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Our selections in Tuesday's General Election (cont.)

49th DISTRICT - Gloria Romero

After years of being poorly represented by the loopy Diane Martinez, voters in this Monterey Park/Alhambra/Eastside district are in for a pleasant shock. Democratic nominee and Assembly-Member-in-Waiting Gloria Romero is a hard-working progressive who, like her allies and sponsors Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo, brings a labor-left pedigree to the job. Romero, a psychology professor at Cal State L.A., serves as the new "reform" vice president of the L.A. Community College Board, and on the city's Elected Charter Reform Commission. We expect she'll bring the same kind of intelligent liberal perspective to the Assembly that she's brought to these other bodies on which she's served.

50th DISTRICT - Marco

Antonio Firebaugh

Firebaugh, an activist in the No-on-187 campaign, brings idealism and a fresh face, if not much experience, to this rather onesided race to succeed the term-limited Martha Escutia in this Eastside district.

51st DISTRICT - Rex Frankel

Former Inglewood Mayor and current 51st District Representative Ed Vincent is doing great things for the gambling and tobacco lobbies, but he'll have to do them without our support. Green Party candidate Rex Frankel, a longtime opponent of Ballona Wetlands development, represents a progressive and unbought alternative to the current incumbent.

52nd DISTRICT - No Endorsement

The high point of former Yvonne Burke aide Carl Washington's first term in the Assembly was his public announcement during an otherwise unremarkable committee hearing that he was swapping his vote. We don't know if it's a tribute to his honesty or his gaucherie, but he's running unopposed.

53rd DISTRICT - George Nakano

The race to succeed Democrat Debra Bowen in this Republican-leaning South Bay district pits Republican Bill Eggers, a researcher formerly at the right-wing Heritage Foundation and currently at the libertarian Reason Foundation, against Democrat George Nakano, a centrist member of the Torrance City Council. With state investment in public resources having declined for the past 20 years, pulling down with it the once-stellar educational and economic standards for which California was famed, the case for sending an anti-statist ideologue to the Assembly seems less than compelling. Nakano's centrism won't remake the world, but, unlike Eggers' schemas, it at least addresses real world problems.

54th DISTRICT - Alan Lowenthal

The race in this Long Beach-area swing district pits Republican Julie Alban, a city prosecutor, against Democrat Alan Lowenthal, a Long Beach City Council member, an alternate on the state Coastal Commission, and a psych professor at Cal State Long Beach. Lowenthal has a long record of activism on behalf of environmental and gun-control causes, and he's our clear choice in the 54th.

55th DISTRICT - No Endorsement

Blustery Dick Floyd, who returned to the Legislature from this Harbor-area district in 1996, a has grown steadily less steady and increasingly more erratic, at times subverting his own bills on the floor of the Assembly. He has no serious opposition, and no support from us.

56th DISTRICT - Sally Havice

First-termer Havice, a reliable Democratic vote from this Cerritos-area district, faces a tough challenge from former Republican Assemblyman Phil Hawkins.

57th DISTRICT - Martin Gallegos

Chiropractor and Democrat Gallegos is author of this year's Patients Bill of Rights, and will be a key player on any HMO reforms the Democrats put forth next year.

58th DISTRICT - Thomas Calderon

Montebello school-board member Thomas Calderon, brother of outgoing state Senator Charles Calderon, is certain to win this seat, being vacated by Congress-bound Assembly Member Grace Napolitano.

JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT

Chief Justice Ronald M. George - No

Associate Justice Ming William Chin - No

Associate Justice Janice R. Brown - No

Associate Justice Stanley Mosk - Yes

In theory, judges and justices don't bring ideological perspectives to their interpretation and enforcement of the law. In practice, judges and justices author decisions and find meanings in state and federal constitutions that reflect, at the deepest level, their political and philosophical beliefs. At the highest rung of the judiciary, the supreme courts of the United States and of each of the 50 states, judicial philosophy is of paramount importance, for the justices are frequently engaged in altering the previous meanings of laws (hence, to cite one particularly famous decision, the constitutional provision for separate-but-equal school systems was transformed in 1954 by the U.S. Supreme Court into the constitutional mandate to end segregation in the schools).

