Quote of the Day

From Jerry Brown, candidate for Governor: “They’re all fighting, everybody’s blaming. That’s been part of the politics now. If you’ve noticed, the Republicans, they just want Obama to look bad, then they can get in power, and if they get in power then we’ll have to do the same thing to them, and they’ll start doing it to us and pretty soon you don’t have much of a country anymore.” [source]

I think this is well said, and it is what is frustrating the voters.


Correcting Political Misconceptions

Yesterday, I wrote about “FDR, a play we saw at the Pasadena Playhouse about a president that is generally regarded as one of the best presidents this country has ever had (the top three are Washington, Lincoln, and FDR). I mention this because one thing FDR did was vastly expand the scope of government, and ushered in a new political age—an age that lasted until Ronald Reagan.

Currently, our national political discourse has been focused on the activities of the “Tea Party”: a party that seems to be calling for a return to a greater focus on the constitution and something very close to Libertarianism. First, I’ll note this is nothing new: the debate about the Constitution goes back to the days of Hamilton and Jefferson, and the desire for the people’s voice to be heard of Jackson. But even more importantly: I want to highlight that for all their claims, the Tea Party gets both the Constitution and Libertarianism wrong. To explain that statement, I want to note two excellent references. One is an article from Newsweek about how the Tea Partiers get the Constitution wrong. The other is a podcast from NPR’s Planet Money about how most people do not understand what being a Libertarian is (an article version is here).

[By the way, I’ll use this space to highly recommend Planet Money. Paired with their Libertarian podcast was another Podcast where they demonstrate, by interviewing a Socialist, why what the Democrats are advocating isn’t Socialism]


Decision 2010: The Candidates

Two weeks ago, I presented my initial takes on the propositions. Today I present Part II of my ballot analysis, looking at the candidates. At the end, I’ll give you an update on where I stand on the propositions. As with the earlier post, my intent here is to capture my research (for I always look at the candidates fresh-ish for these posts); you can feel free to attempt to convince me to support someone else.

  • Governor: Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown. Very often, when candidates run against incumbants, the cry is “Do we want more of the same?”, expecting the answer to be “no”. Except, in this case, there is no incumbant, and “more of the same” is actually Meg Whitman: a Republican candidate with no government experience. That was tried with the Governator, and it didn’t work. We need someone who knows how to work in Sacramento (for inexperience didn’t work), who is frugal, and who knows how to govern the state. That’s what we get with Jerry Brown, and that’s why he’s been getting the lion’s share of endorsements: Sacramento Bee, LA Times, SF Chronicle, Daily News (the OC Register went for Whitman, but that’s no surprise). Is Jerry Brown the perfect candidate? No. But I just have more confidence in his ability to bring the parties together to solve the budget problems of the state in a more structurally sound manner, based on his experience and knowledge of the state, than I have in Whitman. Her ideas on taxes (especially elimination of the capital gains tax) I don’t feel are right: in a time of state budget problems, decreasing the income stream is not the right answer (and although some states have no CG tax, most do). With respect to cutting spending, I see more ideas to limit future spending than to cut what is currently there. I also disagree with some of her positions on immigration (an example: I don’t think we should deny them drivers licenses, for that hurts everyone, as they’ll drive anyway… a better answer is to clearly show immigration status on the license itself, just as we do with underage licenses). Brown, on the other hand, has experience in working with legislators to balance state budgets. He also has some clear plans to bring new industries to the state. I just think he’ll do a better job than Whitman.
  • Lt. Governor: Abel Maldonado. This is a hard recommendation to make, for the office is one that really doesn’t do much, and should be eliminated. The choice isn’t that great: on one side, there is a relatively minor politician with no executive experience, but who has shown a willingness to be bi-partisan and has been capable in the job. On the other side, there is a mayor of a major city who has the executive experience, but who has also shown himself to be flighty and prone to say the wrong things. My gut is telling me that the former, Abel Maldonado, might be a better choice, especially if he can work as a team with Brown, for Maldonado might be able to sway the Republican politicians to work for the state as opposed to being shills for the party, whereas Newsom would just exacerbate the partisanship. At least, right now, I’m willing to give it a try.
  • Secy of State: Debra Bowen. Remember the adage that if something is working, don’t attempt to fix it. Bowen has done a good job as Secretary of State, and I see no reason to change.
  • Controller: John Chiang. Again, this is a case of someone who is doing a good job, with no good argument to replace him. Reading through Strickland’s statements, I think he’ll be more effective in the Assembly.
  • Treasurer: Bill Lockyer. Yet another case of the incumbent doing a good job. We seem to have an effective team in Chiang and Lockyer, and I see no strong reason to change it.
  • Attorney General: Steve Cooley Kamala Harris. We have no incumbant in this race; no one to keep in office because they are doing a good job. In fact, this will be pulling someone out of office who is doing a good job where they are. It’s basically a North vs. South battle, with the DAs of Los Angeles and San Francisco battling it out. Both have been effective DAs in their respective cities, but who would be better for the state? The LA Times endorses Cooley, but is it because he is good, or to get him out of LA? The SF Chronicle endorses Harris, potentially for the same reasons. I’m going for Harris, primarily because Cooley opposes same-sex marriage and would work to repeat the healthcare law. The former is morally wrong, and the latter is a waste of state money.

