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Wake Up and Vote

In this era of campaigns by TV commercial, we have a duty to meet and question the men and women who want our votes. Which is exactly why so many of our sessions with candidates are not polite inquiries, but robust and often blunt interrogations. “Why are your TV commercials so terrible?” one writer asked Steve Westly. “Aren’t you being disingenuous by saying you were duped by bad intelligence on the war with Iraq?” another pressed Jane Harman. At times we were surprised to find we liked the answers we got from candidates we were prepared to dismiss, and other times we were profoundly disappointed in the candidates many felt we were supposed to support. We saw both genuine and crocodile tears as many of the candidates told us their often incredible life stories, and we witnessed one candidate apologize for an errant foul word only to get so comfortable she was letting the expletives fly by the end of the interview. We even heard a candidate push for secession as a way to get California its fair share of taxes. We heard too many candidates talk about fixing our state’s schools without having any real idea where they’d get the money to accomplish that goal. And we felt the curse of term limits as we met young, smart candidates with so little political experience we knew they’d be eaten alive by lobbyists and special interests as soon as they got into office. Finding a candidate who hasn’t been corrupted by the system but knows how to work it isn’t easy. But we did find a few candidates who raised our hopes for the future. Some, like Jerry Brown, who is promising Eliot Spitzer–style results as attorney general, were expected; others, like Orange County state controller candidate Joe Dunn, who has initiated several tough, no-nonsense investigations as state senator in Republican country, had been flying under the radar.

The unexpected is what we value most in our endorsement interviews. We don’t like consultants and party insiders determining our votes. We suspect you don’t either. This is why we know you won’t blindly accept our choices. We’ve tried to include plenty of information about the candidates we didn’t choose, especially in the close races, so that you can make up your own mind.

GOVERNOR: STEVE WESTLY

It would be so easy to sit this one out. We’re tired of message-free campaigning. We’re uninspired by empty attack ads. We’re sick of consultant-driven politicians who fail to address the state’s gravest issues. So we can’t really blame the one-third of the electorate that continues to withhold judgment on Tuesday’s unpleasant gubernatorial primary, the one where two statewide Democrats are competing for the chance to challenge Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November. Even if there hadn’t been five statewide elections in each of the past five years — including a recall and Schwarzenegger’s wasted special election — this is a campaign that fell just short of despicable. Hypocrisy replaced leadership months ago on the campaign trail.

The candidates’ commercials have been mostly useless to the voters, providing a blur of newspaper headlines and scant reference to the serious problems that truly threaten California. Even the attacks are dull — cheap shots that fail to resonate. We don’t buy that State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a driving force within the Democratic Party for two decades, is a threat to the environment merely because he is a developer. Nor do we view State Controller Steve Westly, who made a fortune on eBay and has his own Democratic Party ties, as a Judas simply because he voted for Schwarzenegger’s $15 billion bailout of the state — a move that, by the way, kept California solvent.

But not all negative advertising is equal. Angelides thoroughly discredited himself by running a TV ad shellacking Westly for taking campaign money from a “corrupt Chicago businessman.” Did Angelides really think no one would find out that he’d solicited money from the very same Joseph Cari, indicted in a pension-fund scandal? Angelides’ poor judgment ranks down there with his unsavory abortion ad in the 1994 primary, when he was running for state treasurer against David Roberti. Roberti, a devout Catholic, was a No vote on the abortion-rights issue, but the ad vaguely connected the liberal Roberti to fundamentalist loonies who had murdered abortion doctors. Twelve years later, when given a chance to show regret, Angelides says he is only sorry that the ad upset anyone. The two ads, running 12 years apart, show Angelides to be a fundamentally flawed candidate. Enough is enough.

We were enthusiastic about Angelides early on in the primary campaign, when he promised to level with voters, push hard for public investment and make taxes a centerpiece of his grand scheme for rebuilding the state. And we admit that it is tempting to watch this ruthless candidate go mano a mano against Schwarzenegger with all of his political wiles at his disposal. But we want a candidate with more signs of possessing a soul. We like the way that Westly, as a Stanford undergrad, demanded a place in the only African-American residence on campus. We like the way he told us that he wished he had participated in the May 1 immigration-rights demonstration in Los Angeles. In contrast, Angelides says he did not participate in the demonstration because it was for the people — not politicians. We chalk it up to yet another missed opportunity to show true leadership on a key issue facing Californians.

