Yegparian: June 8 Primary

Much of the action and deception in California’s June 8 Primary Election is on the Republican ballot and the five propositions. But read on (or skip) to the end of this piece for the election that has generated the most heat, from an Armenian perspective. This is the year of elections for California’s “constitutional officers,” governor, attorney general, etc.

First let’s get some of the most troublesome elections out of the way. These are non-partisan, but also, they are almost “non-information.” The LA County Superior Court judges! Who knows about them? Unless an organization you trust has studied them (beyond the bar association’s findings regarding their competence), you have no real way of telling who would be good. So, if, like me, you feel compelled to vote, check out the LA Times April 24 edition’s editorials where they list their recommendations and see if they make sense to you.

Other non-partisan elections confront us, and choosing there is a bit less difficult, thanks to some work the LA Times has done. While I don’t share their conclusions, I will avail myself of their research. For California’s superintendent of public instruction, their top three choices are Tom Torlakson, Gloria Romero, and Larry Aceves; choose one of these three. Similarly, for LA county tax assessor, choose either John Noguez or John Wong. Finally, I suggest voting for the LA Unified School District’s proposed $100-per-year-per-parcel assessment, lasting only four years, which appears as Measure E on residents’ ballots to help the schools survive the dire times caused by California’s budget disaster.

The five California-wide propositions on the ballot are real issues this time, even if I don’t support them all.

Here’s what I think…

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Proposition 13—Yes. This one’s easy. No one’s opposed. It helps make building of all sorts safer by eliminating a disincentive to seismically upgrade them. Currently, if you own a home (or anything else) that isn’t up to modern earthquake-proofing standards, and you decide to fix it, you will trigger a reassessment that will likely increase your property tax by a significant amount. Who wants that? Prop 13 eliminates this obstacle. It’s nice to have such a simple, common sense, constitutional amendment that the otherwise much vilified legislature has put on the ballot to improve things for all concerned. Vote Yes!

Proposition 14—No. This ballot measure is a rehash of something that has come up at least once before, in the mid 1990’s. It changes the primary election process. Instead of each political party—Democratic, Green, Republican, etc.—getting to choose their own standard bearer for the general election, everyone would get to vote for everyone regardless of party affiliation. Currently, if you’re registered as, say, Peace & Freedom or Libertarian, you vote on the candidates who are running for that party’s nomination in the primary election. Then the winners from each party run against each other in the general (November) election. With the proposed change, the two candidates who get the most votes would run against each other in the general election, regardless of what party they belonged to. So there could be districts where only Republicans appear on the November ballot, and others where only Democrats do. This not only shuts out the minor parties, but reduces the choice people have even between the two major parties. It is an ill-conceived “solution” to the perceived problem of people getting elected to office who are too ideologically strong in one direction or the other. But just like term limits were supposed to help solve Sacramento’s problems and only made things worse, this proposal too will do nothing to solve the real root of the problem—too much money from special interests pouring into campaigns. Also, remember that each political party is a separate organization with a set of principles it stands for as embodied in the party platform. Each party’s members should get to decide who can best represent them without outside interference. With the new system, members of party A might vote for the “weakest” candidate of party B to get elected in the primary so that party A has an easier-to-beat opponent in the general. Here’s another example. The new system is like saying that members of the Ku Klux Klan should be able to vote in the elections of the American Civil Liberties Union, and vice versa. Does that make any sense? Vote No!

Proposition 15—Yes, enthusiastically. This is the best item to appear for a vote in years. For the first time, a publicly financed campaign will be available to a statewide officer: the secretary of state. This is the official who oversees elections, so it is the most important one to have free of outside influences, i.e. campaign donors with agendas that might run contrary to our, the citizenry’s, interests. Also, this is a trial. It would hold for the 2014 and 2018 elections. If we like it, then we can extend it and expand it. And the best part is, the money for these campaigns would come from raising the registration fees on Sacramento lobbyists (who currently pay less than someone who wants a fishing license!). No one will be forced to do this; they can opt in or out. Vote Yes!

Proposition 16—No. This measure is a sneak attack on citizens’ ability to choose who supplies their electricity. Surprise, surprise, it is bankrolled, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Can you guess why? They’re afraid of losing business, which is what would happen if municipalities decided to start their own utilities. So what this measure does is make it more difficult for people to choose a public utility by requiring a 2/3 vote to create one. Many of us in the LA area (Burbank, Glendale, LA) enjoy the stable service provided by municipal power authorities. When Enron gamed the system a decade ago, those served by public utilities did not suffer. PG&E wants to deny others this option as a viable alternative by deceptively advertising this ballot measure as a “right to vote,” when we already have that right. It just locks in PG&E’s effective monopoly on supplying power in the areas it serves. Don’t be fooled by the millions spent to support this deceit. Vote No!

