Monday, May 23, 2016

Endorsements for San Francisco, June 2016 Democratic primary election

Your next Senator ... and next Democratic President? Kamala Harris
It's a tradition here to offer election endorsements. We should all talk more about politics, and I don't mean shout at each other like sports fans.

I'm pleased that San Francisco's liberal alternative paper the Bay Guardian has come back from the dead online to offer endorsements. As when it was in print, the Guardian has done the most work locally of interviewing candidates and investigating propositions. I may not always (or even often) agree with the Guardian's politics but I am grateful for the effort of Tim Redmond, who was editor for more than 30 years and is back on the endorsement job in 2016. The San Francisco Chronicle, despite its much greater resources and more centrist politics, has never taken endorsements as seriously and can't always be trusted to have thought things through fully, but nonetheless my former employer's positions always influence my own. And as always I am grateful for the neutral site Smart Voter.

Having given credit where it's due, here are my endorsements.

US Senator: Kamala Harris

Don't be surprised if Kamala Harris, currently California Attorney General, runs for President soon, perhaps as soon as 2020 if the Democrats don't win this time. She's a protege of Barack Obama and like him is ambitious as all hell. That, frankly, is a selling point in voting for her as US Senator, because to be a Democratic Senator from California has become a lifetime appointment. Perhaps voters would have more carefully considered Dianne Feinstein the first time if they realized she could never be turned out of office. And Feinstein is still there, increasingly embarrassingly; this open seat is to replace retiring Barbara Boxer.

With that caution, Harris is the best candidate for this office on this ballot: she's smart, charismatic and has amassed good experience in a relatively short time. But will we get 30 years of her, or only 4? I wonder what Obama's former constituents in Illinois thought of him as a Senator?

Congress, District 12: Nancy Pelosi

Like we really have a choice.

Jane Kim
California State Senate, District 11: Jane Kim

This should be the most difficult choice on the ballot, between two termed-out members of the city Board of Supervisors. Kim's main opponent Scott Wiener made it easy for me when I ran into him campaigning at Alemany farmer's market on Saturday. Bully for him for pressing the flesh.

I asked Wiener about the main thing he wanted to accomplish in Sacramento and he talked about forcing insurance companies to reduce the maximum amount that people on Covered California plans pay for prescription drugs. This is a terrible idea.

Forgive me, here's a deep dive into policy.

Covered California has about 1.5 million people registered out of 38 million people in California. Covered California is a closed market: health plans on it have to break even or insurers won't offer them. So 1.5 million Californians ultimately have to pay for health-care costs for everyone in their group of 1.5 million. In other words, if the cost of insuring me goes up, my insurance company will pass it on to other Covered California subscribers.

Currently, thanks to Obamacare, all health plans on Covered California have an annual maximum for members. No one should pay more than that maximum, which is about $6000, out of pocket. Combined with the monthly rate, it might cost about $10,000 per year for people who max out their usage of the plan.

Wiener says he's concerned about people who have expensive prescription drugs hitting their annual maximum, so they cannot afford to use their own insurance because they can't spend $10,000 per year total. He's talking about the state requiring that these drugs be covered, cheaper. The problem is, you can't just wave a wand and make that cost go away. Somebody will pay more if people using expensive prescription drugs pay less.

I won't argue if you want to say that health care is a right; that everyone should have essential prescription drugs covered. In that case, if it is a right from society, we all have to pay for it. The state could make this happen by saying that it will pay for, say $3000 worth of prescription drugs after an insured person pays for $3000. If that's the case, all California taxpayers -- all 38 million of us -- will foot the bill. It will cost us a small amount per person. It's income redistribution but we will all benefit from it from the knowledge that we and our relatives and neighbors will also be covered when we are in need.

But if you just tell the insurance companies they can only get $3000 from an insured patient for the same drugs for which they're now getting $6000, they'll pass on the bill to whoever they can, which is the 1.5 million people on Covered California. Folks on Covered California are more economically vulnerable by definition, because if we could get a better health plan cheaper, we would. The poor will share the burden of the other poor, in other words. It's income redistribution, except it leaves out people who have more income to redistribute.

Moreover, if the plan is to lower the annual maximum while raising monthly fees, the people whose total bill will go up the most is those economically vulnerable people on Covered California who use healthcare the least. So the healthier poor will pay more for the sicker poor.

It's a terrible idea, and the fact that Wiener not only likes it, but considers it his most important mission, is reason enough to vote for Kim.

