Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.




A Regional Party Limited to the South: The Democrats in the 1920s, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the Democratic Party’s struggles during the 1920s, when it lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins.

The second part can be found here.

A Regional Party Limited to the South

The biggest presidential landslides are two elections you’ve probably never heard of: the 1920 presidential election, and the 1924 presidential election.

In the 1920 presidential election, Democratic candidate James M. Cox lost by 26.2% to Republican candidate Warren G. Harding. Four years later, Democratic candidate John Davis would get barely more than one-fourth the vote in another landslide defeat. These two elections constitute the biggest victories in the popular vote in the history of American presidential elections.

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s victory, Democratic strategists liked to boast that the Republican Party was becoming a regional party restricted to the South. This meme has become less popular in light of Republican gains during the 2010 mid-terms, in which Republicans are expected to do quite well outside the South.

Yet during the 1920s, the Democratic Party really was a regional, Southern-based party that had great difficulty competing outside the South. It was a party that was completely unrecognizable today: a proudly racist, white supremacist organization in which its two main constituencies refused to back the same candidate not for one, not for two, but for three consecutive elections.

The story begins with World War I and President Woodrow Wilson.




What the Election Results Mean For California

The recent mid-term elections entailed a number of changes in California. Here are some of the implications:

A Republican Wave That Did Not Reach California

While Republicans did extremely well nationwide yesterday, California Republicans had reason to be disappointed.

Republican campaigns in the senatorial and gubernatorial races, seemingly competitive, ended up falling far short of victory. Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman lost by double-digits, while Republican senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina barely cracked the single digits.

There were other signs that the Republican national wave failed to break the West Coast: Republicans may have lost every statewide office for the eighth consecutive time (the results for the extremely close Attorney General race are still pending), while losing a seat in the State Assembly. This came as they flipped about nineteen legislative chambers to their side nationally. On the congressional level, Republicans may also have failed to pick up a single congressional district (two extremely close districts are undecided pending the count of all absentee ballots, but they seem to favor Democrats at the moment). This came as Republicans won over 60 congressional seats nationally.

California has thus proved itself once more as a Democratic bastion. That a competitive Republican senatorial candidate, running against an unpopular incumbent, could barely crack the single-digits in a wave election like this indicates that the Republican Party still has trouble winning over the increasingly diverse California electorate.

Positive Changes in Propositions

California also voted on a number of propositions. For the most part, the results were quite positive. On five out of the seven propositions, Californians followed the endorsements put out by this blog.

Of greatest importance was Proposition 25, which required a majority vote to pass the budget. Californians voted yes on this proposition, thus taking a major step towards more stable budgets. Voters also came strongly out against gerrymandering, approving Proposition 20 and defeating Proposition 27.

Unfortunately, Californians also approved two propositions which make passing budgets much more difficult. By approving Proposition 22 and Proposition 26, Californians took billions of potential revenue sources away from an already revenue-starved state. Proposition 22 prohibits the state from borrowing money from local governments, while Proposition 26 sets a two-thirds supermajority requirement for some fees to be passed.

The approval of Proposition 26 is particularly bizarre when one considers that Californians also voted for Proposition 25. Proposition 25 makes passing budgets much easier; Proposition 26 makes passing them much harder. The two do the exact opposite things, and they approach the budget in the exact opposite way. Voting yes on both propositions is kind of like being pro-life and pro-choice at the same time. Yet apparently half a million Californians, at the very least, did exactly that this Tuesday.

All in all, these results - especially the approval of Proposition 25 - leave California in a better state than it was before the election. While the approval of Proposition 22 and Proposition 26 do real damage to the budget, the benefit derived from Proposition 25 more than overcomes that.



The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement

In the past fifty years, the Civil Rights movement has changed America more than any other social movement. The efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King and others profoundly altered America’s treatment of its minorities, in a way which represents one of its most powerful domestic accomplishments over the past century.

Yet one aspect of the Civil Rights movement has always been neglected in the conventional history of the movement. This was its connection to the Cold War. For America to win the Cold War, Civil Rights was a necessity. Continuing domestic discrimination against non-white minorities would make it impossible to win over the newly-free Third World.

