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General Election, Tuesday, 5 June 2012

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 28 Pass 61.4% No Term limits (again)
California icon Prop 29 Fail 49.2% Yes Cigarette taxes for cancer research

California icon Prop 28: Term Limits for California Legislators

This measure would yet again shuffle around term limits for California legislators by changing the current two-part limits (6 years in the assembly and 8 years in the senate) to a single unified limit of 12 years.

In addition to reducing the overall limit of 14 years to 12 years, it mainly allows the legislator to spend all their time in one house before terming out. Currently it's quite common for somebody to term out in one body before running for office in the other.

This chamber-jumping is a surprise to many, though not to those familiar with the nature of professional politicians: they can't hold down a real job, so they work for the government. It's surprising how many have termed out of the assembly and the senate but still run for things like the Insurance Commissioner or the Board of Equalization (or for Federal office). It's like musical chairs up in Sacramento.

My first reaction to any term-limit measure is to look for shenanigans, that it will be used by legislators to prolong their time in office. Here, this really does appear to be a hard 12-year limit, and the ballot language is so short that it's hard to hide shenanigans. It looks like it does exactly what it says it will do.

An argument for maintaining the current rules is that it limits entrenchment of power in any one chamber, so somebody only barely gets any experience in one body before having to jump to the other. They claim that this makes the officeholders perpetual newbies, susceptible to the effects of lobbyists to the detriment of the people.

This rings to me as poor reasoning for two reasons.

  1. Many running for statewide office have already been playing the rough and tumble of politics at the local level—city or county—for some time, and though playing in Sacramento is clearly stepping up the game, it's hard to look at experienced Orange County politics (where I live) and think these guys are babes in the woods or that they don't play full contact.
  2. Maybe I'm politically naive, but even if one grants the newbie argument under the current rules, doesn't it all turn around if they can spend 12 years in a single chamber? Once a guy gets power that he expects to have for a while (say, a key committee chair), doesn't he get to turn the tables on the lobbyists and milk them for all the "support" he can get? Power attract corruption, and entrenched power attracts it magnetically.

Originally I was for this measure, because the simplicity appealed to me, and I underestimated the effects of seniority on power, but now I feel that having people move on before they get too powerful is a net asset.

To be fair, I wanted to touch on one argument against this measure that I don't care for: it's the exemption for current officeholders. Those that support this measure may well believe that a hard 12-year limit ought to take effect immediately, but in practice this would probably be bad:

Scenario: George Q. Politician has 2 terms in the Senate (8 years) and 2 terms in the Assembly (4 years), which is a total of 12 years. Under the current rules, he still has one more Assembly term to go, and he is running for his third Assembly term this year, on this very same ballot, in this very primary.

Presumably he's been running in his primary election for the last coupla months, and assuming he wins and Prop 28 passes, it would effectively say "Nice that you won, but you can't serve", giving a default victory to the other party in the fall.

I think most of us would find that this boundary condition would be worse than a hard 12-year limit, and I don't believe that this measure allows anybody to serve more than the current rules do. So this may look like a little glitch, but it's of no consequence.

In any case, I finally came the the conclusion that a hard year limit was less important than limiting power in one chamber, and that organized labor supports this measure was enough to tip me against it. I'm not totally happy voting no, but I will be.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 29: Taxes Cigarettes to Pay For Cancer Research

This measure would enact a new $1/pack tax on cigarettes, plus equivalent taxes on other forms of tobacco (cigars, chew, etc.) with the explicit purpose of funding cancer research. It contains measures to prevent the legislature from making any changes in the law for 15 years, presumably to protect it from the tobacco industry.

The commission that decides where the money goes would be made up of the heavy hitters in cancer research in California, largely from the university research community, and they'd get to play with ~$800M a year.

Not surprisingly, the tobacco companies are going all out to defeat this measure, starting early and saturating the airwaves (and the internet) with ads against it. Other groups against it are retailers who don't want reduced tobacco sales.

Both of those are understandable objections, but I disregard them out of hand. Duh.

I've seen a number of objections to this measure raised by the opponents, some of which I really don't care for:

"It would allow tax dollars to be spent out of state"
So what? If the goal of the measure is to fund cancer research, shouldn't it go where the research is the best, giving the best bang for our buck? Are we so conditioned to big government sentiments that everything is a jobs bill? I sure don't think so. But in practice this won't be a problem (coming shortly).
"It provides no funding for schools or for cancer treatment"
So what? It's silly to allege that a measure does not do something it doesn't even claim to do in the first place. It's not going to fix the roads and the bridges either.
"It won't contribute a penny to the deficit"
So what? This is a redux of the previous point: it's intended to fund cancer research, not balance the budget.
"It has no provisions against conflict of interest"
There's something to this one, but I'm not sure that we can do all that much about it or whether it matters that much.
The folks divvying up the money are the movers and shakers in California cancer research, and there's an inherent conflict of interest here because everybody assumes they'll drive the money to their own institutions. Wouldn't you?
The thing is: these institutions are the ones most actually qualified to do the research, so it's not like they'll be sending it to their cronies at the teachers union or to Halliburton. I don't know how one can get qualified people to be involved if they're not allowed to involve their own qualified institutions.
But it seems to me that the same concerns about sending all the money to their own institutions mostly undermines the spend-money-out-of-state arguments. The overwhelming tendency will be to send the money in state to their own institutions... all in California.
In any case, the measure does provide for some prohibitions against outright conflicts, and they seem strong enough under the circumstances not to undermine my support.
"Budgeting should not be done by the ballot box"
This is a highly principled argument, in that budgeting really ought to be unitary process by the legislature, not fragmented by whatever groups can get something on the ballot. Pete rails against this often, and I'm highly sympathetic to this; I don't like the state budget to be a popularity contest.
But in this case (as in some others), I'll get over it.
"The measure can't be changed for 15 years"
This is mostly true, but not entirely true.
First, there's no telling what the courts may do, and the restrictions on the legislature revising this may not apply to the initiative process where the people themselves update it. It certainly looks messy.
But the 15-year prohibition doesn't appear to apply to section 30130.54, which sets up the committee that divvies out the funds, so fixing things like the conflict of interest restrictions, requiring audits, etc. are all open for amendment subject to a 2/3 vote of the legislature.
This says to me that the part about the operation of the money can be changed, but the collection of the money cannot be. This is good enough for me.
"It sets up another state bureaucracy"
This feels disingenuous: there's nothing done at the state level without a bureaucracy, and if the only way to get anything done were to operate without one, this would be a libertarian dream (or, I suppose, a dictatorship). This is just not the place where a small-government argument wins very much even though I'm highly receptive to that kind of pitch.

I went back and forth on this a few times, and ultimately became reluctantly comfortable enough with this to support it, and the fact that the tobacco companies are so up in arms against it just seals the deal for me.

My vote: Yes

More info:
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Last updated: Mon Jun 4 23:51:43 PDT 2012