March 2020

This is a relatively short post. The most controversial election on my ballot is the Presidential primary, and I’m pretty sure most of my friends have plenty of information about that already. All five propositions are “give money to kids?” and seem like easy yeses. There are only a few other contested positions, and most of them are incumbents vs relatively unknown challengers.

Please don’t skip the local school funding propositions, which may require supermajorities to pass! My strongest recommendations on this ballot are to vote yes on Alameda County Measure C and Berkeley Measures E, G, and H.

Here are my current recommendations in ballot order.

what my vote
President Bernie Sanders (or maybe Elizabeth Warren)
County Committee, D15 Alfred Twu, Paola Laverde, Nick Pilch, others?
US Representative, D13 BARBARA LEE
State Senate, D9 NANCY SKINNER
State Assembly, D15 Sara Brink (primary-specific decision)
Superior Court Judge, Office 2 Elena Condes?
Alameda County Supervisor, D5 Nick Pilch???
13 (school construction bonds) Yes
Alameda County C (sales tax for kids healthcare and preschool) YES!
Berkeley E (teacher property tax) YES!
Berkeley G (school construction bonds) YES!
Berkeley H (school maintenance property tax) YES!

A quick note on how these elections work.

Statewide elections use the “top two primary”: of the three candidates for Assembly, two will definitely end up on the ballot in November. In practice, this means that the Assembly race is a race between Brink (independent) and Solnordal (Republican) to see who will challenge Wicks (Democratic incumebent) in November. (This also applies to the US Representative and State Senate races, but neither race has more than 2 candidates, so barring a miracle of write-in votes, we know exactly what those races will look like in November.)

On the other hand, the local County Supervisor and Judge races are “non-partisan elections”. On the surface, they look similar: candidates are listed without parties, and no more than two will make it to the November ballot. However, if any candidate gets 50% of the vote, they win outright without a November election at all. So (barring a tie or write-in shenanigans) this is the only election we will have for the County Supervisor seat, and the Judge election may or may not continue to November.

The County Committee race (where 8 will win) takes place entirely on this ballot. Note that you must be a registered Democrat to vote in this race; being an independent voter who requests a Democratic Presidential ballot is not enough.

President: Bernie Sanders (or maybe Elizabeth Warren)

My friends really do ask for my opinions on elections (that’s why I make this site!) but that’s generally for the nitty-gritty local stuff, not the most prominent election in years. So I’m not going to spend too many words on this one.

I think Sanders and Warren would both make excellent presidents. If I could vote for both in some sort of ranked-choice system, I would. Right now I am leaning towards Sanders. My wife is planning to vote for Warren, and I feel pretty good about our household combined voting for both of them.

I do not think any of the other remaining candidates would be good presidents. I especially find the entire Bloomberg candidacy disgusting, and would find it challenging to muster any enthusiasm in November towards doing anything other than checking the box on my own ballot for him.

In the unlikely event that I find more time for this site this week, I’ll expand more on why I am leaning towards Sanders over Warren.

Democratic Party County Committee, Assembly District 15: Alfred Twu, Paola Laverde, Nick Pilch, others?

What exactly is the County Committee? This diagram sheds a bit of light on it:

An Overview of the Democratic Party in California, by Alfred Twu.

An Overview of the Democratic Party in California, by Alfred Twu.

A large amount of what this committee does is make endorsements in future elections that get to count as the official Democratic Party endorsement. These hold a lot of weight for many voters! So it’s good to vote for people who have similar opinions as yourself.

Note that you must be a registered Democrat to vote in this race (which is for a party position, not a government position): independents voting in the Democratic Presidential primary do not get this on their ballot.

I’ve been very impressed with Alfred Twu, who I first learned about as a candidate for City Council two years ago. Twu is an outspoken member of the YIMBY org East Bay for Everyone and the DSA, which is basically my political sweet spot. I also really enjoy Twu’s urban art and graphic design, including the diagram above! So I am definitely voting for Twu.

We get to vote for up to 8. I don’t know most of the others running (or have mild negative opinions about a few). Paola Laverde is running on a slate with Twu so that’s reasonably compelling. I learned about Nick Pilch (an Albany city council member who started an Albany pedestrian and bike advocacy group) while researching his county supervisor campaign (see below) and I dunno, if he seems reasonable enough to vote for in that race, why not this one too?

US Representative, District 13: BARBARA LEE

Still great. Though it is disappointing that she is no longer the most progressive member of Congress. I’d love to see her voting with “the squad” more often!

State Senate, District 9: NANCY SKINNER

I like her, but she’s running unopposed anyway.

State Assembly, District 15: Sara Brink (primary-specific decision)

Two years ago, this was a hotly contested seat with many candidates. Buffy Wicks won, going up against Jovanka Beckles in the November election. During that election, I didn’t really believe the awful pictures painted by either candidate’s supporters about the other one. While I thought it was tacky for Wicks to move back to the Bay Area and immediately run for the state legislature in a race against many candidates with real local government experience, I also believed she was a legitimate person motivated to improve the world, not just the paid-for puppet the Beckles campaign was portraying her as. I voted for Beckles but was tentatively optimistic about Wicks. So far she’s been fine, as far as I can tell. I continue to be wishy-washy as to whether I’m a hardcore believer in YIMBYism or a bit skeptical, but she seems basically fine.

