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The Auros Endorsements: Presidential General Election, Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President and Vice President of the United States of America: Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Yes we can!

United States Representative, District 14: Anna Eshoo. One of the higher-ranking members of the House, one of Nancy Pelosi's close advisors, and somebody with whom I seldom strongly disagree. (The biggest difference I've ever had with her was over Bush's nuclear deal with India, which I thought set a bad precedent for Russia and China making deals with other countries.)

State Senator, District 11: Joe Simitian. Chair of the Environmental Quality Committee, through which he has strengthened reporting requirements and usage standards for toxic chemicals in CA. Sponsors an annual There Oughta Be a Law contest, taking suggestions for policy changes from constituents; quite a few of these ultimately get signed into law.

Member of the State Assembly, District 21: Ira Ruskin. Ira has sponsored a variety of environmental / energy / green commerce laws, including the "clean car feebate" (a revenue neutral fee/rebate for vehicles that are least/most efficient in their class), which hasn't yet passed; hopefully he'll get it through in the next session. He's also active on education, where he's worked to get CA involved in using "open education resources" -- basically free online textbooks, which would drastically reduce costs for students.

Governing Board Member, Ravenswood City School District (2 Elected): Court Skinner and Sharifa Wilson. Court Skinner has worked in diverse levels of education: teacher in an adult GED program, founder of a program that gets computers into low income schools, and president of the local Montessori school. Sharifa Wilson is a past mayor of EPA who is evidently fairly popular, and has worked as a teacher and as an administrator in the school system before. She's currently the director of College Track, a program that provides free tutoring to teens in poor areas in and around EPA, to help them get sufficient education to be ready for college. These two also have endorsements I care about -- the San Mateo County Dems, and a couple Menlo Park city council members whom I know.

Member, Board of Trustees; San Mateo County Board of Education, Trustee Area #4: Rod Hsiao. His opponent Addeman Angeles seems to be a decent guy as well, and is endorsed by the local State Senator and the San Mateo Dems (he serves on the SMCDP committee), but the incumbent, Hsiao, has a considerably more impressive list of endorsements, starting with Anna Eshoo, and a better resume, ranging from congressional aide, to a preschool program, to Chief Operating Officer of a couple of local nonprofits.

Member, Board of Trustees; San Mateo County Board of Education, Trustee Area #7: Memo Morantes. Morantes has all the key endorsements, and I like Morantes' attitude a lot better, in this article about the race. Also, Zasslow didn't bother to submit anything to SmartVoter.

City Council Member, City of East Palo Alto: Douglas Fort, Bernardo Huerta, and Carlos Romero. The SMC Dems recommended Evans, Huerta, and Palesco. The local (fairly conservative, for the Bay Area) paper likes Fort, Romero, and Mitchell. I've gotten lit drops from several of them, and I really have liked what Doug Fort has to say -- he got out of the EPA gang world, got through college, and started a program called "For Youth, By Youth" that helps provide support for others trying to make the same transition. Huerta's lit, and his statement in the sample ballot, are also quite good. He's currently involved in the Planning and Public Works commissions, and his priorities include getting a real supermarket into EPA, expanding the community policing program (more cops on foot interacting with people as members of the community, rather than driving through as a threatening or invasive presence), getting a local superfund site cleaned up, and improving public spaces (sidewalks and parks). Carlos Romero's ballot statement is focused primarily on affordable housing and urban renewal -- he's evidently a "new urbanist", which I like. He also talks like somebody who's trained in the same kind of mediation and stakeholder management techniques that are taught at Presidio (which makes sense, because he studied urban planning at Harvard, and the prof that wrote that part of our curriculum worked with the Harvard Negotiation Project). I'm just not all that impressed with the statements from Mitchell, Palesco, and Evans. And I thought Evans flyer was actively annoying.

Proposition 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train: YES. I am strongly in favor of building intercity high speed rail systems. The price tag on this may look large, but is actually not all that bad. If you look at the Overview of State Bond Debt, from the ballot guide, passing all the bonds on the ballot this cycle would only increase our projected peak debt service ratio from 6.1%, to 6.2%. (The DSR is the fraction of tax revenue spent on interest payments.) The project has already lined up private and federal funds; if we do not approve the state's portion, this funding deal will fall apart, and we will likely be looking at several years of negotiation before we get another shot at it. Finally, while people may feel that now is not the time to issue more debt, that is completely backwards -- as Keynes taught us, a recession is precisely the time you want to accelerate government spending on infrastructure, both to create jobs and support Aggregate Demand in the short run, and to create the foundation for better economic growth when the recession ends.

Proposition 2: Standards for Confining Farm Animals: YES. The UC Davis Dep't of Animal Science says that this will raise the price of conventional eggs in California by about one cent. I do not consider that an excessive price for reducing cruelty to animals, and improving practices for disposing of animal waste. There is also at least one analysis that suggests that some egg producers, rather than transitioning to a slightly higher cost conventional production model, will simply transition into the growing cage-free market, which will significantly lower the cost of cage-free eggs. (This link also notes that: "79 percent of the donations to the No on Prop 2 campaign come from out-of-state factory farms and related industry interests. This suggests that the out-of-state big egg producers fear the spread of our more humane farming methods.")