    ETA: Originally, I was for Harris, but changed my mind. Please read the comments on this post. In short, Cooley is a better prosecutor. As for his stance on gay marriage: he appaers to be essentially neutral: he would argue for what the electorate has passed. Thus, my problem is more with the fools that passed Prop. 8 than Cooley. That said, now it is time for the Harris supporters out there: Convince me I should switch my leaning back to Harris. You still have time.

  • Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones. Another hard race, with no incumbent. Here the qualitities of the candidates are less clear, pitting two assembly critters against each other: Dave Jones vs. Mike Villines. The endorsements reflect this, with the LA Times on Jones’ side and the SF Chronicle on Villines side. Both are saying relatively the same mumbo jumbo on their issues pages (Jones, Villines). I think I’m going to go for Jones. The LA Times endorsement provided the deciding factor: experience. Jones has been chairman of the Assembly’s health and judiciary committees, and understands insurance regulation. His biography shows continuing consumer protection work. Villines didn’t have his experience touted in the SF endorsement, and looking at his bio, the emphasis is on his business skills, not his consumer protection or insurance experience.
  • State Board of Equalization, 4th District: Jerome Horton. Horton is the incumbant, and there is no major party opposition. Horton seems to have good tax policy experience, which is what you want in this position. The highest profile opposition is the Libertarian candidate, Peter De Baets. His page shows someone who admits he won’t look at cases on their merits: “I will side with you and not with the State on every single appeal that comes before the tax board. No exceptions.” That’s the wrong answer: each case should have its merits objectively examined. He’s not a credible opponent.
  • United States Senate: Barbara Boxer. This race is like Brown vs. Whitman, but the answer is much harder, because neither candidate is that great. In one corner, we have Barbara Boxer, a strongly partisan Senator who hasn’t really made that much of a name for herself. On the other corner, we have Carly Fiorina, a businesswomen who took the great company HP and destroyed it. So why am I going for Boxer? Two primary reasons: senate rules and social positions. The main thing Boxer has going for her in the Senate is seniority. People forget that is significant in the Senate, and right now, the state needs the strongest voices it can have. Fiorina, if elected, would be at the bottom of the food chain: a senator with no seniority and no experience in senate rules and procedures. That can only hurt the state. Fiorina is also too conservative on social issues for me; she tends to give in blindingly to the conservative social agenda. The last reason is more gut: I just watch her on TV, and cannot find anything to trust in the image I see.
  • United States Representative (30th): Henry Waxman. Remember earlier where I said we should keep people that are doing good jobs. Waxman is one of the good guys in congress: working to protect the people of his district and the nation. His opponent, Chuck Wilkerson, strikes me as more on the fringe side. I like his technical background (EE degree, worked in the aerospace industry), but when I see the phrases “Outspoken advocate of common sense constitutional government and conservative government policies via ‘letters to the editor’” or “Student of and lecturer on global warming science and politics”, I just know this man’s positions are not congruent with mine. Waxman’s positions are.
  • Member of the State Assembly: Diana G. Shaw. Here I’m going partisan: we have Diana Shaw, Democrat, running in a heavily Republican-drawn district represented by Cameron M. Smyth. Smyth has been heavily focused on the Santa Clarita portion of his district, ignoring us folks in the valley. I’ve been getting his newsletters, and he has been skewing way too conservative and partisan for my tastes. I’d like to replace him with someone more moderate, and Shaw is the choice I’m given. I also like that she emphases practical government.
  • Supreme Court Justices: Yes on all. Judicial races are hard, especially in races where you are only confirming someone in a position, not deciding between two people. I have been presented no evidence that these individuals are unqualified. The LA Times recommmends the incumbents. I’m inclined to go with that recommendation.
  • Court of Appeal Justices: Yes on all. Again, the reasoning is the same as above. I have been presented no evidence that these individuals are unqualified. The LA Times recommmends the incumbents. I’m inclined to go with that recommendation.
  • Superior Court Judges: Randy Hammock (28); Alan Schneider (117); Amy Hogue (136). These are consistent with my positions in June 2010; the latter candidate is unopposed.
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction: Larry Aceves. This is a battle between a career educator and a legislator. I’d rather have an educator in this position, so I’m on the side of Aceves. This is consistent with the LA Times recommendation. He wasn’t my choice in June, but of the choices we’re given, I think he is the better one.
  • County Assessor: John Y. Wong. In this case, the Wong choice is the right choice. OK, I just had to make that pun. As I noted back in June, I like Wong because he has been on the appeals board, and thus recognizes the decline in property values in the county. The Times endorsed him for the same reason. His opponent, John R. Noguez, appears to be experienced, but has more endorsements from elected officials, making me question his focus on the property taxpayers vs. the needs of government.

