Thursday, October 25, 2012

Endorsements for the Nov. 2012 election: San Francisco

One of this country's biggest problems is that we don't talk enough about politics, particularly local politics.

We only talk with people we agree with, and we only talk about the Presidential race. That's why we get dysfunctional government entities like San Francisco's Community College Board, which bickers about doctrine while risking bankruptcy and possibly losing the school's accreditation.

So here's who I'm voting for and why. I read all the endorsements and interviews in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian and Los Angeles Times and the candidates' stated positions on The Guardian as usual did the most and best work, interviewing almost every candidate, but it's too dogmatically far left for my taste, so I have to parse its opinions carefully.

It's a tradition now at The Gray Report to do these endorsements because we need more discussion and analysis. The Chronicle has probably had 10,000 articles on the Presidential race, which you can read about anywhere, and zero on the local community college race. As you'll see if you read the whole thing, I'm a registered Democrat but an independent thinker. No matter where you stand politically, you'll find some position of mine to disagree with. Which is fine, that's why we should talk more about politics. No name-calling please. And don't obsess on the top of the ballot choice; there are 10,000 other places to talk about that.

Barack Obama
I'm not going to waste space trying to convince you; most people are set. I think Mitt Romney could be a good President; we don't know, because he has been evasive about his plans. What we do know is that he and Paul Ryan have run a campaign mocking the importance of facts, and if they win, no future Presidential candidate will feel the need to tell the truth or apologize for outright lies. Maybe we're there already in a world where 56% of Republicans believe Obama was born abroad.

US Senate:
Dianne Feinstein
The Republicans made a serious run at Barbara Boxer in 2010 with a serious candidate and huge fund-raising. Not this time.

US Representative District 12
Nancy Pelosi
Pelosi's last semi-serious opposition came from the left. Her Republican opponent, John Dennis, is interesting: he opposes the Afghanistan war, the drug war and domestic surveillance. But he's in the wrong party or the wrong city if he's serious about reaching Congress.

State Senate District 11
Mark Leno
Leno has been great in the legislature, spearheading a number of intelligent bills, such as legalizing industrial hemp production. He's a hard worker and a good representative for this district, and an interesting candidate for the future to take over for Pelosi if he doesn't want to run for mayor instead.

State Assembly District 17
Tom Ammiano
Ammiano has done a more balanced, less dogmatic job in the state house than he did on the city's Board of Supervisors. This is a district no Republican is going to win anyway; as with Leno and Pelosi, the real election was the primary.

Community College Board (ugh)

Greendale's Community College is much better run than San Francisco's, as our system is way over budget and in danger of losing its accreditation. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) says the dysfunctional board is a large part of the problem.
There's some media responsibility for this. The only local publication that bothers to interview board members is the very leftist Bay Guardian. Its endorsements have been powerful enough for years in a race nobody cares enough to saddle the Community College with loudmouth idealists who don't pay attention to the bottom line.
(Update: The Chronicle reported after I posted this that the CC actually hasn't been requiring students to pay fees. Kudos to Nanette Asimov, Eric's sister, for good journalism. But still no endorsements. Sigh.)
You're supposed to vote for 4 candidates this year. It's tempting to just choose all non-incumbents and all non-Guardian endorsees. But give the Guardian credit (unlike the Chronicle) for taking the election seriously and interviewing all the candidates. So I'm parsing what it wrote to vote for these 4:
Steven Ngo, incumbent, apparently the only one who argued for fiscal responsibility.
Nate Cruz, financial analyst. The Guardian doesn't endorse him, and he's the only one whose listed priorities on include fiscal stability.
Hanna Leung, a worker's comp attorney who was the only one at the candidates' debate who seemed to take the threat of losing accreditation seriously. Plus her listed top priority is balancing the budget.
Rafael Mandelman, because we can't do any better. A labor activist, he is called a peacemaker by the Guardian. I wouldn't vote for him if I thought I had a better choice. No wonder this board is screwed up: it only pays $500 a month, and most candidates are leftist zealots not good enough to win higher offices.

