Category Archives: Policy

Obama: It Gets Better

President Obama’s name didn’t appear anywhere on yesterday’s ballot, but the national punditry (justifiably) made it about him. As for the results, it was pretty much as expected. I wish the national trends went more blue and California went more red, but the election is over and it’s time to look forward.

It’s easy to get caught up in the polling, gaffes, and debates over the Tea Party. The hard part? Remembering that many politicians on both sides of the aisle fight hard to win elections not for self-aggrandizement, but because they care about their community and want to help their countrymen. There are so many important challenges facing this country. It will take the courage and hard work of politicians from both sides of the aisle as well as motivated citizens to overcome the everlasting obstacles to progress: shortsightedness, greed, prejudice, and laziness.

I feel fortunate that we have a president who is working hard to overcome these obstacles to make this country a better place. When I was following his campaign for president in 2008, I never thought that things would change overnight. And frankly, I didn’t want them to. As frustrating as it can be sometimes (especially regarding civil rights issues such as ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’), I believe that Obama’s incremental approach is the right one. I know that talk is cheap and actions are far more important, but Obama’s “It Gets Better” message helped me, for just a moment, forget about poisonous partisan politicking and think about how political figures can be a force for good. Maybe I am looking for anything remotely honest and positive during this post-election hangover, but I do know that Obama’s words give me hope that one day, things will get better.

“We’ve got to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage – that it’s some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe forall of our kids…

The other thing you need to know is, things will get better. And more than that, with time you’re going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You’ll look back on the struggles you’ve faced with compassion and wisdom. And that’s not just going to serve you, but it will help you get involved and make this country a better place.

It will mean that you’ll be more likely to help fight discrimination – not just against LGBT Americans, but discrimination in all its forms. It means you’ll be more likely to understand personally and deeply why it’s so important that as adults we set an example in our own lives and that we treat everybody with respect. That we are able to see the world through other people’s eyes and stand in their shoes – that we never lose sight of what binds us together.

As a nation we’re founded on the belief that all of us are equal and each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness; to make the most of our talents; to speak our minds; to not fit in; most of all, to be true to ourselves. That’s the freedom that enriches all of us. That’s what America is all about. And every day, it gets better.”

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Election Day 2010: Propositions 25-27

It’s Election Day! Undecided on how you are going to vote today? Read some of my thoughts on Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown, the Senate Race, Prop. 19, and propositions 20-24. Once you’re caught up, read below for some thoughts on propositions 25-27 and then head to the polls!

Voting Machines

Prop 25. 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

Prop. 25 is one of the more complicated and important of the propositions in this election. California is one of three states that requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass a budget. Ideally, the super-majority requirement would force the Democratic majority and the Republican minority in the legislature to work together to pass a fair and balanced budget. In practice, this requirement encourages the minority to hold-the-line. Instead of compromise, we go many months without a state budget.

Some policy analysts believe the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget and raise taxes is a big reason that Sacramento is so dysfunctional. I’m not so convinced that changing the requirement to pass a budget to a simple majority will solve all of our budgetary problems, but it’s worth a shot. I believe the 1990’s citizen commission was correct in their assessment: “There is no evidence [the two-thirds vote] does anything to slow the increase in state spending. Instead, it encourages horse trading [and] pork-barrel legislation… Stories abound of ‘buying’ votes to reach the two-thirds.”

The proposition will still keep in place the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes. However, I’m a little concerned that a simple majority requirement would lead to increased spending and make it easier for fees and other unofficial taxes to be raised. On the other hand, I’m tired of the unsavory compromises that resemble buying votes.  In the end, a budget SHOULD only require a simple-majority. That is the main job of the state legislature and a two-thirds requirement just doesn’t seem justifiable to me. Yes

Here are what others have to say:
LA Times: Yes
Sacramento Bee: No
San Diego Union Tribune: No
Howard Jarvis League: No
Courage Campaign: Yes
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce: No

Vote
Prop 26. 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

To fully understand this initiative, you need to understand Prop. 13 (1978) that established a two-thirds requirement for future tax increases. This proposition would extend the two-thirds requirement to “fees” which currently require only a majority vote.  Many of the fees that Prop. 26 is designed to limit deal with offsetting damage to the environment. These include cleaning up oil spills and taxes on beverages to fund recycling programs.

