Tuesday, October 26, 2010

California Election Guide

Here is as good a summary as I've come across of some of the confusing propositions that Californians are expected to vote on next week, sent around by Sabrina Kemeny, who actually took the trouble to study the 60 page pamphlet that the state helpfully distributes to prepare voters for election day.  I might disagree on one or two of these recommendations, but that's not important.   What's important is that we have a lot of good reasons to vote this year.

Sabrina’s Progressive California Voter Guide

(For my busy friends who may share some of my environmental and socially liberal views but can’t put in the hours required to sort through all the propositions)

YES on Prop 19 Legalizes marijuana under California but not Federal law
Weak yes on Prop 20 Redistricting of congressional districts
YES on Prop 21 Establishes $18.00 vehicle charge to fund state parks       
NO on Prop 22 Prohibits State from borrowing from local government funds

NO on Prop 23 Suspends global warming laws

YES on Prop 24 Repeals lower business taxes
YES on Prop 25 Lowers legislative vote for budget from 2/3 to ½          
NO on Prop 26 Requires certain fees be approved by 2/3 vote
NO on Prop 27 Eliminates recently enacted state commission on redistricting     

Why I came to decision and some endorsements

YES on Prop 19 Legalizing marijuana could bring in huge tax revenues (several to many billions/year) to local governments and unclog our criminal justice system (60,000/year arrested for small non violent possession) that unfairly targets the poor.  It is estimated that even without taxes, the state spends close to $1 billion on pot enforcement per year.

ACLU, Courage Campaign, CREDO, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), Latino Voters League, some counties

Very Weak Yes on Prop 20 Redistricting of Congressional Districts.  This extends the 2008 voter passed Prop 11, which created a non-partisan 14-member commission to draw boundaries (based on 10 year census data) for state offices to also draw them for congressional districts.  Prior to Prop 11, sitting legislators drew the new boundaries of their districts so it’s pretty easy to keep themselves in office (a long established American unjust tactic called gerrymandering).  HOWEVER PLEASE NOTE THAT ALMOST ALL PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATIONS ARE VOTING NO ON PROP 20 because it was placed on the ballot by a wealthy right wing activist and is intended to reduce the number of House seats held by Democrats.  So philosophically it is the right thing to do but pragmatically it may really hurt the progressive agenda.  I am really torn on which way to go.

YES on Prop 21 Save State Parks Creates: $18.00 fee on annual license registration to be used to operate, maintain and repair state parks, and protect wildlife and natural resources.  Removes fees to enter state parks for those who have paid vehicle fee.  Results in $500 million revenue which would replace the current state funding of about $300 million ($150 comes from general fund, $50 from day use fees and about $100 from gasoline taxes)  $300 million has not been enough to keep the parks going with lots of closures and service reductions recently.  They support the economy through tourism as well as helping the environment.  This fee would allow the parks to start doing deferred maintenance as well as getting $250 million per year back to the state for use in other areas like education.

Courage Campaign, CREDO, CA Democratic Party, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Labor Fed, CA League of Conservation Voters, CA Nurses Assn, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy

NO on Prop 22 Prop 22 prohibits the State from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment or local governments.  This may sound good on the surface but on further consideration actually turns out to be quite detrimental.  It will result in about $1 billion per year less for the general fund (which pays for education, firefighters and children’s healthcare).  Worse yet it locks in to the constitution special protections for developers.  Redevelopment agencies have a sorry history of funneling taxpayer funds into incentives and giveaways to huge developers that don’t result in the desired outcome.  (e.g. downtown redevelopment over the years).   This poorly written proposition also seeks to repeal laws enacted after Oct. 2009 which conflict with it and so will lead to court battles wasting taxpayer money and leading to more gridlock.

Courage Campaign, CA Dem Party, CA Nurses Assn, CA Professional Firefighters

Hell NO on Prop23: Keep it Clean             Funded by two Texas oil companies  - Valero and Tesoro, Prop 23 would effectively repeal California’s historic clean air law (AB 23) enacted four years ago that holds polluters accountable and sets up clean energy standards.  Prop 23 suspends activity under AB 23 until unemployment drops below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters.  Unemployment is currently 12% and has rarely dropped to such a low level even in good times, so Prop 23 essentially repeals the global warming legislation we have.  This will jeopardize about 500,000 clean energy jobs and $10 billion in private investment in California’s clean energy businesses.  CA is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world and AB 32 is one of the few good things that have happened in recent years.

ACLU, Courage Campaign, CREDO, CA Democratic Party, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Labor Fed, CA League of Conservation Voters, CA Nurses Assn, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), League of Women Voters, American Lung Assn., AARP, Coalition for Clean Air, LA Business Council and more than 50 environmental organizations such as Wilderness Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club …. you get the idea.     

YES on Prop 24: Stop corporate welfare.  Prop 24 would repeal recent legislation that reduces taxes on businesses in three ways starting in 2011.  It allows businesses to shift operating losses to prior years and extends the period that it can shift losses into future years from the previous 10 years to 20 years.  It allows multistate businesses to pay less sales tax by choosing between one of two formulas to base their tax on.  Finally it allows tax credit sharing between entities within a business group. 