Board of Education

San Francisco's school board is nowhere near as screwed up as its Community College Board. Students are actually improving in test scores and the last couple of superintendent hires haven't been outright disasters.
It's hard to parse endorsements here because the San Francisco Chronicle can't be bothered to interview the candidates, the teachers' union only cares about its members (to be fair, that is its role), and the Guardian wants the leftist party line. But at least the Guardian does the interviews. Here's who I'm voting for based on what little I know.
Rachel Norton: She's an incumbent, the Guardian doesn't like her which means she's not an idealogue, and she's proposing to improve the food in the schools. Plus her second stated position is accountable budget decisions.
Kim Garcia-Meza: Her first listed position is budget accountability and transparency. They can't all be interested in spending more money from an overbudget city.
Matt Haney: He's a do-gooder who has put in a lot of hours bringing volunteers to the schools.
Victoria Lo: She's a pediatric healthcare professional who says she believes in math and science education. She's a cipher, but I like the other candidates less.

BART district 9
Tom Radulovich
The incumbent, Radulovich has been a leader in getting more bikes on BART, which cuts down on the need for cars to commute. He's also the go-to quote for reporters on BART news good and bad, and there is value in a guy who's willing to stand up when the system screws up. I feel very good about this vote.

State propositions

Proposition 30
This proposal raises sales tax by 1/4 cent and also raises income tax on people making over $250,000 a year to raise the money to prevent catastrophic cuts in education. I don't love it, but the alternatives (no new taxes, or prop 38) are worse. Every major media organization endorses it.

Proposition 31
This proposition combines a lot of good budget ideas from a bipartisan group. But it's vague in some key areas. For example, it allows local governments to ignore state regulations, but doesn't say which ones, a provision that would make lawyers litigating it very rich in the near future. It's just this sort of ballot-box lawmaking by non-legislative experts that gets this state in trouble.

Proposition 32
If it's funded by the Koch brothers, and it doesn't have to do with counterfeit wine, I'm against it. This measure is an attempt to cut the political influence of unions while letting corporations have free reign. We might be better off without big spending from both sides, but not by eliminating only one side.

Proposition 33
Rejected by voters two years ago, this proposal by an insurance company would allow insurers to give discounts to people who have had auto insurance at the expense of new drivers. It's particularly unfair in San Francisco where many people choose to give up their cars. And it penalizes young drivers, who already pay more. It might even push more people into driving uninsured, and certainly will push new drivers into carrying less insurance. Do we really want that?

Proposition 34
This would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. It's a philosophical issue and personally I support the death penalty. For me, the death penalty isn't about the sensational Scott Peterson type cases. It's about the guy who enters a mom-and-pop shop, rapes mom and shoots pop. There are a lot of guys like that in prison, and I think they have forfeited their right to live. I also think it's weird that so many liberals are pro-choice* and anti-death penalty; are murderers really more precious? Moreover, California is under federal court order to decrease its prison population by a third, so you never know if "life without parole" might be redefined in the future. You really want no parole? Release them through the air vents.
(* I'm extremely pro-choice. So maybe I'm just pro-death.)

Proposition 35
It's funny to see these feel-good law enforcement bills back-to-back: one liberal, this one reactionary. This one's core goody-goody point is toughening sentences on human traffickers, though it widens the definition of what that means. It also potentially gives pimps life sentences and adds non-sex offenders to the sex-offender registry. Did I mention that California is under federal orders to release a third of its prisoners? We need a sensible, big-picture approach to imprisonment, not an emotional, poorly conceived one. Incarcerating dangerous, violent criminals should be our priority.

