might be to wipe it out and start over. That's what would happen if a business was this dysfunctional.
All of that said, it's a decision on the ballot, and it's rare for an institution like this to go away so I'll bet we haven't heard the last of this board. I'm not going to be like the irresponsible Chronicle editorial directors who helped let it get this far and not give you some idea of who to vote for.
Rodrigo Santos, Thea Selby and Anita Grier are my choices. Not coincidentally, all three are recommended by the Democratic party.
Santos took the trouble to create a website that links to the Smart Voter site and says the right things about fiscal responsibility. And the Guardian doesn't endorse him.
Selby is endorsed by the Guardian despite itself, with reassuring language like "not as leftist as we'd like," and "endorsements from many moderates, which worries us." That makes her my favorite candidate.
The only things I know about Grier are 1) The Guardian doesn't endorse her, 2) The Democratic Party does, and 3) The only Republican Party statement on this race is, "Do NOT support Anita Grier." I don't know what's up with that, but it's intriguing.

Member, Community College Board, 2-year term: Thomas Moyer

The same job as above, but the winner here gets $500 a month to do nothing for only 2 years, not four. The Guardian picks William Walker even though in a previous election they said he wasn't qualified. The Democrats like Amy Bacharach, and she's taking the election the most seriously, with an extensive website explaining her views. It's tempting to pick her, but parsing those views, I get the same-old "low fees, at-risk communities, make everybody happy" stuff that is driving the college out of business. The Republicans endorsed Moyer, whose site doesn't say much, but does use the key words "fiscal responsibility." I don't love any of the choices, but if any job on this ballot could use an old-school Republican, it's this one.

Assessor-Recorder: Carmen Chu (unopposed)

Public Defender: Jeff Adachi (unopposed)

State proposition 1: Water bond: Yes

In the third year of a drought, we desperately need to pass this bond, which would pay to clean contaminated groundwater, shore up levees, and create water storage. That last part worries some conservationists, who fear it might be used to build more dams. I hear that, but we need drinking water and we shouldn't wait until the next election to start cleaning and storing it. The LA Times and the Bee endorse this; the Chronicle can't be bothered to address all but one state proposition.

State proposition 2: Rainy day fund: Yes

This measure, which would pay down debt and set aside public money surplus in good tax years, passed the state assembly and senate without a single No vote from either party. All major media organizations support it.

State proposition 45: Healthcare insurance: No

This was written before the Affordable Care Act became law. It's not a bad idea, regulating health insurance costs, but it's superfluous to Covered California and might undermine it. I haven't personally had the best experience with Covered California (more on that at a later date) but we need to give it a chance to see how it works. We haven't yet had a second year to see how healthcare costs will change. If Covered California continues to be a problem in four years, it will be appropriate to revisit this idea.

State proposition 46: Drug testing doctors: No

This terrible idea sounds like it was written by sports talk-show hosts. It would test doctors for drug use; what, are doctors' biceps getting enormous like Barry Bonds'? It also increases malpractice awards, not what we need to keep healthcare costs down.

State proposition 47: Sentencing reform: Yes

California is finally learning that we can't imprison everyone, as we are under a federal court order to reduce state prison populations. It's now a zero-sum game: if we lock up more heroin users, we let out more car thieves. We have to make choices. This proposition attempts to make those choices sensible, reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes like drug possession and shoplifting. The proposition has created strange bedfellows. It's bankrolled by liberal George Soros and conservative Wayne Hughes. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is a proponent; a number of police chiefs are against it. The LA Times likes it, the Sacramento Bee doesn't. I expect this bill to get scare-tactic opposition in the days just before the election to the tune of, "Proposition 47 will let dangerous criminals loose in your neighborhood." Don't be scared; if a heroin user steals your car, it's the latter for which he should do time, and that kind of sentence won't be affected at all.

State proposition 48: Indian casino: No

The federal government will allow the North Fork Tribe to build a casino 38 miles away from its reservation, if voters approve. Do we need another casino? Other Indian tribes with casinos are bankrolling a "No" campaign because they're afraid of competition, but that's not enough to sway me to vote for it. This is an important message vote. Californians voted to allow Indian casinos in 2000 and expanded their rights in 2008. The Obama administration has no reason to believe that California residents want any limits on casino growth. Send a message: vote No.

City proposition A: Transportation bond: Yes

The Chronicle makes NO endorsements on ANY city propositions this time. Pathetic. I'm just a guy with a laptop, and I can make endorsements. The Chronicle is irresponsible.
Update: with the Guardian being shut down by ownership after 48 years of uncompromising left-wing reporting, this is a good place to say I really appreciate the work its editors did in interviewing every candidate and taking every ballot question seriously. In future elections, we're on our own.

Anyway, this $500 million bond would go toward transportation safety and revamping traffic flow on Market St. We need to invest in our infrastructure.