Anyway, she’s going to be re-elected this year. There are two other candidates on the ballot. One is a Republican. The other is Sara Brink, who is running from Wicks’ left, on a platform that is primarily about improving elections themselves, and which appears to be more of a protest or art project than an actual attempt to win an election. (Even the Alameda County Green Party sees it that way and gives her their endorsement only with qualifications… and when the Green Party thinks your candidacy is just a protest rather than a realistic attempt to win an election, that’s saying something.)

But this is 2020, and we all know what the Republican party stands for. Even a protest candidacy has more moral claim to office than a Republican, so I’m going to vote for Brink in the hope that we can keep the party of Trump and white supremacy as far off our ballot as possible. If Brink somehow does manage to come in second in the primary, I’ll think more carefully in November about whether to vote for her or Wicks. But for now, I’m voting against Republican Jeanne Solnordal by voting for Sara Brink.

Superior Court Judge, Office 2: Elena Condes?

None of the candidates appear to be awful people. Szelenyi’s experience is 100% as a worker’s comp judge, which is pretty niche for jumping to the Superior Court. Condes and Fickes both seem to be basically fine. Condes has way more endorsements than Fickes, but Fickes has a handful. They are both LGBT and seem to have split the LGBT org endorsements. Fickes has a pretty varied career; Condes has focused primary on defense. In general I think our courts should have more judges with a background in defense, so combining that with the endorsements, I’m voting for Condes. But I’m not voting against anyone here!

This will come back in November if none of them get 50%.

Alameda County Supervisor, District 5: Nick Pilch???

I don’t have a great grasp on what this job does. Keith Carson seems fine and has good endorsements. He’s also had the job for 28 years.

I’ve never heard of Nick Pilch before looking at my ballot, but he seems interesting! He started an Albany bike/pedestrian advocacy group (that I’ve never heard of) and is on their City Council. It seems unlikely that he will win this low profile race against an incumbent who sending mailers with Barbara Lee’s face on it. I actually asked him if he was running because Carson was bad or just for new blood, and he said new blood. I’m guessing he’s mostly just running to raise name recognition… and well, I guess it worked because I’m voting for him for the County Central Committee.

I guess I’ll vote for him because he seems basically reasonable and 28 years is a long time to have an elected job. But I don’t have a problem with Carson and I can’t imagine he won’t win.

CA Prop 13 (school construction bonds): Yes

(Note: this is not the same as the awful Prop 13 of 1978, which we are hopefully partially overturning in November!)

All of the propositions on my ballot are about spending money on kids, which is hard to say no to. This one has no objections from anyone other than the Howard Jarvis association (aka the villains behind 1978’s Prop 13) and some Republican state senator. Building schools sounds pretty reasonable to me. The thing where school districts will be temporarily limited in their ability to charge developer fees on new apartment buildings is a little strange (I’m pretty sure this is something Berkeley is trying to increase right now), but I haven’t seen anyone complain about it specifically. So sounds like a yes to me.

Alameda County C (sales tax for kids healthcare and preschool): YES!

This is to some degree a do-over of Measure A from June 2018, a 30-year 0.5% sales tax that required 66.67% yes votes to pass and came tantalizingly close with 66.20%.

There are three differences this time. First, the tax will only last 20 years. Second, last time the tax was entirely for preschool and childcare; this time, 80% goes to that, and the rest goes to childhood health care (a lot of which would presumably go to Children’s Hospital Oakland). Third, this one was placed on the ballot via signature collection rather than by the county supervisors, which might mean that it only needs 50% to pass rather than 66.67%. I say “might” because this belief is based on some recent court decisions that haven’t made it all the way up the appeals court chain yet.

While sales tax is a relatively regressive way to raise money, this tax is for a good cause and is supported by just about everyone. My daughter was admitted to CHO for four days last year and we are very happy to have an excellent children’s hospital within walking distance, so I’m not upset to see some of the tax money going there instead of entirely to preschool/childcare.

I am definitely voting yes and really hope this makes it above 66.67% so it doesn’t get trapped in the legal uncertainty that would happen if it gets between 50% and 66.67%.

Berkeley E (teacher property tax), G (school construction bonds), and H (school maintenance property tax): YES!

One of the pernicious effects of 1978’s Prop 13 (not this year’s Prop 13 which is good!) is that counties have a strict 1% cap on how high property taxes that are based on property value may be. Counties and their subdivisions that want to raise more money from property taxes need to do so with other forms of taxes, like taxes based on square footage rather than property taxes which are more regressive. But well, that’s the situation we’re in until we roll back more parts of Prop 13.

Berkeley’s schools are one of the main reasons we live in this city, and I will vote for any school funding measure that doesn’t have a coherent objection. (The only published objection to these measures is from a person whose name I recognize from Berkeleyside and NextDoor as a constant cynical critic of the school district and local government in general.)

E and H require 66.67% supermajorities, and G requires a 55% supermajority. Please don’t skip these!