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
Also check out our handy print-out voter's guide.
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
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:
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES — BILL BRADLEY
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.
In short, there’s still a good deal of that old Republican abject lunacy left in McCain. He’s made a positive contribution to American politics — but not so positive that liberals or even moderates should feel at all comfortable supporting him.
When the presidential campaign got under way a year ago, the chief difference between Bill Bradley and Al Gore was that Bradley was the phlegmatic one, Gore the robotic. Both were centrist Democrats — liberal on social issues, modest to a fault on economic. Over the course of the past year, though, Bradley has surprised the Bradleyologists by proposing to reinvent activist government now that there’s a surplus. For his part, Gore has remained fixed in the triangulated center.
The case for Al Gore is the case for continuity. Alone among the candidates, Gore can claim some credit for the Clinton-administration policies responsible in some degree for America’s prosperity. (How much credit is rightly Gore’s and how much responsibility is rightly the administration’s, we’ll never know.) The vision of the Gore candidacy is the vision of the post-1994 Clinton administration: a feel-good centrism. Gore unabashedly supports tolerance of and equality for all Americans, and, Bradley’s charges to the contrary, he’s an unequivocal supporter of a woman’s right to an abortion. On matters economic, Gore opposes Republican tax cuts by defending Medicare and Social Security and reducing the deficit (or now, paying down the debt). He proposes incremental augmentations of government social programs, while maintaining fiscal discipline to keep interest rates low. Today’s America is a much wealthier nation than the one Clinton and Gore took over in 1992. But it’s also a land of stunning and growing economic inequality, about which Gore says very little.
Gore’s not entirely silent about our transformation into two Americas, though. On one key issue, he’s actually terrific. Gore decries the ease with which employers violate the nation’s labor laws to thwart their employees’ unionization efforts. He proposes to amend the labor law to impose tough penalties on law-breaking businesses.
Gore argues that while he can be trusted to manage the economy, W. puts our prosperity at risk with his tax cuts — an argument that’s out the window if the Republican nomination goes to McCain, whose proposed tax cuts are smaller than Gore’s. Gore has embraced Clinton’s tactic of forestalling the Republicans’ supply-side silliness by advocating using the surplus for things even Republicans can’t object to, namely, Social Security and debt reduction. But he’s taken that strategy and turned it into a weapon against Democratic demand-side decency. Over the past couple of months, he’s repeatedly contended that such proposals as Bradley’s plan for universal health care are a profligate use of the surplus, that the funds should instead be directed to debt repayment. Problem is, with the single exception of his support for union rights, none of Gore’s proposals would substantially reduce the inequality that’s the underside of our prosperity. In fact, by thwarting any significant social programs that could get in the way of debt retirement, his plan for the surplus could actually exacerbate the division between haves and have-nots.
Gore’s health-care proposal, for instance, is to expand incrementally the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which the administration funds in conjunction with the states. But CHIP is a demonstrable failure, especially in California. The cumbersome outreach program has enrolled fewer than 25 percent of the eligible children in this state.
Where Gore proposes tinkering with a failure, Bill Bradley wants to scrap it in favor of an entirely new edifice. Bradley’s health-care proposal calls on the government to subsidize the health insurance of the medically uninsured poor, with payments that would insure children in families with incomes up to three times the poverty level, and adults in families with incomes up to twice that level. It’s an ambitious and costly plan. But it’s also a socially necessary and politically shrewd plan. (Because it places the burden on neither the insurance industry nor small business, it would escape much of the special-interest lobbying that brought down the 1994 Clinton initiative.) Studies by the Urban Institute and Consumer Reports, as well as assessments of such public-health experts as UCLA’s E. Richard Brown, have concluded that Bradley’s proposal is vastly superior to Gore’s.
Gore complains Bradley’s plan will leave Medicaid recipients in the lurch (which it won’t) and that it costs a helluva lot (which it does). Bradley, however, proposes to fund it not just out of the surplus, but by closing oil- industry tax loopholes and by holding defense spending to its current level — very commendable proposals in themselves. (Gore says he’ll swell the Pentagon’s kitty by $127 billion over the next decade.)
Bradley’s campaign proposals are rooted in what Catholic doctrine calls a “preferential option for the poor.” Even when he was in the Senate, Bradley was a quiet but key force behind the creation and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a subsidy to the working poor. He also voted against welfare reform (for which Gore campaigned long and loud), fearing it would prove calamitous during the next economic downturn. On this year’s campaign trail, he’s joined Gore in proposing steeper penalties for labor-law violators and in calling for a hike in the minimum wage. Unlike Gore, he wants to link the minimum wage to the median wage, so it will rise automatically, free from the whims of Congress, as prosperity increases.