Proposition 3: Children's Hospital Bond Grant Program: NO. I can just hear folks asking, "Wait, Auros is opposed to taking care of sick kids?" Pete Stahl has a very good writeup on the reasons to oppose Prop 3. The primary purpose of state bonds is to fund large investments that will be owned or managed by the state itself, and will improve social welfare and economic growth, or otherwise generate a return for the public. While children's hospitals are non-profits serving a valuable public purpose, they are still fundamentally private institutions, and this Proposition would basically hand them a bundle of money with no significant strings. (There are window-dressing requirements of taking more poor patients -- but those requirements are already in place under a previous bond grant, Prop 61, passed in 2004.) Tellingly, this proposition has been funded almost exclusively by the private children's hospitals, with a campaign budget of well over a million dollars. Several of these hospitals are supposed to provide pre-natal care, maternity care, and ob/gyn services to teen girls, but restrict service based on religious views. (e.g. Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, which is a Seventh-Day Adventist Institution, restricts access to abortion, contraception and AIDS-related information and services.) Separation of Church and State: PROP 3 FAILS IT! Should we next hand no-strings-attached checks to sectarian charities like the Salvation Army, or to religious schools?

Proposition 4: Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy: NO! AGAIN! This is the third time this one has been on the ballot. It requires a girl to get permission from her parents to get an abortion. In an ideal world, every parent of a teen mother would be sympathetic and would help her make an informed decision about what to do. In reality, many parents would at best deny the girl any choice, and at worst behave abusively.

Proposition 5: Nonviolent Drug Offenses, Sentencing, Parole and Rehabilitation: YES. This law will integrate and streamline three existing programs -- Penal Code 1000, Proposition 36 (passed in 2000), and the Drug Court program of the CA judicial system -- that divert non-violent drug offenders away from prison into treatment and training programs. It also expands the funding for those programs, reduces costs for many poor offenders (currently most of them are required to pay for the treatment program, and if they can't afford it, they have to go back into the criminal justice system), and creates a program for at-risk youth (currently the juvenile justice system does not have a non-violent drug offender diversion program) which can take people from the justice system, or through referrals from worried family and friends. The state is projecting an immediate net savings of around $2.5B due to the option of cancelling a new prison construction project, since the prison population would decline; and a long term savings from reduced prison population more than sufficient to offset all other costs of the new programs.

Proposition 6: Police and Law Enforcement Funding, Criminal Penalties and Laws; and Proposition 9: Criminal Justice System, Victims' Rights, Parole: NO and NO.

OK, so I have both 6 and 9 here, messing up the order. Why? Because these are two "get tough on crime" laws sponsored by the loony billionaire founder of BroadCom. Henry T. Nicholas III has put up more than $5M to sponsor Prop 6, a grab-bag of unfunded mandates that would require a 60+% increase in spending, about a billion dollars a year, for programs ranging from increasing supervision of low-level sex offenders (who already can't live anywhere near anything, are GPS monitored, etc), to creating a registry/reporting system (similar to the sex-offender registry) for people convicted of gang-related crimes, to a new state office to distribute propaganda public service announcements about criminal justice issues, e.g. how great the Three Strikes law is; and Prop 9, an over-the-top Victims' Rights law, which sharply restrict chances at parole, and direct the criminal justice system towards revenge rather than rehabilitation and deterrence. The argument in favor of Prop 9 is extremely personalized, making direct reference to the murder of Henry T. Nicholas' sister Marsy. Nicholas, incidentally, is himself currently under indictment for securities fraud and a variety of drug charges. He apparently put Ecstasy into drinks offered to executives from his company's customers, and bribed assorted people through hiring prostitutes for them.

Proposition 7: Renewable Energy Generation; and Proposition 10: Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds: NO and NO.

Again, I'm messing up the order, because these two are related -- they're both bad things trying to appeal to your approval of alt-energy.

Prop 7 is a classic example of bad stakeholder management. The folks who wrote it, who are connected to John Sperling's work in the area of clean energy, had only the best intentions. (My dad is the president of Sperling's gerontology research institution.) But they came in from out of state, and failed to do enough consulting with the local experts. As a result, the measure is being opposed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters, the Vote Solar Initiative, the Environmental Defense Fund, and more. Its provisions would be locked in such that they could only be edited by another ballot measure or a 2/3 vote of the legislature. It would allow utilities to game their requirements to provide renewable power by creating "ghost contracts" that could keep being "delayed" indefinitely; and it would tend to reinforce the existing model of the power grid, where large generation facilities transmit power over long-distance, expensive-to-maintain lines. We should instead be looking to develop lots of small generation points, and a more flexible grid that can, like the internet, easily route around failure points. Prop 7 also rearranges several regulatory jurisdictions to no apparent purpose, and locks in a pricing structure that may create perverse incentives to ensure that renewable energy contracts fail. All in all, a bad law.