As promised long ago at the beginning, here’s a recap of my position on the propositions. Some have changed. See this post and this post for the reasoning:


Raising Blood Pressure

Seen in the LA Times: “Health insurers throw support behind Republican candidates”. The insurance industry is pouring money into Republican campaign coffers in hopes of scaling back wide-ranging regulations in the new healthcare law, while preserving the mandate that Americans buy coverage. …

The article is well worth reading. As I wrote earlier today: it is worth understanding who is endorsing and financing various campaigns, and what they stand to gain if their candidate(s) win… or the other guy loses.


Decision 2010: Looking at Endorsements

Today over lunch I’ve been perusing the endorsements of various state papers, reading them in light of my post yesterday on the ballot propositions. I find endorsements such as these useful: often they highlight aspects of an issue I hadn’t thought of, and in some cases, and provide indications of buried bias in the issues that were not obvious on a surface reading. I’d like to discuss/highlight a few:

  • Prop. 20: Redistricting by Independent Committee / Prop. 27: Legislative Redistricting. These two are very closely linked: Prop 20 expands the scope of the new independent redistricting commission to congressional districts; Prop 27 kills that commission and returns everything to the legislature. Yesterday, I noted that I was in favor of Prop 20, and against Prop 27. Almost unanimously, papers across the state are against Prop 27. As for Prop 20, however, many are in favor of it: San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, OC Register. A notable exception is the Sacramento Bee, which advocates a NO vote on both. Their rationale is interesting. First, they note we haven’t seen this commission in action yet, and perhaps we shouldn’t extend its reach until we know how it works. The second reason is that drawing new districts could hurt the seniority of our congressional delegation, which will reduce clout in Washington. That’s a valid argument, and one of the drawbacks of “throw the bums out”: with newbee politicians, you also lose a lot of your clout. You need measured change in your politicians so you don’t lose all your clout at once. I’m still leaning in favor of 20, but the Sacbee’s arguments have gotten me thinking.
  • Prop. 24: Repeals Legislation regarding Business Tax Changes. This proposition repeals some business tax deals put in place as part of last year’s budget dealings… and almost every paper is against it: Sacramento Bee, LA Times, SF Chronicle, OC Register, LA Daily News. The editorials make some interesting points: we shouldn’t be tinkering with budget deals via initiatives, and the retraction of these deals will be sending bad signals to businesses in California. I tend to find these arguments compelling, and am changing my position on this to NO.
  • Prop. 25: Reduces Budget Vote to 50%. This is another interesting battle. It ostensibly reduces the vote threshold on the budget and budget related bills to 50%, whilst keeping the tax threshold at 2/3rd. I don’t believe it touches Prop 13, despite what the scare email going around says. Endorsements are mixed: SF Chronicle and the LA Times are in favor; the Sacramento Bee, OC Register, and LA Daily News are against. Again, here there is an interesting balance: most seem to want to make the budget passing process easier, but the other problems of the bill create significant problems. What other problems? The measure would supposedly eliminate voters’ right