A Halfway Decent Progressive Guide to CA Propositions 2016

A little bit about this guide:

  1. 14725763_10154474556706043_1264228824933015289_nI believe being a progressive means paying for the needs of our community, like education, healthcare and infrastructure.  I believe it means ending the vast racial inequality embedded deeply within systems like our prison system and education system.  And I believe it means siding with workers, the environment, and the health and safety of the public over corporate profits.
  2. I care about the backstory of initiatives: who created it and funded it and why?  Are they a trusted advocate for that issue in the past?  What are their motives and what are the motives of their opponents?  Who profits and who loses if this passes or fails?
  3. I always vote against propositions that are not what they seem or aim to deceive or manipulate voters.  I think the initiative system is too often abused: hiding one agenda behind the guise of something else, using a competing initiative to confuse voters from supporting another, or claiming to do something that its authors know it actually won’t.
  4. Full disclosure, I’ve been campaigning for Props 55, 56 and 57 as part of a coalition of social justice groups running the largest grassroots field campaign in California.
  5. There are no more pictures.  Sorry.


Builds and repairs schools

California schools are usually built and repaired through bonds—borrowing money and paying it back over time.  Often local school districts pay part and the state matches the rest.  Prop 51 is a bigass statewide school bond.  California could use a lot more money to fix our crumbling schools.  The sticky issue with school bonds is inequality.  More of the statewide money from Prop 51 may go to wealthier districts who can more easily match the state’s funding.  But that also shows why we need a statewide school bond like Prop 51 in the first place– for poorer districts who struggle to finance new schools by themselves yet often have the most need for new schools.


Keeps hospital funding for low-income healthcare

This is probably the wonkiest, most obscure thing on the ballot this year.  Hospitals in California pay a fee: part goes back to the state, part goes back to hospitals as grants for treating low-income patients.  During California’s budget crisis years ago, the state took more than its usual share to help close the state deficit, which hospitals hated.  Prop 52 continues this fee (which is set to expire soon) while protecting the chunk of money meant for low-income healthcare from being raided for other purposes.  The state hospital association is sponsoring this initiative, and there’s no real organized opposition, so why not?

PROP 53 – NO

Makes it harder to build infrastructure

Prop 53 is bankrolled by one Dean Cortopassi, some rich guy obsessed with stopping the state’s Delta water tunnels because they would go through his land.  (California water politics is kinda nuts.)  Prop 53 would require voter approval any time the state borrows money to build infrastructure.  Funny thing though: general bonds that we repay with our taxes already require voter approval (remember voting for that high speed rail in 2008?).  The only bonds that don’t already require voter approval are the ones taxpayers aren’t on the hook for (like bridges that are paid for by the tolls charged to drivers crossing them).  So Prop 53 claims to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.  Even more obnoxiously, Prop 53 requires a statewide 2/3rds supermajority vote for local projects.  If we need some infrastructure in a particular community– say, to deal with a catastrophic fucking drought—if just 34% of voters in California don’t know or care about it, they can vote down the project.

PROP 54 – NO

Puts delays on state lawmaking to serve Republican interests

Prop 54 is funded by Charles Munger Jr., one of the biggest Republican mega-donors in the state.  I remember him from the millions he spent against a proposition I campaigned for in 2012 that taxed the wealthy to end our years of budget cuts to education.  So I’m inclined to oppose anything he likes.  Prop 54 is often sold as the proposition to put state bills online (as one viral voter guide put it “because it’s 2016”).  But uhh, here’s the thing though.  State legislation is already online.  It’s fucking here.  What Prop 54 more specifically does, is require all amendments to bills to be posted online 3 days before being voted on.  Important legislation often comes down to the wire, with last-minute negotiations and compromises between different sides of an issue being hammered out just before a final vote as the clock ticks towards the deadline.  Democracy is messy like that.  Republicans created Prop 54 to slow down the regular functioning of the state government by making every amendment take 3 days.  They don’t want our Democratic-controlled legislature to be efficient and productive and like… do things. Especially things like funding healthcare and education and fighting climate change and protecting people from being ripped off by corporations.  In fact, as someone who worked on it, I can tell you if Prop 54 had been in place, we couldn’t have passed the historic bill to give farmworkers equal rights to overtime this year.  Prop 54 will probably pass because it sounds good, but I’m voting against it.


