California: 2010

Since the Ballot Initiative to End Ballot Initiatives is not on the ballot again this year, here's what we're left with:
(summarized here by the California Voter Guide):

Prop 19
would legalize and permit the taxation of marijuana. Pot should never have been criminalized in the first place, and you'd have to be stoned not to be outraged at how racist has been the prohibition's application. In addition to being worthwhile on its merits, adoption of Prop 19 might help to bring about a cessation of the failed War on Drugs. Though it was initially very popular, a lot of money has been spent by the Right and the political establishment to defeat Prop 19; we'll see on Tuesday whether George Soros' last minute $1M donation to the proponents of legalization funded a push back in the last week big enough to stem the tide of misrepresentation, misinformation and fear. YES.

Prop 20, written by a right wing multi-millionaire activist with the intent of further reducing democratic control over redistricting (in California that means, in effect, weakening Democratic control over redistricting), would give the power to draw the boundaries of the state's electoral districts to a panel of 14 randomly selected volunteers who, bizarrely, must, by law, have no experience in government or real-life redistricting. Not that California shouldn't end gerrymandering, but this is just nuts. NO.

Prop 21 is a holding action to save the state's long-neglected parks, which are in danger of being shut down if the measure fails. Public goods like libraries and parks should be paid for out of general revenues, but until we have fair and responsible taxing in California, we need to keep public services going. Prop 21 would establish stable funding for the park system, improve bicycle access and, for most vehicles, provide free admission to the state's 248 parks by introducing a new and unfortunately regressive tax in the form of an $18 registration surcharge on most vehicle registrations. If this proposition fails, you will see plans to privatize park administration or to divest parkland entirely. This is a reluctant but crucially important YES.

Prop 22 is ridiculous; as the LATimes says, it asks voters to referee a dispute between local and state politicians: go do your jobs, people. The measure would bar California from delaying payments to local agencies for transit, public services and redevelopment, the kinds of projects so dear to local pols; but it is being opposed by professional firefighters, the California Teachers Assn. and other worthies because they fear its passage would also result in further cuts to education and public safety. So, NO.

Prop 23. Let's see. Big Texas oil firms, Valero and Tesoro, put this on the ballot and are shelling out millions of dollars in deceptive advertising in an effort to repeal California's landmark global warming legislation and wreck the state's burgeoning clean energy economy. A job killer and a boon to polluters. Um, NO.

Prop 24 "Repeals Recent Legislation That Would Allow Businesses to Carry Back Losses, Share Tax Credits, and Use a Sales-Based Income Calculation to Lower Taxable Income." In other words, Prop 24 jettisons some ill-considered and unnecessary tax breaks affecting a minority of businesses and returns $1.3 billion a year to the state coffers for the next three years, so it seems like a no-brainer. But this is the just the sort of policy-making that should never be the subject of a ballot measure. Only the Legislature can fully assess the pros and cons of budget and tax proposals and weigh the outcome of one set of policy variables against others. This initiative uses a battle mace for an operation that requires a scalpel. If the proposal fails, the Ledge still has time to do what it should have done in the first place: consider these taxes deliberately in open hearings. A reluctant No.

Prop 25, establishing majority rule over the state budget, is long overdue. It would eliminate the requirement of a 2/3 super-majority in the Legislature to pass the annual state budget. Unfortunately, it will leave intact the 2/3 requirement for raising taxes, meaning the crazy right wing minority in the Ledge will still be able to stymie rational budgeting. What good is it to tell legislators they must pass a budget, then not give them the tools to do it responsibly? All the good government types (League of Women Voters, et al) support this proposal. Both fair-tax advocates and anti-tax cranks say that Prop 25 is a doorway reform that will result ultimately in a recalibration of property tax laws to correct the unfair advantage given to corporations by Prop 13. This would be a swell outcome, but unlikely; if 25  passes, it will make it even easier to defend Prop 13's inequities with emotional appeals to "no new taxes." If 25 is defeated, the reform movement will be forced to come back next time with a proposal that restores democracy to both budgeting and taxing; linked as it should be to budget reform, the democratization of the revenue side of state financing would have a much better chance of passing. Without democratic taxing, rational budgeting will still be all but impossible. So I'm casting a very reluctant NO, but acknowledge that the argument that a small step is better than none is not without merit.

Prop 26 is another right-wing special interest play, this time with the goal of shielding environmental criminals from legal remedies by subjecting certain fees and penalties to the 2/3 rule. If you don't like Prop 23, you're really going to hate 26.  It's a wrong answer to the perennial question of who pays for environmental clean-ups, taxpayers or polluters. The corporate swineherds have found that it is much cheaper to stick us with their bills by spending a few tens of millions of dollars on ballot initiatives than it is to clean up their messes themselves. Privatize profits, socialize problems: it's the American Way. A lot of out-of-state oil money is being spent on this one, too. NO.

Prop 27 would eliminate the "nonpolitical" redistricting commission, a dubious reform adopted by the voters two years ago that would in effect empower shadowy experts and power brokers, and instead restore redistricting to the hands of democratically elected representatives. Prop 27 has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party, the California Labor Federation, the teachers' union, the state's biggest conservation group and other trustworthy folks. 27 will cost less than the commission to administer, provides voters with the authority to reject proposed district boundary maps, and requires populations of all districts for the same office to be the same size. As an added bonus, if it gets more votes than Prop 20 it also renders that odious contraption moot. YES.