California has a peculiar system of judicial appointment and retention, and it's our belief that it calls upon voters to exercise their judgment on the performance - which means, the applied philosophy - of its Supreme Court justices. The state's Supremes are appointed by the governor, confirmed by a three-person committee (the attorney general, the chief justice and the senior appellate justice), and then confirmed by the voters at the next election, after which they're presented to the voters for reconfirmation at what are essentially 12-year intervals. Under this system, it seems to us that the chief criteria by which voters should judge the justices are those of political philosophy and its public-policy consequences - though if a justice should prove egregiously incompetent, that should obviously be a factor as well.

All of which is by way of prelude to our decision to recommend the retention of nine of the 11 appellate justices who appear on the ballot, and to recommend against the retention of three of the four Supreme Court justices - Chief Justice Ronald George and Associate Justices Ming William Chin and Janice Brown. All three are Wilson appointees, ranging in ideology from the center-right George to the far-right Brown. Their decisions have tended to diminish civil liberties at the expense of police discretion, favor employer over employee rights, and reduce the court's historic commitment to the rights of consumers.

George authored a decision that permits convictions to be upheld even when coerced confessions are introduced at trial. Chin wrote a decision limiting juveniles' rights against self-incrimination by making their discussions with probation officers admissible at trial. Brown, previously a member of Wilson's Cabinet, was appointed to the court over the objections of the state bar, which viewed her as unqualified, and her decisions are widely viewed as strong in ideology and weak in scholarship.

Mosk, an 86-year-old liberal who first became a judge in the 1940s, was elected state attorney general in 1958 and was appointed to the court by Pat Brown in 1964, remains the court's great dissenter - a champion of civil liberties and worker rights on a bench that is otherwise largely indifferent. Despite his years, he's shown no signs of slowing down; he seems to be the liberals' answer to Strom Thurmond. We strongly recommend his retention.

Ironically, what little organized opposition there is to the justices this year comes from the anti-choice right, which is going after George and Chin for their participation in a decision that struck down a parental consent requirement for minors seeking an abortion. However, if George and Chin are defeated, their successors will likely share their belief against parental consent and be clearly to their left on most other important issues that will come before the court (which has some key Prop. 209-related cases upcoming). That is because the governor who will appoint their successors will in all probability be Gray Davis. So we conclude with a caveat: If Dan Lungren, against all odds, surges into the lead in the campaign's final days, please ignore this endorsement!

JUSTICE OF THE COURT OF APPEAL

Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer - Yes

Associate Justice John Zebrowski - No

Associate Justice Morio L. Fukuto - No

Associate Justice Walter Croskey - Yes

Presiding Justice Charles S. Vogel - Yes

Associate Justice Daniel A. Curry - Yes

Associate Justice Orville "Jack" Armstrong - Yes

Associate Justice Arthur Gilbert - Yes

Associate Justice Paul H. Coffee - Yes

Associate Justice Richard C. Neal - Yes

Associate Justice Earl Johnson Jr. - Yes

School

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION - Delaine Eastin

The choice this year for the nonpartisan office of superintendent of public instruction is between an incumbent who is endeavoring to improve California's public schools and a challenger who wants to gut the public system and put our money into private schools. Incumbent Delaine Eastin, a Democratic member of the Assembly before she was elected to this post in 1994, has spent the past four years as the leading advocate for reducing class size, lengthening the school year and bringing the state's ranking in per-pupil funding back to the nation-leading levels of the Pat Brown '60s. Her opponent, Orange County schoolteacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, came to prominence this spring while fronting for Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual-education initiative. For years, however, her chief identity has been as a crusader for school vouchers - for redirecting public funds to subsidize private schools. It seems somewhat ludicrous to have to point out that the proper mission of the state's chief public-education official is to help the state's public schools, but it looks like it's come to that. And by that criterion, the only acceptable (actually, a good deal more than acceptable) candidate for the job is Delaine Eastin. We support her enthusiastically.


