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Sunday, October 03, 2004

The California Ballot Propositions: my take.

In California, we do things differently than the rest of the 49 states. Most of our legislation comes from ballot initiatives. Some argue that California is a purer democracy because of it, where others will argue that it's an unwise usurpation of the Founders' vision of our representative democratic system. Certainly, it's tied the hands of both the legislative and executive branches here in California, and made cutting the budget to bring it back into balance a labor worthy of the Hercules of Greek legend, not merely "Hercules In New York comes to California."

Anyway, there's some biggies on the ballot this time. I know I have already weighed in on one proposition, but there are others. Let's begin.

First up, 1A. This one's quite good, because it's a safeguard against raiding local coffers to balance the State budget. One of the dirtiest little secrets of the Schwarzenegger administration is how Ah-nold raided local budgets to balance the current budget. My suggestion: YES.

Next up, 59. This is a "sunshine law" to open up most State Government meetings to public observation. Many of the most important meetings held to decide the minutia of the current California budget were held behind closed doors. While this will not affect Schwarzenegger's private smoke-filled tent, it will go a good long way towards opening the rest of California government to citizen scrutiny. My suggestion: YES.

Then there's 60. This was designed as "defensive legislation" against an open primary system. However, it goes exactly the opposite direction and ossifies the current system, outlawing interesting ideas like instant runoff voting and so forth. We need the flexibility to try new ideas. Open primaries are an old idea that doesn't work, but so is the status quo. My suggestion: NO.

Confusingly, the next proposition is 60A, but it has no resemblance whatsoever to its ballot neighbor. This is simply an amendment which will assure that surplus property sold by the State will go to paying off bonded indebtedness, rather than to any other application. Since I'm not a big fan of bonded indebtedness, except for very worthy causes, I would suggest a YES vote.

Next up: 61. OK, this is a bond proposition, but it's for a very good cause. Children's Hospital of Los Angeles is getting a bit long in the tooth, and could use some modernizing. This bond proposition is a relatively modest one, and will go a long way to helping these hospitals of last resort for underinsured and uninsured children. YES.

Next: 62. This is the meat of the attempt to restore the "open" or "blanket" primary. This proposition holds that the two primary election candidates receiving the most votes in the primary, regardless of party, will go on to face each other in the next general election. Can you see how that would suck? Imagine if you had, as a choice on the ballot, either a raging right-wing Republican or a moderate, Ah-nold anointed Republican? No Democratic choices, no Libertarians, no Greens, nothing else. Just Bob Bible-thumper and Jim Corporate Candidate. Great choice, eh? Big NO.

Next, Prop 63. This is the kind of funded mandate I can get behind. Rather than further committing the State to more bonded indebtedness, this proposition seeks to fund expanded mental health services for the indigent by a 1% tax on income above $1 Million. OK, it's a tax. But if I were making more than a million dollars a year, I would consider this a minor price to pay to make some serious inroads against the problem of the homeless mentally ill. Yes, I know the arguments about "The Millionaires Next Door" and how more people are in that category than you think. But really now, 1%? Is that skin off anyone's behind, especially the prosperous? Think of it as insurance against getting your Bruno Magli shoes puked on by a mentally ill homeless bum on the streets. Big YES.

From a good idea to a really, really BAD idea: Proposition 64. I knew something was funky about this proposition when I saw commercials in favor of it starting a month ago, the first out of the gate. They give sob stories about small businesses getting "shaken down" by rapacious trial lawyers, but in reality the people behind this initiative are Big Oil, Big Banking, Big Insurance, and Microsoft, to name but four. Who are Unocal, Bank of America, State Farm and Microsoft trying to fool? Us. Big NO.

I really don't have enough info to say anything about Proposition 65. However, my personal way of dealing with ballot propositions is this: when in doubt, VOTE NO. However, I'll blog my views about the proposition when I have more info on it. Verdict: Jury's out.

No uncertainty about the next one, Proposition 66. When the Three-Strikes proposition was passed, (also known as a "Three-Time Loser" law) we were told that only serious, violent felons were to be affected by it. In practice, people were getting their third strike from stealing food, selling pot, and other non-violent crimes. Three-Strikes has made our society a more, not less dangerous one. Why is it that we have more hit-and-run accidents and dangerous car chases now then before Three-Strikes? Why is it that our prisons are crammed full with inmates? Three-Strikes is not the total reason why our prisons are overcrowded hell-holes...responsible decriminalization of soft drugs and medicalization of the hard drug problem is another solution that deserves a good, honest look. In this "just say No" society, however, sanity in drug laws is a solution that dare not speak its name. However, fixing the flaws in Three-Strikes would be a good start. BIG, BIG YES.

Proposition 67 is next. This would put a new surcharge on phone service to fund improvements in 911 service and to the Trauma Care system. While I am against most regressive taxes, and a phone surcharge is a regressive tax that hurts lower and middle class people more than the rich, this is necessary. Today the Van Nuys Campus of Northridge Hospital is closing its emergency room, and King-Drew Medical Center has already voluntarily eliminated their Trauma Care service in a neighborhood which desperately needs it. Real universal health care for all Americans is what is needed, but this isn't a half-bad bandaid measure until we get there. Big YES.

Proposition 68 and 70 are both measures to expand gaming in California. While I believe there is nothing morally wrong with gambling, I think that expanding it further, particularly in urban areas, is unwise. Prop 68 is funded by Churchill Downs, the racetrack company that owns horse and dog racing facilities all over the US, and by Gardena card clubs, particularly the one owned by Larry Flynt, the Hustler Casino. Prop 70 is slightly less repugnant, and is basically set up so that the tribes that didn't enter into compacts with Gov. Schwarzenegger can start or expand their casinos. Still, enough is enough. I'm giving both a little NO...research it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Proposition 69 would be something I could get behind if it weren't for how broad it is. I think that setting up a DNA database on convicted felons is a damn good idea. However, it's much broader than that. Anyone arrested for a felony would be added to this database. These felonies can include victimless crimes, not just violent crimes. And we all know that not everyone arrested for a felony is actually a criminal. There are enough innocents being arrested, and enough erosion of the presumption of innocence, to where this is a bad idea. Big NO.

I have already spoken about my objections about Prop 71, and I haven't heard anything yet to change my mind.

Lastly among the State ballot measures is Proposition 72. This is a public referendum on the "Pay or Play" limited plan to make sure that medium-to-large scale employers pay for their employees health care. If a business employs 19 or fewer employees, they would be exempt from this program. If a business employs 20 to 49 employees, they only have to participate if a business tax credit to defray their costs is also passed. If a business employs 50 to 199 employees, they must either provide insurance for their employees or pay into a State insurance pool that would cover their employees. If a business employs 200 or more employees, they will have to cover not only the employee but the employee's dependents in the same manner. Notice that this is all contingent on being employed. This does nothing for the unemployed, this does nothing for employees in very small businesses. This is not universal health care for California, this is not universal health care, period. Big Insurance will make out like bandits with this proposition, just as they have with universally mandated Automobile Insurance. This is a bandaid on a person who's suffered traumatic amputation and is hemorrhaging furiously, folks. But it's a start. There have been tons of scare ads on the TV about this proposition. The people who support Prop 72 simply don't have the money to answer this barrage of misinformation and disinformation. They have to settle for voices crying in the wilderness, like me. Lucky them. BIG YES.

I'll go over the LA City and LA County propositions sometime in the future, and I also intend to reprint this before November 2nd on my site.

The deadline to register to vote is October 18th. Your registration form must be postmarked on or before October 18th. DO IT. This is a big election with a lot at stake. If you aren't registered, get registered, dammit!