to put referendum measures on the ballot to reject new fees or fee increases imposed by the budget, and it appears to make it easier for legislators to increase their own travel and expense accounts with a simple majority, rather than the current two-thirds legislative vote. There is also debate on whether it really preserves the 2/3rd limit for taxes. What this says to me is that this bill suffers from the same problem as Prop. 19: it was written by someone who didn’t think things out. As any game player will tell you: writing rule books is difficult because someone will always try to abuse the rules. The same is true for legislation, perhaps doubly true. This is why initiatives are often good in intent, and bad in execution, and why I may be moving to the “NO” side on this one.
  • Governor: Brown vs. Whitman. I’m just noting here that the bulk of the endorsements are siding with Brown here: Sacramento Bee, LA Times, SF Chronicle. Given that I was already a Brown supporter, I don’t have much to add to what they say, but I find the unanimity of opinion quite interesting.
  • Senator: Boxer vs. Fiorina. Here the endorsements seem to be splitting. Not all papers are endorsing here, but the LA Times has gone for Boxer, whereas the LA Daily News (Media News Group) has gone for Fiorina. I tend to be a Boxer supporter (mostly due to distaste over what Fiorina did at HP, as well as distaste for the Conservative social line Fiorina draws): my observation here is more the contrast with the Brown endorsements: Boxer may have a battle on her hands. It will be interesting to watch this one shape up. One comment, though: Regarding the “Ma’am vs. Senator” ad: She was talking to a Brig. General, and the military is very big on titles. Using “ma’am” was a way of disrespecting, just as if Boxer had slipped on up the general’s rank. I’m worried that Fiorina doesn’t understand that, which could lead to California being hurt.

The Propositions: First Take

Yesterday, I sat down and skimmed the General Election Voter Information Guide for the first time. This is my initial take on the various propositions. Now is your time to convince me otherwise…

  • Prop. 19: Marijuana Legalization
    [Legalizes Marijuana Under California but Not Federal Law. Permits Local Governments to Regulate and Tax Commercial Production, Distribution, and Sale of Marijuana. Initiative Statute.]

    This is an odd one. I’m in favor of the general notion of legalization: make it legal, regulated, and taxed. But as with most initiatives, I’m sensitive to the argument that the actual legislation was written wrong, and this one just appears to be incomplete in a number of areas. Think about all the different places in the legal code that alcohol imparement is addressed. There should be equivalent areas the define legal imparement for pot. It doesn’t appear they are in this proposal. Conclusion: Reluctantly, No.

  • Prop. 20: Redistricting by Independent Committee
    [Redistricting of Congressional Districts. Initiative Constitutional Amendment]

    There are two competing redistricting proposals: one that returns everything to legislative redisticting, and one that moves everything to redistricting by independent committee. I certainly don’t believe it should be done by elected politicians: that’s too rife for partisan tinkering. So, I think the goal of this proposal (and independent commission) is reasonable. I think the argument about communities of interest is a red herring: for such communities could be used for good or bad, and it all depends on the chosen commisioners. Conclusion: Leaning Yes.

