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What the Hell Is on My Ballot?

Scott Lucas | November 4, 2014 | Story Politics

Election Day is almost here—November 4th is coming up awfully soon. As in, tomorrow. And there's a lot up for grabs—plus several important local and staewide propositions—on this year's ballot. So, herewith, your (nonpartisan!) Cliffs Notes on what to know before you enter the voting booth, including info on statewide races and San Francisco elections, as well as the Oakland mayor's race and the Congressional fight in the South Bay.

California Statewide

Governor: The top of the ballot features a showdown between three-term Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, a former Obama administration official. Brown is so widely expected to notch a fourth term that he's barely campaigned at all. He's generally governed as a social liberal with an allergy to spending. The Zen Fascist has championed two major infrastructure projects—a high-speed rail connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, and a delta tunnel plan that would bring more water to Southern California. Though Kashkari has run a spirited campaign, he's not expected to pose a threat on Election Day.

Lieutenant Governor: San Francisco's own Gavin Newsom faces token Republican opposition in his race for reelection. Newsom has used his time in the largely-ceremonial office to stake out positions on issue ranging from marijuana legalization (for), upgrading the technology that government uses (for), and high pay for administrators in the University of California system (against). He also found time to hang out with this penguin. His opponent, Ron Nehring, is the former Chairman of the California Republican party.

Secretary of State: No, you can't vote for Leland Yee this time. This race, which is closer than many of the other statewide contests, pits State Senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, against Pete Peterson, the Republican executive director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership. Padilla has a strong record as a legislator, having authored bills on early earthquake warning systems, eliminating single-use plastic bags, and allowing voter registration through healthcare exchanges. Peterson is a good-government advocate who has garnered several major newspaper endorsements. In replacing Debra Bowen, voters have two strong candidates to chose from.

Controller: Republican Ashley Swearengin, the current mayor of Fresno, placed first in the primary election—ahead of her Democratic opponent Betty Yee, a member of the state's Board of Equalization (which administers tax collection.) Yee, a San Francisco native, should be able to count on the fact that many people who backed other Democrats in the primary will vote for her in the general, but Swearengin is seen as a rising star within the Republican party. Both women make strong cases, with Yee having had experience in state tax policy and Swearengin having successfully navigated Fresno's difficult fiscal situation. This could be one of the closer races of election night.

Treasurer: The current officeholder, John Chiang, a Democrat, faces only light opposition from Republican Greg Conlon. Races this far down ballot tend to rely on party identification, which gives Chiang a strong advantage.

Attorney General: San Francisco's other major state officeholder, Kamala Harris, looks to continue her seemingly unstoppable march towards—Governor? US Senate? the Supreme Court? Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit? Whatever Harris's next steps are, it's clear that this race won't be much of a speed bump. Though some progressives are withholding support over Harris's stance on marijuana, she took four times the votes of Republican challenger Ronald Gold in the primary. It's clear her real test is still in the future.

Board of Equalization, District 2: Fiona Ma, a former state assemblymember and San Francisco supervisor, doesn't face much trouble in her race.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Though the office is nonpartisan, both candidates are Democrats. However, they present a study in contrasts, with incumbent Tom Torlakson favored by teachers' unions and challenger Marshall Tuck by advocates of charter schools. This is one of those races that political theorists love, with two candidates presenting clear differences on the issues, leaving the voters to decide. It's super close, too.

Justice of the Supreme Court: Yes—we elect our judges. No—that does not make much sense. Under state law, the public has to vote to retain three of our justices, each of whom were appointed by the governor and confirmed by a commission on judicial appointments. Each of the three—Goodwin Liu, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, and Mariano-Florentino CuĂ©llar—are exceptional jurists and this vote is a total waste of time.

Ballot Initiatives

Proposition 1: One of two measures that Governor Brown has spent more time campaigning for than he has for himself, Prop 1 would float $7.5 billion in bonds that would be used to pay for upgrades to the state's water infrastructure, including decontamination, recycling, and—somewhat controversially—new dams. However, it has broad support, including from both Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and the California Democratic and Republican parties.