Politicians at the time understood this very well, and it wasn’t as if they kept this fact secret. Presidents, such as Harry Truman, explicitly linked the Cold War to America’s race relationships. They put it in their speeches. They put it in their political advertisements.

Take this rather amazing ad by Republican candidate Richard Nixon:

This is Richard Nixon, of all people, endorsing Civil Rights in 1960.

What is more, Mr. Nixon spends more than half the ad explicitly telling the American people how Civil Rights is necessary for the fight against communism:

Why must we vigorously defend them [Civil Rights]? First, because it is right and just.

And second, because we cannot compete successfully against communism if we fail to utilize completely the minds and energy of all our citizens.

And third, the whole world is watching us. When we fail to grant equality to all, that makes news – bad news – for America all over the world.

This is not the type of rhetoric the history books talk about when discussing the Civil Rights – and yet here it is, in front of our faces.

There is also the phrase “The whole world is watching us.” This was an iconic Civil Rights phrase, and its true meaning has somewhat been diluted in the history books.

Civil Rights activists knew as well as everybody else that Civil Rights was tightly linked to the Cold War. They used this fact as a vital leverage to achieve their goals; it is no coincidence that the Freedom Rides started just a month before President Kennedy met Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna summit. This is also why Dr. Martin Luther King kept his opposition to the Vietnam War silent for so long.

So when Civil Rights activists said, “The whole world is watching us,” they literally meant that the newly decolonized nations of the Third World were watching America’s treatments of its minorities. Newly free black, brown, and yellow nations could not support a country that continued treating non-whites like second-class citizens at home.

And even conservatives like Richard Nixon himself used the phrase!

All in all, this aspect of Civil Rights traditionally isn’t discussed much. To say that Civil Rights came about not just through sheer altruism, but also because of self-interest, diminishes the mythology that has built up around the movement.

But it makes more sense. America did not just randomly decide to be nicer to black people in the 1960s, instead of the 1920s or the 1890s. Instead, it ended segregation because not doing so would greatly damage the fight against communism. Civil Rights was therefore not just the right thing to do, but also vitally important to the national interest.

All this is not to diminish the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, nor to ignore the heroism of its leaders. Civil Rights was probably the best thing that happened to the United States in the past fifty years. It fundamentally changed the country from a system based upon coercion to what it is today.

But saying that Civil Rights happened because of pure altruism vastly oversimplifies the reality. The Civil Rights movement did happen, in the words of Mr. Nixon, “because it is right and just.” But it also happened so America could “compete successfully against communism.”



Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Conclusions

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Colorado.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)


Colorado is much like the previous state analyzed in this series: Virginia. Both states were seen until recently as Republican strongholds and rightfully so; President George W. Bush handily won both states in 2004 and 2000.

Yet in 2004, both states showed signs of shifting Democratic. Virginia barely moved Democratic even as the South swung heavily against Senator John Kerry. As for Colorado – it actually shifted 3.7% more Democratic, against the national tide. Indeed, in 2004 Mr. Kerry performed better in Colorado than he did in Florida.

This shift cumulated in the 2008 presidential election, which showed both Colorado and Virginia as influential swing states. Colorado has thus turned from a red state into a purple state. In doing so, the Democratic Party has carved out the following coalition:

Link to Image of Colorado Voting Shifts From 1992 to 2008

Edited NYT Image

Democratic gains since 1992 follow the “C” pattern that was also present in the actual 2008 county results. This is a pattern that is present in other parts of the country, as previous posts have observed. Democrats have generally improved along the Front Range, and especially in the Denver metropolis. They have also gained in two Republican strongholds: Colorado Springs and neighboring Douglas County.

On the other hand, Republicans have gained in several historically Democratic-voting Hispanic counties near Pueblo. They have also improved in the thinly populated rural stretches of east and west Colorado.

All in all, these changes have benefited Democrats more. This is because their gains have been in the more populated areas of Colorado:

Link to Image of Colorado, 2008 Presidential Election Voters

The heart of Colorado is therefore in the Denver metropolis, as the map indicates. Since 1992 Democrats have improved in all but one of the orange and red counties. In 2000 Mr. Bush won seven of the eleven highlighted counties. In 2008 Mr. Obama won seven of them. This is responsible for Colorado’s 17.3% leftward shift from 2000 to 2008.

