Our selections in Tuesday's General Election
GOVERNOR - Gray Davis
For 16 long years, California has stagnated under the reign of two successive Republican governors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson - Duke the Dull and Pete the Mean. With the population exploding, the state has built little but prisons, while schools have declined to Mississippian levels. With the population diversifying, the state, at Wilson's prodding, has thrown its social policies into reverse to ensure that its universities and government agencies will become less diverse - in fact, will fade to white.
This year's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Dan Lungren, wouldn't just perpetuate the Deukmejian and Wilson policies. He'd make them worse. While neither as dull as the Duke nor as mean as Pete (which would, forgive us, be no mean feat), he's more rigidly conservative than either. Unlike Wilson, he is zealously anti-choice, a position his judicial appointments are likely to reflect. Unlike either, he's been consistently opposed to environmental protections, voting against the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water acts while in Congress, and, as attorney general, opposing federal legislation requiring military bases to comply with state environmental laws - the only state A.G. out of 50 to oppose the bill. Unlike virtually every other member of Congress, he actively fought the bill, signed by Ronald Reagan, that provided reparations to Japanese-Americans interned in concentration camps during World War II.
Like his congressional classmate Newt Gingrich, Dan Lungren is first and foremost a right-wing ideologue. Asked about the crisis of public education, he pooh-poohs the need to raise the starting salaries of teachers and argues that private-school vouchers are the real solution. Offered the opportunity to join the omnibus lawsuit against tobacco companies for the billions of dollars they've cost the states in Medi-Cal expenses, he delayed until political pressure compelled him to add California, belatedly, to the list of plaintiffs. Required by law to ban assault weapons in California, he has taken pains to exempt certain weapons and delay their collection. At a time when California's public sector, once the marvel of the world, is in a state of near collapse, Lungren clings to the belief that the state has no proper role in society save to catch and punish criminals. It is a belief utterly at odds with the actual historical experience of California and utterly inadequate to the state's current needs.
This November, fortunately, California has a real chance to stop its spiral of decline. Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis seems poised to lead a Democratic sweep, giving the party control of both the executive and legislative branches of government.
We are, of course, well past the time when such a sweep in itself would have portended a wave of progressive reforms. State government is still constrained by the anti-tax handiwork of Howard Jarvis, progressive forces are still universally weak, and Gray Davis himself is an almost preternaturally cautious political leader. Even though every poll shows public support for more education spending, for instance, Davis has committed himself to virtually nothing specific in the way of education reform during the course of the campaign, lest any position jeopardize his lead. At a time when campaign-finance practices threaten the government's very legitimacy, Davis has offered the most exquisitely incremental reforms. Indeed, this was one of the reasons why the Weekly endorsed Green Party candidate Dan Hamburg in June - a forthright progressive with the proverbial snowball's chance in hell.
June, however, is long gone, and a vote for Hamburg this November only threatens to undo what is clearly, for all of Davis' moderation, the first real opportunity progressives have had in decades to go on the offensive in California. While Davis himself hews to the center, a Davis governorship, coupled with the more overtly left leadership of Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in the Assembly and Majority Leader John Burton in the Senate, would clearly enhance the prospects for any number of progressive causes. For the first time in two decades, farm workers could look forward to having a state Agricultural Labor Relations Board that won't be the stooge of agribusiness. Health-care activists would find a government willing to craft a plan for universal coverage of children. Champions of living-wage ordinances would be able to turn their attention from city halls to the Capitol. Advocates for rebuilding the state's decaying roads, bridges and aqueducts wouldn't have to line up behind the prison-construction lobby. And there would at least be a chance - which there wouldn't if Lungren wins - that the state will fashion the trade-off it so clearly needs to improve its schools: increasing the funding for teacher salaries and training in return for requiring greater accountability from teachers and principals.
