Last Minute Voting Decisions Stir the Pot

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday June 08, 2010 - 09:11:00 AM

At about nine o’clock on Monday night, three members of my family tried to call me simultaneously.Thanks to the magic of Call Waiting, I took their calls one at a time, but if I’d known how to work conference calls, it might all have been over in thirty seconds. Why?They were all asking me how I thought they should vote on Tuesday, and my answer was simple. 

I dunno. 

Nine o’clock on Monday night, and I still hadn’t been able to face my sample ballot.That’s embarrassing.But what I’d picked up from the zeitgeist about the election was frightening, and I was disinclined to learn more. 

What about, for example, Gavin Newsom? “He’s icky,” I said with assurance.But what about the people running against him?Brutal honesty compels me to admit that what my mother, my sister, my daughter and I all think is icky about Newsom is mostly his hairdo. 

He’s one of the those Kinda Sorta Liberal types, a pale imitation of the real thing as compared to his peers on his home turf, but possibly not so bad when moved to a higher level, if Lieutenant Governor is one. Like a lot of the people the East Bay sends along to the state level, perhaps—not great in their grasp of local issues, but sadly a bit better than the rest of the clowns in Sacramento…. 

So who’s Newsom running against?I seem to remember that Janice Hahn is the daughter of someone who used to be a leftish contender in L.A. long ago.Is that a good reason to vote for her? Probably not. Or maybe. 

I know there’s a lot of mail downstairs in the basket, but I haven’t read it.Too much to face, and who can you trust?My mother says she’s just going to vote for the person “the Democrats” have recommended on their slate card, but I with my greater sophistication know that those slate cards are more than likely scams, pay-to-play opportunities for candidates or propositions to buy their way on to a list of recognizable Democrats to fool the unwary.Scratch that. 

As I often have done in the past, I consult the endorsements made by my friends at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.This is in spite of my vivid memory of being in the Guardian’s newsroom when I was working there many years ago as someone shouted “Anyone know anyone in Marin?” preparatory to writing the endorsement article with Marin represented. 

But surely they’ll know if Hahn is okay. I check. It’s thumbs up on Hahn.One decision down. 

After that it gets harder.Late Monday night I get a Facebook message from an Oakland lawyer friend.It’s very convincing, terrifying even: 

“As most of you know, I've been pretty involved in politics, off & on. Tomorrow's election has a lot of stuff on the ballot. I'm going to focus on one item, which I think is of crucial importance. Proposition 15 would repeal a prohibition against allowing public financing of election campaigns. I think repealing that prohibition is an absolutely necessary first step if we are to keep corporations from taking total control of California politics. U.S. Supreme Court decisions have sharply limited what can be done to control the big-money influence over elections. One of the few avenues still available is the leverage in being able to offer public financing to candidates who agree to limit how much they spend. That leverage has been employed to great advantage in Arizona and Maine, where public financing laws have allowed grassroots candidates to compete with self-funded millionaires and corporate-funded candidates on a level playing field. If we don't pass Prop. 15 this time, you can bet the corporations will spend enormous amounts of money to make sure we never get another chance. As I've said many times, regardless of what your issue is, if it's not one big corporations favor, campaign finance reform has to be the first step, and Prop. 15 is necessary if California is to have a shot a campaign finance reform. Late polling shows that whether Prop. 15 passes or not could depend on an extremely small number of votes. If you haven't yet voted absentee, PLEASE go to the polls tomorrow and vote for Prop 15.” 

Now I’m even more embarrassed.I’ve always thought of myself as “pretty involved in politics” and I don’t have even a clue about this one.And even worse, when he mentions Arizona I remember reading something about Unintended Consequences of the Arizona campaign reform—the standard parties lost control of the primaries, the nuts got campaign financing and were elected, and that’s why we have dreadful legislation like the recent Arizona immigration law being enacted. 

True or false?It’s too late to figure this out. 

At least we all know (we being my family and close friends) that PG&E is not on our side, so when PG&E says vote Yes on Proposition 16 we can vote No without worrying. But I got a Facebook message from the 40ish daughter of a deceased friend urging me to vote Yes—her mother would be turning over in her grave if her ashes hadn’t been scattered at sea. 

Even glancing at the Republican primary list is enough to raise the little hairs on the back of your neck.Poor Poizner never had a chance because of his name, but he’s no prize except as compared with Whitman, who could be even worse.Tom Campbell is what used to be called a moderate Republican, furiously backpedaling to look more like a right wing wacko—he might even end up persuading himself.Carly Fiorina’s main claim to fame seems to be that she almost ran a fairly respectable Silicon Valley company into the ground before she was fired. 


Luckily no one in our family has been a Republican for many years except my late father.He stopped voting for Republicans 30 years before he died, but my mother persuaded him not to change his registration so that he could write letters (which she often drafted for him) signed “Outraged Lifelong Republican”. But Republicans were different back in the days of Thomas Kuchel and Earl Warren. 

Thinking of the old days reminds me of Jerry Brown, running unopposed in the Democratic primary if you don’t count Lowell Darling, who seems to have capitulated. 

Why oh why oh why-o can’t we do better than Jerry Brown?I was hanging around a bit in Sacramento while he was governor before, and he was responsible for some monumental bits of tomfoolery.He gets a large share of the blame for setting the voters up to pass Proposition 13, whose effects are responsible for most of what’s wrong in California today. 

And his recent performance in Oakland was nothing to be proud of.His boast that he’d bring 10,000 new residents (or was it units?) to downtown Oakland has produced nothing but a huge glut of vacant apartments and big profits for the building industry.But I’ll probably find myself voting for him in November. 

We urban East Bay voters learn about all of the local Democratic candidates when they are Deals Done Elsewhere—the state and national representative slots for the Berkeley area ever since I’ve lived here have been passed around in a very small group of family members, longtime employees and close friends, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. 

Maybe if Prop. 15 passes it might help this situation—but probably not. Oh well, the candidates the machine chooses for us are usually not that bad. 

And finally we come to the real hot button, Berkeley’s Measure C.Of the four of us, only my mother and I get to vote on that one.She has a lifelong liberal habit of generously voting yes on all new taxes. I was brought up that way myself, but I’ve been following the discussion in these pages of whether or not the kind of bond financing chosen for the pools project is the right instrument for the job.The Sunday Chronicle had an interesting article about a bond issue on the Peninsula which was used to build a posh athletic club which was never mentioned in the ballot proposition. 

Could that happen here?We might get a chance to find out if Measure C passes.