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Alongside several endorsements, we’ve run this illustration, signifying that our choice in the particular race is the lesser of two evils or just one of life’s gloomier compromises.

The New (Not Necessarily Improved) Rules of the Game

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It’s been less than four weeks since New Hampshire voted, but somehow the California primary is already upon us. This year’s primary not only comes three months earlier than ever before; it’s also been re-configured. For the first time in a presidential year, voters will participate in a blanket primary, in which all candidates of all parties will appear on every ballot and voters may cast their vote for any of them, regardless of party.

But before you decide to vote outside your party, you should know this: While the total votes cast for the candidates will be tallied and announced, only the votes of Democrats for Democrats will be counted in the apportionment of delegates to the Democratic Convention; likewise with Republicans. Despite passage of a California ballot initiative for open primaries, the two major parties have informed the state’s election officer that delegates selected by non–party members — for instance, by Demo crats who cast their ballot for Republican John McCain — will not be seated at the convention. McCain might get more votes than George W. Bush overall, but if Bush prevails on the Republican coded ballots, he will win every one of the state’s Republican delegates.

For every other office on the ballot, however, a vote is a vote is a vote. Republicans crossing over to vote, say, for Democrat Adam Schiff in his challenge to Republican Congressman (and former House Prosecutor) James Rogan will have their votes counted along with everyone else’s. Democrats crossing over to vote for Rogan will have their votes counted, too, though they risk spending eternity in the fires of hell.

That said, here are our primary recommendations:


This year’s election takes place in a political environment unlike any we’ve known for many decades. For the first time in eons, the government is running a surplus, and is projected to do so for years to come. That means that the fundamental question for American public policy has become what to do with this unexpected bounty. The options range from cutting taxes on the rich (the Bush position), to paying down the debt and shoring up existing programs (the party line of both Gore and McCain), to initiating new programs — such as universal health insurance — to meet our vast unmet needs (the Bradley approach).

This doesn’t obviate, of course, the significance of the differences among the candidates on questions of choice, gun control, defense policy, environmental protections, campaign-finance reform and so forth. But when candidates agree on these issues — as Al Gore and Bill Bradley generally do — then the question of how we use the opportunity that our prosperity affords us becomes decisive. Bill Bradley’s priority is to use the surplus to reduce the grotesque inequalities that characterize our time. On this paramount issue, he’s the only major candidate who’s got it right — and the candidate who wins our support.

Now, if only he had a snowball’s chance . . .

Clearly, the man of the moment in American politics is Republican John McCain. To his credit, the Arizona senator has pushed the GOP toward the center of the political spectrum. Against the ferocious opposition of his Republican Senate colleagues, he has allied himself with Democratic progressives to fight for campaign-finance reform and controls on big tobacco. He has opposed Boy George’s proposal to return the projected budget surplus to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts, and he’s gone so far as to suggest that the government might even be able to spend that money wisely. Rejecting the mania for English-only, he’s been a staunch supporter of bilingual education. With winks and nods, he’s suggested he’s a more tolerant conservative than his rivals on issues of choice. And by beating Bush in New Hampshire and Michigan, he has shown that millions of rank-and-file Republicans want the GOP to lose its obsession with feeding the rich, smashing the state and censuring sex lives. McCain has pushed a sizable chunk of the electorate away from a politics of abject lunacy, which is no small achievement.

And if that were all there was to John McCain, we’d think long and hard about recommending him to our readers. Alas, there’s more.

McCain is a conservative Republican, an Arizona Republican, a Goldwater Republican — and while he shares some of Barry’s centrist heterodoxy, he shares even more of his right-wing orthodoxy. McCain voted 82 times in the course of his Senate career against bills securing a woman’s right to choose. He voted against legislation that would have protected physicians and women from violent assaults at family-planning clinics and doctors’ offices. Though McCain speaks reverentially of Theodore Roosevelt, his record on environmental protection couldn’t be further from T.R.’s. In 1998, McCain received a flat zero from the League of Conservation Voters — meaning he didn’t support a single significant environmental measure that came before Congress. On the Hill, and on the campaign trail today, McCain’s an unwavering opponent of gun control, voting against the ban on assault weapons, and even against legislation that banned the sale of guns designed to evade airport-security checks.

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