2014 General Election Edition

Cheat Sheet

Greetings, stalwart citizens of the Golden State! The November 4 election draws nigh, there are six propositions in your Voter Information Guide, and you seek counsel, yes? You’ve come to the right place. New initiates, you’ll probably want a look at the manifesto, which briefly tells you how we are about what we are about. Old friends and fans, welcome back. Let’s give y’all what you came for. On to the Props!

Proposition 1

Jerry Brown’s Big Water Bond

You Should Vote: YES

The Big Water Bond would raise more than $7 billion for water-related infrastructure projects throughout the state. It is probably a shoe-in during this time of extreme drought, but should you be on board with it? Before we tell you how we think it shakes out, some background.

The Big Water Bond used to be a lot bigger. An $11 billion bond was set to appear on our ballots in 2010, but everyone had recession migraines and the Governator (ha! remember him?) and the Legislature realized there was no way they’d get the voters to approve a Big Water Bond, so they kicked the proposition down the road to the 2012 ballot. Then 2012 rolled around, and Governor Jerry Brown needed everyone to vote yes on Prop 30 (the tax increase we did in fact pass). He didn’t want a Big Water Bond on the same ballot with a Big Tax Increase, so guess what got kicked down the road again?

Which brings us to 2014, and the present drought, which makes for a perfect opportunity here, and Governor Brown knows it. To seal the deal, he and legislative leaders shrank the measure this past summer, and included some provisions that cater to rural, Republican districts. This revised $7 billion deal is Prop 1.

Remind yourself that modern California — in both its urban and rural/agricultural varieties — could not exist without the vast array of “water projects” the state has built over the last hundred years. The heart of this system is the California State Water Project, undertaken in 1960. That aqueduct you see playing hide and seek with I-5 in the Central Valley? The one named after Governor Brown’s daddy? That’s a man-made river moving water from north to south, and it is part of what the Wikipedia currently describes as “the world’s largest publicly built and operated water and power development and conveyance system.” Los Angeles could not be a megalopolis without it. Parts of the Central Valley would dry up without it. In other words, this is a crucial bit of Golden State infrastructure. (The next time a Tea Party nutbag tells you government is useless, remember the aqueduct.) Now, if you think such a system is worthy of enhancement and expansion — both of which require investment — then you mark the ‘yes’ box for Prop 1.

Is it really that simple? Of course not. There are two strong arguments against Prop 1. The first is environmental. There is no doubt that some of the projects this measure will eventually fund (we’re mainly talking about dams, here) will not be, shall we say, environmentally-neutral. Environmental groups are actually split over whether Prop 1 should be supported; some groups, such as the Sierra Club, have ducked the issue entirely, rendering no opinion, the chickenshits. But some people feel that dams are basically man-made, slow-motion natural disasters, and Mad Props will not argue this point. If you’re a dam-hater, vote ‘no’ here and for once, we won’t begrudge you for ignoring our recommendation.

The other argument against Prop 1 is trickier. Since the middle of the last century, the deal on big water projects in California was that private beneficiaries of those projects (like, say, industrial-scale farms in the Central Valley) helped foot the bill. These days, the corporations that control large swaths of the state’s interior farmland aren’t so civic-minded; they’re not about to cough up any dough. You might feel it’s sneaky and low-down for Big Agra to have taxpayers foot the bill for infrastructure that will bring Big Agra millions in profits. You’d be right. But the infrastructure investment is necessary no matter what. The thing to do is pass Prop 1 now and get that work started. Worry about making corporations pay their fair share later; that’s actually a separate fight, and it’s coming along within another few election cycles, mark our words. Corporate tax rates will soon be a much bigger political issue than they are today.

Bottom line: Prop 1 is obviously not perfect, but if we wait around for perfection, nothing’s gonna get done, and we’ve got this drought a-cookin’ us right through, and you know there’s plenty more of that to come. We dig the fact that the measure has already been pared down — focused, you might say — and no longer includes funding for Governor Brown’s extremely controversial Delta tunnels plan. Prop 1 is a good start at ensuring that California can keep the faucets running later this century. You can trust Governor Brown on this one. We urge you to vote yes on Prop 1.

Proposition 2

Jerry Brown’s Rainy Day Fund

You Should Vote: YES

Prop 2 is a bit of a cinch. It is a very straightforward measure, backed by Governor Brown, which will force Sacramento to be somewhat less reckless with our money. The details, if you want them, are spelled out very clearly and succinctly in your Voter Information Guide (two charts, one table!); the basic idea is that when the economy is good and the state government is flush with money, we will use more of that money to pay down existing debt, and we will sock away some of that money in a Rainy Day Fund. This measure is put before us so that we can avoid the kind of nightmares that arose during the latest economic recession. You all remember how we had to burn down schools to keep warm and such. We don’t want that to happen again.

