Fuck the Republican Party: How to Think About Your June Primary Vote in California
Unlike states controlled by Republicans, California makes it as easy as possible to vote, and voter registration is at essentially an all-time high: 75% of eligible voters are registered. This is likely a result of reforms like automated voter registration when you get or renew a driver’s license and pre-registering 16- and 17-year-old drivers to vote. Compare this to North Carolina, where Republicans are doing their best to protect an electoral map intentionally gerrymandered to marginalize black voters. (Fuck North Carolina Republicans specifically, by the way.)
If you’re already a registered voter in California, you should have automatically had a mail-in ballot sent to your registered address (talk about easy), and if you are not yet registered in California, you have until 15 days before the June 5th primary election — 11:59 pm on May 21st — to register online.
Also of note is California’s “top two” primary system: The top two vote-getters in each race on June 5th will go to the general election in November, instead of the top vote-getter in each party. This means it’s very possible that two candidates of the same party will compete in the general election, which is a great thing for democracy in the state. California voters have — rightly — not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, so in most cases, putting two Democrats on the ballot actually gives voters a meaningful choice in November, rather than making the Democratic primary the de facto general election.
All of this is helpful context for understanding the state of democracy in California. However, when I opened up my mail-in ballot this weekend, I was surprised at just how much work it is to vote thoughtfully in this state. I’ve started paying a fair bit of attention to California politics — through things like listening to the California Politics podcast from the LA Times and It’s All Political from the San Francisco Chronicle — but that has left me reasonably informed on just 2 of the 20 races I need to vote for in my county and essentially none of the 5 statewide propositions and 1 regional measure.
How to Think About Your Vote in California
Enough people have asked me about how they should vote that I figured I’d write up my thoughts in case it’s useful for others, especially millennials. I’m using three heuristics to guide my thinking:
1. Generally trust the California Democratic Party endorsements unless I have a good reason not to.
A lot of politically moderate people like to say, “The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are all the same: they’re both corrupt.” This draws an equivalence between the two parties that is not only wrong but also deeply counter-productive.
The current incarnation of the Republican Party is a cancerous, rotten institution roiled by pervasive groupthink (“RINO! Republican In Name Only!”), a stunning lack of empathy (saying they care about Dreamers on the one hand, while doing jack shit to help them on the other), and corruption so deeply ingrained that its politicians don’t even realize they have been bought off (believing that the Republican tax bill will actually help the economy, when in fact it primarily lines the pockets of billionaire donors).
The Democratic Party has some shitty people in it — e.g., former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was blatantly pro-Clinton in the 2016 primaries even though it was her job to be impartial, and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who acted super shady around the unjustified shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer, the tape of which conveniently did not come out until after the mayoral election.
But a handful of shitty people does not even come close to the deep moral decay of the Republican Party, which had been building toward the election of a race-baiting demagogue of some kind for decades. If you think the two American political parties are the same thing, you are being naive. Hence, I’m generally okay with whoever the Democrats endorse.
2. Preference younger candidates whenever possible.
The single biggest problem in California is the housing crisis: Forbes recently published a list of the 15 worst cities for renters in America, and 8 cities, the majority of the list, are in California. This has been the result of the baby boom generation dominating policymaking in the state for decades, where they sat on city councils to make building new housing as difficult as possible and occupied the state legislature to create a policy environment inhospitable for putting new construction where it was needed most. As a result, California has under-built housing for more than 30 years.
Look at this infuriating graph from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office:
The generation that is feeling this most acutely is mine, millennials. Many of us graduated college into an economy depressed by the financial crisis of 2008, and rents are so ridiculous in the cities where the best jobs exist that we spend far more than the recommended 30% of our income on rent. In most of California, buying a home for millennials is a pipe dream, unless you’re willing to suffer a 60-to-90-minute commute twice a day.
Given that this is the single most important problem in the state and that millennials feel this most acutely, I have a strong, strong preference for younger candidates. Older generations, especially the baby boomers (basically, anyone 54 and up), were able to buy their homes before the massive run-up in prices in California, and now they benefit from laws setup to protect their investments and discourage new building. This has to change, and the only way that is going to happen is to elect as many millennials to office in California as possible.
