2010 CA Elections Voter Guide

Candidates

Governor

The 2010 race for governor of California, despite its many twists and turns, has been anything but surprising. The race has been characterized by predictable themes: money, age, and, of course, very little attention to any substantive issues.

Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate and former CEO of eBay, has spent a significant chunk of her considerable personal fortune. She’s probably spent more than anyone could’ve dreamed of her spending, yet the effectiveness of her mass expenditure is questionable. Immediately after the primary, she led the charge, continuing to bombard Californians with millions of dollars worth of ads meanwhile unions. Yet her lead was still minimal by summer’s end – although, union attack ads likely helped keep the lead low. And once Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate, began spending, the two were neck and neck once more.

Brown’s age has similarly attracted considerable attention – and based on the number of positions the guy has held in this state and the number of times he’s held them, he really couldn’t be a day younger than 100. He’s certainly a well-established brand in the Golden State, which is why Democrats turned to him. But is Brown’s old age and lifetime of government service a benefit? Based on his campaign rhetoric, it appears that he’s intent on implementing much of the same old policies that characterized his time as governor three decades ago.

And finally, the lack of substance. In a time of considerable economic malaise, it’s anything but comforting to know that the fate of the election may hinge upon how voters react to two events that will in no way impact the way the two candidates govern. (In short, Whitman fired a housekeeper that was an illegal immigrant, and Brown staffers called Whitman a “whore.”)

This Editorial Board, however, prefers to deal with substance, an approach with which the Whitman campaign clearly wholeheartedly agrees. Early in the campaign, Whitman’s team released a 48 page document with detailed proposals for attacking some of California’s most pressing issues. Her time at the helm of one of the largest corporations in the state of California means that she has a grasp for what makes businesses tick and economies grow.

To be fair, Brown too has his fair share of ideas, but they reveal a man fundamentally out of touch with his state. His economic proposals do not even come close to addressing the stifling business environment that has resulted in so many firms ditching their Californian base to settle in other states. California does not simply need a short term spending boost to regain its footing. Business confidence cannot be restored until the state’s tax and regulatory systems begin to change in a fundamental way. Brown’s focus on temporary, government-sponsored “green” infrastructure jobs are insufficient and counterproductive.

Despite what you might have heard, this election is about the economy, not housekeepers or whores. And only one candidate understands what ails California.

Lieutenant Governor

Although certainly not as prominent as the gubernatorial election, the race for the second highest position in the state certainly has not been without its drama. That’s what happens when a political starlet like Gavin Newsom decides to jump into the fray for a role that he had maligned just months before.

Abel Maldonado, the Republican contender, has also seen his political career accelerate. Like Newsom, he’s only 43 years old and has become a prominent figure in California politics quite quickly. His success in the state senate attracted the attention of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Maldonado to fill a vacant lieutenant governor spot earlier this year.

Therefore, Maldonado actually brings six months of experience in the role to his campaign effort. As a Latino from a working class background with a moderate record in the state second, Maldonado is a candidate capable of taking down the nationally-recognized brand of Gavin Newsom.

He also brings the right mix of fiscal conservatism and pragmatism to a state that is desperate for both. Like Newsom, he supports AB 32, yet he’s also sufficiently committed to the economic viability of the state that he wants to study the potential implications of the bill before speeding ahead.

According to former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Nation, that pragmatism is characteristic of Maldonado’s approach to every issue confronting California. As Nation told the Review in an interview, “As a Democrat, I don’t think I’ve ever endorsed a Republican in a race before. I don’t agree with him on every issue…but, in terms of integrity, there’s no one I can think of who is better than he.”

Senate

After 34 years in government, the last 18 in the U.S. Senate, Barbara Boxer wants another six. Her opponent, Carly Fiorina, recently entered politics from the corporate world, where she ran Hewlett-Packard from 1999 until she was forced out of her position in 2005.

Devoted public servant versus pragmatic business leader? Hardly! Neither candidate is particularly appealing to us. Let’s start with Boxer.

