Today’s Comment is my November 2020 voters guide. While a lot of it focuses on California’s fall propositions, I encourage those of you living outside of California to plow through this. What happens in California now is either happening or will happen where you live. But before I get to the propositions, let me knock off the obvious:
President of the United States of America (and more)
Journalists are not supposed to take a position on political races, however, seems to me that 2020 changes all that. While the contest for president is between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, we are voting for more than one of two old white guys. This is a choice between democracy and authoritarianism, basic decency and sleaze, and a reasonable semblance of truth and outright lies. Further, the stakes in this election is reality.
One of our choices is a mutual reality agreed upon by consensus, shared experience, and verifiable examination through science and other means. The other choice is reality as defined by one person, Donald Trump. We are choosing between what we actually see and experience with COVID, the economy, systemic racism, misogyny, human rights, etc. and what Donald Trump insists is true at the moment.
We do not need to speculate what living in Trump’s reality means. We see it every day: Refugee families separated at the border, with children thrown into cages is Trump’s reality. Every bit of the United States, including the office of the presidency, up for sale to the highest bidder, as long as the man in change gets a cut, is Trump’s reality. Public ruminations about his desire to fuck his daughter is Trump’s reality. Fealty to dictators and a longing for his own authoritarian regime is Trump’s reality. Para-military death squads and domestic terrorist groups at his command is Trump’s reality. A mind-boggling complete failure on the pandemic is Trump’s reality.
While Trump’s hardcore supporters – his cult – actively believe in Trump’s reality, they neither have the numbers or the power to make his vision so. However, administration sycophants, careerists, and cynics, people who populate business, media, and politics are established enough in power circles to make Trump’s reality part of the national conversation.
We do not have much impact of Trump’s business supporters. There is little we can do about Trump’s media lackeys. But we can take action on his political supporters, particularly Republicans who hold elected office: We can vote them out of power.
When there is a choice between Democrat and Republican, I urge you to vote Democrat, no matter how odious he or she might be. While we must defeat Trump, we must get rid of his enablers, including those who sat silently by or only occasionally “voiced concern.” We must deliver a blow to the Republican Party that cripples it so much that it either must reform or be forced to exist as a fringe collection of regional right-wing yahoos.
When there is a choice between an establishment Democrat and a sane progressive Dem, I recommend voting for the sane prog. No matter which Democrat wins whatever race, we must ride them to be work on the issues we think are important and force them to follow through. If we elect a crappy Dem just to get rid of a Republican, we must think hard about what comes next with that Dem. Certainly, give them a year to perform, pressuring them all the while. If they fail to perform, we stage a progressive challenge to them when they are up for reelection. If we want to win the future, we must reject purity and play politics as if we are serious about power.
Vote Biden. Vote Democrat.
California Ballot Propositions
Because I report on California politics, including propositions, I am not going to endorse any measures on the ballot. What I will do is give you my take on the props. Please use my words to inform your decisions.
Proposition 14: Authorizes Bonds Continuing Stem Cell Research
Back in 2004, California passed a pretty revolutionary bond measure that funded stem cell research. This was back when the George W. Bush administration was playing abortion politics with science, trying to rally people against stem cell research with stories about scientists “harvesting fetuses” (the GOP’s anti-science crusade did not start with Trump). So, Californians passed 2004’s Prop. 71 as a necessary rebuke to anti-science Republicans and for needed research. The research has led to many medical advances, including therapies that right now are being experimented to deal with COVID.
Well, the money from the initial bond is almost gone and researchers are back asking for $5.5 billion. They say that without the money, the research funded by that state will grind to a halt, which is true. Critics also argue that Prop. 14 doesn’t guarantee that the state gets financial benefit (intellectual property rights) from research the state funds and any further public funding is little more than subsidies to private research companies and Big Pharma, who will kick in funding because there is big money to be made.
Proposition 15: Increases Funding Sources for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Local Government Services by Changing Tax Assessment of Commercial and Industrial Property
One of two measures on the ballot that reforms California’s notorious Prop. 13. Passed in 1978, Prop. 13 was an historically influential anti-tax measure pushed by conservatives as tax relief for home owners. As with a lot of these things, Prop. 13 took a truth – California’s property tax for single home owners was rising rapidly – and distorted it to push a greater agenda – wholesale tax cuts, specifically benefiting the rich, to cripple California’s “welfare state.”