Costing the Sate about $1.3 billion/year (maybe closer to $2 b) in lost revenue by 2012, these tax giveaways benefit the largest and wealthiest 2% of CA businesses.  Small businesses by and large get nothing.  Despite the current high unemployment and budget crisis facing the state, corporate profits have been outstanding starting in 2009 with 2010 looking like another banner year.  These corporate giveaways will NOT help create or save jobs.  If anything we will lose jobs in the public sector as the government has to lay off more teachers, firefighters, etc. 

The myth that CA is unfriendly to business was debunked in a front-page article in the Sunday LA Times Oct. 24, which showed that CA takes about 4.7% of what a business produces in taxes – which is the national average.  The government take is higher in Alaska (13.8%), New York (5.5%) and even Texas (4.9%). 

Courage Campaign, CREDO, CA Democratic Party, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Labor Fed, CA Nurses Assn, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), League of Women Voters, ACLU

YES on Prop 25: Stop Budget Gridlock Lowers legislative vote for budget from 2/3 to ½ (just like in 47 other states) and permanently docks legislators pay for every day the budget is late.  Retains 2/3 majority needed to raise taxes.

California’s constitution requires that the state Senate and Assembly agree and pass a new budget plan by June 15 of every year.  But this budget also must be passed by a 2/3 super majority vote, so that a few minority party legislators wield tremendous power to negotiate backroom deals for pet projects and narrow interests.  It also results in very late budgets (this year +100 days). Late budgets cost real taxpayer dollars as interest accrues, projects are stopped and restarted, as well as adding to the misery of workers and small businesses who have received IOUs in the past two years.
Courage Campaign, CREDO, CA Democratic Party, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Labor Fed, CA League of Conservation Voters, CA Nurses Assn, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), League of Women Voters, ACLU
NO on Prop 26: Stop polluter protection Requires certain fees be approved by 2/3 vote rather than a simple majority both  in the legislature for state fees and at the local level by voters.  Prop 26 would also redefine certain fees as taxes (again requiring a 2/3 vote).  Funded by large corporations (Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, Philip Morris) Prop 26 would make it much harder to levy fees on companies for harm to the environment or public health.  These types of fees include oil recycling fees, hazardous materials fees, and alcohol retailer fees.  Although current fees would be exempt any changes to them would require the higher vote in addition to new fees on future industries.  California corporations are doing well.  It makes no sense to give them more giveaways, especially at the cost of public and environmental health and welfare.  Any revenue not collected from corporations is shifted on to the backs of taxpayers.

Courage Campaign, CREDO, CA Democratic Party, CA Federation of Teachers, CA Labor Fed, CA League of Conservation Voters, CA Nurses Assn, California’s leading progressive blog (Calitics.com), League of Women Voters, ACLU, Sierra Club

NO on Prop 27: Eliminates recently enacted state commission on redistricting created in 2008 by Prop 11.  History has shown that allowing legislators to draw their own district lines leads is a conflict of interest that is hard to resist. The first Citizens Redistricting Commission has just been finalized and its members were selected from a diverse, qualified pool of candidates (5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, 4 others).  Let them do their work.  However, as in Prop 20, many progressive organizations are for Prop 27 because the current make up of the legislature is majority Democratic.

League of Women Voters, ACLU

For other progressive voter guides and other info:


  1. I think Prop 20 is a STRONG yes. It doesn't matter who put it on the ballot. What matters is that this is a real time opportunity to move our process toward electing pragmatic people to government office. With gerrymandering, district ideolouges try to out promise each other with extreme views because they are campaigning against other ideolouges in the same party. We have a far better chance at meaningful, thoughtful change when thoughtful politicians are in office rather than ideologues. Both left and right need to be centered to stop the madness. We must start somewhere -- so we can work together.

  2. I'm not sure that leaving the decisions on drawing lines to our elected representatives actually encourages more extremism. What it does is that it gives the party in power a chance to further skew things to favor the party in power even more. If you leave line-drawing up to a bi-partisan commission, on the other hand, presumably you are going to have districts that more accurately reflect the actual political composition of the electorate. But the commission, or the politicians, or whoever is drawing the lines, still have to make some tough decisions. Such as, how many swing districts do you want to create, and how many safe districts? Perhaps swing districts, which are districts with relatively balanced numbers of each party (with independents and moderates holding the balance of power) encourage more moderate candidates, but what actually seems to happen is that these districts just tend to go back and forth as the national pendulum swings back and forth. So this year we are likely to see a lot of the swing Congressional districts that went to the Democrats in 2006, go back to the Republicans. But swing districts also have the drawback of requiring candidates to spend a lot more money for re-election campaigns every single cycle, and that of course opens the door to the corrupting effect of money on politics, and requires politicians to spend way too much time worrying about getting re-elected. Also, how much do you want to take into account the desire to elect a diverse group of candidates? Do you want black voters, or Hispanic voters, or Vietnamese voters, or whatever, to be able to elect a representative of their own ethnic group, or do you want to give them the power to be a kingmaker in a swing district?