Prop 10 is, if you can believe it, worse. It's sponsored by the funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Slime, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who has recently been expanding his operations into natural gas. He wants Californians to give him $10B for subsidies for fueling stations that provide compressed natural gas, and for cars and trucks that run on CNG. The law is written to talk about "alternative fuels" in general, but because the funding is first-come-first-served, and CNG is the main alternative fuel currently on the market, clearly CNG projects will get the funding (and I'm sure Pickens will have structured things so that the qualifications required will favor his projects). He tosses in some goodies to make the law look nice, like some funding for real renewable power sources. But mostly, it's just a greedy bastard spending a few million dollars in the hope that he can swindle the state of a few billion.

Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry: NO! The whole text of the law is: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The people who support this law have been practicing extortion. The Mormons have also been exhorting people in the pews to give money to support it (which is a clear violation of the church's nonprofit status). Etc. We need to tell these bigots, loud and clear: No, you will not write hatred and prejudice into our constitution.

Proposition 11: Redistricting: NO. This attempt at an anti-gerrymandering proposition establishes a Rube-Goldberg-esque process for creating a commission that would draw new district lines. I think many people competent to serve on such a commission would be excluded by the disqualifications in the law (which take you out if you, or anyone in your family, have any kind of serious partisan affiliation, which many experts concerned with district boundaries do). I don't like the fact that the initial random eight panelists pick the other six (thus reinforcing their own perspectives). I don't like that the primary restriction on the makeup of the panel is that it have an equal number of Ds and Rs, rather than reflecting actual statewide registration, and that there is no requirement with teeth supporting geographic diversity. (The people drawing lines for the Bay Area could all be from SoCal. The initial eight draws could all be from there, and then they could simply ignore the directive to respect geographic diversity in picking the final six, since Section 8252.g of the law says, regarding the geographic issue, "it is not intended that formulas or specific ratios be applied for this purpose.") I don't like that the law continues the practice of leaving the lines largely up to the discretion of a group of human beings, when what we really should be doing is having a group of people -- partisan or not -- agree on the principles that define fair districts, then having experts convert those principles into a scoring mechanism that can be applied through a Geographic Information System, then let anyone submit a map for scoring. You can let the legislature vote on, or hold some kind of referendum on, the top five or ten maps. Maybe look at each proposed district's approval from its own voters, and choose the map where no large constituency is unhappy with the district they've been put into. (This would be a "maximin" strategy, looking at a set of scores for each map, picking the minimum from each set, and then choosing the largest of those).

Finally, I continue to believe that the appropriate way to deal with gerrymandering is through a federal constitutional amendment, because I have trouble stomaching the idea that California is going to end the practice, while leaving Texas to keep its absurd redistricting of 2003. If Republicans are going to stack districts so they get a few extra seats out of each red state, we cannot afford to just unilaterally disarm, and hand them a long-term advantage in the House of Representatives. Yes, we're in the majority at the moment, but the whole House is shaken up every two years, and I would not want to count on every year being as good for the Dems as '06 was, or as '08 is shaping up to be. Unless I was offered a state redistricting reform that was close to ideal, that could serve as a model for the rest of the nation, I could not in good conscience vote for it.

Proposition 12: Veteran's Bond Act of 2008: YES. This would be the 27th iteration of a successful program stretching back to 1922. Under the Cal-Vet Loan Program, the state uses its ability to get cheap credit (with the interest payments to creditors shielded from federal and state taxes), then takes the money, marks up the interest rate just a bit to pay for the program, and gives home loans to California veterans. The loans are structured as low-risk, traditional mortgages, and we have 85+ years of data to say that this is a successful program. The reapproval of this program in the legislature was passed with no dissenting votes; but virtually all bonds in CA's idiotic budgeting system are subjected to a popular referendum, so we have to pass Prop 12 in order to approve what our elected representatives already approved unanimously.

County of San Mateo Measure Q: Commercial Parking Facilities; and County of San Mateo Measure R: Vehicle Rental Business: YES and YES. Currently, various cities impose special sales taxes on parking and rental car businesses. These are good Pigovian taxes, correcting for negative externalities of cars and parking. We have too many cars, chasing too few spaces, and emitting too much pollution while they're at it. Making cars and parking cost more encourages people to walk, bike, and take public transit. (We could, of course, build more parking -- but more parking means less offices, stores, homes, parks, farms, etc. We sacrifice a huge portion of the surface of our urban and suburban areas at the altar of the Infernal Combustion Engine.) There are some parking facilities and rental car businesses that have cleverly wedged themselves into unincorporated patches of the county. These businesses obviously have an advantage over their taxed peers. Let's level the playing field, and bring in critical funding to support the county's healthcare, education, and public safety goals.
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