Governor: Jerry Brown
: He has his limitations, but he is the best choice by far.

Senator: Although Barbara Boxer is infinitely superior to Carly Fiorina, the truth is that the incumbent senator has been an uninspiring backbencher rather than a leader. I plan on voting for Marsha Feinland, the Peace & Freedom Party candidate. Aside from being the better choice on issues, a vote for her will help keep the Peace & Freedom Party on the ballot. Plus, in the astronomically unlikely event that she won, Bernie Sanders would be less lonely and the upper house could sport a Socialist Caucus.

Congress: As John Nichols writes in The Nation, there is one race in California, between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and John Dennis, a Libertarian running on the GOP line, where reform-minded voters could have a real impact.  Dennis' Randian economic casuistries would be irksome if they weren't so wildly impractical and, well, radical. But his unrealizable ambitions for the economy are insignificant when weighed against the very real excesses of the Democrats' foreign military adventurism and domestic assaults of civil liberties. My guess is the political beliefs of a majority of the district's inhabitants are better represented by Dennis (he endorses Prop 19, for example) than Pelosi.

On military policy, Dennis favors "ending both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and withdrawing our troops as safely and quickly as possible....I do not believe that our troops should be forced to be policemen of the world. Our troops, first and foremost, should protect Americans where they live—in America."
Ironically, given that he is running against the legislator-in-chief, Dennis's stance would serve to strengthen the power of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive: "The Constitution is clear on who bears the responsibility of the power to declare war, i.e., the Congress. I am strongly opposed to Congress passing resolutions granting the president the authority to use force. Unless there is an imminent attack, the Congress should never disregard its constitutional obligation over the war power. A decision to declare war requires debate, a process that clarifies the country’s situation and leaves a clear conscience whatever is decided."

Progressives like former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez, and Cindy Sheehan who challenged Pelosi in 2008 and could have usefully run again this year, are speaking favorably of Dennis who is, as the San Francisco Chronicle put it, "running to the left" of Pelosi. On matters of militarism and civil liberties, he certainly is: "The Constitution was written to restrict the actions of the government, not individuals. That is why we call ours a limited government. Unfortunately, American political vocabulary is filled with a lexicon of different types of liberty: civil liberty, economic liberty, sexual liberty, financial liberty, etc. Yet, in the end, there is only liberty. And if we support some types of liberty but not others, ultimately we will be left without liberty at all." This would just be so much rhetoric, though, if it wasn't reduced to specifics: Dennis opposes "warrantless wiretaps," "the creation of extra-judicial systems to deal with enemy combatants," "waterboarding and other forms of torture," and calls for respecting "the 800-year foundation of the law embodied in the principle of habeas corpus."

Closer to home, in the 30th CD where Henry Waxman is unbeatable, a vote for his opponent offers an opportunity for progressives who don't want to risk losing a seat to the Party of No to still cast their ballot for a peace candidate, Peace & Freedom's Richard Castaldo, who as a bonus is also critical of Waxman's sellout of Medicare for All. There is no palatable alternative to imperialist warmonger Jane Harman in the 35th, although the Libertarian entrant, Herb Peters, does include "Bring Home Troops; End Treacherous Wars" in his platform (I'm assuming what seems to be a promise to "out" the U.S. Constitution is a typo).

Many progressives are mad at the Democrats and at Barack Obama for not aggressively pursuing a more liberal agenda. In his campaign for president, though, Obama never -- well, except for the implications of that whole "change" business, Obama never promised to be anything more than the centrist he has governed as. And by now, after 40 years of feckless leadership, unless you live politics like Bill Murray lives "Ground Hog Day" starting out fresh every other November as if it was a new beginning, you know that the Democrats are not going to challenge the corporate oligarchy any more strenuously than the GOP will. If you expected more of the Democrats than they've delivered, it's probably more realistic to blame your own naivete. Real change will come only when people -- collectively -- demand it. That means building a movement that can't be ignored, that can't be defeated, that can fight with a reasonable possibility of victory. Don't get mad, as Joe Hill didn't say. Organize!

Where possible in races for Congress and local offices, it seems to me in our best long-term interest to give support to third parties. With the country increasingly militarized, the infrastructure suffering forty years of neglect, education and other public services falling apart or closing down, the economy in decline, the Bill of Rights under attack, and economic justice ever further out of reach, it's hard to buy the argument that we owe any particular allegiance to the Democrats, beyond thanks for programs, like Social Security and Medicare, now generations old. A vote for a Green, P&Fer or independent is a reminder to the Democratic Party that there is a constituency for change that it needs to court if it expects to win close contests. In addition, local offices are terrific venues for political experimentation and training, and third party office holders can be counted on to support campaign finance and electoral reform (instant run-offs, proportional representation, etc.). In the event that there is an opportunity for radical political change in the future, the existence of third party lines on the ballot could be vital.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to elect Fiorina, asswipe?

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