Monday, November 05, 2012

Election Mishegoss

Not the Presidential one, I know/hope everyone already has their mind made up on that one. I mean local California stuff. As is my blogging minhag, it's time to revisit my favorite crank not named Tzvi or Dennis (don't worry guys, I'll get back to you): Dr. Terrence Faulkner, J.D., Esquire. (Yes, he has used all of those titles at some time or another. Do you think he went to law school?)

My favorite thing about Dr. F isn't that he's the only 55 year old I know who sounds like he's 85. It isn't that he can always be counted on to oppose just about anything remotely progressive (or even moderate). Or the fact that he doesn't seem to understand how to construct an argument or talk to people in a way that makes them listen, rather than tune you out. No, the best thing about Dr. F is that you can always tell what book he's reading by the arguments he writes for the voter's guide.

In 2006, explaining why he opposed a city resolution to impeach Bush and Cheney, he wrote about how Lincoln had also been unpopular, and that if any President should have been impeached, it was James Buchanan. Nothing like bringing up other bad Presidents that have been dead for 150 years to stay on topic, right? In 2008, carping on about a city proposition to amend the charter to emphasize diversity in hiring, Dr. F invoked Greek mythology and General Custer.

So how could he possibly top that?

The proposition: amending the city charter so that the positions of City Attorney and Treasurer are elected at the same time as Mayor, Sheriff and District Attorney. Mrs. Yid and I went back and forth on that one for a little while; while we kind of like the idea of having staggered elections so there's more overlap, we also noted that generally the "off-year" elections tend to have lower turnout, and there's a cost-saving benefit of consolidating two elections into one.

Not surprisingly, Dr. F disagreed. His rhetorical tool of choice?

The freaking Peloponnesian War.

About 507 BCE (or B.C.) the Athenian statesman Cleisthenes introduced a new form of government into ancient Athens. All free males of the city were allowed to appear, speak, and vote in the governing Ecclesia which met outdoors some 40 times per year on the hill of Pnyx across from the Acropolis. Democracy was born-- admittedly with many flaws and limits. 
Democracy works best when the people are paying very careful attention.
This proposed amendment... would create longer ballots and a situation in which less attention would given by [sic] the voting public to the individual candidates to be elected and the offices to be filled.
...If the Fathers of the Athenian Democracy-- the law reformer Solon-- the voting reformer Cleisthenes-- and the great Pericles who rebuilt the beautiful temples of the Acropolis-- were to return to San Francisco, I think they would all vote "NO!" on misguided Prop D.
That's his argument against. His rebuttal to the entire Board of Supervisors is even better. All it does is quote Pericles' funeral oration from Thucydides' Peloponnesian War. Way to use that classical education, Doc. Tell me, during that impressive classical education, did they by any chance ever point out that since Solon, Cleisthenes and Pericles never lived in California, it would in fact be impossible for them to "return" here? Just wondering.

Now, lest you think I just hopped back over here to bash on a lone Conservative crank, fear not! I am capable of being even-handed. For instance, we have the proud left-leaning local paper the Bay Guardian, which helpfully published their tear-off voter guide for people to use.

Let's look at two of their endorsements, shall we? Prop 30 and 38 both have to do with funding California public schools:


Why are we voting on — and watching the various interests spend about $30 million on — a simple tax increase that in most sane places would be vetted and approved by the state Legislature? Two reasons: California has an archaic and insane rule mandating a two-thirds vote of both houses for a tax hike, which is impossible as long as a few Republicans are still in Sacramento — and our crabby old oddball of a governor, Jerry Brown, insisted in his last campaign that he'd never raise taxes without a vote of the people.
Prop. 30 is an amalgam, a mixture of what Brown first wanted and what the more liberal supporters of a tax on millionaires were proposing. The guv had to come the table when it looked like the millionaire tax might have enough support to compete with his plan; he made a few concessions, and everyone signed off on this plan. It raises taxes on people with incomes of more than $250,000 (good) and hikes the sales tax by a quarter-cent (not so good) and would bring in $6 billion a year until it expires in 2019. 
A bit of perspective: When former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger whacked the vehicle license fee his first day in office, he cost the state about $4 billion a year, with the stroke of a pen. 
And in a state with more billionaires than any other place in America, a fabulously rich place with the world's eighth-largest economy, the notion that we have to argue about raising $6 billion in taxes is farcical. 
Nevertheless, it's crucial to pass Prop. 30. The money will prevent catastrophic cuts to education and social services. Prop. 30 won't move California a single step forward — but it will keep us all a few inches away from the abyss. 
Brown has gambled his governorship on this — and if he loses, he'll take a good part of the state's future with him. We live in strange and unpleasant times; vote Yes on 30.
All right, seems straight-forward enough. What about the other proposition?


There's so much wrong with Prop. 38, starting with its origin. It's another billionaire plaything, the work of the wealthy Molly Munger, who decided, on her own, that the state should raise income taxes to pay for better schools.
Yes, the state should raise income taxes on the wealthy. Yes, some of that money should go to education. But this is not the optimal way to go about it. 
Because nobody but Munger and her pals vetted the measure, it's got problems. For starters, it's not a tax increase on the rich — it's a tax increase for just about everybody. If you make more than $7,300 a year, your state income tax would go up. Granted, not by much: The sliding scale starts at 0.4 percent (about $30 a year for the very low end of the scale, and the wealthiest will pay much more) but still: the tax burden in this state (with its high sales-tax rates) falls disproportionately on the poor and middle class, and Munger's measure should have exempted all but the top earners. And it's got a popular, but troubling distribution scheme — between 60 and 85 percent of the estimated $10 billion a year in new revenue will go to K-12 education. The schools need the money — but so do cities and counties who pay for public health, affordably housing, public safety and a lot of other priorities. 
But the question facing the voters isn't whether Munger is a self-serving brat who went her own way on this, or whether there are flaws in the measure. It's whether the state ought to raise taxes to pay for education. With all the duly noted reservations, the answer to that question has to be yes.
Ok, so the Guardian endorses both propositions. Here's the problem: only one of them can pass. Per California budget rules, when two conflicting income tax measures pass, the one with the most votes wins. So if Prop 38 wins, Prop 30 by definition does not win... which means it triggers $6 billion in cuts from the education budget.

Reading the explanation of the "endorsement" of Prop 38, it sounds like the Guardian Staff understands this and really just want to alert their readers that we need to find a long-term solution to the education issue... but then why endorse both propositions when they cancel each other out? When did literacy stop becoming a requirement to work at a newspaper? Did the writers and editors just not communicate on this one? It feels like a mistake. But then why is it still on their online version and why has no correction been issued? What the hell, people?
Did you enjoy this, dear readers? I hope so. Now make sure you go and vote. I don't even care if your vote cancels mine out, just make sure you go do it. Don't be one of these smug morons.

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