By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER - Gary R. Ramos
In 1994, Republican Chuck Quackenbush was elected to this position, which had been created in 1988 by the passage of Ralph Nader's Proposition 103. Quackenbush, however, isn't exactly what Nader had in mind. Over the past four years, he's accepted $6.1 million in contributions from the industry he's charged with regulating, and his wife, currently the Republican candidate for a Sacramento-area state Senate seat, has raked in thousands in industry money on top of that. Not surprisingly, Quackenbush has proved to be one very industry-friendly commissioner, ignoring Proposition 103's mandates for an end to ZIP-code-based ratings, and showing no interest in stepping up the oversight on health insurers and HMOs.
His Democratic opponent is outgoing Assembly Member Diane Martinez - alas. After six years in the lower house, Martinez is regarded by colleagues and staffers of all ideologies as the single most erratic and ineffective member of the body, with a penchant for assessing legislation not on its merits but solely by her relationship with its author. Her one notable legislative achievement was to corral Democratic support for the energy-deregulation bill that Proposition 9 on this year's ballot was written to repeal; shortly after the bill passed, she repudiated it. Though Quackenbush is an ethical disaster area with a consistently anti-consumer bent, Martinez inspires no confidence whatsoever in her ability to champion consumers, or anybody else.
The Democrats aren't the only party to have failed to run a minimally plausible consumer advocate for insurance commissioner; the Greens haven't run anyone at all. That leaves the Peace and Freedom Party, whose candidate, auto-worker-turned-private-investigator Gary Ramos (several P&F candidates are P.I.s; it's either a very small party or a midsize P.I. firm) supports state-sponsored nonprofit auto insurance and single-payer health insurance. That's good enough for us.
MEMBER, STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION, 4th
DISTRICT - John Chiang
Chiang was chief deputy to eq-board member Brad Sherman when Sherman moved on to the greater glory of Congress in late 1996. Since then, Chiang has served as acting member from Sherman's old district, which comprises most of L.A. County. A tax attorney who's worked at various times for Barbara Boxer, Gray Davis and Kathleen Brown, he combines the requisite expertise with a generally progressive approach to tax issues. Though he lacks Sherman's uncontested status as Tax Nerd of the Western World, he nonetheless is more than amply qualified for the job.
UNITED STATES SENATOR -Barbara Boxer
Barbara Boxer is embroiled in the fight of her political life - but then, an elected official as liberal as Boxer isn't likely to have any easy races in a time as conservative as ours. This year, Boxer's GOP opponent, state Treasurer Matt Fong, seems an amiable cipher - an unassuming, unaccomplished pol with views ranging from moderate-for-a-Republican to all-out-wacko-right. On abortion, he says he "respects" a woman's right to choose in the first trimester. (He doesn't say he supports it.) As he moves away from cultural issues, his viewpoints become those of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. He favors the Steve Forbes flat tax, which would certainly flatten the taxes of people in Forbes' income bracket. He supports developing, at vast expense, a Star Wars missile defense against - well, even the right can't say whom exactly it's a defense against, but they're sure we need it, and Fong concurs.
For her part, Barbara Boxer remains one of the handful of true liberals in the upper house - holding fast for civil liberties, for the idea of public responsibility for the jobless poor, for a number of decidedly unfashionable causes. She is one of the Senate's strongest champions of environmental protections (she's authored the legislation raising the standards for safe drinking water) and of women's rights. For a number of months, the Lewinsky affair made it almost impossible for her to get a word in edgewise, and the right and a largely brain-dead media accused her of a double standard for having made such an issue of the Clarence Thomas and Robert Packwood affairs, while failing to lead the charge against her in-law, the president. There was, of course, a difference between the harassment in the former cases and the consensual sex in the latter, but that distinction was lost on her accusers. Now that the Lewinsky hysteria has subsided somewhat, Boxer seems to have regained her footing, and is back stumping for such trademark causes as childproof safety locks on handguns. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she's won funds for such local priorities as quake relief, the L.A. harbor expansion and the Alameda Corridor. She's a pragmatist and an idealist, in the best tradition of California liberalism, and we unstintingly support her re-election.
And there's one further reason why we do: The moralist right, the Ken Starr coven, is deeply invested in bumping off Barbara. A vote for Boxer has thus become a vote against the neo-Puritanization of America. One more reason to send Babs back to the Senate.
UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE
24th DISTRICT - Brad Sherman
Sherman, who succeeded the retiring Tony Beilenson in this West Valley district two years ago, has been an able representative focusing on environmental issues during his first term in Congress. His Republican challenger, the mega-rich Randy Hoffman, has been the recipient of additional largess from the GOP, since Gingrich has designated this swing-district race as a national priority. Our choice here is Sherman, who provides the kind of intelligent, progressive representation to which this district grew accustomed under his predecessor.