The simple story of Prop 26 is that business interests including oil, tobacco, and alcohol companies don’t want any more fees that are levied to pay for the damage they do to the air, water, and public health. Easy NO vote.

Prop 27. Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates Authority for Redistricting With Elected Representatives. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute

For the same reasons I am in favor of Prop. 20 that would empower a citizens

commission to redraw congressional districts, I am opposed to Prop 27. which would eliminate the citizens commission to redraw state Assembly and Senate districts. A Yes vote on Prop. 27 would mean invalidating Prop. 11 passed by voters in 2008. The only reason I can think of to vote in favor of this proposition is if you are a hard-line Democrat that wants to see the Democratically-controlled  legislature draw unfair but politically-advantageous district boundaries. I’m voting NO because gerrymandering is unfair, undemocratic, and just bad policy.

Just for Fun: Lt. Governor Race. Gavin Newsom vs. Abel Maldonado

Gavin Newsom and Bill Clinton
Lt. Governor may be the least important job you’ll be asked to cast a vote for in this election.  Even Democratic nominee Gavin Newsom said when he was running for Governor, “What does the lieutenant governor do? For the life of me, I don’t know.” When Newsom dropped out of the race for Governor and instead ran for Lt. Governor, those words came back to haunt him. But, you know what, he was just being honest. The Lt. Governor just makes a few minor appointments, sits on a few boards, and waits for something to happen to the Governor. Despite the office being minor and the fact that I have nothing against Abel Maldonado, I’m most excited about putting a little ink dot next to Gavin Newsom’s name. He’s well-spoken, passionate, and adds a little excitement when compared to other California Democrats (I’m looking at you Jerry and Barbara). I’m voting for Gavin Newsom, but hopefully he doesn’t get too bored waiting around for something to happen to Jerry or preparing for his eventual run for Governor.

Read about the candidates I didn’t cover at the LA Times and print our your custom ballot.

Election Day 2010: Propositions 20-24

Tomorrow is election day and time is running out to decipher the confusing ballot initiatives and to decide which candidates to support. Since I’ve already covered what I consider to be the three most interesting contests (Prop. 19, Whitman vs. Brown, and the Senate race), I decided to jot down some quick thoughts on the other contests. Propositions 20-25 are below, with more to follow tomorrow.

California 2010 Election

Prop. 20: Redistricting of Congressional Districts

An easy Yes vote for me.  Two years ago, I voted for Prop. 11 which established a “citizen commission” to redraw state district lines. This proposition would do the same thing for congressional districts.

When legislatures are allowed to draw boundaries, they create seemingly incomprehensible and misshapen districts to benefit either the political party in power or to create safe seats for incumbents.  Pictured below is one district in Illinois that no nonpartisan, ordinary citizen would ever find fair. Expect a full post about this phenomena known as “gerrymandering” in the near future. In the meantime, consider voting “Yes” on this proposition providing an acceptable solution.

Gerrymandering

Prop. 21: 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

This was a very difficult choice for me, but I just can’t bring myself to support Prop. 21. I’m a big fan of protecting and funding California’s parks and beaches. I just don’t believe this is the best way to fund them. I traditionally vote against most propositions because I believe its the job of the legislature and governor to work together to pass a budget. Going straight to the voters with numerous small taxes and fees leads to budgetary messes that takes flexibility away from the legislature. “Ballot box budgeting” has many unforeseen consequences and I’d rather see the parks and wildlife programs funded in more traditional means. No.

Prop. 22: Prohibits The State From Borrowing Or Taking Funds Used For Transportation, Redevelopment, Or Local Government Projects And Services. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Sacramento shouldn’t be taking money away from local governments, but this is a complicated issue that shouldn’t be handled by an initiative constitutional amendment. Want to responsibly address the problem? Reignite the debate about Prop 13, the underlying cause of this bizarre budgeting. No.

