Primary Election Endorsements June 2018

It is primary election season, a chance to make change — hopefully, positive change — through our votes. If you find what I write here interesting, consider the below endorsements for California's top two primary system.

(If you're not registered to vote; not sure if you're registered to vote; or registered, but don't know your polling place, go to Vote.org to get yourself squared away. You may miss the primaries, but you'll be ready for the General election in November!)

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:

For Measures, etc.

  • Is the policy fixed, or can we learn from it?
  • If current policy is not fixed, does this change increase ourability 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 rabbithole.

For Offices, etc.

  • Has the candidate had positions in which they've had relevant experience?
  • In those positions, have they showed evidence of learning?
  • If they have made mistakes, have they learned from them? Do they speak openly of these mistakes?
  • Do they support policies that match the criteria of the measures above?

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; now, 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. These endorsements follow the order of my ballot, which is probably the order of your ballot. Since this is a top-two primary, I endorse two where possible. Also where possible, I endorse a Democrat and a Republican.

Neon sign on brick building, at night

TL;DR

Boardwalk on the beach, with surfers on it

Governor: Villaraigosa/Eastin

We in California have been tremendously lucky to have had Jerry Brown as our governor for the past eight years. He's taken a state with a catastrophic budget problem and a disfunctional legislature, and turned our state into a productive, financially-stable place. It's an amazing turnaround. Our first responsibility as voters is to continue along this path.

I had hoped that John Chiang would distinguish himself on the campaign trail, but he has proven to have a lot to learn about showing leadership on a statewide level. Hopefully, he will grow from this, and become more effective.

That leaves three major Democratic candidates, and a bevy of Republican challengers. Since all of the Republican challengers lack any type of experience at this level — the GOP couldn't even find a Meg Whitman/Carly Fiorina type this time— I won't look beyond this group.

I have a deep problem with Gavin Newsom; he strikes me as the epitome of promising white men failing upwards. Both he and Antonio Villaraigosa left their time as Mayor with a mix of achievements and disappointment, yet Newsom is lauded as the next Governor? It's baffling to me.

Looking at Newsom vs. Villaraigosa, both made a series of missteps in their Mayorships. Villaraigosa specifically changed policies around pay raises, while Newsom doubled down on anti-development rhetoric and policy. Villaraigosa dealt with financial downturn by fixing his spending errors and passing Measure R, which has been gigantically successful.

The dig on Villaraigosa is that he's in the pockets of charter schools. In contrast, Delaine Eastin has a strong record of working with the experts on education, Teachers' Unions. Like Villaraigosa, she has had experience at a number of levels of government, and is well-qualified to manage the state. Unfortunately, Eastin is a strong proponent of rent control. In California's largest cities, the issue is not Kushner-style landlords (although there are plenty of those), but a lack of housing supply that drives both excessive rents and the gentrification that pushes low-income Californians out of the neighborhoods they know and hours away from their jobs.

We need housing supply — to me, it's our state's second-highest priority — and rent control isn't the way to do that.This leaves me endorsing Antonio Villaraigosa for the Democratic ticket. He's not perfect, but he is a strong choice. I don't particularly see any Republican who is worth endorsing here.

Lt. Governor: Bleich/Kounalakis

In Texas, the Lieutenant Governor is the one with all of the power; not so in California. The California Lt. Governor's main role is sitting on various statewide educational boards. Which is good, actually — America as a whole is at a crossroads in how we approach postsecondary education. We need fresh thought and leadership in our statewide boards that run the UC, CSU, and Community College systems.

The best choice here for Democrats is Jeff Bleich. He has significant domain experience and can contribute in ways other candidates cannot. While none of the Republican candidates are particularly well-qualified, Republicans may find Eleni Kounalakis to be appealing, given her business background.

A seagull perched in front of the ocean

Secretary of State: Padilla/None

Alex Padilla has done a good job of starting a process to modernize California's election systems, and deserves a second term. There are no other serious candidates.

Controller: Yee/None

Betty Yee has done a good job in first term as Controller, and is in a good position to lead the tax reform that is needed inher coming term. There are no other serious candidates.

Treasurer: Viswanathan/Conlon

I have a really hard time suggesting that Fiona Ma, a member ofthe Board of Equalization — one of the problems in the California tax system, not its solution — should be elected as Treasurer. Friends I have in the Bay Area also speak poorly of her time in elected office up there.

