Big Ol’ Voter Guide – California Measures (Nov 2016)

That’s it. I’ve had it. With 17 measures statewide, and 25 in San Francisco, this ballot is way too long, and has too many questions on it that require serious research and thought. I’ve decided I’m founding a new fake organization called Democrats Opposed to Overlong Ballots (DOOB) which opposes all measures that clutter our mailboxes and our ballots in each election.

I have several friends who just vote no on everything to protest how long the ballot is. And there’s evidence that measures on long ballots are 5% less likely to pass because of voter fatigue. But here’s the thing: you really shouldn’t just vote no on all of them. This ballot is asking you to decide some BFD issues, such as legalizing recreational marijuana, increasing the cigarette tax, eliminating the death penalty, restrictions on guns and the porn industry, and trying children as adults in criminal court. Since you’re reading this, it means you’re interested in learning about what you’re voting on, so you’re probably not one of those “no on everything” people, so kudos to you. (Now post this on your FB page and help everyone else be informed, K?) 😉

I’ve researched and grumbled and pondered each measure on this ballot, and I’ve adopted a new template to make your decisions easy. In this voter guide, I give you a summary of the measure, my analysis, a list of its main supporters and opponents, and whether this is a decision that has to be made by ballot.

Without further ado, I submit to you my thoughts on the California measures.* In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a liberal Democrat attorney and a government nerd, whose passions include defending nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and protecting our environment for future generations. I’ve been involved in politics for as long as I can remember, I’ve been to Burning Man enough times to know that the world doesn’t revolve around it, and I also like long walks on the beach.

For the San Francisco candidates and measures, go here.

For the cute pocket guide version that is easy to take to the polls, go here. (If you’re not in SF, you can ignore the SF races and measures on the pocket guide)

And if you find this guide useful, please make a donation here! Thanks.

First the summary:

Prop 51 – $9 billion in bonds for education and schools – YES
Prop 52 – Voter approval of changes to the hospital fee program – yes?
Prop 53 – Projects that cost more than $2 billion – NO
Prop 54 – Bills must be posted on the internet for 72 hours – YES
Prop 55 – Continue income tax on incomes over $250,000 – YES
Prop 56 – Increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack – YES
Prop 57 – Felons convicted of non-violent crimes – YES
Prop 58 – Bilingual education in public schools – YES
Prop 59 – State’s position on Citizens United – YES
Prop 60 – Require the use of condoms in pornographic films – NO!
Prop 61 – Prescription drug price regulations – YES
Prop 62/66 – Repeal the death penalty (YES!) or execute faster? (NO!)
Prop 63 – Background checks for ammunition purchases – YES!
Prop 64 – Legalization of adult use of marijuana – YES!
Prop 65 (NO) & 67 (YES) – Banning plastic grocery bags

And here’s the complete analysis:

Proposition 51 – $9 billion in bonds for education and schools – YES

It’s a shame this exciting ballot starts with such an unsexy topic. But it’s an important one. Prop 51 would allow the state to take a $9 billion loan out for school construction projects. Most of the money will go towards upgrading public K-12 schools, with $2 billion to go toward community colleges.

It’s been 10 years since the last statewide school bond measure, and the schools are outdated and crumbling. YES – it is INFURIATING that this is the way we have to fund our educational system, bond measure by bond measure, but that’s the subject of a much larger conversation about how the state pays for things, and how the voters in 1978 severely restricted state tax revenues by passing Prop 13, how set-asides cause structural budget deficits, etc. Another time, over a glass of rosé, screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-41-53-pmperhaps. 😉

It is also annoying that this $9 billion bond will cost the state $500 million per year over the next 35 years. That’s $8.6 billion in interest! Which is almost the size of the original loan itself. Ick.

That said, I’m not sure what other choice we have, given how starved our state is for tax revenues. (Yes! Even in a booming economy) It’s clear California needs a complete overhaul of its tax system. But that’s a huge undertaking and not likely to happen soon. In the meantime, we approve bond measures like this one to make sure that our kids have structurally sound places to learn.

Prop 51 will likely pass. It has wide-ranging support, from the two major parties, all of the educational and business communities, unions, etc. The yes side has raised over $9 million, while the opposition hasn’t raised a dime. Jerry Brown is the only politician in California openly opposing 51, and he says it’s because 51 is a boondoggle for construction firms who want to build all the new infrastructure.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. General obligation bonds like this one must be approved by the voters, since it is a loan that taxpayers have to pay back over time.

Supporters: State politicians on both sides of the aisle, the Republican Party AND the Democratic Party, all of the educational organizations and chambers of commerce, teachers groups, the state PTA, building and construction trade unions, every school district in the state, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Governor Jerry Brown, the Libertarian Party and taxpayers’ rights orgs, LA Times.

Proposition 52 – Voter approval of changes to the hospital fee – yes?