Extends tax on wealthy that stopped budget cuts to our schools

In the 1970’s, California schools were the envy of the nation, but now we rank near the bottom, alongside peers like Louisiana and Mississippi.  For much of my time in school, California was in constant budget crisis, laying off teachers, cutting programs like afterschool tutoring and art and music, and raising college tuition.  But in 2012, we passed a tax on the richest 2% of Californians to fund our schools.  The usual anti-tax boys who cry wolf howled that it would sink California’s economy, all the rich people would leave and we’d never get our budget on track.  But after Prop 30 passed, not only did we finally stop the years of cuts and balance our budget, California’s economy grew faster than the rest of the country.  If this temporary tax expires, our schools will go right back to taking billions in devastating budget cuts.  Prop 55 extends the current tax rates on the wealthiest people to keep our schools funded until the year 2030.   It’s been an incredible success, so let’s keep it going.


Raises cigarette tax to fund healthcare

Public health advocates have long been trying to raise California’s relatively low tobacco tax, which has been flat since 1998.  Tobacco is our number one preventable cause of death and creates massive healthcare costs treating lung disease and cancer.  Tobacco companies target youth in low-income communities to get addicted at an early age.  The U.S. Surgeon General says raising the tobacco tax is one of the most effective ways to keep young people from starting to smoke– they may not care about public health warnings, but they’re still broke teenagers.  But the big reason to support Prop 56 isn’t the tax, but where the money goes.  Over 80% goes to MediCal, the primary source of healthcare for low-income California families who can’t afford private health insurance.  MediCal is underfunded and many doctors won’t accept it.  When low-income families get sick, it’s hard to find a quality doctor nearby who will take them, and they face long wait times and limited treatment options.  Prop 56’s $2 tax on tobacco products raises billions to boost MediCal funding.  The remaining funds go to smoking prevention programs in schools and research to cure smoking-related diseases.  Prop 56 will literally save lives by reducing teen smoking and improving healthcare treatment.  Even if you’re a smoker, you should ask yourself: is $2 a pack worth saving lives to you?


Reforms our overcrowded prison system 

Prop 57 is a critical step to reform our broken prison system.  The United States, the supposed land of the free, has more people in prison than any other country in the world.  With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 22% of the world’s prisoners.  California’s prisons are so inhumanely overcrowded, the Supreme Court ordered us to reduce our prison population.  The explosive growth of our prisons over the last few decades costs an eye-popping $50k per prisoner per year, compared to less than $10k we invest in each student.  Our prison system is vastly unfair: Latinos in California are imprisoned at a rate double that of whites, and black Californians are imprisoned at ten times the rate.  But not only is the system unfair and expensive, it’s ineffective at actually turning people’s lives around to stop the root cause of crime.  Young people make dumb mistakes—the white kids get community service, the black kids get jail time.  Youth who get sent to prison come out with no education or job experience, and a criminal record that keeps them from getting a job or going back to school.  With no opportunities to move their lives forward, they end up in a revolving door in and out of the prison system for life.  Prop 57 lets people who participate in education, job training, or rehabilitation programs earn time off their sentences.  This helps people finally break the cycle of being in and out of jail and get their lives on the right track instead.


Ends the ban on bilingual education

This issue traces its roots to the 90’s, when California was swept by anti-immigrant backlash.  It was the peak of the immigration wave from Mexico and Trump-style immigration politics had swept the state.  Hard to believe now but in the 90’s, California was a red state, whose voters elected a hardline anti-immigrant governor and voted in a series of harsh initiatives to punish immigrants.  Back in 1998, California voters banned bilingual education– classes would have to be taught in English only.  If a kid comes to the U.S. from Mexico, and they’re great at math and science, but don’t really speak English, a teacher who speaks Spanish is banned from teaching them math or science in Spanish.  While they struggle to learn English, a process which takes years, they fall farther and farther behind in all their classes.  Personally I think our education system’s goal shouldn’t be to convert students from their first language to English, but for them to fluently speak, read and write both.  In a globalized economy, multilingual proficiency is a huge asset, and one that we should promote in all of our students, including those born in the US.  Prop 58 says let’s just do away with this ban and its outdated politics, and give local teachers and principals the choice of how to teach.


