2014 Endorsements: Voting with Kaizen and Fatherhood

While Kaizen is politically neutral, this site lives in a world in which our elected leaders have a tremendous effect on the world we, and our kids, grow up in. It’s important to me to make choices that make the world better for my son. So: these are the national, California, and Los Angeles candidates and initiatives I believe will deliver a better (or, sometimes, not a worse) world.

When selecting a candidate or deciding on an initiative, I use the following priorities, some of which are informed by Kaizen.

1. If one side is more objectively truthful, then that’s the side I’m on.
2. Tolerance is good. Intolerance and anger are a form of muri.
3. Explicit goals are good. We never achieve great things without explicit goals. Implicit goals, on the other hand, lead to muri and mura. I’ll vote for explicit goals and against implicit goals.
4. Goals are best achieved through a series of small, measurable, achievable steps. Such steps prevent muda and muri. If a candidate understands this or a proposition enshrines this, that is a strong reason to vote for.
5. Constitutional Amendments are bad. It’s hard to learn that we made a bad choice and reverse an amendment, as a reversal requires a supermajority. It should always be possible to learn and improve. I will almost always be against a constitutional amendment, regardless of content, because even a good idea can’t survive in a bad system.
6. Budgeting by ballot box is bad. Setting budget by statute has resulted in impossible spending goals for many years now, leading to both muri and mura at the state government level. While individual spending goals set by statue often look compelling, these expenditures are set without looking at the full budget, and may not always be at sustainable levels. Budgeting in this way is likely to have unintended consequences, depriving money from another area in a way that was completely unexpected when the law was passed. I will almost always be against an initiative that sets budgetary goals, regardless of content, because even a good idea can’t survive in a bad system.

My endorsements are below. In general, the order of endorsements mimics ballot order.

Statewide Offices

Governor — Jerry Brown

Governor Brown has balanced the budget, something no other governor has done this century. Criticism that there’s still a lot of work to do, and that the state’s finances aren’t safe or stable yet, is fair; but Brown seems to be taking the correct approach, which is to set explicit objectives and proceed by small, measurable steps. He has achieved almost all of his short-term goals, and it’s fair to think that he will continue to do so going forward. He’s also shown strong leadership, communicating clearly and being up-front about risks and painful medicine.

Lieutenant Governor — Gavin Newsom

Given that there’s no purpose to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, Newsom is the right man to fill the job. He’s good-looking and knows a lot about wine1, so he can represent the state well. Ron Nehring says he’d like to do “more” with the state, but his vision of “more” seems to be mostly “more things like Proposition 8” — that is to say, ideas completely out-of-step with the state. I endorse other Republicans below, because they have ideas for California; Nehring seems mostly to have ideas for some other state.

Secretary of State — Pete Peterson

Peterson is an experienced leader in voting technology and voter engagement. He’s been active in statewide, nonpartisan leadership role as the Director of the Davenport Institute. He’ll bring innovative techniques to the office, and, best of all, this is the only job he wants. Peterson can truly bring significant, positive change to voting in California — a welcome approach, when so many other states are focusing on shrinking the franchise.

Controller — Betty Yee

Yee has specific and actionable ideas about reforming state taxes, a reform which is badly overdue. Her perception of the big picture of how taxes work poorly in this state matches mine. Ashley Swearingin has many good ideas and a very solid background, and is an extremely credible candidate. I’d go so far as to say that, if you think pension reform is the key issue for California, you should vote Swearingin; however, I think tax reform is a more significant issue, and Yee has very strong experience there. At the end of the day, a more reasonable taxation system should raise more revenue and be more business-friendly, which will decrease stress over pensions (California has the reputation of being a high-tax state, but, if you look at it, we have a mix of very high and very low taxes, without any particular sense behind which is which). If, in eight years, nothing has been done to reform state taxes, then I’ll wish I endorsed Swearingin.

John Perez is a strong candidate who deserves to be in statewide office, but he’s outclassed by his opposition here.

Treasurer — John Chiang

Chiang has been a very solid Controller, and will bring the same skillset to the Treasurer’s position. In many ways, this will be a promotion from Comptroller to CFO, and a deserved one. Chiang took the lead in seeking out fiscal improprieties in California state retirement funds, and in some mid-sized Southern California cities. He withheld legislator pay after they failed to pass a budget on time in 2011 (the courts made him pay, but what he did was right the first time). He’s been specific and measured in his approach to problems.