Of course there’s one nagging concern about Bradley: While he’s sounding mighty progressive now, he had 18 years in the Senate during which he was nobody’s liberal, at least on economic issues. It’s not surprising that he’s campaigning to Gore’s left on good-government and social issues — calling for campaign-finance reform, and for gun-control legislation far more sweeping than what Gore supports. These are the kinds of proposals he supported in the Senate. The surprise is that he has also reinvented himself as a Democrat in the Roosevelt tradition, willing to use public resources to solve public problems.
Bill Bradley is saying exactly what needs to be said during this campaign season, reminding Americans that they should ensure (and, with the surplus, that they can ensure) that our prosperity be widely shared. His problem isn’t his message; it’s his delivery. Bradley has proved himself a miserable campaigner, oddly unable to defend his proposals on their considerable merits, opting instead simply to attack Gore for lying. His inability to dispel Gore’s misrepresentations is disquieting — though not half so disquieting as Gore’s willingness to level ludicrous charges against Bradley’s programs. As a campaigner, Gore’s certainly shown himself to be one shrewd and tenacious operator, even as his message has grown less and less inspiring.
On the largest question of our time, however — how should we try to shape the globalized economy? — Bradley and Gore, like Bush and McCain, are simply and terribly wrong. All four candidates, in varying degrees, have been proponents of a laissez-faire global order, backing treaties devoid of environmental standards and guarantees of worker rights. All support China’s admission to the WTO.
There is, however, one candidate on the ballot who supports fair global trade standards: Ralph Nader, who’s a candidate in the Green Party primary. The veteran consumer activist has announced that he’s running (albeit as a gadfly candidate) for real this time: a distinction he has to make because four years ago and, briefly, eight years ago, he also proclaimed his gadfly candidacy, and then neglected to wage a campaign, gadfly or otherwise. (It is the fate of liberalism in the 2000 election that neither its mainstream candidate nor its protest candidate has the slightest idea how to run for office.)
Still, the idea of a protest candidacy for the presidency — not to mention an inept protest candidacy — makes us a little nervous. Even in these triangulated times, there are still glaring ideological differences between the two parties on a range of key questions, and the one arena in which these differences are most decisive will be the next president’s Supreme Court appointments. The Court is currently divided 5-4 or 4-5 on a range of fundamental issues, not least the efforts of the Rehnquist Reactionaries to resurrect the doctrine of states’ rights. Over the past two years, Rehnquist’s Gang of Five have increasingly ruled that federal laws do not apply to states. For the past 65 years, American conservatism has been bent on repealing the New Deal, but Rehnquist & Co. seem bent on negating the Civil War.
With his judicial appointments, a Republican president could turn the clock back to God knows when. Which is why, while we regard Nader as the most valuable of public citizens, we do not support what may or may not emerge as his presidential candidacy.
For his part, Bill Bradley seems poised between the virtuous marginality of Nader and the robo-centrism of Gore. Like John McCain, and quite unlike Al Gore or George W. Bush, Bradley gives every indication of having a moral center. Unlike McCain, though, he favors policies that would reduce the screaming inequality in American life, that would make health care a right rather than a privilege, and a decent wage for a working-class job the norm rather than the exception. Bradley calls us, if sometimes inexpertly, to become a better nation — and it’s been a long time since a presidential candidate has sounded that call at all. On Election Day, we recommend you answer his challenge with a vote for Bill Bradley.
UNITED STATES SENATOR — MEDEA SUSAN BENJAMIN
The Feinstein Conundrum — a regularly recurring feature of California life, like the swallows’ return to Capistrano — is back. Every six years, liberals and progressives have to determine whether Dianne Feinstein’s re-election is of such strategic importance that they must discount the fact that her politics frequently make them retch.
Dianne Feinstein is a centrist, which is not to say she ends up in the middle on every issue, but rather that she bounds from left to right (or wrong) depending on the subject. Her environmental record is generally good, and she deserves credit for the Desert Protection Act, which preserves a vast tract of California’s natural resources. She’s taken an active role in the ongoing fight for a Patient’s Bill of Rights; she’s a solid defender of gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. She was, of course, the author and driving force behind the federal ban on assault weapons.
On the other side of the ledger, she led the charge to make capital punishment a Democratic as well as Republican cause célèbre; she’s the author of some superheated anti-gang legislation that today seems a bit of ’90s hysteria; she withdrew her support from Bill Clinton’s universal health program, under pressure from business lobbies, at a critical moment; she ran ads in her last Senate campaign that both reflected and fanned the anti-immigrant backlash of that year. She’s a leading backer of increasing trade ties to China (from which her husband, financier Richard Blum, made a bundle before he dropped his Chinese investments to avoid a conflict of interest).