This is a complicated one, but to summarize: this measure wiscreen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-46-04-pmll make it so that the legislature can’t divert funds from an obscure hospital fee program away from Medi-Cal patients (poor people).

Here’s the background: California receives federal funds to help pay for health care services for poor people, and it has to match those funds with an equal amount of its own money. In 2009, the state government created a program imposing a fee on hospitals to help the state obtain these matching funds. The fee revenues were supposed to go towards the medical care for poor people, but apparently the state legislature has started to divert some of those monies to the state’s general fund. If the initiative is approved, it will add language to the state Constitution to require voter approval of changes to the hospital fee program to make it harder for the legislature to divert these funds away from poor families. AND it requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to make any changes to the hospital fee program.

Measures like this make me so mad! It’s so complicated that you really have to do your research to understand it, and nobody has the time to dive deep (except me, of course). Isn’t this why we elect a legislature to represent us? To make decisions like this? Argh. And if it passes, it adds ONE MORE THING to the long list of matters that can only be decided by the voters. Thus, it will make future ballots even longer. BUT – the whole reason why this is on the ballot is because the legislature has shown that it can’t be trusted with decisions like this. Frustrating!

SO – If you hate ballot measures generally, and think we should be forcing the legislature to do its job in other ways other than ballot measures, this is a good one to vote against. But if you want to make sure more money is spent on poor people’s access to health care, hold your nose and vote yes. I’m holding my nose.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it has to go to the voters. But did it have to be a constitutional amendment? Probably not.

Supporters: The initiative was developed by the California Hospital Association, and supporters include the Democratic Party; the Republican Party; most elected members of the state legislature; advocates for children, teachers, seniors and families; hundreds of hospitals and health care organizations; LA Times; SF Chronicle

Opponent: The only opponent on record is the Libertarian Party of California. (By the way, the Libertarian Party has 0.6% of the total registered voters in California. So their endorsement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.)

Proposition 53 – Projects that cost more than $2 billion – NO

Wealthy farmer and food producer Dino Cortopassi, age 78, is really pissed off. Which is why he put Prop 53 on the ballot and is spending $4.5 million of his own money on the campaign to get it passed. He says he’s doing it because he wants to make it harder for the state to take on new debt. But most people agree he just wants to kill one of Governor Jerry Brown’s pet projects.

Prop 53 would require statewide voter approval of any government project to be financed with more than $2 billion in state revenue bonds. Allow me to explain for a moment: Not all bonds have to be approved by the voters, only “general obligation bonds” which are basically loans that taxpayers have to screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-48-05-pmrepay (like the one in Prop 51, above). Then there are “state revenue bonds” that don’t require voter approval because they are basically loans that are paid back by a project’s users, like when the bridge tolls were jacked up to pay for the new Bay Bridge.

Prop 53 would require ALL state bonds over $2 billion to be approved by the voters. That’s right! Your ballot just keeps getting longer. Grrrrrr.

In reality, bonds that are valued at $2+ billion are extremely rare. But we do have two major projects pending in California that are threatened by Prop 53, and they are the $64 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project (LOVE! SF to LA in under 2 hours!) and the $17 billion twin water tunnels in the delta. And these are Governor Brown’s two big legacy projects, so he takes this ballot measure as a personal affront.

And Dino Cortopassi? Is a wealthy farmer. And he hates those tunnels. They will siphon fresh water from the Sacramento River and send it to Central and Southern California. So that’s what this is really about. As it stands, the twin water tunnels will be paid for over time by ratepayers in Southern California who will benefit from the project. And unless Prop 53 passes, it won’t be subject to a vote of the public.

There’s a reason why state revenue bonds aren’t subjected to voter approval, and that’s because they only benefit a portion of the population. Unlike general obligation bonds, the entire state isn’t affected by these projects, and so the entire state doesn’t weigh in on them. Prop 53 could potentially give the entire state’s voters the power to veto local projects, and I think that’s just silly.

I personally think that it’s dumb to create yet another category of things that has to be decided by the voters. My fake organization Democrats Opposed to Overlong Ballots (DOOB) would absolutely oppose it, because it will make California ballots even longer in the future. Vote no.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. Because it is a Constitutional Amendment, it has to go to the voters. But did it have to be a constitutional amendment? Probably, because it is imposing a new voter approval requirement.

Supporters: Dino Cortopassi, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, 22 taxpayers rights groups

Opponents: Governor Jerry Brown, Democratic Party, NAACP, League of Conservation Voters, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, farmers organizations, League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, firefighters and sheriffs groups, hospital groups, water agencies, chambers of commerce, about a hundred labor unions, SF Chronicle, LA Times

Proposition 54 – Bills must be posted on the internet for 72 hours – YES

Prop 54 would prohibit the state legislature from passing any bill until it has been in print and published on the Internet for 72 hours prior to the vote. It will also require public legislative meetings to be recorded, and make them available to the public for at least 20 years.

