How I'm voting on June 2018 Statewide OfficesFirst off, a reminder that California’s “top two” primary system means that the top two vote getters for every statewide office will be on the ballot again in November. So if you’re torn between two obvious front-runners, don’t stress too much -- you’ll get to decide again in November.
Here are my choices for statewide offices: details are below the jump.
Governor: Probably John Chiang; maybe Antonio Villaraigosa
Lieutenant Governor: I’m not sure
Secretary of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: Vivek Viswanathan to get on Nov. ballot with Fiona Ma
Attorney General: You can’t go wrong: I’m leaning Xavier Becerra
Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara
State Board of Equalization, District 2: Malia Cohen
U.S. Senator: Kevin De Leon
State Superintendent of Public Instruction: leaning Marshall Tuck over Tony Thurmond
Governor: Probably John Chiang; maybe Antonio VillaraigosaLieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is going to get the first spot and, barring scandal, is likely to be elected in November.
The question is who will get the second spot. I’m more and more convinced that it is important for a good Democrat to get the second spot, for two reasons. First, I want a backup in case Newsom self-destructs. Second, if there’s no Republican in the gubernatorial race, some Republican voters will stay home in November, and that will make it more likely Democrats can take back the House and prevail in other contested races.
So, which Democrat? The other three main candidates are Anthony Villaraigosa, Treasurer John Chiang, and Delaine Eastin.
Many friends say Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin fits most with their (and my) positions. But she’s barely registering in the polls (3-6%). I respect people who vote for her on principle, but I want to vote for someone who has a shot.
My most politically-connected friends are voting for former LA Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, mostly because he’s had the second-strongest poll numbers among Democrats (10-15%). But as my friend Nathan says, “Villaraigosa’s post-Mayoralty has been a lucrative descent into “public policy advising” for often questionable companies. The charter schools companies—whose product has largely failed—are all in for Villaraigosa.” He’s definitely the most moderate Democrat of the leading candidates.
At first, State Treasurer John Chiang seemed like my Goldilocks candidate: I’ve long liked his policy positions and he was polling high enough that I thought he’d have a shot at the second spot. But more recently, he’s down to 6-9%, so I’m not sure he still has a shot at the #2 spot.
And sadly, Newsom knows he’d easily win a November election if his opponent is a Republican, so he’s trying to boost the leading Republican (John Cox) and drive voters away from the leading Democrats. Similarly, Villaraigosa’s supporters are trying to boost the other Republican (Allen), to take votes away from Cox. Confusing.
I’m going to watch the polls. I want to vote for Chiang, and I’ll do so if he has any shot at the 2nd spot (or if Villaraigosa doesn’t). If it looks like it will be tight between Villaraigosa and Republican Cox for #2 spot, I might cast a Machiavellian vote for Villaraigosa.
Lieutenant Governor: I’m not sureThe Lt. Governor doesn’t have many responsibilities -- serve on the UC Regents, go to a bunch of meetings, act as interim head of the state while the real Gov is out of state, and hope that the role gives you enough name recognition to run for Governor later. I can’t tell much of a difference between the three leading Democrats on issues. Here’s what I know about where they come from, and their endorsements:
Eleni Kounlakis gets endorsements from Sen. Kamala Harris, California NOW, Emily’s List, CLCV, and many women-in-politics organizations. She’d be the state’s first female Lt. Gov (yay!). Lots of the money to support her is in an independent expenditure committee run by her father (hmm). She helped run her family’s development firm in Sacramento.
Jeff Bleich gets endorsements from SF Chronicle and SJ Mercury-News/East Bay Times, Sierra Club, gun control spokespeople and groups, and several northern CA congresspeople. He was a lawyer and policy advisor in San Francisco and DC, working for lots of good causes.
State Senator Ed Hernandez has support from organized labor, Planned Parenthood, and gobs of elected officials. He sounds like he’s had a good record in Sacramento.
Gayle McLaughlin (fmr Richmond City Councilmember, former Green Party member) is endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution and other lefties. She doesn’t have much of a chance.
Both Bleich (Australia) & Kounlakis (Hungary) were Ambassadors for the Obama administration, and they jointly got the Sacramento Bee’s endorsement.
I’m not sure who I’ll vote for -- if someone’s got a compelling reason to support one of them, let me know.