California State Assembly, District 17: David Chiu

I don't agree with many of his moves on the Board of Supervisors, most notably supporting Airbnb in its ongoing battle to remove rental housing from San Francisco, making the city unaffordable for all but the wealthiest. But what choice do we have? His only opponent, Republican Matthew Del Carlo, has not provided any info to Smart Voter, nor could I find anything online about his platform. Del Carlo ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for District 19, which is a little shady.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge: Paul Henderson

It's rare to see an open seat for judge. Henderson is a successful prosecutor respected by defense attorneys. Victor Hwang is considered the more progressive candidate for some reason but the public defender's office has criticized him as unreasonable. We're not looking for a prosecutor; we're looking for a judge who can stay down the middle. Read the Guardian's analysis and you'll agree that even though they pick Hwang for ideological reasons (mainly because they hate Ed Lee), Henderson sounds like a better judge. 

San Francisco Democratic Party County Central Committee, District 17: The progressive slate

Alysabeth Alexander
Tom Ammiano
David Campos
Petra DeJesus
Bevan Dufty
Jon Golinger
Pratima Gupta
Frances Hsieh
Jane Kim
Rafael Mandelman
Sophie Maxwell
Aaron Peskin
Leroy Wade Woods
Cindy Wu

I have chosen the entire Guardian-recommended slate, a leftist group running to take control of this committee from the landlord lobbyist who now chairs it. This is an about face for me. In some previous years I have voted against the Guardian's slate in toto. But democracy is all about checks and balances. Pro-development, pro Airbnb supervisors have run the city for the last several years; we need a counterpoint.

Moreover, this is a year when I'm less happy about the Democratic party machine than ever for reasons that have nothing to do with San Francisco. If Hillary Clinton gets more votes than Bernie Sanders she will deserve the Presidential nomination. My concern is the way the Democratic Party engineered the rules so that she will get the nomination even if she doesn't get the most votes. Superdelegates unelected by anyone, party rules set up so that party chairs allocate more delegates -- the Democratic Party machine has become undemocratic. A lot of these undemocratic voting rules come from local party committees. It may be too late for the 2016 election, but voting for committee slates like this one could help future underdog candidates from being crushed by the party machinery.

California Proposition 50: Yes

It's scary to allow the legislature to suspend one of its own; it's not hard to see how a party with a supermajority could abuse that power. But currently a bigger problem is legislators getting paid by the state even while being charged with or convicted of felonies. That happened recently with San Francisco's own Leland Yee and seems the more likely scenario to happen again.

San Francisco Proposition A: Yes

Earthquake retrofitting bonds, yeah we gotta.

San Francisco Proposition B: No

I hate propositions like this, which require a certain percentage of money to be set aside for a certain department, in this case the parks and rec department. I like parks and rec, but it's only one of many departments in the city; is it more important than health or fire or police? This bill doesn't increase the total tax bill which means it's just going to take money away from something else.

Plus, this parks and rec department is trying to keep everyone but the tech community from using Dolores Park by requiring reservations for picnic space. I'm not talking about renting a barbecue grill: this department is actually preventing people from enjoying the grass. I wish I could vote them out of office.

San Francisco Proposition C: Yes

The generally pro-development San Francisco Chronicle is against this proposal to require new housing projects to include 25% affordable housing. The anti-development Guardian is for it. Tough call for me. We need more affordable housing but 25% seems high. I'm swayed by the argument that the proposition takes the number out of the city charter, allowing the board of supervisors to lower it in the future without going to voters. That might end up undermining affordable housing ultimately, but the current requirement of 12% seems low to me so I'm voting Yes.

San Francisco Proposition D: Yes

This would require the civilian Office of Citizen Complaints to investigate any shooting by a city police officer, regardless of whether it receives a complaint (which it currently needs to stick its nose in). Whatever you think about the recent shootings of citizens by cops -- some seem justified to me -- civilian oversight seems reasonable.

San Francisco Proposition E: Yes

This makes the city's rules for sick leave for employees as generous at the state's. Sigh. Don't you wish your parents had encouraged you to be a bureaucrat?

San Francisco Bay Area Restoration Authority Measure AA: No

The Chronicle spent five minutes thinking about this, then wrote 66 words saying money for the environment is good. Of course I agree with that. Read the Guardian's thoughtful objection: that the measure sets up a regional government agency accountable to no one. I agree with this. Once we create and fund government agencies it's hard to make them go away, and in this case nobody will really have control of it. I think this will pass because it sounds good, but we'll need to fix this in the near future and it's going to be hard to do.

President: Bernie Sanders

Like most Democrats, if I wanted Hillary Clinton to be President, I would have voted for her in 2008. Bernie Sanders has come this far because of his integrity, his dignity and his focus on important issues. I believe in his judgment and trust in his character. He would make this country's standard of living higher. He may not have enough votes left on the board to catch Clinton. Nonetheless, I am proud to give him mine.

(If you read all this way wondering what I think of Donald Trump, click here.)

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Unknown said...

in this article you have only included half of the dccc reform slate. if possible can you make mention of the other assembly district candidates running on the dccc reform slate?

W. Blake Gray said...

I don't know what you mean. We're only allowed to vote for 14 people. I have listed 14.