Having served as Jerry Brown's chief of staff, assemblyman from the Westside, state controller and now lieutenant governor, Gray Davis is certainly as prepared to be governor as any candidate in the state's history. On the UC Board of Regents, he led the fight against repealing affirmative action and for domestic-partnership benefits. He has been a consistent supporter of labor and environmental causes.
We hope the state's progressives are prepared, too - first, to change the state's political climate by voting for Davis, and second, to develop and organize for a politics of justice that a Davis governorship at least makes possible, and that has been absent from this state for a very long time.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR - Sara Amir
Tim Leslie, the Republican nominee for Lite-Gov, is, like Lungren, a right-wing ideologue; he was one of the leading supporters of the immigrant-bashing Proposition 187 in 1994. His Democratic opponent, former Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante, hails, alas, from the center-right of the party. As an assemblyman, Bustamante was a safe vote for agribusiness, to the continual frustration of environmental groups and the United Farm Workers; as speaker, he was largely ineffectual. That leaves Green Party nominee Sara Amir, an Iranian-born microbiologist who moved to the U.S. in 1981, and who currently oversees toxic-cleanup sites for the state Environmental Protection Agency. On matters of policy, Amir is both smart and progressive; on matters of politics, we find her largely self-marginalizing. Her goal, she says, is to help build progressive coalitions - a task, as she herself acknowledges, not made any easier by the electoral separatism of third-party politics. Nonetheless, Amir is merely muddled on matters of means, while Bustamante is addled on issues of ends. We're for Amir.
SECRETARY OF STATE - Michela Alioto
As the state's chief election officer, Republican incumbent Bill Jones has taken an activist role, and in one crucial instance, that activism has come close to slipping over into partisanship: his overzealous pursuit of Bob Dornan's unfounded claim that Loretta Sanchez won her congressional seat on the strength of noncitizen voters. Jones' chief opponent, 30-year-old Democratic nominee Michela Alioto, is a former staffer for Vice President Gore and a granddaughter of onetime San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. Partially paralyzed at age 13 in a ski-lift accident, she's campaigning on a platform of making it easier for the disabled to vote and making the process more accessible generally. With voter turnout tumbling to pre-Jacksonian levels, Alioto could help provide a welcome antidote to the culture of civic disengagement. Despite our regard for Peace and Freedom Party candidate Israel Feuer, Alioto's our choice.
CONTROLLER - Kathleen Connell
Nearing the end of her first term as controller, Connell has overseen audits and identified savings in the state's Medi-Cal and lottery programs and a number of school and special districts, as well as in the state's costly prison system, where she argues for the redirection of nonviolent offenders to less pricey facilities. She's also put together a program offering tax credits to companies donating their equipment to community colleges. Connell has a clear vision of the state's larger needs and of how she can address at least some of them in her current position, to which she clearly deserves re-election.
TREASURER - Phil Angelides
Curt Pringle, the Republican nominee to succeed Matt Fong in the Treasurer's Office, personifies the moral decline of the Orange County Republican Party, if such a thing is possible. In 1988, then-Assembly candidate Pringle had the local GOP hire uniformed guards to patrol polling places in Latino precincts, with the clear intent of keeping Latino (and likely Democratic) voters from the polls. In 1995, Pringle's aides placed a phony Democratic candidate on the ballot in a recall election to help ensure that their candidate would win. (Two of his staffers later pleaded guilty to election-law violations.)
Now Pringle is asking voters to trust him to be the investment officer for the state's treasury and pension funds. His chief opponent, former California Democratic Party chair Phil Angelides, is not entirely a stranger to questionable campaign tactics either, having run an over-the-top attack ad against his primary opponent in his unsuccessful bid for this seat in 1994. Angelides' beliefs, however, are light-years from Pringle's purebred Neanderthalism. The Democratic candidate has devised a plan by which smaller municipalities and school districts can pool their bond issues to get a better deal on Wall Street. We think Angelides has the business smarts and the (moderately) progressive principles to make a first-rate chief investment officer for California.