    These are complicated questions, no matter how you do it. But I think the issue of whether we want to encourage more moderate candidates, as opposed to candidates that appeal to the base, right or left, is more affected by the primary system than it is by the way we draw district lines. The problem is that we have such low turnout in primaries, and moderates and independents tend to stay home.

    I have actually studied this issue a bit, and thought about applying for the citizens redistricting commission, but decided against it because it was too much of a time commitment.

  3. As always, thanks for the thoughtful answer.

    << Such as, how many swing districts do you want to create, and how many safe districts? >>

    The concept of creating safe districts is foreign to me. I don’t want anyone creating “safe” districts. That is not an election. I don’t want any redistricting specifically done to help a particular party or hinder a particular race or culture.

    << Also, how much do you want to take into account the desire to elect a diverse group of candidates? Do you want black voters, or Hispanic voters, or Vietnamese voters, or whatever, to be able to elect a representative of their own ethnic group, or do you want to give them the power to be a kingmaker in a swing district? >>

    I don’t think we should be making districts by color or race or politics. It is not necessary. With the browning of America this will take care of itself if we stop tinkering. Are you suggesting that in 2040 we should gerrymander to ensure whites are in power in certain districts because they will be a minority? What our politicians have done is not working.

    California probably needs a new constitution. We need to start over. I don’t know that I agree with the LA Times Opinion article below but it make me smile!


    “To keep the political class from taking over the (constitutional) convention, Wunderman wants to choose delegates from the state jury pool (construct it). Does that sound like placing trust in chance? If so, you've got the idea. Ordinary Californians, redesigning the entire state government.”

    “William F. Buckley Jr. once said, "I would rather be governed by the first 400 names in the Boston telephone book than by the faculty of Harvard University." Me? I'd rather be governed by a few hundred jurors from Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Irvine, San Diego, Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto and Stockton than by all the lobbyists and union officials in Sacramento. It is, as I said, a beautiful idea.”

  4. It would be nice to think that you could draw district lines blindly and impartially without regard to political affiliation or anything else. But you can't. No matter how you draw the lines, you are favoring certain political outcomes. For example, we know that many cities contain a higher percentage of Democratic voters, while surrounding suburbs contain a higher percentage of Republican voters. You can't help but be conscious of that when you draw the lines. And you either have to chop up the city voters into districts that are combined with suburban voters, or you have to create districts in which either the Democratic or the Republican candidate is going to be heavily favored to win. If you combine city and suburban voters into single districts, you can do it in such a way as to make Democrats a minority in most districts, or you can do it in a way that makes Republicans a minority in most districts. Or you can even try to make every district in the state reflect the composition of the state as a whole (which would probably necessitate some really strangely-shaped districts), but if you did that what might happen in a state like California is that every single district would elect a Democrat since they are in the majority state-wide. As I said it is a complicated process, but I don't think there is any way to do it in a way that is both blind and fair. I think you have to try consciously to create a result that is fair. And that means different things to different people.

  5. Why can't we have districts by population with geometric shapes? Much the way each state gets representatives in Washington. I think Cali gets 54 and some others just a handful. Sure, some districts will favor one party. So what. It is what it is. People move state to state all the time to escape their original states less than intelligent governing. It will work itself out. We don't need to control voters. This is one of the real problems I have with Progressives and the far right. They think the rest of us are less than capable. Let it shake out. It can't possibly be any worse than what we have. We, as a state, are in critical condition. And if anyone thinks the new Republican congress is going to bail Cali out -- forgetaboutit.

  6. As far as elections costing more to elect more moderate candidates -- that is not a good enough reason not to go there. We are dieing under current gridlock. Heck, if we can move toward ending cronyism we can certainly move toward campaign reform.

  7. Districts on both the state and federal level all must have equal populations, and lines must be re-drawn after every census. That has been the law for quite some time under Supreme Court interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment. The only exception is the US Senate, because it is written into the Constitution. So no matter how you draw the lines, districts will all be equal in population.

    What you want ideally are districts that give every political group a fair chance to influence the political process in rough proportion to their numbers, whether by electing a sufficient number of representatives from that group, or by influencing candidates to respect the desires of that group. If you don't have that, people are going to feel that their votes don't count. You could have a rule that would require districts to be drawn as compactly as possible, but that would probably create at least as many safe districts as you have now, and I thought you didn't like safe districts. I'm starting to think that what you really don't like is the idea that someone is manipulating the results, and I understand that weirdly-shaped districts give the impression that someone is manipulating the results. But no matter how you draw the lines, you are likely to end up with an outcome that someone thinks is unfair. Certain kinds of districts, whether weirdly-shaped or round or square, could even be held unconstitutional or in violation of the Voting Rights Act if they have the effect of freezing a group out of the political process.

  8. You are correct in reading me, the safe zones themselves are not the issue. It's manipulating the districts so that they are safe which bothers me. As you say, some districts will be safe. That's okay.

    As far as feeling like my vote doesn't count, that's never stopped me from studying issues and voting.