Saturday, November 3, 2012

How I Will Vote (California Ballot Initiatives)


As important as the presidential election and the elections of state and Congressional representatives are the measures which appear on Californians ballots.  Below, I explain how and why I'll vote.  Do share your thoughts!

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Yes on Prop 30.  Prop 30 is an inadequate and short-term fix to what the Governor has mistakenly diagnosed as a “budget deficit”, but which is actually a deficit of democracy in the context of our state’s broken system of governance.  But the price of not passing Prop 30 is steep, and will fall on children and students, those least able to bear the burden, while the additional tax burden created by Prop 30 will rest lightly on the shoulders of voters who can surely afford an additional cent of sales tax for every $4.00 they spend, and will not do any harm to the individuals making over $250,000 and couples earning in excess of $500,000 who have been asked to pay higher income taxes.

My advice is to hold your nose, pass Prop 30 to arrest the destruction of our public sphere, and then spend the next four years hammering away at the Governor and the legislature to force them to face up to the need for rational and comprehensive reform, so that we don’t find ourselves in this same farcical situation year after year.

No on Prop 31.  Prop 31 dons the mantle of reform, promptlytrips over its own feet, and winds up on its face, displaying its unseemly posterior for all Californians to see.  Prop 31 gives the Governor unilateral powers to make vicious cuts to our state services (while not similarly empowering him to raise revenue to save the same services).  Prop 31 forces a pay-as-you-go program on the legislature, further reducing the flexibility of our representatives (while not similarly checking the spending impulses of voters, who today are the primary force driving state government). 

Backers of Prop 31 have been behind other good-governance issues gone bad in recent years.  They’ve given us rigged elections and pointless term limits.  They’re tinkerers, with little sense of how their piecemeal reforms will affect the massive, overburdened structure that is California’s system of government.  They should be sent the message that they shouldn’t treat Californians like suckers (even if our behaviour might suggest otherwise).

No on Prop 32.  Prop 32, like Prop 31, takes up what is a justly-popular cause—campaign finance reform.  Unfortunately, instead of a broad-based campaign, it is driven by purely ideological imperatives, and aims a vicious blow at only one political constituency—unionised workers—leaving the corporations, whose spending and newly-endowed personhood have begun to dominate our politics, totally unchecked.  The title is misleading because corporations don’t use payroll deductions—the means of donation that Prop 32 utilises—to raise funds. 

In an era when the working class is assailed on all sides, the unionised workers whose efforts shore up the strength of workers of all stripes need to have their voices protected.  Decades of assaults on union rights have redrawn the sphere for political expression, narrowing it to the point that working people are expected to cast their votes during an election, shut up, and take their lumps for the next four years.

There’s a certain irony in an initiative ostensibly about fair political practise being funded, as hilariously recounted by Mark Paul, “with an anonymous $11 million laundered through an Arizona ‘non-profit’, Americans for Responsible leadership, which lists among its public purposes—you can’t make this stuff up—“educating the public about concepts that advance government accountability, transparency, ethics’”.

But there’s also an urgent historical question to ponder when you vote on Prop 32.  Where did the minimum wage come from?  How did we get the eight-hour day, the 40-hour week, overtime pay, week-ends, health benefits, safer working conditions?

I’ll give you a hint.  It didn’t come from right-wing power grabs like Prop 32, and it didn’t come from working people sitting quietly on the floor while railroad barons and factory owners and bankers played Monopoly with our lives at the table, and waiting for a few crumbs to drop our way.  It came from having a voice, and Prop 32 attempts to take that voice away.

No on Prop 33.  This measure, which makes it easier to raise car insurance rates on those without continuous coverage (i.e. those with lower incomes or more fragile economic circumstances), seems very unfair.  It’s infuriating that the state Republican Party, for all its preaching about government intervention crushing the middle class, would back insurance industry intervention to target the working class.

Yes on Prop 34.  Prop 34 ends California's use of the death penalty.  The United States keeps some despicable company in its use of the death penalty—Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, authoritarian Saudi Arabia and other retrograde, monarchical Gulf states, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Europe’s last dictatorship in Belarus, North Korea, Indonesia, Zambia, Nigeria, and a handful of others. 

State killings are an expensive, glitch-ridden, and frankly rather gruesome manner of taking revenge, which have precious little to do with justice—particularly when we have vivid examples of miscarriage of the same which transform state killings into state murder—or with public safety.  Proponents try to have it both ways: that the people who we kill in a perverted public ritual are so psychologically beyond the pale that we must remove them from the world on the one hand, and that these same people—who commit awful crimes—are amenable to the logical deterrence offered by our retention of the death penalty. 

Decency and practicality both militate against a costly practise which morally diminishes our society, and which has nothing to do with either justice or public safety. 

No on Prop 35.  Prop 35 is one of these good-sounding initiatives of which I’ve been growing increasingly wary, particularly as friends in legal fields who have worked in advocacy contexts for the rights of lower-income women have been speaking out against the initiative, its overly-elastic definition of trafficking and sexual crimes, and its potential erosion of victims’ rights.  If proponents of Prop 35 haven’t been able to convince what should, if their motives were genuine, be a key constituency—precisely such advocacy organisations—then they should probably be re-writing the initiative so that it targets the problem of trafficking realistically and doesn’t conflate different kinds of crimes.

