46th District: Gil Cedillo
The invaluable Mr. Cedillo persuaded his legislative colleagues to pass some of the most humane and progressive legislation of the past session: expanding prenatal care to undocumented women; expanding Medicaid to 250,000 working adults; extending food stamps to legal immigrants; prohibiting state contractors from using state funds on union-busting activities; requiring hospital chains to get the attorney general’s approval when they take over nonprofit facilities, to assure that patient-care standards don’t decline; authorizing the issuance of drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, he failed to persuade the governor to sign the last one, but Cedillo’s a wily and determined guy. We support him wholeheartedly.
47th District: Herb Wesson
Freshman legislator Wesson was plainly out of his depth when he was sent in to mediate the recent bus drivers’ strike — which, admittedly, often seemed a riddle wrapped in a mystery cloaked in an enigma. By all accounts, though, in Sacramento Wesson is regarded as an accomplished legislator, a rising star. Maybe he should stay up north.
49th District: Gloria Romero
With Antonio Villaraigosa and Gil Cedillo, Romero has formed a trio of Latino electeds who’ve all done serious time in the labor movement. The three, along with Hilda Solis, are at the epicenter of the most dynamic force in L.A. politics, the labor-Latino alliance. Romero is a conscientious progressive, and she has our unalloyed backing.
51st District: Jerome Horton
Horton, a CPA with the State Board of Equalization and a member of the Inglewood City Council, waged a dismally unimpressive but nonetheless victorious campaign in the March Democratic primary to succeed Ed Vincent in this Assembly seat. The slim hopes we hold out for his coming tenure in Sacramento are occasioned by his efforts on behalf of workers, which includes forming a community group that supported employees organizing a union at the Hollywood Park Casino.
53rd District: George Nakano
Like Jane Harman (running in a congressional district that overlaps the 53rd Assembly District), one-term Assembly member George Nakano is a painfully moderate Democrat in a painfully moderate (South Bay) district. He is, nonetheless, distinctly preferable to Gerald Felando, his Republican opponent.
54th District: Alan Lowenthal
In his first term representing this Long Beach–San Pedro–Palos Verdes district, former Long Beach City Councilman Alan Lowenthal distinguished himself as a fighter for environmental justice and economic revitalization in this heavily industrial, largely working-class region. He’s championed stricter pollution standards on the harbor’s petroleum coke piles, and authored legislation banning gun sales in residential neighborhoods — one reason the Republicans, in the person of L.A. City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., are coming after him. Lowenthal is a dedicated progressive who is fighting exactly the right battles for his district, and he has our unstinting support in what is shaping up as one of the tightest Assembly races in the state.
55th District: Jenny Oropeza
Suddenly, the Long Beach area has become home to a number of dynamic progressive candidates — none more dynamic or progressive than Long Beach City Council member Jenny Oropeza, who won the March Democratic primary to succeed the bizarre and bombastic Dick Floyd. Oropeza seems a perfect fit for this multiracial, heavily Democratic, working-class-to-the-core district. Now in her second term on the Long Beach City Council, she secured funding for the city’s first new park in 20 years and for badly needed affordable housing. She played a key role in persuading the owners of the Long Beach downtown high-rises to recognize the union their janitors sought to join, and has assisted the various unionization campaigns in Long Beach hospitals. Oropeza is the most effective politician and organizer on behalf of economic-justice issues we’ve met in some time, and we endorse her avidly.
56th District: Sally Havice
Havice, a moderate Democrat, faces her usual biennial tough fight in this Cerritos-area district, which has a huge Democratic registration edge but dismal Democratic turnout. Her opponent, Cerritos Mayor Grace Hu, is running a very well-funded campaign, and Havice needs all the help she can get.
