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Special Election, Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Each election I research and analyze the propositions on the California ballot to create this voting guide, and they represent nothing other than my own personal view of these measures. I have no connection (that I know of) with any group supporting or opposing any of these propositions, and I do this on a strictly personal, non-partisan basis. But I clearly have an opinion, which I hope is transparent here.

My main intent is to get to the bottom of these issues, knowing that the "real" purpose is not always evident. Once uncovered, I apply a mainly libertarian eye to them.

I'm more interested in examining the issues thoughtfully than I am in getting you to vote the way I do, so I hope these pages help you understand the issues in front of us this November.

Educated votes are better votes.

Other resources:

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position. Results taken from the Secretary of State's website, and entries in gray didn't go my way.

Proposition Result My Position Description / Title
Prop 73 Fail 47.4/52.6% Yes Parental Notification of Abortion
Prop 74 Fail 44.9/55.1% No Teacher Tenure
Prop 75 Fail 46.5/53.1% Yes Use of Union Dues for Political Purposes
Prop 76 Fail 37.9/62.1% Yes Spending Limits/School Funding
Prop 77 Fail 40.5/59.5% Yes Redistricting
Prop 78 Fail 41.5/58.5% No Prescription Drug Discounts #1
Prop 79 Fail 38.9/61.1% No Prescription Drug Discounts #2
Prop 80 Fail 34.3/65.7% No Electric Service Providers Regulation

Prop 73: Parental Notification of Abortion

I'll start by saying that I have been unequivocally pro-life since I've been a kid, but I don't really see this as an abortion issue. Instead, it's about the right of parents to make medical decisions for the children in their care. Children don't have a "right of privacy" with respect to their parents, so most of the rationale supporting an adult woman's right to choose simply does not apply here.

California Law currently permits minors to receive pregnancy-related healthcare the same as an adult: this means the usual prenatal care, as well as abortion. I believe that getting prenatal care to help nurture a new life into this world is uncontroversial, but abortion is another matter entirely.

I think the arguments against this are disingenuous. First, the spectre of parents flying into a murderous rage are blown way out of proportion. For the extremely rare cases where this is a legitimate concern, there is a judicial bypass option available.

What's really happening is that irresponsible children wish to avoid paternal consequences of their behavior - that's not a good enough reason to undermine the one place where paternalism is OK: in parents.


Though judicial bypass is available, the opponents cite a big, cold, imposing judicial system, but I think this is misplaced. No matter how streamlined/approachable they make the process, it will be intimidating, but does anybody really believe that counseling services of one form or another won't spring up? If nothing else, it's a fair bet that the abortion providers themselves will offer this service too, so I don't think that the big scary courthouse is the reason to let a minor have major surgery without parental involvement.

Finally, the opponents pull a classic misdirection:

The opponents (from ballot arguments):
Talking to our daughters about responsible sexual behavior is the best way to protect them

.. and I could not agree more, but that's not what this is about.

By the time these girls find themselves pregnant, "responsible sexual behavior" is not up for discussion except in the past tense, and mostly in the negative.

Now, at this point the family is faced with a medical and ethical decision, and this is exactly where young women need the guidance of families. Girls are naturally afraid of facing their parents, but this is due to the consequences of their own actions, not due to some unreasonable parents.

I just don't see how anybody can allow a minor to obtain a dangerous medical procedure without the consent of a parent, never mind notification. Absent a clear and present danger of physical abuse (which would itself be a crime), I don't see cutting the parents out of this loop. Children have no "privacy" from their parents.

This is not to say that the proponents don't have their moments too:

The proponents (from ballot arguments):
Older men, including Internet predators, are deterred from impregnating minors when secret abortions are not available to conceal their crimes.

Oh please. I don't think that predators are really thinking that far ahead.

My vote: a strong YES.

More info:
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Prop 74: Teacher Tenure


This measure would increase a new teacher's probationary period from two to five years and make it easier to fire a teacher for bad performance and/or behavior.

You'll find the usual suspects on both sides: on one side the teacher's union which hates the very notion that even one teacher might ever be disciplined for any reason, and on the other hand those who hate the unions.

