Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2012 (California)

Friends! Below is my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the California November 2012 election. It includes the federal races and state propositions on the statewide ballot.

Here in California, there are some fascinating and groundbreaking issues we’ve been asked to vote on, particularly in the criminal justice realm. There are lots of proposed new taxes and government reform measures, and many new laws proposed by millionaires and billionares fed up with state government and/or setting themselves up for running for statewide office.

My guide for the San Francisco ballot is here.

Enjoy!

SUMMARY:

President: Barack Obama
US Senator: Dianne Feinstein

Prop 30: YES (Temporary Tax Increases To Prevent Deep Cuts)
Prop 31: NO (Two-Year State Budget Cycle and Other Reforms)
Prop 32: OH HELL NO! (Political Spending Limits)
Prop 33: NO (New Car Insurance Rating Factor)
Prop 34: OH HELL YES! (Death Penalty)
Prop 35: NO? (Sex Trafficking)
Prop 36: YES (Modifications to Three Strikes Law)
Prop 37: YES (Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods)
Prop 38: YES (New Tax for Education)
Prop 39: YES (Closing a Loophole on Out-of-State Businesses)
Prop 40: YES? (Affirming Redistricted Senate Districts)

FEDERAL

President: Barack Obama

I’ve said it before: he’s been awful to medical marijuana interests, particularly here in California.  But I think history will remember him as one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.  I am happy to support him again because he is pro-choice, pro-woman, pro-gay marriage, pro-stem cell research, and he was able to achieve health care reform. His opponent is doing everything he can to alienate women and the middle class… which, together, last I checked, are the majority of voters in the United States.  Romney IS the 1%. And as if THAT wasn’t enough, I have three words for you: Supreme Court Appointments.

US Senator: Dianne Feinstein

Dianne is more conservative than I’d like her to be. She’s in favor of the death penalty, and opposes medical marijuana. But she’s a fierce advocate for abortion rights and the environment, and it was her 2011 legislation that would have granted federal rights and benefits to legally married same-sex couples by repealing the hateful Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Feinstein’s Republican opponent doesn’t have a chance.

STATE PROPOSITIONS

Prop 30: YES

Temporary Tax Increases To Prevent Deep Cuts

Governor Brown put this on the ballot; it’s a merger of his two previous (failed) tax measures. This one is a simple tax increase that will expire in 2019, and will bring in $6 billion per year. Which, by the way, is a drop in the bucket – the state’s total budget is about $120 billion.

It raises taxes on people with incomes of more than $250,000, and it also increases the state sales tax by ¼ of a penny. I generally don’t like sales taxes because they are regressive, meaning they tend to hurt poor people more than the rich. But the increase in income tax for the higher brackets balances it out for me – the rich can afford to pay a bit more, in order to make sure that the state doesn’t take a nosedive. If this measure fails, it triggers $6 billion in cuts to schools and other essential services.

It’s supported by Governor Brown, teachers, Democrats, and the League of Women Voters. It is opposed by anti-tax groups and the Republican Party. Vote yes.

ALSO: See Prop 38 below. If 38 wins by more votes than 30, then 30 will not take effect. And the $6 billion in trigger cuts will take effect. OUCH!

Prop 31: NO

Two-Year State Budget Cycle and Other Reforms

This measure includes lots of complicated legislative reforms, including moving the state budget to a two-year cycle (good), giving local governments more money and autonomy (good), giving governors unilateral authority to make cuts during years with budget deficits (bad), and requiring new state programs to be tied to specific funding sources (bad).

Supporters include the Republican Party and a group called California Forward. Opponents include the Democratic Party, the California League of Conservation Voters, and the California Federation of Teachers.

I’m always wary of ballot measures that try to make complicated changes to the way the legislature does business.  Because ballot measures can only be amended by future  ballot measures. And THAT, frankly, is one of the reasons why state government is so f*&%ed up – because so much of the way government is run can ONLY be changed by a vote of the people. Government should be much more nimble than that – the Legislature should be able to respond to problems and popular will without having to go to the ballot every time. This is NOT the way to govern a state. Rant over. Vote no on 31.

Prop 32: OH HELL NO!

