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Primary Election, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

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 do this analysis on a non-partisan basis, but that doesn't mean I have no opinion. I do, but I believe it's transparent (note that "transparency" means only that I claim no hidden agenda, not that I'm trying to be unbiased).

I generally have no connection with any group supporting or opposing any of these propositions.

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.

Educated votes are better votes.

I hope my thoughts are helpful.

Other resources:

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position.

Proposition Result My Position Description / Title
California icon Prop 13 Pass 85.0% Yes Limits on property tax assessments; seismic retrofitting
California icon Prop 14 Pass 53.7% Yes Primary Election Changes
California icon Prop 15 Fail 42.4% No California Fair Elections Act
California icon Prop 16 Fail 47.6% Yes Local Electricity Providers
California icon Prop 17 Fail 48.3% No Auto Insurance: Continuous-Coverage Discount

California icon Prop 13: Limits on Property Tax Assessment; Seismic Retrofitting of buildings

earthquake logo

This uncontroversial measure states that improvements to property (which might be substantial improvements) for the purpose of seismic retrofit will not trigger a property-tax reassessment.

Currently, there are some confusing rules on exactly which particular kinds of seismic construction avoid reassessment — some are excluded entirely, others just for a term of 15 years— and this creates some disincentives for making your building safe for an earthquake (safer, but reassessed at a higher/market value).

By setting a uniform, statewide standard, it will remove the disincentives to fix your property, as well as removing some recordkeeping burdens on County assessors (who had to keep track of things for the 15-year exclusion).

This measure doesn't have an opposing argument in the ballot pamphlet, and I've not even found whisper opposition to it. This is almost unheard of.

What's curious is that the original measure that restricted reassessment back in 1978, was also called Proposition 13. I suspect this is a coincidence, but it's sure an interesting one.

My vote: Yes

California icon Prop 14: Primary Election changes

Ballot icon

This would revamp California's primary election system — but not for the Presidential election — to make all candidates run against each other in the primary (in the Spring), and the top two vote-getters would run against each other in the general election in the Fall.

In essence, this attempts to de-emphasize the importance of political parties in the primary election process, hopefully focusing more on ideas than pure partisan side-taking (of course, in the General election, it's all about party).

When a primary ballot is printed, each person would include a party preference statement ("My party preference is the Donuts-for-All Party"), but this would just be an informational tidbit like (say) current occupation, without any particular meaning to the overall process.

Listing a party preference would be optional, and during the general election, it appears that write-in candidates would not be permitted.

I had real doubts about this, and though I'm still not entirely convinced, I'm cautiously voting for it. It was the opposition to this that finally put me over the edge.

First, when the unions — Firefighters, Nurses, and Teachers — are all against it (writing the opposition argument in the ballot pamphlet), this is a good sign that I should give it serious consideration.

Remember: these unions don't care about putting out fires, caring for the sick, or teaching your children. They care about union members, and they form a powerful constituency whose interests are often directly opposite of the electorate.

But I don't believe in knee-jerk voting unless it's a bond measure, so I really do have to dig in a bit more to find a good rationale

Said by the measure's opponents:
The proponents claim their measure will stop partisan politics. But how is allowing politicians to hide their party affiliation going to fix partisanship? Prop 14 is politicians trying to trick voters into thinking they are "independent"

This just seems overly desperate to me. It may well be true that Joe Candidate may try to fool the voters with a false front, but do we really believe that the other candidates won't pull back the curtain? The bracing air of a political race means that secrets don't stay secret very long.

Furthermore, this lack of affiliation is only on the ballot: the opponents seem afraid that voters will show up to the voting booth, without a clue who is whom, and will be paralyzed at not knowing which one is the Democrat. I'm not so sure that making it harder for ignorant people to vote is really so bad.

There's an old saying in politics:

Said by wise political voices:
In the primary, run to the right (or left, per your party); In the general, run to the center.

This kind of primary would change the whole election dynamic, as the candidates would now try for wider appeal rather than just with the party loyalists. This sounds appealing.

But there are still some downsides:

  1. Spoilers will be much more powerful: even in a district with more or less even distribution of the major parties, it's possible for one party's spoiler to split the vote, leaving the top two vote-getters from the other party.
  2. If one of the top two vote-getters dies, gets arrested, or is caught in bed with his nanny, there's no provision to replace that candidate or provide a write-in: this means a shoe-in for the other guy.
  3. The minor parties would be almost entirely excluded from the general election.

In addition, while typing up this analysis I found a reason against it that's not about the unions: this would effectively remove the Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties from the ballot by changing the rules for recognized parties in this state.

Right now a party is qualified if it has >1% of registered voters, or gets 2% of the vote in any midterm election. But since this ballot measure eliminates party runoffs except for the Presidential election, there would be no way that a minor party could ever, ever qualify. I don't know if this was intentional or if it was a side effect, but it's written about in much better detail here.

Even though I happen to be libertarian, I still believe more in ideas than parties, so I'm not quite sure this is enough to make me oppose it. But it sure gave me pause.

Note that this is not the same as an "open primary", where anybody can vote on any party's ballot: I'm generally against open primaries, as a party ought to be able to set the rules for how its own standard-bearers are selected.

My vote: Yes

More info:
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California icon Prop 15: California Fair Elections Act

This measure would establish a pilot program with a novel idea for public funding of elections, for one office (the California Secretary of State) for two election cycles (2014 and 2018). This is an experiment.

Candidates who agreed to public funding would forego other fundraising, but if their non-publicly-funded opponents were outspending them, the State would kick in matching funds to help make it a fair fight.