Secretary of State: Alex PadillaThis is a slam dunk. As my friend Nathan says:
Incumbent Alex Padilla merits re-election. The Secretary of State position has been manipulated for partisan advantage in many states, but not in California. Many Republican dominated states have tried to make it harder to vote, Padilla has gone the other way (e.g. by pre-registering 16 and 17 year olds). The only other Democrat—Ruben Major—boasts of his paramedic skills and experience.
Controller: Betty YeeAnother slam dunk, and another quote from my friend Nathan:
The Controller is the state’s chief fiscal officer, accountant and bookkeeper. Incumbent Yee points to successful large scale audits and limiting state borrowing. Her token opponents both should be running for a different office. Republican Konstantinos Roditis wants to kill high speed rail, while Peace & Freedom Party candidate wants to stop subsidizing “wealthy corporations.”
Treasurer: Vivek Viswanathan to get on Nov. ballot with Fiona MaThe Treasurer is the state’s banker, managing its investments. CPA and State Board of Equalization member, Fiona Ma clearly has the most relevant experience among non-Republicans for this less political position. She helped expose the problems with the State Board of Equalization while she was on it (see more on the BoE below). She’s got the lion’s share of endorsements. She’ll get the top spot in June and be the frontrunner for November.
But I’m voting for Vivek Viswanathan instead, for three reasons. First, I’d like the second finisher in the top two primary to be a Democrat, and Vivek is the other Democrat in the race (don’t worry, the two Republicans have no chance). Second, I like his policy ideas. Third, I watched his introductory video and it was cute.
Attorney General: leaning Xavier Becerra over Dave JonesXavier Becerra and Dave Jones are the two Democrats running for Attorney General, and I expect they’ll be the top two vote getters, so you’ll get to choose again in November. I plan to vote for Becerra, but Jones is a good candidate too.
Becerra was Deputy AG under Kamala Harris, and Governor Brown appointed him to fill the remainder of Harris’ term when she won her Senate race. Becerra has done a good job since then -- he’s resisted the Trump agenda on health care, environmental protection, immigration issues (including the travel ban and sanctuary cities), and other issues. He’s filed over 30 lawsuits against federal overreach. See the SF Chronicle’s endorsement (and his website).
Current Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is also a strong candidate. He supports all of Becerra’s lawsuits (calling them “no-brainers”) and is running on the claim that he’d be just as strong at resisting Trump’s attack on California values while also being more effective and more impartial in situations where he’s supposed to uphold California voters’ positions even if they conflict with his own. See the Mercury News endorsement (and his website).
I plan to vote for Becerra. But I’ll keep my ears open and expect I’ll get to make the same decision again in November.
Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo LaraThis one is simple, and I’ll quote my friend Nathan:
The Insurance Commissioner position was created (following a Pennsylvania precedent) by initiative some years back, to monitor and regulate this powerful industry. With incumbent Dave Jones running for Attorney General, the seat is open.
Ricardo Lara introduced a bill for Canadian style single payer health care in California, he also developed legislation expanding health care for immigrants. Lara has union and Democratic Party support. Steve Poizner is an ex-Republican, I’m particularly concerned about that in this position. He has the backing of the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Times, which sort of cancel each other out. Asif Mahmoud stresses his medical experience and his status as a Muslim immigrant.
State Board of Equalization, District 2: Malia CohenWe probably shouldn’t vote for this Board. It would be better if it were an appointed body. A few years ago, the state stripped it of many of its duties and transferred thousands of jobs from the Board’s oversight to the state government. But as long as there’s an election, we might as well get the right people.
And current San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen is the best candidate running. She’s taken good positions on financial issues, including on how the city’s money is invested. And I’ve been impressed by her and her staff in my work life. Plus, she’s committed to the Board’s remaining duties (overseeing county assessors) well and transparently.
The other candidates aren’t compelling: Assemblymember Galgiani doesn’t show up for her legislative duties, Cupertino Councilmember Chang has been verbally abusive to staff, and Republican Burns just wants to defend Prop 13.
Vote for Cohen, and if we get a chance, support efforts to abolish the Board of Equalization.
U.S. Senator: Kevin De LeonI happily voted for Dianne Feinstein (and Barbara Boxer) in the “Year of the Woman” in 1992. I’ll be even happier voting for Kevin De Leon this year. I have both pragmatic and principled reasons for this.