County

SHERIFF

- Lee Baca

Since our initial endorsement appeared on Thursday morning, the sheriff's race has been transformed, of course, by the death of incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block. We were critics of Block's tenure as sheriff, and very unenthusiastic endorsers of his opponent, Sheriff Department Chief Lee Baca. In the wake of Block's death, both our support for Baca and our lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy remain intact.

Baca should have been a candidate whom progresive would have no trouble supporting. As one of the department's rising stars, Baca's been a staunch advocate of community-based policing, and his success at heading the department's West Hollywood office demonstrated a real ability to bridge cultural divides. Baca wants to increase multicultural training for deputies and make them regular visitors to schoolrooms.

Baca can be forgiven his unwillingness to challenge departmental practice in his years as a Block subordinate. But as his campaign has unfolded, as it's become clear that Baca tried to offer Block all kinds of inducements to step down, Baca has issued a series of denials that he's then been compelled to retract. He has, in short, been caught lying, and even if his ultimate motivation was a quasi-filial unwillingness to shove Block aside, that hardly inspires confidence in a candidate for sheriff.

With the sheriff's death, a vote for Block has now been transformed into a vote to let the Board of Supervisors appoint his successor. Though our misgivings about Baca remain, we think the option of voting to empower the Supes to pick some unknown candidate is tantamount to negating the logic of elections. It's the kind of step we would recommend only if we thought Baca was an unredeemably dreadful option, and we were sure the Supes would do better. In fact, there's no reason to think that Baca is quite that bad, or, more to the point, the Supes quite that good. We're sticking with Baca.

Santa Monica City General Municipal Election

MEMBER OF THE CITY COUNCIL - Pam O'Connor

State Measures

1A - Yes

This long-overdue bond measure constitutes the state's first real attempt in decades to build the new schools and classrooms that California so plainly needs. It authorizes $9.2 billion in state funding to build new K-12 public schools, to repair existing ones, and to build new and upgrade existing facilities at the University of California, Cal State University and the community-college systems. An oversight committee is created to monitor the expenditure of funds, and localities must match the state contributions that go to build K-12 schools. 1A is an essential part of any serious plan to restore California's educational system, and we strongly support it.

1 - Yes

This measure offers property owners the tax relief required to buy a replacement home if their original home is rendered unusable by toxic- or hazardous-waste contamination. We'd prefer a broader measure covering renters as well, but Proposition 1 still merits our support.

2 - Yes

Under current law, the state may borrow from specially designated state transportation funds for short periods - or, actually, for any period if times are tough and the state needs general-purpose funding it can't otherwise lay its hands on. Proposition 2 requires the state to repay any borrowing from the transportation kitty within the same fiscal year, or longer if the governor declares a state of emergency. With transportation needs chronically underfunded (have you ridden a bus lately?), this is a measure we clearly endorse.

3 - Yes

In 1996, California voters passed an initiative creating an "open primary" - the first of which was held this June - in which voters of any party can vote for candidates of any party in the partisan primaries. What the geniuses who thought up this measure failed to realize was that the party rules of the national Democratic and Republican parties specifically prohibit open primaries for the selection of presidential delegates to their national conventions, and that numerous court decisions have affirmed the parties' right to do so. Accordingly, unless the open-primary law is amended to restrict presidential-primary voting to the members of the respective political parties, then California's presidential primaries will become pointless beauty shows. The real contest for convention delegates will be shifted to caucuses within each congressional district, where a far smaller number of party activists will cast the votes that decide which presidential candidates will get California's support at the national conventions. Proposition 3 restores the closed primary for presidential elections, and that, like it or not, is the only way to maintain mass popular a participation in the process. We strongly support it.