Under Prop. 13, the tax rate for a piece of property is frozen at whatever it was when a buyer bought that property. The taxable value for a property purchased in 1998 for $400,000 will remain at $400,000 until the property is sold. Once sold the taxable value resets to reflect the current tax rate. So, if that house increases in real value to $3 million as long as the original property owner holds onto it, the taxable value remains at $400,000.
Prop. 13 was sold as tax relief for people who owned the home, and only the home. Supporters rarely talk about the inclusion of commercial, industrial, retail, and rental property. When they did, Prop. 13 honks claimed that these commercial property owners are mom & pop businesses, which is only partially true. Yes, some mom & pop’s own their building, but far more commercial property is owned by very rich investors, people like Donald Trump, and large corporations.
Because commercial property owners use their property as investment, they tend hold onto it for a long time, milking the increased value by charging higher rents and leveraging it to buy more property. They can do this because of Prop. 13’s property tax freeze, which now acts as a public subsidy for private investment. Single family homes owned by the people who live in them flip more often than commercial property. Don’t know why, but because housing stock regularly turns over, which means the tax rate is reset to reflect current value.
Over time, the bulk of property taxes now fall on these single-family home owners. According to University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, home owners pay 71% of all property tax collected, while commercial property owners pay 29%. Effectively, home owners subsidize commercial owners and speculators.
Home owner’s paying more and higher property tax than commercial owners and speculators is not only unfair, but it freezes would-be first-time home owners, especially young people, out of the housing market. This arrangement has also led to budget shortages, particularly for schools, as school districts are largely funded through property tax. Those who were parents or students when Prop. 13 went into effect remember schools cutting programs, particular those in music, arts, and humanity, as well as driver’s training courses and some sports. California’s free university and college system was forced to charge tuition and, over time, raise and keep raising it.
Prop. 15 changes things up by making property owned by corporate landowners who have more than $3 million in holding (about 10% of California’s land owners) pay tax on their commercial and industrial property based on their current market value. It does not impact home owners, small business owners, or even small investors in property.
Proposition 16: Allows Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, and Contracting Decisions
My lord, the 1990s were political hell for liberals, progressives and leftists. Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party caved to corporate and conservative interests on so many important issues, including diversity in schools and the workplace. In 1996, California Republicans, with the support of centrist Democrats, put an anti-affirmative action measure on the ballot, Prop. 209. It passed and immediately government jobs and university enrollment became far whiter than before. The majority white education pipeline resulted in many higher paying jobs in all sectors being filled with far fewer women and people of color than proportionate to the state’s population. Prop. 16 reforms California’s Constitution to allow the state legislator to use the law to move towards a more inclusive society.
Proposition 17: Restores Right to Vote After Completion of Prison Term
Here is an issue where California is behind the nation, even Florida: Ending disenfranchisement for former felons. One of our national myths is that once a person has “paid their debt to society,” they enter the world with a “clean slate” and “equal opportunity.” This is complete bullshit.
Ex-convicts who have served their time find themselves in a world that shuts as many doors on them as possible. An ex-con can exit incarceration with a great profile – good behavior, volunteerism, a college degree – and find no job opportunities. It is difficult to build the credit needed to get decent housing. Worse, many ex-cons also are denied the vote. We can’t do much about making people hire ex-cons, but we can stop the disenfranchisement of people who have “paid their debt to society.” That is what Prop. 17 does.
Proposition 18: Amends California Constitution to Permit 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary and Special Elections If They Will Turn 18 by the Next General Election and Be Otherwise Eligible to Vote
This one is very simple. California’s 2020 primary was on March 3. Let’s say a young person turned 18 on March 4. Right now, they wouldn’t have been able to vote in that election. If Prop. 18 passes, they would. The argument for Prop. 18 is that it is fair. The argument against it is that 17-year-olds are “too immature” to be trusted with the ballot. Not saying which way to vote on this, but I trust a 17-year-old with a good heart and decent sense of fairness to vote smart than I do a 60-year-old Trump cultist or a 42-year-old Q devotee.