Symbolically supports overturning Citizens United

Remember Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that decided since corporations share the same legal rights as people, that they have the “free speech” right to spend unlimited amounts of money buying our elections?  Shitty, right?  People want to amend the constitution to change that, but it’s not that easy.  Founding Fathers thought they were so damn smart.  You need a 2/3rds vote in both the House and Senate, and then 3/4ths of all state legislatures.  Kinda difficult when most state and federal representatives depend on corporate cash to fuel their campaign ads and when the party that controls both houses of Congress and the vast majority of state legislatures (rhymes with Shmepublicans) will fight it to the death because they would lose more money than their opponents.  So California activists put a symbolic resolution on the ballot to be voted on by the people.  Prop 59 doesn’t change anything now, but it’s part of a long game to build momentum by sending a message that voters want corporate money out of politics.

PROP 60 – NO

Requires condoms in porn

This is the hardest one to get guidance on because so few trusted organizations have taken an official stance since the topic involves icky penises. I originally supported Prop 60, because I think all workers should have the protective safety equipment needed in their job to keep them from getting injured, sick or dead.  Construction workers need hardhats, people in labs handling chemicals need gloves and masks, sex workers need condoms.  And I don’t trust any industry to regulate itself for worker safety.  And beyond preventing porn actors from contracting HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc., I think there’s a broader value in promoting condom use since so many young people (especially in more conservative communities) receive much of their education about sex from porn.  But after getting pushback from sources I trust, what ultimately convinced me is that it really seems like most workers in the industry, including the Adult Performer Actors Guild and the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, are against Prop 60.  In the end, to me this is a labor issue, and I trust workers to know their own conditions better than the rest of us, including everything from concerns like “condom rash” from working long days of epic sex rubbing on latex, to the relative effectiveness of STD testing versus condoms, to the risk of greater dangers for porn actors if the industry goes underground in the wake of the heavy-handed enforcement mechanisms written into Prop 60.  I do still believe worker safety standards in porn and other forms of sex work need to be set, but they should be written in a way that values and raises up the voices of the workers, rather than imposing rules from above like Prop 60 does.


Curbs pharmaceutical prices

Also known as “the one Bernie Sanders is campaigning for”.  It uses the power of public healthcare programs to curb the abuses of the pharmaceutical industry:  Mylan bought Epipen and raised the price from $58 to $600.  Infamous “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli bought the AIDS drug Daraprim and raised it from $13.50 to $750.  These guys know they can charge whatever they want because people have almost unlimited demand for their product because it’s literally a matter of life or death. There’s no stable equilibrium– prices for life-saving medication just shoot up for seemingly no reason other than pleasing Wall Street shareholders.  But in many other countries, prescription drugs cost far less than in the U.S.  Their big public universal healthcare programs negotiate with drug companies on behalf of their citizens.  Like WalMart, the bigger you are, the more buying power you have, letting you demand low prices from your suppliers.  A pharmaceutical company might want to jack up its prices, but it can’t afford to lose the millions of people in Canada’s healthcare system.  So Canadians on average pay 23% less for prescription drugs than we do.  We actually do this in the US too– for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs negotiates drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and pays over 20% less than other agencies.  Prop 61 would peg the prices that California healthcare programs pay for medication to whatever price the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs negotiates with drug companies.  Prop 61 uses a strategy proven to work across the world to generate huge savings that stay in our pockets instead of going into the pockets of Big Pharma.


Ends the death penalty

There are two reasons to end the death penalty:  money and morals.  It’s great that it would save us money, but for me it’s about the morals.  A criminal justice system as clearly biased as ours has no business killing people.  All justice systems make mistakes sometimes– innocent people are put behind bars and guilty people walk free.  But an execution is the ultimate and final injustice, a mistake that can never be undone. That’s why over the last few decades, nearly two thirds of countries across the world abolished it.  Human beings in the future will likely see the death penalty in the same way we now view locking someone up in the stocks or chaining them up in a dungeon.  But for now, the U.S. remains one of the few countries committed to the death penalty, with our government carrying out the fifth highest number of executions last year after China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  The truth is, Prop 62 isn’t really much kinder or gentler– it replaces death sentences with life in prison without possibility of parole, where you’re required to work and send 60% of those meager wages to the victim’s family until you die.  But at least as a society we can say we’re better than using murder to punish murder.