Assessor: Rick Auerbach
District Attorney: Steve Cooley
We were cautiously hopeful when Gil Garcetti was elected District Attorney in 1992. The city was still reeling from rioting that followed the not-guilty verdicts of police officers charged in the Rodney King case and from the light punishment of a Korean grocer given probation after killing an unarmed black girl in his store. Garcetti, the ambitious son of working-class Mexican immigrants, seemed at least not so clueless as Ira Reiner about the city and its needs. He promised to use the office as a bully pulpit. He would speak out for crime prevention rather than just for locking criminals up. He would put office resources into prosecuting political corruption and hate crimes and deadbeat dads.
And in his eight years in office, Garcetti has done some decent things. He’s appointed more women and deputies of color; he’s gone after perpetrators of domestic violence. He established the country’s first hate-crime unit. But it all falls short in light of Garcetti’s failings.
We could go on and on about his special treatment of campaign contributors; about his bullheaded refusal to apply three-strikes judiciously, instead insisting the law demands that pizza-thief and murderer alike should face the same 25-years-to-life; about his dismantling of the rollout unit that investigated police shootings (something he brought back only after significant public pressure).
Then there’s the Rampart scandal, surely the biggest threat in Los Angeles history to the integrity of the justice system. Garcetti has utterly failed to provide the kind of leadership needed in a crisis. He’s dragged his feet, he’s whined, he’s hoarded documents and refused to cooperate with the defense attorneys whose clients may have been affected by the misdeeds at Rampart. He’s made no systemic changes to deal with the problem of officers who lie. And he hasn’t once used that bully pulpit he was so eager to occupy to reassure the city’s poor and nonwhite citizens that he will expose and eliminate police corruption.
Steve Cooley is not a perfect candidate. A Republican who only tepidly supports gun control and talks a traditional tough line on crime, Cooley will never be the sort of outspoken advocate of crime prevention we’d like to see; nor will he give much thought to the underlying economic and social conditions that breed crime. But his reputation is as an honest and smart prosecutor. He’s vowed to prosecute only serious felonies as third strikes. And he says he will put additional resources into prosecuting corrupt public officials.
We need change. We hope Steve Cooley will bring the right kind.
SANTA MONICA CITY GENERAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION
Member of the City Council: Richard Bloom, Michael Feinstein, Ken Genser
Proposition 32: Yes
This proposition authorizes the state to sell $500 million in bonds to provide home loans to 2,500 California veterans, who themselves would pay off the bonds over 25 years. In the abstract, preferential treatment for veterans is an idea we don’t always endorse, not with all the other unmet needs in the state. But, as anyone who looked at the pictures or read the obituaries of the sailors killed on the USS Cole should realize, the members of our all-volunteer armed forces are disproportionately working-class and nonwhite. Precisely the people for whom home ownership in this state is out of reach. California has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in the nation, and a mind-boggling lack of affordable housing. This measure is one of the precious few programs that could enable non-affluent Californians to buy homes. For that reason, we’re for it.
Proposition 33: Yes
In 1990, Californians passed an initiative which established term limits for state elected officials and, as a kind of malicious afterthought, abolished the state-run Legislators’ Retirement System. Unlike every other full-time state employee, the 120 members of the Legislature have no pensions. The only conceivable purpose this serves is to keep people of modest means from seeking public office. Proposition 33 allows legislators to join the state’s Public Employees Retirement System by directing a portion of their paychecks into the fund. It ends a discriminatory and spiteful policy, and we clearly support it.
Proposition 34: No
Now here’s an oxymoron: a campaign-finance-reform proposition written in part by Gray Davis. As initially drafted by state legislative leaders, this measure set a $10,000 limit on individual contributions to gubernatorial candidates, to take effect for the next election. The governor gently suggested raising the ceiling to $20,000 and having it take effect after the next election, an idea the drafters apparently thought was just peachy.