Prop. 23: 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

Doesn’t get much easier than this. NO. This proposition sponsored by the oil companies would kill the landmark climate change legislation passed 4 years ago.

Prop. 24: Repeals Recent Legislation That Would Allow Businesses To Lower Their Tax Liability. Initiative Statute

I’m a little torn on this one, but will vote No. Whether or not you think the legislation cutting business taxes was good public policy, I maintain that we shouldn’t use ballot measures to overrule the budget-making process in Sacramento. Our budget process is already a disaster. Overruling compromises in Sacramento will make it even harder to get anything done.

CHECK BACK SOON. MORE TO COME

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CA Senate Race: Boxer vs. Fiorina

After my posts about Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, a couple people asked me to share my thoughts about the Senate race. On Nov. 2, voters will choose to either send Senator Barbara Boxer back to Washington or let former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina help the Republicans take control of the Senate.

Boxer and Fiorina

I initially was not going to write about this contest because, in my view, this is the most straight-forward race. The criteria I usually use to evaluate candidates (leadership skills, character, economic & social policies, etc…) factored little in my decision on who to vote for. In this Senate race, it came down to pure partisanship: do I want to vote for the Democrat to help President Obama advance his legislative agenda or do I want to vote for the Republican nominee to slow Obama down?

Unlike Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina has a reputation as a failed executive. She was unpopular while she was the CEO of HP, and current employees at HP have been giving a majority of their campaign donations to her opponent. I was recently convinced that Fiorina’s reputation as a poor executive is undeserved. She shook things up at HP and while the employees didn’t appreciate it, she made some important changes (as well as mistakes) within the company.

Carly Fiorina
Whether or not she was a good CEO at HP matters little to me, however. If Meg Whitman pulls an upset and becomes the next Governor, her business experience may be beneficial as the chief executive of California. I doubt Fiorina’s executive experience will be useful as a junior Senator. Being an effective Senator is quite different from being a successful businesswoman. Successful Senators are always building strong relationships, compromising, and making change at the margins. It’s a far cry from the business world where executives can give directives that will be executed by underlings. In this race, I’m voting for whoever will cast their votes in the Senate closest to how I would vote.

I’m voting for Barbara Boxer because I want President Obama to get every vote he can in the Senate. I’m not a huge fan of Barbara Boxer. She’s been there since 1993 and I’m not excited about sending her back for 6 more years. I’ve always preferred the Senior Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. But I can rely on Boxer to vote with the Democrats in the Senate, which I believe needs a few more liberals (unlike the California legislature which I’d prefer to see housing more conservatives).

Barbara Boxer Supports Gay Marriage

Just a snippet of their stances:
Boxer is pro-gay marriage, favors repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, pro-choice, pro-union, and all the other things you associate with a liberal Democrat. The “ma’am” scandal has painted her as out of touch and arrogant, and she did a poor job shepherding the climate change bill through her Senate Committee (responsibility was shifted to John Kerry).

Fiorina wants to repeal ObamaCare, supports off-shore drilling, is pro-life, is strongly pro-gun, and opposes taking action on climate change (technically she thinks we should take action once unemployment in CA drops below 5.5%, but that is a long way off). She is focusing her campaign on fiscal restraint and fixing the economy.

The Chamber of Commerce would really like to see Fiorina pull this one off. They’ve pumped $4.9 million into her campaign, more than any other campaign (The Florida Senate race takes second place with $2 million spent by the Chamber).  According to 538, Boxer is up 5% at the moment, giving her a 93% chance of retaining her seat. Looks like Boxer isn’t going anywhere for awhile.

Who are you voting for and why?

CA Governor Race: A Look at Jerry Brown

Earlier this week, I took a look at the candidacy for Republican Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Today I will discuss her Democratic rival Jerry Brown, who I saw last Friday at a campaign rally at USC with President Obama, Barbara Boxer, Jamie Foxx, Mayor Villaraigosa, and many other politicians.

Jerry Brown, 72, is the current California Attorney General.  He epitomizes “career politician.” His father, Pat Brown, was a popular California governor from 1959-1967 (he defeated Richard Nixon after he was VP and failed to win his the presidential election). Jerry served two terms as Governor before I was born (1975-1983) , as well as terms as CA Secretary of State, Mayor of Oakland, and even sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1976, 1980, and 1982.

