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Okay, I’m going to draft up a formal introduction, change my lame blog title (if possible) and read up on how to manage this thing later. Meanwhile, here are my endorsements for California Democratic Primary voters for all of the contested issues on the ballot.

Governor – Phil Angelides

Treasurer Phil Angelides and Steve Westly are vying for the opportunity to beat the weakened and vulnerable but far from defeated Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This primary presents the classic dilemma for progressive Democrats – a mostly solid liberal who is far from perfect on the issues vs. a left-of-center moderate with some redeeming characteristics who probably has a slightly better chance of defeating Schwarzenegger in November. Angelides is betting that Californians have a better sense of reality than the nation’s majority did in 1984 and he is pledging to mitigate the budget/deficit woes by raising taxes on the upper echelons of wealth. He has advocated for progressive causes from the beginning of his political career, being especially strong on education, access to health care, and energy policy. He seems like a decent human being, the recent campaign nastiness from both Democrats notwithstanding. And probably my endorsement is influenced by the fantasy image of a skinny geek with glasses taking out the Terminator in the fall.

Westly is the latest in a long string of California “outsider” multi-millionaires financing his own campaign and trying to pawn it off as virtuous independence from special interests – never mind that he’s a special interest unto himself. And he’s already in hot water for violating his pledge to not be the first candidate to go negative in his ads. He does, unlike Angelides, advocate reforming three strikes to require violent crime for the third strike. And he is strong on environmental issues. He does appeal to moderates and the libertarian types in the high tech sector, which would probably play well for him in November as many independents and moderates have lost their patience with Schwarzenegger.

And yes, Angelides has been involved in some questionable dealings as a developer, as Westly has made abundantly clear in his media barrage with allegations both true and exaggerated. Plus he supports the death penalty.

But Angelides has earned the support of all the right organizations with a history of responsiveness to grassroots causes. He doesn’t shy away from the word “liberal.” When Angelides ran for treasurer, he willingly took part in debates involving the third party candidates as well. I wonder if he’ll be as open for the general election debates.

In any case, he is the better of the two main Democrats.

Lt. Governor – Jackie Speier

Speier was the assemblywoman representing San Mateo County for the 1980s and until she was term limited out in the 1990s. She has always been reasonably progressive, and of course has always capitalized on her ordeal in Guyana when she was ambushed by Jim Jones’ thugs along with her boss Congressman Leo Ryan and left bleeding on the runway for hours. I suppose she’s entitled.

Like a number of California liberal pols, she’s pro-death penalty and “law and order,” including her most recently touted proposal to up the penalties for methamphetamine distribution and use. But on most social issues she’s more than adequately progressive. She has a good record on consumer issues, and has regularly bucked the insurance industry when “tort reform” issues have come up. She is strong on environmental issues, highlighting the proposed weakening of federal standards in her campaign and advocating that the state pick up

And as a seasoned campaigner she has the best chance of beating Sen. Tom McClintock, a rabid conservative who ran to Schwarzenegger’s right during the recall election. Granted, the position of Lt. Governor is largely ceremonial and pretty much a springboard for a higher office move. Cruz Bustamente blew his chance and is making a lateral move to an office where he might actually have to do some work.

Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi is trying to move up the latter and is probably favored to win. He’s not all bad, but he didn’t shine as Insurance Commissioner and he’s already lost two bids for the governorship. Speier represents new blood.

Liz Figueroa isn’t bad either. Speier’s better.

Secretary of State – Debra Bowen

The battle of the Debras – I would be fine with Debra Ortiz, the SF Bay Guardian sold me on Debra Bowen. Apparently she has been very vocal on the Diebold voting machine controversy, and a solid advocate of mandating a paper trail (which seems common sense to me – the resistance alone being extremely suspicious). Either Deb will have a huge challenge against the moderate Republican Bruce McPherson who occupies the office by appointment thanks to Kevin Shelley’s corrupt stupidity and is the GOP heir apparent for the governor’s race in 2010. The primary winner will need a wedge issue, and Diebold certainly fits the bill.

Controller – Joe Dunn

The Bay Guardian convinced me here as well. In the state senate Dunn led the charge against Enron’s price gouging during the blackouts of 2002, and he’s bound to get a bounce from the recent convictions of Enron management. Not sure how that will come into play in audits of state government agencies or other issues of controlling, but it’s certainly a factor if you consider, again, the springboard factor.

John Chiang seems like a decent candidate, but it’s hard to figure out where he stands on key issues, other than the fact that he seems to have an endorsement quid pro quo thing going with outgoing controller Steve Westly.