Some, including the Los Angeles Times, criticize Boxer for having little to show for her long career. We disagree. She can boast of a long list of achievements, including burdensome regulations, government handouts, and shameless earmarks. To her, every problem is for federal legislation to solve, and she has the same solutions for everything: either throw taxpayers’ money at the problem or create complex regulations. Her dogged pursuit of this formula creates inconsistencies apparent to any Stanford student: her site brags about her costly imposition of labor, environmental, foreign trade, and healthcare regulations on businesses, but then it highlights her selective subsidies for specific industries. She kicks business in the knee and then helps up favored industries with government cash. The only winner here is her own political career.

Boxer’s tax-spend-regulate attitude and highly partisan reputation mean her advocacy in other areas carries little weight. She opposed the Iraq War and supports gay marriage, among other things. You may approve of her support for cap-and-trade, the stimulus package, and the healthcare bill, but her partisan record means she has had, and will continue to have, little success in persuading moderates and Republicans to work with her. Even if you approve of Boxer’s political agenda, you must still agree that she’s ineffective—and in a Senate not dominated by Democrats, she’ll be irrelevant.

Unfortunately, Fiorina is not exactly what we need, either. She preaches fiscal and social conservatism, but she’s vague on the details. She supports extending the Bush tax cuts and opposes future tax increases, but she refuses to identify a single cut to entitlement programs that she would be willing to make. Her only concrete plan for spending cuts is to begin with a “long conversation with the American people” instead of “rushing off into a closed room” to decide. Well, thanks.

On education, she wants to hold teachers accountable and introduce public school choice, which are laudable goals, but her vague plan appears to rely on continued federal involvement in local schooling. She wants to repeal Obamacare, but still thinks that health insurers should not be able to reject customers with pre-existing conditions. This would, of course, be impossible without either an individual mandate or a government-funded plan, but she offers no further details. And the list goes on.

It’s not surprising Fiorina is so reluctant to give specifics. Boxer is a dirty campaigner who jumps on her every word. We’d sympathize with Fiorina if only she weren’t guilty of the same. (Remember her “demon sheep” ad against her far superior libertarian-leaning primary opponent, former Stanford professor Tom Campbell?)

Boxer’s ads are right about one thing, though: Fiorina’s social views are wrong for California. Fiorina is pro-life, although she says she won’t try to outlaw abortion. She opposes drug decriminalization, even for marijuana—that means prison for simple possession. She also opposes gay marriage.

Supporting Fiorina means giving her vague plans the benefit of the doubt, and hoping her relatively sensible economic policies help more than her social views hurt. In this race, that might just be the best we can hope for.

Secretary of State

The race for California secretary of state will feature Republican Damon Dunn, Stanford class of ’98, against incumbent Democrat Debra Bowen, who political career started in the California State Legislature in 1992.  The secretary of state’s office is responsible for conducting the state’s elections and maintaining business and campaign finance report filings for the state.

The Los Angeles Times reported that despite Bowen’s 2006 election promises of efficient operations, her office still has not produced results in a timely manner.  The campaign finance reporting website is outdated, her office takes three times longer to process business filings than when she assumed office, and there is still no way to register to vote online.

Damon Dunn, on the other hand, brings a fresh perspective and unique background to the challenges of the office. In explaining his values, he often cites his life story – he grew up in a three-bedroom trailer housing 10 people and often had to find his own food. After going to Stanford University on a scholarship where he played football and ran track, Dunn played in the NFL until 2002, when he founded a national real estate firm.

Dunn’s leadership and hard-work in business, philanthropy, community service, and athletics demonstrates a proactive personality willing to take on the issues.  He hopes to increase the number of registered voters (currently 17 million are registered out of 23 million qualified voters) and use the office of the secretary of state to access business filings to research why companies, and jobs, are leaving California.

Attorney General

The California Attorney General has been in the news a lot lately, with the state’s decision to not defend Proposition 8 in federal court and the current A.G.’s campaign for governor.  But despite this recent attention, the position is normally not so political, especially in such a year when the candidates are so similar and unremarkable.

