Even for people who closely follow the news, in states like California where every election brings a slew of propositions and an endless war of advertising full of scare tactics and misinformation, it can be tough to figure out who’s behind each initiative and what its real purpose is. I generally find the best approach is to just completely tune out every ad and mailer you see and go to longstanding organizations or people whose missions and values you trust and who have a closer inside view of who’s behind each initiative and why. Assuming there are people out there who trust my opinion, I put together this voter guide of my thoughts on each:
PROP 1: YES
Prop 1 is a multibillion dollar bond to address California’s devastating drought, mainly to build infrastructure to store, transport and purify water across the state but also to provide emergency relief to the hardest hit communities. There’s been a split among environmental groups on the issue, with organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Nature Conservancy supporting Prop 1 while groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and Food and Water Watch are opposed. Some environmentalists have valid concerns that this doesn’t address the root of the problem (overconsumption of water by big agribusiness) and that some water infrastructure like dams can be environmentally harmful. But when you have people in rural communities with no access to clean drinking water, something needs to be done right now. Prop 1 invests in clean water with a focus on disadvantaged communities like Central Valley farmworkers towns and although we need much deeper reforms to California’s water policies this is an action we need to take now.
PROP 2: NO
Prop 2 doubles the amount of money California would be required to put into reserves for budget emergencies. All the big establishment players on the right and the center-left in Sacramento are behind Prop 2, while it’s being opposed mainly by grassroots progressive groups. The problem with this fixation on a “Rainy Day Fund” is that for most average Californians, it’s still raining. While California’s budget freefall has ended thanks to Prop 30’s taxes on the wealthy and a growing economy, we still remain far far below the funding levels we had for education, healthcare services, and assistance for struggling families before the recession. The out-of-touch austerity politics put forward by the official Very Serious People of California demand that now is the time to start putting money into reserves. The unspoken assumption behind this is that we should never return to the levels of funding we had for education, health and safety net services we had prior to the recession because they were unsustainable. But it wasn’t too much money for schools that caused California’s budget crisis– it was financial speculation, predatory lending, tax cuts for corporations and the excesses of Wall Street. Yes, we should eventually start saving for the next rainy day– but we should restore the billions in devastating budget cuts impacting our communities first.
PROP 45: HELL YES
Prop 45 gives the elected insurance commissioner of California the ability to review and regulate when health insurance companies want to raise their rates. Most states in the country do this already and in California the insurance commissioner already reviews proposed rate hikes for auto and home insurance. The only reason this proposition is controversial is because insurance companies have spent huge sums of money running ads attacking it. The astronomical explosion of healthcare costs is one of the biggest challenges facing the US today and voters should do whatever we can to put pressure on healthcare providers to keep costs from rising.
PROP 46: NO
Prop 46 is the epic doctors vs. lawyers battle of 2014. Lawyers want to be able to sue doctors for larger amounts of money in medical malpractice cases, doctors don’t want to be sued for medical malpractice. Both are spending literally insane amounts of money to try to influence your vote, each loudly proclaiming that only they speak the truth in standing up for patients, but both largely have their own financial self-interest in mind. You can agree with either side about the appropriate amount of money that should be sued for in a medical malpractice claim. But this battle dominating the airwaves is a great symbol of everything wrong with California’s initiative system. The part that put it over the edge as a “No” for me is that the funders of Prop 46 tacked on mandatory drug testing of doctors to the proposition— a totally unrelated issue but one that they’re using to pull in support from people who otherwise wouldn’t have voted for it. Not only is this cynical ploy questionably legal, it’s stupid– if Prop 46 passes, there are many good doctors out there whose lives may be ruined because of what they do in their own personal lives outside of work.
PROP 47: HELL YES
Prop 47 is a much-needed reform of California’s overcrowded and inhumane prison system. The US has traveled down a decades-long path of extremely harsh prison sentences, especially for drug use, that has made us the prison capitol of the world (less than 5% of world population, 25% of world prisoners). As California’s prison population ballooned, it squeezed out funding for schools and universities in our budget, and as mental health services in the state were gutted, prisons essentially became a substitute for mental hospitals. Too many young people mainly from low-income communities of color are being locked up in long prison sentences for minor nonviolent crimes, and even when released have a felony conviction on their public record, making it extremely difficult to apply for jobs, find housing, or get financial aid to go back to school, leaving them with few options other than ending up back in the prison system. Prop 47 changes the lowest-level nonviolent crimes– mainly drug possession and petty theft– to misdemeanors. This will save hundreds of millions a year in prison spending which will go to schools, mental health services, and drug rehabilitation– programs that actually make our communities healthier and safer.
PROP 48: YES
Prop 48 is a referendum on an agreement between the state of California and the Mono and Wiyot tribes to build two new casinos. I hate gambling more than almost anyone you know. But I think when independent sovereign nations sign a contract with the State of California we should honor that contract, not vote it down because we think what they want to do is unpleasant or immoral behavior. Or, in this case, because nearby existing casinos are funding a political campaign to keep out new competition.
Tom Torlakson for Superintendent of Public Instruction
Statewide offices like governor etc. are up for election too, but the only one that’s actually going to be close is superintendent of public instruction– the chief policymaker for California’s schools. It’s also the only one where you can’t just vote based on party because it’s technically a “nonpartisan” race– but of course everything in politics has sides and the two clearly represent competing agendas from the left and right, with the outcome of this race potentially rippling across the country
. The easiest way to see is by following the money– Torlakson’s backing mainly comes from teachers, while Marshall Tuck is funded largely by a small crowd of extremely wealthy individuals. Personally I’m tired of the much-trumpeted but mostly-failed education agenda that Tuck represents– at its core, it blames teachers for most of the problems in education and pushes high-stakes testing for students followed by closing down low-performing schools and converting schools into charters. Despite the countless millions poured into these experiments by Wall Street types who think they know a lot about schools, the results have been mixed and mediocre while sparking huge backlash from parents, teachers and students in places like Chicago
. Meanwhile, under Torlakson’s watch, California’s graduation rate just hit a record high.
Torlakson’s done a good job with the limited resources he’s had to work with and deserves our vote.