This leftward shift has not turned Colorado into a blue state, but rather into a vitally important swing state. Say, for instance, that Mr. Obama had tied Senator John McCain in the popular vote. North Carolina and Indiana would have immediately flipped Republican. This would be followed by the traditional swing states Florida and then Ohio. Virginia would flip Republican next; Mr. Obama would lose by less than a percent. At this point Mr. McCain would have 262 electoral votes.

And there he would remain. In a tied election, Colorado would go by 1.7% to Mr. Obama, handing the senator 278 electoral votes and the presidency.

In the 2008 presidential election, therefore, Colorado was the most important state to win. It may remain thus in 2012.



Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Part 4

This is the fourth part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Colorado. It will focus on the complex territory that constitutes the Democratic base in Colorado. The last part can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Democratic Colorado

In American politics, the Democratic base is almost always more complex than the Republican base, a fact which is largely due to complex historical factors. Democrats wield a large and heterogeneous coalition – one which often splinters based on one difference or another. The Republican base is more cohesive.

The same is true for Colorado. Republican Colorado generally consists of rural white Colorado and parts of suburban white Colorado. Democratic Colorado is more difficult to characterize.

A look into President Barack Obama’s strongest counties provides some insight:

Link to Image of Obama's Strongest Counties in Colorado, 2008 Presidential Election

The Republican counties pictured here are fairly similar: they are thinly populated, homogeneously white rural counties. The Democratic counties, on the other hand, are quite different. There are four facets to Colorado’s Democratic base, and each facet is represented in the picture above.

Denver and Boulder

As the post focusing on the Republican base explained, the red-colored counties above constituted 1.2% of the total vote in 2008. A Republican who wins Colorado will win these places, but they are not necessary to win the state.

The same is not true for a Democrat who wins Colorado. The blue-colored counties – or, more specifically, Denver and Boulder – are absolutely essential for a Democratic candidate to win Colorado.

The map below illustrates this fact:

Link to Image of Colorado Margins, 2008 Presidential Election

As is evident by the map, Denver County and Boulder County are the two foundations of the Democratic base in Colorado. Mr. Obama gained a margin of 221,570 votes from the two counties. Without the cities of Boulder and Denver, Mr. Obama would have lost Colorado – by around 6,500 votes.

Cities are the mainstay of the Democratic Party in modern-day America, and so it is unsurprising that the Democratic base in Colorado rests upon two cities. Yet not all Democratic cities are alike. Boulder and Denver represent two dramatically different types of cities, both of which vote Democratic.

Boulder is a stronghold of Democratic liberalism; in 2000 it gave Green Party candidate Ralph Nader 11.8% of its vote. Like most liberal places in America (San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, the state of Massachusetts) the median resident of Boulder is richer than the median resident of the United States. Boulder is also more homogeneous than the United States; whites compose something like four out of five people in Boulder County. In this, Boulder is also not much different from most liberal places either.

Denver, in contrast, has more in common with machine-cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Like these cities, Denver is poorer than the United States. Another commonality is the high number of minorities: Hispanics are more than one-third the total population, non-Hispanic whites less than half. Places like San Francisco and Seattle are more Democratic than liberal; places like Denver are the opposite. On the other hand, in 2000 Mr. Nader also got 5.86% of Denver’s vote – indicating the presence of a substantial liberal bloc.

Electorally, however, these differences do not matter. Both Denver and Boulder vote consistently and powerfully Democratic, and will continue doing so in the foreseeable future.

Rural Democratic Colorado

Colorado and Denver, however, constituted only two of the five blue-colored counties in the first map. The other three are rural, thinly populated, and highly Democratic areas. This may sound strange at first, given the extent of Democratic weakness in rural America. Yet the Democratic parts of rural Colorado have either one of two characteristics.

The first characteristic is indicated by the picture below:

Link to Image of Colorado Hispanics, 2000 Census

This map uses 2000 Census data to provide a picture of Colorado’s Hispanic population. In 2000 Latinos constituted 17.1% of Colorado; today their numbers have risen to 19.9% of the state population.

