California 2018 Primary Voter Guide

California 2018 Primary Voter Guide

It’s voting time again!  California’s statewide primary is Tuesday, June 5–or as soon as you send in your vote-by-mail ballot, if you’re smart.  In addition to all the twenty-something-candidate open primary races for a handful of statewide elected offices you forget even exist until this time every four years, there are five propositions on the ballot because someone in our state’s history decided that we should make voting as painful as possible.

If it were up to me, California’s masochistic obsession with direct democracy would be limited to general election ballots, when the largest numbers of our already dismally low turnout are actually engaged, but I don’t make the rules.  And at the end of the day, I’d rather have an informed electorate, than an apathetic one.

With that in mind, my recommendations on the five propositions on the primary ballot are outlined below.  As a reminder, you can read about my overall philosophy on approaching propositions here, but the short explanation is: the default position should be a NO vote unless there is a good reason to change the status quo, AND the proposition should be a good solution to the problem to earn a YES vote.

I haven’t spent as much time as would have liked researching and preparing this guide, so I also recommend seeking out other voter guides and endorsements to compare and contrast.  Obviously, it’s best to seek out the opinion of sources that you agree with most, but it’s worth noting that major newspapers throughout the state differ somewhat in their recommendations.  (For reference, the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and San Diego Union-Tribune all have convenient summaries of their endorsements.  I should also note that I have specific disagreements with all of them, and would generally recommend against using the San Diego Union-Tribune as a guide, but that’s just me.  And I would have included the Sacramento Bee in this list as well, but they have interactive tool for their voter guide and endorsements that is really only useful if you live in the Sacramento region.)


Prop 68: YES

Proposition 68 is a $4.1 billion bond proposal that would fund parks, water resources, and conservation efforts, including preparations for climate change.

Frankly, everything supported in this bond measure should be funded in the standard state budget, but sadly that is not the case.  Despite the relatively prosperous position our state budget is in today, we still haven’t fully repaired the drastic cuts forced by the 2008 recession.  This may not be the ideal way to fund these initiatives, but it may be the most expedient.

I recommend a YES vote.


Prop 69: NO

Proposition 69 would require that all new revenue from the increases in diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees be dedicated to transportation projects (this is already the case for the increased gas tax).  

On its face, this sounds reasonable, but I am philosophically skeptical of ballot box budgeting, and I am wary of the motivations behind the bill.  I am also concerned about how “transportation projects” is defined in this proposition, which would permanently amend the state constitution. There is some suggestion that this proposition is an effort to appease Republicans in an attempt to gain their support for the new gas tax, which is a sisyphean effort to begin with, and not a motivation I’m particularly interested in supporting.  And if the restrictions in the proposition mean that the state is forced to spend money expanding freeways, and prevents us from funding transportation alternatives or efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of fossil-fuel based transportation system, then we’ll be worse off than before we increased the gas tax. Our state budget is already hamstrung by well-intentioned but poorly implemented propositions, and we should be wary of efforts that would repeat our past mistakes.

I recommend a NO vote.


Prop 70: HELL NO

Proposition 70 would require a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature to determine how the state’s cap-and-trade revenue is spent in 2024 (and only in 2024).

This is nothing but a cynical ploy to gum up the works of California’s landmark cap-and-trade program for no reason.  And it may also be a thinly disguised plot to further delay progress on California’s high speed rail project. There really is no point at all to this proposition.  Cap-and-trade is already law in California, it’s not a new tax, and nothing about it should be subject to further two-thirds vote requirements, which only serve to require stupid bargains like the one that created this proposition in the first place.

I emphatically recommend a NO vote on this asinine proposition.


Prop 71: NO

Proposition 71 would delay implementation of ballot measures until five days after all votes have been counted and the results of the vote have been certified by the Secretary of State (currently propositions go into effect the day after the election, unless otherwise stated in the measure language).  