3. Vote strategically to maximize the chances for Democrats to take back the House in November.
California, as the most populous state in the union with nearly 40 million people, also has an unusually high number of Republican representatives in Congress that are vulnerable this November. 14 Republican seats are up for re-election, and at least 7 of them are pretty competitive. Given the cancerous, rotten state of the modern Republican Party (see above), it is imperative that Democrats use every advantage they can to take back the House.
One key advantage in California would be shutting Republicans out of prominent statewide races in November, so that there are no popular-with-the-base candidates motivating Republican turnout. This is especially key in the governor’s race: two Republican candidates are somewhat competitive, and some polls indicate that one of them could end up as the #2 vote-getter in the June primary. We can’t let this happen. The best thing for democracy in California is for voters to have two plausible, Democratic candidates to choose from for governor, rather than letting a Republican protest candidate go to the general election, lose in a landslide, but stoke Republican enthusiasm in swing House districts.
Who I’m Voting For (and Why You Should Too)
Alright, all that is a lot of context, but hopefully it makes explaining each vote below much simpler.
Note: I’ve italicized the races I think are especially important to vote thoughtfully in.
California Statewide Races
CA Governor = Antonio Villaraigosa [Strategic Vote]
The two most viable Democratic candidates for governor are Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom is far and away the favorite and is virtually guaranteed to come in #1 in the primary. Villaraigosa is the likely #2, but Republican John Cox is within 3 points of Villaraigosa in two recent polls. No matter whether you prefer Newsom or Villaraigosa, it is imperative to shut the Republicans out of the governor’s race, for reasons stated above. Strategically vote for Villaraigosa.
US Senate = Kevin De Leon [Younger Candidate]
There are really only two viable candidates in this race: Los Angeles-area State Senator Kevin De Leon and incumbent US Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein is, today, 84 years old and would be 85 when starting a 5th 6-year term as senator. Feinstein is an extraordinarily impressive woman, but consider for a moment your own political views. Where do you sit on the ideological spectrum? What values do you hold? Now imagine the set of 84-year-olds in the United States and imagine where even the most liberal of those would land. Do they line up where you are? I doubt it.
Feinstein should have retired this year and stepped aside for a new generation of political leaders. California’s other senator, Kamala Harris, is already talked about as a potential 2020 presidential nominee. This is an incredibly important state, and it would serve us in the long term to have TWO senators who were viable aspirants to higher office or could at least start building their long-term influence in DC. You should vote for De Leon.
CA Lieutenant Governor = Eleni Kounalakis [Younger Candidate]
The lieutenant governorship is a fairly powerless position in California government. You’re basically a warm body ready to go in case the governor dies in office, so it’s not hugely important who gets into the slot (I’m guessing Newsom and Villaraigosa are unlikely to pass away in office).
There seem to be three viable Democratic candidates who have split the field of endorsements from current and former state and federal officials: Jeff Bleich, Ed Hernandez, and Eleni Kounalakis. There’s also an independent candidate of the Bernie Sanders variety in Gayle McLaughlin. Of the three mainstream Democratic candidates, I’m just going with the youngest: Eleni Kounalakis, who’s 5 and 9 years younger than the other two. Not a millennial, but I’ll take what I can get.
CA Secretary of State = Alex Padilla [Democratic Party Endorsement]
Padilla is the incumbent and has the party endorsement. There’s one other Democrat in the race, Ruben Major, but it doesn’t look like he’s gotten much traction, and honestly, Secretary of State is a fairly bureaucratic position where I imagine experience is quite valuable.
CA Controller = Betty Yee [Democratic Party Endorsement]
Only Democrat in the race and endorsed by the party.
CA Treasurer = Vivek Viswanathan [Younger Candidate]
The Democratic Party endorsed Fiona Ma, a CPA and a former state assemblywoman. However, Vivek Viswanathan is a great example of a millennial getting involved in politics. Graduated from Harvard in 2009, went to Stanford for a JD/MBA, worked as a policy advisor on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and is currently a special advisor to Governor Jerry Brown. He’s clearly not as plugged into the California political establishment as Ma, but that’s fairly irrelevant. We need more millennials in office, and he looks like an all-star.
