Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rock the vote, but don't tip the vote over

Sunday morning on Face the Nation, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer made the following cogent observation: "If all you knew about the election was what you see in the political ads, you'd think there was no one running except crooks, deviants, and fools."

To which I can only respond: And your point is, Bob?

Although today is Election Day across America, I have already cast my ballot. KJ and I have been permanent absentee voters for the past six years, dating back to her chemotherapy days. It's a far more civilized manner in which to conduct this practice. You actually have time to sit down with your ballot pamphlet -- which for this election was roughly the thickness of the Los Angeles phone book -- read through the various propositions and candidate statements, and take your time making up your mind about which of the many evils is the lesser. In my considered opinion, they should simply close the precincts and have everybody vote by mail. Even better, let those who can do so vote online, though I realize there are technical and security concerns surrounding that choice. Hopefully the day will come when those obstacles can be circumvented. The easier it is for people to vote, the more likely they are to do it.

Of course, the real problem with our modern elections is that most of the people voting have absolutely no idea what they're voting for, or why. That's especially true in California, where the ballot is perennially clogged with a series of convoluted initiative propositions that require a law degree, higher mathematics, and advanced study in semantics and Latin to fully understand. Call me an extremist, but I believe that asking the general electorate to vote on most of these issues is a complete waste of time. The vast majority of folks simply shrug their shoulders and pick the option they think is less onerous, based on what limited understanding they have of what the measure is actually about. That's no way to run a railroad, much less a state. We pay politicians to wrangle with and make decisions about these kinds of things. We shouldn't be forced to both pay their salaries, and do their work for them too.

Plus, in actual practice, the initiative process in California is simply a way for every well-heeled corporation -- or crackpot political group, take your pick -- to compel the population to vote on something that is only important to the people who put the measure on the ballot in the first place. Again, that's no way to run a railroad. In my view, the companies or organizations that sponsor initiatives ought to have to bear the entire cost of the election, not just of the ads they run pushing their positions. Maybe that would keep the truly frivolous items off the ballot, thus reducing the size of the ballot pamphlet to roughly the thickness of the Sonoma County phone book.

I recognize of course that most of our readers are not Californians. However, as a public service to those of you who are, I'm going to share with you how I voted on some of the offices and issues in today's general election. You can either follow my choices, or you can choose to do the exact opposite of what I've done in every instance. In either case, I’ve just simplified the election for you immensely, and you are equally likely to be right whichever course you choose.

Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican. I know what you're thinking: The devil you say. And you'd be right, in that I have spent the last three years mercilessly mocking the Governator as emblematic of what's wrong with politics in this country. The thing is, once you get past that ridiculous special election Arnold foisted on the state last year, he's actually done a fairly decent, middle-of-the-political-road job. I also give him credit for acknowledging that his special election was stupid, and for apologizing for wasting money on it. When’s the last time you saw a politician admit a mistake? But the real reason I voted for Arnold is that his opponent, Democratic state treasurer Phil Angelides, is an idiot. Angelides couldn't have mounted a less competent campaign if he'd hired two spider monkeys and a dingo to run it. I don't get the sense that Angelides would be any less hapless were he elected to the statehouse. At least with Arnold, you have a guy who knows what he wants to do, even if you always don't agree with him. Confidence always trumps cluelessness in my book.

Lieutenant Governor: John Garamendi, Democrat. Another "at least he's not the other guy" selection. Garamendi's Republican opponent, Tom McClintock, it is a right-wing whack job who has no business anywhere near public policymaking.

Attorney General: Jerry Brown, Democrat. I've always been a fan of Jerry's, going back to his days as California's governor in the swinging '70s. In fact, in the very first presidential election in which I was able to vote, in 1980, I voted for Jerry for President. He was a good governor, and he's been a good mayor these last eight years in Oakland. I don't know whether Attorney General is the office I would have chosen as his next political challenge, but I'm willing to give him a shot.

Insurance Commissioner: Steve Poizner, Republican. I actually like Poizner, a Silicon Valley business type who seems like a pretty reasoned guy for a Republican. Not to mention which, his Democratic opponent, current Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, covers at least two of the three categories Bob Schieffer mentioned in the statement quoted above. I don't think Cruz is a deviant, though.

US Senator: Dianne Feinstein, Democrat. I think Senator Feinstein does a heck of a job. I'm actually glad that she missed getting elected governor when she ran for that office back in the ‘80s, because it was that loss that pointed her toward the Senate. She's tough, smart, thoughtful, practical, and dedicated. You don't get that five-tool combination in politicians very often.

US Representative: Lynn Woolsey, Democrat. I've never been fond of Woolsey, who’s a passionate advocate, but usually on the wrong side of almost every issue. However, no Democrat has ever been able to mount an effective challenge against her, and the GOP basically rolls over and dies in the face of her continuing popularity in our Congressional district. We could probably do worse, though I'm not sure how. She probably can't break anything in the next two years that she hasn't already broken.

Propositions 1A through 1E: Yes. Collectively known as “Rebuild California,” these five bond measures will fund a host of public projects from highway construction to shelters for battered women to disaster preparedness. I wish we didn't have to mortgage the future to pay for necessary things like this, but that's politics for you.

Proposition 83 (Sex offenders): No. Like many California ballot propositions, Proposition 83 is an apparently good idea written into horribly bad law. Designed to impose more stringent rules upon sex offenders, the result of Prop 83’s passage would be to relocate many such offenders into sparsely populated areas of the state – parts of my home county, for example -- where it would be much harder to keep tabs on their activities.

Proposition 84 (Clean water): Yes. Who could be against clean water?

Proposition 85 (Abortion notification): No. Another seemingly well-intended idea whose ramifications were completely ignored by the people who wrote the measure. Proposition 85 would require parental notification before a minor could undergo an abortion. Moral questions about abortion aside – and I’ll share my thoughts on that another day -- it's an incontrovertible fact that a certain percentage of underage girls who become pregnant are the victims of sexual abuse within their own households. This law would require an abusive father, for example, to be notified of his molested daughter's pregnancy. Again, no matter what qualms one has about abortion, I would hope one could see that this is not a good idea.

Proposition 86 (Increased cigarette tax): Yes. As libertarian as I am, anything that discourages people from smoking (especially in my breathing space) is, from my perspective, worth doing.

Proposition 87 (Alternative energy): No. I wanted to support this measure. Really, I did. But in the end, I simply couldn't get behind this badly overwritten approach to a much-needed area of public policy. I hope the people who wrote Prop 87 will try again, and do better next time.

Proposition 88 (Education funding): No. One of those measures whose end result would be the exact opposite of what most people voting in favor of it think it will accomplish. Prop 88 could be the poster boy is for how broken and futile the California initiative process is.

Proposition 89 (Campaign financing): No.
See Prop 88, above.

Proposition 90 (Eminent domain): No. Would increase governmental power in an area of law where the government already has more power than it needs. Pass.

Now go do that voodoo that you do so well. And may the least harmful candidates win.

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