Latinos tend to be concentrated in two places: Denver and the areas to its northeast, and a broad band stretching from south-central to south-east Colorado. The latter areas tend to be rural, thinly populated, and the poorest places in Colorado. Due to the high numbers of Latinos, most of these counties usually vote Democratic.

But not all of them. Latinos are not as reliably Democratic as blacks, and they also turn-out in lower numbers. Thus counties with high Latino population correlate with but do not ensure Democratic victory. In 2008, Senator John McCain won seven of the eighteen counties with greater than 20% Latino population. In 2000 Governor George W. Bush actually won Conejos County, where about 58.9% of the population is Latino. Out of the rural counties above, Democrats are only guaranteed victory in the south-central band.

Ski resorts function as another characteristic of rural Democratic Colorado:

Link to Map of Colorado Ski Resorts

For whatever reason, rural counties dominated by ski resorts vote strongly Democratic. These counties are largely located along Colorado’s Front Range. In two of them Mr. Obama won over 70% of the vote: Pitkin County and San Miguel County. Both are home to famous ski resorts: Aspen Mountain in the former and Telluride Ski Resort in the latter.

Ski resort counties are strange places for Democrats to do well in. They are the opposite of the poor Latino counties which also vote Democratic. The people who live in them are generally quite rich, quite famous, and quite white. Rich, 90% non-Hispanic white San Miguel County does not sound at first glance like a Democratic stronghold. Yet when described this way, San Miguel County looks a lot like another Democratic place: Massachusetts.


The counties that form the Democratic base form the shape of a “C.” A strong Democratic candidate will expand and fatten the “C.” A strong Republican candidate will cut into the “C” and often split it in two.

President Barack Obama’s 9.0% victory in Colorado provides one illustration of this Democratic “C”:

Link to Image of Colorado, 2008 Presidential Election

In this “C,” all four elements of the Democratic base in Colorado are present. Denver and Boulder form the top part of the “C, which is augmented by suburban Denver counties which Mr. Obama also won. The rural ski resort counties on the Front Range form the left side of the “C,” and the rural Latino counties compose the bottom part.

President George W. Bush’s 8.4% victory in 2000, on the other hand, provides an instance of a Republican breaking the Democratic “C”:

Link to Image of Colorado, 2000 Presidential Election

Mr. Bush makes inroads everywhere: both rural ski resort counties, rural Latino counties, and the Denver-Boulder metropolis are much more Republican. The Democratic “C” is just present, but barely so.

Unlike other states, therefore, it is relatively easy to tell whether the state is voting for a Democrat or Republican just by looking at a county map. A Democratic victory will look like Mr. Obama’s map. A Republican victory will look like Mr. Bush’s map. This is unlike a state such as New York or Illinois, where Democrats or Republicans can win a 5% victory under the same county map.




Vote No on Proposition 26: Supermajority to Pass Fees

This is the sixth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 26, which requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass some fees.

Proposition 27 will be the subject of the next post and last in this series.

Trying to Understand What Proposition 26 Does

Proposition 26 is a complex and tricky piece of proposed legislation, with a number of subtleties. On its surface it sounds like a standard conservative proposal against higher taxes, and in a way Proposition 26 indeed fits this definition. But to just label Proposition 26 as a classic tax-cutting proposition is to somewhat misunderstand it’s purpose.

Proposition 26 has several parts, and each are quite complex. The first part deals with the difference between taxes and fees.

Part 1

In California, two methods by which the state raises revenues are through taxes, and through fees. While to the common person these sound like the same thing (indeed, they are) there is a distinct legal difference. Taxes, thanks to Proposition 13, require a two-thirds legislative supermajority to pass. Fees only require a simple majority.

Legally, taxes are defined as things are “used to pay for general public services.” Fees, on the other hand, “typically pay for a particular service or program benefiting individuals or businesses.”

The difference between these two categories can be murky at times, and there have been several court cases challenging a fee as actually a tax. It is confusing stuff.

In any case, conservatives have accused the legislature of raising taxes through the backdoor of increasing fees by a simple majority, rather than taxes (which require supermajority approval). This is probably true, and it is why Proposition 26 is being proposed. Here is the relevant summary by the legislative analyst:

  • Classifies as taxes some fees and charges that government currently may impose with a majority vote.
  • As a result, more state revenue proposals would require approval by two–thirds of each house of the Legislature and more local revenue proposals would require local voter approval.