ATTORNEY GENERAL - Bill Lockyer
Is there anyone less qualified to be California's next attorney general than Republican nominee Dave Stirling? Dan Lungren's chief deputy is an open and committed foe of all gun controls. The fact that his Democratic opponent, state Senator Bill Lockyer, is supported by almost every police organization in the state isn't simply because the cops think Lockyer is better on union issues. They also genuinely believe that the NRA-backed Stirling is a gun nut.
As onetime general counsel for the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and as a member of the state Assembly, Stirling displayed a consistent contempt for farm workers. Not surprisingly, agribusiness is his largest single backer in his race for A.G.
East Bay legislator Bill Lockyer, term-limited out of the Senate this year, has been by common consent Sacramento's reigning legislative genius over the past half-decade. In 1997, with rookie Speaker Bustamante fumbling in the Assembly, then-Senate leader Lockyer was the force that made both houses work, and the legislator most responsible for thwarting the machinations of Pete Wilson (and for deep-sixing many of the gov's more God-awful appointments). In his years in the Senate, Lockyer has steered to enactment bills that reduced the state-tax liability of working-class families, restored food stamps for legal immigrants, made California the first state with a hate-crimes statute, enabled the state public defender to better pursue death-penalty appeals, created the state's first whistle-blower protection law, strengthened the collection of child-support payments and required mediation in child-custody disputes. He would bring humane values, a first-rate intellect and considerable zeal to the A.G.'s post, and he has our enthusiastic support.
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.
26th DISTRICT - Howard Berman
Despite his ongoing support for such dubious free-trade policies as fast-track, Berman remains one of the few essential members of Congress - a key player in the efforts to assure a restoration of benefits for legal immigrants and a fair share for L.A. in all things budgetary. In the next couple of months, he will likely play a particularly important role in the Clinton impeachment proceedings, in which he has already emerged, with Massachusetts' Barney Frank, as one of the shrewdest Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. (In the one day of hearings held thus far, it was Berman, more than anyone else, who exposed the Republicans' hypocrisy.) Berman is the quintessential behind-the-scenes guy, but the impeachment hearings may blow his cover and reveal just how able a legislator he actually is.
27th DISTRICT - Barry Gordon
Republican first-termer James Rogan is a darling of the Gingrichites. The Newtster himself made Rogan a last-minute addition to the Judiciary Committee as impeachment proceedings loomed, and there Rogan has already become the hard-liners' spokesperson. He was one of the handful of members who voted to release even more (and more salacious) material than the committee could bring itself to authorize. Why his Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena district should re-elect this porn-crazed Puritan is a mystery to us.
In fact, it may not. Rogan's being challenged by articulate progressive Barry Gordon, onetime child actor (A Thousand Clowns) and Screen Actors Guild president, now an attorney, who would make a terrific member of Congress from this increasingly Democratic district. Gordon has our enthusiastic support in this close, and important, contest.
29th DISTRICT - Henry Waxman
Year in, year out, the single most effective liberal in the House, Waxman spent much of the past year as point man against Republican Government Reform and Oversight Committee chair Dan Burton, whose "investigation" Waxman effectively showed to be a sham. On the side, Waxman remains a major force in the ongoing battle to obtain the strongest possible anti-tobacco legislation.
30th DISTRICT - Xavier Becerra
Becerra's an anomaly in these dully conservative times: a rising star with left-wing politics. No other member of Congress has been a stauncher defender of immigrant rights and universal health care. His Eastside-subway-uber (or is that under?) -alles campaign attested to an overdeveloped parochialism, but he's still our clear choice in the 30th.
31st DISTRICT - Krista Lieberg-Wong
The foremost achievement of longtime Democratic incumbent Matthew (Marty) Martinez during the congressional session just completed - and he himself boasts of it - was to pledge his support for the administration's fast-track proposal, which would have protected corporate investments but not labor or environmental a standards in future trade agreements, in return for the White House's go-ahead to extend the 710 freeway through El Sereno and South Pasadena. With that, an already undistinguished pol crossed the line into an unendorsable one. Green Party candidate Krista Lieberg-Wong, a longtime activist with peace and anti-police-abuse organizations, provides a clear progressive alternative.
