Monday, October 22, 2018

Endorsements for the November 2018 election in San Francisco

This might be the most pivotal election in the U.S. since the Civil War, but locally it's all about school boards and ballot propositions.

I have read the endorsements of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee. I have also read the candidates' statements on Smart Voter (which I highly recommend visiting because you can see your specific ballot.) I want to commend Tim Richmond for keeping the Guardian's endorsements alive even after the death of the print publication. He interviews all the candidates and that's a lot of work. I also want to commend the Chronicle, which has done a better job than ever before of endorsing in many races and putting all its endorsements in one easily accessed site that is open to non-subscribers.

If you are outside of San Francisco, please vote Democrat for Congress this time regardless of your political beliefs. We need the balance in the system to prevent a slide into autocracy, and it's obvious the GOP isn't going to do it. The rest of this post is for Californians.

US Senator

Kevin DeLeon

I recently read "Season of the Witch" and gained an appreciation for how earnest, politically centrist Dianne Feinstein helped rebuild San Francisco as appointed mayor after the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.* I thank her for her many years of public service. But "politically centrist" is not what California needs in a Senator right now. If the Democrats pull off an upset in the Senate, Feinstein's seniority will get her some committee chairs, but Democrats need committee chairs who don't have a lifelong record of accommodating the GOP. Moreover, everybody is tiptoeing around this issue because they don't want to sound ageist, but I'm gonna say it. Feinstein is 85 years old. If she is re-elected, and doesn't die in office, she will serve through her 91st birthday. That's too old. DeLeon was good as state Senate president and is as qualified as any of our state politicians for this job.

(* She is not the witch. It's a song title. The book is about rougher times than these in San Francisco. Highly recommended.)

District 12, House of Representatives

Nancy Pelosi

Like we have a choice. But to be fair, Pelosi represents current Democratic values way more than Feinstein.


Newsom. Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle
Gavin Newsom

Newsom had some serious opposition in the primary, but now his opponent is a businessman endorsed by Donald Trump who is pro-border wall and doesn't believe in climate change. I'm done here.

Lt. Governor

Ed Hernandez

Real estate developer Eleni Kounalakis used her family's wealth to buy a spot in this race despite never having won political office before. If you're going to buy an office, this is a good place to start, a heartbeat from the governor's chair (which I have sat in!) Hernandez has been in the state legislature for 12 years. He's not the most exciting candidate, but it's not the most exciting job, and he is more qualified than Kounalakis.

Endorsements continue after the jump

Secretary of State

Alex Padilla

This oddly named office is in charge of elections. Padilla is an MIT mechanical engineering graduate who understands the security threats of election hacking. His opponent is a Republican who reported to Smart Voter that his top two priorities are both to cancel people from the voter rolls. That's an easy choice.


Betty Yee

Yee has done a good job and deserves another term.


Fiona Ma

Ma is a political insider jumping to another job, but she's qualified for this, as she's a CPA with master's degrees in taxation and business administration. She has no credible opposition.

Xavier Becerra, a thorn in Trump's side
Attorney General

Xavier Becerra

Becerra has filed more than 30 lawsuits against the Trump Administration. Go, Xavier, go!

Insurance Commissioner

Steve Poizner

Let's be straight here: Poizner's an asshole. He ran a disgusting anti-immigrant campaign for governor in 2010. But he was insurance commissioner from 2007 to 2011, and he was good at it. His opponent has no experience dealing with the complex insurance market. This job actually requires work and is no bully pulpit. Poizner will be better for California consumers.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Marshall Tuck

This is a rematch of the June election. I'll repeat what I said then: This has become an issues race between Tuck, a charter schools expert, and Tony Thurmond, a teachers' union supporter. If you think teachers' unions want what's best for California students, vote for Thurmond.

California Board of Equalization, District 2

Malia Cohen

It's an easy, sweet job and somebody's going to get it. I'm not in love with Cohen, but her opponent is a GOP guy who is supported by the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association, the folks behind the fateful Prop 13 that screwed up California's budget. A weak candidate is better than an actively bad candidate.

State assembly, district 17

David Chiu

Speaking of weak candidates ... Chiu is a bleh pro-business moderate Democrat, and his opponent is far more progressive, but the very progressive Guardian doesn't even mention his opponent in its no-endorsement whinge about Chiu, who the Guardian hates. That's telling.

California State Court of Appeals

Retain all judges

Don't let the recent TV drama over the top federal court sway you. Seated judges should never be voted out unless they do something egregious, because we don't want them worrying about politics when making decisions. Lying openly to Congress is something I would consider egregious. None of these judges are accused of that. Retain them.

California Supreme Court

Retain both judges

See above

San Francisco Supervisor, District 8

Rafael Mandelman

Mandelman is a garden-variety progressive but this is a very progressive district. He has worked and bided his time for this chance. Let's hope he does well with it.

For those of you in different districts, please take a look at the Chronicle's and Guardian's endorsements. Both are well-researched, and kudos to them.