Treasurer – Bill Lockyer

Lockyer was the most popular state Democrat a few years ago, but lost favor with many of the party faithful for his support of the recall election and vote for Schwarzenegger. Too big of a weenie to run against Schwarzenegger, he’s making a lateral move to jockey for a future run for governor. His performance as attorney general was fine, though not stellar. Like his Republican predecessor Dan Lungren he pretended that Prop 215 didn’t exist – until his second term where he basically signed off on work that had been accomplished at the county level around the state. He caved to the fringe right in suing SF Mayor Gavin Newsom to dissolve the gay marriages. He’s been pretty good on other issues, though I think he was better as a legislator when he drafted the state’s anti-SLAPP law.

Well, he’s slumming for treasurer now, clearly a step down. He has no opponent in the primary. Maybe he’ll make such a damned good treasurer, he can revive his political career and run against Bruce McPherson for governor once Arnold finishes his probable second term. That’s what he’s banking on.

Attorney General – Jerry Brown

I’m feeling pretty uninspired in terms of prose this election, and the SF Bay Guardian says it so well:

We really wanted to like Rocky Delgadillo, the Los Angeles city attorney and candidate for attorney general who’s considered a rising star in Democratic Party politics. San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera is a big supporter. Delgadillo’s articulate and experienced and has tremendous charisma.

But when we sat down and talked with him, we were more than a little underwhelmed.

Delgadillo is good on same-sex marriage (although he wouldn’t promise to drop the state’s appeal of San Francisco’s marriage-equality suit). Mostly, though, he likes to talk about his successes cracking down on gangs in Los Angeles — and he’s right that urban gangs are a terrible problem all over the state. But his solution is largely a tough law enforcement approach: He’s a big fan of civil gang injunctions, legal moves that essentially ban anyone identified as a member of a gang from spending time in certain neighborhoods or associating in public with other gang members. It’s a powerful weapon, but one that has real civil-liberties problems (and has been challenged in the past by the American Civil Liberties Union). Yet Delgadillo doesn’t seem to have any concerns whatsoever with those problems — he’s gung-ho about pushing his gang injunctions statewide and has made that a key part of his campaign.

In fact, we asked Delgadillo over and over again about the creeping police-state mentality of law enforcement in California — the spying, the profiling, the crackdowns on lawful political activity — and he never gave the slightest indication that any of that bothered him.

He’s a strong supporter of the death penalty and calls executions “justice.”

That leaves us with Delgadillo’s opponent, Jerry Brown. We’ve been watching Brown for years, since he burst onto the scene as a candidate for secretary of state in 1970. We’ve seen him change from a Democratic Party insider to a scathing critic of mainstream politics to a tough-on-crime, development-loving mayor. We’ve seen him run for US Senate, president of the United States, state Democratic Party chair, and mayor of Oakland (the job he has now). We’re not quite sure why he’s running for attorney general.

More important, we’re not quite sure what he’ll do if he wins.

Will we see the Jerry Brown who once appointed the most liberal state Supreme Court members in California history? Or the Jerry Brown who ran to Bill Clinton’s left, denounced big-money special interests, and hosted a show on KPFA? Or the Jerry Brown who sold out the city of Oakland to developers?

Will we see the guy who in 1997, in an interview with death penalty foe Mike Farrell, announced, “There’s so much antigovernment rhetoric against state power. Yet they are building up tremendous, childlike confidence in the state power to kill, to surveil, to incarcerate, to spy. The power of the state is getting stronger, more pervasive, more unchecked, therefore more dangerous — way out of proportion to the original founding spirit, which was quite hostile to a very strong central power”? Or will we see the candidate who’s seeking to portray himself as a friend of the police?

It’s hard to know. Brown is constantly reinventing himself — and endorsing him for anything is always a gamble.

Based on his campaign statements and platform, Brown the candidate for attorney general is a lot more like Mayor Brown than Governor Brown or presidential candidate Brown. He was awfully wishy-washy on same-sex marriage until the queer press beat the hell out of him and forced him to say he supported it. He’s still against the death penalty as a matter of principle, but he says he’ll enforce the state’s current execution laws.

What California really needs is an attorney general who wants to crack down on corporate crime, an Eliot Spitzer type who isn’t afraid to go after big business, financial fraud, and tax cheats — and who has the political courage to actively support same-sex marriage and oppose the death penalty. Neither of the two Democratic candidates fits the bill. But given Delgadillo’s drawbacks, we’ll hold our noses, pray for mercy, and roll the dice on Jerry Brown.

Insurance commissioner – Cruz Bustamente

Another uninspiring laterally moving pol with no future who’ll be slightly better than his Republican opponent.

Superintendent of Schools – Sarah Knopp

I know that Jack O’Connell is the choice of the teacher’s unions, and he has advocated for smaller class sizes and some other proper causes. He’s basically liberal. But he is also an advocate of the new testing mandated by the ironically named “No Child Left Behind” program. I’m for some level of testing, but the overemphasis of standardized tests is having a chilling effect on creative curriculum, where basically everybody is reading the same lame textbooks and the schools teach to the tests rather than towards critical thinking.