Most politically intelligent individuals think that Proposition 26 will require all fees to have a two-thirds majority to pass. In fact, this is not true. Proposition 26 will redefine some fees as “taxes” (thus requiring a supermajority to pass), and keep some fees as fees. Once again, this is headache-inducing stuff. The point is that Proposition 26 makes it harder for California to raise revenues.

Part 2

But that is not all. Proposition 26 also:

  • Requires a two–thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to approve laws that increase taxes on any taxpayer, even if the law’s overall fiscal effect does not increase state revenues.

Again, this may sound confusing to people -  and, to be fair, it probably was written to be as confusing as possible. Don’t taxes already require two-thirds approval?

Well, actually, not all taxes do. Those taxes which increase “the amount of taxes charged to some taxpayers but offer an equal (or larger) reduction in taxes for other taxpayers” only require a majority approval.

These taxes are generally things most voters really, really like. They are usually taxes on business activities which pollute or harm society. One such tax imposes a fee on businesses that use or throw out hazardous waste. The revenues are used to clean this waste. Another tax is on alcohol retailers; the revenues are used for law enforcement and to reduce public nuisance problems associated with alcohol.

Currently, these taxes only require a simple majority to be approved. Proposition 26 changes this to require a supermajority for these taxes to become law, making their passage much more difficult.

Why to Vote Against Proposition 26

There are three good reasons to vote against Proposition 26.

The first involves ballot-box budgeting. In an ideal world, Proposition 26 would be left to the legislature to debate. It deals with subtle and complex concepts which even the most intelligent individuals have a hard time understanding.

Instead, it is being thrown to the ballot box in California’s broken proposition system. Proposition 26 is yet another example of an intentionally confusing proposition which almost nobody really understands (that includes this individual). Whether or not it is a good idea, it should be voted down and left to the legislature to decide.

The second reason to vote against Proposition 26 constitutes the deleterious effect that it will have on California’s budget. California is already famous for its late budgets (100 days late this year) as the legislature desperately squabbles to achieve the constitutionally-mandated supermajority. Much of California’s budget problems go back to restrictions on the legislature’s freedom to make decisions: two-thirds agreement is needed to pass a budget and two-thirds to pass taxes – a combination no other state has. Proposition 26 actually makes this problem worse, by restricting the legislature’s ability to do things even more. It goes down the wrong path in California.

Finally, one ought to vote against the proposition due to the restriction on taxes which do not increase state revenues. These taxes are not the types of taxes everybody loves to hate – income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc. Rather, they are generally levied on businesses, not people, whose activities result in societal damage. They are taxes on businesses that produce hazardous waste, or alcohol retailers, or polluters. A vital part of role of the government is to regulate these negative externalities. Mandating a two-thirds supermajority for California to create beneficial regulations like these would be most unwise.

These are three good reasons to vote against Proposition 26: because it is yet another example of ballot-box budgeting, because it does more damage to an already broken budget system, and because its tax restrictions are too strict.

That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 26.




Vote No on Proposition 27: Redistricting of State Districts

This is the last part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 27, which switches the power of state-level redistricting from a citizen’s committee to the legislature.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Gerrymandering at the State Level

Compared to the House of Representatives, few people pay attention to state-level legislatures. Most elected state officials are very obscure figures; indeed, in some lesser populated states being a state legislator constitutes only a part-time job. Even the most politically active individuals would not recognize the State Assembly Speaker (Assemblyman John Perez) or State Senate Majority Leader (Senator Dean Florez) if they were to walk down the street.

The attention people pay to gerrymandering is also much more focused on the federal level. Opponents of the practice, for instance, almost always use federal districts as examples of badly drawn districts.

Yet gerrymandering also exists on the state level. Both California’s State Assembly and State Senate are gerrymandered just as much as its congressional seats. A map of the State Assembly’s districts can be found here; a map of the State Senate’s districts can be found here.

Analyzing all the strangely drawn districts in California would probably take dozens of pages. State Assembly District 66, for instance, goes from Riverside and meanders along exurbs and unpopulated portions of San Diego County.

