Say You Want a Revolution?

Recommendations for the Feb. 5 California State Primary


Former president Bill Clinton made a surprise trip to U. C. Davis on Jan. 15, where some 11,000 college students crowded the campus’ new athletic center to hear Clinton, the J.F.K. of their generation, re-envision the American Dream. The Clinton campaign had offered less than 24 hours to organize the event, hoping that a rough handful of 1,000 people might attend. That the total number was some 11 times their expectations speaks exactly to what young voters, and American voters in general, are rapaciously thirsty for: vision, leadership and even that workhorse of the current media blip, change.

Clinton spoke extemporaneously for over an hour that night, reminding the crowd who Americans are and what America is supposed to be. Were most of the students there that night—raucously repeating Clinton’s name, screaming in adulation and stomping the floor like he is a rock star—Hillary supporters? An informal survey of the crowd says no. Televised news stories say no. Newspaper interviews say no. Blog entries after the event say no. They were, by and large, Bill Clinton supporters, buoyed aloft by childhood memories of a larger-than-life politician whose mistakes are filmed in haze when compared to his successes; who, as a leader, spoke regularly of hope; who reminded citizens of our noblest goals. And they are absolutely thirsty for such leadership today.

Many of those still on the fence about the Democratic presidential candidate are attracted to Hillary’s “Ready to Go” slogan. There is a sense of childlike calm in thinking that since this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, someone who’s been there before can clean up it, all. And have Bill there to help her do it. (“Billary!” was a consistent bellow from the college crowd.)

Hillary knows Washington, she knows the players, she knows how the sausage gets made. As you’ll read in the argument below, that’s exactly what’s wrong with her.Given our current circumstances, it no longer seems wise to worry if the next president already knows how to find the washroom on the Oval Office floor. The right team can direct the president there.

The president, rather, needs to have an acute vision and leadership, ideas and values that match the highest principles. As wonderful as Bill Clinton is in hindsight and as ready to go as Hillary Clinton undoubtedly would be, we’re recommending away from dynasty. We’re recommending toward the future. That’s the best vision. —Gretchen Giles

Proposition recommendations written by Gretchen Giles, Traci Hukill, Eric Johnson, Steve Palopoli and Paul Wagner.

Democratic Primary: Barack Obama

Obama has the vision to return the U.S. to itself

Bill Clinton and Al Gore erected a bridge to the new century. George W. Bush bombed it. We need to rebuild it.

If Barack Obama is elected, it will send the world a message that this is a new America: not the monocultural, aggressive, ugly America that we occupy this very moment, but one that is hopeful, forward-looking and engaged with a diverse planet. Hillary Clinton is less well-equipped for that job. For all of her strengths, she is essentially a policy wonk, with more scars than accomplishments from her Washington years. Failed health care initiatives, as well as her votes on Iraq, should give voters pause. Her condemnations of disgraceful national practices like water-boarding and extraordinary rendition came only after she was pressed on the campaign trail, when she could have been a leader in the Senate opposing the administration’s conduct.Obama has been such a leader. The clarity of his ideas is rooted in the depth of his convictions. Even more important in this bleak political landscape, he has shown an extraordinary ability to inspire a broad range of Americans.

Obama has been primarily responsible for the rare buzz of excitement surrounding the 2008 primaries. This is often attributed to his prowess as a speechmaker, but it’s a mistake to think of Obama as merely a great orator. Ever since Obama first captured the national spotlight with a show-stopper of a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, what’s electrified voters is the power and clarity of his ideas, and the sense that people get, when listening to him talk, that he is speaking the truth.

In a debate a few weeks ago, NBC’s Tim Russert asked the candidates to describe the moment that they decided to run for office. Obama’s response was by far the most memorable. He said he has struggled with the decision: “The most important question was not whether I could win the presidency,” he said, “but whether I should.”

At the same time that he is connecting in a heartfelt way with the people who hear him, Obama is putting forward some simple and powerful ideas. At the center of his campaign—as everyone knows—is the simple and profound notion that American politics is in need of a revolution.

“It’s not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most,” he says, “it’s the smallness of our politics.Obama’s promise is that he brings a vision, that he is a true leader. When he says, “I will bring the country together,” he is talking once again about building a bridge. Americans know in their hearts that this is exactly what needs to be done if the country is going to be able to more forward again. It’s a big job, and we believe Sen. Barack Obama can do it. We recommend voting for Barack Obama. —E. J.

YES on Proposition 91

Stop government raids on gas tax funds

The public, overall, likes it when overdue-book fines go solely to libraries, bridge tolls pay only for better bridges and fishing license fees fund the restocking of fish. But elected officials, always looking for bucks to bridge some budget gap, feel boxed in by these limits. As a result, the public and its servants struggle regularly over earmarking.

Proposition 91, the “Transportation Funds Constitutional Amendment and Statute,” is the latest such struggle; namely, a longstanding argument over where the approximately $3.3 billion annually collected state gasoline and diesel fuel taxes should go. Into the general fund, of course, say most officeholders. No. Into roads and transit, say voters.