Greg Conlon seems to be the leader on the GOP side, and he has the right experience, but he also has the one-note Republican answer to all problems of cutting taxes. California needs tax reform, and that may involve cutting some taxes, but starting from that position will make it exceedingly difficult to actually fix our taxes.[1] However, if you're inclined to vote this way, he's the clearly more-qualified choice.

Democrat Vivek Viswanathan, although a newcomer to California politics, has served as a policy wonk with the right groups— particularly on Governor Brown's staff, making the changes that have paid off so well for California over the past few years. He deserves a chance to take this skillset to public office.

Sunset reflected on skyscrapers

Attorney General: Jones/Becerra

The main race here is Democrat vs. Democrat: Becerra (who currently holds the position) vs. Jones. Jones was a tremendous Insurance Commissioner, and Becerra has been doing well as AG. Either vote would be fine, but I favor Jones, who is against the death penalty.

If you're inclined to vote Republican here, consider a vote for the pro-death-penalty Democrat Xavier Becerra. The Republican candidates are a career entertainment lawyer, a skillset pretty irrelevant for this position; and a judge who retired under the cloud of a disciplinary investigation. Obviously, I can't recommend either of those.

Insurance Commissioner: Lara/Poizner

This is a very signficant position in California, with both a political and an administrative role. When Poizner held this office in the early 2000s, he was successful and productive for all Californians. He ran a racist campaign in 2010, but he has been open about his mistake there and has vowed to be inclusive in the future. While in general I would not support someone with this record making a return, I believe heartfelt retractions, paired with meaningful action, can potentially allow a return to public office.[2] Poizner is a good choice for Republican-leaning voters here.

However, Poizner not only has the tarnish of his 2010 campaign: he vows to fight single-payer healthcare. While I don't believe single-payer is the only solution to our healthcare cost problems, it is a proven solution, and the single-minded focus of conservatives against it is just dumb. In contrast, Lara has brought to vote a meaningful single-payer healthcare plan, albeit one with no mechanism for paying for itself. Lara is the candidate with the most relevant experience and with new ideas. Whatever our insurance marketplace looks like in the future, what we have now isn't working, and that's why I'll vote Lara.

A red leaf in front of a mountain and pine trees

State Board of Equalization, 3rd District: O'Leary/Vazquez

The Board of Equalization is a relic that stands in the way ofmeaningful tax reform[3] in California. O'Leary not only owns the fun Irish bar Joxer Daly's but also is running on the promise to work to eliminate the board.

If you think that voting for a non-partisan bar owner who promises to abolish his position is too weird (I don't!), you might find Vazquez, who was formerly Mayor of Santa Monica and played a significant role in the revitalization of 3rd Street, to be a qualified candidate. However, he wants to do things with the BoE, which I'm just not for.

US Senator: De León/Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein has made a decent name for herself standing upto Trump, but she was a lapdog who enabled George W. Bush's policies to restrict civil liberties in the name of "fighting terrorism." It's long past time she should be out of office. De León has been an effective member of the California State Senate, and holds progressive positions on criminal justice reform, healthcare, immigration, marijuana, and more — positions that well-represent the values most Californians share.

If you want to vote Republican, vote Feinstein, because she's voted that way in the past. Otherwise, there's no GOP Senate candidate who combines significant support; enough money to run for the seat; and a lack of overt anti-Semitism.[4]

US Representative, 43rd District: Waters

Now is not a time for weak tea, and fortunately Maxine Waters serves only the strongest of tea. Vote Waters.

The only plausible GOP alternative here is professional petulant child Navarro. He likes bringing that Alex Jones-style energy to this very diverse district, with just as much substance. Let's keep Auntie Maxine, since we need her most now.[5]

Graffitied street sign reading 'District'

State Senator, 26th District: Allen

In a not particularly competitive race, the only plausible vote is incumbent Ben Allen

State Assemblymember, 62nd District: Burke

I'm not the biggest Autumn Burke fan, but she's done acompetent job in Sacramento. Her GOP opponent, Hernandez[5:1], is proudly NIMBY in a time in which we need to say yes to development, so that we can find real homes for the homeless and the RV-housed in our district.

