"Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least."*

So it’s election time again. On Tuesday a friend had a dinner party to discuss the ballot. I think discussing politics in intentional and respectful ways is generally a good thing anyway, but in California I find that these sorts of gatherings are almost essential if you’re going to manage to vote with any degree of information. There’s simply too much on the ballot to process and think through all of it on your own. This year we have nine state-wide propositions and five of them are constitutional amendments. FIVE!!! Having grown up in a state where you mostly voted for people, bond measures, and sometimes a referendum or two, a ballot that includes nine big issues plus people (including a whole pack of judicial appointments) is just overwhelming.

So I’m writing up my take on the issues. This isn’t how I think you should vote. It’s just how I’m thinking about the issues and planning on voting as of right now, though I’m open to further discussion and could change my mind. I’m only going to cover the propositions and not the people because frankly I don’t have much of interest to say about the people. I think I’m probably voting a straight democratic ticket. In some cases this is because I like the candidate (Bowen, Chiang). In some cases this is because I really dislike the Republican candidate (Whitman, Fiorina). In most cases, though, it’s because after spending so much time on the issues I can’t really spare the mental bandwidth to figure out who would make a good insurance commissioner.

As a philosophical point I should note that I think the ability for the populace to get pretty much anything on the ballot strikes me as sort of absurd. I would much rather elect representatives who are going to focus their attention on the issues and then make decisions with the big picture in mind. Granted that’s not a perfect system, and the results are often frustrating. However, I really dislike being asked to make budget and tax decisions and vote on laws given that I don’t really know how everything fits together. As a result my default vote on propositions is no. From there I work out what I think the consequences of something will be and whether I’m going to vote yes. In all cases the task is to convince me a proposition is a good idea. Otherwise it’s a no. I could abstain on anything I’m unsure about, but since I’m sort of philosophically opposed to the very nature of the California ballot I prefer to vote no change on anything where I’m left with questions.

So, without further ado, the issues.

Prop 19 LEGALIZES MARIJUANA UNDER CALIFORNIA BUT NOT FEDERAL LAW. PERMITS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO REGULATE AND TAX COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND SALE OF MARIJUANA.

Yes

I am, generally speaking, in favor of legalizing marijuana. There are some things about this that make me a little nervous, though. The fact that law enforcement is largely against it and both candidates for Attorney General oppose it strikes me as potentially problematic at a practical level. There’s already going to be issues with the difference between state and federal drug laws, the fact that there isn’t much upper-level buy-in for this within the state criminal system makes it seem like the whole thing could get really confusing really fast. Sheriff Baca has already come out and said he’ll still enforce the old marijuana laws even if 19 passes. Obviously if that happens it’ll go to court, but in the meantime there’s a lot of room for chaos there. I’m also not entirely clear on how testing for being under the influence is going to work. Opponents assert that workplaces will no longer be allowed to be drug free and do drug testing. I don’t think that’s entirely true. I also don’t think the fact that we don’t have tests that are analogous to a breathalyzer is entirely unproblematic. Still, it’s already illegal to drive under the influence of illegal drugs so presumably field sobriety tests work well enough.
Also, apparently the proponents haven’t managed to raise enough money to run ads in favor. Way to conform to stereotypes, guys! In the end there are probably going to be some expensive court cases related to this, and I doubt that this will be an entirely smooth transition (see also the recent issues unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries in LA) but I think it’s good enough. And I really do think that someone has to start the ball toward federal legalization rolling, and changes at the federal level won’t happen until there’s a lot of changes in state policies.

Prop 20 REDISTRICTING OF CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS (constitutional amendment)

Yes, I think.

Until recentally all redistricting was done by the Legislature and approved by the Governor. Prop 11 in 2008 recently removed the task of redistricting for the State Assembly, State Senate and State Board of Equalization from the legislature and established the Citizens Redistricting Commission to perform the task. Prop 20 would transfer the task of determining districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, which are currently still being drawn by the state legislature.

I think the argument for not having the state legislature draw the district boundaries for their own districts is pretty clear and that’s what prop 11 tackled. It’s less clear that there’s a problem with the state legislature determining the districts for U.S. congressional seats. I do think that fundamentally, though, gerrymandering is a problem and I think whichever part is in power in the state has pretty good incentive to rig the congressional districts as well. Fundamentally I’d rather see fair districts, even if it means changes in the balance of power and hurts the Democrats. I’m not 100% convinced that this commission setup will result in fair districts, but I suspect they’ll be a bit better than what would come out of the legislature. Plus I’m inclined to think it’s just more efficient to have all the redistricting done by one body.

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.

Yes, I think

I hate initiatives that mandate how money is spent because I feel like they further hinder the legislature’s ability to pass a budget. I was all ready to vote against this on those grounds alone but then I realized that this is different in that it mandates both revenue and spending at the same time. An initiative that establishes a tax and mandates where it goes doesn’t actually hinder the budget process. Since I’m all for spending on state parks it seems reasonable to support this.