First the principles: as my friend Nathan says, “If Feinstein is the very model of a modern mainstream Democrat, former State Senate president De Leon is the avatar for the progressive wing.” Feinstein said Trump could be a good President. De Leon has been great in the California Senate. He helped get SB1 passed (transportation!), has made sure cap and trade funds go to low-income communities (environmental justice!), and ensuring California privdes services to “Dreamer” young immigrants (immigration reform!). I was impressed when he spoke to a TransForm summit about the need for affordable housing, and then backed it up with successful advocacy in the legislature.
On the pragmatic side: in California’s top-two primary, it matters who comes in second in the June primary. Feinstein has the top spot sewed up. She’ll definitely be on the ballot in November. The question is who will come in second. If De Leon does, then there won’t be a Republican in the Senate race. That will be one fewer statewide reason for Republicans to turn out, and they’ll be less likely to vote in other races such as the numerous swing districts in California.
Finally: De Leon got 54% of the vote at the state Democratic Party convention. That’s a stunning vote against a long time incumbent and just shy of the 60% needed for endorsement.
Oh, and BTW -- don’t shed any tears for the Republican in the race, Patrick Little. As my friend Nathan reports, “Little is an explicit anti-Semite who ranted about “Zionist stooges” controlling the California Republican Party (at the party convention).”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction: leaning Marshall Tuck over Tony ThurmondCrap, this is a toughie. At first I thought this would be easy, ‘cuz I was happy with Tony Thurmond as my Assemblymember and know he comes from an education background. I supported him for his current job in the State Assembly (15th District), which he’s leaving before he’s termed out to run for this office. He’s been on the Richmond City Council (2005-2008), West Contra Costa County School Board (2009-2012), State Assembly (2014-2018), and has served on lots of boards and commissions. He has run a nonprofit called "CEO Youth" (Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Youth) based in Richmond, that trains high school students to conceptualize and launch youth-led business ventures. He grew up poor, overcame it in part with the help of government programs and social services, and wants to provide pathways out of poverty for more kids like himself.
But then I asked advice from a friend who’s been involved in education policy for years, Jonathan Schorr (formerly communications staff to Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan). He said:
“Both candidates are good people who care about kids and favor increasing investment in education. Both are more moderate than the traditional union vs. charter framing of California’s ed politics. But they are differentiated by their willingness to challenge established political and institutional interests to help kids who don’t have access to a good school. As you know, there are far too many kids in California whose life chances are blunted because they don’t get the education they need. My vote belongs to the person who puts their needs of first, and to me, that’s clearly Marshall Tuck. There are a lot of differentiators, but here are a few key ones:I’m torn. I like Thurmond. And I know much of what Jonathan says stands in contrast to views of many of my friends and family involved in schools, particularly those who are strong supporters of teachers’ unions. But Jonathan makes some convincing points, so I’m leaning towards Tuck. And … I’m sure we’ll get to make the same Thurmond v Tuck decision in November.
Again, happy to talk, but I think of these two, only one acts as if the needs of low-income kids of color are urgent, and that decides my vote.”
- Marshall is the only candidate with a record of effectiveness actually improving education in big systems. When he led the effort to turn around struggling public schools in Los Angeles, he raised graduation rates by more than 60% and had the biggest academic improvement of any large school system in California.
- To me, the most important question is whether the candidate’s top priority is making change for the kids and families who need it most — including and especially when it requires taking on established interests. That’s clearly Marshall. That’s not just how people like me see it — it’s where the SF Chronicle editorial board, hardly a bastion of ed reformers, lands as well: "Where Thurmond falls short, however, is evidence of his willingness to take on the status quo when its comfort zone conflicts with the interests of students…. A legislator who won’t stand up to the status quo when it counts does not belong in charge of the state Department of Education.”
- Politics in California has been deformed by the enormous power of the prison guards’ and teachers’ unions. As you know, strong union support is part of my upbringing and my personal beliefs — and there are many areas where I agree with teachers' union positions, including increased resources and increased pay -- but I also think there are areas where their role has been problematic. Marshall is a strong teacher supporter but has no debts to the unions’ political power. Unfortunately, as the above editorial notes, Thurmond has been unwilling to cross the union on even mild, common-sense measures.
- Thurmond doesn't support paying teachers/educators who work in high-needs areas more money. Marshall believes this is critical to bring/retain talent in the highest-need communities.
So … take to the comments with any other evidence I should consider. And if you’d like to read more, see an SF Chronicle article about the race.