Voters announced that they had won that in March of 2002 upon approving Proposition 42, which steered fuel taxes into a special fund solely for transportation projects; dedicated 40 percent of funds to critical state projects; directed 20 percent each to counties, cities and public transit; and allegedly prohibited raiding the fund except for financial emergency.

But victory was premature, as it turns out that Prop. 42 offered such loose definitions of the term “emergency” that within the next five years the governor and legislature had already declared two of them and had proceeded to strip the transportation fund of an entire year’s worth of revenue.The legislature offered a “solution” in the form of its own Proposition 1A, which purported to tighten the rules by limiting emergencies to two a decade and require repayment of any raided monies within three years. It passed in November of 2006. Apparently not noticing that Prop. 1A still allows funds to be raided six out of every 10 years, Prop. 91 petition organizers declared themselves content, turned in what they imagined was an inadequate number of voter signatures and declared their much tighter version “not needed.” In fact, they say exactly that in the official state ballot pamphlet.

But then, two significant developments occurred. First, the proportion of valid voter signatures supporting Prop. 91 turned out to be so much greater than usual that it qualified for, and by law had to appear on, the ballot anyway. Second, early this month, the governor and legislators once again began nibbling at the transportation funding lockbox, trying to lower the guaranteed Prop. 42 percentages cities and counties will get. The out-and-out raiding is likely to begin again. YES on Prop. 91. —P. W.

YES on Proposition 92

California’s community colleges deserve the boost

The question here is whether to leave community college funding lumped in with K-12 money or let it move out and get its own apartment, administratively speaking. A yes vote means an imminent trip to Ikea—separate funding, more money for community colleges in the future and an immediate reduction in fees from $20 per credit to $15.It’s a sad thing to see educators fight over money, but that’s what happens when there isn’t enough. Right now the state, under Prop. 98, spends 40 percent of its general fund on K-14 education. California’s 109 community colleges get roughly 10 percent of that pie; K-12 gets the other 90 percent. The way the community colleges figure it, the formula for determining that split is unfair (it’s tagged to K-12 enrollment—community college enrollment doesn’t count) and has cost them $2 billion since 1988.

There are good arguments against Prop. 92, chief among them that it’s silent on the subject of where that extra money will come from. Kind of a huge problem this year. As a result, the main opponents are the UC and CSU governing boards and the California Teachers Association, all of whom fear the community colleges will take money from their own strapped schools and universities.

California’s budget is going to need some fixing, with or without the financial burden this measure imposes. Meanwhile, California’s future deserves an investment. YES on Prop. 92. —T. H.

NO on Proposition 93

Term limits an end-run to protect Nuñez and Perata

Nothing on this ballot is generating as much confusion among California voters as Proposition 93. And that’s no accident. In fact, it’s by design. Prop. 93 is the initiative process at its worst: a measure written to insulate the state’s elected officials from checks on their power, spun around to be sold as term-limit reform. In truth, the only significant thing this measure will do to the terms of California’s lawmakers is to increase them: from six to 12 maximum years in the assembly, and from 8 to 12 years in the senate. It will also allow dozens of legislators who would term out this year to do an end-run around term limits via a so-called “transition” period. It’s not that we don’t like many of these seatholders; in fact, we’re sorry to see some of them go. But there’s a reason term limits are so popular with voters. They blunt the system’s ridiculous incumbent advantage and promote accountability to the electorate, while promoting new energy and ideas. Is this little more than a move to save the powerful jobs of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and a few select others? Yes. NO on Prop. 93. —S. P.

NO on Propositions 94-97

Don’t let budget woes influence these bad Indian gaming compacts

Propositions 94-97 are essentially identical, differing only in which of the so-called Big Four tribes will benefit if approved. These four Southern California tribes—the Pechanga, Morongo, Sycuan and Agua Caliente—each already have casinos with 2,000 slot machines a piece, so these propositions are not about the introduction of gambling into communities. What they are about is California’s unbridled avarice when it comes to the specter of gambling monies sluicing into the state’s General Fund.The Pechanga and Morongo tribes are each seeking to increase their slot machine inventory to 7,500; the Sycuan and Agua Caliente to 5,000. Their contributions to the state would accordingly rise to an estimated $9 billion over the next 20 years, averaging somewhere around $450 million a year.

The Governor signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the tribes last summer and the federal government approved the compacts in November, legally allowing them to be enacted before the Feb. 5 election. Only the U. S. Department of the Interior has curiously acted with a conscience, refusing to enter these compacts into the Federal Register, a final step in ratification.

Whether lawmakers should be larding California’s coffers with gambling monies is moot. It is the text of the propositions which give pause. Contrary to proponents’ advertising, none of the phantom profits are directly earmarked for schools. Environmental impact accountability is hugely weakened in these proposed propositions. Guarantees for casino workers are essentially nil. Also, the smaller of California’s 108 tribes would be adversely affected by sweetheart deals offered to just four of their tribal members.NO on Props 94-97. —G.G.