Big Ol’ Voter Guide for California – November 2014

This ballot is a long one, but I have great news. You’ve already voted for a lot of these same people once this year (WHAA? Yes). Let’s review, shall we?

California has adopted the “top two” open primary system of electing our state officers and legislators, which means that: (1) in the June election, voters chose among candidates of all parties, not just the party they are registered in; and (2) the top two candidates, regardless of party, advanced to the general election in November. So if you’re like me, you’re voting in November for all the same people you voted for in June in the State Assembly and statewide officer races. (Surprise! They are all Democrats.) You can find them all in my June voter guide. But not to worry, I’ve included my explanations here too.

There is also some REALLLLLY interesting and important stuff in the propositions. So pay attention.

This is my guide for the statewide candidates and ballot measures in the November 2014 election. The guide specific to San Francisco is posted here.

Without further ado, I submit to you my Big Ol’ Voter Guide. This time, I put my recommendations in order of how each race or measure appears on the ballot. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a progressive attorney with a background in real estate and land use, whose passions include protecting and promoting San Francisco’s nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and bringing more public art to cities around the world. I’m a Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I also like long walks on the beach.

Click here for more information on your voter registration and what your ballot looks like.

California Statewide Offices

Jerry Brown for Governor
Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor
Alex Padilla for Secretary of State
Betty Yee for Controller
John Chiang for Treasurer
Kamala Harris for Attorney General
Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner
Fiona Ma for Board of Equalization, District 2

Judiciary
Approve all of the Supreme Court Justices and Justices of the Court of Appeal

Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tom Torlakson

State Measures
Yes on Prop 1, Water Bonds
Yes on Prop 2, Rainy Day Fund
Yes on Prop 45, Health Insurance Rate Regulation
NO NO NO on Prop 46, Random Drug Testing of All Doctors, Increasing Malpractice Damages Cap
YES YES YES on Prop 47, Misdemeanor Offense Classification
Yes on Prop 48, Off-Reservation Indian Gaming Compacts

CALIFORNIA STATEWIDE OFFICES

Linda Ronstadt’s ex-boyfriend

Governor: Jerry Brown

Remember when Jerry Brown ran for Governor four years ago, when the economy was in the tank and nobody else wanted the job? Think about how far we’ve come. Governor Brown can’t take ALL the credit for the vastly improved economy, but he can take credit for having turned around some of the state’s structural budget deficits. Today he has a 60% approval rating, and during his term, California went from a $25 billion budget deficit to a $4.2 billion projected budget surplus, in no small part due to the tax measure that Brown pushed for in 2012.

His opponent Neel Kashkari is a Republican former banker with marginal support. He is running a very strange campaign, in that he’s trying to win over voters who oppose Brown from both the left AND the right. He is arguing that Brown hasn’t done enough for the poor, for schools, or for jobs. But these arguments ring hollow to me, given the numbers I cited above. Brown is doing a fine job, let’s keep him.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom

Newsom’s hair looks exactly the same in every single picture taken of him ever.

I kind of feel bad for Gavin Newsom. The Lieutenant Governor doesn’t have much to do other than fill in when the Governor is absent or incapacitated. He sits on the State Lands Commission and the UC Board of Regents, and these can be powerful places to be – but very boring places for someone like Newsom, who likes to be the star of the show. But Newsom has been able to use his office to draw attention to important issues like drug policy reform. He has called for ending the war on drugs, calling it “nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor.” (Tell it, brother!). I’m happy to support him again.

His opponent is political consultant (and former chair of the California Republican Party) Ron Nehring from San Diego. Field Polls have Newsom ahead by a landslide, and Newsom has ten times the amount of money in the bank, so this campaign is all but over. I was listening to Nehring on KQED radio the other day, and his campaign motto seems to be, glumly, “Everyone deserves to have an opponent.” Aw. Sad.

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla

padilla

You wouldn’t guess this charming fellow is an MIT-trained nerd.

Senator Alex Padilla is a Democrat. His opponent Pete Peterson is a Republican. Is that enough for me? Yeah probably. But in case you’re interested, here’s more detail.