The notion of tenure is meant to protect teachers against capricious school administrators: considering that school administrators are government employees, it doesn't seem so outrageous to imagine that some might abuse their power. "Tenure" doesn't mean a job for life, it just means that the firing process is awash in due process.

This involves a balance between discretion which can be used to remove a bad teacher, or discretion which can be abused to punish an unpopular teacher. I believe that resolving this balance with written rules or procedures is impossible: we need to have human discretion involved, and I want that discretion held by the one closest to the voters.

If a teacher is truly doing a bad job and (with union help) games the system to stick around, there's nothing that the voters can do. But if a school administrator abuses his power, he's answerable to the school board, which are answerable to the voters.

Unlike national politics, where special interests dominate the debate, local politics have much more local involvement. If an administrator is badly abusing his position, a "Dump the principal" movement doesn't seem out of the question, and creating an environment which maximizes the benefits of parental involvement is a bonus.

As can be expected, the arguments on both sides are hysterical and missing the point:

The proponents (from ballot arguments):
This rewards good teachers
The opponents (from ballot arguments):
This is "blaming the teacher"

Neither of these is the case. The measure has no effect whatsoever on good teachers (no merit pay, etc.), and it's not seeking to blame anybody other than those who aren't doing a good job.

I have no idea how common it is for a teacher to wash out in the first two years (where they can now be let go without all the hoop-jumping), or how many would wash out in the next three as provided for under this measure. But is two years really enough time to build up a reliable track record?

I believe this won't have any effect on clearly good or clearly bad teachers: the good teachers were never in doubt, and the bad ones will wash out in a year or two anyway. It's the marginal teachers who will benefit most from the extra mentoring possible.

But I am completely speculating on the potential educational effects; it might raise the quality of education, or it may raise the quality of capricious administrators. I just don't know. I do believe that putting the discretion closer to the voters is, on the whole, a good thing.

However, the California School Board Association — which certainly would prefer to make it easier to fire bad teachers — opposes this too. They point out:

CSBA position:
... CSBA concluded that the initiative would actually give districts less discretion than they currently have to define the unsatisfactory performance of teachers.

Reading their more detailed analysis explains it pretty well. It imposes new costs of evaluation (which I don't mind so much), but mainly reduces the school board's ability to define performance. It also makes this part of collective bargaining, something which looks like a big hairy mess.

This disturbs me.

Pete Rates says:
This measure is a bald, ham-fisted assault by the Governor on the California Teachers Association, in direct retaliation for its political opposition to his education policy.

The teacher's union is the only entity around who, on principle, doesn't care about children, and I don't normally mind a little political retribution as long as it doesn't actually work against the purported underlying measure. But this one isn't even supported by those who it should be supported by, and that makes it enough of a net negative that I'm reluctantly voting against it.

My vote: a reluctant NO.

More info:
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Prop 75: Use of Union Dues for Political Purpose

The first thing that strikes me about this is the disingenuity of the opponents. They say:

Alliance for a Better California says:
It unfairly targets teachers, nurses, firefighters, police and other public employees with restrictions that don't apply to other groups or corporations, which regularly spend shareholder money on politics without permission.

This suggests an equivalence which does not exist: If you're unhappy with how things are run, it's a lot easier to change your stock portfolio than it is to change your job. Furthermore, there is a de facto requirement for union membership for many kinds of jobs, while there is no such concept for stock ownership. This argument is just bogus.

But hyperbole aside, I very much support this measure. Even in the private sector, union membership is often a de facto requirement, being a government-granted monopoly. This monopoly power is commonly abused by union leadership, who often has only cursory concern for its members.

Pete makes a really good case here:

Pete Rates prop 75:
Unions shouldn't have to ask for special permission to fund political action any more than any other activity conducted to benefit all members. It's a matter of principle.

His observation is that political activity is just a subset of union activity, and why should it be treated differently from other things? This is a completely principled point, and it takes a high threshold to intrude with the ballot process.

If this were an entirely private transaction, I'd agree with him, but it's not: union membership is effectively compulsory, so it's not a private transaction. When the only way to escape union extortion is to change your career — not just your job — I think that some limits are in order to protect the membership.

