It may not work for drug prevention, but “Just say no” has a certain ring to it when there’s a mischievous Republican Congress and White House afoot. “No” is how Barbara Boxer voted on tax cuts for the rich, the Iraq-war resolution and the bogus Medicare reform. By contrast, Dianne Feinstein voted “yes” on all but the war resolution. Boxer remains a staunch liberal and a valuable member of the U.S. Senate.
State Senator (27th District)
This bright, affable Long Beach–area progressive is termed out of the Assembly and is seeking a lateral move to the state Senate, where he would replace the termed-out Betty Karnette. He’s worked diligently to clean up the L.A. River and the region’s air. His initiatives have included legislation imposing fines for terminal operators that allow diesel trucks to idle or queue outside their gate for longer than 30 minutes.
State Assembly (47th District)
Herb Wesson is termed out of this Crenshaw-to-Westside state assembly district, and an important battle is unfolding among the three major candidates to succeed him.
The best known of these candidates is clearly the least qualified: former L.A. Councilman Nate Holden. A shameless demagogue who played the race card whenever he thought it would help him, Holden shouldn’t be allowed in Sacramento even on a day-pass. Attorney Ricky Ivey is the candidate of the African-American old guard in this race — a solid Democratic vote, of course, but too close to the pro-corporate perspectives that increasingly characterize much of the African-American political elite.
Our clear choice in this race is Karen Bass, a brilliant community organizer and advocate who has fought for decades to make L.A. a better place to live. As head of the Community Coalition, Bass has worked successfully to reduce the number of liquor stores in South-Central, to bring training programs and jobs into that community, and to create cross-racial organizations. As a USC professor, she’s taught physicians how to relate better to indigent and minority patients. She’ll bring a street-wise perspective to Sacramento that the legislature badly needs.
State Assembly (50th District)
Hector de la Torre
De la Torre, a South Gate city councilman, was a hero of the drive to recall from office members of the political machine that ran South Gate. He seeks to replace the termed-out Marco Firebaugh. De la Torre’s intelligence has always impressed, but in the past we had concerns about his employment as corporate-contributions project manager with Southern California Edison and also his failure to recuse himself, because of this connection, from voting on issues surrounding a proposed local power plant. But De la Torre’s tireless fight against local corruption has clearly earned him a political promotion.
County Supervisory (Districts 2, 4, 5)
Not many good arguments exist for term limits, which strip from voters the ability to keep their elected officials or fire them and pick someone else. Three of the best arguments are sitting on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich.
Most of the board’s $17 billion budget is already spoken for by required programs like welfare and police protection. But a few dollars, a few programs and a few choices are still within the board’s ambit. One of them was the decision on how to handle the health-care budget, which relies largely on shrinking funds from the federal government. These supervisors (plus two not on this year’s ballot) put off dealing with the pain of inevitable cuts for so long that they actually made the problem worse. They tried to deal with it last year by closing hospitals, but they hadn’t done their homework, and a federal court prohibited hospital closures when the county failed to show it was out of options.
The supervisors also are the biggest single bloc overseeing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which last year brought us a long strike and a decision to fight a court order to provide more buses.
County supervisors have such political and fund-raising clout that few challengers ever deign to run against them. A recent term-limits measure holds them to three terms, which means 12 years — but the limits don’t kick in until November. For now, here’s what we’re stuck with:
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was first elected to the board in 1992 to represent the 2nd District, which covers much of South Los Angeles and smaller nearby cities like Compton and Carson. She has vowed not to run again in four years. If only she would call it a day right now. Burke has staunchly defended the operations of the jewel of her district, Martin Luther King Jr./Charles R. Drew Medical Center, which was built after the Watts violence of 1965. But even she began backing away from King/Drew last year in the wake of mismanagement that has led to patient deaths. Her response: “I have spent a lot of my time just going from crisis to crisis to crisis. I don’t hire the people who are the administrators there.” On the looming health-care crisis, and the failure so far to respond adequately: “It’s a matter that you really believe that there is, somewhere, someone that believes that we have to provide health care for people.”
Challenging Burke is Guy Mato, a former Sheriff’s deputy who was put up by the deputies’ union over their anger at Burke’s opposition to an early retirement bonus for law enforcement. It’s good that Burke doesn’t get a free ride, and one thumb up to Mato for getting involved. But he offers little in the way of ideas or experience to fix the county’s problems.
Don Knabe represents the 4th District, which covers wealthy South Bay cities, continues around the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Long Beach, and then shoots northeast into middlebrow communities like Artesia and Diamond Bar. He was first elected to the board in 1996, but that’s a little deceptive, because he previously served for years as chief of staff to the prior supervisor. Knabe, a moderate Republican, is opposed by physician Jayendra Arvindlal Shah and Joann Hillary McDermott, a business consultant. Neither has mounted a serious campaign.
A conservative Republican, Mike Antonovich presses almost every week for penalties against undocumented immigrants and works behind the scenes to aid developers of the county’s remaining open lands in his sprawling 5th District, stretching from the west San Fernando Valley up over the mountains and into the desert. He campaigns for the private sector to take on much of the county’s work. But guess what? The entire board is now looking to the private sector to bail it out of its problems. And while most of his colleagues were all too eager to allow problems in the child-welfare system to surpass anything found in Dickens, Antonovich was loudly arguing for a closer look and better protections for children. That’s not enough to support him.
His opponent, Lynne Plambeck, runs a recycling firm and worked hard trying to save that celebrated 400-year-old oak that Antonovich helped developers remove. She brings some needed environmental activism to the race. By the time Antonovich finally leaves, and the growing Democratic Party presence in 5th District communities like Burbank and Glendale makes it possible to elect an environment-friendly supervisor, Plambeck may be a player. But not now. You want your county supervisors to know the size of their budget, the number of their employees and the shape of their bureaucracy before taking their seats, and Plambeck so far has not done her homework beyond her own environmental issues.