To understand this odd measure, you need to understand its genesis. In 1996, state voters enacted by initiative Proposition 208, which set very low contribution limits for state offices — $250 for legislative offices, $500 for statewide ones. Since its passage, though, Proposition 208 has been tied up in the courts — leaving the state with no limits on donations whatsoever. Then, this summer, it suddenly looked as if a U.S. district judge was going to reinstate 208. This plunged the legislative leaders into a flurry of closed-door activity. They emerged with Proposition 34, which establishes far higher contribution limits — $3,000 for individuals for legislative races, $5,000 for statewide races, and, as noted, 20 big ones for aspiring governors. It allows for undisclosed donations to political parties and does not limit the parties’ spending of “soft money.” And one more thing: It specifically nullifies every provision of Prop. 208.
We are concerned that wealthy candidates could benefit from 208’s low contribution limits. We are worried also by its limitations on some of labor’s campaign spending (though it doesn’t affect the unions’ foot power). Nonetheless, Proposition 34 does almost nothing to diminish the huge role that big money plays in California politics; it was conceived in stealth and relies on a strategy of deception — campaign-finance reform intended to thwart campaign-finance reform. For these reasons, we recommend a No vote on Proposition 34.
Proposition 35: No
This is one of those inside-ball measures on which a special interest spent a lot of money to place on the ballot. The Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors of California, a private association, objects to language in the California constitution that directs state and local governments to use their own engineers and surveyors on public works projects. However, as the Civil Engineers don’t tell us, it does allow those governments to go to the private sector in many instances: This year, Caltrans alone will spend $150 million on contracts with private-sector engineers. Nonetheless, the engineers want more, so they put this measure on the ballot to require that all such contracts be selected through competition. Curiously, there is no obligation that governments have to solicit bids, which sure sounds to us like a prescription for all kinds of shady practices. We’re not at all convinced that privatization of the work on these projects is such a hot idea (remember all those friendly private contractors who built the Red Line through Hollywood). We are convinced that dealing with so narrow a concern by submitting it to the voters is an abuse of the initiative process.
Proposition 36: Yes
Proposition 36 makes an important change in American social policy that’s long overdue. It acknowledges what has been obvious for years: The war on drugs is a flat failure. The policy of imprisonment for nonviolent offenders whose offense is the possession or use of drugs has filled our prisons, made us build more prisons, and filled them, too. It is the main reason why we have over 2 million people in prison, more than any nation except Russia. Because of this policy, California sends 24,000 nonviolent drug offenders to prison every year. Through the discriminatory enforcement of those laws, it has had a devastating effect on nonwhite young men; it is the main reason why fully one-third of young African-American men have gone through the criminal justice system.
And one more thing: It does not seem to have reduced the aggregate use of illegal drugs in the slightest.
Proposition 36 alters California law so that the penalty for first- or some second-time nonviolent drug offenders is probation and simultaneous mandatory, court-supervised treatment. Exceptions are made for users with records of a violent felony, or those who refuse treatment. The initiative allots an annual $120 million in state funds to counties to administer treatment programs. It allows judges to order drug tests for those under treatment, and to send those who fail such tests to prison for one to three years. In short, after decades of criminalizing nonviolent behavior or addiction, it proposes to treat that addiction. After decades of dealing with drug use simply as a problem of supply, failing at every turn, Proposition 36 proposes to deal with drug use as a problem of demand.
One of the biggest opponents of the measure, not surprisingly, is the prison guards’ union. Comparing the cost of treatment to the cost of imprisonment, the California Legislative Analyst estimates the state will save between $100 and $150 million every year on prison operating expenses, and about half-a-billion dollars on prison construction costs.
This measure does not decriminalize drug use, just changes the punishment. We think the manifest failure of our drug war, and the evils that it only compounds, makes a compelling case for treatment rather than imprisonment. Vote Yes on Proposition 36.
Proposition 37: No
This is a nasty piece of work. In 1991, the Legislature authorized the state Department of Health Services to impose a fee on manufacturers of lead-based paint, the funds to go to programs to detect contaminants that cause lead poisoning and to screening children and treating those who’ve been affected by lead poisoning. In 1997, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld this law. To stop a further levying of fees on tobacco companies to pay for cancer treatments, or alcohol manufacturers to pay for treatment programs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau and kindred pillars of venality have placed Proposition 37 on the ballot. The measure amends the state constitution so that fees charged by state or local agencies to address industrial health or environmental problems are reclassified as taxes — thus requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature or, in the case of localities, of local voters to enact.