32nd DISTRICT - Julian Dixon
Amid the conflicting proposals for what the MTA should be doing, and which local transportation projects the feds should be funding, Julian Dixon has been the watchdog ensuring that L.A. doesn't cut itself off from the transit funds we clearly need. It's been a typical performance for this quiet and conscientious congressional veteran.
33rd DISTRICT - Lucille Roybal-Allard
While championing the interests of her remarkable district, which probably has the highest percentage of immigrants of any in Congress, Roybal-Allard has also taken a somewhat thankless leadership role in lining up California's fractious congressional delegation, Democrats and Republicans both, behind issues of regional concern. She also rode to the Eastside's rescue with a compromise transit proposal in the omnibus transportation bill. She has our strong support.
34th DISTRICT - Grace Flores Napolitano
Longtime Eastside/San Gabriel Valley Congressman Esteban Torres is stepping down this year, and the winner of the June Democratic primary to succeed him was Grace Napolitano, one of the state Assembly's dimmer bulbs. Napolitano hews to the normal Democratic positions, with one major point of deviation: She has always been a staunch supporter of NAFTA, fast-track and free trade generally. We'd be surprised, pleasantly, if Napolitano goes on to have an illustrious congressional career, but the Democrats need all the votes they can get next session, and she's our unenthusiastic choice in the 34th.
35th DISTRICT - Maxine Waters
Over the past couple of months, this longtime champion of the inner-city poor has become the foremost congressional scourge of the GOP's moralist inquisitors. Go, Maxine!
36th DISTRICT - Janice Hahn
Early this year, three-term Democrat Jane Harman decided to leave this Republican-leaning South Bay district to enter the governor's race and have Al Checchi beat the living crap out of her. The Democratic nominee vying to succeed her is Janice Hahn, member of L.A.'s fabled Hahn (Supervisor Kenny and City Attorney Jimmy) dynasty, who brings to the fray a moderately liberal perspective and a tenure on the elected L.A. City Charter Commission. Her opponent is Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall, a moderate, center-right Republican who was elected to the Assembly in 1994 on the strength of a last-minute $125,000 donation from Philip Morris. This is probably the closest congressional contest in the entire state, and it would be a sad outcome indeed if a district where even the conservatives are largely libertarian ends up strengthening the party of Puritan Revenge by voting for Kuykendall. Hahn's election, like Boxer's, would send a signal that presidential impeachment should not be a continuation of cultural civil war by other means.
37th DISTRICT - Juanita
Straight outta Carson, Millender-McDonald has championed voting rights for the homeless, domestic-violence insurance and funding for the Alameda Corridor, with set-asides for local hiring.
38th DISTRICT - Peter Mathews
Since 1992, moderate Republican Stephen Horn has held this somewhat Democratic-leaning Long Beach district, and since 1994, he's been opposed by the perennially progressive and perennially ineffectual Mathews, who - perennially, it seems - has our support.
20th DISTRICT - Richard Alarcon
The real contest to succeed term-limited Herschel Rosenthal in this San Fernando Valley district came in the June Democratic primary, when L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon eked out the narrowest of victories over former Assembly veteran Richard Katz, after a campaign marked by the most scurrilous of tactics. In the closing days of his campaign, Alarcon played the race card against Katz by sending a mailing to Latino voters implicating Katz in the 1988 Election Day stationing of uniformed guards at Orange County polling places to deter Latinos from voting. (See "Curt Pringle, Sins of," in the treasurer endorsement, above.) What the mailing neglected to mention was that Katz's role in the scandal, on behalf of the Assembly Democrats, was to have sued Pringle and the Orange County Republican Party for having stationed the guards. In other words, Alarcon opted for the Big Lie, and it worked: He won the primary with a margin of fewer than 100 votes.