Political Spending Limits

This measure is deceptive and evil. It purports to limit campaign contributions by corporations and unions equally. But it really just cuts unions off at the knees, by preventing them from using payroll deductions to fund their political activities.

Prop 32 claims to equally limit the ability of unions, corporations and government contractors from using payroll deductions. BUT – while payroll deductions are the main source of funding for unions, very few corporations or government contractors actually deduct money from their employees’ paychecks for political activities. Corporations have many other sources of funds for their political activities. Profits, for example.

Prop 32 also claims to ban union and corporate contributions to political candidates. I’m a political attorney, and I can tell you that restrictions on corporate contributions are almost pointless. Corporate interests can always funnel contributions through PACs or through individual contributions by their officers and shareholders.  It seems pretty clear to me that this measure is a cynical attempt to eviscerate labor unions, which are the only way that certain constituencies – like teachers, nurses, and farm workers – have a voice in government. Please vote no.

Prop 33: NO

New Car Insurance Rating Factor

This measure penalizes those who haven’t maintained continuous insurance coverage – namely, poor people, recent immigrants, anyone who spends significant time abroad, and those who go car-free for a while to ride a bike, walk, or use public transit or car-sharing services. All of these folks would pay considerably higher rates when they return to driving. Ridiculous! We shouldn’t be penalizing people who give up driving for a while, we should be thanking them for doing their part to save us from global warming. Vote no.

p.s. George Joseph, billionaire founder of Mercury Insurance, admits to having placed this measure on the ballot in order to raise rates on the newly insured. At least he’s honest about it.

Prop 34: OH HELL YES!

Death Penalty

I oppose the death penalty, and I have been waiting for much of my adult life for California to abolish it. And you probably already know how you feel about the death penalty, so I shouldn’t spend too much time trying to convince you. But here’s what I got:

  1. DNA evidence has exonerated 18 death row inmates in the U.S… The flaws in the criminal justice system are so deep that we are unable to guarantee that California isn’t executing innocent people.
  2. Most other industrialized nations have abolished the death penalty.
  3. There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime.
  4. The state has spent about $4 billion to implement the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1978, and it has only executed 13 people. You do the math.
  5. The death penalty is imposed on black and brown defendants far more often than white defendants who are accused of the same crime.

California is often the national leader in big-ticket ballot measures like this one. If California abolishes the death penalty, I think you’ll see many states follow suit. And the world will start to become a more humane place. PLEASE vote yes on 34.

Prop 35: NO?

Sex Trafficking

Human trafficking is an abomination. And far more common than you’d expect. My dear friend Sharmin Bock – who has spent much of her career fighting the trafficking of innocents for the sex trade – helped write this measure, and I have a lot of respect for her and her work. But I’m torn. Here are my thoughts:

- Prop. 35 would rewrite the section in California’s Penal Code that defines human trafficking, and impose harsher sentences on those found guilty. (OK! Let’s do it).

- It would require convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders (Sure! Sounds good).

- It would require that all registered sex offenders turn over their Internet usernames and passwords to the government. (Wait, what??)

I’ve always been skeptical of sex offender registration, since I know that you can be considered a sex offender of you are convicted of public urination, public nudity, consensual sex between teenagers, consensual prostitution. And it’s nearly impossible to get yourself off of the registry upon a showing of rehabilitation or years of lawful behavior. See what the Human Rights Watch says about it.

So while human trafficking is a serious problem, the proponents of this measure haven’t made the case that existing laws don’t go far enough.  And I don’t think the sex offender registry should be expanded to require ALL registered sex offenders to hand over all of their internet usernames and passwords. That’s just going too far. It would expand the state’s ability to violate the privacy of consensual sex workers and teenage streakers. And that’s just not right.

P.s. The Bay Guardian says that Senator Mark Leno is working on legislation that will address trafficking without the problems in Prop. 35. Reason enough to vote no on 35.

p.p.s. Facebook millionaire (And failed Attorney General candidate) Chris Kelly put this one on the ballot, watch for his next statewide campaign for public office.

Prop 36: YES

Modifications to Three Strikes Law

Think of Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. The dude spent decades in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, and his plight – and the unfairness of his punishment – inspired one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century.

