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Your California Voter Guide

November 1, 2010

Ara Demirjian
Your California Voter Guide

As Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman go head to head in tomorrow's election, the stakes will be running high at such a critical moment in California’s history. Not to mention, there are a few major propositions on the ballot that have certainly raised some eyebrows. For those CMCers still on the fence with the election just around the corner, here is a breakdown of the gubernatorial candidates and some propositions. Democrat Jerry Brown has been the more prominent figure pushing for the creation of green jobs. As attorney general, Brown led initiatives for improved energy efficiency and propped up legislation allowing for large investment in clean energy. Jerry Brown’s past stint as California governor in the late 70s and early 80s illuminates some of his more noteworthy achievements, especially on the job front. During that time, he helped create 1.9 million jobs and established the California Conservation Corps to provide environmental jobs.

Brown’s focus on creating more green jobs, restoring a strong manufacturing base, and establishing job retention programs is certainly music to the ears of down and out Californians as long as it’s fiscally possible. Meanwhile, Brown’s efforts to improve energy usage through renewable sources and vying to reduce regulatory restrictions in energy could put California on a more sustainable path.

However, his ability to improve California’s educational system is questionable. As the former mayor of Oakland, Brown admittedly was unable to dramatically turn around the city’s underperforming public schools. Another potential cause for concern is Brown’s ability to effectively tackle crime. During his time as mayor, crime only decreased by 13 percent despite a 25 percent increase in the police force with a 57 percent increase in homicides during his last year as mayor.

Brown’s support of transportation and infrastructure investment, including the controversial high speed railway may sound great in theory, but with a state budget deficit over $20 billion, the future burden of this spending would dig California into a massively deep fiscal hole that California simply cannot afford. Whether Brown’s overall agenda can be realistically executed and win the hearts of voters is the big question.

On the flip side, Republican Meg Whitman provides a glimmer of hope to California’s pro-business constituency. During her mudslinging battle with Brown, Whitman has spent a hefty $160 million and change to get her name out there. Playing up her past tenure as the CEO of eBay, Whitman’s Silicon Valley background is a major plus in the effort to help California remain economically competitive through technological innovation.

Whitman has proposed a number of tax elimination measures, including an elimination of taxes on start-up businesses and capital gains. Similarly, Whitman has proposed tax credits for R&D as well as agricultural investment. Though there are likely some long-term economic benefits from these measures, these tax cuts could be taking away a substantial portion of state revenues at a time when California needs it the most. Like Brown, Whitman has also highlighted the need for green jobs although she hasn’t had Brown’s experience in this area.

While Whitman’s push for strong business initiatives can help lift California economically, there is a difficult trade-off between quickly closing the deficit and restoring economic prosperity. In sharp contrast to Brown, Whitman’s plan to reduce spending by $15 billion is arguably a step in the right direction, although this is a difficult proposition given California’s need for jobs and educational reform.

Whitman’s strong anti-illegal immigration stance is controversial. Her platform includes increased border patrol, stricter workplace inspections, and banning university admission to undocumented students. Whitman brings up valid concerns, and her call for immediate English immersion for immigrants is a step in the right direction. Yet, she does so at the possible expense of a large Latino voter base who may view her proposals as ethnically targeted especially in the wake of this year’s Arizona legislation.

Heading into the election, Whitman certainly has ideas with potential. And she has business savvy to make them possible, especially given her past success in building eBay from 30 to 15,000 employees. Yet, her lack of experience in the political sphere (not to mention her failure to vote in the last 28 years) leaves voters skeptical of her ability to succeed as governor. Whether she can wade through political bureaucracy and work effectively alongside other politicians remains up in the air.

There are also a number of propositions garnering significant headline press. Proposition 19 allows individuals 21 and older to “possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use” under state law but not federal law. Prop. 19 has come to the forefront as supporters note the economic upside through increased tax revenue while opponents fear social repercussions. Some of the major proposed benefits include regulation that would impair drug cartels while reducing costs associated with marijuana-related arrests. However, some of the disadvantages include limits placed on employers to address poor job performance tied to marijuana usage as well as the potential health impact. Regardless, a positive outcome may be preempted at the federal level, rendering the campaign all for naught.  Short of preemption, Attorney General Eric Holder says federal laws banning the substance will be "vigorously enforced" if marijuana is legalized at the state level.

Other propositions of note include Propositions 20 and 27, which can only be discussed as a pair. Prop. 20 creates a constitutional amendment that would include congressional districts under the jurisdiction of the bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission, created by Proposition 11 in 2008.  State Senate and Assembly seats already are  under the commission. Conversely, Prop. 27 does the opposite, eliminating the redistricting commission altogether, returning redistricting authority to elected representatives and imposing spending limits on redistricting.  It also enables voters to reject legislative redistricting changes. Perhaps strategically, nearly all incumbent Democratic members of the California Congressional delegation have donated to support Prop. 27.  If both propositions pass, they will necessarily contradict each other, and only the one with the higher majority vote will become law.

Finally, Proposition 23 is also noteworthy. If approved, it would delay the implementation of an air pollution control law reducing greenhouse gas emissions until unemployment remains at 5.5 percent or lower for four consecutive years. Given the strong green campaigns linked to the candidates, who both oppose Prop. 23, the proposition poses a dilemma as to whether the environment should take a backseat in favor of job creation. This is problematic especially considering that the law contains various renewable energy stipulations that are in line with each candidate’s energy initiatives.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, California can at least be taken a bit more seriously without the Governator at the helm. Although California’s future may be highly uncertain, CMC Election Night will certainly be full of great anticipation as we all hope for an improved California with a positive outlook.

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