Official 2016 General Election Endorsements

Official 2016 General Election Endorsements

A central tenet of Kaizen is continuous improvement. In this country, we make change — hopefully, positive change — through several mechanisms, one of the chief of which is elections. If you find what I write here interesting, consider the below endorsements.

Endorsement Criteria

First, a little why (because no positive, sustained change comes without either a "why" behind it or a lot of luck, and, while I love this world, I'm not prepared to go on luck yet).

Since this blog is about continuous improvement, I endorse policies that focus on, enable, or allow continuous improvement. Specifically, I look at:

  • Is the policy fixed, or can we learn from it?
  • If current policy is not fixed, does this change increase our ability to learn?
  • Are we repeating success, or at least not perpetuating failure? If the current policy is failing, are we trying something new?
  • In general, local government is more responsive to feedback and faster to change. Does the policy localize authority?
  • Is the policy based on objective reality? Even better, is it based on measurable reality?
  • Does the policy rest on a coherent model of action, in which we can predict the result of a series of actions; predict if we will get the outcome we think we'll get; and measure our results?
  • Is revenue net positive or neutral?
  • Are the endorsers of the policy suspicious? If so, this limits our ability to evaluate some of the above through first-order measurements, and I'm too lazy to go down that rabbit hole.

None of these are absolutes, because Kaizen (and Agile techniques in general) dislike absolutes. Instead, they're guidelines. So, in the past, I've rejected constitutional amendments out of hand; this year, I'll endorse them if I think that an amendment is the best (or only) way to get things done. I have always said no to earmarks in the past, but will support them if there is specific, concrete proof that the specific earmark, at the specific value, is what's needed. Also, while positive revenue is good, spending money is fine if the juice is worth the squeeze.

With all that said, here we go. We'll start with offices, then statewide measures, then local measures.


National Races

President: Hillary Clinton

It's not clear to me that Trump has the ability to learn from his mistakes (although he certainly has the ability to exploit them). Beyond that, it's not clear to me that the Republican Party has the ability to learn from its mistakes. In contrast, Hillary makes new mistakes all the time.[1] In addition, Hillary appears to have a very comprehensive internal model of how things work, and her results bear out that her model is good.[2]

Statewide Races

Senate: Loretta Sanchez

I was mildly optimistic about Kamala Harris coming into the state AG's office. I'm not sure she's entirely lived up to my hopes. For the standard of repeating success vs. perpetuating failure, I don't think we're entirely repeating success at this time by promoting Harris. I'm concerned that this failure is because she's looking past her role, to the Senate; the issue is that she could repeat that mistake in the Senate, looking ahead to the Presidency.

Sanchez, in contrast, has been quite the firebrand in the House. Her only practical goal of advancement is the Senate. If elected to the Senate, she will fuck shit up. Given that the Senate is failing, I can't see how I should be against change.

Sanchez has also voted right in the past: against the Iraq war, and against the PATRIOT act. Let's continue this success.

Hopefully, passing on Harris this time around will force her to do something amazing as AG, which I'm fully confident she can do. This will make her a stronger candidate going forward, and get her back on path to her (totally reasonable) eventual goal of being President.

Prop 51, School Bonds: No

Who doesn't like school bonds? In this case, apparently me. There's no evidence that raising and spending this money at the state level will lead to best outcomes. In fact, this bond issue is likely to replace local bond issues, that could be more responsive to measurable, specific needs. The structure of the proposition also makes it possible that this money will significantly go not to fund new construction, but to subsidize already-funded construction by big developers — who are suspicious endorsers of this measure.

Prop 52, Hospitals Pay for Medi-Cal: Yes

Talk about perpetuating success, this law makes sure we keep doing something that has been working well. It's endorsed both by patient activists and big hospital chains, natural opponents whose shared position is the opposite of suspicious endorsements.

Yes, Prop 52 is an amendment, but it needs to be in order to avoid other earmarks.