Today in California, anyone convicted of three felonies, no matter how nonviolent or small, must serve 25 years to life. It’s not fair. Even the original proponents of the “Three Strikes” law admit that it has had unintended consequences. Prop 36 would reform the three strikes law to require that the third strike be violent or serious. And it would allow current convicts to appeal their sentences if their third strike was a relatively minor crime.

Did I mention that our state prisons are overcrowded, and we spend $47,000 a year for every inmate in California?  Prop 36 would save the state at least $70 million annually, and some of that money would go toward solving violent crimes.

Supporters include District Attorneys from big cities, the Democratic Party and the NAACP. Opponents include the Republican Party, the State Sherriff’s Association, the State District Attorneys Association, California Peace Officers Association, and a few victims rights groups.

This is a good one. Vote yes on 36.

Prop 37: YES

Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods

This measure mandates that food made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be labeled — as it is in at least 50 countries worldwide, and in much of the industrialized world.

A big proportion of the food Californians eat has GMOs in it. And while the scientific community can’t agree on whether and to what extent GMOs are bad for you, it can’t hurt to have a better idea of what you’re putting in your mouth.

BUT – my friends in the biotech industry remind me that there is a lot of genetically modified food that even foodies love. Like pluots, purple cauliflower, tangelos… if Prop 37 passes, these foods will be labeled. Don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean that they are bad for you, just that they are genetic hybrids.

The NO campaign is being funded by chemical companies and food processors, Big Agriculture and the Republican Party. The Yes campaign is composed of consumer groups, public health organizations, environmentalists, Democrats. Who do YOU want to align yourself with?

Knowledge is power. Vote yes on 37.

Prop 38: YES

New Tax for Education

This one increases taxes on everyone who makes more than $7300 per year. This means you! But – it’s a sliding scale, so that the wealthiest pay a higher percentage increase (0.4% for lowest individual earners to 2.2% for those earning over $2.5 million).

The majority of the estimated $10 billion a year in new revenue will go to public school districts and early childhood development programs.  We all know that schools need the help: California now has the largest class sizes in the nation. Since 2008, the state has cut school budgets by $20 billion.

Billionaire Molly Munger put this one on the ballot, without much input from the legislature or the experts, so it’s got some holes in it. It’s a big middle finger to Sacramento, because it funnels the revenues directly to school districts; the legislature can’t touch them. And the Governor was pretty peeved when this one qualified for the ballot because it makes both his measure (Prop 30) and this one more likely to lose. And it includes a poison pill:  If Proposition 38 wins by more votes than 30, then 30 won’t take effect, and vice versa.

I’d like to see either one pass, it doesn’t matter to me, because the schools need serious help. Vote yes on 38. Think of the children.

Prop 39: YES

Closing a Loophole on Out-of-State Businesses

This measure would close a loophole that has allowed out-of-state companies avoid paying taxes in California. If Prop 39 passes, it will require all companies to use in-state sales as the basis for the taxes they pay. It will bring in $1 billion in revenue, a large portion of which will go toward clean energy projects.

This one seems like a no-brainer to me. It only affects out-of-state businesses and not California-based companies or California residents. It removes the incentive for companies to locate their employees or facilities out of state. And it has the support of just about everybody – unions, chambers of commerce, big business, environmentalists, teachers, Democrats and Republicans alike. Vote yes.

Prop 40: YES?

Affirming Redistricted Senate Districts

This measure is ridiculous.

The non-partisan Citizen Redistricting Commission was established by ballot measure in 2008, and was charged with re-drawing state Senate and Assembly jurisdictional boundaries. It was created, in large part, because state legislators used to draw their own jurisdictional lines (and surprise! They always made sure that their own seats were safe).

The CRC was charged with re-drawing the state jurisdictional lines in a way that was fair. But the lines drawn for the Senate districts were challenged in court, and the state Supreme Court rejected that challenge. So the litigants wrote this measure asking the voters to reject the Senate district lines. As if the voters know enough about the complicated demographic and regional details to know what the hell we are looking at!

Voting NO means that the lines will be re-drawn by a judicial panel, and YES means the lines will stand. I say vote yes. There’s no evidence that a judicial panel is going to do a better job than the CRC. I hate ballot measures that waste our collective time.

One thought on “Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2012 (California)

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