Proposition 36
This would make California's three-strikes crime law more sensible. The third strike -- a crime that leads to life imprisonment -- would have to be considered serious or violent, so we wouldn't throw away the key (and pay the bills forever) after a guy like Scott Andrew Hove steals $20 worth of stuff from Home Depot. Felons with two strikes would still serve double the normal sentence for crimes like that. But did I mention that California is under federal orders to release a third of its prisoners? We have a zero-sum game now: lock away the shoplifters and pimps, and you're going to have to parole more muggers and rapists.

Proposition 37
This would require labeling of foods that include genetically engineered ingredients. It also would restrict the definitions of foods that could be advertised as "natural." My reservation is that individuals would have the standing to sue distributors and grocers suspected of violating the labeling law. But the good outweighs the bad: certified organic foods would be exempt, for example, which would encourage agribusiness to use fewer pesticides. Just make food healthier and be honest about it and you'll have no problems. I wish this bill was better written, but the legislature doesn't care about food labeling and I think most Californians do. I certainly do.

Proposition 38
This is a tax-raising bill privately written as an alternative to Gov. Brown's preferred Proposition 30, with an across-the-board income tax increase and no additional sales tax. The problem is that it locks in spending formulas and the legislature is already overly hamstrung by this kind of measure.

Proposition 39
This would close a loophole in state tax laws that allows multi-state businesses to get tax breaks by moving jobs out of state. I don't love that it earmarks the funds for energy efficiency -- the general fund should get the money. But the loophole needs closing and Republicans in the state house keep vetoing it because they see it as a tax increase on multinational corporations. Which it is.

Proposition 40
A referendum on California's new non-partisan political boundaries. The non-partisan commission was a good idea, fairly implemented.

San Francisco propositions

Proposition A
This would raise parcel taxes to give more money to the Community College board for a system which is on the verge of losing its accreditation. If the CC were doing a great job and needed the money to keep up the good work, that would be different. Budget cuts would help by forcing the board to act like grownups.

Proposition B
This is a bond measure for the city's underfunded parks and recreation department. It's a bond, not taxes, and the department needs the money.

Proposition C
I don't like voting against an affordable housing bill, but this doesn't sound like a good one, as it actually reduces the percentage of housing developers have to set aside as affordable and doesn't do much to help renters, as opposed to home buyers. We need affordable housing assistance, but this was a please-everybody compromise that doesn't do the job.

Proposition D
This bill consolidates off-year elections for the city, putting the city attorney and treasurer on the same ballot as the mayor, sheriff and district attorney. It's silly to spend money to hold an election for such minor offices, and lower turnout makes those races easier to influence. The entire Board of Supervisors can't generally agree on whether or not to open a window, but they all support this bill.

Proposition E
This replaces San Francisco's payroll tax on businesses with a gross receipts tax. So instead of penalizing companies for hiring more workers, the city gets more taxes only when they sell more stuff and actually get some revenue. This bill will especially help startups and tech companies and should help bring more jobs to the city.

Proposition F
This goody-two-shoes bill would fund a study of draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to eliminate San Francisco's source of drinking water in order to restore that beautiful part of Yosemite Valley. That's so nice; I love nature. But I like drinking water too, and there isn't another source for a city of 700,000 people sitting around waiting to be tapped. It's a cross between the plans of the Sierra Club and those of a James Bond villian.

Proposition G
This policy statement won't change anything, but it declares that in San Francisco, corporations are not people. That feels good. But it also says money is not speech and limits spending on political processes. While I agree with that philosophically, it would be overturned immediately if challenged in court because of the ridiculous Supreme Court Citizens United decision -- and the city would have to pay the legal bills of the challengers. Though it's righteous and I'd vote for it in a heartbeat as a US Constitutional amendment, it's tilting at windmills for the city and will cost us money. If you want to overturn Citizens United, start by following the recommendation at the very top of this endorsements list.

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reginag said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas Bergel said...

Well, at least you've given some serious study to the issues which I feel is pretty rare and you have enough courage of your convictions to publish them. I applaud you for that. It was an enjoyable read!

winebookgirl said...

