June 2018: Candidates

Here are my current thoughts on candidates on the November 2016 ballot in Berkeley, in ballot order.

You can also read my thoughts on propositions, or see a cheat sheet summary.

On the whole, I’ve found fewer candidates to be excited about than in past years, and lots of races where I’m finding it hard to come to a decision. I’d love to hear feedback from friends in the next week before the election! The serious candidates in contested races that I’m most wholeheartedly excited about are Pamela Price for DA and Tony Thurmond for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Governor: Delaine Eastin

This race, which led to my most popular tweet of all time, somehow manages to fail to excite me. I moved to San Francisco in the Newsom era and think of him mostly as somebody who loved to claim credit for popular initiatives that he had actually opposed (say, Healthy SF). While his work on same-sex marriage is laudable, I found it hard to like much else about him. I’m sure he’d manage to do some good things as governor, but I’m not going to vote for him in the primary.

Villaraigosa appears to be the SoCal version of Newsom. And he’s a big charter school supporter and skeptical of single-payer. I don’t think I can bring myself to vote for him even in a game-theory “keep the Republicans off the ballot” strategy.

John Chiang has always struck me as competent. I hadn’t heard of Delaine Eastin before a few months ago but her work in education is legit and she has most of the lefty endorsements. They both seem fine. I only wish I knew which one had more of a chance to make it to #2 under Newsom (realistically, it’s neither). Given that I can only vote for one, why not vote for someone to be the first female governor of the state.

Lieutenant Governor: Gayle McLaughlin

This position barely matters. (Newsom is running for governor on his mayoral record, not his term as LtGov.)

I don’t know too much about Richmond politics, but the basic outline is that Richmond had been a company town run by Chevron until the Richmond Progressive Alliance came along and won several City Council seats, and McLaughlin won two terms as mayor. They worked to remove tax perks from Chevron, reduce pollution, and improve the police department via community policing while reducing crime. McLaughlin is now running for lieutenant governor against some random ambassador. She’s got my vote.

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla

I’ve generally been happy with what I’ve heard of his policies so far, with the exception of the strange decision to fight in court to defend a sloppy practice of ignoring absentee ballots based on handwriting analysis (despite claiming to support the legislative solution to the same problem). I don’t see any reason to vote for any of his challenges, though.

Controller: Betty Yee

Haven’t heard anything bad about her in this role.

Treasurer: ?

Haven’t heard anything particularly compelling about any candidate. Barbara Lee endorses Fiona Ma?

Attorney General: Dave Jones

Have heard nice things about both Dave Jones and Xavier Becerra. While Becerra gets a lot of credit for pushing back on Trump, it seems likely Jones would have done the same — rewarding somebody for being appointed doesn’t seem like a good way to choose. Jones appears to be more strongly anti-death penalty, which tips the scales for me. It’s likely we’ll get a November match–up between these two anyway.

Insurance Commissioner: ?

Haven’t been able to learn much exciting here.

Member, State Board of Equalization, 2nd District: Nobody?

Apparently this board was stripped of most of its power recently due to corruption. And none of the candidates seem particularly impressive. Might just leave this one blank. Barbara Lee endorses Malia Cohen?

US Senator: KEVIN DE LEON

You could do worse for a Senator than Dianne Feinstein, but you could do a whole lot better. She’s more conservative than the state, too much of a hawk, and did an awful job of opposing Trump’s nominees (voting no on most of them, but without making any statements ahead of time, let alone using her seniority to help shepherd her caucus towards unity). I’m voting for the most promising Democrat for that reason alone. But even if I loved Feinstein, I’d be tempted to vote for the Democrat polling second to try to keep Republicans off the ballot; according to at least one poll, the top Republican is a literal neo-Nazi. De Leon seems fine.

US Representative: BARBARA LEE

Still great.