CA Attorney General = Xavier Becerra [n/a]
Neither of the Democratic candidates — current AG Xavier Becerra or current Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones — could reach the 60% delegate threshold to win the party’s endorsement. Jones is slightly younger than Becerra by 4 years, BUT Becerra has been a bomb-thrower when it comes to using California’s stature to oppose the Republican presidential administration and its idiotic policies. I’m totally down with that.
CA Insurance Commissioner = Ricardo Lara [Democratic Party Endorsement]
This is a largely bureaucratic position requiring competent execution to make sure California citizens don’t get screwed over in insurance markets. The other Democratic candidate — Dr. Asif Mahmood — seems like a legit guy, but I’ll trust the party’s endorsement here.
CA Superintendent of Public Instruction = Marshall Tuck [n/a]
This is actually one of the more interesting statewide races. The Superintendent of Public Instruction runs the state Department of Education and chairs the state Board of Education. In 2014, this race turned into a “teachers unions vs. education reformers/charter school supporters” battle, and the same is likely to happen again. The Democratic Party and the California Teachers Association have both endorsed State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, while the SF Chronicle and the California Charter Schools Association advocacy wing have endorsed Marshall Tuck, the former president of the Green Dot charter school network.
I’m not necessarily totally on one side or the other, but given that Gavin Newsom is likely to be our next governor and has come out hard against charter schools, I think it’d be valuable to have a more pro-charter voice in this office. (Side note: Obsessing about charter schools does very little to improve public education in this state, since California has pretty rigorous oversight of charters already. It’s sad that we haven’t moved past this.)
CA State Board of Equalization Member (2nd District) = Malia Cohen [n/a]
I had to look this position up, and apparently this board oversees tax administration. Despite the seemingly pedestrian nature of the position, the Democratic Party oddly couldn’t come to a consensus on an endorsement. However, the San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times come out HARD on this office, arguing that the board should be abolished, since most of its responsibilities have been subsumed by the governor’s office, and the Board of Equalization is typically a place for former state legislators to collect an over-sized paycheck while they plot their next political move.
The editorial boards talked to all the candidates and concluded that San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Malia Cohen is the only candidate who has any plan for what should happen with the position. I’ll trust that. (If you live in another district, here is the Sacramento Bee’s somewhat ambivalent endorsement piece for District 1; the LA Times hasn’t endorsed in District 3 yet, if they ever will; and I can’t find anything substantive about District 4. So whatever, just pick a Democrat at random.)
California Statewide Propositions
I personally find the California proposition system a bit obtuse, since it requires a tremendous amount of research to: a) know what the hell a proposition is about, and b) whether or not it’s a good idea. If anything, I think California should steal an idea from Oregon where a randomly-selected panel of citizens interviews experts on both sides and makes a recommendation on statewide ballot measures. In the absence of that, I just check out what the Democratic Party and major newspapers say.
- 68 = Yes
- 69 = Yes
- 70 = NO — This is a largely meaningless ballot measure that Jerry Brown had to agree to support in order to win some Republican votes to protect the state’s cap-and-trade system. History here. Everyone should vote no.
- 71 = Yes
- 72 = Yes
Other San Mateo County Races/Measures
The rest of the things I have to vote for cover a much smaller swath of the state, so I’ll just list my votes more briefly here:
14th Congressional District = Jackie Speier [Democratic Party Endorsement]
Incumbents in California tend not to receive intra-party primary challengers once they’re in office. This means non-retirement, non-term limit elections are less exciting. This is one of those elections.
22nd Assembly District = Kevin Mullin [Democratic Party Endorsement]
Same as above.
Judge of the Superior Court, Office No. 2 = Gerald Buchwald [n/a]
One article on the race. Apparently, it is unusual for a sitting judge to be challenged, so I’m okay going with the incumbent in the absence of other information.
County Superintendent of Schools = Nancy Magee [n/a]
Assessor — County Clerk — Recorder = Mark Church [n/a]
Sheriff = Carlos Bolanos [n/a]
Just check out the San Mateo Daily Journal endorsements, because what the hell do I know about these races without doing a ton of research. Optimistically putting my vote in their hands.
That’s it! And remember: Never, ever vote for a Republican again until they de-radicalize their party. That’s the only way we’ll fix democracy in America. (For more, see California is the Future of American Politics.)