Board of Education

Alida Fisher
Phil Kim
Michelle Parker

These are the kind of races that make local endorsements important, because it's too easy for one candidate to stand out by getting attention, which is exactly what has happened. One candidate (not one of these) has made some bad transphobic statements, which has led to pro-transgender candidates getting love from the left. In fact, the Guardian made all of its endorsements with an eye to keeping the transphobic candidate off the board. I don't want bigots of any kind on the school board, but it has other issues to deal with than just that one.
The candidates haven't helped out much here: few bothered to give statements to Smart Voter, which is where I go to hear directly from them.
That leaves me with two informed opinions: the Chronicle's and the Guardian's. Both of these publications interviewed the candidates and are taking the issue seriously. Usually my politics lie somewhere in between the two; it's rare for me to go completely with one of their slates.
But I urge you to read the editorials. The Guardian is completely about the politics. If you're going to vote for ideologues, do it for the board of supervisors or the mayor's office, because the school board is no place for ideologues on either side.
The Chronicle looks at which candidates would be best for students. Therefore, I am supporting the Chronicle's recommendations.

Public Defender

Jeff Adachi

He's unopposed. And he's good at the job.

Community College Board

Victor Olivieri
John Rizzo
Thea Selby

I hate voting for this election more than anything else on the ballot. The board in past years was so dysfunctional that the college was decertified and nearly went out of existence. The Chronicle bears some responsibility for that. It has never taken this election seriously while the Guardian always does. Because the Guardian's endorsements are the only game in town, the board has often been packed with left-wing ideologues who haven't addressed fiscal issues.
This year is the same: no Chronicle endorsements, only Guardian. There are only 4 candidates running, and 3 are incumbents, and the Guardian supports all 3. I went to Smart Voter to look at the 4th candidate, Victor Olivieri, and he has easily the most impressive list of endorsements from other politicians, including Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom and London Breed. Maybe that means he's a mainstream Democrat, but that's fine: this board can use more of that.
In deciding to endorse Olivieri, I am forced to drop one of the incumbents. The Guardian doesn't distinguish between the three, so again I went to Smart Voter. Birgitte Davila is the least impressive, so I'm not endorsing her.


Paul Bellar

Another race ignored by the Chronicle, unfortunately, and the Guardian cops out with "no endorsement." Carmen Chu is the incumbent, but the Guardian says she hasn't done much and she couldn't be bothered to give information to Smart Voter. Bellar is a teacher who is also a property appraiser. If Chu hasn't done much, I'm willing to give him a shot.

California propositions

Proposition 1: Affordable housing bonds
This allows the state to issue $4 billion in bonds for existing affordable housing programs. We have a housing crunch in the Bay Area; this is a small step to address it.

Proposition 2: Supportive housing for people with mental illness
In 2004 voters approved a surtax on incomes over $1 million, with the money being spent on mental health programs. Unfortunately that bill did not specifically mention housing. This bill would authorize $2 billion in bonds out of the tax revenue from that 2004 proposition to build supportive housing. Homelessness is in part a mental health problem, as San Franciscans know well. This should help.

Proposition 3: Water ripoff
This bill is a scam. It says "watershed restoration," but in fact the bill was written by people who expect to receive the money. It also shifts the burden for fixing a canal from the companies that overused the water -- who normally would be expected to pay -- to taxpayers.

Dr. Blake says Yes
Proposition 4: Children's hospital bond
This is a hard call that splits the SF Chronicle and LA Times (Yes) and Guardian (No). The Guardian makes a good point, that this $1.5 billion bond would send public funds mostly to privately run hospitals, and that isn't the way state funding should work. But the children's hospitals that would receive the money are nonprofits, and because they don't receive full reimbursement from their many Medi-Cal patients, they need the money. Ultimately sick kids will get new equipment they need, so I will vote yes.

Proposition 5: Expands the notorious state-undermining Proposition 13
In 1978 California homeowners voted to cut their tax rates in perpetuity with Proposition 13, which has led to the state having, among other problems, the 7th worst public school system in the nation according to US News. The way Proposition 13 works, tax rates cannot be raised on a house until it is sold. This greedy proposition would allow homeowners over 55, who have been underpaying real estate taxes for decades, to sell their house and transfer their exemption to a new house. Taxation is a zero-sum game. If they don't pay their fair share, you will pay for them. And we can't really cut the schools budget a whole lot more to put this extra loot in these greedy homeowners' pockets. Every major print media organization is against this, which is astonishing when you consider that older homeowners are their readers.

Proposition 6: Gas tax repeal
Republicans simply do not accept losses at the ballot box. Last year voters approved a 12-cent increase in the state gas tax to help fix our roads, which US News says are the 2nd worst of any state. Republicans got this back on the ballot so we have to vote to save the tax we just approved last year. The Chronicle reports that state Republican leaders cynically think this measure will draw Republicans to the polls, and might help them save some endangered U.S. House seats. Maybe that will work: the GOP is better at politics than the Democrats. But we still have to fix the roads.