That said, neither candidate is giving the proper level of attention to the real problems in California, ones that a governor is uniquely positioned to take on. Topping that list is the dreadful level of funding that cheats our public schools, overwhelmed with the job of educating hundreds of thousands of children coping with limited English skills and struggling to overcome the barriers posed by poverty. Westly talks robotically about a “barbell economy” — or is it a dumbbell economy? — in which California’s middle class is steadily shrinking. But he offers a limited program for addressing it. Angelides, in turn, promises to usher in a new era of investment. But with his heavy reliance on $5 billion in upper-income tax hikes, he looks disturbingly like a one-trick pony eager to please the masses with his tax-the-rich scheme. Angelides is banking on a tax hike for those who earn more than $500,000 — a move we support wholeheartedly, by the way. But such an increase would likely require a two-thirds vote, and we hear no explanation from Angelides on how he will persuade Republican voters — or even moderate Democrats — to secure passage of such an initiative, or what his backup plan will be if the GOP blocks him. After all, Angelides has repeatedly promised not to raise any taxes on the middle class, a vow that forecloses any honest debate about investment, about how we rebuild California’s public schools.

Westly also hopes to pour more money into K–12 classrooms and higher education. He has offered a somewhat more pragmatic strategy for achieving his goals, by getting $3.25 billion — half the amount going unpaid to California — from tax scofflaws and giving 42 percent of the total to education. Westly proposes $150 million in free tuition for community-college students, primarily those who are committed to higher education. And Westly showed a surprising level of familiarity with measures needed to reduce oil dependency in California, from emerging electric-vehicle technology to ways of adopting a lower-emissions formula for ethanol.

We suspect that Westly would be the better governor. His cooperation with Schwarzenegger on the bond measure shows the spirit of conciliation that is needed to move California forward. Gone are the days when scorched-earth, ideological temper tantrums will carry the day. The state’s ills cross party lines, and so must those who are to succeed in solving them. Westly shows the courage to push the greater good of all ahead of his own or partisan interests.

We lament that both candidates have run flawed campaigns that have shortchanged the public and diminished our democracy. In the end, we believe Steve Westly has emerged the better candidate. But whoever wins this exceedingly tight race, we implore him to find a way to talk to the voters over the next five months about California’s future in a way that respects and engages them. No more of the filthy campaigning that alienates a third of the populace. We must focus on restoring good government and evicting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the fall.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: JACKIE SPEIER

We love Jackie Speier. If only she were running for a position with real power. Speier has been a true talent in the state Senate, fighting to protect financial privacy, making prescription drugs more available to seniors, and demanding scrutiny of sweetheart state contracts. Speier is also one of the few Democrats who decry the folly of eliminating the vehicle license fee, which ruined the state budget and deprived public schools of much-needed funding. And she is powerful as she lays out her case against lucrative pay agreements with the state’s prison guards union. Alas, Speier is running for lieutenant governor, a position made even more inconsequential than normal by the current officeholder, Cruz Bustamante. Acknowledging that the position has not exactly been a hub of political influence in recent years, Speier has promised to transform it into a guardian of higher education, using its seat on the UC Board of Regents to effect change. Speier plans to take after Leo McCarthy, who held hearings up and down the state on major issues during his tenure and was a watchdog for consumers. Her main opponent, John Garamendi, has been an excellent insurance commissioner, but we prefer Speier’s passion. We wish her well and look forward to the day when she runs for a job she deserves, like governor.

SECRETARY OF STATE: DEBRA BOWEN

South Bay state Senator Debra Bowen would be the secretary of state from central casting. In her six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, no one has been more concerned, and to better effect, about cleaning up our political process than she. Her opposition to Diebold election technology is also a lot stronger than that of her opponent, Sacramento-area state Senator Deborah Ortiz. In this battle of the Debs, we strongly support Bowen.

CONTROLLER: JOE DUNN

The two candidates seeking this post in the Democratic primary — Joe Dunn, a state senator from normally Republican Orange County, and John Chiang, the member of the State Board of Equalization from L.A. County — are both intelligent progressives with a lot to recommend them for this position. Chiang is a very talented tax lawyer; Dunn is an accomplished trial lawyer who’s won major class-action cases against some of the most nefarious corporations. Before anybody else was on the case, Dunn led a state Senate investigation of Enron and its role in cheating California out of multiple billions of dollars.

We think Dunn has the track record and leadership skills to be a standup controller; Chiang strikes us as a gifted young talent more suited to being Dunn’s chief deputy.

TREASURER: BILL LOCKYER

In his eight years as attorney general, and as leader of the Senate Democrats before that, Bill Lockyer consistently backed the interests of consumers, workers and the little guy against powerful financial forces. These are the qualities that convince us he’d make an excellent treasurer, a post for which he has no primary opposition.