This measure is happeniscreen-shot-2016-10-13-at-10-49-31-pmng because of yet another rich guy with a bee in his bonnet. Conservative Charles Munger, Jr. is the son of billionaire Charles Munger, Sr., and he happens to be an experimental physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center with a thing for government reform. He joined forces with good government group Common Cause to propose Prop 54, and has poured $10.5 million of his own money into the measure.

Local governments have a 72-hour notice requirement, and I’ve often wondered why the state government doesn’t have the same. I think it’s a good thing for citizens to have advance notice of the decisions that its government is making. Keeps politicians accountable, and it makes legislation better by allowing more opportunity for input.

Opponents argue that requiring 72 hours notice will make it harder for government to act nimbly when necessary. But Prop 54 will prevent shenanigans when the legislature doesn’t want to give the public an opportunity to weigh in. It will also stop the practice of “gutting and amending” which my political nerds know is the way that legislators take a bill that’s already on the agenda and replace – at the last minute – every single word of the bill, often with no relationship whatsoever to the original legislation, so that they can avoid having to go through the lengthy deliberative process.

Transparency in government is a good thing. Vote yes.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes, because it’s a Constitutional amendment, and because the legislature would never vote for a measure to limit its own power.

Supporters: Republican Party, LA Times, SF Chronicle, good government groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, League of California Cities, a few dozen pro-business groups including chambers of commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Opponents: California Labor Federation, LA Times, Democratic Party (and only, IMO, because they control the legislature right now. If the GOP had a majority, you better believe they would want this measure to limit their power).

Proposition 55 – Continue income tax on incomes over $250,000 – YES

In 2012, California voters raised the personal income tax rate on individuals making $250k or more, and on couples making $500k or more (top 1% of all earners in CA). It was called Prop 30, and at the time Governor Brown promised it was a temporary tax and said, “…to the extent that I have anything to do with it, will remain temporary.” It was sold as a way to restore funding cuts that were made to schools during the recession.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-23-38-pm

This tax is set to expire in 2019. And once it does, the state will face a drop in revenue of $4.3 billion, according to Brown administration estimates. The gap will be even larger if California’s economy takes another dive.

Prop 55 – proposed by unions and education advocates – would extend the Prop 30 tax until the year 2030. 89% of these tax revenues will be allocated specifically to K-12 schools and 11% to California Community Colleges, with some strict accountability measures to ensure that the money is being spent where it should be. Supporters say that if we don’t approve Prop 55, we are likely to see cuts to schools because of California’s screwed up budget process.

Opponents say, “But Jerry, you promised this tax would be temporary!” They point to California’s $2.7 billion budget surplus, arguing that we can afford to pay for education without extending this tax. (As I understand it, though, a big chunk of this surplus is going toward the state’s rainy day fund).

As I’ve said before, we need comprehensive tax reform to solve the state’s structural budget issues (don’t get me started on Prop 13!). And in the meantime, we keep passing smaller fixes like this one to stop the bleeding. At what point do we rip the band-aid off and force our legislators to come up with a better way of paying for critical government services? Are they even capable of it? Ugh.

That’s why I’m torn on this one. But I have decided to support it for this one reason: California’s schools went from being the best in the country to among the worst in just a few short decades. This is because we lack the funding or the political will to make education a priority. It’s shameful. So let’s pass Prop 55, make the wealthiest 1% pay a little bit more, send the money to the schools. AND ALSO push for comprehensive tax reform to fix this problem once and for all. Stop using the public schools as a political football in every election.

Does it need to be on the ballot? No. The legislature could pass this bill, but it would require a 2/3 vote and they lack the political will to make it happen.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer John Chiang, Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, California Medical Association, hospital and health organizations, school groups, Firefighters Union, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, San Jose Mercury News

Opponents: Republican and Libertarian Parties, taxpayers rights groups, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune, SF Chronicle.

Proposition 56 – Increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack – YES

This measure will make it more expensive to smoke by enacting a $2-per-pack tax, bringing the total cigarette tax in California to $2.87. Most of the revenues – estimated at $1 billion/year – will go toward Medi-Cal (state sponsored health care for poor people).

And because I have many friends who vape, I looked it up: Prop 56 will also increase taxes on e-cigarette products that contain nicotine by “an equivalent amount.” I couldn’t find an exact figure, but it looks like the state Board of Equalization will set the amount if the measure passes. (E-cigarette devices are not included in this tax, just the nicotine.)screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-25-28-pm

Prop 56 promises to help save thousands of lives from smoking-related illness. I don’t smoke, but I have lots of friends who do, and they have all struggled with quitting. They know smoking could shorten their lifespans, and about 10% of Californians are in the same boat. I’m all about the so-called “sin taxes” on those sins that I don’t commit myself. Kidding! Sort of.

