The Light’s endorsements for the June 3 primary election

05/22/2014

Governor

Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown

Jerry Brown has proven that three decades of reflection can do a man good. Once derided as “Governor Moonbeam,” he proposed outlandish ideas like the state space academy, renounced the governor’s mansion and pursued four failed runs for the senate and presidency. By the time he returned to the governor’s office in 2011, after tenures as mayor of Oakland and attorney general, he had sharpened his goals with a pragmatic approach. Sometimes maddening to the ideologue, Gov. Brown advocates for and vetoes with his conscience. He supported reforms to aid non-citizens, including issuing driver’s licenses, creating protections from workplace discrimination and preventing law enforcement from releasing immigrants to federal authorities for minor crimes; he stopped the buck at allowing undocumented immigrants to serve on juries. He is a believer in fiscal restraint, while also supporting huge investments in infrastructure like the bullet train. He’s tried to balance environmental protections with economic growth, recently drilling a rift with his support for fracking. While we hesitate to endorse his entire policy agenda, Gov. Brown has proven himself a strong leader, particularly in budget negotiations, pension reform and the passage of Prop. 30’s tax increases. Already the longest-serving governor in California history, Gov. Brown has shown he can produce results. We look forward to seeing what he can accomplish in the next four years.

 

Lieutenant Governor

Gavin Newsom

Look at Gavin Newsom’s accomplishments on his campaign page, and you’ll find that most date to his years as mayor of San Francisco. But in his official capacities, Mr. Newsom has served well enough. He chairs the California Commission for Economic Development and pushes for forward-thinking environmental policy—opposing off-shore drilling, facilitating research and land use for renewable energy and seeking full funding for the Coastal Commission—in his roles on the State Lands Commission and the Ocean Protection Council. As a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California he has rejected higher salaries for top executives in favor of keeping tuition low for students. Largely a ceremonial position with real powers that trigger only in the case of the governor’s impeachment, death or resignation, Mr. Newsom is the only candidate we can trust to assume the governor’s position. He appears to be waiting patiently nearby to make a go for it anyway in four years.

 

Secretary of State

Derek Cressman

 The race for secretary of state is crowded with candidates who could all bring something unique to the job. Derek Cressman and Dan Schnur would both be strong advocates for campaign finance rules and transparency, but Mr. Cressman wins out. Although he enters the race as a Democrat, Mr. Cressman has worked for the nonpartisan good-government group Common Cause for 19 years, winning fines against two Koch Brothers groups secretly funding candidates. He brings experience with management and election policy that will benefit him in modernizing the website and registration systems. Alex Padilla, a state senator representing the San Fernando Valley, has demonstrated his resourcefulness in getting things done, but his troubled record of turning down state spending limits in 2006 and 2010 and being fined for breaking city limits in a 1999 race for city council doesn’t bode well for a position about electoral transparency. Be sure you don’t mark now-disgraced State Senator Leland Yee, who was arrested by the F.B.I. in March. Claiming he would “guarantee fair elections, expose special interests and prevent corruption” while taking bribes from an undercover agent, Mr. Yee shows exactly what Mr. Cressman is up against.

 

Controller

Betty T. Yee

The controller pays out the state’s funds, serving as the public’s accountant and bookkeeper. Charged with auditing the state’s operations, Betty Yee has promised to close tax loopholes, be a watchdog against wasteful spending and bring together legislators, unions and employees to address pension plans for teachers and other state employees. With a master’s degree in public administration and experience as chief deputy director for the budget in the state’s Department of Finance, Ms. Yee is qualified for the job. Even in her current post as a member of the Board of Equalization, overseeing revenue from fees and adjudicating tax cases, she has proven she will take strong action: she has worked to make online retailers pay sales tax in California just like brick-and-mortar shops, improved tax equality for same-sex couples and created incentives for green jobs. 