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER — NO ENDORSEMENT

Termed-out Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is running for insurance commissioner, in a campaign marked by his pledge to lose weight and his acceptance of $158,000 in contributions from insurance companies. He faces no serious opposition. His undistinguished record as lieutenant governor and his willingness to take money from the folks he’d regulate don’t convince us that he’s up to the job. We wish him much success, though, in his efforts to shed that flab.

STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION, DISTRICT FOUR: JUDY CHU

The primary requirement for this position — which handles the tax cases of some of the state’s most powerful businesses and individuals — is the ability to say no to those businesses and individuals when the facts and law so dictate. As mayor of Monterey Park and then an assemblymember from that area, Judy Chu has repeatedly shown herself to be an exceptionally thoughtful, honest, progressive public official. Her chief opponent, Inglewood-area Assemblymember Jerome Horton, has shown himself to be quite the reverse. Chu is our clear preference here.

UNITED STATES SENATOR: NO ENDORSEMENT

In a state and a party that don’t lack for talented progressives, how the Democrats saddled themselves with Dianne Feinstein is a damn good question. She began her current six-year term by backing George W. Bush’s appalling 2001 tax cut for the rich. (Eleven other Senate Democrats joined her, but she was the only one from a clearly blue state. They felt they had to vote with Bush; she actually believed this crap.) She also voted to authorize the Iraqi war in the fall of 2002. DiFi’s done her share of good deeds, of course: She recently authored an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would have provided a path to legalization for all the undocumenteds, not just those here for five years or more. But when she’s bad, she’s horrid, and with less realpolitik justification for it than just about any of her Democratic colleagues.

36TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: JANE HARMAN

We can’t help but be bitterly disappointed in U.S. Rep. Jane Harman. The South Bay Democrat is surprisingly intelligent for a representative of the U.S. Congress, an incredibly hard worker who lives and breathes foreign policy and national security issues. Yet she was duped — and willingly admits that she and colleagues were duped — by the trumped-up intelligence that led our nation to war, a war that has had devastating consequences on the nation and the world. Harman faces a spirited challenge from teacher Marcy Winograd, who moved into the district to carry the pro-peace message and hound the incumbent for her handling of Iraq. We share Winograd’s sadness and, quite frequently, rage at the lack of scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats alike regarding the warnings regarding WMD. We have taken pleasure in seeing Harman hustle a bit in the wake of Winograd’s challenge. But Winograd doesn’t appear up to the rigors of serving in Congress and offers little in the way of a platform outside of her call for a withdrawal of the troops. And she certainly has no domestic agenda, saying mainly that national programs would see more money once there is an end to the war in Iraq. So here we are with Harman, again, albeit a somewhat remorseful one. Harman promises that there will be a reckoning regarding the failures of the nation’s foreign policy — but only if the Democrats regain power in November. Harman also insists she has learned her lesson on the need for a much more thorough vetting of intelligence that is gathered for national security purposes. But what a terribly cruel lesson it is.


20TH STATE SENATE: ALEX PADILLA

The battle for the seat of state Senator Richard Alarcon, a longtime Democrat forced by term limits into the lower house, is nothing less than a barnburner. On the one side is Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, a ferocious fighter for her community who got her start on the San Fernando City Council. On the other is Los Angeles Councilman Alex Padilla, a polished political presence who worked meticulously to bring resources into his community — from dozens of new affordable housing units to the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, which moved to Hansen Dam. Both candidates got an early start in San Fernando Valley politics, establishing themselves in their 20s. Both would represent their district well. Where they start to differ is their styles: Padilla can come off as too polished, a seasoned pol working deals behind the scenes, while Montañez — much more the scrapper — can come off a bit rough. We give the nod to Padilla, in large part because of his successful battle to keep Sacramento from siphoning money from city and county governments — think libraries, recreation programs, jails, police — every time the state budget goes in the tank. As a statewide leader with the California League of Cities, Padilla crafted Proposition 1A, the measure that halted the raids on local government and forced the hand of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Suddenly, Padilla became the rarest of politicians: someone who did not just complain about a lack of funding, but found a way to address the situation. Not to say that Montañez isn’t accomplished in her own right. Among her greatest achievements is her aggressive pursuit of consumer protections for car buyers, a campaign that invited the ire of auto dealers, who in turn heaped independent expenditures on Padilla. Montañez has a firm grasp of her district, particularly the threats posed by contaminated sites in the northeast Valley. But Padilla’s work on citywide issues, from state funding to the clever scuttling of the 2002 Valley secession movement, make him our choice this year.