My vote: YES

More info:
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Prop 76: Spending Limits/School Funding

This measure has two separate components:

I like both of them.

First, it redefines the rules for budget levels, overriding the explicit guarantees of Prop 98 enacted in 1988. The formulas involved are intricate, but the general idea is introduce a smoothing effect (dampen the boom/bust swings), and to err on the side of spending less. The alternative to spending less has been to run up the deficit we're saddled with now.

I don't doubt that this may cut school spending (or that of any other area of the budget), but I don't know what else you're going to do if we don't have the money. I don't see how anybody can pretend to be "for the children" but not bat an eye at saddling them with this enormous debt.

The other part of this measure grants the governor the ability to make unilateral cuts in spending over a very wide range of budget areas if the legislature can't get it together. Other states give this power to their governors in one form or another, though I don't doubt for a minute that the system can be gamed by the governor for his own ends. As usual, Pete describes it well:

Pete Rates prop 76:
Under Prop 76, the Governor can declare a "fiscal emergency" if General Fund revenues have fallen 1.5% below his estimates. So all the Governor has to do is slightly inflate his revenue estimates, and voila, fiscal emergency.

I'm OK with this. There is no system that involves huge amounts of money that doesn't involve political gamesmanship — no system — so I'd prefer the discretion to be in the hands of the one with (a) the widest constituency, and (b) maximum exposure to the voters.

State representatives and Senators have a narrow constituency — their districts — and are not generally held responsible for the big-picture budget process (I'd imagine that the worst abusers are the ones who bring home the most bacon to their districts). It takes an act of political self-denial to vote out a guy who's spending too much money on you.

Only the governor has a statewide constituency, so he's got a lot more incentive to make the kind of tradeoffs which are unthinkable at the district level. He's also the most accountable: I can't do anything about the guy in the next district over who's spending money on his district like a drunken sailor, but I sure can vote out (or recall!) the governor.

And to answer an obvious question: would I have wanted this power in the hands of Gray Davis? Absolutely. He's the guy with the statewide constituency who has to answer to all the voters: he doesn't get to do this in a back room.

My vote: Yes

More info:
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Prop 77: Redistricting

I don't know how anybody who's ever looked at a map of political districts could support the current system, unless of course you're elected to office in one of those. The opponents to this are generally those with strong reasons to support the backroom politics in Sacramento, and since I'm not one of them, I'm for this measure. Gerrymandering is a huge problem everywhere.

Gerrymandering cartoon

Pete explains this splendidly on his page, and I can't really improve on it. I share his rationale for support, as well as his concerns about the weak points.

Redistricting is like political fundraising: it transcends all principle and goes for shameless self-interest. Both parties are astonishingly guilty of this everywhere redistricting occurs, and getting the legislature out of the loop is the only thing with a chance at fixing it. I'd be all for using migratory bird paths as a basis for redistricting if we could find a way to pull it off.

The process for selecting the judges looks to be fairly thoughtful (for instance: the judges must have never held a partisan office), and I'm confident that we can find honorable people to serve in this capacity.

I have seen one curious take on this regarding how illegal immigration factors into this:

Orange County Register (sorry, free registration required)
Political districts, the Supreme Court told us over 40 years ago, must be drawn strictly according to population, which includes all persons, not just voters, and not just citizens.

The result is that in districts whose populations are swelled by illegal immigrants, comparatively fewer voters become responsible for electing their representatives, whether in Sacramento or Congress. An inner-city area that includes illegal immigrants can be compact, easily drivable, and, of course, ethnically homogenous. Population density enables the creation of safe districts for Democrats. Inhabitants don't need to vote to be useful to the Democrats.

When at least a little bit of the politics are removed from the redistricting process, then this factor will have less impact on the political landscape.

My vote: YES

More info:
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Prop 78: Prescription Drug Discounts #1
Prop 79: Prescription Drug Discounts #2

Both of these measures mean to introduce drug-discount programs, but they are only superficially similar. I'm against both of them, though for different reasons.