Prop 53, Vote on All Bonds: No

On the one hand, it seems nice to require people to vote on all bonds. Why shouldn't ordinary Californians get a say?

Well, because a reasonable model of the political system is that they do get a say; and, if they don't like their say, the solution is probably to fix the reason that their representatives aren't responsive.

In addition, this perpetuates failure: in LA, it's hard to get any bond passed now because they all require a 2/3 majority. Bond after bond fails with 65% of the vote. Let's not make that happen statewide.

Prop 54, Publish All Bills on the Internet: Yes

One of the unfortunate features of our democracy here in California is that tons of bills are passed on the last few days of the legislative session. It's not that lawmakers are lazy; instead, they work for weeks or months to put together a package of compromises that will get laws through.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for that. Those packages of compromises are what politics is all about, and part of what gets everyone a seat at the table. Where we remove the incentives for those, as in term limits, we see lower levels of effectiveness from our representatives. No, we need to allow back-room deals while still increasing transparency.

This law may actually do that. It just puts the text of all bills on the Internet 3 days before the vote. It doesn't put the process that goes into making the sausage on the Internet; just the sausage. If the sausage is delicious, no problem. If not, then best not to eat it. But our current situation really involves us wolfing down the sausage at the last minute, and only as we sit there digesting considering if it was actually tasty. Let's buy 3 days to taste-test.

Prop 55, Keep the Top Tax Bracket: No

I'm in general pro-taxes: there are some things that are more-efficiently purchased and administered centrally, and we should engage in that centralization through government. If we can buy something we want at a good price, then who cares if the best way to do it is through the government? Not me.

However, this tax actually reduces our ability to learn. The tax was raised to enable the state to weather a crisis. Now that the crisis has been weathered, removing the tax would require our politicians to address the root causes of our fiscal inflexibility: earmarks. These are bringing our state budget down, and now is as good a time as any to deal with them.

It's time for meaningful cuts, or meaningful commitments to spending that we didn't necessarily realize would be this large when we made the earmarks in the past. After we make those, we can raise taxes to consciously support the programs we want, not those we're stuck with.

(Disclaimer: I'm in this tax bracket.)

Prop 56, Cigarette Taxes: No

Again, I generally like cigarette taxes. Ours could certainly be higher, looking at taxes across the country (cigarette purchasing tends to be pretty price-inelastic).

However, the catch: the revenue from this tax is earmarked. Can we not learn that earmarks get us into trouble? There's no reason to earmark this money.

Prop 57, Early Release for Inmates: Yes

There's three kinds of learning going on here. On the one hand, as many point out, we let out criminals early in the recent past, and may have gotten an increase in our crime rate. It's really too early to say, statistically-speaking, but signs aren't encouraging.

The second kind of learning is often overlooked, however. By conducting the past release, the state avoided the Federal government mandating releases that may have been significantly larger. That's success. The current release is proposed because consent decrees around prison overcrowding[3] mandate more releases. Prop 57 puts the state in charge of this, a valuable localization of decision-making.

The third learning is maybe the most significant: the rules proposed here actually look like rules that worked in the past. Jerry Brown was a key figure in getting the old rules around parole overturned. Now, he argues that failed, and wants to go back to them. Let's learn from, and reverse, our mistakes.

Prop 58, Permit Bilingual Education: Yes

Repeating known success is very important. Historically, bilingual education has been used to help teach and assimilate students from many of America's previous waves of immigration, with great success.

In addition, local control is a priority. Permitting bilingual education allows communities and schools to choose the most relevant and useful options for them.

Prop 59, Against Citizens United: No

It's important to accept reality. In reality, this has no effect on anything. It does not belong on the ballot.

Prop 60, Condoms in Adult Films: No

We're back to repeating known success. A known method to increase workplace safety is through Cal/OSHA oversight. Cal/OSHA already requires condoms. A reasonable approach here would be to finance enforcement.