28TH STATE SENATE: JENNY OROPEZA

You can’t say voters don’t have a choice in this sprawling South Bay district, which stretches from Culver City on the northwest to Carson on the southeast. From the western flank is former Assemblyman George Nakano, a quiet, reassuring presence who embodies the district’s more politically cautious communities, such as Torrance — a city he once represented. From the eastern side is Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, who can be all over the map emotionally as she vents her frustration with campaign finance laws, voices her sorrow over the state’s difficult budget choices of 2003 and expresses her anger over the shortchanging of low-income, port-adjacent communities in Wilmington and Long Beach. Oropeza even waged an unsuccessful battle for the speakership against Assemblyman Fabian Núñez, which may explain why she failed to secure the backing of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — a Núñez ally. For all of her fighting instincts, Oropeza remained a wallflower on the environment until 2004, when she underwent treatment for liver cancer — an experience that persuaded her to assume some of the heavy lifting on clean-air initiatives from fellow Long Beach Democrat Alan Lowenthal, who now serves in the state Senate. Since then Oropeza has roared back with a vengeance, pushing for $1 billion in clean-air initiatives to be included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $37.3 billion infrastructure bond and using her bully pulpit to spotlight the damage caused by rail, truck and ship emissions. Nakano has also shown an interest in the environment, crafting legislation that limited cruise ships from dumping wastewater and other hazardous materials into ocean waters. The true test of Nakano’s courage came during his first term, when he voted in favor of a bill cracking down on the harassment of gay teens in public school — a move that drew pickets outside his office and full-page attack ads in daily newspapers. But Nakano’s work, while admirable, has been limited in scope. And for that reason we are picking Oropeza, whose passion is infectious, if not always accompanied by the rigor we want in a state legislator. We would never think to tell Oropeza to stop leading with her heart. But we do suggest that she put her considerable energy into the finer details of policy as well.

 

41ST ASSEMBLY: JONATHAN LEVEY

 

Few sections of California are as ecocentric as the 41st Assembly District, a stretch of Southern California that takes in Santa Monica, Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other suburbs on each side of the L.A.-Ventura County border — not to mention the Santa Monica Mountains and a good stretch of coastline. Five candidates — four of them waging persuasive campaigns — have stepped forward to fill the seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, an outspoken leader in Sacramento on environmental issues. Pavley and another force in the district, state Senator Sheila Kuehl, have thrown their considerable support behind Julia Brownley, an extremely likable school board member for Santa Monica and Malibu who has promised to make public schools her No. 1 issue. Yet despite her promise to direct more funds into the classroom, Brownley showed a surprisingly limited understanding of education funding issues, particularly the strategies needed to increase per-pupil spending. Attorney Barry Groveman and activist Kelly Hayes-Raitt show an impassioned interest in the environment, yet neither seems entirely suited to the work of getting difficult bills through the state Legislature. Our choice is a relative outsider to the world of politics — college teacher Jonathan Levey, an attorney who shows an understanding of state government and an ability to communicate his progressive ideals to moderate legislators and a doubting business community. We like that Levey speaks with specificity on complex topics, and with candor on the challenges facing the Democratic Party agenda, such as comprehensive health care. We also like that Levey tried to engage voters with a 162-page policy booklet, even one that went a little heavy on the platitudes.

42ND ASSEMBLY: MIKE FEUER

We’ve never been happy with term limits. Since 1996, state lawmakers repeatedly have been shown the door just as they learned to navigate the corridors of the Capitol and advance meaningful legislation. The race for the 42nd — which includes West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks and other well-heeled communities — leaves voters with yet another reason to hate term limits: a nail-biter between two extremely qualified, well-matched potential replacements for departing Assemblyman Paul Koretz. Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer and West Hollywood City Councilwoman Abbe Land easily outshine the other Democrats in this race, offering strong track records on health care, gay rights and the environment. Feuer showed a strong interest in ethics reform during his time at City Hall and would likely place a strong emphasis on clean-air issues. Land, on the other hand, has promised to parlay her work at the Los Angeles Free Clinic into a one-woman campaign for universal health care. While both are strong liberal Democrats, we give a slight edge to Feuer, a thoughtful community advocate who recently gained a strong understanding of the inequities within the state’s education system by helping to negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit over access to education resources. But Feuer must learn to curb his penchant for self-righteous finger-pointing. For someone who calls for restraint on campaign fund raising, he took an awful lot of money during his failed 2001 bid for city attorney from lawyers — whose firms were on the prowl for city contracts. We look forward to a Mike Feuer who persuades, not alienates.