Raising cigarette taxes has been proven to reduce smoking, says the New York Times and health experts. In New York where the cigarette tax is a whopping $4.35 per pack, every time the tax is increased, more smokers quit. Incidentally, California currently has the lowest cigarette tax in the country, New York’s is the highest, and three other states (Colorado, North Dakota and Missouri) are also considering increases this November.

For me, this one is about the children. With every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes, the number of kids who start to smoke goes down by 6 or 7%. Prop 56’s proposed tax represents about a 30% increase, thus about 20% fewer kids will start smoking if it passes. Which makes it a no-brainer for me. (Sorry friends who vape.)

Tobacco companies are spending over $55 million to defeat it, and the only other people opposed to it are the Republican and Libertarian parties (of course), and anti-tax organizations. The folks supporting it comprise a broad spectrum of health organizations and environmental groups, immigrant and gay rights groups, education groups and children’s advocates, even chambers of commerce and unions, all of the big California newspapers.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes, it’s a constitutional amendment, so it has to go to the voters. It repeals previous requirements in the constitution regarding tobacco taxes.

Supporters: American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Democratic Party, environmentalist billionaire Tom Steyer, California Medical Association, California Dental Association, dozens of health organizations and environmental groups, immigrant and gay rights groups, education groups and children’s advocates, chambers of commerce and unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Tobacco companies, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.

Proposition 57 – Felons convicted of non-violent crimes – YES

Oh, Jerry Brown. When he was governor 40 years ago, he signed a crime bill that made criminal sentences longer and eliminated “good behavior” credit for prisoners. Now that he’s governor again, he admits that law was a failure and placed Prop 57 on the ballot to reverse it.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-27-27-pm

In related news, California is facing serious prison overcrowding and health care problems. In 2011, the US Supreme Court held that the state’s prison situation constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the US Constitution, and in 2014 it was mandated by a federal court to reduce its prison population dramatically.

Prop 57 would do two things: (1) It would allow the state parole board to release non-violent inmates who have served their full sentence for their primary offense, but are still in jail because of “enhancements” to their sentence that were within the court’s discretion based on prior or related offenses. These prisoners could receive credit for behaving well and for participating in school programs or drug rehab. (2) It would allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. This will probably mean fewer children are tried in adult courts.

As of the beginning of 2016, there were about 25,000 nonviolent state felons that could seek early release and parole under Proposition 57 (or about 1,300 each year according to the Brown administration). This one is likely to pass: Supporters have outraised the “No” campaign almost 32-to-1, and it’s polling well. If you think children shouldn’t be tried as adults except for the most heinous crimes, and if you think that prisoners should be incentivized to improve themselves, vote yes.

The opponents are the people you would expect: Republicans and law enforcement types (cops, prosecutors, sheriffs). The supporters include Democrats, teachers, nurses, other labor unions. But two supporters will come as a surprise: LA Police Chief Charlie Beck and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – who apparently has become a vocal advocate for prison reform. (Who knew?)

Does this have to be on the ballot? Yes. It’s a constitutional amendment, so it has to be approved by the voters.

Supporters: Democratic Party, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Newt Gingrich, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck, the President of the Chief Probation Officers of California Mark Bonini, ACLU, SF Chronicle, LA Times, Sacramento Bee, teachers, nurses, other labor unions.

Opponents: Republican Party, District Attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs, crime victims groups.

Proposition 58 – Bilingual education in public schools – YES

In 1998, California was a different place. That year, the voters approved Prop 227, which required that all public school instruction be conducted in English. Republican Pete Wilson was Governor at the time, and he had been elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

Today, California is more diverse than it was 18 years ago, as 43% of all public school kids speak a language other than English in their homes. Experience has shown that Engliyes-on-58sh learners in bilingual classes attain higher levels of academic achievement. And more parents (regardless of national origin) are asking for more language immersion options in schools.

Prop 58 would eliminate the English-only requirement. If it passes, public schools can teach English learners in any way that their community feels is appropriate, so long as English proficiency is achieved. It returns local control to the schools on language matters.

There’s some disagreement about whether forcing English learners into English-only immersion classes has actually worked. The San Jose Mercury News wrote “In just five years after its passage, the English proficiency of limited-English students tripled.” On the other hand, the LA Times argued that bilingual education could lead to even better outcomes if it is done right. That said, California is a huge state, and every school district is different. It would seem to me that returning this issue to local control is the best formula for success.

It’s likely to pass, since supporters have raised $1.1 million, and the opponents haven’t put a campaign together. Vote yes.

Does it have to be on the ballot? Yes. The only way to repeal a ballot measure (Prop 227) is by another ballot measure.