Seriously, the schools really did take it on the chin over the last several years, in part because when the recession hit, Governor Schwarzenegger rerouted money that should have gone to local school districts, leaving them high and dry. There are some well-meaning people out there — they call themselves Educate Our State — who believe Prop 2 is another attack on local districts. These folks provide the only signatures under the “No on 2” arguments in your Voter Information Guide. Here is their problem: they are wackjobs who understand the systems at play here so poorly that on their own website, where they purport to answer the question “Why has Educate Our State come out in opposition to Proposition 2?”, you will read a short, histrionic “answer” that makes vague accusations and does not even make logical sense.

Prop 2 is responsible, sound legislation that will cushion the blow at the state level and in local school districts the next time the economy goes into the shitter. Do us all a great favor, and vote yes on Prop 2.

Proposition 45

Healthcare Insurance Regulation

You Should Vote: NO

There’s a No on 45 TV commercial floating around (although apparently not on the web) that is particularly sour. A pissed-off-looking fifty-something white dude sneers at the camera and says this measure will put “too much power in the hands of one elected politician.” The contempt with which the man speaks the phrase “elected politican” is visceral. The ad targets the kind of voter who hates politics and politicians — the same kind of voter who eats it up every time those damnable “unelected judges” are invoked (ignoring the fact that unelected judges are far less corruptible than elected ones, and that’s why the Founding Fathers gave ’em to us). But we digress.

The “one elected politician” that Angry Commercial Man is so upset about is the State Insurance Commissioner. We’ve been electing one of those every four years since we passed Prop 103 in 1988. This person oversees (regulates, if you like) the auto and homeowners insurance industries in California, and has power over rate increases. It’s a setup that has worked pretty well, and has kept rates low relative to other large states. Prop 45 would expand the Insurance Commissioner’s powers, giving him reign over the health insurance business. That sounds reasonable enough, right?

As usual, it’s more complicated than that. Prop 45’s chief proponent is an outfit called Consumer Watchdog. This is a consumer advocacy group that brought us the aforementioned Prop 103. They make millions by “intervening” in Prop 103-mandated machinations. They actually have a lot to gain if this measure passes, because they’ll be able to do a lot more intervening. Here’s how Ballotpedia explains it:

California has had an “intervenor” program since 2003. This program pays legal fees from the state’s Proposition 103 (1988) fund to parties who intervene in rate filings with the California Department of Insurance. According to the Department of Insurance, Consumer Watchdog has been the most commonly listed intervenor in rate filings since 2003 … In 2009, the group received close to $2.5 million for intervening.

Now, Consumer Watchdog’s opposition — more on them presently — wants you to think there’s something terribly dirty going on here, or that Consumer Watchdog is laughing all the way to the bank. Our take is a little different: $2.5 million? To undertake work that obviously requires numerous trained professionals, and ultimately keeps the insurance companies more honest? Seems cheap at the price.

Now let’s talk about real money. Kaiser Permanente, the largest health insurer in the state, has spent nearly $15 million smearing Consumer Watchdog and putting misleading commercials on your TV. Wellpoint, another insurer, has spent almost $13 million, and Blue Shield has spent more than $9.6 million. Whatever these companies are afraid of must be good for us, right? Hell, the Mad Propster, himself born in a Kaiser hospital and a lifelong Kaiser patient, is usually Kaiser’s biggest defender, a total #1 fan, but he will readily admit it is the most extreme kind of horseshit that Kaiser will spend $15 million to defeat some regulation it doesn’t like, but cannot be bothered to adequately staff its mental health departments. So let’s stick it to these guys, right? Yes on 45, right?

No. The right answer is ‘no’ on 45, but not for any of the reasons being put forth by the big insurers. As the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee both explain, if we pass Prop 45, the real casualty will be a thing called Covered California. That’s the state health insurance exchange set up under Obamacare, and it’s the reason why Obamacare is working out pretty well in the Golden State. Covered California provides a working marketplace for affordable health insurance, a marketplace that would be flung into disarray if it suddenly came under the control of the Insurance Commissioner. In essence, Prop 45 would change the rules only a year after Covered California got its start — pulling the rug out from under the program just as it is coming up to speed.

It may very well be that we need health care insurance reform at the state level, but this is not the year to do it. There are well over a million Californians who have access to health care thanks to Covered California. Let’s protect that advance. Give Covered California the chance to keep operating in the environment it was designed for, and vote no on 45.

Proposition 46

Mad Medicine

You Should Vote: NO

Talk about an ungodly mess of a measure. Prop 46 does three rather unrelated things: (1) requires random drug testing of doctors, (2) quadruples limits on medical malpractice awards, and (3) expands the use of a statewide prescription database that tracks who’s using certain prescribed drugs.