Regulates buying ammunition

Prop 63 is a slightly stronger version of a package of gun control measures the state legislature passed a few months ago.  Backstory: California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom really wants to be governor.  Lieutenant Governor sounds important, but doesn’t have much power to accomplish substantial things you can put your name on.  So Newsom sponsored a ballot proposition to reduce gun violence.  Some in the legislature who had been working on gun control for years, felt this was an annoying publicity tactic, and passed some bills that basically did the same thing.  This makes Prop 63 pretty anticlimactic– its biggest principles are already passed– requiring a background check to buy ammo and banning the high-capacity magazines used in mass shootings.  But Prop 63 goes farther in terms of enforcement– it creates a $50 permit to buy ammunition that sellers can easily check, while putting harsher penalties on underground ammo sales, gun theft and illegal gun ownership.  This isn’t just for show.  Tools like registration systems and serious penalties help turn a law on the books into something that’s actually followed in real life.  And there’s a pretty strong correlation between countries and states with stricter gun laws and places with fewer gun deaths.  The political games surrounding this proposition were childish, but Prop 63 will still probably save lives.


Legalizes marijuana

Hey, it’s the weed one! It’s technically illegal in California, although you probably don’t know anybody who smokes pot who has a hard time getting it.  However, while we don’t send people to prison for smoking it here anymore, we’re still throwing plenty of black and brown kids behind bars for selling it (while white college kids get a slap on the wrist).  Prop 64 legalizes, regulates and taxes the use and sale of recreational marijuana. It keeps it illegal to sell or advertise to minors (under 21), drive under the influence, or use it in public (basically alcohol rules, and marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol).  Eventually, like alcohol, big corporations will probably take over the industry.  But for the first five years, large-scale cultivation will be banned, giving smaller growers a chance to establish themselves.  With a massive shift in public opinion in recent years, legal marijuana seems to be just a matter of time.  People are going to keep doing it, so Prop 64 ensures we have an open system where the production meets environmental and labor standards and where kids aren’t going to jail or being killed by cartel violence.

PROP 65 – NO

Deceptive initiative from plastics industry

Prop 65 seems good at first glance.  If California bans plastic grocery bags and puts a fee on paper, shouldn’t those fees go to environmental projects?  Hmmm… yet essentially every real environmental organization in the state opposes Prop 65.  That’s because it was put on the ballot by the plastic industry, who’s been fighting the plastic bag ban for years.  Their goal is to confuse voters and spread a cynical message– that the plastic bag ban isn’t really about protecting the environment, it’s actually some vast conspiracy by the all-powerful grocery stores to make huuuuge profits by charging you 10 cents for a paper bag if you forget your reusable cloth bag at home.  Oh thank goodness the noble plastic companies will stand up for the environment since no one else will!  No one should be rewarded for putting stupid shit like this on the ballot, especially self-serving corporate interests.  Trust California’s environmental organizations, not plastic companies, and vote no on 65.

PROP 66 – NO

Speeds Up the Death Penalty

Prop 66 is a competing initiative against Prop 62 that speeds up the death penalty instead of ending it.  Its real goal is to keep the death penalty by peeling off some of the voters who want to end it, not because of the morals, but because of the money.  Progressives see the death penalty as inhumane.  But some conservatives want to end our current system in California because it’s so costly and ineffective.  A death sentence actually costs 18 times more than a life sentence without parole, due to extra high security on death row (a bunch of people with nothing to lose), and a much more drawn out legal process (death row inmates often fight their decisions in court until the end).  With support for ending the death penalty at an all-time high, conservatives realized their most effective strategy was to put Prop 66 on the ballot and split the vote, denying Prop 62 the majority vote needed to pass.  But by speeding up the death penalty process to save money, you increase the likelihood of killing innocent people. The problem with the death penalty is both money and morals, and we shouldn’t save money by abandoning our morals.


Bans single-use plastic grocery bags

I worked a bit on this in my college days.  I still remember some of the facts, like the swirling mass of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas.  Our society’s insane use of single-use plastic products for literally everything is filling our oceans and rivers, our most beautiful open spaces, and our streets and neighborhoods, with plastic shit we use for five minutes and then toss away to blow around the world for thousands and thousands of years and end up in the bellies of dead wildlife.  This has been a long time coming, with countless cities and counties across California passing local bans, followed by a statewide ban passed by our legislature, which was suspended as the plastics industry funded an effort to try to kill it.  Now it’s on the ballot for you to have the final say.  I first worked on this in 2010 and it’s been held up since then by corporate fuckery.  It’s time to just get this over with already.  Just buy a few reusable cloth bags for like 99 cents each (or be a scavenger like me and look for free giveaways).  Save some damn sea turtles bro, it’s really not that difficult.

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