Peterson, an academic at Pepperdine University, has some interesting ideas. He has suggested that politicians’ salaries be based on the number of campaign promises they are able to keep. (Ha! Yeah. Right.) He has proposed a ban on all fundraising activities by state legislators and statewide officeholders while the legislature in is session, thus leveling the playing field for candidates who are running against incumbents. Hmm. I kind of like that idea, actually.

But I like Padilla because he has been a prolific (and liberal) legislator in the State Senate, authoring bills on a wide range of issues including local prosecution of military sexual assault, criminalizing the mislabeling of seafood, and improving campaign communication disclosures. Remarkably, he is also an MIT-trained engineer who is both charismatic and charming (!). If elected, he promises to modernize the technology used by the Secretary of State’s office (‘bout time!) to make it easier to open a business and to register to vote. Given his background, he is just the guy to tackle this pressing matter.

Controller: Betty Yee

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Betty Yee speaks for me

I can’t say enough good things about Betty Yee…she is genuine and smart, tough and effective, and she has far more  financial experience than her opponent. She is a lifelong public servant, having worked in financial-related offices in state government before running for the Board of Equalization, on which she now serves. On the BoE, she has used her position to fight for tax equity for same-sex couples, she has advocated for the legalization of recreational marijuana (think of the tax revenues!), and she has adhered to the highest of ethical standards (for example, she rejected campaign contributions form the tobacco industry). The Controller’s primary responsibility is to track and control the disbursement of the state of California’s money, and so having an unimpeachable ethical record is important.

Her opponent Republican Ashley Swearingen is the mayor of Fresno, and is widely considered to be a rising star in her party. Her only relevant experience is turning Fresno’s financial ship around, and she did so by cutting city jobs and forcing public employees to pay more of their pension contributions. (If you know me, you know these things make me wince). Fresno is not California, and I don’t think she’s ready for prime time.

Treasurer: John Chiang

Mathlete John Chiang

The Treasurer is the state’s banker, the officer who is responsible for managing the state’s investments, including state employee pension funds. Who better to serve as our next Treasurer than the person who has done a great job as the state’s Controller for the last 8 years? As Controller, he made a name for himself by enforcing a constitutional requirement holding that legislators would not be paid if they failed to pass a balanced budget by June 15, 2011. During the Great Recession, as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Chiang helped to keep the state functioning and paying its bills. He also helped balance the budget by identifying $6 billion in waste that was made available for more productive purposes. Also: he was a high school mathlete (I ❤ nerds!), and he is virtually unopposed.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris

Future Governor Kamala Devi Harris

Future Governor Harris

Incumbent Kamala Harris is also virtually unopposed, so I’ll keep it brief: Kamala is a rockstar. She has been a powerful advocate for consumers and privacy protections, prisoner anti-recidivism programs, victims of mortgage fraud, and same sex marriage in California. She is also brings a fresh perspective to the office, as she is the first African American, the first Indian American, and the first woman to serve as the state’s top cop. I am proud that she comes from San Francisco, and I hope she runs for Governor in four years.

Her opponent is Republican Ron Gold, whose campaign is focused on legalizing recreational marijuana (Yes! And he’s a Republican!). I’m all for it, but Gold doesn’t have a chance – he got only 12% of the vote in the June primary. But his campaign seems to have softened Harris’ stance on the issue. Which is a good thing.

Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones – I can’t think of a single snarky thing to say about him.

Dave Jones is earnest and hard working, and he’s done some great things with his first four years as Insurance Commissioner. He has required health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has secured strict regulations on life insurance companies to prevent them from withholding benefits improperly. Recently, Jones held hearings on the insurance practices of ride-sharing companies to make sure that they are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public. Jones’ Republican opponent, State Senator Ted Gaines, actually wants to decrease oversight of the insurance industry. Um, no. And no.

Board of Equalization: Fiona Ma

Fiona Ma no longer hates raves

Fiona Ma represented the west side of San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors and in the State Assembly for many years. She and I have disagreed on some policy issues, including a bill she wrote in 2010 that would have banned large-scale electronic music events in California. But she did write some great legislation in the Assembly, including a bill that would have required more employers to provide paid sick leave and one that banned toxic chemicals in plastics and children’s toys. She is a good fit for the Board of Equalization, which is the state’s main taxing body. She is a certified public accountant, and would bring her financial experience to that role. She is virtually unopposed, and she deserves your vote.