Attorney General — Kamala Harris

I’m not particularly impressed with Harris’s performance on some key issues, such as realignment. However, I can’t figure out what the idea behind the Republicans nominating Ronald Gold is. I assume he’s a side effect of the very weak bench that party has in the state, as he’s never held a significant prosecutorial or municipal attorney leadership office (he was a deputy state AG, but there are many of those).

Insurance Commissioner — Dave Jones

Jones has been aggressive against rate increases. His opponent, Ted Gaines, seems to fundamentally disagree with the concept of having the office. Not sure how I can vote for that guy.

Local Offices

Member, State Board of Equalization, 3rd District —  Jerome E. Horton

Above, I mentioned “tolerance is good.” This is a nation that needs to be tolerant of many faiths — as most nations in the world are not. When a candidate states “Our Nation’s moral character depends on faith in, and freedom to serve, our Creator, Almighty God.” I’m concerned; very few people who would say that sentence would complete it with “in whatever form you think that Creator takes, and in whatever way you please to express your faith.” Belief is good; requiring me to share your specific belief to participate in this country is not.

United States Representative, 43rd District — Maxine Waters

Waters has a long history in this position, and has been very effective in bringing services to her district. She opposed the Iraq war, which should be a badge of honor. Opponent John Wood’s policies are mostly massive, unpaid-for tax cuts. I’m not against Federal tax reform, but let’s make the numbers add up.

State Senator, 26th District — Sandra Fluke

You may remember Sandra Fluke for having vastly annoyed the Republican establishment a few years back, when she resisted their efforts at slut-shaming. She has strong, specific ideas for this district, and strong roots here as well. Ben Allen is also an excellent candidate, but I think we’ll be well-served at the state level by Fluke, and it would be a solid investment for our district to give her a first step into public office.

Member of the State Assembly, 62nd District — Autumn Burke

This is an odd slate: I can vote for the realtor or… the former realtor.  Republican Ted Grose seems to have never done anything other than sell real estate, while Burke at least has had significant involvement in public-private partnerships, on top of her business experience, and so can probably navigate government (being Yvonne B. Burke’s daughter probably doesn’t hurt in that vein, either). Also, the minor rule “vote for the Trojan” applies here as well.2

Judicial Elections — Blanket Yes

I’ll admit that I have a very hard time figuring out judicial elections — it’s difficult to get good information on the issues, and even harder to determine how a judge should decide cases based on those issues. In general, I’d prefer that judges were appointed, and their appointers held to task for the performance of those judges. In fact, I think it’s generally inappropriate to vote against a judge for their findings, as the facts and law of a case should be handled neutrally by a judge; they shouldn’t look over their shoulders to the next election. In the past, I’ve said “abstain,” but I’ve come to believe this leaves judges open to partisan campaigns, so now I say “blanket Yes, unless the judge is under indictment or serious suspicion.” None are this year.

Superintendent of Public Instruction — Marshall Tuck

Our state’s schools are in trouble, and we don’t seem to be on the right path. Marshall Tuck was successful at Green Dot in Los Angeles — I know several people who work, or have worked, at Green Dot, and have a high opinion of the ethics of the organization — and isn’t your standard right-wing education “reformer,” since Green Dot is unionized and he opposes a straight voucher system. Through his work in Los Angeles, he showed that education success can come from a gradual, measured, step-by-step system that doesn’t victimize teachers. And, if you can get endorsed by both the Oakland Tribune and the Orange County Register, you’re already doing impressive things.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office 61 — Jacqueline Lewis

I’m recommending a vote here only because neither is an incumbent. Both of these candidates seem strong, but the County Bar rates Lewis as “Exceptionally Well Qualified,” vs. her opponent’s “Well Qualified.” She’s also been a judge in Dependency Court, which may be the toughest court to work in in the County, from a fairness and emotion perspective.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office 87 — None

Both candidates get a “Not Qualified” from the  County Bar. The fact that one may be inexperienced while the other is an asshole doesn’t moderate that both seem a bad choice.