Thanks for the reminder that I need to put some time aside to research the Board races and write my cheat sheet for Election Day.
After all these years, I am still surprised at how complicated voting is in California.


W. Blake Gray said...

Amy: It's true, voting responsibly here is a chore. The ballot propositions are the reason. Candidate choices are always much easier. With the propositions, you have to be wary of unintended consequences as happened with the energy market "reform." You'll note I'm voting against two props this time that I philosophically agree with completely.

Patrick Frank said...

I admire you for doing this. I think you're too idealistic about the death penalty though. I think murderers fear life w/o parole more than they fear the executioner's needle. But I hoist a glass to you.

W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks Patrick. I agree, I don't think the death penalty is a stronger deterrent. And I think Illinois was right to eliminate the death penalty because it was pretty clearly shown to have been misused there. I'd hate to see the death penalty applied in marginal cases. But California has no shortage of no-doubt, no-sympathy violent criminals on death row.

That said, the emotional issues are also the easy choices. You're either pro-death penalty or you're not. But Prop 30, prop 38 or no to both? That's complicated.

Dan McGrew said...

My greatest fear about Romney/Ryan is that if elected the economy will have to wait because their first priorities will be social issues, and I certainly disagree with them there.

Christopher said...

When the Death Penalty is immune to human error, then it will be acceptable (so never). Right now, life without parole still allows an innocent man to go free, even if it's thirty years later.

Other than that Prop, I'll stick to my usual "vote NO on every prop" plan. It's not my job to make laws, that's why we elect people. Pushing the tough choices back on us to cover their own butt is unacceptable and leads to a lot of the messes we have in CA.

W. Blake Gray said...

Christopher: I have followed that "No on every prop" plan in the past. I'd vote Yes for a proposition to end propositions. They do get us in trouble. But please at least take a closer look at Prop 40. That deserves a bipartisan Yes.

Dan: I don't think Romney cares much about social issues. He wasn't a social conservative as governor of Massachusetts, which is why he doesn't talk much about that time.
However, the Republican House, with Romney in office, THEY care mostly about social issues, which is a genuine reason to be very afraid.

Unknown said...

Not sure if you caught the League of Women Voters of San Francisco candidate forum for the Community College board. Looks like it hasn't been posted to yet.

For future reference, the SF League usually also provides local info.

W. Blake Gray said...

Unknown: I believe you're referring to the debate that Mission Local covered (which I linked to), but the Chronicle couldn't be bothered to cover (sigh). and League of Women Voters links lead to the same place. I'm not sure what their relationship is. Maybe the League pays for Smartvoter?

Sam Shoulders said...

While I agree with that philosophically, it would be overturned immediately if challenged in court because of the ridiculous Supreme Court Citizens United decision -- and the city would have to pay the legal bills of the challengers.

You make the assumption the it would be overturned in CA, but this is not a fact, you cannot determine how they will positon their argument, so the reasoning here is faulty. I like your insights, but here this is somewhat tepid analysis

Kind regards,

W. Blake Gray said...

Sam: That's fair. I struggled with this prop as much as any of them. I really agree with it, but it's the sort of prop that often gets San Francisco riled up without accomplishing anything. My endorsement for this position is as mild as it gets.

Unknown said...

Best Hope to Fix California Education: teacher faculty never-say-die spirit of more learning with fewer resources. “All you have to do is spend more (Prop 30, 38) on education” should be ignored as Prop 30, 38 do not serve our state’s school and university children. Additional money (Prop 30, 38) is not the magic elixir. We are kidding ourselves by believing that education funding shortfalls disappear with Prop 30, Prop 38.
Prop 30, Prop 38 levy significant taxes on each one of us

W. Blake Gray said...

Milan: I agree with that philosophy regarding the local community college tax. On California's public schools, though, I don't.