State Assembly, District 15: Jovanka Beckles (but tempted by Buffy Wicks and Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto)

This is the big one. There are a lot of candidates here who seem sorta OK to me, and none that really excite me.

If it weren’t for the issue of housing, there’s little question I’d vote for Jovanka Beckles. She’s a part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (like Gayle McLaughlin who I’m supporting for Governor). She refuses corporate money and (I believe) has by far the largest number of small-money donors. Most of her platform is excellent, and my impression is she got things done in Richmond. Her housing platform is more nuanced than I originally thought. Her opposition to SB827 and her skepticism about transit-based development is the main thing preventing me from being a whole-hearted supporter, though she does support AB 2923 (building units on BART land) and has some other good ideas on housing… but not on building enough of it.

Buffy Wicks has raised the most money, primarily from large donations from out of district sources. Her main prior experience is being a big part of Obama’s campaign and administration. She just moved here two years ago, though she did live in SF and Oakland a bit last decade. She is by far the most pro-housing-development of the candidates… maybe even a little too much so for me. For example, she’s the only major candidate to not support repeal of Costa-Hawkins, which would allowing municipalities to enact rent control on post-70s buildings as well as allow vacancy control (which would significantly improve the negative effects of rent control). Instead, she supports reform that would allow the cutoff to change over time (and isn’t sure about the vacancy control aspect). I’m tempted to support her as a YIMBY, but it’s hard for me to vote for somebody who moved to the district even more recently than me and who seems to have zero connections to or support from any local community organizations. She may be the most skilled of the candidates at getting things done in politics, but does she know how to avoid the traps Senator Wiener fell into recently in unveiling SB827 without working with affordable housing advocates? I called her office and they gave me her cell phone number and we had a long talk a week before the election. I suspect that of all the candidates, she would have the most success getting things done in Sacramento (for better or for worse, she’s pals with probable future Governor Newson), and I do think her housing policies are best. But her minimal connection to the district (and frankly, her support from the more corporate side of the Democratic party) concerns me.

My feelings on Wicks are summed up by this direct quote: “I text with Gavin”. Is having the ear of the man who unfortunately will probably be governor a useful thing for a legislator? Yes! Is being excited about a man whose main accomplishments (outside of marriage work) consist of giving proud speeches about programs he opposed until they passed going to impress me with your judgement and specific knowledge of local issues? No!

Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto is a nurse and El Cerrito official. She came in second in East Bay For Everyone’s pro-housing scorecard behind Wicks (and is the candidate most supportive of Wiener’s SB827 bill to increase height limits near transit hubs). She is very focused on improving healthcare in California and saving Alta Bates Hospital (where she works!). She’s got the endorsement of the incumbent and many labor groups. As the most pro-housing candidate with a real connection to the district, I’m attracted to the idea of voting for her. But this feels like a wishy-washy “centrist” position.

Ben Bartlett is my City Council member. I sure wish I could be a wholehearted supporter of the only politician who recognizes me on the street. And he even ended up supporting for the 2902 Adeline project I mentioned in my write-up of his last candidacy, just like he whispered in my ear that he would do during the zoning meeting… even though during that same meeting he gave a firey profanity-laced tirade against it. But it doesn’t fill me with confidence that his main accomplishment was something he campaigned against.

Andy Katz, Dan Kalb, and Judy Appel all seem basically fine on non-housing issues but not great on housing and not super exciting overall.

Right now, I’m thinking that Beckles’ housing platform is more nuanced than I’d originally thought when rejecting her as a NIMBY ally, and I think she deserves to be one of the two fall candidates. I’m leaning towards voting for her now, though I’m not sure I’ll be fully decided before filling out my ballot on election day; Wicks and Pardue-Okimoto are still serious choices. And I can even imagine voting for one of them now, having them make it to November, and voting for somebody else then. We’ll see.

Superior Court Judge, Office 11: ?