County Assessor — John Morris

Indicted former Assessor John Noguez allegedly used the position to cook the tax rolls for his allies. It’s great that candidate Jeffrey Prang has run things in a stable manner since Noguez stepped aside, but the reality is that we need to sweep that whole regime out. Morris is a fresh start.

Sheriff — Jim McDonnell

We have a clear choice here: Paul Tanaka, currently under investigation for blocking the FBI’s investigation into prison abuse by guards; or Jim McDonnell, a career law enforcement officer who has a long, successful history in the LAPD; is running the Long Beach PD effectively; and believes in modern, consent-based policing techniques. One guy is part of the problem, the other is the solution.

State Measures

Proposition 1 — Yes

We absolutely need to do something about water in this state. We’re probably due for many much-drier years than what we’ve been used to, and now is a good time to plan. Prop 1 starts this process. It’s not unfair to have concerns about this proposition’s effect on the environment, but responsibility there clearly lies with the Water Commission, which can be monitored easily. We need to start somewhere, and this is a good place.

Proposition 2 — No

Rule 5 says no Constitutional amendments. Rule 6 says no ballot-box  budgeting. Prop 2 is both.

Proposition 45 — No

Prop 45 seems to be modeled after Prop 103, which put in place auto insurance regulations which have worked very well.  I appreciate following a good model, but Covered California, at least theoretically, does the same thing. It would be better to have put this Proposition forth if Covered California had failed to moderate rate increases, not before we’ve found out whether or not it can.

Proposition 46 — No

Whenever a law comes up that doesn’t restrict medical tort awards,  you hear a chorus of people saying “giveaway to the lawyer lobby!” Well, there are two sides to this. The current structure of medical torts forces plaintiffs to go for the big up-front award, because there’s no second bite at the apple, so you’ve got to get what you can. Many years ago, I settled a tort for a moderate amount of money that seemed reasonable at the time. Since then, I’ve spent thousands of dollars and days of my time dealing with medical consequences that nobody anticipated at the time. Would it have been greedy to go for more? Not at all; I shouldn’t have had to pay for something somebody else was entirely responsible for.

That said, this law is a catchall. Tort reform? Prescription database review? Drug testing doctors? This should be a serious a law, not a random group of things that sounded good over a few bottles of wine. No random grab basket laws.

Proposition 47 — Yes

Apart from the fact that everything that’s 47 is good, this law is a good idea. There’s no correlation between tough-on-crime sentencing and a decrease in overall crime rates, so there’s no risk to reducing sentences. At the same time, we spend too much money on incarcerating criminals, and prison overcrowding in California has literally become a Federal issue. This law should have no effect on crime rates, but save hundreds of millions of dollars in incarceration costs, and probably help a few first-time convicts avoid the indoctrination into a criminal lifestyle that long-term incarceration seems to cause. Money not spent on long felony sentences also will be spent on prevention, which should enhance long-term savings.

Proposition 48 — Yes

A decent rule is “always vote for Indian Gaming,” as, let’s face it, we’ve taken all their land and left Native Americans with few options other than gaming on their dry, remote reservations. In this case, however, the slot machines would be, literally, off the reservation — on land acquired by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, but not part of their Federally-designated reservation. Seems sleazy, right? Except the whole reservation is environmentally-sensitive land that’s unlikely to be developed, and the people who put Prop 48 on the ballot are other Indian tribes with casinos, who want to have this compact — already agreed-to by the State and Federal governments — overturned, to avoid competition. Nope, everybody gets a casino. (There would be a legitimate argument to be made that gaming should be only permitted on Reservation land, but this proposition doesn’t make that, it only says “sorry North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, you, and only you, don’t get a casino.”)

Local Measures

County Measure P — No

Funding Los Angeles-area parks is essential. Measure P is not a good way to do it. Measure P replaces the old Measure A, which had a rich spending oversight mechanism, with a new process with no oversight. It raises new money for parks, which is great except our County Department of Parks actually has a $150mm reserve. Without Measure P, there will be an interruption in parks spending starting in 2016, but we can manage to pass a good law before 2017, with fair assessments and strong oversight.

  1. cheap alcoholism joke! 
  2. Pity I can’t vote Gloria Gray