The two front-runners for A.G. are Republican Steve Cooley, the current L.A. County district attorney, and Democrat Kamala Harris, the current San Francisco district attorney. Both have the necessary legal and managerial experience, but Cooley likely has the edge. He has done an especially good job in his current position as head of one of the largest D.A. offices in the country, adopting sensible policies with regards to Three Strikes (pursuing life sentences only for violent criminals) and sharing evidence with defense attorneys. On the other hand, he’s worked in government for his entire professional life—plus, he’s a graduate of USC.

With Proposition 19 somewhat likely to pass, we should worry about whether A.G. candidates will defend the law against federal constitutional challenges and will keep an eye on power-hungry, weed-hating local cops. Unfortunately, both oppose the proposition, and in an October 5th debate, neither candidate would commit to enforcing or defending Californians’ constitutional rights if it passes, with Cooley expressing particularly strong opposition.

Cooley has cracked down on medical marijuana dispensaries, believing even the sale of medical marijuana to be illegal under state law; Harris supports the rights of medical marijuana patients and sellers. Still, while they’re easy to get fired up over, Prop 19-related issues will be a small part of the A.G.’s job, and there’s little distinction between the two candidates.

So, just how unremarkable is this race? Well for one, Cooley’s website doesn’t even have an “Issues” page. And the Libertarian candidate, Tim Hannan, supports antitrust regulation and comprehensive anti-discrimination statutes. At least he supports Prop 19.

Propositions

Prop 19


Since we editorialized two weeks ago in favor of Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana, the opposition has gained some new allies in high places: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and past chiefs of the D.E.A. threaten federal intervention, and marijuana growers and dispensaries call for protectionism. Furthermore, there have been two objections raised in the last couple of weeks to Prop 19 that are giving many voters last-minute doubts.

Marijuana growers and dispensaries are increasingly opposed to legalization, and they’re trying to convince frequent marijuana users (their customers). These businesses know that they’ll face increased competition in a more-legal market, and like many businesses, they’re crying out for government help. They would rather see their competitors rot in prison than have to adapt their business practices to a freer market. But these complaints are misguided – those who fear that legalization would eliminate product variety and crush smaller growers should walk through the Safeway wine aisle for an example of how a legal intoxicant industry can thrive and maintain a wide variety of choice.

Some people claim that legalizing marijuana will put California in conflict with the federal government’s drug laws, specifically the Controlled Substances Act. It is certainly true that the F.B.I. would continue to be able to arrest Californians for marijuana offenses even if such acts would be legal under state law. The feds wouldn’t have the resources (or popular mandate) to enforce anti-marijuana laws at current levels, though; over 95% of marijuana arrests are made by state and local police officers.

The crucial point is that under U.S. Constitutional doctrine, the federal government may not commandeer California police to enforce federal laws. To dispute this is to ignore the entire reason for our federalist system. Along the same lines, the U.S. may not force California to create certain state laws or ban certain things. The oft-cited example of the U.S. conditioning highway funds on states setting their drinking age to 21 is evidence of just this. The detailed legal explanations here are too long to include here, but if federal conflict scares you away from Prop 19, we urge you to do more research.

We can expect more desperate attempts to kill Prop 19 in the final days of this election. Take heart that some polls still show a plurality of Californians in support.


Prop 23

Proposition 23 would delay the implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) until unemployment reached 5.5% in the state of California for four or more consecutive quarters.

The story of AB 32 is one of political desperation. After losing the support of the electorate in 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attempted to appeal more to moderates and took on the task of passing a climate change bill. The result was AB 32, a hurried piece of legislation filled with over-reaching regulatory measures.

Recently, a heated debate has ensued over the impact the bill will have on jobs and economic growth in California. Supporters of AB 32 claim that new green-tech jobs will flourish in California, specifically because California receives 67% of the nation’s clean energy venture capital. Over a million Californians hold clean-tech jobs, and $9 billion has been spent in the last four years in clean technology investment.

But the California Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report that the state’s implementation plan will most likely “result in the near term in California job losses.” If new regulations cause energy costs to increase, then energy reliant industries would be forced to cut other costs, cut employees, or leave the state entirely.