Proposition 7: Year-round daylight savings time
Currently California must follow federal laws regarding time. This bill would allow the legislature to go its own way, which would likely lead to year-round daylight savings time. There are some good arguments for this. We wouldn't have a semi-annual disruption in our sleep schedule. The time change hasn't turned out to save money on energy as it was expected to. In a vacuum, this is a good idea.
The problem is we don't live in a vacuum. For six months of the year, California would have different time from Oregon and Washington. We would always know what time it is, but our neighbors would not. This would be more of an issue, every day, than the time itself. Business phone conferences, calls to your mama, and that issue dear to my heart, playoff start times, would all require daily explanation. While it's tempting for California to declare time independence from the rest of the US,  it's just not worth it.

Proposition 8: Caps on dialysis charges
This measure is opposed by the National Kidney Foundation, the Renal Support Network and other groups representing dialysis patients, which is really all you need to know. Why wouldn't patients want to cap their charges? The bill is a flawed attempt by SEIU to punish healthcare organizations for resisting its attempts to unionize. I'm pro-union, but this isn't the way to go about it.

(Proposition 9 was removed from the ballot)

Proposition 10: Rent control
In 1995 the state passed a bill preventing cities from extending rent control to newly built or vacant apartments. This is why older apartments in San Francisco have rent control, but newer ones do not. This bill would allow cities to set whatever rent control policy they want. The LA Times, Sacramento Bee and SF Bay Guardian are all for this bill. The holdout is the San Francisco Chronicle. As much as I love the Chronicle, its biggest weakness politically has always been that it is in the pocket of real-estate developers. The absence of rent control on new buildings and vacated apartments (i.e., after people move) is part of the reason middle-class people can no longer afford to live in San Francisco unless they're already here and live in an old building. We live in a city where the free market for rent is now controlled by Silicon Valley workers looking for a stylish crash pad while they spend most of their week in the South Bay. I live in the Mission District which, when I moved there, was a vibrant and diverse area, but is becoming a monoculture of tech bros. I don't know if it's too late for this measure, but we need to try.

Proposition 11: Breaks for ambulance employees
The politics of this are why I'm voting no, not the concept, which would require emergency workers to be reachable during official breaks (like lunch) and to respond to emergencies. In 2016 a private security guard won a lawsuit allowing her to turn off her radio during breaks. That immediately raised the question for ambulance employees and other first responders. The state house passed a bill requiring these workers to be reachable and to respond to emergencies, but it died in the state senate amid a skirmish between American Medical Response, which provides emergency services, and its employees. AMR then got this bill on the ballot. I like the concept, but I don't like the company going to the voters when it needs to work this out with its employees, for example by paying the employee for the break that was missed when lunch was left behind. There's no compensation in the bill for workers and there should be.

Proposition 12: Minimum cage sizes for chickens
The political bedfellows opposing this bill, which would require farmers to give egg-laying hens at least one square foot of space per bird, are interesting. The SF Chronicle opposes it because a 2008 bill outlawing "battery cages" made egg prices go up. The Sacramento Bee opposes it because it would be expensive to enforce. And here's the interesting one: PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) opposes it because the bill doesn't go far enough to protect animal rights. The LA Times and SF Bay Guardian are for it, saying some improvement is better than none. I'm intrigued by the weird coalition of PETA and the free marketeers: if neither of them thinks this is the right bill for chickens, well, cluck it.

San Francisco propositions

Proposition A: Seawall repair bond
We have to fix the old seawall protecting the Embarcadero, and this $425 million bond is a start. There's not really much choice unless you like disaster movies.

Proposition B: Hiding government business
Don't be fooled by the initial language about data privacy on this scam of a proposition. The bill would allow the board of supervisors to change sunshine laws that allow access to government meetings and records, without running that change by the voters. And you thought the federal government was sneaky.

Proposition C: Homeless funding
This bill would tax local companies with gross receipts of more than $50 million and use those funds for homeless services, especially supportive housing, which might actually get more people off the streets. It's a great idea. Companies like Twitter and Uber have benefited from tax breaks to move into San Francisco, where they have exacerbated the housing crunch. It's time for them to pay a little bit more to improve the quality of life in the city.

Proposition D: Cannabis and Internet retail tax
I'm not surprised that the city wants to hit cannabis businesses with an additional tax, and I might even support it, but this bill sneaks in a gross receipts tax on out-of-state retailers selling goods to customers in San Francisco. It will greatly complicate ordering goods online: keep in mind that it's a city tax, not a state tax. It's possible some Internet retailers will refuse to sell goods here to avoid the paperwork. This is a badly sewn together proposition and should be rejected.

Proposition E: Hotel tax redirection
Currently the proceeds from the 14% city hotel tax go into the general fund. This bill would redirect some of those funds to support arts organizations. I'm willing to be the anti-arts Grinch and point out that this is a bad idea, as most ballot-box earmarks are. What happens in the next economic downturn? The city is going to have to try to balance its budget but some funds that might be better used on schools or homeless services or emergency services will be forcibly allocated to arts organizations. Moreover, government has never been particularly good at deciding which arts organizations are most worthy of support. Expect the board to dole out the money to the cleanest-cut artists, who may not be the artists we need.

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