Happily, there’s an alternative on the March ballot, a candidate we enthusiastically recommend. We do not mean to damn by faint praise when we say that Medea Benjamin is the best candidate the Green Party has thus far put forth. Both a visionary and a very effective hands-on activist, Benjamin is one of the key figures in the burgeoning movement to democratize the process of globalization, to make the creation of the brave new economy not the exclusive terrain of financial powers. Benjamin is the founding director of the human-rights organization Global Exchange, an author and activist who’s played a central role in exposing the global sweatshops and in creating the organizations that have brought this issue to public attention. An economist and nutritionist who worked for the U.N., the World Health Organization and the Swedish International Development Agency before she founded Global Exchange, she leads the organization that turned the spotlight on Nike’s use of abused, poverty-wage workers in Asia, and that helped expose the near-slavery conditions in which Saipan garment workers were forced to labor. She was a key figure in starting up the student anti-sweatshop campaign that’s swept America’s campuses, and she was one of the major leaders of the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle last November. From outside the Senate, she’s already done more to create a more just and livable planet than about 97 of the members inside the Senate.
Of course, if Feinstein falters and her likely Republican opponent, Tom Campbell, climbs in the polls — where she currently leads him by nearly 40 percent — a realpolitik factor may kick in this fall which, at this point, seems fairly superfluous. But it’s a long, long time from March to November, and in the primary we’re enthusiastically supporting Medea Benjamin for U.S. senator.
UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE
24th District — Brad Sherman
Democrat Brad Sherman is seeking his third term in this West Valley seat. Sherman’s a reasonably progressive Democrat — about as progressive as this district can bear — and has done a yeoman’s job securing funds to acquire more land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and slowing down the rush to build a large housing tract on the Ahmanson Ranch near Woodland Hills. He has our clear support.
26th District — Howard Berman
If anyone personifies the split personality of much of the Democratic Party on matters of economic world-view — capitalist on global economics, laborist on domestic economics — it’s Howard Berman, the veteran Democratic congressman from this mid-Valley district. Berman’s one of the few free-trade diehards in the L.A. delegation. At the same time, he’s also the key member of Congress helping the United Farm Workers in their fight against the re-imposition of the bracero “guest worker” program, the leading House strategist to increase funding for Legal Services, a leader in the cause of protecting online privacy, and the most powerful House member to press the cause of immigrant rights. In the past couple of years, he’s used his clout and his smarts for causes ranging from funding the Hansen Dam recreational facilities to advancing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His value and virtues far outweigh what, from our perspective, is his free-trade deviation from everything else that he’s about.
27th District — Adam Schiff
Adam Schiff, a former criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has represented most of this Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena district in the state Senate for the past four years, where he’s authored and pushed to enactment some notable consumer, labor and environmental legislation. He’s our clear choice over incumbent Republican Congressman James Rogan, but let’s be straight about this: Anyone selected at random off the street would be our clear choice over incumbent Republican Congressman James Rogan.
The issue isn’t just that Rogan represents this increasingly Democratic and non-white district with a voting record suitable to Orange County in the ’50s. It isn’t just that he opposes a woman’s right to choose, or restrictions on tobacco companies, or campaign-finance reform, or linking trade treaties to a minimum observance of human rights and environmental standards from the signatory nation (all policies that Schiff supports). It isn’t just that he masquerades as a moderate in his district, when in fact he’s a right-wing zealot on the Hill.
The issue, of course, is that Rogan played a starring role in the impeachment travesty he and his colleagues inflicted on the nation a year ago. As one of the most rabid members of the House Judiciary Committee, he argued that releasing the Starr Report didn’t go far enough, that the committee should have also released even more salacious material than Henry Hyde was willing to put on the Internet. As a House prosecutor in the Senate trial, he argued for calling more witnesses than the Republican senators, or even his fellow House prosecutors, could abide. Few people are more responsible for putting the nation through a totally avoidable partisan jihad than Rogan. America hasn’t seen such a combination of puritanical zeal and legalistic hogwash since the Salem Witch Trials. James Rogan does not deserve to sit in Congress, or any other body that requires of its members a scintilla of judgment and good sense.
29th District — Henry Waxman
Westside Congressman Henry Waxman remains the legislative genius of American liberalism, but here’s why the Democratic recapture of the House really matters: When the Dems were in power, Waxman authored and passed more clean-air and safe-water and Medicaid-extension and anti-poverty and anti-tobacco legislation than any other member. He’s been able to do a little of that even with the Republicans in control, a clear tribute to his legislative legerdemain, but much of his past three years has been taken up by his having to knock down the cockamamie conspiracy theories of Dan Burton, the Clinton-hating and close-to-certifiable lunatic who chairs the House Government Reform Committee, where Waxman’s the ranking Democrat. It’s a necessary duty, but a waste of Waxman’s prodigious talents.
