Why the California Elections Matter

Despite the Republican and Democratic primaries on June 8, for many students within the Stanford Bubble, the upcoming California elections seem distant and irrelevant. But the outcome in November has a larger impact on undergraduate life than meets the eye. Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, explains one of the many reasons students should care so much about the elections.

“You will have to go out into the real world and get a job one day,” he says.

And if California continues on its current path, it will not be easy. In 2009 alone, California lost 871,000 jobs, and the current unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is approximately 20%. Students seeking to start their own businesses will have to face a particularly difficult uphill battle. Businesses are fleeing the state thanks to exorbitant fees, high utility expenses, and heavy taxes. The Tax Foundation ranked California as the 48th worst state in terms of its business tax climate.

The effect of California’s over-regulation is already visible to Stanford undergraduates. The frustrating delay of Coupa Café’s opening outside of Green Library was in part due California’s tedious, redundant permitting process.

Candidates Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner will have their work cut out for them if elected governor of California. Their ability to bring jobs and businesses back to California – or inability – will impact anyone trying to work in the state.

Former eBay CEO Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Poizner face off in the Republican primary on June 8.  The winner will take on Attorney General and former Governor Jerry Brown, who faces token opposition in the Democratic primary.

In Whalen’s opinion, the next governor needs to use a creative work force, take advantage of California’s international location on the edge of the Pacific Rim, and transform California into an economically competitive state. He advises the formation of a committee similar to the Council of California Competitiveness created by former Governor Pete Wilson. This committee, led by Peter Ueberroth in 1991, explored how to create jobs and become more competitive.

However, jobs should not be the only concern for students in the upcoming election, argues Whalen. Thanks to the recent legislation passed by Arizona, illegal immigration is at the forefront of the gubernatorial race. The candidates are divided: Poizner supports the Arizona bill while Whitman and Brown oppose it.

Many of the candidates agree that the need for immigration reform in the states stems from a failure at the federal level to act.  The June 8 primary also faces a competitive race for the Republican nomination to be California’s representative in the U.S. Senate, between former Stanford law professor and South Bay Rep. Tom Campbell, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.  All three support the Arizona law, and are vying for the seat of three-term U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Boxer faces minor opposition from blogger Mickey Kaus in the Democratic primary.

The elections are also important for students concerned with the environment. In November, Californians will vote on the California Jobs Intiative, a contentious initiative to temporarily suspend AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act passed by Schwarzenegger in 2006, aimed at achieving a 2010 greenhouse gas emissions cap. Supporters of the initiative claim that AB 32 costs the state jobs and much-needed revenue, and seek to freeze its implementation until unemployment falls to its 2006 levels. Jerry Brown opposes the initiative, Poizner supports it, and Whitman proposes a one-year moratorium on AB 32 instead. Former Secretary of State and Hoover Fellow George Shultz has agreed to co-chair the campaign opposing the initiative.

Meanwhile, proposed legalization of marijuana for recreational use is heating up, a particularly intriguing measure for many college students. The initiative will also appear on the November ballot. If passed, adults above the age of 21 will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Smoking in public and in schools would still be prohibited. Supporters of the bill cite the benefit of increased revenue from a marijuana tax, but opponents fear a higher crime rate.

In the end, students should take a keen interest in the June primary because of its effect on the November elections. If you vote, you might get what you vote for. If you don’t vote, you will certainly get what you didn’t vote for.

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