President: Barack Obama. The president's accomplishments during his first four years — steadying the economy, rescuing the automobile industry and winning passage of measures to stimulate the economy, crack down on financial industry abuses and extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, among others — were all the more remarkable given the stubborn and cynical opposition of Republicans in Congress. His balanced plan for continuing the recovery makes him the clear choice over Mitt Romney, whose tired program of tax cuts for the wealthy and increased military spending is a prescription for disaster.
U.S. Senate: Dianne Feinstein. California's senior senator is solid and effective. Her challenger, Elizabeth Emken, demonstrates little grasp of issues.
Congress, District 26: Julia Brownley. The environmentalist and education-oriented Democrat is a better fit for Ventura County than no-tax Republican Tony Strickland.
Congress, District 30: Howard Berman. Berman has the better track record of getting things done in Washington. Brad Sherman toes a more partisan line — and has less to show for it.
Congress, District 44: Janice Hahn. In this rematch between Hahn and Laura Richardson, Hahn has a shorter tenure in Washington but has avoided the ethical problems that have plagued Richardson.
Proposition 30: Yes. This package of temporary sales and income tax increases is the most important item on California voters' ballots. If it passes, it will pump about $6 billion in revenue into the treasury to keep the state functioning and, more to the point, keep intact the essential programs that pave the way to a better future: K-12 schools, community colleges and the Cal State and University of California systems. It guarantees public safety funding for new tasks now assigned to local government.
It's no bonanza for state government; revenue would represent barely half of the funds lost when three temporary tax increases expired over the last two years, and general fund spending will be $11.6 billion lower than it was in 2007. Nor is it an especially big wallop to taxpayers, who would be left paying less in sales tax and vehicle license fees than they did five years ago.
Proposition 31: No. This would-be budget reform measure is essentially an incompletely thought out and sloppily drafted wish list that would cause more problems than it solves. Increasing local control over local spending is a good idea, but this measure's attempt would permit cities, counties, school districts, water boards and other local governments to ignore statewide rules, impose their own and create a regulatory morass. Blocking new programs when there is no money is smart, but Proposition 31 would foolishly leave intact and in fact encourage the biggest spending problems — bond measures and ballot initiatives. Similarly, more flexibility in dealing with midyear budget crises is wise, but this measure would circumvent legislative review and give the governor vast new budget powers. It's a mess and should fail.
Proposition 32: No. The main point of this measure is to prevent labor unions from using members' dues for politicking. It allows corporations, insurers and utilities to continue using payments by shareholders, policyholders and ratepayers for political purposes without permission. To cripple all union spending is a clear attempt to favor one side of the political discourse over the other.
Proposition 33: No. This measure, sponsored by the chief of Mercury Insurance, would allow auto insurers to entice drivers away from their current companies by offering a bonus for switching, supposedly to match the loyalty discount some drivers get for staying put — while allowing insurers to charge higher rates to new drivers and most of those who have dropped out of the insurance market for 90 days or more. That undermines the basic policy that Californians adopted when they passed Proposition 103 in 1988: Drivers should pay for insurance at rates based on their driving safety records and not extraneous factors.
Proposition 34: Yes. Californians should end the death penalty in this state and substitute life without possibility of parole. The state can protect its people and extract retribution from brutal killers without itself continuing to kill. Even those who support the death penalty reject California's status quo, which costs about $184 million a year and leaves a lottery-like chance of execution ever being carried out (13 executions since 1967, none since 2006, more than 700 people on death row). Death penalty supporters assert that the backlog and the costs could be quickly pared if we concerned ourselves less with appeals and constitutional rights, but those rights are too precious to be jettisoned in the emotionally based belief, not sustained by data, that the death penalty deters violent crime.
Proposition 35: No. Human trafficking, both for forced labor and for sex, is indeed a global problem, but this initiative would not solve it. It would replace years of careful lawmaking based on expert law enforcement and victim advocate testimony, evidence, drafting and redrafting with a sweeping measure aimed at voters' hearts rather than their heads. There are instances in which the Legislature fails and voters must step in to do its work. This isn't one of them. Keep a functioning approach to human trafficking intact and vote no.
Proposition 36: Yes. Eighteen years ago, Californians adopted the three-strikes law to deal with repeat serious offenders, but most voters were probably unaware that a person could receive a life sentence for a third conviction that was neither serious nor violent. In some counties, including Los Angeles, prosecutors imposed rules on themselves to ensure that petty offenders who had two serious felonies on their records were punished with sentences that more closely fit the crimes they committed. But in some other counties, relatively minor crimes resulted in life behind bars. The quality of justice under the law in California should not have to depend on the county in which a criminal case is prosecuted.
Proposition 37. No. This measure would require labeling on food products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The appropriate question is less whether consumers have a "right to know" if products for sale contain such ingredients, but rather which sellers should bear the burden of labeling, and whether the regulator should be the marketplace or government. Currently, producers of products without genetically modified organisms can, and many do, inform and appeal to customers with labeling. If the time comes when the weight of scientific consensus is that such ingredients are a health hazard, then it may be time for government to step in and require labeling on products with GMOs. But consensus currently leans the other way.
Proposition 38. No. This temporary income tax increase to pay for K-12 schools undermines Proposition 30, which actually would direct more funding to schools right away. Proposition 38 would assist one part of the population that has suffered from recent budget cuts — elementary, middle and high school students — while doing little to correct the state's fiscal problems, protect public university education, keep courthouse doors open or keep local jails and other public safety systems funded.
Proposition 39: Yes. While hardly perfect, this measure would close a gaping tax loophole opened for out-of-state corporations as part of a last-minute budget deal brokered in 2009. That foolish policy favors companies that merely sell in California over those that invest and employ workers here. Legislators refuse to fix their mistake, leaving it to voters to do their work for them.
Proposition 40: Yes. This measure upholds the work of the California Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in drawing new state Senate district lines. The California Republican Party at first didn't like the lines and put this measure on the ballot in the hope that voters would reject it. Now the state GOP has changed its mind and is endorsing Proposition 40 alongside the Democrats and good-government groups. Californians have voted three times in four years to allow an independent group, rather than political parties, draw district maps. They must do it again.
Los Angeles County District Attorney: Jackie Lacey. Experience, judgment and temperament make Lacey the better choice over Alan Jackson.
Los Angeles County Measure A: No. The measure is inspired by the corruption case against Assessor John Noguez, who was elected two years ago. It asks voters whether assessors should be appointed instead of elected. Another way of asking the question is whether you believe you should hand over power to set taxable property values to the Board of Supervisors. You shouldn't.
Los Angeles County Measure B. No. The well-intentioned measure to require use of condoms in adult film shoots seeks to do the right thing but is unenforceable.