There’s an election coming up in a week or so and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up the reasoning behind my voting plans, starting with general principles and then applying them to the concretes of my actual ballot.
I’ve often said that I don’t have a political party, I have political values. Specifically, I value the principle of individual rights and I want to see it protected by the government across the board. This is a minority view in the culture today, which means politically I am put in the position of playing defense rather than offense. While I find the Tea Parties a promising cultural phenomenon, too many of their candidates are strongly religious and this poses serious dangers in the medium term. However, the egalitarian nihilism being advanced by the current Democratic party poses a much more immediate threat. Getting politicians who understand and support the principle of individual rights requires time for cultural and intellectual activism. That time will not be available if the government continues to bankrupt the country. The only way I see to buy that time is to block the ability of both parties to seriously advance their positions by preventing either one from gaining full control of both Congress and the White House. (In my lifetime there have been a total of 8 years in which the Democrats solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 1977-1980, 1993-1994 and 2009-2010. There have been 2 years in which the Republicans solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 2005-2006. Each of these periods provoked a massive political backlash and a swing to the opposition party. Apparently there is nothing that makes a party less popular than enabling it to implement its agenda.)
At the national level the primary strategic goal is gridlock, to buy time for further intellectual activism. The secondary strategic goal is to break the hold of the political-class Republicans on the leadership of the Republican Party by electing Tea Party candidates wherever possible. This is a variation of the gridlock principle applied to the internal power balance of the GOP itself. (If a similar internal power struggle could be ignited inside the Democratic party that would be great, but it doesn’t seem likely unless someone convinces Hillary Clinton to launch a primary challenge against Obama in 2012. A worthwhile goal but not relevant to the current midterm election. Update: On the topic of internal power struggles in the Democratic party, today I found this. Perhaps it’s not only more likely than I thought, but actually underway.)
At the state and local level my options are more limited, given that California is a heavily Democratic state and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. My main hope here is to try to keep politicians responsive by keeping their elections as close as possible, which leads to the general principle of voting anti-incumbent. Where I live that almost always means voting Republican just because the incumbents are almost always Democrats. If a particular challenger is unusually noxious I may simply refrain from voting in that race; if a seat is open and neither candidate impresses me as unusually good or unusually bad, I vote for the minority party on the gridlock principle.
For non-partisan offices, unless one of the candidates has come to my attention outside the campaign in a positive or negative way, I usually refrain from voting simply because I lack the information to make an informed judgment and the time to track it down. (An example of an exception: Back in 2006 there was a major corruption scandal in San Jose involving waste disposal contracts. The mayoral race was between two City Council members who both, during the race, criticized the contract. But only one of them, Chuck Reed, had strongly opposed it before it blew up into a scandal. On the theory that character is what you do in the dark — when the public isn’t roused and paying attention — I voted for Reed. Since he hasn’t come to my negative attention since then, I retain a measure of approval for him and will probably vote for him and/or his allies when and as possible.)
For ballot initiatives, my principles are a bit simpler. Anything that raises taxes or fees, I oppose. Anything that seeks to borrow money, I oppose. Anything that seeks to expand the scope of government action into previously free areas, I oppose. Anything that clearly abolishes a government policy that violates rights, I support. Anything fiddling with the nitty-gritty details of government operation, or too unclearly-written to have understandable consequences, I oppose on the principle of ‘the devil you know’. I also reserve the right to vote for anything that the political class hates on general principle, like anti-gerrymandering initiatives and term limits.
With that said, let’s take a look at the ballot and see how these rules translate into actual votes (or not). First, the elected offices.
- Governor. This is an open office. Jerry Brown was noxious the last time he was governor, the state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands, and Meg Whitman doesn’t strike me as unusually bad. So the noxious candidate, gridlock and minority party principles all align. Meg Whitman, GOP.
- Lt. Governor. Another open office. Gridlock doesn’t really apply, since as far as I can tell the office of Lt. Governor doesn’t actually do anything. But anyone who could get elected Mayor of San Francisco is automatically noxious in my book, and the minority party principle aligns with it. Abel Maldonado, GOP.
- Secretary of State. Anti-incumbent. Damon Dunn, GOP.
- Controller. Anti-incumbent. Tony Strickland, GOP.
- Treasurer. Anti-incumbent. Mimi Walters, GOP.
- Attorney General. Open office. Minority party principle. Steve Cooley, GOP.
- Insurance Commissioner. Open office. Minority party principle. Mike Villines, GOP.