The strategy here is obvious. The industries that have damaged public health believe that 1) the Legislature will be vulnerable to the charge that it raised taxes, and thus will be reluctant to do so, and 2) that local voters can be snookered into thinking their own taxes will rise if these fees-mislabeled-as-taxes appear on the ballot. In fact, if these fees are not levied on these companies, it is precisely the taxpayers who will pay to clean up the industries’ messes, since such work will have to be paid for out of the state general fund. Proposition 37 allows these companies to get away — somewhere between figuratively and literally — with murder, and make us pay for their crimes. Obviously, vote No.
Proposition 38: No
This measure, funded by politically ambitious Silicon Valley zillionaire Tim Draper, is the most extensive school voucher program ever proposed, and would cause the most extensive damage such a program has ever inflicted on public schools. It would offer parents throughout California, even the wealthiest ones, $4,000 a year in state funds to send their children to private or parochial schools, the checks going directly to the schools. The money would also go to the private and parochial schools in which nearly 700,000 California children are already enrolled, either forcing a tax hike or taking an estimated $3 billion away from our public schools without shifting a single new student into private education.
As public school systems in major cities fail to deliver quality educations, proposals for voucher programs are increasingly being floated (though Prop. 38 is the first such proposal to apply across-the-board through an entire state). The best private schools cost much more than $4,000 per year, and they already have many more applicants than they can accept. Moreover, they are free to reject applicants by any criterion they choose. Children who may pose “special difficulties” — who have learning or behavioral problems, who aren’t performing at grade level, who are poor, whose skin color is wrong — are likely to be clustered in the public schools or in inferior private schools set up simply to get state money. We already have a two-tier system of affluent suburban and non-affluent urban schools today. Vouchers only intensify this problem, particularly inasmuch as a recent Stanford/Berkeley study has shown that affluent parents are much more likely to use vouchers than poor ones.
Vouchers are at best a sideshow to meaningful school reform, and a very costly one at that; they are the fool’s gold of education reform. Vote No on Proposition 38.
Proposition 39: Yes
This measure addresses one of the singular inequities in California law — and the scandalous overcrowding of California’s K-12 classrooms. Currently, it requires a two-thirds super-majority of voters to authorize a school bond. This statute has long been on the books, but it only really became a problem with the passage of Proposition 13, which eliminated the property tax as the chief source of funding school construction and upgrades.
The theoretical problem here is that one voter opposed to a school bond is made the equal of two voters favoring it — something that would have displeased the founders mightily, since they generally opposed super-majority requirements and mandated a simple majority even for a declaration of war. The practical problem is that it makes it a great deal harder to build new schools, and with public school enrollment booming, the state will need to construct 500 new schools and 20,000 new classrooms in the next 10 years. Mind you, a majority of voters support school bonds in about 90 percent of elections, but many of these fail to meet the two-thirds threshold.
In this year’s March primary, where turnout was disproportionately Republican, an initiative to reduce the requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority failed by a 51-to-49 percent margin. Proposition 39 on November’s ballot reduces the margin from two-thirds to 55 percent. It’s painful even to contemplate what state classrooms will look like a decade from now if Prop. 39 isn’t passed. Vote Yes on Proposition 39.
Proposition A: Yes
In March’s blanket primary, many hundreds of candidates ran for federal, state and local office in L.A. County, virtually none of them unopposed. There were three exceptions to this rule: Yvonne Burke, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich. None of the three county supervisors on the ballot had any opposition.
It’s easy to understand why. With the population of L.A. County now just under 10 million people, each of the five supervisorial districts comprises almost 2 million people. They’re massive — larger than all but three American cities, larger than all but three California counties. They’re unbelievably expensive to run in. Incumbent supervisors have a vast advantage in fund-raising, as they’re able to collect checks from, among others, concerns that do business with the county.
