Monday, October 03, 2005

California proposition recommendations

Update: there is another Mencken saying: democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it -- good and hard. But not this time. Every proposition was voted down.

The overall theme of this election is a variation on H.L. Mencken’s dictum that “there is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” Several of these are plausible, on the surface, but wrong, although they tend to be hilariously over-complicated rather than neat.

Prop. 73. Parental notification and a waiting period for abortion for minors. I’d be against this anyway: parents should no more be able to force their daughters to carry a pregnancy to term than to force them to abort against their will. But this version also has problems with the way the judicial-bypass alternative is set up: it can take so long that parental notification might become, well, redundant; and if there is any sort of abuse, including “emotional abuse,” the court must inform Protective Services, a provision which seems less about protecting abused pregnant minors than it is a “nuclear option” designed to raise the stakes for girls opting for abortion. The prop’s agenda of punishing the little trollops is made even clearer in the ballot argument: “When parents are involved and minors cannot anticipate secret access to free abortions they more often avoid the reckless behavior which leads to pregnancies.” Also, the prop. requires doctors to report abortions performed on minors to the state, which is creepy and worrisome. No.

Prop. 74. Tenure for public school teachers only after 5 years, and makes it easier to fire teachers after that. Under the current system, teachers can be fired for any or no reason during their first two years, and after that you need dynamite to get them out. I guess that’s what passed as a compromise: one manifestly unfair system that after 2 years turns into an equal but opposite manifestly unfair system. 74 is a solution, but a stupid one, for this problem. 74 is Schwarzenegger’s attempt to blame teachers for the failures of the educational system and to propose a “solution” that doesn’t involve spending actual money, especially on those teachers. 74 would increase the incentive for school districts to replace fairly experienced teachers with younger cheaper ones. And it would shift power from teachers (and their unions) to administrators. Job security is one of the reasons we get away with paying teachers so little; removing it is a wage reduction just as surely as eliminating their health insurance would be. Give me half an hour and I could come up with a better system than Prop. 74 (or the existing one) on the back of a napkin, perhaps involving rolling tenure, in which the level of job protection increased in stages, but should this even be decided at the state level as a one-size-fits-all scheme rather than by the school districts? This proposition is a bad solution to a phony crisis – there are indeed bad teachers, but it’s not the tenure system that creates them, and 74 does nothing about training or hiring or rewarding better teachers. Oh, and if you’re wondering whether crappy job performance can be detected in two years: look at the governor’s current poll numbers; he took office in November 2003. No.

Prop. 75. Requires written consent, every single year, possibly signed in blood in Swahili, from government employees before their unions can use their dues for political purposes. In theory, someone should not be forced to fund candidates they do not like, and in fact union members now have the right to opt out of political spending (or indeed not to join the union in the first place), despite Arnold’s claim that “that is not a contribution, that is a tax.” So, again, an attempt by Schwarzenegger to hobble his political opponents by creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, it’s clearly partisan, intending to hobble public-sector unions without offering similar assurances that holders of stock in a corporation can veto its political contributions. But here’s the principled reason to vote no: this is an internal union matter, for the union members to decide, not the rest of us; interference by the state in the affairs of voluntary associations is a threat to liberty. Don’t make me quote Tocqueville. No.

Prop. 76. Does complicated – too complicated for the voters to have to decide on – things to the budgetary process. It’s impossible to predict how this monstrosity would operate in the real world or who would wind up making budgetary decisions in any given year. Parts, like the provision that if the state budget is late – and when isn’t it? – the previous year’s budget continues, violate the principle of no taxation without representation, which by itself is enough for me to vote against it. 76 would loosen the formula previously imposed by the equally undemocratic Prop 98, which dedicated a proportion of the budget to education, while adding a new formula restricting annual budget growth. As Katrina has shown, budgetary requirements are not so predictable. 76 would give enormous powers to the governor to seize funds appropriated for education and screw with the over-all budget unilaterally. Of all the initiatives on the ballot, this power-grab is the most dangerous, and the most likely to poison Sacramento politics permanently. No.

Prop. 77. Reapportionment. Again. Sigh. This is another bad solution to a real problem. And the insistence on rushing this onto the ballot in a special election, and implementing it immediately instead of following the next census, demonstrates 77 is not, as advertised, an attempt to remove redistricting from the political arena, but is in fact another effort, like that of Tom DeLay in Texas, to shift the balance of power in Congress towards the Republicans. Redistricting would be done by three retired judges, ‘cuz you really want old guys in robes making these decisions in between naps. Also, the judges could be federal judges: federal judges have no business participating in state matters. The judges would be nominated in the first place by party leaders, which brings party (well, the two largest parties, no Greens or Libertarians need apply) (also, it should be pointed out that 18% of Calif. registered voters state no party preference; only 78% are registered as either R or D) right into the heart of redistricting where they absolutely do not belong. Ah, but the party leaders (2 D’s, 2 R’s) have to nominate judges only from a party other than their own! Which means the judges have to be known partisans, even though the whole point of bringing in judges in the first place was their supposed independence and disinterestedness. Then everybody gets to veto one, then they draw names out of a hat (really). It’s like one of those board games where by the time you’ve read all the rules, no one wants to play it anymore (and I’ve actually simplified it). And then, dear god, submitted to a referendum, with all the dishonest campaign ads, special-interest money and suchlike that that would entail, and the referendum would come only after the districts had already been used in one election. The ballot argument in favor of this says “The time for accountability is now”; no, pardon me, it says “THE TIME FOR ACCOUNTABILITY IS NOW!” Does this Rube Goldberg contraption sound like accountability to you? Me neither. No.

Props. 78 & 79. Oh goody, competing props, my favorite kind. In this case, 78 is the evil twin, and pretty obviously so. Both offer discounts on drugs to the poor and others, but 79 covers more people and is not completely voluntary for the drug companies. 78 is literally designed to fail: if the drug companies sponsoring 78 refuse to participate in the program, the program simply terminates. 79 is a little bit patchy and it’s impossible to tell how many drugs will actually be discounted, and by how much, under it, but it’s still better than what we have now. No on 78, yes on 79. Do not vote for both: 78 has a provision that would invalidate 79 if 79 passes but 78 gets more votes.

Prop. 80. Something or other about energy regulation, like 76 just way too complicated for the likes of us poor mortals. Whenever something like this appears on the ballot, state legislators are asking us to do the job they’re supposed to be doing and should have their salaries docked by $10,000. I think 80 would be an improvement, and the ballot pamphlet argument against it is pretty underwhelming, so I’m provisionally recommending a yes vote.

Comments are welcome. Don’t forget to include the prop. number.

(Update: both the LA Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian agree with me on every proposition. The governor disagrees with me on every proposition.)

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