Supporters: Democratic Party, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, 4 members of Congress and 34 members of the state legislature, California Teachers Association, dozens of teachers and immigrant groups, school administrators, chambers of commerce, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Republican and Libertarian Parties

Proposition 59 – State’s position on Citizens United – YES

When the US Supreme Court decided Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission in 2010, many of us knew it would be catastrophic. Here’s what I wrote about it in 2012.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-30-40-pm

Citizens United held that political spending is protected under the First Amendment, and it allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political activity. The decision has opened a flood of political spending by wealthy donors, giving them an unfair amount of influence over elections, and it has allowed them to do it anonymously! Boo.

To overturn Citizens United, you either need a future Supreme Court decision to reverse the decision (which is actually possible with a few Clinton appointees); or a constitutional amendment, which is huge undertaking in that it requires Congress to propose the change and at least 38 states to approve it, one by one.

Prop 59 is a non-binding measure that urges state leaders to “use their authority” to start the Constitutional amendment process. There is only a tiny campaign supporting it, and no official campaign opposing it. The folks supporting it say that we need to send a message to Congress (and future Supreme Court justices?) that it’s a terrible decision. That anonymous corporate contributions are eroding our democracy.

And the official ballot arguments against it say that it’s non-binding AF, so why bother? Stop adding advisory measures on an already too-crowded ballot. This argument resonates with me (42 measures on this ballot!! Argh)

But I do agree that Citizens United is making our political system more corrupt than it already is. It’s a message worth sending to Congress, that this state won’t stand for it. Vote yes?

Does this have to be on the ballot? Nope. Doesn’t even do anything if it passes.

Supporters: Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, good government groups, teachers and nurses unions, SF Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee

Opponents: Some Republican state legislators, LA Times, SD Union Tribune

Proposition 60 – Require the use of condoms in pornographic films – NO

There are some controversial items on the ballot this fall, but nothing as juicy as this one. Prop 60 is pitting gay leaders against gay leaders, AIDS activists against AIDS activists, and doctors against doctors. If it passes, Prop 60 will require porn actors to wear condoms while filming, and provide proof that they have done so. (ew)

It creates a right for any California citizen to sue the porn producers, workers or actors if they think a condom isn’t used. (Yay! California needs more lawsuits! said no one ever). And finally, it requires the legal names and addresses of the film producers to be public, even if the producer is also an actor who goes by a pseudonym to protect themselves from stalkers and weirdos and anti-porn crusaders.

“But wait,” you ask, “doesn’t California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) already require condom use during sex in pornographic films?” That’s right, but it only enforces the law when complaints are filed, which is almost never. (A lot of heavy breathing on THAT non-existent hscreen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-34-55-pmotline…the one where you report your outrage over a scene in a porno where you’re pretty sure there was intercourse and a condom wasn’t used).

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, put Prop 60 on the ballot with the hope that it would make the condom rule enforced more often. Weinstein’s argument is simple: no one should have to risk their life on the job, and that is what we are asking porn actors to do when they don’t use condoms.

But I think he (over)shot his wad. By requiring the involvement of Cal/OSHA in the filming of every movie, insisting on medical inspections, and revealing the names and identities of the people involved, it clearly poses serious worker privacy issues. Opponents claim that the adult film industry already does a lot to minimize disease transmission, including frequent testing. And they may be right that this measure is going to send the porn industry to Nevada, or worse – underground – where there will be even less worker protection.

Creating a right to sue the filmmakers – by any private citizen! – is scary and will lead to frivolous lawsuits by maladjusted people. Even if these lawsuits are baseless, defendants will need to spend time and money getting rid of them.

Porn or no, it seems to me that workplace health and safety regulations are the kind of thing that shouldn’t become law by way of the ballot box. They need to go through the iterative process of the legislature or another state agency, so that they can be adjusted over time. If California approves this measure, it will be (set in stone? firm? hard? inflexible? I can’t think of the right word) until another well-endowed campaign comes along to change it. And as you know, I’m all about cleaning up the box. I mean the ballot.

And there’s something that bothers me about Prop 60, it feels like an anti-porn measure masquerading as a pro-actor law. The author didn’t consult the industry when he wrote it, and the effect it will have will be to drive some porn producers out of business or out of the state. As my friend Gil Silberman so eloquently said, “There is absolutely no reason why this law is needed, it is to AIDS what voter ID laws are to political corruption, it advances an unrelated agenda by promising to solve a problem that does not exist.”

A lot of people I respect are on the “No” side of this one: Columnist Dan Savage and his Courage Campaign (see “It Gets Better”), State Senator Mark Leno, and many gay rights and AIDS advocacy groups. I’m voting no too.

Does this have to be on the ballot? NO! In fact, it really shouldn’t be.

Supporters: Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Academy of Preventive Medicine, American Sexual Health Association

Opponents: Dan Savage, Sen. Mark Leno, Democratic Party, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Courage campaign, Equality California, SF AIDS Foundation, San Francisco Medical Society, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), LA Times, SF Chronicle

Proposition 61 – Prescription drug price regulations – YES

When drug maker Mylan increased the price of the Epi-Pen by 548% this year, it only verified what we already know, that drug companies are evil. Or rather, that drug companies can set prices to whatever they think the market will bear, and hospitals and patients have no choice but to pay. And if you don’t have health insurance that covers a medication you need, you are totally screwed.