The idea is to make a candidate less beholden to the corrosive power of money and fundraising, not have to cater to big donors (political parties, unions), where it's hard to avoid the appearance of quid pro quo, and to spend more of their time talking about issues.

But in order to get public funding, a candidate has to demonstrate that s/he has broad support: this is done by collecting 7,500 donations of $5 each. This money is deposited into the public-election fund.

Candidates could not use their own money beyond a limited "seed money" period, and there would be all kinds of other restrictions on political contributions. They appear to have real teeth.

The whole thing sunsets after the 2018 election.

I found this surprisingly appealing even though I've never supported public funding of elections in the past, not even close. This looks like an absolutely honorable attempt to fix a real problem we all agree on (the damaging power of money in an election).

I was going to support it, almost enthusiastically, to see how it works in real life: will candidates opt out and overwhelm the opt-in candidates? Will the teeth be effective? Will the whole thing be gamed by the special interests?

Alas, I'm not willing to risk it because the sunset provisions are totally weasely.

Though this experiment is only for one office in two election cycles, it can be renewed and extended to all statewide offices by a vote of the legislature (and signature of the governor) - no vote of the people is required.

This means that no matter how it turns out, for good or for bad, the people have no say in whether to keep at it or not.

To me, this is the fatal flaw, and too dangerous to approve. Rather than an experiment, it smells too much like a Trojan horse.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 16: Local electricity providers

Electricity icon

This measure would require cities or other governmental entities to get a 2/3 approval by their voters before spending any money to operate their own electric utility, and I think the alternate title is the "Pacific Gas & Electric Bill Of Rights".

The best reason to vote against this is the major backer: nobody could possibly believe that PG&E is spending millions of dollars because they're concerned about the taxpayer.

"I'll take 'Who PG&E really Cares About' for $400, Alex".

But as much as I dislike PG&E's phony, disingenuous concern for the electorate, that doesn't mean I can't come to the same conclusions for other reasons. I support this measure.

First, although I love competition, I am philosophically opposed to government competing against private industry — not only does the government generally not do anything better, but it has too many ways to hide costs and failures to outright lie about their own performance.

Second, it's far more difficult to displace a government monopoly than it is to displace a private one, even if the former's performance is universally believed to be incompetent, because the entity develops its own constituency with interests that are different from that of their customers.

Everybody knows that a private utility is looking to make a return for its shareholders, and the profit motive is seized on by backers of the municipal utility. Sure, the muni isn't trying to make a profit, but they get their return in other ways: more power for the agency, crippling union pension concessions, immunity from consequences for negligence, etc.

One doesn't have to aspire to riches to aspire to power: I don't believe that PG&E has eminent-domain powers, something a governmental utility is never shy about exercising:

Said by muni officials
"Hey Mayor Tom, that neighborhood looks blighted to me. Does it look blighted to you?"

I think the opponents make what surely sounds like a silly argument:

Said by opponents in the ballot pamphlet
We believe that residents should be allowed to have the choice of buying electricity at lower cost without requiring a 2/3 supermajority vote.

Um, if it's really that hard to convince your own voters to save money, then maybe your project is not the slam-dunk you think it is. Maybe your voters smell the same kind of boondoggle that usually follows these projects.

Now it's true that anytime a city tries to do this, the utilities bleed cash to try to quash the project, and it may well be that I'm simply naïve about how good of a campaign their millions can put on.

I'm sorry that it has to benefit PG&E, but I'm voting yes.

My vote: Yes

More info:
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California icon Prop 17: Auto Insurance: Continuous-coverage discount

car crashing into tree - icon
Copyright ©

Under current law, your auto-insurance carrier may grant you a discount for being a longstanding customer (though this factor will be less than other factors such as your driving experience or claims history), but if you change carriers, you start over at the new place and pay full fare until you've been a customer for a while.

This law would make the discount portable, allowing you to take it with you, but carriers could also tack on a surcharge if you haven't had continuous coverage for the last five years.

The notion of "continuous coverage" means no more than 90 days without coverage in the last 5 years, subject to some exceptions.

Though this sounds superficially attractive, I'm voting against it.

First, this measure is being heavily backed by Mercury Insurance, and it's hard for me to believe that they're doing it for my own good: they see some benefit for them, and that may or may not correspond with some benefit for me.

My suspicion is that drivers with a long history of coverage are better risks than those with gaps in coverage: though there are good and honorable reasons for gaps (military service, study abroad), I think we all know that some people simply will let their policies lapse even though they are driving.

Perhaps Mercury believes that they can compete on price, but this is almost for sure while going after the drivers who are lower risk. But these good drivers are now attached to their old carriers due to the discounts, and they have no way to pry them loose.

But if they can offer additional discounts to these responsible drivers, they are surely (as in: they've said they will do this) going to make up for that discount by charging others more. This has the effect of both responsible and irresponsible drivers alike, and will make it harder to get insurance if you're in the margins of being responsible.

This sounds like cherry-picking to me, and it's a bad idea.

I also am skeptical of the notion of continuous coverage discounts anyway: aren't they really good-customer discounts intended to benefit the carrier by making it less attractive to leave? This is not solving any societal purpose, and it's not your discount to take with you anyway.

I do understand that this does make it harder to change carriers, because you lose your good-customer discount, but my gut feeling — partly based on Mercury's eagerness — tells me that this is on the whole a bad idea even if it sounds good at first.

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:

Last updated: Wed Jun 2 15:38:17 PDT 2010