Sunday, May 02, 2010

June 2010 California proposition recommendations

Updated with election results in purple.

Prop. 13. Seismic retrofitting won’t trigger increased property taxes. YES, why are they bothering us with obvious shit?
Wins with 84.5%. Which suggests why PG&E and Mercury failed to buy their initiatives: 15.5% of us will vote against absolutely everything, even if it's uncontroversial and unopposed.

Prop. 14. Open primaries, with the top two candidates from primary on the ballot in November. For all state and federal offices except president.

This system would not just favor the moderate center, as proponents say, but is designed to eliminate other views from political life, limiting the number of perspectives heard in the public sphere to exactly two (if that: Californians tend to live in one-party enclaves, which means that in one-third of California the choice in November would between two Democrats). In the past when the major parties presented us with a choice between two unappetizing hacks (Gray Davis v. Bill Simon for governor 2002, for example), at least we had the option of voting for a Green or Libertarian or Peace and Freedom candidate. This option would be removed by Prop. 14. Personally, I won’t vote for a death penalty supporter for governor or attorney general, and for more than 30 years the D and R candidates for these offices have all been deathers. Without a third-party option on the ballot, I would have to give up either my principles or my franchise (anti-abortion voters might well find themselves in the same boat).

Third parties have pioneered on issues the two bigs were unready even to discuss – the Peace and Freedom Party, for example, put gay marriage in its platform back in 1988. Prop. 14, while purporting to be non-partisan, would wipe out the third parties.

The ballot pamphlet argument against 14 infuriates me, saying that because candidates don’t have to declare a party, “Voters won’t know whether they are choosing a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green Party candidate.” This is an appeal to the laziest of voters, who are worried that they might actually have to read up on the candidates’ positions, when it’s so much easier to look at their party (for those voters, a helpful hint: Meg Whitman is actually a Republican).

But Prop. 14 itself is an appeal to the laziest voters. The “problem” this prop. is trying to solve, that the “extreme” candidates are increasingly winning D & R primaries, is not caused by the current primary system, it’s caused by apathy: the “moderate” voters Prop. 14 wants to favor simply haven’t been bothering to vote on primary election day, or work for moderate candidates, or run themselves.

Prop. 14 would apply to statewide races as well, so one could conceivably face a gubernatorial election where there are two Republicans on the November ballot, especially if there are several Democrats dividing the Dem vote in June. This happened in France, which has this system, in its presidential election in 2002, where the middle-left candidates split the first-round vote, leaving the second round was a distasteful choice between a corrupt center-right incumbent (Jacques Chirac) and an actual fascist (Jean-Marie Le Pen).

Vote NO.

Wins with 54.2%.

Prop. 15. Public funding for election campaigns for the office of secretary of state for candidates who voluntarily agree to restrict their campaign spending and private contributions. This is both a test case (applying to just one office, and only in the 2014 and 2018 elections) to demonstrate how public funding would work, and a trojan horse for the provision lifting the ban on public funding of all state candidates, allowing the Legislature to expand this program to all state offices without a further referendum.

The ballot pamphlet’s No argument is especially dishonest, saying that the funds would come from taxpayers, which is only true if you think of a fee paid only by lobbyists as “new taxes.” Why are they allowed to lie to us? They imply corruption, talking darkly about lobbyists funding the very office that regulates them, but a mandatory fee paid into a fund for all candidates is not a bribe. They say that if the fee didn’t bring in enough money for the program, tax money would have to be used, which is another lie: Prop. 15 specifically says that if the fee wasn’t enough, funding would be reduced.

However, on this one I’ve changed my mind while writing this. While I support public financing as a means of reducing the cost of elections to make it possible for people to run without having to either be multi-millionaires themselves or spend all their time sucking up to multi-millionaires and corporations for donations. But Prop. 15 just feels sneaky. It allows the Legislature to design public financing for every other state office at some future date behind closed doors without another initiative, which is the sort of blank check I’m not willing to entrust to them. They should have to come back to the voters before such a fundamental alteration of our electoral system. Vote NO.

Loses 57.4% to 42.6%.

Prop. 16. The anti-public power initiative. The PG&E ads all talk about the “taxpayers’ right to vote,” which is an attempt to obscure reality, at least for people who aren’t paying very close attention – they’re depending on people not paying very close attention – in two ways: 1) the word “taxpayers” is intended to scare people who aren’t paying very close attention into thinking this measure has something to do with taxes, 2) the phrase “right to vote” is intended to get people who aren’t paying very close attention to overlook that the 2/3 provision means their vote might not actually count: yes you had a right to vote, but only 66% of your neighbors agreed with you, so hard cheese.

What PG&E is counting on is that all they would have to do is mislead or scare 1/3 of the voters. If you’re wondering how they plan to do that, you’ve got a perfect preview in the lopsided campaign you’re seeing now around Prop. 16: a large private corporation, and a monopoly at that, spending millions of dollars on ads and the other side not heard because municipalities are prohibited from spending public money to rebut them.

Aside from the undemocratic 2/3 provision, you have to admire the audacity of PG&E talking about the “right to vote” when the choice on offer in a local referendum would be between a public utility run by elected officials and a private one run by an unaccountable, unelected corporation responsible only to its stockholders. Did you have a “right to vote” on PG&E CEO Peter Darbee’s $9.4 million compensation last year? Or on whether you wanted a “smart meter”? Or nuclear power plants? Or on whether PG&E could spend the money they charge you to bankroll a proposition to protect their monopoly and fill your mailbox with propaganda?

PG&E is not spending $35+ million because they’re concerned about the “taxpayers’ right to vote.” They’re concerned about protecting their ability to continue charging some of the highest rates in the country.

Vote NO. That said, when do I get a vote on getting rid of Comcast?

No, 52.%, but not before every remaining tree in Washington was cut down for pro-16 mailers. When you pay your next PG&E bill, write "Ha ha" on your check.

Prop. 17. Allows auto insurance companies to jack up rates for people who haven’t had continuous insurance.

Another corporate-sponsored initiative (sigh). Can we assume that Mercury Insurance did not pay millions to put this on the ballot out of a philanthropic impulse to reduce everyone’s rates?

This is another one where the arguments in the voter booklet disagree fundamentally on the facts, which means someone is lying. I had to read the text of the prop. to find out, for example, whether there really was an exemption for lapse in coverage due to military service (only if service is outside the US). The Yes argument claims there is protection for people who drop coverage for economic or medical reasons, but what Prop. 17 actually says is that “Continuity of coverage shall be deemed to exist even if... coverage has lapsed for up to 90 days in the last five years for any reason other than nonpayment of premium.” But if that nonpayment was because you lost your job, what then? There is nothing in the text of the initiative that says how that would be resolved, so, you know, good luck with that. If this passes, I foresee plenty of frustrating phone conversations with insurance company reps.

Vote NO to frustrating phone conversations with insurance company reps.

No, 52.1%. It's almost like people don't think insurance companies are on their side and just want to charge them less.

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