Treasurer 

John Chiang

The flip side of the controller position, the treasurer manages the state’s investments and administers bonds and notes, serving as the public’s banker. John Chiang, the current controller, is best suited for the job. In response to the scandals in Bell, an impoverished municipality where a few public employees dried up coffers with six-figure salaries and pensions worth tens of millions, Mr. Chiang posted public employee salaries online in a searchable database. He has continued to make use of searchable databases with a website that tracks allocations of Prop. 30 funding. His audits have targeted fraud and waste, identifying $7.5 billion dollars of mismanaged funds since 2007. We hope he can continue his excellent record on the other side of the state’s financial offices.

 

Attorney General

Kamala D. Harris

In 2011, Kamala Harris became the first woman, the first African American and the first South Asian elected as the state’s chief law enforcement officer. While she has been wary of confronting some issues head-on—prison realignment and medical marijuana, for example—that could later prove detrimental to her expected run to be the first female governor, her record from the past four years shows many successes. Late last year, her office partnered with local district attorneys to address the post-realignment spike in recidivism by sharing best practices, collecting data to target enforcement and backing social programs as an effective alternative to zero-tolerance prosecution. Though she faced criticism, we were heartened her office declined to defend the state in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop. 8 case that enshrined same-sex marriage in California with a Supreme Court ruling; that she submitted amicus briefs to defend the Affordable Care Act before the nine justices; and that she continues to oppose the death penalty, though sometimes more quietly than we would wish. Her continued emphasis on combating human trafficking and domestic violence are essential to draw attention to issues often kept in the shadows. Ms. Harris’s groundbreaking term as attorney general has much to praise, but we hope she takes on the more difficult aspects of California’s troubled criminal justice system before positioning herself for a higher office.

 

Insurance Commissioner

Dave Jones

The insurance commissioner licenses and examines insurance companies and enforces the state’s regulations. While his Republican opponent would cut back bureaucracy, we support the reelection of Dave Jones, who has effectively used the tools of the office to prosecute wrongdoing in an industry that collects $123 billion annually in premiums. Mr. Jones’s investigations led to more than 2,100 arrests and anti-fraud lawsuits. Most importantly, he has taken on the nuts-and-bolts work of implementing the Affordable Care Act, beginning the moment he was sworn in, when he required eighty cents on every dollar in premiums to be spent on health care, not administration or profits. He has required policies to provide certain basic health benefits, including treatments for autism; mandated that children with pre-existing conditions still be sold policies; and passed protections for necessary medical care regardless of gender. He’s also considered health care providers, lowering insurance rates for medical malpractice. A former legal aid attorney providing free services to the poor, a Sacramento City councilman and an assemblyman who served on health and judiciary committees, Mr. Jones cares deeply about protecting the state’s consumers. He’s dedicated his life to it. It’s in our best interest to elect him for another four years.

 

State Board of Equalization

Fiona Ma

The Board of Equalization, the state’s tax commission, oversees more than one-third of state revenue in two-dozen tax and fee programs, including cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline, and guides county assessors for property taxes. The body also hears appeals for income and franchise tax cases. For the second of four districts, stretching along the coastal counties from Santa Barbara to Del Norte, we default to Ms. Ma over her Republican competitor, James Theis, an organic foods manager who lacks the expertise to meet his goal of protecting “the little guy.” Ms. Ma should emulate Ms. Yee’s proven track record in seeking out tax dollars to which the state is entitled with purpose and persistence. She began her political career hearing property tax appeals in San Francisco before she was elected as a supervisor and eventually became an effective leader in the state assembly. Her experience as a licensed certified public accountant and education in accounting, taxation and business should serve her well on the board.

