How exciting is this? A presidential primary that Californians can actually help decide before the nominees are anointed! Yikes. This is uncharted territory. We just don’t know about the etiquette in such situations—like, is there a ballot-booth dress code when your vote actually matters? Well, whatever—at least you’ll have CityBeat’s endorsements handy if you should need some advice. Here’s what we think about the presidential nominees, as well as ballot propositions on transportation, community colleges, term limits and tribal slot machines:
It’s not that we don’t like Republicans. It’s just that we rarely agree with them.
In this election, we have one guy (Mike Huckabee) who has borderline liberal views on the role of government but also wants to amend the U.S. Constitution so that it conforms to the word of God. Um, sorry, that’s a deal-breaker.
Another guy (Fred Thompson) seems to believe all Iranians are extreme Islamist terrorists. Witness his comment at a Jan. 10 televised debate about an alleged confrontation between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels: “I think one more step, you know, and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they’re looking forward to seeing.” Yeah, I think we’ll pass on him.
Then there’s the guy (Mitt Romney) who’ll tell you he’s a 123-year-old Albanian woman with four heads who can bite through six inches of concrete if he thinks it’ll get you to vote for him. Nah.
Next we have Mr. Not-So-Subliminal (Rudy Guiliani), who we’d be fine with on social issues, but he’s completely turned us off with his constant references to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Too smarmy for our tastes, thank you very much.
Yet another candidate (Ron Paul) is absolutely right on one big issue—he would get us the hell out of Iraq—but recent revelations about overtly racist rantings in his newsletter suggest that either he’s a black-people-hating freakazoid or he’s oblivious to what his minions have been doing under his name. Either way, no thanks.
That leaves us with John McCain. The U.S Senator from Arizona is the very embodiment of a mixed bag. On the negative side of the ledger: He thinks Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned, and he thought the occupation of Iraq was going just fine in 2006, by which time the rest of the country had realized it was an unmitigated disaster. He wants a constitutional amendment against flag desecration, which we believe would violate the spirit of the First Amendment, and he thinks the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is A-OK. He thinks the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent. He wants more convicts executed and faster, and he thinks nuclear power is the answer, despite the fact that we have no idea what to do with the waste. He also doesn’t want environmental provisions written in to trade agreements, and he’s anti-union. Perhaps worst of all, he would militarily overthrow all foreign regimes he doesn’t like. We quote: “I’d institute a policy that I call ‘rogue state rollback.’ I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.” Yikes. In other words, he’s kind of a Republican. These are all the reasons we won’t endorse him if he makes it to the general election in November.
But despite that litany, at least he recognizes that our system of campaign finance is broken, he’d like to do something about pork-barrel spending and he’s against a federal ban on gay marriage. Those are good things. But most of all, he’s a Republican who thinks waterboarding is a form of torture, understands that we can’t fix illegal immigration simply by fencing in the country and rounding up undocumented human beings and knows that evolution is fact. For now, that seems like the best we can hope for from the GOP. We’re holding our noses and endorsing John McCain.
Because we’re a liberal newspaper—and damn proud of it—we understandably feel much better about the Democratic contenders, especially after eight years in presidential hell. With any of them, we’d likely have a pro-union president who’d appoint a pro-choice judge to the Supreme Court, favor diplomacy over a rush to war and halt the tax breaks for the country’s wealthiest citizens and focus on the other 90 percent of the citizenry.
All things being equal, we’d be tempted to endorse Dennis Kucinich, as we did four years ago; we agree with just about all of his positions. He’s the only candidate who’s entirely against the death penalty, he’s against the North American Free Trade Agreement, he’s for a single-payer nonprofit healthcare system, he’s against marginalizing immigrants and he’d get out of Iraq immediately. Sadly, though, all things aren’t equal, and Kucinich has no chance of winning. Hell, the gatekeepers won’t even let the man into the debates. That leaves us with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.
Clinton and Edwards are saying all the right things, in our view, as is the custom in presidential primary season, when Democratic candidates try to outflank each other from the left. We especially appreciated Edwards’ “two Americas” theme from the 2004 race, the gist of which he’s continued in the current campaign. Were he to lead with such a populist approach, we’d have ourselves a first-rate president.