And how does Pfizer explain the $5 Viagra pill that you bought over the counter in Canada because it would cost you (or your insurance company) ten times more here in the States? I think you know the answer. Some countries, and some government agencies, are able to negotiate much lower prices withprop-61 drug companies because they provide care for large populations, and thus they have a lot of bargaining power. (See: why a single payer system would control costs)

And then there’s the fact that California spent $3.8 billion last year on prescription drugs for people covered by state health programs. This figure – along with the wild variability in drug prices – is the reason why many politicians are wondering aloud: what would happen if we forced Big Pharma to be more transparent about the prices they set?

Thus: Prop 61, which hopes to do just that. It says that California public agencies will pay no more for prescription drugs than what the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs pays, the thought being that the VA provides care for so many people (9 million), it pays a lot less money to drug manufacturers than does the state or the average consumer.

The politics of this measure are weird. The drug companies have been able to hire the very best lobbyists and campaign consultants, and Democratic Party activists up and down the state. They have even intimidated the state Democratic Party into not taking a position on it.

The author is Michael Weinstein – yes, the same guy from the condom measure (Prop 60) – and he is not very popular in progressive circles these days. It seems that some people are opposing this measure just because he wrote it. Also: there are veterans who worry that Prop 61 will mean that their drug prices will go up, which is a valid concern since the drug companies have actually threatened it. (See? Evil!).

That’s right. The drug companies are ACTUALLY ARGUING that Prop 61 will hurt veterans because the companies will be “forced” to increase the VA’s drug prices. But it is completely within their control as to whether to increase those prices! Poor Pfizer, I guess a 42% profit margin isn’t quite high enough. Greedy bastards.

And there are many labor unions and political groups that aren’t usually allies of Big Pharma opposing this measure. Here’s my hypothesis: The drug industry has spent over $87 million on the campaign so far (yikes!), and they are spending it in ways that smell a lot like bribery. I’ve seen this before*…they hire progressive activists all over the state to help with “getting out the vote” and surprise! These progressive clubs now oppose the measure, toeing the party line that it will hurt veterans.

The LA Times makes a good point, that the drug pricing problem should really be handled at the federal level. But that’s not a good enough reason to vote no on this measure. If you agree with me that Big Pharma shouldn’t be able to buy its way out of this one, vote YES.

*See also Measure V in San Francisco, and Big Soda’s efforts to derail the local soda tax.

Does it need to be on the ballot? Nope. The legislature could approve this bill. But it’s here because the legislature hasn’t been able to stand up to the powerful drug lobby.

Supporters: Bernie Sanders, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, AARP, California Nurses Association, civil rights activists Dolores Huerta and Al Sharpton

Opponents: All the pharmaceutical companies, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, NAACP, a dozen medical organizations, 2 dozen veterans groups, anti-tax advocacy orgs, chambers of commerce, unions.

Proposition 62 (YES!) & 66 (NO!) – Repeal the death penalty, or execute faster?

Here’s why I don’t support the death penalty: It is applied unequally to defendants depending on their skin color; the likelihood of executing an innocent person is shockingly high; and the state can’t find a way to administer it that isn’t cruel and unusual. Besides, if what we want is retribution for the most heinous of crimes, a lifetime in prison would seem to be a far worse fate than death, IMO.

And here’s why it’s on the ballot in November: our capital punishment system is in crisis. California has more prisoners on death row than any other state: 747 humans. And yet we haven’t put anyone to death since 2006, because the state’s lethal injection protocol is legally questionable, and the government has been unable to find a legal source for the fatal drugs it uses. These death row inmates are in legal limbo, costing the state billions of dollars. Far more of them have died of natural causes or suicide than by execution.

On this November ballot, we have the chance to eliminate the death penalty in California, by voting yes on Prop 62. If 62 passes, it would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment. And it would require screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-13-32-pmprisoners sentenced to the maximum punishment to work and pay restitution to victims’ families. Even though these prisoners will live longer in prison, the state will actually SAVE money since it will no longer be paying lawyers and courts to deal with the lengthy and inefficient appeals process.

Prop 66, on the other hand, was put on the ballot by pro-death penalty folks who wanted to kill Prop 62. It would keep the death penalty in place and speed up legal challenges to death sentences, so that the entire appeals process would be completed within 5 years of the original conviction. Death penalty appeals are notorious for dragging on for years, and costing the taxpayers a lot of money. There’s a reason for this, though, which is that if that state is going to execute someone, we better be damn sure that person is guilty, by allowing defendants to exhaust every possible legal option. So speeding up death penalty appeals makes it LESS likely, not more, that justice will be served. (I personally think that Prop 66 will be found unconstitutional for due process reasons, but I digress)

Between 62 and 66, the measure that passes with more votes, wins, and the other becomes void.