4 - Yes

This measure restricts the use of traps (specifically steel-jawed leg-hold traps) and poisons to capture and kill bobcats, foxes, beavers, family pets who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and other unfortunate mammals. It outlaws the sale of furs obtained through using these traps. We're for it.

5 - No

This is the Indian gaming initiative, on which $60 million has been spent by proponents and $30 million by opponents. Basically, it requires the state to permit certain kinds of casino games and accouterments that the state, through its existing compacts with certain Native American tribes, currently does not sanction. The chief point of contention is Vegas-like slot machines, which the current compacts disallow in favor of a new generation of video machines that are said to be like slots but not slots themselves.

Proposition 5 raises three key issues: the economic effect on the tribes, the economic effect on casino employees and the economic effect on the rest of working-class California. Clearly, the effect of reservation gambling on the reservations and their residents has been positive, though it's not at all clear how great the negative impact would be if the reservations were constrained to use these "Class B" slots. The effect on casino employees is something else again: The existing compact that the state has entered into with tribes, the Pala compact, includes some remarkably democratic and pro-employee provisions - notably, that if a majority of casino employees present cards affiliating themselves with a union, their union achieves immediate recognition as their bargaining agent (common practice throughout the advanced industrial world, but unheard of in the management-friendly U.S.). Proposition 5 unceremoniously wads up the Pala compact and throws it away, along with the rights it accords to casino employees.

As to the effect on working-class California, the coming of the kind of large-scale in-state casino industry that Proposition 5 augurs ensures the creation of a kind of regressive recreation industry that disproportionately soaks Californians of modest incomes.

It's a tough call, pitting the legitimate interests of historically disadvantaged communities against one another. By the ever-useful John Stuart Mill standard of seeking the greatest good (or in this case the least harm) for the greatest number, however, we come down opposed to Proposition 5.

6 - No

Let's make one thing clear at the start: A lot of us here at the Weekly ride horses. We like horses. Some of our best friends are horses. So it isn't that we're opposed to the sentiment that inspired Proposition 6, which prohibits the slaughter of horses for human consumption in California, the shipping of horses to other states for such slaughter, and the sale of horse meat for human consumption. It's just that all the serious arguments are on the other side.

Call us communistic egalitarian levelers if you must, but what intrinsic quality qualifies horses as a protected class while cattle and pigs are routinely led to slaughter? If the answer is that we eat cattle and pigs but we don't eat horses - well, some people, or peoples, do eat horses, and it is not readily apparent what makes them the moral inferiors of people who eat cattle. If the answer is that we ride horses and pet horses and we don't ride or pet pigs - well, some people or peoples prefer eating horses to riding or petting them, or are comfortable doing all three. While that may be repugnant to our cultural norms, it doesn't really seem to violate any universal moral principle.

Should the slaughter of horses, and cattle and pigs, be more humane? Absolutely, but that is an issue that Proposition 6 does not address. In the name of animal egalitarianism, vote No on Proposition 6.

7 - No

This measure authorizes various state and local air-pollution-control boards to award up to $218 million annually in tax credits to companies and individuals who seek to reduce the shmutz content in the air by trading in old buses, trucks and other smoke-belching machinery for clean new ones, or for retrofitting the old ones. It's an attractive idea, but it has several significant flaws. First, state oversight of the process that Proposition 7 establishes is deliberately flimsy: If new equipment isn't all that much cleaner than the old, if the new technology isn't all that much better, we'll pay for it just the same. Second, this would be the first time the state has ever established a tax-credit program by initiative, meaning it can't be altered save through another ballot measure. Tax-credit programs often need alteration, and Proposition 7 ensures that that would be very difficult. Third and more fundamentally, tax credits are historically a not-very-efficient way of obtaining a public-policy goal: How many inner cities, after all, have been restored through the tax-credit magic of empowerment zones? If we wish to compel corporate polluters (in particular, the trucking industry) to adhere to clean-air standards, there are more direct and efficient ways - regulation, for instance - to accomplish that task.