Proposition 2: The other half of Brown's package is a measure that would legally strengthen the state's rainy day budget fund, requiring the state to save more money during flush economic periods.

Proposition 45: This would require that healthcare rate changes be approved by the state's Insurance Commissioner before going into effect—similar to how car and homeowner's insurance markets are currently regulated.

Proposition 46: Currently, the cap on non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice cases is $250,00. This proposition would raise that limit to one million. It would also require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors. Not shockingly, trial lawyers like it and doctors don't. More interestingly are progressives and liberals, who have to figure out if the increase on caps (which they generally want) are worth the random drug testing (which they generally oppose).

Proposition 47: This would reclassifying non-serious, nonviolent property and drug crimes from a felony to misdemeanor (unless the defendant had prior serious convictions like murder or rape). It's backed by San Francisco D.A. George Gascon and William Lansdowne, the former San Diego Police Chief, and has picked up support from groups like the ACLU and politicians like Gavin Newsom—but also from more surprising places like Newt Gingrich and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Opposed are Senator Feinstein and many D.A.s and sheriffs. California—which once drove the nation's move towards a tough-on-crime approach to sentencing, has been moving—in fits and starts, at least—away from that model, especially in drug cases, over the last few years. This is another manifestation of that trend.

Proposition 48: This would allow two Native American tribes to build a casino near Fresno. If you like Indian gaming, you'll vote for it. If you don't, you won't.

San Francisco

Assembly District 17: The marquee race in the city this election is the showdown between Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos. It's an exercise in perspective. From one angle, the differences between the two men, both left-wing Democrats with Harvard Law degrees, seem miniscule. On local issues, there are differences—Campos seen to be on the side of the Google bus blockers and Chiu with the riders. Chiu succeeded in passing legislation to regulate Airbnb, which Campos opposed. Chiu casts himself as a consensus builder, with Campos arguing for himself as a principled champion of progressive issues. The race has been marked by negative campaigns on both fronts. Though Chiu outpaced Campos in the primary election and in fundraising, the Election Day totals are expected to be close. Everyone wins, though, when we stop getting so damn many fliers in our mailboxes.

Supervisor, District 2: Despite having eked out a narrow victory in his first time on the ballot in 2010, Supervisor Mark Farrell faces only token opposition (get used to that phrase).

Supervisor, District 4: Supervisor Katy Tang faces no opposition in her race to continue representing the Sunset.

Supervisor, District 6: Despite a close race in her first time on the ballot in 2010, Supervisor Jane Kim faces only token opposition.

Supervisor, District 8: Despite a close race in his first time on the ballot in 2010, Supervisor Scott Wiener faces only token opposition.

Supervisor, District 10: The only serious contest of the supervisor races pits Malia Cohen against challenger Tony Kelly. Cohen fought back Kelly in 2010, but the progressive is back for a rematch with the more moderate Cohen. Along with the AD17 race, this one is a barometer of the city's political mood heading into the mayoral election next year.

Assessor-Recorder: Carmen Chu has no challengers.

Public Defender: Jeff Adachi has no challengers.

BART Board, District 8: The city's lone Republican elected official, James Fang, faces a strong challenge from newcomer Nick Josefowitz. Fang, a member of the well-connected family that once published the Examiner, has union backing thanks to his support of workers during the most recent strikes. Josefowitz is running as a reformer. Fang beat back a similar challenge in 2010.

Board of Education: Nine candidate are vying for three seats on the citywide body that oversees public schools. Incumbents Emily Murase and Hydra Mendoza both work in city politics, with Mendoza drawing criticism for conflicts of interest in her role as a policy adviser to the Mayor. The other six candidates have drawn endorsements from across SF's political structure.

