Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hey California: Don't Forget to Vote June 5th!

Don't make the democracy fairy cry! Source: CA Secretary of State's website

Well, here's the first post in a while :) I just had to say something about the upcoming California Presidential Primary Election on June 5th. Don't forget to register and vote! What follows are my thoughts on a few of the issues on the ballot.

Prop 28 - Tweaks Term Limits
This measure would reduce the total time one can serve in the California Legislature from 14 years to 12 years for newly elected lawmakers but allow that service to be carried out completely in one house (currently the limits are 8 years in the Senate and 6 in the Assembly).

This is a pretty minor change that makes things more restrictive in one sense but less restrictive in another. I'm not a fan of term limits for the Legislature. We should be able to re-elect someone who is doing a good job regardless of how long they have served. If they aren't doing a good job, there's a simple solution: throw 'em out of office at the next election or recall them. Term limits come from a cynical view of the Legislature that sees it as hopelessly incompetent and corrupt. I tend to view a lot of California's dysfunction as the result of poorly conceived ballot initiatives that are considered separately and don't always harmonize well. While there is always room for some healthy cynicism when it comes to politics, our existing term limits go too far. They are also a case of the whole state pre-empting what should be a local decision about who should represent an area. With term limits we don't get legislators with enough experience to manage our complex affairs and laws. So, I don't like how this initiative reduces the total time one can serve, but I do like the flexibility of being able to serve it all in one house.

Bottom line: I could go either way on this one

Prop 29 - Cigarette Tax Hike
This measure would raise cigarette taxes by one dollar per pack, bringing to total cigarette tax per pack to just under two dollars. The money raised would be used to fund cancer research.

This seems to be good. Tax a cancer-causing product to fund cancer research. It should reduce smoking by making it more expensive and make society healthier as a result. On the other hand, at a time when the state is broke and making heartbreaking cuts to education, the safety net for the poor, transportation and redevelopment does it really make sense to take hard-won new tax revenue (which requires a 2/3 vote in California) and spend it on something completely new? I also wonder how much taxation on cigarettes is too much. I don't smoke and I don't advise anyone to, since we've known for decades that it destroys your health. On the other hand, we have warning labels and a sin tax on smokes already. In a free society, shouldn't we be able to choose to smoke, even if it's a bad choice? At some point don't we effectively tax that freedom away? Also, we have cancer treatments, and a lot of the trick there is early detection and having access to health care (which this initiative does nothing to increase). I really wish this tax hike had been more modest (say 50 cents per pack) and given over at least in part to the general fund. That would still reduce smoking and help solve the biggest problem in the state: the budget crisis.

Bottom line: I could go either way on this one

Low-Level Judges on the Ballot
Just a quick rant here. Does anyone like voting on these offices? I don't. Why is it valuable to vote on this when there is so little access to meaningful information that would allow for an intelligent choice among candidates, even on the Internet? Let the Legislature do it! At least they can hold hearings and make a semblance of an informed choice. That's a proposition I'd be in full support of.

Don't Forget about November!
The Olympics of elections, the General Election will be held this November 6th! This will be the most important election in four years, where we vote on the President, a ton of other Federal and California offices, and lots of ballot initiatives that will be frankly more exciting and more important than the ones on the June 5th Primary Election ballot. These will probably include Governor Brown's tax hike to help pay for education and other devastated public services, reductions in public employee pensions and a re-vote on California High Speed Rail, among others.

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