Prop 23 supporters hope to delay AB 32 so that the California economy can revitalize before AB 32 starts affecting jobs. Valero and Tesoro, two oil companies from Texas, are the largest donors to the Yes on 23 campaign, a fact which opponents have focused on in their advertising campaign.

Republican Meg Whitman has deviated from most other state Republicans in opposing the proposition. She does, however, support a one-year moratorium on the implementation of AB 32. She wants to improve AB 32 so that it protects the 97% of jobs that are not in the clean-energy sector.

This Editorial Board, however, thinks that California can do better in its attempts to modernize the economy and tackle climate change. AB 32 was rushed and flawed from the start, and its burdensome regulations are not needed at a time when the state economy is already so weak.

Supporting Proposition 23 does not necessitate abandoning the notion of technological advancement or cleaner forms of energy – this state certainly will not give up hope so quickly. In fact, a post-Prop 23 world could very well craft more effective climate legislation that will put in place incentives for a cleaner economy but does seek to choke California’s economy in a time of such great need.

Prop 25

Proposition 25 is the most important proposition that most Stanford students don’t talk or know about. The brainchild of public employee unions and Democrats, it would let the California Legislature pass a budget with a simple majority, instead of needing two-thirds approval. Because both houses have been in Democratic control continuously since 1970 (except for two years in the 1990s), the proposition would hand over control of the budget almost exclusively to Democrats.

As with many propositions, Prop 25’s sinister motives are cloaked in populism. Lawmakers would be prevented from drawing salaries after June 15 if they hadn’t passed a budget by then, which would in theory punish them for tardiness. Schadenfreude for our legislators is something we can all apparently agree on: a recent poll gave them a pathetic 10% approval rating. But upon closer examination, this provision is not appealing in the least. Do we really want a budget passed because of extrinsic, financial incentives for lawmakers and not because it’s right for our state? Furthermore, there is nothing stopping legislators from approving an unfinished budget on time only to make piecemeal changes for the rest of the year—all while still collecting their full salary, the highest in the country.

Prop 25 does appear to retain the two-thirds requirement for raising taxes. The 3rd District Court of Appeals emphatically struck down opponents’ arguments that the proposition contained a loophole allowing tax increases with a simple majority vote. But the court opinion is unpublished and not binding, which means this issue will almost certainly end up back in court if the proposition passes. Ultimately, no one knows for sure what will happen. Even assuming the two-thirds requirement for taxes is retained, we can expect heightened demands for higher taxes to pay for the inevitable spending increases we’d see – especially since the alternative of taking on more debt is so costly for the state.

There are serious problems with the budget approval process in California that need to be fixed. But Prop 25 would just make the problem worse by diverting even more money from productive Californians to insatiable public employee unions, pet projects, and failed social programs.

Prop 20/27

Propositions 20 and 27 are opposed to one another – both address the method by which Congressional district lines are drawn or redrawn. The issue at hand is gerrymandering, the manipulation of legislative lines so as to favor one’s own party. Props 20 and 27 take opposite approaches to the issue, so in the event that both propositions actually receive majority votes, the one with the highest majority will take effect.

Prop 20 would mandate that the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) (created by Prop 11 in 2008) draw Congressional district lines in addition to the state legislative district lines it already draws. The districts would be based on “communities of interest,” or communities similar in terms of industry, socioeconomic status, infrastructure, etc. Supporters argue that the proposition prevents elected officials from unfairly favoring congressional candidates from their own parties, and that it gives the job to a group comprised of members of both parties and independents.

Prop 27 would repeal 2008’s Prop 11, which created the CCRC. Previously, the task of drawing district lines belonged to the state legislature. Prop 27 supporters contend that the process of redrawing lines was made more complicated by Prop 11’s passage. They also argue that elected representatives are better suited for the job of drawing district lines – a claim of which this Editorial Board is quite skeptical. Gerrymandering has too often been used for partisan ends to maintain California’s political status quo.

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