Community College Board: Ten candidates are vying for four seats on the currently powerless board of the troubled CCSF system. Last July, the system was placed under the control of a special trustee for the duration of its accreditation crisis. Two incumbents, John Rizzo and Anita Grier are up for reelection. Rodrigo Santos, who was voted off the board in 2012, is seeking to return. Of the challengers, Amy Bacharach, William Walker, and Thea Shelby have run the strongest campaigns. Dan Choi, an Army officer who came out of the closet on Rachel Maddow's show in 2009 to protest Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and is also in the race.

Superior Court, Seat 20: Still voting for judges! Still doesn't really make sense! There's two candidates here: Daniel Flores and Carol Kingsley. Flores narrowly missed avoiding a run off in the primary.

Proposition A: The Transportation and Road Improvement bond measure would float $500 million in borrowing to pay for transit infrastructure like improved MUNI facilities, bikeways on streets, and new traffic signals.

Proposition B: This measure would tie MUNI funding to population growth in future budgets. The current minimum funding level is based on the city's revenues. Both A and B have pretty wide backing, though B has led to something of a rift between Supervisor Wiener, who wrote it, and the Mayor, who wasn't thrilled.

Proposition C: Extends the city's Children's Fund and Public Education Enrichment Fund for the next 25 years. It's relatively non-controversial.

Proposition D: When the state shuttered its redevelopment agencies in 2012, it left a few loose ends to tie up. This one, which would extend retirement city benefits for employees of the agency, is one of those. It's important, but not controversial.

Proposition E: Soda tax, soda tax, soda tax! One of the two most interesting ballot measures this year would post a two cents per ounce tax on sugary beverages. It's been opposed by the soda industry, but also some progressives who worry about its regressive nature. If public health is at the top of your concerns, you'll vote for it. If you're worried about cost of living issues, you're probably against. We've written a lot about this one.

Proposition F: Pier 70 redevelopment. The first fruit of the waterfront fights is here. The proposal to redevelop Pier 70 has broad support, even from the preservationists backers who blocked the 8 Washington project and passed Prop B last year.

Proposition G: A steep tax on building sales intended to curb real estate speculation and the other of the two interesting ballots. If a multi-unit building is sold within five years of ownership, the seller would face a tax of from 14 to 24 percent of the sales price. The goal of the measure's progressive supporters is to curb what they see as speculation in the housing market. Opponents are worried about its effects on liquidity and its fairness. This is another one of those "taking the temperature of the city" fights.

Proposition H and I: Two measures on the same subject—whether the city can rebuild soccer fields near the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park. After years of planning, the city decided to put artificial turf down. Proposition H would nix that. Prop I would rarity it. (When critics carp about ballot box planning, the whole city voting on the turf for a soccer field may be what they have in mind.)

Proposition J: Would increase the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour. It's part of a region-wide push to raise the minimum wage as a means to combat income inequality. The city's proposal is widely popular, although there has been some grousing from restaurant owners, who are worried about the increase in labor costs.

Proposition K: Is a nonbinding resolution saying “yay” for affordable housing.

Proposition L: Is a nonbinding resolution on saying “yay” for cars.


Mayor: Incumbent Jean Quan faces a tough field of challengers in her attempt for a second term. Quan has been plagued by criticism of her handling of the city's crime, economic development, sports teams, and Occupy Oakland. The most prominent of her challengers are city council members Rebecca Kaplan and Libby Schaaf, both of whom are running as establishment candidates. Running to the left is civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, a former Quan adviser who acrimoniously split from the mayor after Occupy. Port Commissioner Bryan Parker is also running a strong challenge from the center. Thanks to ranked-choice voting, the crowded field could end up in any number of configurations. It could be a late night in the East Bay.

South Bay

17th Congressional District: Former Obama administration official Ro Khanna is running as the tech-friendly challenger to incumbent Mike Honda. Much like with the Campos-Chiu race in San Francisco, the two differ only a little on large political issues, leading the race to boil down to a choice of personalities: The disruptive Khanna against the stalwart Honda.

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