November 2018: Candidates

Here are my current thoughts on candidates on the November 2018 ballot in Berkeley, in ballot order.

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

Most of these races are statewide “Democrat vs Republican” races which don’t require much thought. The Assembly race is the most challenging race on the ballot.

Governor: Gavin Newsom ☹

Newsom will certainly be better than Cox. See my comments in the primary on why Newsom fails to excite me.

Lieutenant Governor: Ed Hernandez

My preferred candidate didn’t win the primary. It’s been hard to be motivated to spend time researching this relatively unimportant position.

Based on very rudimentary research, I’m happy to vote for Hernandez, who actually has been elected to something before, vs just a rich person who got appointed as an ambassador once.

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla

Democrat vs Republican. (Can’t find any more recent news on the handwriting analysis issue I discussed in the primary, though.)

Controller: Betty Yee

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

Treasurer: Fiona Ma

Democrat vs Republican. Frustrating that Ma didn’t drop her endorsement of a lying transphobic SF school board candidate (who has since dropped out). But hey, still better than her opponent.

Attorney General: Xavier Becerra

Democrat vs Republican.

Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara

Apparently Poizner was reasonably respected the last time he held this job as a Republican, and he was pretty non-partisan about it. And maybe he has a better sense for the nuts and bolts of insurance than Lara. On the other hand, he pivoted sharply into racist anti-immigrant policies when running for Governer in 2010, and I don’t take his recent apologies too seriously.

Lara seems to have his heart in the right place, even though his campaigning seems to be a lot about policies that the Commissioner doesn’t actually have any control over.

Maybe I’d consider voting for a formerly-Republican technocrat who understands the detail work of insurance over a Democrat who’s less of an expert… when the ex-GOPer didn’t have an opportunistic racist streak in him. I’m happy to vote for Lara.

Member, State Board of Equalization, 2nd District: Malia Cohen

Democrat vs Republican. Cohen isn’t my favorite local politician, and apparently this board was stripped of most of its power recently due to corruption, but eh.


As I said in June:

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. De Léon isn’t perfect either (he apparently could have been a lot more proactive in dealing with issues of sexual harassment in the legislature), but on the whole seems fine.

US Representative: BARBARA LEE

Still great.

State Assembly, District 15: Jovanka Beckles?

This is the big one.

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 (at least during the primary) had by far the largest number of small-money donors. She’s endorsed by Barbara Lee! 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. But she has stated that the only housing crisis in the Bay Area is the affordable housing crisis (although she also claims, believably, that this was taken out of context), and is opposed to large-scale market-rate housing development. She opposes SB827 and is skeptical about transit-based development, 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. A huge amount of the “pro-Beckles” campaign arguments are just descriptions of Wicks’ donors — and while I do find the list of those supporting Wicks to be a bit concerning, it feels like it’s the entirety of her campaign these days!

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 was the only major candidate in the primaries to not support repeal of Costa-Hawkins (Prop 10!), which would allowing municipalities to enact rent control on post-70s buildings and single-family homes, as well as allow vacancy control. Instead, she supports reform that would allow the cutoff to change over time (and isn’t sure about the vacancy control aspect, last I checked). 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 primary. 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 better than Beckles’. But her minimal connection to the district (and frankly, her support from the more corporate side of the Democratic party) concerns me.

I was also a bit weirded out by seeing how white her primary victory party was in this majority-minority district. (Perhaps she noticed the same thing, as her recent mailings have been chock full of photos of black politicians who have endorsed her… very few of whom are actually from the district.)

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!

This Berkeleyside article on an October debate does a great job of highlighting concrete differences in their policy positions. I think single-payer healthcare is a good example of their differences. Both support it in the abstract. Getting California to enact statewide single-payer is a major priority for Beckles. However, most proposed paths to funding California single-payer depend on the federal government allowing federal funds to support this system, which is unlikely under Trump. Wicks’s reaction is to deprioritize direct work on California single-payer until after Trump. I don’t think Wicks is wrong about the likelihood of successfully launching California single-payer under Trump… but that doesn’t necessarily mean that working to pass it now (and move it even more towards being a key plank of the Democratic party as soon as possible) is a bad idea.

I was pretty torn in the primary, and ended up voting for Beckles at the last minute.

Other than housing, I’d probably vote for Beckles. But “other than housing” is a big caveat.

I’m finding this Twitter thread to be a reasonably compelling argument to vote for Wicks. Unlike most of what I can read about this race, Owens (who’s Droste’s appointment to the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission) takes both candidates seriously, and respects Beckles, and would vote for her for other positions. (And he’s for Prop 10!) But his analysis of the difference between their housing policies is hard to ignore.

I’ve been also trying out thought experiments for what’s likely to happen if each candidate wins.