Once again, this measure sounds reasonable, but I’m not convinced it solves a real problem.  Ballot initiative authors should probably be more thoughtful about including implementation dates in the official language, but proponents of this proposition struggle to point to examples of the status quo resulting in any real problems.  Even in the LA Times endorsement of this proposition, the best example they could come up with was that grocery stores started charging fees for plastic bags before we were completely sure that the proposition supporting the plastic bag ban had passed in 2016 (it did, and the fees were completely legal).  For me, another less trivial example comes to mind. In 2008, California voters–in what now seems like an moment of extremely out-of-character stupidity–passed Proposition 8, defining legal marriage as only between a man and a woman, and overturning a previous state supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriage.  As it was, the passage of Prop 8 created a mess of legal confusion. Were the marriages performed in the brief period when they were allowed still legal? Could the voters overturn a decision of the California Supreme Court? Now imagine if same-sex marriages had continued until the 2008 election vote was certified.  Would there have been a rush of gay and lesbian couples trying to get married under the wire, even though we all knew the proposition had passed? And would those marriages have been seen as valid under legal challenge? Prop 8 was terrible enough as it was, but is it possible it could have been even worse under these proposed rules?  If these seem like irrational hypotheticals, they are no more unreasonable than the examples supporters of this proposition have cited as motivation. At the end of the day, I’m just not convinced that this is a problem that needs solving.

I recommend a NO vote.


Prop 72: YES

Proposition 72 would prevent the installation of a rain-water capture system from triggering a reassessment of property taxes based on added property value.  

Although my understanding is that Proposition 13 protects homeowners (excessively) from most property tax reassessments, this measure is consistent with a similar approach to the addition of solar photovoltaic systems.  It may be largely unnecessary, but it makes sense that the state should avoiding punishing homeowners for making the kinds of investments that reduce strain on our natural resources, especially in a state as prone to drought as California.  

I recommend a YES vote.


A Note on California’s Open Primary

Although our general policy at people[PLACES]spaces has been to focus on propositions, and to not take any positions endorsing individual candidates, I want to address some of the recent discourse around California’s unique open primary system.

There’s been a fair bit of hand wringing lately (including here, here, and here) about how California’s open primary system has largely failed to produce the “moderate” candidates that then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger promised when he proposed the reform.  Instead, the top-two primary system can result in races that pit two members of the same party against each other, even in some statewide races. The most notable example of this so far was the 2016 U.S. Senate race when Kamala Harris faced fellow-Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the general election.  But I actually see this as a strength of the top-two primary system.

At it’s best, the open primary produces a general election ballot that is a choice between the two best options for a given electorate.  In a state with 53 congressional districts (not to mention state assembly and senate districts), some of which very heavily favor one party over the other, it makes no sense to insist on a Democrat vs. Republican general election.  There are places in California, for example, where it would be much more logical for voters to choose between a Democrat and a Green, or between and Democrat and a Democratic Socialist; or conversely, between an evangelical Republican and a libertarian Republican.  This philosophy also extends to statewide races, where it would make much more sense, for example, for gubernatorial front-runner Gavin Newsom to face a fellow Democrat in the general election, rather than a Republican who has almost zero chance of winning. Similarly, it makes sense for a moderate incumbent U.S. Senator like Dianne Feinstein to face someone to her left, to create a decision that more appropriately reflects the policy opinions of most Californians.

The open primary isn’t perfect.  It requires a new way of thinking about how our elections work–I would argue, a healthier way of thinking.  And it may benefit from some tweaks (maybe some sort of modified ranked choice system to address the races with especially large fields).  Incumbents shouldn’t be guaranteed re-election just by virtue of their incumbency and their affiliation. And party affiliation shouldn’t guarantee a spot on the ballot if the party is out of touch with the will of the voters.  On the whole, our open primary system produces better election choices and better outcomes for California voters.


Anyway, remember to vote on or before Tuesday, June 5.  Happy voting!