With all potential challengers scared off, L.A.’s county supervisors have become an utterly unaccountable level of government. They don’t really have to stand for election anymore. That’s one reason why they felt so little pressure to settle the MTA strike. You can’t vote against a supe when there’s no other name on the ballot.
Proposition A is an incomplete but nonetheless substantial solution to this problem. It expands the number of supervisors in L.A. County from five to nine — nearly halving the size of the districts, making them less expensive to run in. We’d like to see many more districts. Proposition A is just a beginning down that path, but half a step is better than none.
LOS ANGELES CITY SPECIAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION
Proposition F: Yes
This measure authorizes two city bonds totaling $532.6 million, one to build 19 new fire/paramedic stations, the other to build and expand eight animal shelters. The Weekly is opposed to fires, medical emergencies and the destruction of animals because there’s not enough kennel space. Vote Yes on Proposition F.
SANTA MONICA CITY SPECIAL MUNICIPAL ELECTION
Proposition KK: No
There have been more loathsome initiatives than Prop. KK — 1994’s immigrant-bashing Prop. 187 comes to mind — but surely none more fraudulent. This measure purports to establish a living wage in the city of Santa Monica, though it is actually written expressly and solely to keep Santa Monica from adopting a real living wage.
Earlier this year, the Santa Monica City Council was considering a proposal to establish a living wage for the largest of the city’s beachfront-area employers. In practice, that meant the city’s beachfront hotels — Loews, Shutters and Casa del Mar chief among them — which charge the highest room rates in the county, have the lowest vacancy rates, and on average pay their housekeepers, waiters and kitchen staffs a princely $14,000 and change per year.
The hotels desperately want to derail such a proposal, but their polling found widespread support for the idea among voters, as well as on the council. So they cooked up Prop. KK, which establishes a living wage for the city’s low-wage contract workers — of whom there are only a handful. (One survey puts the number as low as 62.) Crucially, the measure also prohibits the council from enacting any other living-wage ordinance — like, for instance, one that would apply to the more than 1,200 workers employed at poverty-wages in the hotels. And to date, the KK campaign has spent nearly $900,000 (all but $600 from seven beachfront hotels) on a campaign that would seem for all the world to be one that favors the living wage, that uses the rhetoric and arguments of genuine living-wage supporters. It has been denounced by the living-wage movements in the 50 cities that have adopted real ordinances; Santa Monica’s real living-wage movement is working furiously against it, but has only a fraction of the hotels’ money.
This miserable proposal must be rejected, first, because it locks a great many workers into poverty; second, because its total dishonesty is an affront to Santa Monica voters; and third, because of the very Bigness of its Lie.
Proposition LL: Yes
This measure, from the pen of longtime Ralph Nader associate Harvey Rosenfield, prohibits any city official who approves a city contract or other benefit from receiving a campaign contribution or gift from the recipient of that benefit for a six-year period. It is clearly directed at the time-honored American practice that props up many an officeholder: contracts out, money in. LL’s sponsors make clear that it does not apply to unions — that is, if the council were to negotiate a contract giving a raise to city workers, the city workers’ union could still make donations and work on campaigns. It does apply to contractors and the pols who love them.
Clearly, LL has caused hurt feelings among Santa Monica’s elected officials, and understandably so: They are just about the most honest, least corrupt group of officeholders you can find. LL is on the ballot in Santa Monica, we surmise, because it is a small, progressive city predisposed to vote for such a measure. Its critics complain that it doesn’t go far enough to reform campaign finances; that it will require too much record-keeping from public officials, causing good people to shy from seeking office; and, though not publicly, that Rosenfield should have included Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, the city’s longtime grassroots progressive organization, in the drafting process. These points may all be valid, but they don’t really diminish the case for the measure, which is simply that it establishes a model for clean government. That ain’t chopped liver.