But one thing continues to gnaw at us about both Clinton and Edwards: They voted in favor of giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq. While Edwards’ expressed regret for his vote is nice, the fact remains that they knew in 2002 that the case for war was total bullshit. It’s clear to us that their votes were calibrated toward a presidential run; they were unwilling to risk a no vote on what was a foolhardy yet popular invasion. As a result, they’re part of a weak Democratic delegation that is partially responsible for the unnecessary deaths of nearly 4,000 American servicemen and women and the life-changing permanent physical and psychological injuries of tens of thousands more.
Obama wasn’t in the Senate when the Iraq vote came up, but, despite what Bill Clinton’s been saying lately, Obama’s position in 2002 was unambiguous: “I don’t oppose all wars,” he said. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”
We admit it: We’re taken with Obama’s eloquence and his ability to inspire hope—a product, perhaps, of listening to George W. Mumblemouth for the last eight years. Obama’s borrowing of the “better nature of our angels” theme from Abraham Lincoln strikes just the right chord. Lincoln uttered those words amid Civil War-era disharmony; Obama has resurrected them in an era when too many politicians act on behalf of party over country. As a recent essay in the Los Angeles Times noted, Obama’s talk of bridging the partisan chasm is rooted in this nation’s earliest documents and in the hearts of its Founding Fathers, who openly worried about the dangers of party politics. We’re heartened by Obama’s apparent appeal among independent-minded voters, who sense that if anyone can lead us down a path toward common ground—or at least unify lower- and middle-class Americans in a pushback against the wealthy elite—it’s the senator from Illinois.
One thing’s certain: We haven’t felt this good about a presidential candidate in—well, forever. Our enthusiastic endorsement is for Barack Obama.
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Prop. 91Transportation Funding
Almost no one supports Prop. 91. That’s not an exaggeration. Not even the people who fought to get it on the ballot want you to vote yes—only a group called Southern California Transit Advocates thinks it’s a good idea.
Here’s the explanation: While the proponents were busily qualifying this initiative, which seeks to remove gas taxes from the state’s general fund and earmark them for highway improvements only, state leaders were deciding to put Prop. 1A on the November 2006 ballot, and Prop. 1A seems to have satisfied the proponents of Prop. 91, who are now urging a no vote.
But Southern California Transit Advocates remain unsatisfied. They say that Prop. 1A leaves a small window open for state leaders to use gas taxes for other purposes—that initiative allows lawmakers to spend the money on something else in two years of every 10-year period, as long as the state pays the money back to the transportation fund, with interest, within three years.
In our view, the cost of raiding the fund is incentive enough for lawmakers to leave it alone. Prop. 91 is unnecessary. Vote no on Prop. 91.
Prop. 92Community College Funding
Currently, state law prohibits legislators from setting funding for kindergarten through community college below a certain point. That sounds good, but it’s one of the reasons lawmakers have control of just a fraction of the state budget, and one of the reasons that important programs that aren’t guaranteed a certain level of funding are constantly looked at for cuts. We’re philosophically opposed to tying the hands of the people we vote into office by setting minimum funding limits, and we’d love to see a do-over on Prop. 98, the law that guaranteed the education funding.
It’s not that we’re against funding education—it’s just that we think the legislature should be allowed the flexibility to respond to ever-changing economic realities. If we don’t trust them, then what’s the point of representative state government? We might as well come up with budget formulas for all aspects of taxation and tax-dollar spending—put the entire budget on autopilot. Until that day, we’ll remain opposed to this piecemeal, so-called ballot-box budgeting.Prop. 92 would carve community colleges off of the Prop. 98 formula and create a separate guaranteed funding calculation. The effect would be increased funding for these colleges for the first few years without a corresponding revenue source to pay for it. It would also trim student fees by $5 per unit, again without anything backfilling the lost revenue.