Prop 78 would establish a prescription card program for those making less than around $29,000 per year, but it's structured to be completely at the mercy of the drug companies. If they choose not to participate: Poof; end of program.

This all looks like a colossal waste of time, and exactly the kind of thing that the pharmaceutical companies would come up with to look like they were addressing the issues, but really not doing anything. Pete calls it a sham, and I agree with him. I'll pass.

Prop 79, on the other hand, I oppose it vigorously. Much of this comes down to whether you believe that the pharmaceutical companies are evil, or whether there is any such thing as an obscene profit. I don't believe in either one of them.

There is no doubt that there's huge money in Big Pharma, and these companies will stop at nothing to keep the price of their products high (patent extensions, etc.). There is also no doubt that the cost of prescriptions can be crippling (especially to the elderly).

But I think people are wishing for a choice that we don't really have:

The choice we wish:  expensive drugs versus cheap drugs
The choice we have:  expensive drugs versus no drugs

Big Pharma didn't give me allergies, but they do give me Claritin to alleviate it. Sure, I'd rather pay less for my meds, but I'd much rather have Claritin (or whatever) available at any price, than have it not be available at all.

This is why I don't beat up on drug companies, but it's not the main reason why I oppose this measure. Prop 79 would become an outright lawsuit magnet.

Anybody will be able to file a lawsuit against the drug companies, even without a plaintiff (filing "on behalf of the people of California") for the undefined offense of "Profiteering". Pharmaceutical companies are clearly deep pockets, and this will be the starter's gun for a California gold rush of lawsuits.

The securities industry is full of extortionist lawyers, such as dirtbag Bill Lerach, who make a living out of suing companies when the stock price drops; I think it stretches credulity to suggests that a parallel system won't emerge for drug prices. This is all a legalized shakedown in the name of "consumer protection".

My vote: NO on both

More info:
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Thumbs Up (Prop 79)
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Prop 80: Electric Service Providers Regulation

It seems that all one need to do is invoke "Enron" to justify all kinds of tinkering with the electric power system, but I just can't get behind this at all.

First, I believe that the power crisis was caused by not enough deregulation rather than too much deregulation. This puts me squarely on the other side of this issue from most people. You can't deregulate one half of a transaction and expect there not to be perverse effects. Duh.

San Onofre

Second, I oppose the whole "renewables portfolio" provision: it's a pleasant thought to think about solar or wind power providing energy to California, but the market should drive this, not the initiative process.

I think that solar/wind won't ever really amount to anything (but will use a lot of real estate and kill a lot of birds), and that the only way to produce safe, large-scale energy is via nuclear energy. Only when the roadblocks to plant construction are removed will anybody even consider building one of these again. They're welcome to put a nuke plant in my backyard anytime.

Finally, this measure forbids utilities from imposing time-based pricing, and this is madness. Electricity can't really be stored, so they have to build plants and transmission lines and all the other infrastructure based on maximum usage: we all know that this is in the middle of the afternoon for a hot summer day. All the other time, that infrastructure is underutilized.

Flex Your Power

Everybody in California has seen the Flex Your Power campaigns on TV or in newspapers, and they encourage personal time shifting of energy use. Run your dishwasher after 7PM, for instance, and you make more power available to everybody else during the peak times.

But the only encouragement here is "pretty please", relying exclusively on good intentions to achieve this worthy end. There are no incentives for anybody to do anything, and getting this done is too important.

The biggest use of electricity at my house — and at many houses — is the pool pump, and I have long thought about a controller which would run the pump only as long as necessary (an hour for every 10 degrees of temperature), as well as breaking the overall pump time to spread it out over the day. Right now, it's just too much trouble to go out and adjust the timer a couple of times a week.

But about five minutes after time-based pricing is implemented, I and every other pool owner will get one of these controllers and program it to avoid the expensive times of day. Overnight this is a huge drop in peak demand, all due to incentive.

All in all, this tries to do too much, and I'm going to pass.

My vote: No

More info:
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Those discovering bad/missing links, typos, or even errors in judgment are encouraged to report them to me: [Email address]

Last updated: Mon Oct 31 12:35:00 PST 2005