Another example of a gerrymandered district is State Senate district 14:

Link to Map of California State Senate District 14

District 14 is an attempt by Democrats to pack Central Valley’s Republicans into one state district; it is similar to congressional district 19 (whether this attempt worked is another story; the Democratic gerrymander of California has turned out to actually benefit Republicans).

To do this, Democrats combined conservative Central Valley farmland with the conservative parts of the cities of Modesto and Fresno. This involved splitting the two cities.

Here is Modesto (the white parts constitute Senate District 14):

Link to Map of California State Senate District 14, Modesto

Here is Fresno:

Link to Map of California State Senate District 14, Fresno

Obviously, this district was not drawn with the interests of Modesto and Fresno in mind. A non-gerrymandered drawing would keep a city in one piece. Nor, in all likelihood, would it combine cities with farmland that has relatively little in common.

Until recently, it appeared that California’s districts would continue to be drawn like Senate District 14: with the interests of the politicians above that of the districts themselves. In 2008, however, voters approved Proposition 11 – a proposition which switches control of the redistricting process from the state legislature to a “Citizen’s Redistricting Committee.”

Proposition 27

Proposition 27 is an attempt, two years after the passage of Proposition 11, to get rid of the “Citizen’s Redistricting Committee” and hand power back to the state legislature. It is pushed, unsurprisingly, mainly by state legislators.

Almost every single newspaper in California – whatever their partisan orientation – has called for a “no” vote on Proposition 27. It deserves to be defeated for the same reason that Proposition 20 deserves to be approved: having state legislators draw the districts that will elect them is a fundamentally corrupt practice.

In the previous analysis of Proposition 20, I wrote:

Today politicians draw the districts that will elect them. This process is inherently a conflict of interest; politicians will always pay more attention to their own interest than to the interests of the people in the districts. This is not because politicians are evil, but simply because the incentives end up this way. A Citizens Redistricting Committee will take this power away from them. It will put the interest of the people in these districts above the interests of the politicians.

Citizens redistricting committees are not perfect. Iowa, for instance, produces very compact and non-gerrymandered districts using a nonpartisan committee. New Jersey, on the other hand, has a similar committee but produces fairly gerrymandered districts. This is because New Jersey is a much more complicated state than Iowa. California’s districts may end up looking more like New Jersey’s and less like Iowa’s, simply because California is more like New Jersey than Iowa.

Still, this is probably better than what is currently happening, when politicians draw districts with very little regard to the interests of the people inside them. California’s districts may not end up looking picture-perfect under a citizen’s redistricting committee, but at least they will be probably better than the districts under the current system.

These words remain just as true for “no” on Proposition 27 as they do for “yes” on Proposition 20.

The United States remains one of the few countries – perhaps the only country – in which legislative politicians are allowed to select who will vote for and against them. This is one of the cases in which it would do well to follow the example of other countries, such as the United Kingdom or Australia, which set district lines by nonpartisan committees. The exceptional and undemocratic practice of gerrymandering deserves to be ended.

That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 27.




Vote Yes on Proposition 25: Majority Vote to Pass a Budget

This is the fifth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 25, which requires a majority vote in the legislature to pass a budget.

Proposition 26 will be the subject of the next post in this series.

The Structural Problems in California’s Budget Process…

Proposition 25 is the most important proposition being proposed this year. While Proposition 25 may not exactly ignite passion in the hearts of voters, it is far more important for California’s future than the much-debated Propositions 19 and 23.

To understand why this is so, one needs to take a look at the structure of California’s budget.

California’s budget is governed by a set of stringent regulations. Constitutionally, passage requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Proposition 13 mandates that tax increases also require a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

In both requirements, California is very much an exception. The general rule is that tax increases and budgets need only a majority vote. Several states, mostly in the West and South, require a supermajority for a tax increase. Only Arkansas and Rhode Island (an odd couple) mandate supermajority votes for budgets to pass.

No other state in the union, however, requires that both budgets and tax increases be passed with a supermajority.

A two-thirds majority for both tax increases and budget passage necessitates compromise between the two parties. Unfortunately, the ideological difference between Democrats and Republican is unusually wide in California. The Democratic Party in Mississippi is probably more conservative than many moderate Republicans on the national level, while the Republican Party in New York is probably more liberal than many moderate Democrats on the national level. In the Democratic stronghold of California, however, the Republican Party’s positions lie quite far to the right on the national spectrum.