This is an odd race. Incumbent judges are rarely challenged. I do like the idea of supporting a public defender for judge, so the challenger Karen Katz is attractive. Her criticisms of the incumbent (Flanagan) are primarily accusations that Flanagan is disrespectful to defendants and the accused, as well as a minor campaign finance issue. Flanagan’s campaign has mostly been to state that incumbent judges are rarely challenged and to strongly imply that it’s because she is an out lesbian (an issue Katz has not publicly raised, and Katz is apparently bi with a gay son). Flanagan has far more endorsements than Katz. It honestly seems like a mess and I don’t know who to vote for.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: TONY THURMOND

Thurmond is currently my representative in the Assembly; the big election for his seat is happening because he’s running for this office. His main opponent is Marshall Tuck, former president of a public charter school organization. This is essentially a public-schools-and-teachers vs charter-schools election. (Admittedly, Tuck claims to want to outlaw for-profit charter schools, though who knows if this would actually be a priority, and it’s not under the control of this position anyway. I have heard positive things about Tuck from people whose opinions I respect, but even those folks also really like Thurmond.) I am pretty firmly in the public education camp and am excited to vote for Thurmond. Maybe once Ida is actually in public school my optimistic opinion of public school teachers may lower, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools: L. Karen Monroe

Incumbent running unopposed. Can’t find anything bad about her.

Alameda County Board of Education, Area 1: Joaquin Rivera

Incumbent running against somebody who failed to impress me two years ago. Can’t find anything bad about him.

Alameda County Assessor: Phong La

The assessor’s office calculates the value of a property (only when it is sold or significantly upgraded, thanks to Prop 13) and thus its property tax. The race seems to be between an outsider (Phong La, who’s somewhat of a community activist as well as a real estate attorney) and some insiders (Jim Johnson and Kevin Lopez, who work in the Assessor’s office). Honestly I want to see an assessor candidate who’ll speak out against Prop 13; that doesn’t seem to describe any of the candidates, but La is at least endorsed by the anti-Prop 13 group Evolve CA. Good enough for me, I guess.

Alameda County Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder: Irella Blackwood?

The handpicked successor to the incumbent, Melissa Wilk, vs a challenger with similar experience in San Francisco, Irella Blackwood. Maybe I’ll vote for Blackwood because Sheriff Ahern endorses Wilk.

Alameda County District Attorney: PAMELA PRICE!!!

Made it all the way down here? This is a big one too.

One of the most important movements for criminal justice in the country today is electing progressive District Attorneys, like my hometown of Philly recently did. O’Malley might not be the worst DA in the state, but she is apparently pretty reluctant to hold cops accountable (and even took a donation from the Fremont police union while considering and rejecting the prosecution of cops for the admittedly complex killing of a pregant teen last year). Comparing their answers to an ACLU survey, Pamela Price’s platform clearly promises far more in the way of criminal justice reform. Perhaps it is easier to promise big changes as a challenger then as an incumbent, but O’Malley didn’t take the opportunity to clarify the reasoning behind most of her stances in this survey. Price will refuse to push for the death penalty; O’Malley is not super pro death penalty but has pursued it in one case.

Editorials endorsing O’Malley claim that Price has less overall knowledge and management experience than O’Malley. This may or may not be true. But in this case, I’m going to vote for the superior platform.

… and even if I wasn’t already going to vote for Price, hearing that the Oakland police union is sending anti-Price emails to a carefully-curated no-black-people list would have put me over the edge.

Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner: N.O. CONFIDENCE

Sheriff Ahern is the worst elected official currently representing me. He goes out of his way to cooperate with ICE, opposed 2016’s death penalty repeal proposition, signed a letter supporting Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General… the list goes on. Unfortunately, you can’t legally run for Sheriff without a background in law enforcement, and a losing campaign against an incumbent sheriff would ruin a cop’s career. I will be voting for N. O. Confidence.

Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector: Hank Levy?

Hard to find much about this unopposed appointed incumbent. He’s pro-union?.