Jerry Brown
If Jerry Brown wins on Nov. 2, he will be the oldest person to serve as California governor. His supporters will say this means he has many years of political experience to draw upon, while his detractors will say that he isn’t the right person to bring new ideas to a state that needs to change its ways.

Jerry Brown 1974 Campaign

Jerry Brown has been severely out-spent by Meg Whitman in the campaign. He chose not to spend much during the summer, instead saving it for the current media blitz. Despite Brown’s comparatively small war-chest, unions have spent more than $20 million airing ads on behalf of his campaign. Public pension reform is going to be an important challenge for the next governor. Brown says that since he is close to the unions, he’s the one that can get the most concessions out of them. As the following ad illustrates, Whitman believes his relationship with unions will make him their puppet.

One strength of another term for Jerry Brown is that he will have an easier time getting things accomplished with a Democratic-controlled legislature. As I mentioned before, I’m concerned that Whitman will face the same struggles as Schwarzenegger getting key policy through the legislature. A great new ad by Jerry Brown tries to highlight the comparison (the technique will look familiar to Daily Show fans):

With a fiscal deficit of $19.1 billion, it’s a crime that neither candidate has presented a detailed plan to address California’s economic woes. Instead, discussions have focused mostly on mini-scandals that I think aren’t even worth writing about (A Brown associate calling Whitman a “whore” on a voicemail, Whitman’s firing of an undocumented housekeeper).  For me, the choice comes down to who I think will do the most for economic and fiscal reform. Due to his age, Brown is pretty much guaranteed to retire after serving another term or two as Governor. Maybe he will turn maverick and turn this ship around to add to his legacy. Or he will protect the status quo and California will continue to sink.  Maybe Whitman will bring her job-creating business experience and make real change. Or she could just run into the same struggles as Schwarzenegger and fail to get much accomplished thanks to a hostile legislature.

I think a line by Meg Whitman in one of her recent ads sums up the choice best: “I know many of you see this election as an unhappy choice between a longtime politician with no plan for the future and a billionaire with no government experience.”

According to models developed by polling-guru Nate Silver,  Whitman currently has only a 6% chance of winning, down from 10% just a couple of days ago. So let’s hope Brown goes Maverick and uses his relationships with Democrats in the legislature to make painful choices and real reform.

CA Governor Race: A Look at Meg Whitman

When I sat down to fill-out my vote-by-mail ballot, I found the toughest contest to be for California’s top spot. My two favorite candidates did not make it past the primaries: Gavin Newsom (Democrat from San Francisco) and Tom Campbell (Republican from Orange County).  Staring at my ballot, I realized I had to choose between two capable but unexciting candidates. Today I look at the Republican nominee Meg Whitman.

Meg Whitman

When Meg Whitman first started her campaign for Governor, it was clearMeg Whitman Governor that she only wanted to talk about economic issues. She saw that California with it’s anti-business climate was in a fiscal mess, and she presented herself from the very beginning as a successful businesswoman that could cut waste and create jobs. From all accounts, she was an excellent, well-respected and successful executive at eBay. During her tenure as CEO of eBay, the company went from having 30 employees to 15,000.

Her plan appeared to be to focus on her managerial skills and largely stay out of domestic policy. This was fine with me because I take fairly liberal position on social policies, but believe California needs to make painful choices when it comes to fiscal policy (I hope CA policymakers are paying close attention to David Cameron in Britain). If Whitman focuses all her attention on restructuring the California economy and largely stays out of social policy, I think she could be an excellent governor.

One interesting question raised by Whitman’s strategy is whether or not success in the business world translates to success in the public sector. For every successful businessman turned politician such as NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there are failures such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul O’Neill, and Dick Cheney. Hey, even George W. Bush had an MBA. Despite my skepticism of the claim that an effective business leader will always be effective in politics, I believe that Whitman has the potential to help steer California’s economy in the right direction. Her being an outsider means that she isn’t beholden to anyone (similar to current Governor Schwarzenegger), but it also means she may not have the political experience to navigate the treacherous waters that is the California legislature.