30th District — Xavier Becerra
Xavier Becerra remains one of the leading House liberals, and a consistent champion of the rights of immigrants, a not-very-popular cause that nonetheless has been picking up steam lately. The Big Becerra News, though, isn’t his exploits either in Washington or his downtown congressional district. The news is his recent announcement that he’s running for mayor in the 2001 election. To call that effort a longshot is to be too kind. Most pols are largely unknown to the L.A. electorate, but Becerra’s largely unknown to L.A. political elites as well. The only foreseeable practical effect of his candidacy is to take some of the wind out of the sails of Antonio Villaraigosa — like Becerra, an attractive young progressive, but unlike Becerra someone who’s crisscrossed L.A. for several years, built up the most impressive crosstown and multiracial progressive coalition since the early Tom Bradley, and has a genuine shot at being elected mayor.
Becerra can have a long and productive career in Congress, to which we enthusiastically support his re-election, and from which we’d prefer he not stray to a campaign that can only subvert (how much, we don’t know) the most significant progressive electoral alliance L.A.’s seen in a generation.
31st District — Hilda Solis
Something unheard-of is going on in this Eastside–Alhambra–El Monte district: A veteran Democratic officeholder has had the temerity to try to unseat a veteran Democratic congressman. This violates Politicos’ Club Rule No. 1: “Thou shalt not oust thy fellow incumbent.” But state Senator Hilda Solis isn’t much on club rules, and incumbent Democratic Congressman Marty Martinez clearly deserves to be retired.
Martinez is the kind of congressman notable only for his gaffes — and for a series of votes that run counter to his constituents’ interests. An NRA member who boasts he owns a dozen handguns, Martinez consistently opposed the Brady Bill, and last June, in the wake of Columbine, he was the only one of the 28 House Democrats from California — for that matter, of the 39 House Democrats from Pacific Coast states — who voted to undercut a bill mandating background checks on gun buyers at gun shows. In late ’97, 80 percent of House Democrats opposed the Clinton administration’s “fast-track” trade proposal, which would have prohibited amendments to any f uture trade deals, because the White House refused to guarantee that worker rights and environmental standards would be included in all such treaties. Virtually every L.A.-area Democrat went against fast-track, but Martinez gave his vote to the White House in return for administration support for extending the 710 freeway. Martinez represents a district where wages have been demonstrably depressed by wage standards in nations that repress their workers, a district where gun violence has been epidemic — but you sure wouldn’t know it from his votes.
For the past six years, Hilda Solis has represented a state Senate district that almost totally overlaps Martinez’s congressional district. In her years in the Legislature, she authored the bill raising the minimum wage, and when Pete Wilson vetoed it, she provided the seed money for the initiative campaign in which state voters authorized the raise. She repeatedly hauls herself to union picket lines, holds hearings spotlighting the plight of exploited workers, and helps workers in their efforts to unionize. She’s authored 16 bills on domestic violence, and last year wrote and steered to enactment the Environmental Justice Act, which gives the state the authority to review new developments in communities already home to a number of polluting projects. Her legislation created the San Gabriel River and Mountain Conservancy, and, in contradistinction to Martinez, she’s a champion of gun control and a consistent supporter of choice.
Though political institutions and insiders are loathe to oppose an incumbent, Solis has the support of over 50 local elected officials within the district, as well as the backing of feminist organizations, the Sierra Club and the L.A. County Federation of Labor, which has made the Solis race a top priority. From our perspective, there’s no Democrat worthier of endorsement than Solis, and none worthier of abandonment than Martinez. After all, he abandoned his own supporters a long time ago.
32nd District — Julian Dixon
Quiet, savvy and effective, this Crenshaw-area congressman has navigated through L.A.’s transit wars to win substantial federal funding both to augment L.A.’s inadequate bus fleet and to complete the subway to North Hollywood. He’s also been way ahead of the curve on police-brutality issues, holding hearings last summer and securing $1 million in federal funds to restart the D.A.’s roll-out unit, which investigated officer-involved shootings until Gil Garcetti closed it down in 1995. Dixon’s prescience here stands in stark and depressing contrast to that of most local Democrats, who only now are starting to pipe up. This man clearly merits re-election.
33rd District — Lucille Roybal-Allard
The 33rd, which starts downtown and runs down the 710 corridor, is probably home to more immigrants than any congressional district in the U.S. Lucille Roybal-Allard, its dedicated and talented representative, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and now a member of the Appropriations Committee, has authored some significant health-outreach legislation (she’s behind the ads popping up on radio touting folic acid for pregnant women), won funding for more buses for the cities that abut the Long Beach Freeway, and joined Julian Dixon to get the funds to restart the roll-out unit.
34th District — Grace Flores Napolitano