43RD ASSEMBLY: PAUL KREKORIAN

It was not so long ago that the 43rd Assembly District posed an exhausting challenge for California Democrats. In 1996, union activist Scott Wildman broke the GOP’s stranglehold on the Glendale-Burbank–North Hollywood district by scoring the narrowest of upsets. These days, the 43rd is a safe Democratic seat where — like most of the Assembly races in Los Angeles County — the primary election decides who will be sent to Sacramento. When Wildman departed six years ago, the L.A. Weekly backed Democrat Paul Krekorian to fill the seat, and we are equally supportive today. Krekorian is an attorney who works in the entertainment industry — important experience in a state gripped by runaway production — but he also has extensive experience in public schools, having served on the Burbank Unified Board of Education. Krekorian has run into trouble with his absentee ballots, which bother us. But his lone opponent for the Democratic nomination, Glendale Councilman Frank Quintero, also has flaws. Quintero, while promising to focus on vocational education issues in Sacramento, sounded vague and unfocused when discussing his campaign. At one event, he gave the mistaken impression that he supported school vouchers. At another, he admitted that he had not bothered to review a campaign piece with his name on it that was sent to voters. We’re sticking with Krekorian.

44TH ASSEMBLY: DIANA PETERSON-MORE

Four candidates are running to replace termed-out Assemblywoman Carol Liu in this district, which takes in La Cañada–Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena and some well-tended sections of the west San Gabriel Valley. The field of Democrats is, by and large, quite good. And we give especially strong credit to Adam Murray, an attorney and college economics instructor who became the sleeper hit of the campaign by demonstrating a strong understanding of housing issues, poverty and what ails Sacramento. But our candidate this year is Diana Peterson-More, who has the same progressive values as Murray while coming to the race with a more extensive background of activism and advocacy. Six years ago, Peterson-More spoke passionately for statewide preschool education, before it had begun to percolate in the political mainstream. Now, she is willing to take other political risks, by advocating for the restoration of the vehicle license fee as a way to fund K-12 education. The field of candidates also includes La Cañada–Flintridge Councilman Anthony Portantino, who has been a credible voice in his community. But we worry that the small-town issues of his city — from contentious debates over tree removal and the construction of a Sports Chalet — have not fully prepared him for the Capitol. And Brian Center, an aide to Sheriff Leroy Baca, showed himself to be a bit too mired in bureaucratic minutiae to merit statewide office.

45TH ASSEMBLY: ELENA POPP

First, a word about Christine Chavez. Chavez, an organizer with United Farm Workers and the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, tells us she is a fighter. And on some level, we suppose she must be. But what could have possessed her to avoid eight candidate debates in her run for the 45th Assembly District? Why would she skip one forum sponsored by KPCC-FM, and another broadcast on KPFK? We can only conclude that Chavez is running a stealth campaign, one that is supremely disrespectful of the voters, that trades shamelessly on her family name. We don’t care how many campaign mailers, paperback books, English-Spanish dictionaries or photos of her grandfather that she sends to the voters if she can’t be bothered to engage her opponents. And it’s hard to believe Chavez will, as she says ad nauseam, pose a vigorous challenge to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when she can’t even show up to discuss her political views with the editorial board of the L.A. Weekly. As she does her best to avoid answering difficult questions, we can’t help but be reminded by the childhood photograph Chavez placed on her mailer — the one in which she is tethered to her famous grandfather at a famous point in history, yet looking like a timid little girl.

That leaves voters with three substantive choices in the 45th Assembly District, a hive of progressive political activism: renters advocate Elena Popp, political organizer Kevin de León and college teacher Gabriel Buelna. Buelna has been an intriguing candidate, doggedly making his way through the district as he hears constituent complaints about traffic, public safety and other neighborhood-level issues. But his frequent mention of speed bumps, traffic signals and bus routes makes him seem like a better fit for a city council race. De León has an entirely different set of problems. As a seven-year organizer of the California Teachers Association, it’s hard to see how he developed much of a tie to the district, which stretches from Hollywood on the west to El Sereno on the east. De León certainly benefited from an avalanche of money and logistical support pouring in from Sacramento — thanks in part to his childhood friend and political patron, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez. But de León has sent few signals that he will be his own man.

The one candidate who offers strong convictions, an extensive record of activism and a degree of independence is Popp, who spent her earliest years in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish. Popp, who is backed by departing Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, has a keen understanding of the work needed to pass health care legislation, fund public education and protect vulnerable housing units. Popp also has a strong understanding of the district. Our only reservation is whether she is too naive to survive Sacramento. If nothing else, Popp has learned some unpleasant truths during the 2006 campaign, ones we hope she will be able to apply in the Capitol.

