What’s Missing In This Election? Bread and Circuses

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

The Romans got it right: if you want to keep the people happy, you give them bread and circuses.  But California politicians forgot that rule; and consequently we are about to have a primary with possibly an historic low turnout of voters.  The lowest primary turnout ever was June 2014; June 2018 could match it.

According to the absentee vote tracker at Political Data Inc, some 1.6 million ballots have been tabulated by the counties.  That is probably about a third of the total expected turnout.  The vote so far is older (half the voters are over the age of 65), heavily white (only 14 percent Latino, 11 percent Asian), and more Republican.

Consider that two years ago at this point (six days from the election), 2.1 million ballots had been tabulated, Democrats were returning ballots at well ahead of their percent of registered voters, as were Republicans.  This year Republicans are way ahead of their registration, but Democratic ballots are coming in at just their party registration. 

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Antonio Drives Down the Center Lane

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

I watched Antonio Villaraigosa’s 24-hour straight “Progress Never Sleeps” tour hit the Carpenters union hall in Sylmar yesterday. There was the usual chants of support, reminders from the union leaders that as mayor Villaraigosa “put us to work, that’s why we are here,” and even a harmonica rendition of the Star Spangled Banner with Villaraigosa jumping in to lead the singing of the anthem part way through the rendition. All well received by the hundred-plus in attendance but the question is whether the message Villaraigosa carried of driving down the center of the political road will take him to the promised land of a top two finish in the governor’s race?

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The Big Query for Our Next Governor

Stuart Waldman
President, Valley Industry & Commerce Association

Next week, California will take the first step in choosing its next governor. Lots of fancy promises have been made – our next governor is going to expand all kinds of popular programs which will make California greener, better educated and more connected.

I’m not against any of those goals, laudable as they are. I don’t believe that any Californian opposes those aspirations. But I am concerned with what no candidate wants to discuss: how we’re going to pay for it. And I don’t just mean paying with General Fund revenue: I mean our businesses paying for it with increased regulation, our residents paying for it with higher housing costs and all of us paying indirectly through squeezed services when high-income residents leave the state as federal tax reform bites.

The only important question for California’s next governor should be what they will do to drive economic growth. Without continued economic growth, California’s next governor simply won’t be able to afford the programs that they, as candidates, have promised.

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‘Revenue Accountability Project’ Aims to Ensure That Every Penny of Taxpayers’ Money Is Spent Efficiently 

Dustin Weatherby
CalTax Research Analyst

When I was a boy, I sat at my grandmother’s dining room table and watched as she meticulously went through her monthly bank statements, comparing them with her receipts. If even a penny was missing, she would call the bank.

As I grew, I began to understand that during the Great Depression, which consumed the country during my grandmother’s childhood and teenage years, each penny represented something more: an opportunity. A penny saved today could be a nickel next week, and eventually a dollar.

While California is fortunate to enjoy an extended period of fiscal prosperity and robust reserves, our next economic downturn is inevitable, as Governor Jerry Brown warns us repeatedly with his budget charts. As our Legislature commences the annual budget-making process, legislators should remain conscientious of being responsible stewards of our tax dollars. A misspent or misused dollar today can end up costing taxpayers more tomorrow. 

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Progressives’ Situational, Self-Serving, Love of Transparency

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

We’ve all heard of “situational ethics.” This column is about “situational transparency,” a phenomenon among progressives who love transparency in matters of public policy, except when they hate it.

Let’s review the areas in which progressives support transparency: the salaries of CEOs, the race and gender of employees, the details of business supply chains and, of course, extensive disclosures about campaign finance.

But in other matters, particularly relating to their own interests, the same people are flatly opposed to transparency. For example, progressives claim to desire disclosure of who pays for political advertising, and they backed legislation such as Assembly Bill 249, a burdensome mandate to add confusing content to political ads. It was so burdensome, in fact, that an exception was made for ads paid for by labor unions, major backers of progressive politicians.

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Top Two Brought Campaign Wackiness; Will it Provide Typical Results?

Darry Sragow
Publisher of the California Target Book and USC professor

With less than a week to go before voting closes in California’s June primary, political insiders’ attention is riveted on the endless range of possible outcomes that are a function of the three-dimensional political chess game we call the Open Primary.

Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper, while likely considering all this child’s play, might be amused, if not fascinated, by developments in the closing days of the campaign that include, but are by no means limited to, the following.

In the race for governor, ads for the Democratic frontrunner are aimed at driving Republican voters into the arms of the Republican frontrunner, with the hope of avoiding a Democrat versus Democrat fall face off.  Ads for the Democratic runner up in current polling are aimed at driving Republican voters in the opposite direction, with the hope of achieving a Democrat versus Democrat general election match-up.

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Strange Bedfellows

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Politics makes strange bedfellows it is said, and you can see that reality in the scramble of ads generated under the top two primary. Don’t be surprised if strange bedfellows actually appear together soon. The way this year’s governor’s race is shaping up I would not be amazed to see a joint news conference, for instance, with Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox saying they want to face each other in the General Election to provide their contrasting agendas on how the state should be run.

Newsom has already been charged with boosting the Cox campaign by attaching issues to Cox in ads that move Republican voters. Although, it should not be a shock in the new world of top two electioneering that a leading candidate contrasts his position with another candidate regardless of party.

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The Quandary Posed by Props 69 and 70

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Propositions 69 and 70 on the June ballot are both bad policy of the kind California has long pursued, to its great detriment.

Specifically, both measures add to the whips and chains that make California budgeting a house of bondage.

Prop 69 creates even more inflexibility in an already inflexible budget system and adds even more complexity to an already too-complex state constitution. Prop 69 does this via a constitutional amendment that requires new vehicle fees and diesel taxes that were part of the gas tax package be devoted to transportation, and only transportation. That may sound logical, and is good policy, but it makes it even harder to budget when revenues become volatile in California, which is often.

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Voters Want The Choice Top Two Provides

Jim Mayer
President and CEO of California Forward, a nonprofit government reform group.

Let’s be perfectly clear about how California adopted the Top Two primary system: Voters approved it.

And it won a majority vote in every county but two – Tulare and Orange.

Voters want the freedom to choose. In this case, a majority of voters want to choose from among all of the candidates because they increasingly don’t agree with one party or the other – much less all of the candidates within just one of those parties.

Without that choice, power shifts even more from the people to interest groups and to the parties themselves. In a so-called “closed primary,” the most noble politicians must worry more about “their base” than all of the voters in their district – never mind those who can’t or simply don’t vote, the young, the newcomers, the dispossessed.

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Time to Change Ballot Designation Law

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The regulations on ballot designations found on the Secretary of State’s website starts with declaring the purpose of the law “is to ensure the accurate designation of the candidate upon the ballot in order that an informed electorate may intelligently elect one of the candidates.” I highlighted the phrase informed electorate because I believe the current regulations often work against more fully informing the electorate about candidates running for office.

The most glaring case in the current crop of candidates is Public Policy Advisor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Public Policy Advisor is a meaningless phrase but the gubernatorial candidate was not allowed to use any of the former positions he held such as Former Assembly Speaker or Former Los Angeles Mayor and he and the voters suffer because of the rule. Either of those titles would give voters more information about candidate Villaraigosa than the ID he chose.

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