Proposition 17—No. This measure is another corporate bait-and-switch. Under the guise of “helping” car insurance payers, what it does is help the bottom line of its main proponent, Mercury Insurance. It does one good thing, allowing insurance companies to give a discount to people switching from one insurance company to another, currently forbidden by the law. But, it also allows several other increases to be charged by insurance companies. For instance, if you terminate you coverage for any reason, no matter how sensible—moving out of state, serving in the military, being injured and not driving, etc.—when you go to restore coverage, all your years of previous coverage will not count towards a lower premium the way they do now. If Mercury Insurance was serious about its “benevolence,” it would have proposed changing only the prohibition against giving the discount. Along the way, this proposition also overturns parts of the original law passed by Californians in 1988 to protect against abusive insurance practices. Imagine that two previous California insurance commissioners have come out against this! Vote No!

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On the Democratic Party ballot, there’s relatively little excitement. You’ll see only one candidate for secretary of state, controller, treasurer, and (at least for the 4th District) member of the State Board of Equalization. For governor, there is only one serious contender, Jerry Brown; the rest are unknowns. So far, it’s all no-brainers. For lieutenant governor, I’ll recommend Gavin Newsom who has been on the right side of many issues, and since Janice Hahn is a current member of the LA City Council (the performance of which I’m not impressed with), and the third is an unknown. For insurance commissioner, I’m going with Hector de la Torre over Dave Jones, since I know more of the former and he has been good. The other easy choice is Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senator who, surprisingly, has two opponents, but is clearly the closest to the Armenian community. Finally, for those in the 29th Congressional District, another easy choice is Adam Schiff who’s running unopposed.

The real tough call on the Democratic ticket is for attorney general. With so much corporate crime, that’s the number one issue for me. So which of the seven candidates would be best? While candidate Delgadillo is arguably closest to the Armenian community, his chances of election are probably diminished because of his lackluster performance during his two terms as LA’s city attorney. I am very leery of people who jump in to the political fray for the first time at the statewide level, especially those touting their “business” background, which eliminates three more candidates. Given the background of the remaining three, the two with prosecutorial experience, Harris and Lieu, top the list. I may end up just flipping a coin to choose which of these two to vote for.

The Republicans have the really exciting primaries this year. For governor, eight candidates have thrown their hats in the ring. Six are irrelevant. The two biggies are Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, a billionaire and multi-millionaire, respectively. Whitman has spent some $70 million of her fortune, and Poizner $30 million of his. They’re not getting much for their money, especially Whitman, whose 50 percent lead over Poizner has now dwindled to less than 10 percent, with about 30 percent of Republican voters undecided. If I were a Republican, I’d vote for Poizner, since he brings some governmental experience to the table (he’s currently the state insurance commissioner) and Whitman hasn’t bothered to vote for most of her life. What’s that say about her grasp of citizenship?

Six candidates are vying for the Republican nomination to the lieutenant governorship. Here, Abel Maldonado, the recently appointed incumbent, seems like the most competent pick. He was willing to work with Democratic colleagues to craft a solution to budget woes last year, unlike all but one other of his colleagues. So he is the one who may be able to help with the state’s problems, since one other candidate is a current state senator and the rest are newbies. I have no advice or insight on the secretary of state candidates. Both claim business backgrounds, which is not optimal for the position. For controller, Tony Strickland is my recommendation, again because he brings government experience to the job. Treasurer is uncontested. Insurance commissioner goes to Brian Fitzgerald since he is coming from the department he’d be heading and presumably knows the ropes. No one is running for the Board of Equalization.

For attorney general, Cooley has not been good for the Armenian community, despite a few “i/yans” he keeps in tow. Go with Harman since he brings government experience.

The other heated Republican primary is for Senator. There are five candidates, among them an unheard of Armenian—don’t waste your vote on him. There are three serious contenders, one of whom is Carly Fiorina, another millionaire trying to buy her way into office. Chuck Devore is an extreme ideologue who’ll never get elected in California. Tom Campbell by all accounts is the most competent of the candidates. Vote for him.

I will spare you recommendations for the parties’ central committees. These are based on Assembly Districts and would drive everyone to tears of intense ennui. But for one California State Assembly District, the 43rd, which contains the largest number of Armenians, some comments are in order. I saved this for last because it also appears last in the ballot booklet and might be overlooked. Don’t skip it since this race is an important one.

You’ll remember that this is the district in which Chahe Keuroghelian ran as a spoiler, costing Nayiri Nahabedian the Democratic nomination in the special election held April 13. Mike Gatto won. Now, even though both Chahe’s and Nayiri’s names still appear on the ballot for the primary election, they have suspended their campaigns, so Mike will be the Democratic standard bearer in the November General Election for the next term. But, unresolved is the race for the vacancy created when Paul Krekorian was elected to the LA City Council. In other words, Mike Gatto, the Democratic nominee, and Sunder Ramani, the Republican nominee, are still running to fill the position for the six months remaining in the current term. Here, I suspect Armenians will end up dividing their votes along party lines since both candidates are doing extensive outreach to the community in various ways.

I hope this helps you make your choices. Regardless of what those might be, please be sure to go to the polls and vote or mail in your absentee ballot (no later than June 4 to be sure it is received in time to be counted).

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Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
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