Combined, these factors make passing a budget in California one of the hardest endeavors in American politics. Since 1980 – shortly after the two-thirds requirement for tax increases was instituted – California has passed an on-time budget a grand total of five times. Every budget is subject to torturous negotiations as state officials desperately attempt to reach the two-thirds supermajority requirement (imagine the chaos that would take place if the House of Representatives required a two-thirds vote to pass a budget!)

This has quite negative implications for the well-being of California. Constant budget fights have done bad damage to California’s image, hurting private investment and creating great uncertainty. Budget impasses hurt public sector workers and public services provided by the government.

And How Proposition 25 Solves One of Them

Proposition 25 ends the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget. This will make passing budgets substantially easier, and it constitutes one part of a plethora of necessary reforms in fixing California’s flawed budget system.

There are some that oppose Proposition 25, arguing that it constitutes a union-backed power grab for California’s Democratic Party – and that it therefore ought to be opposed.

It is true that Proposition 25 is funded by unions, and that it will benefit the Democratic Party in California (which has a majority in the legislature). But just because a proposition helps one party or another doesn’t mean that it deserves opposition. Getting more people to vote would probably help the Democratic Party, but nobody argues that higher voter turn-out is a bad thing because of that.

Moreover, there is an easy way for Republicans to stop Proposition 25 from benefiting Democrats: they can win elections, and take over the legislature. This is what happens in 47 other states and the federal government. It works much better than what happens in California.

Passing Proposition 25 will not end budget crises; even if passed, there will still be a number of problems with California’s budget. Tax increases will still require supermajority votes, for instance. California’s budget still relies too much on income taxes, which fall steeply during recessions, as a result of Proposition 13. Solving that problem necessitates a larger rainy day fund. Then there is reforming the broken proposition system itself.

But despite all this, Proposition 25 is a fundamental reform to California’s broken budget process. It constitutes a change that is vitally important for California’s future well-being – even if, horror of horrors, it happens to help the Democratic Party.

That is why I strongly, strongly recommend a “yes” vote on Proposition 25.


Vote No on Proposition 24: Repeal of Corporate Tax Breaks

This is the fourth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 24, which repeals three corporate tax breaks.

Proposition 25 will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Tax Breaks and Proposition 24

When California passed its annual budget, legislators included three tax breaks for businesses: a tax break involving single sales factor apportionment, a tax break involving financial losses, and a tax break involving tax credit transfers.

If these tax breaks sound confusing to you, you’re not alone; this blogger, for instance, has no idea what “single sales factor apportionment” even means, let alone the complicated economic effects that would result if this tax break were to be expanded or repealed. It would not be unreasonable to imagine that most of California’s electorate is similarly bewildered by these complex financial matters.

Yet now California’s voters are confronted with Proposition 24, which asks them to repeal these three tax breaks. Proponents argue that approving Proposition 24 will improve the state’s budget. They label the breaks as “big corporate tax loopholes” which won’t create jobs. Opponents argue that voting yes on Proposition 24 will lead to large numbers of lost jobs, while badly damaging California’s economy.

Very few Californians – including this one – have the ability or experience to evaluate these claims.  Micro-level issues, such as tax credit transfer tax breaks, belong in the domain of the legislature and not on the ballot box. The job of elected officials and their staffs is to deal with these matters; that is what they do all day. Voters, on the other hand, will be presented with a profoundly complex subject and asked to decide “yes” or “no” on it in the span of a few minutes (or, at most, a few hours if one is an absentee voter).

Proposition 24 is the latest example of ballot-box budgeting, in which complex issues that should be decided by the state government are instead thrown to the ballot box in propositions nobody understands. Almost all of California’s newspapers have recommended a “no” vote on Proposition 24, which says quite a bit.

Personally, this individual’s political views do lean towards the “yes” side of Proposition 24 – against more tax breaks for businesses during a budget deficit. Nevertheless, voting for something one does not understand is not a good idea. And Proposition 24 fits that bill perfectly.

That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 24.





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