48TH ASSEMBLY: ANTHONY WILLOUGHBY

The 48th Assembly District, a rectangular stretch of South Los Angeles that runs along the western flank of the Harbor (110) Freeway, has had a strong advocate in Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas, stretching back to his days as a city councilman. With term limits once again forcing him to move on, Ridley-Thomas has thrown his support behind trial attorney Anthony Willoughby, a move we support. Willoughby has built up a strong résumé over the past 20 years, serving in volunteer policy roles on behalf of former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and district attorney Steve Cooley, and developed one of the most extensive coalitions on behalf of his candidacy. He outshines Mike Davis, a longtime aide to Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, and Bishop Edward Turner, an aide to Sheriff Leroy Baca who — while not our choice — is an impassioned voice for his community.

49TH ASSEMBLY: MIKE ENG

It’s not every day that we get enthusiastic about a candidate, particularly one embarking on his first run for state office. Yet Monterey Park Mayor Mike Eng is the type of Democrat who makes term limits seem tolerable. He has a keen intellect, a track record of working with underserved communities and a strong sense of the heavy lifting that comes with civic leadership. Best of all, Eng has an honesty and a disarming sense of humor that, we fear, will be sorely tested by the powerful interests in Sacramento. Eng’s wife, termed-out Assemblywoman Judy Chu, spent the past six years representing the district — which includes Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead and San Gabriel — and is now running for a seat on the Board of Equalization. But Eng is hardly a trophy spouse. He worked in the 1980s to reduce tensions in Monterey Park between newcomers from Taiwan and a panicky Anglo old guard. More recently, he used his seat on the Monterey Park City Council to place a greater emphasis on the environment. Eng still needs to think bigger on such issues as affordable housing and clean air. But he offers more to the voters than his most serious opponent, Alhambra City Councilman Daniel Arguello. Arguello, by the way, can continue to play a pivotal role in his city by questioning the redevelopment decisions of his colleagues.

51ST ASSEMBLY: CURREN PRICE

Nowhere does the nation’s health care crisis show more dire consequences than the 51st Assembly District, which stretches from Westchester and Inglewood on the west to Willowbrook on the east. The district’s residents have suffered through the elimination of the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center, the threatened closure of Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital, the curtailment of services at Daniel Freeman in Inglewood and the closure of the trauma center at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. Both candidates seeking the Democratic nomination acknowledge the gravity of the crisis, yet both could have offered a more exhaustive policy prescription. Still, the edge goes to Inglewood Councilman Curren Price, who discussed ways of passing universal health care legislation and postponing some costly state mandates on hospitals. Gardena Councilman Steven Bradford comes to the race with extensive policy experience, particularly in the arena of municipal government. But in an era of term limits, he will likely see another opportunity to serve in Sacramento.

55TH ASSEMBLY: WARREN FURUTANI

With the departure of Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, voters in a district that takes in Carson, Harbor City and the northern portion of Long Beach find themselves with two choices: longtime Democratic pol Warren Furutani, an adviser to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and Long Beach Councilwoman Laura Richardson. Furutani, who has served on the L.A. Unified Board of Education and the sprawling Los Angeles Community College District, has promised to focus on higher education once he arrives in Sacramento. Richardson, for her part, rightly points out that both L.A. Unified and the LACCD could perform far better, from test scores to college campus renovations. But this race, we’re going with Furutani. Richardson offered little to chew on, particularly regarding the environmental impacts of the Port of Long Beach. Furutani, by contrast, spelled out a more specific agenda for post-secondary education — from rolling back tuition fees to beefing up vocational training for those who don’t reach college.

STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: JACK O’CONNELL

As a state legislator, O’Connell was the Legislature’s leading advocate for higher educational standards and greater educational resources. As the nonpartisan Superintendent of Public Instruction for the past four years, he’s been the primary advocate for the high school exit exam and for greater vocational education for high-school-age students. Should Proposition 82 pass, he’d be charged with setting the standards for the state’s preschools and verifying their compliance with them. We think he’s the right man for that job.

 

L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF: LEROY BACA

The past four years have not been kind to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees police patrols in 41 cities, scores of unincorporated areas and the buses and trains operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Reeling from the financial fallout caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks, the county Board of Supervisors cut $168 million from Baca’s budget, a move that provoked a terrible chain of events: the closing of jail facilities, reducing the number of deputies and embracing “early release” — a policy allowing inmates convicted of misdemeanor crimes to serve only a tiny fraction of their sentences.

In so many ways, we wish Baca had risen to the challenges of this turbulent period.

After his election in 1998, Baca showed a firm commitment to change the culture of the department, by making it more inclusive and imposing discipline on misbehaving deputies. Unlike so many in law enforcement, Baca talked candidly about the societal ills that complicate police work, from a dearth of shelter beds for the homeless to a lack of services for the mentally ill. Even in his campaign for a third term, Baca billed himself as a bridge between low-income neighborhoods hard hit by crime and affluent communities reluctant to fund public safety fully.