  • Prop. 21: Fee for California Parks
    [Establishes $18 Annual Vehicle License Surcharge to Help Fund State Parks and Wildlife Programs. Grants Surcharged Vehicles Free Admission to All State Parks. Initiative Statute]

    I can see both sides on this: on the one hand, the parks are one entity in the state that doesn’t have a strong voice, and thus is easily cut to the bone in a budget crisis. On the other hand, parks should be funded through the normal avenues, not an addition to the Vehicle License Fee. In general, I feel the VLF should be used to fund vehicle related expenses (roads, air quality, etc.). Conclusion: Leaning No.

  • Prop. 22: Restrict State Fund Usage
    [Prohibits the State from Borrowing or Taking Funds Used for Transportation, Redevelopment, or Local Government Projects and Services. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.]

    This propositions restricts the ability to use collected state funds in various accounts for other purposes in the areas of transportation and redevelopment. Now, I’m the sort of guy you think would support any transportation related thing. But this one seems wrong, for a lot of the budget problems we’ve got are due to tying the hands of the legislature in solving problems. I don’t think this is the right idea, not now, much as I’d like to see more road problems being fixed. Conclusion: Reluctantly No.

  • Prop. 23: Suspends Greenhouse Gas Law
    [Suspends Implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB 32) Requiring Major Sources of Emissions to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming, Until Unemployment Drops to 5.5 Percent or Less for Full Year. Initiative Statute.]

    Reading this, I just don’t buy the arguments that suspending this law will create any new jobs in California. At best, it might prevent some jobs from moving, at a potential unrepairable climate cost. I do see it suspending the law for a long time. On the other hand, retaining the law would help promote development of green businesses, which will help the state. Conclusion: No.

  • Prop. 24: Repeals Legislation regarding Business Tax Changes.
    [Repeals Recent Legislation That Would Allow Businesses to Lower Their Tax Liability. Initiative Statute.]

    This is one of those propositions that most people won’t understand. Basically, what this proposition does is undo some changes made as part of recent budget dealmaking. Specifically, it would prevent carrying-back business losses to prior years or crediting those losses many years in the future, it changes how multistate businesses are taxed, and it affects sharing of tax credits. Such a change cries out that it is a special deal, and so the question becomes: which was the worse special deal: the original change brokered by lobbyists, or this proposition? I’ll also note that I don’t like ballot arguments that use the phrase “never met a tax they didn’t like”. If I had my choice, losses could only be used to offset future profits, not obtain refunds in past years; there would be single formula for calculating state income, and tax credits would only go to the entity that earned them. That seems to be closest to the prior law. Conclusion: Leaning Yes.

  • Prop. 25: Reduces Budget Vote to 50%
    [Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass Budget and Budget-Related Legislation from Two-Thirds to a Simple Majority. Retains Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Taxes. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.]

    This initiative would reduce the requirement to pass a budget/budget-related legislation to 50% from 67%, while still requiring 67% for taxes. It would also suspend legislator pay for late budgets. I agree that the budget games in Sacramento have gotten ridiculous, where the excessively partisan politics have held the budget hostage and hurt many, many people. On the other hand, having the lower vote would virtually assure that the party in power would get their way without having to make any concession to the minority view. So there are strong arguments on both sides (as well as many many red herrings). For me, the most telling factor is that the current approach just isn’t working: there’s only been 5 budgets on time in the last 30 years. Conclusion: Reluctantly Yes.

  • Prop. 26: Certain Fees: 2/3rds Vote
    [Requires That Certain State and Local Fees Be Approved by Two-Thirds Vote. Fees Include Those That Address Adverse Impacts on Society or the Environment Caused by the Fee-Payer’s Business. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.]