Up until the primary's closing days, Alarcon had been a low-profile, centrist Democratic member of the City Council - a pro-labor, law 'n' order pol taking positions crafted to be so inoffensive that they tended to vanish without a trace. We don't doubt he'll be a fairly reliable vote in the state Senate, but the level of deception to which he subjected his constituents in order to get there is extraordinary, and unacceptable.
22nd DISTRICT - No Endorsement
The real culprit in the Alarcon Big Lie (see above) wasn't Alarcon. It was veteran 22nd District state Senator Richard Polanco (abetted by consultant Richie Ross) - one of the dominant figures and most equivocal forces in California politics, not to mention the gray eminence behind Alarcon's campaign. On the plus side, Polanco has played a central role in the political mobilization of the state's Latinos. It's been Polanco more than anyone else who's identified the previously non-Latino districts that were ready to elect a Latino Democrat, Polanco who helped fund the naturalization and registration drives that brought Latinos to the polls, Polanco who recruited the Latino candidates to run for office. On the minus side, Polanco's candidates have come disproportionately from the bottom of the barrel, and tend to eschew the kind of cross-racial progressive politics of an Antonio Villaraigosa for a more insular, nationalistic perspective. Indeed, Polanco has made clear that if he can engineer the election of enough Latinos in his own image, he'll put together a center-right coalition in the Senate Democratic caucus in an attempt to replace John Burton, the extraordinary progressive who currently leads the Senate Democrats, with a more conservative alternative - in particular, with Richard Polanco. In the final analysis, Polanco's vision - empowering Latinos at the expense of a broader progressive alliance - is too parochial and divisive to serve the interests of Latinos, much less anyone else.
24th DISTRICT - Hilda Solis
The working-class heroine of the state Senate, Eastside incumbent Solis has been a steady voice and an effective force in the fights to preserve overtime pay, crack down on sweatshops and defend the rights of union workers. She has our enthusiastic support.
26th DISTRICT - Kevin Murray
Longtime legislator Diane Watson has been term-limited out of her Crenshaw-South-Central seat this year (and blocked by the Republican U.S. Senate from becoming Bill Clinton's ambassador to Micronesia), and the race to succeed her was decided in the June primary when current Assembly Member Kevin Murray defeated former Assembly Member Marguerite Archie-Hudson for the Democratic nomination. In his four years in the lower house, Murray has become one of the Assembly's most accomplished and effective legislators. He's more a master of smart politics than good governance, however: After taking $10,000 from the tobacco industry, he voted to repeal the state's ban on smoking in public places. We supported Archie-Hudson in the primary, chiefly out of concern over Murray's sporadic bouts of ethical conflict. But we don't doubt that he'll be an effective representative for his district or, generally, for the Democratic agenda.
28th DISTRICT - Debra Bowen
Term limits have finally closed the door on the career of Democrat Ralph Dills, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1938. Sixty years later, he's stepping down from his South Bay Senate seat, and the Democratic nominee to succeed him is Debra Bowen, herself term-limited out of her South Bay Assembly seat. During her six years in the lower house, Bowen has been a thoughtful and heterodox member of the Assembly, particularly attentive to environmental concerns and the cause of campaign-finance reform. In this race, we're goin' Bowen.
30th DISTRICT - Martha Escutia
Democratic incumbent Charles Calderon ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for attorney general this spring, and Escutia is the Democratic nominee to succeed him in this heavily Democratic district. She's been a largely parochial member of the Assembly during her six years of service there, but at least she's been a fairly reliable Democratic vote.
MEMBER OF THE STATE ASSEMBLY
39th DISTRICT - Tony Cardenas
Two years ago, Cardenas was the surprise in the Democratic field to replace the term-limited Richard Katz: A small businessman with no background in politics, he nonetheless proved to be an articulate moderate candidate, and pulled off an upset victory in the June primary. His first term in the Assembly seems fairly lackluster by comparison, but he's earned the chance for a second term.