If Hillary Clinton is elected President, the whole death penalty question may soon be resolved, since I think it’s only a matter of time before the US Supreme Court rules that capital punishment is unconstitutional. Moreover, even if Prop 66 prevails, the state will continue to struggle to secure a legal source for the lethal injections. (If you have time, listen to this amazing podcast about how people are executed).

Yes on 62, NO on 66.

Do these measures need to be on the ballot? Nope! The legislature could take this hot-button issue on, but it doesn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Supporters of 62/Opponents of 66: Gavin Newsom, Bernie Sanders, Mark Leno, Democratic Party, NAACP, ACLU, Amnesty International, criminal defense attorneys groups, California Labor Federation, teachers and nurses unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle, religious groups, Van Jones, Dolores Huerta, an unusual number of celebrities.

Opponents of 62/Supporters of 66: Former Governor Pete Wilson, Republican Party, law enforcement officials and unions, district attorneys, and some high profile crime victims.

Proposition 63- Background checks for ammunition purchases – yes

Every time there’s a mass shooting in America, we collectively shed tears and shake our heads. “Something must be done!” we cry, and then we move on with our lives and nothing is done. Prop 63 – authored by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom – is an attempt to do something about gun violence in California.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-20-31-pmIt’s a complicated measure, but here’s the gist: If you believe that ammunition sales should be regulated and that we should get guns out of the hands of convicted felons, you will vote yes on Prop 63. If you believe that there are already too many restrictions on gun rights in California, you will vote no.

Here are the problems that proponents say this measure attempts to solve:

  1. Gun sales are regulated with background checks for buyers and licenses for gun dealers. But there isn’t a similar regulation for ammunition, and a person who acquires a gun illegally can buy ammunition freely. Prop 63 will control ammunition sales the same way that guns are regulated, thus making it harder for someone who possesses a gun illegally to actually use it.
  2. The weapon of choice for mass shooters is the assault rifle, which uses high capacity ammunition magazines. Prop 63 would ban these magazines in California to make it harder for these guns to be used to kill large numbers of people.
  3. Newsom says there are an estimated 34,000 guns, including an estimated 1,000 assault weapons, in the hands of people who are not legally allowed to own them in California (felons and the mentally ill). Under the current laws, there is no way to locate these guns or hold these folks accountable. To solve this problem, Prop 63 would: (a) require gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to law enforcement; (b) create a process for convicted felons to turn in their guns, and certify that they have done so; and (c) make stealing a gun a felony (How is this not already the law?! Currently it’s a $150 infraction. What the actual fuck.)

Yeah, yeah, Newsom is using this measure to elevate his profile and raise money for his campaign for Governor. And yeah, this is a bill that the legislature could have approved without going to the voters (and in fact, it did approve some portions of it). My fake organization DOOB would absolutely oppose it, but this time I would disagree with them. I, for one, am sick of inaction by our government on gun violence, and I’m impressed with Newsom’s leadership on the issue.

The NRA is right about a few things: if this passes, it will be tied up in the courts for a while, because the “second amendment people” have already teed up their constitutional challenge. And it’s true that if Prop 63 is enacted, people will just go to Nevada to buy ammo without a background check. But we have to keep chipping away at this problem, and California has always been a leader in legislative innovation. Maybe other states will follow our lead when more of them become affected by mass shootings. Enough is enough. Yes on 63.

Does the have to be on the ballot? Nope. Some of it has already been approved by the legislature. Getting it approved by the voters just makes it a lot harder to repeal.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Democratic Party, a ton of Mayors and City Council members from all over the state, SF Sheriff Vicki Hennessey and other law enforcement officials from progressive counties, anti-violence groups, physicians organizations, LGBT organizations, League of Women Voters, teachers and nurses unions, LA Times, SF Chronicle.

Opponents: The NRA, California Police Chiefs Association, Sheriffs in Republican counties, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Jews Can Shoot (families of Holocaust victims who, understandably, want to arm themselves)

Proposition 64 – Legalization of adult use of marijuana – YES!

I’ll be brief because this one is going to pass, and it’s unlikely that any reader of mine believes that the war on drugs has been a worthwhile endeavor.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-16-23-pm

Prop 64 (The Adult Use of Marijuana Act) will legalize marijuana under state law, for recreational use by adults 21 or older. It will restrict where it can be sold and consumed, and who can sell it. It will tax the stuff and provide for a licensing structure, as well as industry standards for marijuana products (much like FDA approval of pharmaceuticals). It will rake in between $300 million to over $1 billion (With a B!) in tax revenues every year.

The new law will reduce the state’s criminal justice costs by tens of millions of dollars annually. And here’s the best part: it would make everyone in prison today for a marijuana-related crime eligible for resentencing or release. YESSSSSSS.