 

JUDICIARY

Approve All Of The Supreme Court Justices And Justices Of The Court Of Appeal


Does it even matter which one is which? No. No it does not.

Your ballot includes an entire page asking you to ratify judges you’ve never heard of. Save yourself the headache and just vote yes on all of them.

Justices of the State Supreme Court and the State Courts of Appeal must run for “retention” in the first gubernatorial election after they are appointed and then every 12 years. In these elections, voters are asked to ratify them with a yes or no vote, there is no competition. And since the state started its system of retention elections in 1934, justices have been rejected only once – in 1986, when three Supreme Court Justices were thrown out for ruling against the death penalty.

In this election, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of public outrage threatening the ouster of any of these folks. And I couldn’t find any particularly interesting dirt on any of them. So they are all going to win by large margins, perhaps because they should.

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION – TOM TORLAKSON

Tom Torlakson is busy thinking about ways to improve public schools

Incumbent Tom Torlakson and his main opponent, Marshall Tuck, have very different visions of how to improve public schools in California. A former teacher himself, Torlakson champions teachers and their unions, dislikes the nation’s growing reliance on standardized tests, and advocates for more funding.

An investment banker by trade, Tuck is an advocate for charter schools and for changing the seniority rules for teachers. Personally, I think privatization will serve to drain the public school system of its high achieving students, leaving underperforming students in the dust. (See this great article by my friend Paul Buchheit on the subject.)

On the other hand, it’s clear that the current regime isn’t working for our kids, and I’m sensitive to the argument that the teacher tenure system is broken. But if you ask me, the major problem facing the school system is the lack of funding; California ranks 48th in the United States in school spending! Ridiculous! And sad. It’s clear that Torlakson will be a more effective advocate for more funding, and is a better choice for this reason alone.


STATE MEASURES

Yes on Prop 1, Water Bond

This complicated measure will authorize $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, such as public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration.

The environmental groups can’t agree on this one. The Sierra Club went with no endorsement, other big environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy support it because of the funding it provides for ecological restoration. The Center for Biological Diversity opposes it because $2.7 billion will go toward dam projects with possible environmental consequences.

It’s tough call, but I support Prop 1 because California is in a severe drought, and this solution is better then no action at all. The measure will not raise taxes, it merely reallocates money from unused bonds to invest in critical projects. Folks from across the political aisle agree: Democrats, Republicans, farmers, and some environmentalists. I think it’s worth a shot.

Yes on Prop 2, Rainy Day Fund


Proposition 2 is highly technical, so bear with me. It’s a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s existing requirements for its rainy day fund, and it would create a Public School System Stabilization Account (PSSSA). If approved, it would require the state Controller to deposit annually in to the rainy day fund 1.5% of all general fund revenues and significantly more of the state’s capital gains tax revenues. Deposits would be made starting no later than October 2015, and would continue until the rainy day fund balance reaches an amount equal to 10% of all general fund revenues. For the first 15 years, the rainy day payments would be split in two, with 50% going towards the state’s liabilities, like pensions and loans. In case you’re worried about future lean years, there’s a relief valve so that the payments can decrease if the Governor declares a budget emergency.

Prop 2 seems like a common sense fiscal reform to me, and I’m delighted that our economy is doing so well that we can have a real conversation about saving for the future. It’s about time that we start thinking long term about protecting vital services during an economic bust. If you’ve lived in California for more than a few years, you know that the public schools and social services are held hostage with every budget cycle, and this measure will insulate them a bit from the ups and downs.

Yes on Prop 45, Health Insurance Rate Regulation

Prop 45 will require health insurance companies to get any rate changes approved by the state Insurance Commissioner before taking effect. It also requires for more transparency in rate changes, including public notices and hearings. Finally, it prohibits health, auto, and homeowners insurers from determining policy eligibility or rates based on lack of prior coverage or credit history.