- State Board of Equalization, District 1. (And doesn’t that sound like something out of Atlas Shrugged, or Anthem?) Anti-incumbent. Kevin R. Scott, GOP.
- United States Senator. Anti-incumbent, gridlock and noxious all together. Carly Fiorina, GOP.
- United States Representative, District 16. Anti-incumbent and gridlock. Daniel Sahagun, GOP.
- State Assembly, District 24. Anti-incumbent, minority party. Robert Chandler, GOP.
- San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, Governing Board Member Trustee Area 6. Anti-incumbent. Jeffrey Lease.
- Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 1. Anti-incumbent. Forrest Williams.
- San Jose City Council, District 9. Non-partisan, positive information principle — one candidate is a political ally of Chuck Reed, who still hasn’t pissed me off. Larry Pegram.
- Various judicial offices, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director, District 4 left blank by the non-partisan office, no information principle.
Wow, there’s a lot of the bloody parasites, aren’t there? Now on to the initiatives, state and local.
- Measure 19: Legalizes marijuana for personal use. The drug war is an insane violation of individual rights; anything that dials it back even a little bit is a good thing. Yes.
- Measure 20: Redistricting of Congressional districts. This is an anti-gerrymandering initiative, putting control of redrawing district lines in the hands of an independent commission instead of the state legislature. In general, allowing politicians to pick their own voters leads to less responsive government — and anything the political class hates this much is ipso facto probably a good idea. Yes.
- Measure 21: Annual vehicle license fee surcharge. This is a tax/fee increase. No.
- Measure 22: Requires state to distribute tax revenue to local governments for various purposes even in the face of severe fiscal hardship. California is facing serious ongoing budget problems — the state is essentially bankrupt. The state and local governments are fighting over the shrinking pie, and this initiative is a shot in that ongoing battle. Ultimately the only solution is to shrink the state government; I don’t see how locking in spending obligations helps with that. No.
- Measure 23: Suspends implementation of a ‘viro emissions control law until the state unemployment level drops to 5.5% or lower. This kind of environmentalist legislation violates the freedom of production and trade; blocking it even temporarily is rights-protecting. Plus I hate the ‘viros, so it’s nice to stick a finger in their eye. Yes.
- Measure 24: Repeals recent legislation that enhanced business’ ability to lower their tax liability. The less wealth the government takes by force, the better, all else being equal. No.
- Measure 25: Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from 2/3 to simple majority. The legislature in California is strongly Democratic. The 2/3 requirement on the budget is the only thing that gives the Republicans any relevance in budget debates at all. Given the strong likelihood that Brown will win the governor’s race, this is the last sliver of resistance to a total left-wing political monoculture in the state. Hell No.
- Measure 26: Reclassifies certain state and local fees so they require 2/3 approval. Anything that makes it more difficult for the government to nickel-and-dime the public is good. Yes.
- Measure 27: Eliminates the State Commission on Redistricting. This is basically the evil twin of Measure 20, putting control of redistricting firmly in the hands of the legislature. All the reasons for supporting 20 are reasons to oppose this. No.
- Measure A: Tax increase to fund public health care for children. They lost me at ‘tax increase’ and added insult to injury by playing the ‘for the children’ card. No.
- Measure B: Motor vehicle registration fee increase to fund street maintenance. Raise a fee, lose a vote. No.
- Measure C: Term limits for members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. It’s weak sauce for an institution that probably shouldn’t exist at all, but they hate it and I hate them. Yes.
- Measure G: A bond issue to fund local community colleges. It’s a bond issue. The first rule of crushing debt is we do not talk about crushing debt. The second rule is stop borrowing! No.
- Measure U: Marijuana business tax. Legalizing marijuana is good. New taxes are bad. (I could be argued on this one on the grounds that treating marijuana businesses differently from other businesses weakens the principle of equality before the law, but this initiative looks like a special tax levied specifically against marijuana businesses. Oh, and it’s a gross receipts tax. <Expletive redacted> that.) No.
- Measure V: Limit powers of outside arbitrators, and Measure W: Pension reform. These two initiatives are closely-coupled attempts by the San Jose City Council to begin addressing the problem of public pension expenses. The public pension tsunami is one of a number of massive problems looming ever larger in the economic windshield. While I can’t vouch for the likely effectiveness of these proposals, I do know that the status quo is leading to disaster. Yes.
Wow. If I’d known in advance that there were that many things on the ballot I might not have started writing this. Still, I hope you enjoyed this not-so-brief snapshot into how I think about voting decisions.