I do still see some problems with it. First, using money from vehicle license fees for things other than transportation infrastructure does bother me some. Second, flat taxes are regressive. In the grand scheme of things this is a fairly small fee, but for those at the bottom of the income distribution it’s not necessarily trivial. The final thing that worries me a bit is that there’s no inflation adjustment. That’s fine in the short-term but in the long-term it may end up gutting the park budget. I’m inclined to put my faith in future Californian’s to take care of that, though, if funding state parks is still a priority.

Prop 22 PROHIBITS THE STATE FROM BORROWING OR TAKING FUNDS USED FOR TRANSPORTATION, REDEVELOPMENT, OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROJECTS AND SERVICES. (constitutional amendment)

No

I am against things that make it harder for the legislature to put together a budget. This is very clearly one of those things. It would prevent the shifting of money from redevelopment projects to schools in lean years and while I do think redevelopment projects are often good (and benefit schools insofar as they raise property values) I think education is more important.

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.

No

First of all, since I’m always complaining that the legislature should do their job and pass some laws themselves, I’m generally against turning around and undoing those laws. Second, I think reducing emissions is important even if it does slow economic growth some. Third, there’s substantial disagreement of the net economic effects of AB32. It seems likely that they’ll be fairly moderate (i.e. some jobs may be lost but new jobs will be created and the overall negative effect on the gross state product will be modest). It’s going to be a long time before unemployment in CA drops below 5.5 for a full year. I’m inclined to think that reducing air pollution is important enough to do it now.

Prop 24 REPEALS RECENT LEGISLATION THAT WOULD ALLOW BUSINESSES TO LOWER THEIR TAX LIABILITY.

Unsure

I’m torn on this one. I really don’t think that turning tax policy over to the voters is a good way to get a coherent sensible tax policy. I also, as I mentioned above, like it when the legislature actually legislates. So I’m a little loathe to repeal this legislation. On the other hand, I’m not keen on tax policy that gives breaks to big corporations. As near as I can tell the recent tax legislation in question predominately benefits big business, though it will certainly affect some small businesses. Given how badly California needs revenue, I’m not quite sure why this was passed in the first place. That’s the rub, though, without doing a whole lot more research voting yes to repeal this risks repealing something that actually was enacted based on sound economic analysis out of a knee-jerk “screw those corporations” type mindset.

I tried to use the Howard Jarvis Tax Payer Associate heuristic (vote opposite of what HJTPA recommends) since I usually disagree pretty stronly with their positions. In this case, though, they have no recommendation. I’m really not sure what to make of that. Meanwhile the League of Women Voters is for prop 24 it, as is the CA democratic party. I’m leaning toward voting for the repeal, but I may stick with my “if I really don’t fully understand the implications vote No” rule since I really don’t understand the full effects of business tax policy on overall state economic health.

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. (constitutional amendment)

Yes

California is the only state that requires a 2/3 majority vote in the legislature for both passing the budget and raising taxes. This is a big part of the gridlock that happens every year with the budget. The Economist makes the argument that if the budget is passed with a simple majority than the party in power (the democrats) will be held responsible for it and voted out of office if people are unhappy (assuming districts aren’t too gerrymandered to make that possible).

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. (constitutional amendment)

No

I can’t see any good reason to add yet another 2/3 vote to the mix. I think there’s good reason to levy fees against companies that cause negative externalities and making that harder doesn’t seem like good policy to me.

Prop 27 ELIMINATES STATE COMMISSION ON REDISTRICTING. CONSOLIDATES AUTHORITY FOR REDISTRICTING WITH ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES. (constitutional amendment)

No

I was solidly for prop 11 in 2008, which established the redistricting commission. As I mentioned above when discussing prop 20, I think gerrymandering is bad. I think letting the legislature decide their own districts is going to inevitably end in gerrymandering. I don’t know that the commission will necessarily be better but I think it needs to get through the process once before we start talking about repealing the previous decision. Yes, this will hurt the Democratic party in California. I don’t think that’s a bad thing if their power comes from unfair districts.

*quote from Robert Byrne (American Author and billiards champion player, Writer of ‘Standard Book of Pool and Billiards’. b.1930) taken from here.

Comments are open to polite discussion. Name calling will earn you 50 lashes with a wet noodle, unless you’re likely to like that, in which case I might just delete your comment instead.

One thought on “"Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least."*”

  1. Reading your post brought back the California voting experience all too clearly! I used to object to it on the basis that I wanted to live in a representative democracy, not a direct democracy.

    The first time I went to the polls in Santa Clara County I was well-prepared; I had made all my decisions and made some notes about them so I could vote efficiently. However, it turned out that the ballot was just a series of numbers and one was expected to bring the election guide along with the corresponding numbers written down to know which number to punch. Yes, in Silicon Valley, one of the worst user interfaces imaginable for voting. The people at the polls patronised me saying with contempt that I had obviously never voted before. “No, I’ve voted in counties with sane ballots,” I made no friends by replying.

    Between that and the ludicrously complex tax filing process — note that I didn’t object to paying the taxes, just being so confused by them that I had to hire someone to do it for me — I’m very glad I’m no longer a California resident.

    Like

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