It’s about time we end prohibition in this state.* It’s about time we tax pot, and provide industry standards to benefit consumers (what IS in the stuff we are smoking, anyway?). It’s about time we stop imprisoning people for possessing small amounts of a drug that is far less dangerous to society than alcohol or prescription opiates.

The people I know who oppose this initiative are: (1) pro-law enforcement types who hate drugs, and (2) small pot farmers or distributors who are worried that Big Agriculture is going to come in and wipe them out with their huge resources and their strict cultivation standards. The latter group was able to write in a provision that would limit licenses for large-scale marijuana businesses for five years, and reserve a number of licenses for small-scale and artisan cultivators.

The measure isn’t perfect, for sure, it has some holes in it that many in the industry have identified. But the hope is that these holes will be fixed by regulation in the coming months. Prop 64 is a HUGE step in the right direction. Please vote yes.

*NOTE: If 64 passes, marijuana will still be illegal under federal law. Enforcement of marijuana crimes in states where it is legal is no longer a high priority of the federal government (under Obama), but of course the future of enforcement will depend on the outcome of the presidential election in November. Recreational pot is already legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. It’s on the ballot this fall in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Smells like momentum, doesn’t it?

Does it need to be on the ballot? Nope! The legislature could have (and should have?) taken up this controversial issue, but like ammunition sales and the death penalty, it was too scared to touch it.

Supporters: Gavin Newsom, the CA Democratic Party, NAACP, ACLU, CA Medical Association, Drug Policy Alliance, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Opponents: Law enforcement officials, Senator Feinstein (really, Dianne?), Sacramento Bee, and the CA Republican Party

Proposition 65 (NO) & 67 (YES) – Banning plastic grocery bags

These two measures are confusing, and they are a cynical ploy by the plastic bag companies to frustrate you and make you vote no on both of them. But if California does vote no on both of them, a lot of hard work by environmental groups and the state legislature will go out the window. Lemme splain…

A few years ago, the state legislature passed a law that bans plastic bags (SB 270), and that requires grocers to charge at least 10 cents for every paper bag they give to customers. In a deal cut with the grocers to get their support for the ban, the bag fee goes to the grocers. This really pissed off the plastic bag industry, which then put both Prop 65 and 67 on the ballot.

Prop 67 asks the voters to approve or reject the statewide ban, which hasn’t yet taken effect. It only applies to those localities in California that don’t already have their own ban. San Francisco has had a ban since 2007, so if Prop 67 passes, nothing will change here.screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-37-45-pm

Prop 65 would punish the grocers for supporting the plastic bag ban, by taking the bag fee and send it instead to a special fund to support environmental projects. Very sneaky, plastic bag barons! That one is perfectly designed to confuse the voters and undermine the bargain that was struck to make SB 270 possible.

If you look below at the Supporters/Opponents of the measures, you might be surprised to see that the environmental groups are generally opposing Prop 65. They see right through the ploy, and say that the two measures are designed to frustrate the voters into voting “no” on both. The Surfrider Foundation and Californians Against Waste, for example, advocated for SB 270 for years, and they are upholding the legislative deal that they helped to cut.

Still with me? Here’s how the results could play out:

  1. If voters approve 67 and reject 65, then the bag ban will take effect, and the bag fee would go to the store owners. In localities with their own plastic bag bans, nothing would change.
  2. If voters reject 67 and approve 65, then the statewide ban will not take effect, and cities and counties with local bans can continue to use funds as currently set up or they can opt to direct the money to the new special environmental fund. Revenue from any future statewide ban would go toward the environmental fund.
  3. If voters pass both measures, then the bag ban will go into effect statewide, and whichever measure has more “yes” votes will determine where the money goes.
  4. If voters reject both measures, then no statewide ban goes into effect, and there will be no restrictions on revenues from future bans similar to SB 270. Localities with existing bans keep doing what they’ve been doing.

Show the plastic bag companies that you’re smarter than they thought. Vote No on 65, Yes on 67.

Does it need to be on the ballot? NO and GRRRRR! The legislature DID pass this law, and the ballot measures are an endeavor by the plastic bag companies to gum up what the legislature has already passed.

Supporters of 65: Republican Party, plastic bag manufacturers

Opponents of 65: League of Women Voters, Surfrider Foundation, California Nurses Association, Californians Against Waste, LA Times, SF Chronicle

Supporters of 67: Jerry Brown, Bernie Sanders, Gavin Newsom, John Chiang, Democratic Party, Tom Steyer, good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, California Labor Federation, NAACP, LA Times, SF Chronicle, every environmental group in the state including the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Nature Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, Audubon Society.

Opponents of 67: Plastic bag manufacturers, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Libertarian Party

Thanks for reading all the way through! If you found my voter guide helpful, please throw a few dollars in the jar to support my voter guide writing habit. Thanks!

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.