Sara Knopp probably won’t win. She’s too young (28) for one thing, and probably too leftish for a statewide election win. But her platform is straightforward and simple, advocating for immediate lowering in class size as a priority, the abandonment of the current testing craze, and for a revival of desegregation policies aimed at diversifying schools. But she makes for a good protest vote.

Proposition 81 – Yes

Not enthusiastic about raising our bonded debt again, but libraries have been getting the short end of the stick in recent years. I wish the money would be going towards hiring staff and keeping more hours as we’re down to the bare bones in Humboldt County. But bonds are generally intended for structure building and upgrade, and a vote for 81 might send message to the legislature to move libraries up on the list of priorities.

Proposition 82 – No, with reservations

I’m all for universal access to preschool, and I have no problem with soaking the top .1 percent for a little of the money they no longer have to give over to the federal government. What I do have problems with is requiring 5 years of college to teach pre-school (only 1/3 of the current preschool teachers are college graduates), a large new bureaucracy to boot, and standards that may be impossible for rural areas to meet.

Most important, I don’t agree with the philosophy behind the measure. I listened to one proponent on the radio talking about how our kids are “entering kindergarten unprepared.” They cite studies that suggest an “ academic advantage” to early readers as far as the 3rd grade, but ignore the fact that the same studies indicate that these “advantages” disappear as the child gets older. So they resort to some study of preschool to juvenile delinquency committing the common error of confusing correlation with causation. There appears to be no long term disadvantage to letting kids be kids for awhile. In the meantime, I’m going to resist any move towards S.T.A.R. testing 3 year olds.

District Attorney – Paul Gallegos

Even if I didn’t find Paul Gallegos an extremely impressive human being in a very tough job. Even if the turmoil in the office was his fault and not the fault of improper recall efforts, old guard resistance and undermining of his leadership, and the general birth pains of a new vision of leadership. Even if the violent crime statistics were not at a 15 year low. Even if I didn’t share Paul Gallegos’ progressive vision of law enforcement. Even in the absence of a reason to vote for Paul, I would not vote for Worth Dikeman.

If I have a criticism of Gallegos, it’s that he didn’t can Dikeman after the recall attempt, and I find it incredibly odd that Dikeman remains with the D.A.’s office while running this kind of campaign . Dikeman claims he didn’t support the recall election and only entered that race to ensure that Steve Schechtman was not elected in the event of a successful recall. But his comments late in that race included statements to the effect that the voters, by signing the petitions, had indicated a lack of faith in Gallegos. He was clearly subdued by the two-to-one no vote, but found new strength early in this campaign when he presented to the press a private telephone message left by Gallegos indicating frustration with the lack of cooperation from the old guard.

The contrast of campaign styles is evident in the websites for each candidate. Paul talks about Paul, and you have to dig for criticism of Dikeman. Worth talks about Paul, and you have to dig for a positive reason to vote for Dikeman. Dikeman’s entire campaign has lacked any vision of leadership – simply holding himself out as the “professional” alternative to Gallegos’ “immaturity.”

Certainly Gallegos has made his mistakes, not the least of which was hiring Tim Stoen to handle the cases against PALCO and Fortuna Councilwoman Debbie August alleged to have acted with conflict of interest. But Dikeman has engaged in fictions, including the claim that a certain domestic violence grant had been lost. He later backed off the claim but blamed Gallegos for his error. And Dikeman has publicly commented negatively the PALCO case which is still pending on appeal.

But my real problem with Dikeman has become the primary issue following the Cheri Moore killing. His campaign manager having announced that the investigation into the police shooting of the mentally ill woman had been concluded, Gallegos issued his own statement that the investigation continues as far as the D.A.’s office is concerned, and has stated that he will not comment on the investigation until it has been completed. The coroner has not even completed his report. Dikeman has seen fit to hold press conferences and issue public statements accusing, in all irony, Gallegos of “politicizing” the investigation. But he’s the one who keeps bringing it up.

Tie this to the fact that all of the law enforcement unions are backing Dikeman, and Dikeman rejects the ABA ethical guidelines as “not binding in California” encouraging some level of D.A. independence from the armed wing of law enforcement. He is quite candid.

The issue is quite simply whether you believe the D.A. should be independent or subservient to armed law enforcement. Gallegos has said that there should be some distance as he is sometimes called upon to investigate and prosecute police misconduct. Dikeman’s view is that the DA and armed law enforcement are basically two aspects of the same institution, meaning presumably that police misconduct is handled more appropriately as an internal matter.

This is a philosophical vote. Either the D.A. is an entity independent of armed law enforcement, or merely an extension. An obvious choice from my point of view.

Measure T – No, with extreme reluctance

It’s not easy to take this position. I explain my position in detail in a guest editorial in the Arcata Eye. I don’t know if it will be on the online version, but here’s the link. I’ll also be happy to send it to anybody interested.



May 2006