Sunday, October 16, 2016

The worst ballot ever: part one, the candidates

My crazy California ballot has arrived and I aim to get it out the door ASAP. Why the hurry? If the San Francisco registrar is competent, and the campaigns are competent, I'll then drop off the radar and stop getting robocalls, human calls, and bushels of campaign mail. I don't count on it, but it seems worth a try.

As far as California federal and state officeholders go, there's not much that matters here. I'll vote for Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate with a certain lack of fervor. That's not entirely her fault; her only opponent on the ballot is another, slightly less desirable, Democrat as a consequence of the deeply discriminatory top-two primary system we have in this state. When enthusiasm and accident align, small parties and even some Republicans at the state level will never even get to put their case to the voters in the general election here where Democratic registration is 44 percent to GOP 29 percent. This is just wrong. Primaries should not limit which political parties get to present their case. As for Harris herself, she's been an acceptable Attorney General and would rise in my estimation if she ordered her office to investigate the case of Amilcar Perez Lopez, killed by the SFPD. But I am not holding my breath about that before the election.

My Congresscritter Nancy Pelosi will be re-elected in a walk. That's good for the country; she's a good leader for wobbly House Democrats. She is sometimes far to the right of her constituents, but at this point her constituency is the Democratic Party, not us.

I do face a State Senate race that matters. Our incumbent is termed out (stupid rule) and I'll be voting for Jane Kim. She wasn't my first choice some years ago for the San Francisco supervisor seat she currently occupies, but I was impressed even then by the competence and energy of her campaign. Should the quality of a campaign matter in choosing a candidate? Perhaps it is not the most important variable, but it matters to me as someone who works in elections. She's been a generally progressive supervisor and not part of the tech money club that is transforming the city without residents consent. Her opponent never met a landlord or developer he didn't cozy up to.

No Assembly vote. I'm still unhappy after seeing a run-of-the-mill big money chasing Democrat succeed to a seat which had been occupied by the termed-out progressive pol I admire most, Tom Ammiano. Local enmities run deep.

I don't think we should be voting on judges. It's a bad practice, exposing aspirants to the temptations of campaigning -- raising money and charming barely concerned voters. It's really hard for most of us to form intelligent opinions about judicial qualifications. Judges usually agree, retiring midterm so governors can put in their choice. Then they stand for election as incumbents, sometimes drawing challengers. This year, we're facing several aspirants for an opening as a Superior Court Judge (the lowest tier of the state system.) I'm voting for Victor Hwang, convinced by the Bay Guardian endorsements. In this case, it is a team thing: Hwang's opponent comes out of Mayor Ed Lee's big tech money axis. These guys need as many knocks up side the head as we can give them, so Hwang gets my vote.

As a resident of San Francisco's Supervisor District 9, I'm voting on one of these this year too. That's easy. Hillary Ronen is one smart lady. Like that other Hillary, she comes across as deep in the policy weeds; I've watched her sit in meetings taking in the noise and crosstalk, then raise points that show she is already thinking through the thicket of accumulated law and practice that might matter to achieve implementation. And she's part of a team, a slate of candidates who will work to assure that Ed Lee can't entirely give away the city to his tech money backers. The others, each running their own local races are Sandra Fewer in District 1; Aaron Peskin in District 3; Dean Preston in District 5; and Kimberly Alvarenga in District 11.

Ah yes -- then we get to the School Board. I am deeply certain that most of us should not be voting in this contest. Those of us without kids or other young relatives in the schools, what do we know about the kind of local education policies which these people determine? Not much. I worked very hard once to elect a School Board candidate and she not only won, she came in first out of eight or so. Consequently I know what it takes to get elected here: the city votes for 1) the people whose names they encountered most often and 2) candidates who tickle the various identity groups into which we divide ourselves. I think I'll follow the Bay Guardian suggestions but I can't manage to feel I have any worthwhile arguments for these choices.

Then there is the Community College Board. Because City College has been fighting for its life for the last half decade, I feel somewhat better informed here. Because San Franciscans struggled long and hard to preserve the sort of community-serving institution that decades of commitment had built (rather than succumb to pressure to downsize into a career certification mill), we've proved we want the school to continue. We've even voted bonds and taxes to pay for it. Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano, and Rafael Mandelman were in the thick of the fight to save City College. Let's see them nurture it!

I get to vote for Bevan Dufty for BART (rapid transit) board. It feels strange; I worked for his opponents when he was District 8 supervisor. But he's been working for improve conditions for homeless people in the years since and my friends who labor in those vineyards give him good marks. So, okay.

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