The past four years call into question Baca’s ability to serve as that bridge. He pushed for passage of a $500 million sales-tax hike in 2004 to reverse the cuts in his budget, only to turn off voters with a ridiculous campaign commercial showing a terrified white woman fending off a home-invasion burglar. Jail overcrowding and ghastly inmate deaths — caused by a mix of inadequate funds and poor oversight — turned the county into a fat target for law enforcement watchdogs, civil-rights advocates and an impatient federal judge.

And then there are the corrosive effects of early release on low-income communities. With so many low-level offenders being released soon after they arrive in jail, communities are getting the hint: Why take a risk? Why engage law enforcement in any way, when the criminals will be right back out on the street? Why let police know about a crime at all? Baca himself acknowledged that the effect on low-income communities has been horrendous.

This is the unhappy backdrop for the June 6 race for Los Angeles County sheriff — a five-way contest that has not exactly dazzled the voters. Sheriff’s Sergeant Paul Jernigan has not shown the depth needed to lead such a sprawling department, while retired Sheriff’s Captain Ken Masse lacks the temperament to run a system that serves so many different communities. Sheriff’s Captain Ray Leyva, a 24-year department veteran, shows promise and a keen understanding of the staffing shortages that plagued the system. Yet his own history with the jail system leaves us somewhat wary. The other strong challenger is retired police Lieutenant Don Meredith, who showed his own willingness at the Glendale Police Department to investigate misbehaving officers. Meredith has drawn praise within Glendale for his commitment to addressing gang violence. But Glendale is a small pond compared to the county system.

Furthermore, Baca has made some progress. We know that the department is becoming more responsive to community needs, as shown by Baca’s extraordinary apology to Compton residents after his deputies fired into the homes of innocent families. We saw it again in Compton when he ramped up patrols in an effort to curb a high homicide rate. Now that the supervisors have reversed their budget cuts over the past two years, we see even more reason for hope that Baca can add 1,000 deputies to his department.

So Baca should get a third term, so long as he takes along this to-do list: show the management savvy needed to run the department; forgo the Homeland Security junkets to Pakistan, Jordan and other far-flung locales when the jail system is so overcrowded, underfunded and occasionally lethal; find a more compelling way to convince the voters — and the county supervisors — of the need for the proper level of financial support. And, most important, find a way to become a true bridge between the county’s more affluent communities and the low-income ones — by running a public-safety agency that everyone deserves.

 

COUNTY SUPERVISOR: GLORIA MOLINA, FIRST DISTRICT; ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, THIRD DISTRICT

We know Angelenos hate politics. And we certainly get that it’s almost impossible to unseat an incumbent supervisor in Los Angeles County. Yet we sometimes daydream about a real opponent somehow scraping together the money and campaign prowess to force a real discussion of the county’s priorities — from foster care to health care, from transit to trauma centers. Just think of Supervisor Gloria Molina, a blunt representative of communities stretching from East Los Angeles to Pomona, squaring off against state Senator Gloria Romero — no shrinking violet herself. Or County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky fielding a challenge from state Senator Debra Bowen, another savvy Westside pol with her own policy prowess and a gift for public gab.

 

But this is the real world. And in the real world, we have Molina and Yaroslavsky, two intelligent yet frustrating policymakers. Both showed courage in difficult financial times, staring down angry employee unions as they made unpleasant budget decisions, especially those involving the health system. Both helped win passage of Measure B, which delivered $170 million per year to the county’s troubled trauma centers. Yet both need to wage an equally effective pitch in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., by demonstrating that Los Angeles County and the nation needs a concentrated response to the crisis of the uninsured.

Neither incumbent faces opponents even remotely up to the job. So we offer a few helpful suggestions for the next four years. Yaroslavsky, who delights in the rising ridership numbers on the east-west Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley, should work doubly hard to bring a subway deeper into the traffic-choked Westside. Molina, who is bringing light rail to the Eastside, must now think about the Westside, too. That means parting with her anger over the fact that the Gold Line East will remain largely aboveground — a situation that sucks but is now unavoidable. Molina and Yaroslavsky should finish the job of rescuing Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center, by doing it so successfully that the facility once again houses a trauma center. Both should work to fill the county’s reserve fund, to shield the county from the next, inevitable economic downturn.

Yaroslavsky said on the campaign trail that he excels at turning around struggling bureaucracies, and he is right. Molina and Yaroslavsky have provided steady leadership. Yet having seen the disasters that have enveloped King/Drew, the county jail system, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the past decade, it would be nice if, during the next four years, they took steps to ensure that there are no more agencies in need of such dramatic rescues.

