Ninety-nine years after California voters rebelled against the capture of their democratic system by corporate big spenders and machine politics and adopted the initiative system to keep those interests in check, it has come to this: Two corporations are using their spending might to sponsor and campaign for initiatives to protect their own bottom lines; the Democratic Party has virtually eliminated its voters from any say in who will be their nominee for governor; and Republicans are joining with Democrats to kill new attempts to put power back into voters' hands.
The June 8 primary does more than any in recent memory to illustrate the degree to which money, wielded by business interests and political parties, has usurped voter power by co-opting Progressive-era reforms. Californians should be wary of having their buttons pushed by corporations trying to amend the state Constitution to safeguard their profits, and by political parties that demonstrate less interest in the good of the state than in the good of the interests that keep them in power. With the economy still slumping and the state in crisis, though, it's easy to let campaign rhetoric overtake reason.
These endorsements are the result of The Times' best thinking on selected races. The point is to spur more thinking, before going to the voting booth. Vote carefully. Vote wisely. But vote.
To read our previously published in-depth endorsements in each race, click on the ballot measure or office below.
Governor: No endorsement. The Democratic Party has anointed former Gov. Jerry Brown as its nominee and doesn't seem to care what voters have to say. Republicans Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman are waging an advertising battle for the lowest common denominator. The Times doesn't sit out general elections, but for this primary, we can't in good conscience endorse any of these candidates.
Lieutenant governor, Democratic Party: Gavin Newsom. The brash mayor of San Francisco just might pump some energy into this largely useless office.
Lieutenant governor, Republican Party: Abel Maldonado. The appointed incumbent is a voice for pragmatic solutions over partisan stalemate.
Attorney general, Democratic Party: Kamala Harris. San Francisco's district attorney focuses not simply on reducing violent crime but on reducing recidivism.
Attorney general, Republican Party: Steve Cooley. Cooley has served Los Angeles County well as district attorney with his enlightened handling of three-strikes cases.
Insurance commissioner, Democratic Party: Dave Jones. The Sacramento lawmaker would be a consumer advocate, a strong defender of the state's auto insurance reforms, and an intelligent and creative commissioner at a time of changes in the insurance industry.
Insurance commissioner, Republican Party: Mike Villines. The former Assembly Republican leader showed courage in seeking a budget solution last year.
Superintendent of public instruction (nonpartisan): Larry Aceves. This largely powerless office is a relic of a time when a statewide schools officer provided balance to an otherwise local education bureaucracy. We must stop governing our state as if it were still the 1870s. That said, of the many candidates, retired school superintendent Aceves brings the best balance of insider know-how and outside reform.
Proposition 13: Yes. Property tax protections would encourage owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to make their structures earthquake safe.
Proposition 14: Yes. This measure would change the structure of primary elections, like this one, in which political bosses and political parties limit voter choice. It is telling that Democratic and Republican Party leaders are joining to oppose this measure, which would have the top two primary finishers, regardless of party, face off in November.
Proposition 15: Yes. A pilot program for full public campaign financing for secretary of state elections should provide useful lessons on how, or whether, to proceed with a broader public financing program. Unsurprisingly, many in the campaign and fundraising industries oppose it.
Proposition 16: No. The so-called Taxpayers Right to Vote Act is really a ploy by Northern California's Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to block ratepayers from forming cooperatives to purchase and distribute electricity at reduced rates. PG&E is spending its customers' money to tell those same customers that they have to protect themselves against an imaginary power grab by local government. It is PG&E, in fact, that is trying to protect its market share by requiring a two-thirds vote to establish a new local power system.