This proposition does not do that. Instead, it sets up an odd system where anyone who observes pornography that doesn't include condoms can sue on behalf of the state, and collect a commission on any winnings. It allows these individuals to sue anyone who owns an interest in the pornography, which, because of the structure of the industry, often includes performers — meaning that a performer may be pressured into sex without a condom, catch an STD, get sued, and have to pay out to someone who just saw the content they created.

That's just weird. There are other solutions to this problem (if, in fact, it exists).

Prop 61, VA Rates for Drugs: No

This sounds great: the VA has big pricing power, California can free ride on that! Why not?

Well, actually, this is repeating failure. The Federal government tried this in the '80s, and costs went up. Forced to accept the lowest contracted rate across all government healthcare services, the drug companies just raised their rates for everyone. They'll do the same here.

In fact, they don't even need to raise rates -- the VA formulary is smaller than California's. Drug companies can easily break even by increasing their rates on the drugs outside the VA formulary. So, this proposition also fails the coherent model of action test.

Prop 62, Death Penalty Repeal: Yes

I'm actually for the death penalty, but we have failed at applying it. We sentence the wrong people to death, using an unjust system, and then spend too much money after conviction, torturing the convicted through years of appeals, while not providing any rapid closure to victims.

Let's change failure. Until we can be confident we're convicting only the guilty, and putting only the worst of the worst to death, then there's no reason to have the penalty.

Prop 63, Register for ammo purchases: No

There are good arguments for more gun control. However, it's important liberals accept reality: tiny measures like these won't save many lives, but they do prevent large numbers of pro-gun individuals from considering voting for other liberal policies, holding other policies back while not fixing gun violence.

Gavin Newsom wants this as something to hang his hat on in his upcoming gubernatorial run. Let's expect him to pick something more effective and less feel-good.

Prop 64, Marijuana Legalization: Yes

The War on Drugs is a disaster; let's end the failure. Other states that have legalized marijuana have seen tax windfalls; let's follow success.

Prop 65, Earmark Disposable Bag Fees: No

This earmark — bad idea! — is suspiciously endorsed by the plastic bag industry — non-neutral actor! (That may be the weirdest, most conspiratorial sentence I've ever written.)

Prop 66, Speed the Death Penalty: No

There is a good argument to be made that the decades-long death penalty appeals process we have now amounts to state-sponsored torture of the convicted. To this extent, speeding the process could be merciful to both the convict and the victims.

However, this ghoulish proposition speeds the process only by ignoring the evidence that we aren't good at convicting the right people, or sentencing the right people to death. It executes people faster by caring less about whether or not we do it right. That's awful, and that is doubling down on failure.

Prop 67, No Free Disposable Bags: Yes

There's already no such thing as a free disposable bag; we all pay taxes to haul them to our dumps, which they fill up and which they will never leave. Directing that cost directly upon the person who benefits from the bag, rather than society as a whole, is a way to apply lessons we've learned elsewhere as to what leads to better allocation of resources.

Local Races

Representative, 43rd District of CA: Maxine Waters

Let's continue success: Waters represents the district effectively and gets things done.

Assemblyperson, 62nd District: Autumn Burke

Burke didn't get my endorsement when she ran for this position, but she's been acceptable in her current term. She pushed an aggressive improvement to CA's parental leave laws, which I'm strongly for, and her failures have been in working to get good effects locally without pushing for good laws statewide. This is something she can learn from as time passes. There's no reason to think her opponents would do better.

Judges: None

I have no idea how to effectively assess judges at this time.

Measure A, LA County Parks Parcel Tax: Yes

Parks are good. We can learn from other cities that having neighborhood parks has many positive knock-on effects. LA has few parks. Let's learn the lesson and build more parks.

This tax will be spent by the city and by neighborhood councils, keeping money close to home. That's a big benefit.

Finally, the tax is small: about $20/year to most homeowners. I'd gladly pay that to better-maintain the parks that my son and I visit every week!