Yes on Prop 36.  “Three Strikes” represents in many respects what has become one of the defining features of the American approach to political conundrums of all stripes.  It is reactive and indiscriminate, and Prop 36 would be a just way of setting things right in California.  There are currently many people serving life sentences whose fatal strike was neither “serious nor violent”.  Prop 36 would amend the law so that only those who have committed such “serious and violent” crimes would be exiled from society.  The current, indiscriminate system does an injustice to people who would like another chance at making things right in their lives, to Californians who are stuck paying for a criminal justice system that does virtually nothing by way of prevention and treats “crime” in an indiscriminate manner calculated to ensure that we never address the underlying causes of criminal activity.

Prop 36 could also represent a new approach to crime and society in our state, where our obscenely over-burdened prison system competes with schools, universities, and other social services for scarce funds.  We could use the momentum its passage would initiate to reconfigure our approach to our prison and justice systems, and to orient ourselves towards addressing the social and economic factors behind many of the “pettier” crimes which have needlessly created a powerful prison industrial complex that has developed a destructive gravity of its own in state politics.

Ugh on Prop 37.  The misleading, self-serving ads being run against Prop 37 alone make me want to support the measure which would require that genetically-modified food be labelled as such.  Nauseating commercials, reminiscent of Big Tobacco and Big Pesticides’ earlier and equally sordid efforts to dodge responsibility, would have you believe that Mom and Pop grocers are going to be buried under red tape because they have to label food.  A quick glance at Prop 37’s backers will disabuse you of that notion, but problems remain.

It has enough exemptions to fill a phonebook and make you wonder how much good it will do if it’s really full disclosure or our health that we’re after.  My other worry would be that its passage would stall further efforts to get serious about GMO foods because voters will think, “Wait, didn’t we take care of this already?”  Normally, these reservations would probably tilt me into the “no” column, but it’s important to start somewhere, and that—together with sending a signal to the industries which put their already-bloated bottom lines ahead of our health—might be reason enough to vote for Prop 37.

Meh on Prop 38.  Prop 38’s sponsor, Molly Munger, is another casualty—together with students, children, and other Californians who depend on public services—of Governor Jerry Brown’s immoral, cynical, manipulative, procrastinating brand of politics.  When she began the move to push what became Prop 38, Brown was fiddling and reciting classical homilies to entertain the media while California’s public education sphere threatened to go up in flames.  Our lazy, unambitious Governor, who deserves nothing less than to be recalled for his staunch refusal to do his job—that is, govern—eventually got around to putting a rival initiative on the ballot, and promptly sent out his hatchet-men to demonise Munger and her initiative.  The policy merits aside—both Prop 38 and Prop 30 are deplorably short-term in their outlook—Brown’s tactics were appalling, and his possible abuse of power to get his initiative to the top of the ballot just another sign of how thoughtless an individual it is we’ve elected to “save” our state. 

That said, this isn’t about Munger or about Brown’s political future—not yet, anyway.  It’s about a stopgap to save our education sphere while we regroup and set about reforming our dysfunctional political structure.  The disadvantage of Munger’s proposal is typical of California’s initiatives—it is inflexible and will have ramifications for other sectors of the public sphere that Munger doesn’t appear to care about.  Brown, ever the petty politician, has said that he will still implement the trigger cuts that he inserted in the budget, meaning that California’s higher education sphere will likely experience some hefty cuts and students might still see their fees rise by 20% at UC.  Munger’s initiative isn’t doing so good in the polls, though that’s no reason not to support the measure. 

But the unfavourable scenario faced by Californians suggests that we might need to make a strategic choice, thank Munger for calling attention to the plight of our schools in a way that our Incredible Prevaricating Governor has never done, and vote for the Governor’s measure while committing ourselves to holding this uniquely irresponsible man accountable for taking real steps to create conditions in which we can secure long-term funding for our public sphere.

Yes on Prop 39.  A commendable measure closing loopholes and directing resulting revenue to in-state development of the type that the out-of-state interests the measure targets are currently declining to make. Its ambition is to end incentives for state-level out-sourcing, something that should encourage even those who are sent all a-twitching by the insinuation that this could amount to a tax increase (and there’s nothing wrong with it if it is!). 

Prop 39 is the kind of measure it’s hard to envision anyone besides those out of state interests supporting.  But, true to form, California’s Republican Party, increasingly run by a bunch of fundamentalist wing nuts who look at revenue the way a Crusader looked at the Crescent, have come out in support of big (and out-of-state) business, and against development in California.

Yes on Prop 40.  Prop 40 represents a rebuke to one of the California Republican Party’s many “For it Before they were Against It” moments.  Some years back the party backed the commendable efforts at non-partisan redistricting, designed to remove the shaping of districts from the hands of the legislature, where Republicans and Democrats casually traded boundaries and the votes that went with them.  Republicans backed the reform because they assumed that new, rational, non-partisan districts would favour them.  Turns out they didn’t, and the GOP flew its true colours at the mast, deciding that non-partisan districts weren’t such a good idea.  Prop 40 cements support for the redistricting, and after initially opposing the initiative, the state GOP has fallen into line with what was originally one of their ideas, perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact that there are limits to the hypocrisy that California’s voters will accept from this party which subscribes to the doctrine of “Power without responsibility”. 

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Please, get out and vote.  Check here to find your polling place.

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