City proposition B: Muni funding: Yes

This proposal ties Muni funding increases to population increases, which makes a lot of sense.

City proposition C: Children's fund reauthorization: No

I'm the Grinch here, but I don't support setting aside dedicated funds for 25 years for preschool programs, art and music in schools, and violence prevention programs. Those are nice, but they're extras, and dedicating funds means the money can't be used for core needs like teacher salaries or school maintenance.

City proposition D: Retiree health benefits: No

This measure would give employees of the former San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, disbanded by the state, the same retiree health benefits as city employees. I wish I could get those health benefits; don't you? If most people work for a company that goes bankrupt, they have to get another job. I don't see why these people are special.

City proposition E: Soda tax: Hell yes!

Americans hate taxes, but we love services. We have to tax something to pay for city retiree health benefits and Muni and Market Street renovation and preschool programs, etc. Most places pick on alcohol, but this is San Francisco. Which is worse for your health: wine or Coke? The answer is clearly Coke, all empty calories and more likely to be overconsumed, without the heart-protection benefits (among others) of wine. Nobody is saying we should outlaw Pepsi. But it's an unhealthy luxury product and should be taxed as such. Nobody needs a Pepsi. Mexico, with a bad obesity problem, passed a similar tax last year and it's a big success. Plus, if you vote for any of propositions A through D, that money has to come from somewhere.

City proposition F: Pier 70 height limit increase: Yes

In June, we as a city voted (on Proposition B) to give ourselves the right to say yes or not to waterfront development proposals that go over the existing height limit. This is the first of those yes-or-no votes. The project seems like a good one; even the Guardian likes it. Developers whined all spring about how Proposition B would stifle the economic growth of the city. Clearly it's not true.

City proposition G: House-flipping tax: Yes

How much stronger would the national economy be if the whole country had this extra tax on house-flipping? It's 24% on houses sold within a year of purchase, or 14% for houses sold within 5 years of purchase. I wish somebody had thought of this 15 years ago.

City proposition H: Natural grass on city soccer fields: Yes

There are some double-negatives on this measure and the one below, so be careful. The city proposes to replace the grass soccer fields in Golden Gate Park, near the ocean, with artificial turf. They claim the fields are underused and more kids will come out to play on hard injury-creating rubber. This proposal, from opponents of the idea, would require natural grass on the fields. I don't understand why anyone thinks more kids will play on turf than grass. But more simply than that, I am not ever going to vote for artificial turf over grass. Vote Yes for Grass.

City proposition I: Artificial turf anywhere: No

A major problem with ballot-box legislation is this kind of measure, an answer to Proposition H. A "yes" vote on this allows the park department to put artificial turf fields anywhere it wants. Man, what aren't those people smoking? Not grass, that's for sure. Vote Hell No to Artificial Turf Anywhere!

City proposition J: Minimum wage increase: No

San Francisco already has one of the highest minimum wages in the country at $10.74 an hour. This proposal would raise it to $15 an hour by 2018. That's still not livable, but for most workers it would be fair. However, I can't support it because of the restaurant issue. Servers in most of the U.S. are paid below minimum wage, but get tips that more than make up for it. Here, servers are paid minimum wage plus tips. It's too much, in a city where people consider 20% tipping normal. Servers make up a huge percentage of minimum wage workers in San Francisco because the competitive job market requires non-tipped jobs to be paid better. I would support this measure if it weren't imposed on restaurants. As is, it will actually hurt the real minimum-wage-earning class, because a 30% increase will encourage businesses to hire fewer people and create fewer fulltime jobs.

City proposition K: Affordable housing policy statement: No

I enjoyed the Guardian's tortured stance on this empty statement of purpose: they hate it, they fear it, it's meaningless, and they endorse it. Entertaining, but the right response to a poorly written meaningless proposition is to vote No.

City proposition L: More parking lots: No

This would divert Muni funding to build more city parking lots, and give residents veto power over parking controls in their neighborhoods. It's a great law for suburban Texas and was probably written by a transplant.

Board of supervisors, district 8: Scott Wiener

Speaking of parking, Wiener is dear to me because he is the only politician I've heard speak out on the scourge of double parking. People whose meter expires, whose cars aren't blocking anyone, they get ticketed. People who leave their car in the road on a two-lane street, tying up traffic in both directions, never get ticketed. Never. It's not a sexy issue but it's typical of the pragmatic, sleeves-rolled-up governance Wiener has practiced. Even though he's a moderate for San Francisco, the Guardian endorsed him, writing, "He has been a leader on supporting nightlife in San Francisco, the best ally that bar owners and event promoters have had in many years. Wiener has a strong, independent political perspective and courage to cast tough votes." And the next best candidate -- this is San Francisco -- is a single-issue candidate supporting more public nudity. I don't want to see his wiener; I want this Wiener.

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