 

United States Representative

Jared Huffman

Jared Huffman has been criticized in West Marin for not choosing a side in the debate over Drakes Bay Oyster Company. But ranchers in the Point Reyes National Seashore praise his attention to their concerns about tule elk and need to diversify and obtain longer leases; small producers blindsided by the recall of 8.7 million pounds of meat processed by the now-defunct Rancho Feeding Corporation say he advocated for them, protesting the United States Department of Agriculture’s blanket recall. Last year in Congress he sponsored legislation to add 1,255 acres to the California Coastal National Monument; more recently he authored a bill to assist western states ravaged by drought. We look forward to his continued support of sustainable agriculture, and we hope he will be a stronger advocate for West Marin in his next term.

 

State Senator

Mike McGuire

Sonoma County supervisor Mike McGuire has the experience to be an effective progressive legislator in the state senate. In a campaign largely bankrolled by unions, we wish Mr. McGuire had been more transparent with his platform. But his track record shows he has balanced difficult budgets with the need to invest in infrastructure and services. He’s been a strong proponent of environmental protections, co-founding the Clean Water Coalition that stopped Santa Rosa from improperly dumping wastewater. A former school board member and city councilman in Healdsburg, Mr. McGuire will understand how his votes will affect each level of government. Derek Knell, a Novato school board trustee, small business owner and more centrist Democrat, has successfully led the school district through difficult redistricting, but he lacks a realistic view of the scope of a senator’s work, focusing on passing a water bond measure and tackling pension reform. He should be applauded for rejecting campaign contributions from anyone whose employment could be affected by his votes. With more experience, he could be a strong candidate once Mr. McGuire, only 34, continues his political ascendance. 

 

Member of the State Assembly

Diana M. Conti

Two years ago, in the first year of the top-two primary system, San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine knocked out the Democratic incumbent to win his current assembly seat. In the tight race, he appealed to the right of the traditional base by saying he would tackle pension reform, and for it, he has had difficulty working with more liberal colleagues in Sacramento. Only six of the bills he authored have been signed into law, most authorizing minor changes like permitting courts to destroy records, requiring a warning on prescription drugs that could impair driving and allowing boathouse owners to collectively buy a marina put on the market. Levine was the only incumbent not to receive the Democratic Party’s endorsement. His disappointing legislative record might explain why. He did not vote on the bill to give the Coastal Commission power to levy fines, and he abstained from measures to protect domestic workers when first brought to the floor. His campaign contributions read like a NASCAR sponsorship list: Wal-Mart, Verizon, PG&E, Target, Anheuser-Busch, Facebook, Safeway, Comcast, Walt Disney and Time Warner Cable, among others. We support a truly progressive candidate who wants reinvest in education to roll back fees at colleges and fund grade schools, protect the environment by banning fracking and taxing oil extraction and expanding the safety net with affordable healthcare: Diana Conti, a College of Marin trustee and experienced nonprofit director. In building consensus over a potentially divisive bond spending plan as a trustee, we believe Ms. Conti has the experience to be an effective legislator, at least as much as Mr. Levine possessed when he took the job two years ago. Ms. Conti began her career in public service as a single mother raising two kids. Looking for work, she took a position with Sonoma County’s drug program and devoted her life to community work ever since. 

 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Tom Torlakson

In one of the most difficult endorsements—but the starkest distinctions in policy—we support former teacher and incumbent Tom Torlakson, who has supported grassroots policies instead of dictating from Sacramento. His strongest competitor is Marshall Tuck, who has led efforts to reform failing, inner-city public schools and build 10 charter high schools in Los Angeles. Formerly in the finance and software industries, Mr. Tuck has criticized the strong protections that have saved senior teachers from layoffs and obstructed dismissal proceedings. As the quality of California’s education declines, particularly in the high dropout rate among low-income and minority students, creative approaches are needed. But we do not believe blaming teachers or paying for charter school experiments will benefit California’s six million students. We already rank among the lowest in teaching expenditures per pupil and the overall teacher-pupil ratio: more funds cannot be diverted away from public schools. We join County Superintendent Mary Jane Burke in endorsing Mr. Torlakson, who rejected President Obama’s mandate to link test scores to teacher evaluations, allowing local administrators to decide the best way to evaluate its staff’s performance. In a second term, we hope Mr. Torlakson will demonstrate more independence from teachers unions and be a stronger advocate for school funding.