Whitman’s hopes of focusing mainly on economic issues were quickly dashed. Her campaign took a couple early missteps when she wasn’t able to convey her opinion on hot-button social issues. Since her campaign started, she has taken progressively more conservative stances on political issues. Just today, Whitman announced that she would only appoint judges that support the death penalty. However, many still consider her a moderate within the Republican party.

Meg Whitman: The Power of MoneyMeg Whitman has been sliding in the polls recently, with some pundits predicting it is due in part to voter dissatisfaction with how much she is spending on her campaign. Whitman has spent $163 million on her campaign, $141 million of it her own money.

I do not find Meg Whitman to be an  exciting candidate. None of the debate appearances or speeches I’ve tuned into has gotten me fired up about her. I have concerns about her social issues and I’m not sure if she’ll be able to accomplish what she promises fiscally with the bitter partisanship that defines the Democratic-dominated legislature. If she wins the election, focuses on the economy while staying mostly neutral on social issues, and is able to get the Democrats to work with her, I believe she can do a lot of great things for the Golden State.

Next Up: A Look at Jerry Brown.

Prop. 19: Legalizing Marijuana

My first in a series of posts about the Nov. 2 California Election. Today I start with the most interesting measure on the ballot: Prop 19.

As of right now, marijuana is illegal in California unless you have a doctor’sProp. 19 Legalization “recommendation.”  Starting Jan. 1, 2011, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction, with a maximum penalty of $100 and no jail time.  If a majority of voters approve of Proposition 19 on Nov. 2, California law would allow adults to grow, possess, and consume cannabis for personal use.

Proponents argue that the measure will have the following benefits:

1) Stop wasting valuable resources going after recreational cannabis users & growers
2) Increased regulation will enhance safety
3) It’s an opportunity for cash-strapped state and local governments to get an additional revenue stream
4) Will stop making criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. May increase respect for the law and police. Former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders expressed support for Prop. 19 for this reason:

“What I think is horrible about all of this, is that we criminalize young people. And we use so many of our excellent resources … for things that aren’t really causing any problems … We have the highest number of people in the world being criminalized, many for non-violent crimes related to marijuana. We can use our resources so much better.”

There are two main cons to Prop. 19:

1) Legalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in casual and heavy marijuana use. Even though the damage from even heavy use  is rather minimal, it still belongs in the con column.
2) Prop. 19 can’t do what it says it will do. California cannot legalize marijuana and it appears the federal government is going to push back if this passes. The federal Controlled Substances Act trumps state laws, and Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Washington will still enforce US drug laws.

Predictions

RAND Corp. estimates that if Prop. 19 passes, the price of cannabis would drop by 80%, from the current black market price of $300-$450 per ounce, to around $40 an ounce (before taxes).  It appears that taxes won’t get too high because the different localities will be competing for the revenue, so there will be a race to the bottom in setting the excise taxes.  The Board of Equalization estimated that government revenues could be $1.4 billion a year based on $50 an ounce excise tax. I believe this is too generous, especially considering that there is a good chance that the Feds will prevent the commercial sale and taxation aspect of the measure. If the Justice Dept. follows through, the measure’s main impact will be to allow people to grow marijuana for their own use on a 5′ x 5′ plot of land.

Another argument that is being debated is whether or not Prop. 19 will take business away from the drug cartels in Mexico and lead to a reduction in border violence.  However, according to RAND’s analysis, California legalizing cannabis will lead to a revenue loss to cartels of only 2%-4%. Unless other states follow CA’s lead, there will be minimal impact on cartel violence.

I agree with Kevin Drum’s belief that Prop. 19 is exciting because it will cause “fireworks” between the state and federal government that may ripple throughout the country. It’s time to push this debate further.

Right now, Intrade gives Prop. 19 a 60% chance of passing. Expect more updates as the election gets closer.

How are you voting Nov. 2?

P.S. Great line from NY Times article: “The smell of marijuana is hardly unusual at outdoor concerts at places like the Hollywood Bowl.”