Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Post Election Hangover

Yesterday was election day in California, and I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised with the results on most of the ballot propositions - an area where I was preparing myself for bitter disappointment.

Despite putting $46 million of our (ratepayers) money into Prop 16, PG&E's power grab attempt went down to defeat, along with Prop 17, Mercury Insurance's "please make us give you a discount" attempt. Nobody is giving you something for nothing, and just enough people saw through these two corporate abuses of democracy for what they were, and by slim margins turned them down. Good for California and good for Californians! We're not as dumb as we might look.

My one really big disappointment was the passage of Proposition 14, deceptively and cynically titled, "Increases Right to Participate in Primaries." The idea here is to eliminate the power of political parties, by putting all primary candidates on a single ballot. The top two vote getters then face off in the November general election.

Now, if you read this blog regularly, you know I'm a registered independent, and all for breaking the stranglehold of the two major parties ... if it is to open up the process to more choice. But nature abhors a vacuum, a rule that also applies to political power. In this case, party structure is simply replaced by money and name recognition.

The diagram from the official voter information pamphlet (shown here) says it all. Instead of several party primaries, each with maybe four or five candidates selecting their nominee to face off in a general election where again there will be a half-dozen candidates, each representing a different party, we'll now have a primary with a confusing dozen or more candidates leading up to a general election choice of only two ... and both potentially of the same party!

Supporters say this will give us "more moderate candidates" as everybody will have to play to the middle. But to rise above a field of 15-20 candidates in a state the size of California, it will only give us better connected and wealthier candidates. More corporate shills to continue the status quo.

Speaking of which, the Republicans nominated two former Silicon Valley CEOs for top office; eBay's Meg Whitman for Governor and Hewlett Packard's Carly Fiorina for Senate.

In her victory speech, Whitman, who will face off against former Governor Jerry Brown in November, said that she was ready to "shake up" the Governor's office with thinking from "outside Sacramento." Whitman (who spent over $70 million of her own cash to secure the nomination) said she'd be a different kind of Governor because she isn't "beholden to anybody."

Now, if she were following a Democratic Governor, or even a Republican "career politician," that might be a good argument. But she's hoping to follow the non-politician, self-funded millionaire, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Has she not been paying attention? Probably not. She's so new to this "democracy thing" that she's rarely bothered to even vote in her adult life.

The one thing I can say for Whitman, however, is that she at least was a successful CEO, not that that will automatically translate to governing success. On the other hand, Carly Fiorina, who will be trying to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer in November, just about destroyed Hewlett Packard. When they finally fired her, their stock value was about 1/3 what it was when she was hired. Along that path, she laid off over 30,000 employees, sent thousands more jobs from California to Asia, and accepted a $20 million golden parachute to leave Silicon Valley. Ummm... she's seeking to represent me?

At Fiorina's celebration, a spokesman for the California Republican Party expressed his joy at having these two candidates to run against the Democratic "professional politicians." He says he welcomes the perspective of these leaders because they'll remove the shackles of oppressive regulation from businesses. How he managed to say that with a straight face while millions of gallons of oil having been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 50 days show that he learned some acting skills from the current Governator.

This post is getting quite long ... sorry, that's what happens when I don't blog for a while ... so I'll end it here, but in coming months I'll explain why I fully support Jerry Brown, our once and future Governor, and our Senator Barbara Boxer. And where, and why, I will likely not be voting a straight Democratic ticket in November.


  1. I'll stay out of California politics, we have our hands full in Arizona!

    A few thoughts though on primaries and election processes. Arizona does get a lot of things right. Our huge error was term limits and "clean elections," misnomers at the minimum, which are an entire blog unto themselves. They sound like great ideas but as we can attest to, have terrible unintended consequences. During the movement of election reforms in this state in the 1990s, one really good thing did happen though.

    We do not have any registration as "Independent" because too many people from back east and California that implies either an actual political party or disqualifies you from participating in the primary process. Rather we have four parties (Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian) and the option to register for those or as "No Party Preference." This is an important (and often misunderstood distinction) because we have Open Primaries, meaning you can go to your polling place and (regardless of your party registration or "no preference" status) choose ONE party primary ballot and cast your vote on that ballot.

    One county in Arizona (Yavapai) has started Open Polling Places. The idea is to get the majority of voters to Vote By Mail and have a few polling places where any voter from any precinct can cast their ballot on site for various reasons (didn’t receive ballot, spoiled ballot, don't trust US Postal Service, "last minute” etc.) by either place their mail-in ballot in the voting box or a new electronic voting machine. This machine is intended to take care of the questions and problems of existing electronic machines.

    In our recent special election it was a success and it is likely all counties will go to this system. Currently it is the choice of each county and some may not want to participate for whatever reason. Realistically, it must be down with the serious budget crisis and expensive election process we have now. How we implement that statewide with our convoluted State Legislature and elected state officials is another matter.

    (btw - I’m interested in what you think of my latest blog and video. You don’t have to comment but I am curious.)

  2. @JR - I suppose to be technically correct, I'm not registered as an independent, but as "DTS" (decline to state), which is supposed to help avoid confusion with the American Independent Party.

    We also have an open primary system, where my "No Preference" status allows me to choose the ballot of any party. Of course, now with Prop 14, that's all become rather meaningless.

  3. @kenrg - I would be very disappointed also at Prop 14 and can fully understand your objections.

    Although I object to the way the two incumbent parties have locked in their version of the "two-party" system...personally I'm struggling with all these supposed populist ideas. We could have a long conversation there I think and although from different idealistic positions, probably agree that the status quo has gone way astray and the uprising against it is all awry.

  4. interesting to see this from a californian's perspective.

    somehow i find it hard to believe a multibillionaire isn't 'beholden to anybody.' and i love it when big business is supposed to be better for us than big politics. frying pan to fire?


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