Measure M, County Sales Tax for Metro: Yes

Better public transportation matters (see JJJ below). This is a good way to get sustained money for this essential resource. While I may prefer this money went to buses, investing in rail will eventually make the system appealing to low-income people who need transportation support. (We can learn from cities like New York that good rail is valuable for low-income users.) Certainly, there's no other solution for LA's gridlock.

Measure CC, LACC Bond: Yes

On the one hand, the LA Community Colleges wasted our money the last time we voted a bond for them. On the other, they learned from that error and have created a whole new system that should prevent the mistakes made last time around. On the gripping hand, our community colleges actually need the improvements this money will provide.

A side note: many liberals recently supported a candidate significantly because he proposed free college tuition. These liberals seem to have missed that we already provide essentially free college: community college. The costs that data tell us drive indebtedness for community college students are not tuition, but books and labs and simply foregoing paying work in order to do classwork. Free tuition doesn't change this, but bonds like these may help make this debt worthwhile.

Measures FF & GG, Parks Parcel Taxes: Yes

These parcel taxes are only paid by those who live adjacent to County parks, and who are protected from fire and other natural disasters by investments made into those parklands.

Right now, we don't give homeowners who own houses in all sorts of dangerous areas (floodplains, slide-prone areas, fire-prone areas, etc.) the information they need to learn how big their risks are, because we distribute the cost of mitigating those risks too much across the community. Community support is important, but shifting some of that risk back to homeowners will let homeowners learn of what risks they're running, and make the right choices as to where they want to own property and live.

Measure HHH, LA County Housing for the Homeless Bond: Yes

20% of all homeless people in the US live in California. We have a homeless problem. Other communities have discovered that they actually save money by moving homeless into homes, while also increasing the quality of life of the formerly-homeless, and making it easier for them to get jobs. Let's change unsuccessful policies, and adopt ones that have been successful elsewhere.

Measure JJJ, LA County Affordable Housing Mandate: No

LA desperately needs affordable housing. However, there are two significant components to affordable housing: cost of the housing, and proximity to work. LA actually has a decent amount of affordable housing, but much of it is more than an hour's commute each way by car.[4]

So we need a measure that understands this model of affordable housing: affordable rent, and affordable commute. JJJ does not do this. Other measures already slated for ballots next year support both increasing affordability and increasing density; let's vote those in, and leave this one out.

Measure RRR, LA DWP Reform: No

The LA DWP badly needs reform; we need to change failure. Saying "no" to this doesn't change failure.

The question is: does it change failure in a way that may lead to success? The answer is mixed. A reasonable model of action for LA DWP reform is increased oversight by, and increased responsiveness to, local government. RRR adds oversight — great! — but also changes civil service provisions to begin to spin the DWP off from local government. That's a problem, and that's why I say no.

Measure SSS, LA Airport Police Pensions: No

This measure merges the Airport police pensions into the LAPD system. It's not clear who wins from this, but it's clear who loses:

  • The city has to pay more for pensions
  • Existing Airport PD officers probably can't afford the buy-in requirements to move their pensions over
  • The LA Police Union is against this

Let's not vote for something with no upside.

So, that's it! I encourage you to vote as above, and support you however you vote — so long as you vote! Early, ideally, but just once.

  1. The corollary that we should want a President who does not make mistakes follows in no way at all. While we may wish for a president who makes somewhat fewer mistakes than Hillary, it's better to try things and make mistakes than not. ↩︎

  2. Proof of this comes from her essentially unopposed runs for NY Senate and the Presidency this year. She has a model for how the process of getting the nomination works, and, in both cases, she set up the infrastructure to succeed beforehand. In the case of this Presidential run, this infrastructure survived unexpected players. This model is exactly what we need in a President. ↩︎

  3. Speaking of learning opportunities, when we decide to lock everyone up next time we really should also decide to raise taxes to pay for it. ↩︎

  4. Or much more, by public transportation. ↩︎