If Wicks wins, she instantly sheds her biggest negative (no local government experience), and with the backing of the party machine, it’s easy to see her winning easy re-elections for her next two terms. Beckles’ term in Richmond is expiring, and I’m not sure if there’ll be any great opportunities for her to try for a more regional role any time soon.

If Beckles wins, then unless she instantly becomes the most universally loved politician in the Bay Area (in which case, great!), it’s much easier to imagine a serious challenge from a more centrist Democrat in two years. And Wicks is likely to run for something else in Oakland, or maybe even the same seat in two years.

I like Beckles enough that giving her a chance for one term seems like an OK idea, even if it’ll be one fewer vote (out of 80) for upzoning. I’ve gone back and forth many times this year on this race, but as of now (the day before the election), Beckles has my vote.

Judges: No on Carol Corrigan, yes on everyone else?

There are 8 yes/no judge confirmation elections on my ballot: Carol A. Corrigan, Leondra R. Kruger, James M. Humes, Sandra Margulies, James A. Richman, Marla Miller, Peter John Siggins, Alison M. Tucher, Jon B. Streeter, and Barbara Jones.

It’s hard to find too many details on them. The main thing I’ve found are people suggesting a “no” vote on Corrigan based on her dissent from In re Marriage Cases, the decision which legalized same-gender marriage in California until Prop 8. But also that she is a recently-outed lesbian herself — it leaves me with an odd feeling as a straight person punishing an LGBT person for an anti-LGBT ruling. The SF League of Pissed Off Voters, who generally have sound stances, have a slight recommendation based on minimal research to vote no on Margulies, Richman, and Miller as well as Corrigan.

In practice, it’s hard to imagine any judge losing re-election without a concerted campaign to vote no, so it’s hard to feel too bad about my lack of knowledge here.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: TONY THURMOND

As I said in June:

Thurmond is currently my representative in the Assembly; the big election for his seat is happening because he’s running for this office. His 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 will lower, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Alameda County Assessor: Phong La

As I said in June:

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 an insiders (Jim Johnson, who works 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.

Berkeley Rent Board: María Poblet, James Chang, Paola Laverde, John Selawsky, and Soli Alpert

This is a pretty important one, but I haven’t had the time to fully research it yet. We get to vote for five members. María Poblet, James Chang, Paola Laverde, Soli Alpert, and John Selawsky is the slate chosen by the Berkeley Tenants Convention. I have not done enough research to decide if that’s convincing, but I’m not particularly impressed by the other candidates, who seem to be decidedly anti-tenant (even if they cast themselves as balanced). Hunt was involved in some strange drama with the Library governance earlier this year that hasn’t impressed.

I am tempted to undervote by voting for the 4 incumbents (all on the slate) and leaving off Alpert, who is the legislative aide for Kate Harrison, the overly NIMBY City Councillor for downtown (which is the district that ought to have the most development). However, I found his detailed responses to the East Bay DSA’s questions to be compelling (including at least a nod to the racism of zoning laws). Plus it does feel nice to get to vote for a young lefty Jew. So I’ll vote for the whole slate.

Berkeley School Board: Ty Alper, Julie Sinai, Ka’dijah Brown

These candidates appear to basically be the establishment slate (one incumbent, two who co-endorse with him).

The other options are: Abdur Sikder, who has no direct connection to BUSD and does not impress me any more than the last two times he showed up on my ballot. Norma Harrison, a perennial candidate who runs on what is essentially a school abolition platform. And Dru Howard, who skipped the LWV candidate forum and didn’t respond to Berkeleyside’s candidate questionnaire. Hard not to just go with the establistment.

AC Transit Director (at-large): Dollene Jones

So this is an incumbent (who’s been on the board since 2010, and who has had a variety of scandals including a domestic violence case), vs a retired bus driver who has run and lost 4 times recently. I can’t find many endorsements at all in this race — other than the East Bay Express and Alameda County Green Party, both of whom endorsed the challenger Jones.

When Jones ran for director two years ago, I said that while the idea of voting for a queer woman of color who represents the transit system’s employees appeals to me, I feel uncomfortable voting for her without first finding any organization who endorses her in this particular election. And hey! There’s an organization that endorsed her this time! So sure, I’ll vote for Jones.

Berkeley Auditor: JENNY WONG

It’s easy to miss this one, hidden on the final page after the local propositions.

Jenny Wong is endorsed by basically everybody from the incumbent Auditor and her predecessor to the winning and losing candidate for mayor in 2016. (Oh, and the emeritus rabbi of Kehilla — looks like she’s a member.)

Vladislav Davidzon is literally a Berkeleyside comments troll, obsessed with the belief that city employee pay and benefits is the biggest problem facing Berkeley.

The choice is easy.