Endorsements 2010: State races

Pub date October 5, 2010



We have issues with Jerry Brown. The one-time environmental leader who left an admirable progressive legacy his first time in the governor’s office (including the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the California Conservation Corps, and the liberal Rose Bird Supreme Court) and who is willing to stand up and oppose the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has become a centrist, tough-on-crime, no-new-taxes candidate. And his only solution to the state budget problems is to bring all the players together early and start talking.

But at least since he’s started to debate Republican Meg Whitman face to face, he’s showing some signs of life — and flashes of the old Jerry. He’s strongly denouncing Whitman’s proposal to wipe out capital gains taxes, reminding voters of the huge hole that would blow in the state budget — and the $5 billion windfall it would give to the rich. He’s talking about suing Wall Street financial firms that cheated Californians. He’s promoting green jobs and standing firm in support of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions limits.

For all his drawbacks (his insistence, for example, that the Legislature shouldn’t raise any taxes without a statewide vote of the people), Brown is at least part of the reality-based community. He understands that further tax cuts for the rich won’t solve California’s problems. He knows that climate change is real. He’s not great on immigration issues, but at least he’s cognizant that 2 million undocumented immigrants live in California — and the state can’t just arrest and deport them all.

Whitman is more than a conservative Republican. She’s scary. The centerpiece of her economic platform calls for laying off 40,000 state employees — thereby greatly increasing the state’s unemployment rate. Her tax plan would increase the state’s deficit by another $5 billion just so that a tiny number of the richest taxpayers (including her) can keep more of their money. She’s part of the nativist movement that wants to close the borders.

She’s also one of the growing number of candidates who think personal wealth and private-sector business success translate to an ability to run a complex state government. That’s a dangerous trend — Whitman has no political experience or background (until recently she didn’t even vote) and will be overcome by the lobbyists in Sacramento.

This is a critically important election for California. Vote for Jerry Brown.





Why is the mayor of San Francisco running for a job he once dismissed as worthless? Simple: he couldn’t get elected governor, and he wants a place to perch for a while until he figures out what higher office he can seek. It’s almost embarrassing in its cold political calculus, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from Newsom.

We endorsed Newsom’s opponent, Janice Hahn, in the Democratic primary. It was hard to make a case for advancing the political career of someone who has taken what amounts to a Republican approach to running the city’s finances — he’s addressed every budget problem entirely with cuts, pushed a “no-new-taxes” line, and given the wealthy everything they wanted. His immigration policies have broken up families and promoted deporting kids. He’s done Pacific Gas and Electric Co. a nice favor by doing nothing to help the community choice aggregation program move forward.

Nevertheless, we’re endorsing Newsom over his Republican opponent, Abel Maldonado, because there really isn’t any choice. Maldonado is a big supporter of the death penalty (which Newsom opposes). He’s pledged never to raise taxes (and Newsom is at least open to discussion on the issue). He used budget blackmail to force the awful open-primaries law onto the ballot. He’s a supporter of big water projects like the peripheral canal. In the Legislature, he earned a 100 percent rating from the California Chamber of Commerce.

Newsom’s a supporter of more funding for higher education (and the lieutenant governor sits on the University of California Board of Regents). He’d be at least a moderate environmentalist on the state Lands Commission. And he, like Brown, is devoting a lot of attention to improving the state’s economy with green jobs.

We could do much worse than Newsom in the lieutenant governor’s office. We could have Maldonado. Vote for Newsom.





California has had some problems with the office that runs elections and keeps corporate filings. Kevin Shelley had to resign from the job in 2005 in the face of allegations that a state grant of $125,000 was illegally diverted into his campaign account. But Bowen, by all accounts, has run a clean office. Her Republican opponent, Damon Dunn, a former professional football player and real estate agent, doesn’t even have much support within his own party and is calling for mandatory ID checks at the ballot. This one’s easy; vote for Bowen.





Chiang’s been a perfectly decent controller, and at times has shown some political courage: When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to cut the pay of state employees to minimum-wage level, Chiang refused to go along — and forced the governor to back down. His opponent, state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Los Angeles), wants to use to office to promote cuts in government spending. Vote for Chiang.





Lockyer’s almost certain to win reelection as treasurer against a weak Republican, Mimi Walters. He’s done an adequate job and pushed a few progressive things like using state bonds to promote alternative energy. Mostly, though, he seems to be waiting for his chance to run for governor — and if Jerry Brown loses, or wins and decides not to seek a second term, look for Lockyer to step up.





This is going to be close, and it’s another clear choice. We’ve had our differences with Harris — she’s trying too hard to be a tough-on-crime type, pushing some really dumb bills in Sacramento (like a measure that would bar sex offenders from ever using social networking sites on the Internet). And while she shouldn’t take all the blame for the problems in the San Francisco crime lab, she should have known about the situation earlier and made more of a fuss. She’s also been slow to respond to serious problem of prosecutors and the cops hiding information about police misconduct from defense lawyers that could be relevant to a case.

But her opponent, Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley, is bad news. He’s a big proponent of the death penalty, and the ACLU last year described L.A. as the leading “killer county in the country.” Cooley has proudly sent 50 people to death row since he became district attorney in 2001, and he vows to make it easier and more efficient for the state to kill people.