 


ATTORNEY GENERAL: JERRY BROWN

In the churning political waters created by term limits, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown stands as the oddest of political symbols: a safe harbor for California voters. Yet with dozens of would-be lawmakers scurrying across California seeking office — many without the slightest clue on how to fund education, expand health care or lure good-paying jobs — it’s oddly reassuring to encounter Jerry Brown, candidate for attorney general, a 68-year-old veteran policymaker with a full menu of life experiences. Who’d have thought 30 years ago that we’d be debating the merits of Jerry Brown, elder statesman?

Brown comes to the job with an impressive résumé: mayor, secretary of state, governor, presidential hopeful — perhaps the broadest background in politics and policy of any candidate in the state. He speaks with ease about the work of the Attorney General’s Office — the legal advice, the opinions, the advocacy — and, even better, has an enjoyable sense of perspective about the absurdities of politics. Unlike other candidates seeking the job, Brown wouldn’t be tempted to weigh his every move as attorney general on whether it could provide a springboard into the Governor’s Office. Let’s remember, he already was the governor.

Throughout his campaign, Brown has promised to elevate the profile of the Attorney General’s Office, making it comparable to New York’s, where Attorney General Eliot Spitzer remade his office into a political powerhouse. Spitzer showed a ferocity in his attacks on corruption and questionable business practices in the private sector, taking on securities firms, banks, and other financial giants — a strategy that secured billion-dollar settlements and protected the interests of investors and the general populace. Brown is setting a very high bar, and we intend to hold him to it.

With the Spitzer model in mind, Brown would not say exactly where he would place his focus. But he points out that there are more than a few workers being cheated out of overtime pay, minimum wage and other legally required protections. Brown also hinted that there are some major inequities in California’s education system that may deserve a look.

Which is not to say that everything that Brown touches turns to gold. Brown learned some hard lessons in Oakland about policing, economic development, ethics laws and public education. We’re anxious about the city’s recent spike in crime. And we have strong doubts about his promise to use his contacts to improve what he described as the “highly poisoned partisan environment” of Sacramento. To be honest, we’re not sure the Democratic Party wants to be anywhere near him. Wasn’t he the guy who couldn’t get the party to keep the volume on when he reached the stage at the 1992 Democratic National Convention? Considering the state of the Democrats, all of this is fine with us. We welcome his independent voice.

 

Brown easily outshines his opponent, Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo. Despite small-scale achievements involving neighborhood prosecutors and student truancy, Delgadillo simply has not demonstrated bold leadership. A bland political presence, Delgadillo has mastered generating bad press over his dealings with slumlords, billboard companies and contracting.

So vote for Jerry Brown, the guy who’s been around the block. Vote for political experience and real-world experience, and a candidate who’s promising to push the political envelope.

 

STATE BALLOT MEASURES

 

PROPOSITION 81 — YES

This $600 million bond measure would build and renovate public libraries. We’re for it.

 

PROPOSITION 82 — YES

A good deal of controversy, some legitimate, some vastly overblown, is swirling around the campaign that actor-director Rob Reiner has waged for Proposition 82, the ballot measure he authored that establishes free, universal preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds. When the measure is weighed on its merits, however, it is one of the most important and innovative propositions we’ve seen in many years.

From RAND Corp. liberals to the University of Chicago’s right-wing Nobel laureate James Heckman, economists and educators believe that the most effective way to ensure not just students’ learning readiness but their success in school is a high-quality preschool. Currently, 62 percent of California’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschools, but no more than one in five are enrolled in rigorous programs.

Prop. 82 would change all that. It would raise taxes by 1.7 percent on the wealthiest 0.6 percent of state residents — individuals making more than $400,000 a year or couples making more than $800,000 — to fund preschools in which one credentialed teacher (with at least a B.A.) and one credentialed teacher’s aide would teach classes of no more than 20 students. The measure includes $700 million for scholarships to enable current preschool teachers to get their college degrees and for colleges to develop and expand their preschool-teacher programs, $2 billion to construct new preschools, and funding to improve education in existing facilities. Parents could choose among public and private preschools for their children; schools qualify for funding only if they meet the criteria established by the state’s elected superintendent of public instruction, who would develop the criteria and oversee the program. 

Critics argue that the measure hurts the rich; also, that it provides them with a subsidy. Both can’t be true; in fact, neither is. Offering preschool to the children of all Californians, even the rich, is the best way to ensure that everyone has an investment in it. Others argue that tax increases should be left to the Legislature, but since it takes a two-thirds vote for the Legislature to raise taxes, and since Republican legislators have a genetic defect that keeps them from ever taxing the rich, initiatives remain the only way to do it. We strongly urge a Yes vote on Prop. 82.


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