Judges: None

While I'm not always against having judges run for office, I continue to feel I'm unable to assess whom I should vote for as judge. Thus: no endorsements.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tuck/Thurmond

We have so many bodies overseeing education, it's not clear why this position exists. However, Torlakson, this position's termed-out current resident, was able to use it to comfortably implement the Common Core[6] throughout California; so, we should take Superintendent seriously, and vote in someone good.

That someone good is Tuck. You may knock him for running Green Dot charter schools, but that organization's record in LA is strong. Tuck was an excellent partner for Villaraigosa in turning some of LA's worst schools around. I know people who worked for him, and they're all of good character and with good intentions. Green Dot is one of many charter providers that is the opposite of the fly-by-night operators we all should worry the most about. He's not going to take a dogmatic, charter-fits-all approach, and he can help us do truly new things with our California schools.

If voting a charter person in bothers you, try Thurmond. He's got a solid background and is strongly connected to the California education community.

Boarded-up theater with 'California' marquee

County Assessor: Prang

When our old Republican assessor, Noguez, left office under the cloud of bribery accusations, Prang took over the office, and brought it back to the straight and narrow. He deserves another term.

County Sheriff: Villanueva/McDonnell

Current reformer Sheriff McDonnell took over from Lee Baca, the reformer who took over from Sherman Block, when Baca was indicted for obstruction of justice. McDonnell had been a leader in reforming the department during Baca's term, standing against abuse of inmates and producing reports the unearthed serious issues with deputy violence. He's done a good job in starting the change of the department, but too many accusations of violence against suspects and inmates continue.

You can vote for McDonnell, saying he needs more time — which he probably does — or you can vote for another strong candidate, with a record of standing against this kind of behavior in his department, in Villanueva. I'll be voting the latter, because the LASD has a long way to go.

Streetlight cutting through fog and a tree

Prop 68: Bonds for Natural Resources: Yes

This is an expensive bond, one of many dealing with water, parks, and natural resources coming up. It's expensive because bills are coming due for decades of infrastructure neglect. Currently these expenses are affordable, and, with good planning, they should continue to be. Yes.

Prop 69: Require Transportation Revenue use for Transportation: Yes

I'm against earmarking funds for specific purposes, but I'm also for user fees, particularly for insfrastructure like roads. For this specific purpose, I'm a reluctant yes.

Prop 70: Legislative Supermajority Vote for Use Of Cap-and-Trade Funds: No

The only effect of requiring supermajorities in California so far has been to give a small minority a veto over doing anything. I'm not clear on why we need such a veto here. No.

Prop 71: Set Effective Date for Ballot Measures: Yes

So basically our laws assume that all the votes are cast on voting day, but our current reality has more and more people voting absentee. This just says that we wait until the votes are in to put a ballot measure in effect. Yes.

Prop 72: Exclude Rain-Capture Systems from Property Tax: Yes

We need to reward responsible homeowners who reduce their property's reliance on water. Currently, there are property value cutouts for many environmentally-sound upgrades, but none for water improvements. These should be treated equally to other such renovations, and not increase the value of the property for tax purposes. Yes.

Steps, with writing on them in multiple languages, leading to a marble door


  1. California is often bashed as a high-tax state. Certainly some of our taxes are; others are shockingly low (look up how much we charge to pump out a barrel of oil here, compared to other states, sometime). We're a weird-tax state, and not in a good way. ↩︎

  2. I'm actually quite divided on this position. On the one hand, our society contains deep-seated racism, and we need to stamp it out. On the other, to be less racist one needs to learn to be less racist, and people who actually learn will actually change and actually be better. On the third hand, I'm a white male so my opinions are suspect in this matter. ↩︎

  3. Whatever you think tax reform should be — more progressive, more regressive, lower sales tax, move to a VAT — the BoE stands in the way. ↩︎

  4. In fairness to the GOP, they have vehemently condemned Little and even physically removed him from their facilities. Which is good, because the man could make me vote Feinstein with his anti-Semitic ads ↩︎

  5. The fact that I grew up in Kweisi Mfume's district, and now live in Maxine Waters' gives me endless happiness. ↩︎ ↩︎

  6. If that statement bothers you, you probably don't actually know what the Common Core is. ↩︎

Wade Armstrong

Hi! I'm a dad in Los Angeles, CA. I work in tech, where I learned about lean & agile methods — thus the "Kaizen" part of the Kaizendad name. My hobbies include cooking and photography.

Los Angeles, CA