State Ballot Measures
PROPOSITION 55 YES
This measure would allow the state to issue $12.3 billion of general-obligation bonds for construction and renovation of K-12 school facilities ($10 billion) and higher-education facilities ($2.3 billion). The need is real, and much of this money would go to Los Angeles–area schools.
The L.A. Times, which normally supports school bonds, opposes this measure because of concerns that the state is taking on too much debt during a time of fiscal crisis. Servicing the new debt, the paper argues, could deepen already painful cuts to necessary programs, including education. That’s a possible scenario, but these bonds are long-term debt, paid off gradually over 20 to 30 years. Their short-term effect is not excessive. Moreover, the bonds could be issued gradually if the state’s budget proves to be especially dire.
It takes a long time to build or repair a school, and a student’s childhood is a decidedly finite thing.
PROPOSITION 56 YES
The key provision of this initiative would lower the threshold for passing the state budget from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. Only three states require more than a majority vote to pass a budget. The result in California has been late budgets, legislative gridlock and a budget held hostage by a small minority of lawmakers — conservative Republicans in recent years — who can assert disproportionate influence to get what they want. For better or worse, Gray Davis might still be in office if Prop. 56 had been in place. Instead, to get his two-thirds majority he had to make separate deals with Dems and Repubs that together helped throw the budget out of whack. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be an ironic beneficiary if this measure passes, but the citizenry will benefit as well.
Prop. 56 also would establish a mechanism for creating a budget reserve, but its provisions are weaker and inferior to those in Prop. 58, which also is on the ballot. In addition, Prop. 56 would dock pay from elected officials for every day they’re late passing a budget — a great selling point for voters, perhaps, but a provision with more flash than substance. And, finally, the initiative would require the publication and Internet posting of budget-related information. Hard to see a downside to that, though we suspect that, for most consumers, the budget novella would make for rather dry reading.
PROPOSITION 57 YES
This so-called Economic Recovery Bond Act merits our grudging support, in large measure because voters must pass both Prop. 57 and Prop. 58 — which we like better — for either measure to take effect. Prop. 57 allows the state to issue up to $15 billion in bonds to buy off most of this year’s budget deficit and some of next year’s. It doesn’t in any way solve the state’s problem of spending more than it takes in. In fact, the proposition is merely a one-time fix that postpones painful budget cuts and/or tax increases — though not for long. July of this year will still prove a day of reckoning whether or not this measure passes. And tax revenues of future years would have to be siphoned to retire these bonds.
So why do it?
It will spare the state massive one-time cuts that would likely end the ability of hundreds of thousands of Californians to visit doctors outside emergency rooms, slash payments to the disabled, and reduce the incoming freshman classes at the UC and CSU systems to a fraction of their current size.
These new bonds will authorize considerably more debt than the Gray Davis plan. Which, unfortunately, looks a lot like increasing the credit limit for a person who’s already charged too much on the card. We dislike the concept, but this higher debt limit became difficult to avoid when Governor Schwarzenegger repealed the increase in the car-registration tax. In other words, voters are being asked, more or less, to give back in bonds what Schwarzenegger handed out in car-tax reductions to boost his political fortunes. It’s a messy business, but also, alas, the fiscally responsible countermove to Schwarzenegger’s blithe irresponsibility.
PROPOSITION 58 YES
This proposition was marketed as a hard spending cap on the state budget, which we would oppose. It is, in truth, a more benign cost control negotiated largely to the liking of Democratic legislative leaders, with Schwarzenegger’s blessing. This measure would require the Legislature to adopt a balanced budget. Currently, the governor only has to propose a balanced budget. The initiative also establishes mechanisms for dealing with future, unanticipated midyear budget crises.
In addition, the proposition sets up a rainy-day fund. Think of the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt, where he persuaded Pharaoh to put aside food for lean times. Under Prop. 58, the state would put aside money, especially in good years, that could be called on in bad years. The size of the reserve would grow to $8 billion or to 5 percent of the budget, whichever is greater. The goal is to avoid the wide fluctuations in tax revenue that have caused periodic and painful boom-and-bust cycles for state budgets. Prop. 58 makes sense. For this to take effect, voters also must approve Prop. 57, which has our more reluctant support.
Los Angeles Unified School District
MEASURE R YES
Watching LAUSD roll out bond initiatives, one after another, is a little like waking up from an unsettling dream with that moment of groggy uncertainty about what’s real and what isn’t: Didn’t we just do this before? Didn’t we hear before about how this bond measure would be different and better, with no scandals, no money wasted? Isn’t this whacking my property taxes? And didn’t the Weekly endorse the last umpteen number of these bonds? When does it stop? Am I really awake?
This bond measure would generate $3.87 billion, much of which could be matched dollar for dollar with state funds. And it would cost you as much as $60 per year for every $100,000 of your property’s assessed value. That’s on top of what you’re already paying for the last few school bonds.
And yes, we’re endorsing this one, too. Granted, the school district still has a knack for squandering money, but it’s also getting better at actually building schools, and these schools are rising in neighborhoods all over town. Also, more of the older schools are looking less dreary — a little more like we actually care about the children inside them. If these bond measures don’t keep passing, schools will remain overcrowded, with shortened school years. And there’ll also be some holes in the ground and half-finished buildings that could have been schools.
So vote yes. Then try to get some rest.
More endorsements: Our choices for the Democratic presidential nominee, Los Angeles County District Attorney and judgeships.