Proposition 19 Changes Certain Property Tax Rules
This is the second Prop. 13 reform measure on the ballot. So, under Prop. 13 property tax rates are frozen at the value of the property at the time of purchase. The freeze also applies to some non-monetary property transfers including inheritance.
Let’s say that a meteor falls from the sky and crushes your parents. You are the sole inheritor of their house. You’d assume that since you were the new owner of the house the taxable value of the property would be reset to reflect the current market price, right? Nope. Under Prop. 13, the taxable value remains whatever it was when your parents owned it. Now, that kinda makes sense if this is your first opportunity to move into a home that you can finally call your own. But what if it is now your second or third home, or you use it as investment property? Prop. 19 addresses that question.
Prop. 19 keeps an inherited house’s tax rate at the former purchase price only if the inheritor uses that home as their primary residence. Use the house as a vacation home or rental property and the taxable value resets to reflect market value.
Prop. 19 also closes loopholes that enable non-monetary property transfers to escape tax resets, transfers which have been abused by very wealthy landowners and corporations. Like Prop. 15, Prop. 19 cleans up some of the messes made and long-term inequities created by 1978’s Prop. 13. It also protects seniors and fire victims from property tax resets. Increased tax revenues are to be earmarked towards fire protection.
Proposition 20: Restricts Parole for Certain Offenses Currently Considered to Be Non-Violent. Authorizes Felony Sentences for Certain Offenses Currently Treated Only as Misdemeanors
So, back in 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled on something called Brown v. Plata. It was the final decision in a decades-long legal fight over California’s overcrowded prisons. The courts told California to decrease its prison population from 156,000 inmates to 110,000.
To comply with the order, California essentially had two choices: Build more prisons or decrease prison population. The state was not going to build new prisons so the state legislature dove into criminal justice reform by passing the Public Safety Realignment Act (AB 109). Realignment did a lot of things, but one of the most significant accomplishment was making localities responsible for many of the duties associated with prisoner parole.
Realignment was not easy. Counties had more to deal with, but, creative jurisdictions experimented with sentencing reform and directing non-violent offenders to diversion programs. The overall prison population declined, as did recidivism rates. Despite conservative fears that realignment would mean a massive crime wave, crime actually went down. While not perfect, realignment has been embraced by most involved…except for the CCPOA, the prison guard union.
For decades, the CCPOA rode high in California politics. They were one of the main forces behind California’s tough-on-crime era. The prison-building boom meant more jobs for their members, which meant more money in their coffers, money spent on lobbying and campaign contributions. All of this kept the prison-industrial complex flush. Realignment (and changing public attitudes towards criminal justice) ended this sad situation and reduced the CCPOA’s political power. Prop. 20 is the CCPOA’s attempt to turn back the clock to when they were among the state’s most powerful force.
Proposition 21: Expands Local Governments’ Authority to Enact Rent Control on Residential Property
I’ll tell you what: Advertisement on propositions have always been sketchy, but the environment of deceit created by Donald Trump has made this year’s elections ads ultra-deceptive. The No on 21 people want you to believe that if 21 passes, California’s housing will pretty much disappear. They claim that most of us will be living on the street, those with homes will now be under siege by mobs of homeless people, and small businesses will close. I assume that all of this will lead to California falling into the ocean. At the same time that they dog rent control, their praise Gov. Newsom for signing a “historic” rent control measure, which was in reality a water-down gift to the real estate industry.
The truth is that Prop. 21 is a modest rent control measure. It doesn’t make rent control the law of the land. Rather, it allows localities to enact and tinker with rent control measures. Any new rent control will still have to go through a city or county’s legislative process or have to be approved by voters. Prop. 21 can pass and, if rent control advocates can’t get anything through their city, nothing changes. Prop. 21 simply allows citizens the option to try to change things.
Proposition 22: Exempts App-Based Transportation and Delivery Companies From Providing Employee Benefits to Certain Drivers
Funded almost exclusively by Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and other “app-based” companies, Prop. 22 attacks AB5, imperfect legislation which addressed these companies’ abuse of the “independent contractor” system. Do not trust the Yes on 22 ads on this measure. They claim that AB5 bans independent contractors. That is not so.