8 - No

This is a passing strange initiative, most of which is devoted to codifying education practices that are already law. It calls for a class-size-reduction program in grades K through 3 that in fact is already in place. It establishes an elaborate process to involve parents in their children's schools, though parental involvement does not seem to us a matter that is all that amenable to legislation. The only groundbreaking part of this Pete Wilson-sponsored measure is that it establishes a new high-level commissar, the chief inspector of public schools, to be appointed by the governor for a 10-year term, with the power to rank and assess the state's schools. In short, this is a Wilson plan to do an end run around the elected superintendent of public instruction. We're against it.

9 - Yes

In 1996 and 1997, state government deregulated the electric-utility industry in California, but in a way that deliberately protected the state's three giant privately owned utilities: Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric. With virtually no opposition from a consumer lobby that had mysteriously settled down for a long winter's nap, a bill sailed through the Legislature that allowed the Big Three to charge their customers more than the actual cost of providing electric service, in order to recover the $28 billion they'd sunk into nuclear plants and other unprofitable investments. These additional charges - which appear on the bills of PG&E, SoCal Edison and SDG&E consumers, but not on the bills of the consumers of the DWP and other municipally owned utilities - may continue until 2002. In order to sweeten the blow to their consumers, however, the Big Three agreed to cut their rates by 10 percent to their residential and small-business ratepayers. But in order to sweeten the blow that that 10 percent cut would have inflicted on the Big Three, the state established a private authority to sell $6 billion of rate-reduction bonds, providing the Big Three with spending money to tide them over. The bondholders, meanwhile, are repaid every month - through yet another special charge to the ratepayers of PG&E, SoCal Edison and SDG&E. To sum up, the effect of deregulation on the 80 percent of Californians who use one of the three companies has been to have their bills augmented by a surcharge, an offsetting cut and an off-offsetting surcharge.

Better late than never, such longtime consumer advocates as Ralph Nader, Harvey Rosenfield, and Harry Snyder of Consumers Union have ridden to the rescue with Proposition 9. Essentially, Proposition 9 gets rid of the two surcharges. It prohibits the utilities from collecting their nuclear-related costs from their ratepayers. It also prohibits utilities from collecting their bond-repayment costs from their ratepayers. The first is an unequivocally good idea: Since privately owned utilities don't pass along their profits to their ratepayers, it's not apparent why they should be able to pass along the risks - specifically, the cost of their bad investments.

Eliminating that second surcharge is a trickier business. Someone is legally liable to the buyers of the rate-repayment bonds. Proposition 9's authors say the companies are, even if their ratepayers are off the hook. Others argue that the state, which pledged during the issuance of the bonds not to curtail the Big Three's ability to pass the bond costs on to their customers, will itself become liable for the bonds. That would require the state to enact either tax increases or spending cuts that would affect everyone - even ratepayers to public companies like DWP, who currently have no obligations or additional charges under the deals that the Big Three cut with the state.

This is a terribly complex set of questions to address through the vehicle of an initiative - though given the clout that the Big Three wield within the Legislature, it's understandable that this battle is taking place on the ballot rather than in the cloakrooms. Proposition 9 would be easier to endorse if it had dealt only with that first surcharge and had omitted its provisions affecting the second one, with all the ensuing complications of potential public liability. This measure has "decadelong lawsuit" written all over it. In the final analysis, however, it repeals a hidden fee that the lawmakers of California imposed on the vast majority of Californians at the behest of some very powerful companies. That's a worthwhile goal and a significant accomplishment. We support Proposition 9.