Opponents of the initiative—including the editorial boards of newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee—note that student fees represent a very small portion of overall student costs and that students who can’t afford fees typically have them waived by administrators. They also note that students who enjoy lowered fees in community colleges and then transfer to universities are likely to pay anyway on the back end, because the CSU and UC systems aren’t guaranteed minimum funding, and higher education is one of the things over which lawmakers still have budgeting authority.
We favor a different approach to fixing the state’s finances: Less money for prisons. We’ll quote the Bee here: “From 1984 to 2004, California’s per capita spending on prisons increased 126 percent (in constant dollars), according to Department of Finance tables. Per capita spending on higher education declined 12 percent, the only major part of the budget to do so.” Vote no on Prop. 92.
Prop. 93Term Limits
Thanks to 1990’s Prop. 140, California politicians are limited to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate, meaning they can serve just 14 years total in the state Legislature. The idea behind the limit was to encourage regular folks to take a break from their careers and take a stab at public office for a little while before returning to their lives back home. Another idea was to remove ultra-powerful Democrat Willie Brown from his office as speaker of the Assembly.
But there were unintended consequences: Now Sacramento is a dizzying game of musical chairs, with lawmakers planning their next move soon after being elected. And power has shifted from career politicians to career lobbyists and career legislative staffers. Prop. 93 would reduce the total time a politician could spend in the Legislature to 12 years but allow that pol to remain in the Assembly or the Senate for the entire time.
Opponents of the initiative—including the Sacramento Bee, North County Times, San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle—say it’s a cynical ploy by a few Democratic leaders to hold on to their offices for a few more years. They’re also irritated that a companion piece of reform, badly needed changes to the way legislative districts are created, has so far been abandoned.
We understand those gripes, but we don’t think they’re reason enough to reject this initiative. Looking at it with a long view, without considering the motives of the people behind it, we think it’s a more reasonable set of limits that puts greater power in the hands of the people we elect and less in the hands of the folks in the shadows. Vote yes on Prop. 93.
Prop. 94-97Casino Expansion
In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger negotiated new agreements with four Indian tribes—Pechanga, Morongo, Agua Caliente and Sycuan—that allowed the tribes to add a total of 17,000 new slot machines in exchange for turning over a higher percentage of gaming revenue to the state. The state Legislature ratified the deals, known as compacts, and the federal government endorsed them, effectively making them law. But opponents of the compacts managed to get voter referendums on the ballot; hence Props. 94 through 97.
But wait, if the Indian Gaming Regulation Act of 1988 required tribes to negotiate compacts with state governments, and these tribes reached agreements with the state in good faith, what gives us the right to interfere at the ballot box? Well, state law does. We can overturn, via referendum, laws we don’t like. And in this case, there’s good reason to question the wisdom of these compacts.
The original compacts with the casino-owning tribes allowed for 2,000 slot machines in each casino. Whether or not that’s an ideal number is debatable; what’s certain is that additional slots increase the impacts on the non-Indian society—transportation, public safety, the economy, gambling addiction. So, the state is obligated to get its taxpayers and citizens a good deal.
The rationale for Props. 94 through 97 is that the state needs additional revenue. First, a government that thinks it needs a huge expansion in gambling in order to help it pay its bills is in serious trouble. But the state revenue proponents claim will come from these deals amounts to a fraction of 1 percent of the state budget. It’s hardly a windfall. And it isn’t new money. It comes from somewhere. Some will come from people of modest means who will lose to the house. Most of it will come from people who would otherwise spend their money on entertainment, goods and services that are taxed. Meanwhile, the state bargained away the chance to verify slot-machine revenues through independent audits.
Make no mistake, this is simply a distribution of wealth toward big-money casinos that make big-money political contributions to the very folks who negotiate these deals. The four tribes have pooled more than $44 million to get these measures passed. That’s a huge investment aimed at a much bigger return.
And for what? Slot machines, which are little more than flashy, noisy implements of sadness and despair into which hapless people toss coin after coin with no hope of overall, long-run success.
We don’t like slot machines. This isn’t a windfall for taxpayers. It’s a drain on other businesses and public services. There’s no independent oversight. Vote no on Props. 94, 95, 96 and 97.Got something to say? Email us at email@example.com.