 

Proposition 41

Vote Yes

Nearly 1.8 million veterans call California home, but on any given night, at least 19,000 of them sleep on park benches, sidewalks and cardboard boxes. Approving the sale of $600 million in bonds to fund affordable rental housing for low-income veterans is the right thing to do. Voters approved a $900-million bond in 2008 to fund a program for low-interest mortgages for veterans, but the housing crisis and a sluggish economy meant many veterans could not purchase a home. This proposition would redirect funds into rental housing for low-income former service members and supportive services to help homeless vets rebuild their lives, saving government money in the long run. We should ensure those men and women who risked their lives in our wars have adequate shelter.

 

Proposition 42

Vote Yes

When we request records about an agency’s operations or try to attend school board meetings, we should not be turned away with a simple excuse: “We’re waiting on state funding.” Local government operates for the sake of the people, not in spite of us, and needs to take on the responsibility of complying with the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act. In the past, counties, cities, school boards and utility districts have skirted these laws by claiming they have not been reimbursed by the state. This proposition would amend the constitution to end this loophole, shifting the responsibility for costs to local agencies. Some have questioned whether these fees would be burdensome to small districts, but we agree with the measure’s backers who argue the cost incentive will prompt agencies to explore more efficient, cost-effective ways to provide required information. After the past month’s threats to illegally hold closed sessions at the Shoreline Unified School District, we’ve seen how important it is for the people’s business to be done publicly. Vote yes to ensure citizens and journalists can keep shining a light in the darkest of corners.

 

Measure A

Vote Yes

We prize our local libraries, the place we go to research our stories, to chat with our neighbors, to be surprised by a good book. This parcel tax, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass, would ensure adequate staffing and maintenance of collections for the next nine years. As we reported in March, inadequate funding and a scarcity of shelving space have led the library to devote funds to redesigning the lobbies to advertise bestsellers. We hope sustained funding will allow the library to tackle long-term facility challenges and meet the demands for services. However, we have significant reservations about the citizen oversight of these funds. We urge a yes vote, but the library’s director, Sara Jones, should take further steps to transparently detail to the oversight commission and the public how millions of dollars will be allocated. 

 

Measure B

Vote Yes

A farmers market is seeking a permanent home at the Civic Center and needs voter approval to construct on the grounds designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. For more than three decades, the nonprofit Agricultural Institute of Marin has organized outdoor stands, contending with the challenges of weather, available space and access to restrooms, running water and electricity. With this measure’s approval, A.I.M. will construct a permanent home at the vacant “Christmas Tree lot” with private funding, creating indoor retail space and an outdoor canopy area where tables will be set up at least two days a week year round. “Providing consistent and reliable access to locally grown, fresh organic food would not only serve to improve the nutritional health of our local communities, but also contribute to the health of the local economy,” said Jeffrey Westman, the executive director of Marin Organic. We agree. Voters should help permanently connect West Marin’s farms and ranches with the county’s urban core, farm to market to table.

 

Measure F

Vote Yes

In 1979, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that limited the total spending for special districts. Originally intended to disincentivize raising property taxes, the law requires the Stinson Beach County Water District to approach voters periodically, asking for higher spending limits. Approval does not mean taxes will increase, only that the water district can spend its full share of tax money allocated by the county. “It will keep the water district’s full share of property tax revenue ‘at home,’ in our community,” the five members of the board of directors wrote in supporting arguments. If the measure fails, any tax revenue over the limit would be refunded to the state. Stinson Beach residents voted to increase the spending limit to $960,000 by a four-to-one margin in 2010, and they should approve the increase to $1.4 million for another four years to ensure services are delivered at the lowest possible rates.