    There should be rule that if you can’t get a proposition title down to one line, you lose. Seriously, this is another confusing proposition, but generally it moves a lot of fees into the category of things that require 2/3rd vote, meaning that they will never be passed. Now, what has caused a lot of our problems in Californai is the extreme difficulty in changing our taxes, and this has resulted in more fees. Although I can understand the furor against those fees, the answer is not make more things 2/3rds majority: the answer is to fix the tax laws. I think this proposal, at this time, would further hurt the state. Conclusion: Leaning No.

  • Prop. 27: Legislative Redistricting
    [Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates Authority for Redistricting with Elected Representatives. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.]

    This is the opposite of Prop. 20: It moves all the redistricting back to the elected officials, with no strong requirements other than geographic in forming districts. To me, legislative redistricting has too much opportunity for partisan politics. Conclusion: No.

As noted at the beginning: these are my first thoughts. My mind may chanage on these propositions as I learn more. More importantly, my mind may change as you convince me otherwise, so start convincing, or tell me why you think I’m right.


A Plea for Moderation

By now, we’ve all heard of or seen the GOP Pledge for America. We’ve also see the response to it, both partisan and non-partisan. The general opinion seems to be that it is a partisan pledge, and not a real attempt to solve the problems facing this country.

I mention this not to debate the Pledge for America (and I’ll repeat that: I do not want to debate the Pledge for America), but to discuss the hyperpartisan environment that exists in politics today. Rather, I’m writing this post to highlight an article in the LA Times about moderates who are organizing behind candidates willing to put the hyperpartisanship aside and work together to solve the problems of this country. This article highlights the effects of Mayor Bloomberg in New York, as well as the No Labels effort: putting labels aside to do what is best for America.

I think this is a good thing. For far too long we have been focused on black and white. The notion has been: If the other party is for it, I’m against it. This is wrong. This is something that has been stewing in my thoughts long before the “Pledge for America”, for I’ve been thinking that the Republicans are just as much to blame as the Democrats for the problems with the health bill and the bailout. For both parties, the emphasis has been blocking what the other does, as opposed to working to find a compromise that gets the legislation right the first time. This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that staffers and lobbyists write 80% of the legislation anyway, creating special cases for special interests.

Health care is a good example. For all the furor over the health care bill, and all the push from the Republican side to repeal it… guess what? A new AP Poll shows that a majority of Americans felt that the health care reform should have done more. The problem is not that the health care reform was done, but that the job wasn’t done right. We don’t need to repeal the bill—we need to fix it…. and fix it so it works right for the people, not the insurance companies or the special interests. In order to do this, legislators need to come together and put aside the political labels.

As the LA Times article notes, the voices on the fringe, amplified by the Internet and the pundits, have drowned out moderate reason and compromise and the ability to work together. You can certainly see this, just in the comments on the post, where again the fringe is attempting to shout it out.

I happen to be a moderate. I don’t believe in expansive government: I think government should have real (not imaginary) funding sources for its initiatives, and that there are areas the government should not be involved in. But I also believe government has a role and can be effective. In particular, I believe that government has a role in regulation, using its power to limit some of the excesses that human nature drives people to do. I found this LA Times article quite interesting, and think I’ll look a bit more into this No Labels group. Much as I like tea, it belongs in my French Press and my teacup, not on the political stage.


Phones and Politics

The Smothers Brothers used to have a routine where they discussed the relationship between clothes and politics. The everyday people without big salaries couldn’t afford to purchase a lot of clothes, and thus might be called the “less-on”s. I’ll leave it to you to come up with the name for the people with more money running the country…. (hmm, is this an example of what I talked about in my previous post?)

I mention this because of an interesting survey from Capitol Weekly: “A new study by Tulchin Research, a polling and strategic consulting firm, has recently shown that the majority of Californians carrying iPhones support Jerry Brown in the race for governor while those pecking away on Blackberries are more likely to support Meg Whitman.”

Hmmm, I’m using an LG non-smart phone. What does that say about me?