10 - Yes

Proposition 10 imposes an additional surtax of 50 cents on a pack of cigarettes, allocating the funds to state and county programs for early childhood development. It is, as its critics note, a rather regressive way of funding a socially important project. While we share some of these misgivings, as well as some apprehensions that Proposition 10 may create too many new bureaucracies, on the whole we think it's a significant contribution to the cause of public health.

11 - Yes

Currently, local governments can share sales-tax revenues only if a majority of voters in each jurisdiction approves this at the polls. Proposition 11 makes sharing between cities or counties easier, allowing an agreement to be entered into by a two-thirds vote of each affected jurisdiction's legislature - a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Since Proposition 13 was enacted 20 years ago, greatly diminishing municipalities' capacities to raise money through property taxes, cities and counties have been increasingly reliant on the sales tax for their revenues. The result is often a ludicrous and destructive competition among cities for shopping malls, auto dealerships and the like, each city promising more tax abatements and other sweet deals to the developers and merchants rather than see them move over to the city next door. As a result, all cities lose badly needed tax revenue. Proposition 11 is a small step in the direction of intercity comity - and solvency.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Measure

A - No

Proposition A is Zev Yaroslavsky's pirouette on the issue of subway construction: After years on the MTA board, approving one subway boondoggle after another (as did all his fellow commissioners), he has now authored an initiative that prohibits in perpetuity the MTA from using its sales-tax revenue (the lion's share of its funding) for any future subway construction. Excepting, of course, the two-thirds-completed Red Line to North Hollywood.

No one is disputing that the MTA has been an agency impervious to public opinion, cost overruns and cosmic boondoggling. No agency in recent memory has been so dismissive of the transit needs of its current ridership. No agency in recent memory has sunk so much money into a largely unpatronized subterranean rail line. No agency has lavished so much funding on questionable contractors with even more questionable ties to some of the MTA's own officials. Proposition A does redirect county transportation policy in more realistic and fruitful directions; it is also something of a re-education camp for an ancien regime reluctant to surrender its imperial fantasies.

The problem is, Proposition A is an exceedingly blunt object. There may well come a time, there may well be a place, where subways will a be appropriate once again. The Eastside, so torn up by freeways, may be a suitable site for subways. A subway may be just what is needed to take the Green Line that elusive last mile to LAX. Of course, the economics of subway building render any such projects utterly utopian for a number of years. We believe that fixed-rail transit is desperately needed if L.A. is to be a navigable, and livable, city in the next several decades, but the only way we can envision fixed-rail getting built during the next decade is if it runs aboveground.

Nonetheless, by banning subways in perpetuity, Proposition A precludes what may at some point be the best mode of transit for a particular route. Cold political reality has placed a de facto freeze on the MTA's subway construction for the foreseeable future. We welcome that freeze, but we're opposed to legislating a permanent one. In a very close call, we come down against Proposition A.

Los Angeles City Special Municipal Election Measures

CC - Yes

The first in a series of L.A. city bond measures authorizes the city to issue $47 million in bonds to upgrade and build new specified facilities in the city zoo (reptiles and sea lions are big winners), at an average cost to property taxpayers of $1.89 a year for 20 years.

DD - Yes

This most important of bond measures allows the city to issue $178 million in bonds to upgrade current branch libraries and build new ones across the city, at a cost to the average property taxpayer of $7.06 a year for 20 years. In contradistinction to such other city agencies as the police, the library department has a stellar record of using its bond money to build new facilities and fix the old ones promptly and efficiently. We strongly support DD.

EE - Yes

EE is a $46 million bond measure to spiff up and otherwise improve the facilities in Exposition Park - the Rose Garden, the Swim Stadium, the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center, among others. In a city that has fewer parks than just about any other major American city, Exposition Park is a much-used local treasure. It's also an aging local treasure, and Proposition EE promises to enhance many of its most popular facilities at an average annual cost of $1.85 to city property taxpayers. That looks like a bargain to us.
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