I am an independent contractor, a real one. I research and write for private entities and business, but, because I am not on payroll, a regular employee. I am not reliant on any single entity for work, nor are they reliant on me. They do not control the market for my services. They cannot cut off my work in the area I work. If they could, they would have the power to hire and fire me. Also, if I walked, they could find someone else to contract. That is pretty much what an independent contractor does and how it works, or at least when the status is not abused.
AB5 did not change my status as an independent contractor. What the legislation does is crack down on corporations like Uber who abuse the system by classifying thousands of workers (their drivers) as independent contractors. Uber claims that it has nothing to do with its driver’s work, other than providing an app for them to use. They claim that they are a “tech platform,” not a transportation services or taxi cab company. Its workers are not employees but “independent contractors.” If this sounds like a line of bullshit, it is.
Uber, Lyft, and others abuse of the independent contractor system screws workers out of overtime, unemployment insurance, workman’s comp, minimum wage, workplace safety regulations, and other things that regular employers – such as traditional taxi cab companies and delivery services – have to deal with. By creating a whole class of employees devoid of basic rights, Uber et al have an unfair competitive advantage, as they have drastically lower labor costs than their traditional competitors. The Uber libertarians argue that as they go, so should everyone else, a prescription that takes us back one hundred years, to the days before the 8-hour day, 5-day work week, and the weekend.
Prop. 22 is Uber and their allies hundred-million-dollar attempt to screw not only its workers, but all workers.
Proposition 23: Establishes State Requirements for Kidney Dialysis Clinics. Requires On-Site Medical Professional
The No on 23 campaign are also going heavy on deceptive ads. No on 23 claims that if the measure passes, those with kidney disease will see their dialysis clinics close. That is not exactly true. If passed, Prop 23 requires all kidney dialysis clinics – which are medical facilities – to have a doctor on-site. That is it. The only clinics that shut down are the cut-rate clinics without doctors if they chose not to hire doctors if the measure passes. Given that these guys are making a shitload of money, they might take a hit in their profits, but they won’t close their clinics.
Proposition 24: Amends Consumer Privacy Laws
The California legislature took a giant step towards data privacy when it passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018. Prop. 24 tries to close loopholes in that legislation. I’ll be total honest: This stuff befuddles me. I get the basics, but dive into the details and I am lost. Problem with Prop. 24 is that even the people who get the details are confused by this one. Those who oppose CCPA can’t make sense of it. Those who support CCPA are throwing out ???. Those who think CCPA needs to go farther can’t make sense of Prop. 24. Perhaps this measure is well meaning. If so, it would be nice to know upon first or second or third read.
Proposition 25: Referendum on Law That Replaced Money Bail With System Based on Public Safety and Flight Risk
Ooooo this Prop. 25 is really deceptive. It uses a worthy issue – eliminating money bail – to create something worse: A bail system based on a “risk algorithm” created by law enforcement, more power to judges to deny bail, and law enforcement control of pre-trial diversion programs. Prop. 25 is a draconian tough-on-crime measure disguised as criminal justice reform.
So, there you go, well except for the 1 million measures pertaining to San Francisco (my SF readers should consult the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters, who provided helpful information for my rundowns).
Remember to vote on or by November 3. Vote in person if you can. If you cannot, there are ballot drop boxes (contact your county election office to find out where they are!). You can also vote-by-mail (do so ASAP). Don’t stop with your vote: Make sure that those around you vote. Offer people rides to drop boxes and polling places.
Also, do not forget that Trump and the Republicans will be doing everything they can to scotch the vote. If you see people hanging around a polling place, harassing or approaching voters, contact local authorities and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Real poll workers inside polling places, with proper identification, can ask you for ID or whatever your jurisdiction requires, but no one else can. If someone approaches you outside the polling place demanding to know your citizenship, report them to the people in side, call the cops, and call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. If someone tries to get in between you and the polling place, do not let them deter you. Go vote and report them. If someone is politicking within 100-feet of the polling place, report them. It is your duty to protect your right to vote!
Unfortunately, the election doesn’t end on Nov. 3. After election day, we must make sure every vote is counted and that the counting does not get interfered with. There will be legal fights and more. Do not be afraid to assert your rights. All that stands between democracy and authoritarianism are people like you and me. That has always been the case, but now more so than ever.