Have you seen lots of TV ads about this measure? Yeah, the insurance companies are freaking out about this one. Prop 45 seeks to place controls on rising insurance costs so that consumers will stop getting ripped off by insurance companies.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones sponsored the measure, and its supporters include Senators Feinstein and Boxer, consumer watchdog groups, NOW, the California Democratic Party, teachers and nurses unions.

Opponents include the California Republican Party, Nancy Pelosi (!), insurance companies, medical organizations, and business groups. They claim that Prop 45 is an attack on Obamacare and that it’s not necessary because Covered California already negotiates insurance rates and benefits on behalf of consumers. It’s true that Prop 45 would give the Insurance Commissioner the right to reject a premium increase by one of Covered California’s approved providers – but what’s the harm in adding safeguards against higher rates? I don’t buy the argument, and I don’t trust insurance companies.

NO NO NO on Prop 46, Random Drug Testing of Doctors, Increasing Malpractice Damages Cap


This measure does three things: (1) it increases the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded for pain and suffering in medical malpractice claims from $250,000 to over $1 million; (2) it requires the random drug testing of all doctors and requires the medical board to suspend all doctors with positive tests; and (3) requires health care practitioners to consult a state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances.

I don’t have a problem with increasing the “pain and suffering” damages cap; in fact, it’s been 40 years since the current cap was established, and increasing it is probably warranted. Creating a statewide prescription drug history database makes me a little itchy – there will be people with access to this database who are not medical professionals and this measure hasn’t thought through the patient privacy issues.

But the main reason why I oppose this measure is…RANDOM DRUG TESTING OF ALL DOCTORS?? Really? C’mon. A dermatologist can lose her medical license because she smokes a joint on the occasional weekend? That’s just not right. I’m not aware that rampant drug use by doctors is a big problem. And who says that the state medical board isn’t already doing a decent job of disciplining doctors who are impaired on the job? The measure doesn’t say what kinds of drugs would be tested or how, or what kinds of penalties would apply.

The measure’s proponents just seem to be demonizing doctors here. They should come back to us with a measure that only increases the pain and suffering cap – that’s a measure I would support. Over 500 state and community organizations oppose Prop 46 – including labor unions, business organizations, the ACLU, women’s rights groups and Planned Parenthood. Please vote no.

YES YES YES on Prop 47, Misdemeanor Offense Classification


This state jails far too many people for nonviolent property and drug crimes. Period.

Prop 47 will reduce the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor, unless the defendant has prior convictions for violent crime. The measure would require misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony for the personal use of most illegal drugs, and for shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, and writing a bad check, where the value of the property or check does not exceed $950. It will also permit re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the above offenses, making about 10,000 inmates eligible for re-sentencing.

Our state’s prison system is overcrowded, and so this measure is way overdue. I also think it’s fundamentally unfair to put someone in prison for possession of small amounts of drugs or bouncing a check; we need to rebalance our criminal justice system so that it prioritizes violent and dangerous crimes. Prop 47 will save the state millions of dollars a year, and put that money towards treating mental illness and drug addiction, fund anti-truancy programs in K-12 schools, and help victims of crime recover from their trauma. The measure is sponsored by SF District Attorney George Gascon, and supported by the ACLU, the California Democratic Party, Newt Gingrich (really?! yes), labor unions, and many victims groups. It is opposed by Senator Feinstein, police officers groups and district attorneys.

Yes on Prop 48, Off-Reservation Indian Gaming Compacts

This measure affirms compacts negotiated by Governor Brown and ratified by all stakeholders to allow the North Fork Tribe to establish an off-reservation casino in Madera County, splitting revenues between the North Fork and the Wiyot tribes. Proponents say that it will create thousands of jobs, promote tribal self-sufficiency, avoid an alternative development plan in environmentally sensitive areas, and generate business opportunities and economic growth. Opponents say that gambling is a bad thing for California, that this measure is a slippery slope that will cause an avalanche of off-reservation casino projects. I don’t have a moral objection to gambling, and the slippery slope argument rings hollow to me, so I don’t see a reason to oppose this measure.

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