Editorial: Making the Best of a Hard Choice

By Becky O’Malley
Friday June 02, 2006

If you’ve come to this space looking for a recommendation card to take with you to the polls, you’ve come to the wrong place. We—the Publisher and I—still haven’t made up our minds which candidate for governor to choose. Frankly, they both look somewhat unattractive at this point.  

We met Angelides at the home of two environmental activists for whom we have the utmost respect, who have known him for years and who are big fans. It was a high-end fund-raiser, and the price of admission indicated that many attendees had to be pretty well-off, but Angelides told them straight-out that he planned to raise taxes on high incomes to pay for education. His prepared talk and all the questions afterwards were about education, to an audience which included many parents of school-age kids, and he scored well--not a wimp in that department.  

But afterwards, face-to-face, I asked whether he thought that it was possible to make cities so crowded that it drove families to the suburbs, and he seemed confused by the question, which admittedly turned the conventional wisdom on its head. After a pause, he trotted out the usual smart growth orthodoxies about why it was good to fill in all the open spaces in cities, which I guess added up to a no to my question. It seemed like a classic example of thinking inside the box, but on the other hand he didn’t change his position to accommodate my question, which shows that he was at least being honest. 

On the other hand… the Chronicle, which supports Westly, has been making a Very Big Deal of all the money being spent on Angelides’ behalf by big-time Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, a former employer and business partner who has bankrolled Angelides for most of his political career. Historically, the Hearst Corporation hasn’t endorsed candidates simply out of dedication to the public interest. Just the fact that Hearst is attacking Angelides while hyping Westly makes Westly suspect somehow. It’s tempting to think that there’s some other motive up their corporate sleeve, so to speak, prompting their devotion to Westly, but if so it’s hard to find.  

The building industry, however, is well known for buying politicians in both parties, and the last minute cash deluge from a developer on behalf of the Angelides candidacy does indeed look like more of the same. Acquaintances familiar with Sacramento, one a journalist and the other an environmental consultant, have told me lurid tales of past environmental crimes perpetrated by the Angelides-Tsakopoulos development enterprise. However Angelides has lately gotten endorsements from well-regarded environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, so maybe he’s changed. 

Westly is more reluctant than Angelides to tell the voters the truth: that Californians need to bite the bullet and raise taxes. He talks instead of belt-tightening and fiscal conservatism, which won’t begin to meet California’s funding needs, which he undoubtedly knows. However, that’s the sort of candidate’s campaign posturing which often changes after elections. It’s a point of view, whether or not he’s sincere, which might play better in a fall race against Schwarzenegger than Angelides’ call for more taxes. And is it the good news or the bad news that Westly’s spending his own money to run? 

What really makes it hard to choose between the two is reading reports that attack ads have started to appear for both candidates. I say reading because I don’t watch television much, which probably ought to disqualify me right there from any endorsement pronouncements. But I’d certainly vote for the candidate who renounced ugly ads and stuck to it. Unfortunately, that’s neither Westly nor Angelides.  

There’s one thing on the ballot that’s not hard to support, and that’s Proposition 82. Yes, yes, it’s not perfect—it leaves out schools based on particular educational theories like the Montessori Method. But nowadays most parents must be working by the time a child is four, whether in a single- or a two-income family. Someone’s going to be taking care of the kids, and they won’t all be going to unique preschools. Proposition 82 is a workable concept that will get some more kids into good enough schools, and if it works there will be an opportunity and an incentive for the legislature to create supplementary programs to serve the rest of the kids.  

And Proposition 81? Whoever votes against spending on libraries, even when they should?  

As far as the rest of the choices, you’re on your own. We’ve opened up these opinion pages to fans of various Oakland candidates, and perhaps they’ve persuaded our Oakland readers to vote for one candidate or another. Luckily I don’t live in Oakland, so I don’t have to choose, and I wouldn’t attempt to tell Oaklanders what to do. 

But I’m still on the fence about the Democratic candidates for governor, which is why you’ll see me at the polls in person on Tuesday—I couldn’t possibly make up my mind in time to vote absentee. Much has been made of media-engendered voter cynicism--- reporting the nasty things that candidates say about one another so that voters just want to stay home. I don’t think opting out of elections solves anything, but it is getting harder and harder to choose among the flawed offerings on the ballot.