Does it matter where we begin? These are all terrible ideas. Working backwards: the prescription database (named CURES, according to the Voter Information Guide; isn’t that cute?) is already a reality — and we hate it. On principle, there is something creepy about a government database of who’s-taking-what. Plus, you just know that sucker’s gonna get hacked someday. We shouldn’t be pouring more data into CURES; we should be abandoning it. Now then: increase malpractice awards? When they are already one of the chief reasons health care costs so damned much in this country? Give us a break. And finally: making doctors piss in a cup? Seriously? Have you ever noticed that doctors are some of this society’s most well-paid professionals? Or that they really don’t like being told what to do? Pass this law and they will spend whatever it takes to litigate the drug testing right into the ground, and they will win.

Prop 46 is the brainchild of Robert Pack, who lost two children in an auto accident caused by a prescription drug abuser. Mr. Pack’s grief is unknowable for most of us, and he says this law will keep others from knowing his grief in the future. We are heartened that, unlike so many propositions, this one actually started with a private citizen who cares deeply about a certain issue. But Mr. Pack’s proposition is a rather poor prescription. Vote no on 46.

Proposition 47

Sentencing Reform

You Should Vote: YES

You should vote ‘yes’ on Prop 47 because Jay Z says so.

Not enough? Okay, try this. California has some of the strictest criminal sentencing in the country, and the nation’s strictest three strikes law, the only one which counts nonviolent felonies as third strikes. “Mass incarceration” is something you’ve probably heard of. You probably have an opinion about it. Here is your chance to land a serious blow against that machine. If we pass Prop 47, some nonviolent three-strikers aren’t going to stay in prison until they die. If we pass Prop 47, a lot of casualties of the War on Some Drugs are going to be freed.

The cops, of course, are pissing themselves over this, like they do every time there’s a proposition about what is or is not illegal, or how long we can put people in cages for doing bad things, or whether we can put needles in their arms to kill them if we think they’re bad enough.

The cops say that Prop 47 will lead to dangerous criminals being let loose. The measure’s proponents say that won’t happen. If we pass the law, we’ll find the truth is somewhere in between. You can imagine how the press will cover it when a released three-striker holds up a liquor store. But you can also imagine families reunited. Souls that had lost hope coming back into the light. Can’t you? It’s time for the tide to turn with respect to mass incarceration, and California should take the lead. Follow the compassion in your heart and vote for fewer people in cages. Vote yes on Prop 47.

Proposition 48

Tribal Gaming Compacts

You Should Vote: YES

As the Voter Information Guide explains, this proposition was placed on the ballot by the state legislature; we get to approve or disapprove of what they have done here with respect to Indian gaming.

The most important part of what they did was greenlight a new Indian casino in Madera county. A pretty big one, located near other Indian casinos, on land recently purchased by the North Fork tribe. There are a lot of laws that come into play here; the road to approval is long and requires sign-off from the feds and the state. Quoting the VIG: “In 2011, the federal government determined that gaming on this proposed site would be in the best interest of the tribe and would not be harmful to the surrounding community. The Governor formally agreed with the decision of the federal government in August of 2012.” In other words, all the i’s are dotted; the t’s crossed.

Opposition comes from NIMBYs (we sneer not at them, but if they won every time, we wouldn’t like the results) and from folks who think Indian casinos should all be on reservation land. Well, if you want a law that says Indian casinos must be on reservations, then how about putting that on the ballot? The law as currently written lets the North Fork tribe build this casino if they jump through a whole bunch of hoops and pump a whole bunch of money into the general funds of the relevant county, city, and irrigation district. Which they have done. So let them build their casino already. In fact, as far as Mad Props is concerned, our Native American brothers and sisters can put whatever they want on the ballot; we’ll approve it. We owe them. They were here first, etc. Vote yes on Prop 48.

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Mad Props Readers Speak!

I had already completed my ballot before I read your rundown on the issues. I had already voted for all but one of your choices. And I’m glad that was so, because the writer or writers fed more information than I had. I would check again another time but honestly, I don’t like the “smart ass” presentation, and I might not read it during an approaching election. My sources just told the issues as they saw them without S.M.ing them.

I love Mad Props and have always recommended it to everybody and will continue to do so, but this year I have a disagreement on, precisely, 45 and 46: Briefly, as to Prop. 45, I would rather have a Commissioner and have California Covered, Obamacare, be “flung into disarray” than have the health insurance companies free to raise premiums as frantically and drastically as they have been doing and would do so even more if 45 failed to pass. As for 46, the cap on recoveries for malpractice cases has led the best plaintiffs counsel firms to give up on Malpractice cases because they can’t make enough money on them, whilst therefore opening up the door for further doctor malpractice without fear of litigation. It’s a balancing act between the power of attorneys versus the power of the doctors. But, if they amputate the wrong foot on you, remember that you could have voted to allow more recovery for your damages!

Sound off! Speak your mind!