California down-ballot recommendations

Suffering from election fatigue? I don’t blame you. But let the folks at RBC help you out. Besides, there are some interesting races here:

Lieutenant Governor: Jackie Speier. No, it doesn’t make any sense for the LG and Governor not to be on a ticket. But we’re stuck with it.

Fortunately enough, there’s actually an excellent candidate to vote for: state Senator Jackie Speier, who has long been one of the most intelligent and independent members of the legislature. She has pioneered important consumer and medical privacy legislation, which was so good that the GOP Congress is now trying to pre-empt it.

The LG has virtually no power, but Speier actually has found a plausible reason to run (aside from the obvious one: i.e., she’s termed out). Maybe the only real powers that the LG has are places on the UC Board of Regents and the Cal State Board of Trustees. So Speier says she will focus on becoming a statewide advocate and watchdog on higher education issues. That makes sense (despite my obvious conflict-of-interest).

Speier’s principal opponent is the current Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, who is also termed out from his job (you’ll see this a lot). Garamendi is a good man, and did useful work as a high-ranking Clinton Interior Department official, but his term as Insurance Commissioner has been mixed at best: many say he was asleep at the switch during the scandal with the Executive Life Insurance Company. Besides, he should tell us why he wants the job. He hasn’t. Speier is better.

Attorney General: Rocky Delgadillo. The most important thing about this race is that Delgadillo’s heavily-favored primary opponent is Jerry Brown. I’m not reflexively anti-Brown, but his term as Oakland Mayor has been something of a disappointment. In any event, you can bet that the state Republican Party is pushing for a Brown victory: if you’re a conservative, oppo research on Brown is your ticket to a lucrative (and busy) job. If something inane has been said in California politics over the last 30 years, odds are pretty decent that Brown has said it.

Delgadillo has done a creditable job as LA City Attorney. He hired some of the best prosecutors in the city as his initial policy staff, and has a thoughtful “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” platform that makes sense both on policy and politics. And unlike Brown, Delgadillo has actually been a practicing attorney. he’d make a better AG, and a far more formidable general election candidate.

Controller: John Chiang. Chiang is one of the rising stars of the California politics, and with good reason: he actually understands the arcana of state finance that should be the controller’s bailiwick. He also seems to enjoy the stuff, serving with distinction on the State Board of Equalization over the past several years.

His opponent is yet another termed-out state Senator, Joe Dunn. Dunn has been an effective legislator, championing important causes like affordable housing and workers’ rights. But he doesn’t really want this job: he was going to run for AG, then switched when Brown got in. He’d be an awfully good AG, too: he was a highly successful trial attorney before becoming a politician, who pioneered much of the legal strategy behind the tobacco lawsuits. But he should run for the job he wants, not fill a place for 8 years.

Insurance Commissioner: No Endorsement. Outgoing LG Cruz Bustamante has this primary race all but sown up, which says a lot more about money and name recognition than anything else. He has had two undistinguished terms as LG, interspersed with an undistinguished run for Governor during the recall, which followed an undistinguished couple of years as Assembly Speaker. His forte appears to be serving major (and well-heeled) interests. He was the first Latino to represent the Central Valley–and could also be counted on to favor the interests of growers over those of farm workers. Running for Insurance Commissioner, he has accepted more than $150,000 from the insurance industry (he now says he will return them). Leave the ballot blank here.

Secretary of State: Debra Bowen. Yet another race with termed-out legislators, in this case with the same first name. Bowen’s opponent is Deborah Ortiz, who has been a decent enough legislator but nothing in particular to qualify her for the job. Bowen, on the other hand, has not only been an excellent state legislator, but really seems to know why she wants this position. For several years she has chaired the Senate Elections Committee, where she has led the fight against plans for putting Diebold machines everywhere. She is very intelligent and would be an excellent choice.

Proposition 82: Yes. This is a close call. This measure would raises taxes on high-income (400-800K) voters in order to pay for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. It is the brainchild of actor Rob Reiner, who sponsored another initiative a few years back to raise tobacco taxes to pay for programs for very young children (and who recently had to resign his post on the commission running these programs when it discovered that he spent commission monies to help Prop 82).

The Yes on 82 committee points to RAND Corporation study that shows that investments in preschool for low-income children more than pay for themselves through reduced crime and higher educational achievements. That’s true as far as it goes, but then why have a universal program? It’s not clear that this tax money should be paid for preschool for more affluent children.

In the end, I come down in favor of this measure for two basic reasons.

1) Programs for the poor are poor programs. The only way to maintain programs for low-income kids is if taxpayers think that their kids will benefit, too. There are exceptions–EITC, for example–but they are few and far between. I am more confident that the program will be robust and better managed if middle-class children can take advantage of it. And it certainly doesn’t hurt other children to go to preschool. This is very important for low-income children. I wish we had the Nordic countries’ sense of social solidarity, but we don’t.

2) It’s another salvo in the budget wars. California’s “fiscal constitution” is a mess, largely because of initiatives like Proposition 13, 98 and 218, which have put the state in a fiscal straitjacket. Attempts at common-sense reform have been stopped because of the anti-tax theology of the right. Passing initiatives like Proposition 82 is important because it says that progressives can play the game, too. If you can cut taxes for the rich with initiatives, then we can raise them with initiatives. It’s not the best policy process, but it’s necessary politically in order to try to get to some kind of consensus on fiscal sanity. Ballot box budgeting, then, is a bad idea whose time has come.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

7 thoughts on “California down-ballot recommendations”

  1. But what about the Montessori school issue – they don't get state degrees, but offer a wonderful program. I would not be where i am without the early childhood programming of the Montessoris.
    I suppose the choice of day care or preschool, i'd choose preschool (and will vote for the measure), but I wish it were written so that these folks were included, not required to have state certification, too.

  2. Rocky for Attorney General? Yes. Prosecutors should have he-man names: Brad, Rick, Stu. It works in pornography.
    James (sorry, Jake)

  3. This is helpful stuff. Wish I had looked at it before voting this morning…but I voted pretty much along those lines anyway.
    No endorsement for Prop 81? For me, this was a no-brainer: libraries are just about the best way the state can possibly spend money.

  4. Pointed here by a friend, and thanks for this info — I ended up voting almost exactly this ticket earlier this morning, and even threw in Spier just because I reflexively hate those damn Garamendi ads.
    Regarding Rob Reiner, I have a close friend who works on the commission, and the press has been absolutely brutal in their misrepresentation of the situation. He recused himself from every pertinent vote, and the monies were strictly allocated and tracked — kept very separate — but the press has still crucified him. Seems strange that the media would get so bent out of shape about providing something like *preschool*, doesn't it?

  5. Tom Hilton–You are right about Prop 81. Perhaps too naively, I assumed that it would not be controversial among the readers of this page, especially because it has not been controversial statewide. But I voted for it.
    Sophia–I think highly of Reiner, so it is good to hear what you say about the merits. As for the press, I imagine that as is traditional, they are being spun by opposition research.

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