He’s also a friend of big business who has vowed, even as attorney general, to make the state more friendly to employers — presumably by slowing prosecutions of corporate wrongdoing.

Harris, to her credit, has refused to seek the death penalty in San Francisco, and would bring the perspective of a woman of color to the AG’s office. For all her flaws, she would be far better in the AG’s office than Cooley. Vote for Harris.





Jones, currently a state Assemblymember from Sacramento, won a contested primary against his Los Angeles colleague Hector de la Torre and is now fighting Republican Mike Villines of Fresno, also a member of the Assembly. Jones is widely known as a consumer advocate and was a foe of Prop. 17, the insurance industry scam on the June ballot. A former Legal Aid lawyer, he has extensive experience in health-care reform, supports single-payer health coverage, and would make an excellent insurance commissioner.

Villines pretty much follows right-wing orthodoxy down the line. He wants to replace employer-based insurance with health savings accounts. He argues that the solution to the cost of health insurance is to limit malpractice lawsuits. He wants to limit workers compensation claims. And he supports “alternatives to litigation,” which means eliminating the rights of consumers to sue insurance companies.

Not much question here. Vote for Jones.





The Board of Equalization isn’t well known, but it plays a sizable role in setting and enforcing California tax policy. Yee’s a strong progressive who has done well in the office, supporting progressive financial measures. She’s spoken out — as a top tax official — in favor of legalizing and taxing marijuana. We’re happy to endorse her for another term.





We fully expected a November runoff between Torlakson and state Sen. Gloria Romero. Both Democrats had strong fundraising and political bases — and very different philosophies. Romero’s a big charter school and privatization fan; Torlakson has the support of the teachers unions. But to the surprise of nearly everyone, a wild-card candidate, retired Los Angeles educator Larry Aceves, came in first, with Torlakson second and Romero third. Now Aceves and Torlakson are in the runoff for this nonpartisan post.

Aceves is an interesting candidate, a former principal and school superintendent who has the endorsement of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Green Party. But he’s too quick to take the easy line that the teachers’ unions are the biggest problem in public education, and he wants the unilateral right to suspend labor contracts.

Torlakson wants more charter-school accountability and more funding for primary education. He’s the far better candidate.





Leland Yee

Yee’s got no opposition to speak of, and will easily be re-elected. So why is he spending money on a series of slick television ads that have been airing all over San Francisco, talking about education and sending people to his website? It’s pretty obvious: The Yee for state Senate campaign is the opening act of the Yee for San Francisco mayor campaign, which should kick into high gear sometime next spring. In other words, if Yee has his way, he’ll serve only a year of his next four-year term.

Yee infuriates his colleagues at times, particularly when he refuses to vote for a budget that nobody likes but everyone knows is necessary to keep the state afloat. He’s done some ridiculous things, like pushing to sell the Cow Palace as surplus state property and turn the land over to private real estate developers. But he’s always good on open-government issues, is pushing for greater accountability for companies that take tax breaks and then send jobs out of state, has pushed for accountability at the University of California, and made great progress in opening the records at semiprivate university foundations when he busted Stanislaus State University for its secret speaking-fees deal with Sarah Palin.

With a few strong reservations, we’ll endorse Yee for another term.





A clear hold-your-nose endorsement. Ma has done some truly bad things in Sacramento, like pushing a bill that would force the San Francisco Unified School District to allow military recruiters in the high schools and fronting for landlords on a bill to limit rent control in trailer parks. But she’s good on public power and highly critical of PG&E, and she has no opposition to speak of.





Ammiano’s a part of San Francisco history, and without his leadership as a supervisor, we might not have a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors. Ammiano was one of the architects of the return to district elections, and his 1999 mayoral campaign (against Willie Brown) marked a turning point in the organization, sophistication, and ultimate success of the city’s left. He was the author of the rainy day fund (which has kept the public schools from massive layoffs over the past couple of years) and the Healthy San Francisco plan.

In Sacramento, he’s been a leader in the effort to legalize (and tax) marijuana and to demand accountability for the BART Police. He’s taken on the unpleasant but critical task of chairing the Public Safety Committee and killing the worst of the right-wing crime bills before they get to the floor. He has four more years in Sacramento, and we expect to see a lot more solid progressive legislation coming out of his office. We enthusiastically endorse him for reelection.





Skinner’s a good progressive, a good ally for Ammiano on the Public Safety Committee, and a friend of small business and fair taxation. Her efforts to make out-of-state companies that sell products in California pay state sales tax would not only bring millions into the state coffers but protect local merchants from the likes of Amazon. We don’t get why she’s joined with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to try to get rid of Kriss Worthington, the most progressive member of the Berkeley City Council, but we’ll endorse her for re-election.





Swanson’s a good vote most of the time in Sacramento, but he’s not yet the leader he could be — particularly on police accountability. The BART Police murdered Oscar Grant in Swanson’s district, yet it fell to a San Franciscan, Tom Ammiano, to introduce strong state legislation to force BART to have civilian oversight of the transit cops. Still, he’s done some positive things (like protecting state workers who blow the whistle on fraud) and deserves another term.