The presidential race is garnering most of the headlines, but there’s plenty of emotional energy — and money — left to lavish on the 12 statewide propositions on the California ballot, plus various city and county initiatives.
As in the top of the ballot contest between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the Jewish community is sharply split between the Democratic/liberal majority and the Republican/conservative minority.
For views on the left side, The Journal checked out the recommendations of the statewide Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), with comments by its president, Douglas Mirell.
On the right side, the Republican Jewish Coalition of California is not taking an official stand on the propositions, with a single, notable exception, but the organization’s founder, Bruce Bialosky, filled in the gap. Bialosky made clear that he was speaking for himself but indicated that most Jewish Republicans of his acquaintance share his preferences.
Five of the propositions would obligate the state to issue new bonds or borrow money, largely for health, transportation and environmental projects, and here the philosophical differences between the two sides emerge clearly. PJA supports three of the five measures, while Bialosky opposes them all.
“There may be many worthy projects, but I’m voting against every measure that requires new bonds or raises taxes,” Bialosky said. “Like any family, the state has to live within its means. If any problem is really so pressing, it should be funded through the regular budget.”
Six of the seven remaining propositions are linked to social attitudes toward family values, the environment and the criminal justice system, and again they show distinct ideological differences.
Even when both sides agree in their vote on the same measure, they come to their conclusions from different perspectives.
Proposition 1A — Authorizes $9.95 billion in state bonds to help fund a bullet train between Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Progressive Jewish Alliance: Yes.
The high-speed rail system will assure that our state can meet the challenges of future growth. Mirell expressed concern about increasing state indebtedness, but in this case, as for Propositions 3 and 12, the benefits trumped his reservations.
Bruce Bialosky: No.
California cannot afford any new bonds. Other opponents say that the money would be better spent upgrading existing rail and highway systems or to fund more urgent needs.
Proposition 2 — Bars tight confinement of egg-laying hens and other farm animals as of 2015.
Healthier for human consumers and shows respect for all forms of life.
Generally opposes unnecessary state interference. Other critics say that passage would give out-of-state egg exporters an advantage over California farmers.
Proposition 3 — Authorizes $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand 13 University of California and nonprofit children’s hospitals.
Critical for ensuring adequate future care for children, regardless of family’s ability to pay.
State cannot afford new bonds and, in any case, should not finance large projects through the initiative process.
Proposition 4 — Requires waiting period and doctor’s notification to parents before terminating a minor’s pregnancy through abortion.
Would endanger teenagers’ health by limiting access to safe, legal health care.
While many of us are pro-choice, we believe that parents have a right to know if their minor daughters are seeking abortions, Bialosky said.
(For a more extensive discussion, see “Abortion Notification Measure Draws Opposition” in The Journal’s Oct. 24 issue.)
Proposition 5 — Allocates $460 million a year in state funds for the treatment of those convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes as an alternative to incarceration.
“We support policies that focus on treatment and education, rather than punishment, as part of our commitment to teshuvah (repentance).”
Critics argue that Proposition 5 would decriminalize drugs and cost taxpayers too much.
Proposition 6 — Increases state funding for criminal justice programs by $365 million to $965 million, boosts penalties for gang activities and extends satellite tracking of sex offenders.
Money would go mainly to law enforcement agencies and too little for treatment, education and rehabilitation programs.
Requires more state spending with little accountability.
Proposition 7 — Requires public and private utilities to increase the proportion of their electricity derived from renewable sources by certain dates.
Sounds good but would actually retard the growth of solar and other forms of renewable energies.
Would be unworkable.
Proposition 8 — Amends the state Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman and thus bar same-sex marriages.
This hot-button issue has drawn national attention and donations, with the two sides raising a total of more than $60 million, a record for any ballot measure in the United States this year.
Defeat of this initiative is PJA’s top priority, because “it would further institutionalize discrimination…. As a people of faith, we are obligated to oppose bigotry and hatred.”
This is a particularly hard call, with Jewish Republicans lining up on both sides of the issue, Bialosky said. “It’s horribly unfair to label supporters as bigoted and anti-gay.”
Proposition 9 — Enhances the rights of crime victims and restricts early release of prison inmates.
Violates the rights of criminal defendants, “including the centrality of the assumption of innocence. Victims’ rights are already protected by California law.”
Proposition 10 — Borrows $5 billion, mainly to give rebates to buyers of vehicles fueled by natural gas, hydrogen and other alternative fuels.
Unnecessary expenditure, which would duplicate government and private efforts already underway.
Digs an even deeper deficit hole.
Proposition 11 — Strips Legislature of decennial task of redrawing districts for elective state offices and gives the job to a bipartisan 14-member commission. Most analysts believe that passage of Proposition 11 would raise the number of Republicans elected to the state Senate and Assembly and lower the number of Democrats.
Committee members split on this issue and made no official recommendation. However, Mirell, speaking for himself, urged a no vote. He argued that the measure would not prevent the regular legislative gridlock in Sacramento. “The root of the problem lies in term limits for legislators and the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the budget,” he said.
Republican Jewish Coalition: Yes.
In a rare exception to its policy of no endorsement, the coalition is backing Proposition 11.
For Bialosky, this measure is the most important one on the ballot and would unclog the logjam in Sacramento. “I’m not saying this for partisan advantage,” he declared. “I believe every state in the union should adopt the same system, regardless of which party is in power.”
Proposition 12 — Issue $900 million in bonds for low-cost loans to California veterans to buy homes or farms.
Veterans would benefit and mortgage payments would cover bond costs.
Reaffirms his opposition to all bond measures or tax increases.
In addition to the statewide propositions, what follows are positions on selected county, municipal and school issues.
PJA did not take a stand on these local measures, but Mirell said he supports all — with two exceptions — on the grounds that they are needed to upgrade our quality of life, education and transportation.
Without exception, Bialosky opposes all but one, reasoning that they cost too much money, are not needed or represent unwarranted government intrusion.
Proposition A — Adds $36 in taxes annually for each property for after-school and anti-gang programs.
Proposition B — Permits city to use money from previously passed propositions to authorize the construction of 52,500 new affordable housing units, many of them for the elderly.
Los Angeles County
Measure R — Increases the sales tax by 0.5 percent to 8.75 percent to raise $30 billion to $40 billion for road improvements and mass transit.
Los Angeles Community College District
J — Authorizes $35 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities and expand educational programs.
Los Angeles Unified School District
Q — Authorizes $7 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities, including earthquake safety, and improve job and college preparation.
PJA’s Mirell, who endorses all the preceding measures, said he was undecided on Q because the school district had not made a complete case on how the money would be used.
Measure H — Allows the Beverly Hilton Hotel and its owner, Beny Alagem, to build a 12-story Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and two luxury condo towers at its Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards site.
The measure has agitated residents for months, with Alagem wining and dining the citizenry amid charges of voter-buying.
Proponents say the ambitious construction projects would revitalize Beverly Hills and bring more money into the city’s coffers. Opponents, among them bona fide celebrities, foresee traffic jams on an apocalyptic scale.
Although neither are Beverly Hills residents, Bialosky and Mirell have followed the struggle with some interest.
Bialosky supports H on the grounds that a man has a right to build what he wants on his own property.
Mirell said he doesn’t have enough facts for a fair call, but he sees some virtue in high-density development along the city’s main travel routes to encourage construction of a rational transportation system.
Measure T — Would cap commercial development in the city at about half the current level. Mirell is for the measure and Bialosky against it.