Prior to 2016, I largely based my voting decisions on standard voter guides such as those from the Democratic Party, and maybe read some editorials. November 2016 was my first venture into digging deeper into policy, as I took a break from the presidential insanity to investigate the California ballot measures. Now after two years in San Francisco, I’ve seen more of the importance of each elected office and measure, including among Democrats. Investigations of these races revealed that this California primary ballot can have dramatic consequences.
Despite 81% of San Franciscans and 60% of Californians registering as Democrats (of registered voters with a party preference), there are serious divides on fundamental issues such as housing. As I’ve become more involved in the housing debate — including two recent trips to Sacramento and multiple San Francisco Planning Commission meetings — I’ve seen how this affects all levels of government: state and local, and legislative, executive, and judicial. As housing ties to many other issues such as poverty and children, many of these decisions hinged on my view on this issue.
Housing was not the only controversial issue at stake in this election: transportation, energy, teacher reforms, pensions, healthcare, and the environment all have Democrats coming down with different perspectives. On many of these issues I tend to favor reform, not because I believe there’s inherently anything wrong about the status quo, but because on these particular issues the weight of evidence bears against it.
While I’ve never voted for a Republican, in past elections I might have entertained at least evaluating them. For now-obvious reasons I doubt I will ever vote for a Republican, or a member of another party that can make the election of Democrats less likely (i.e., I would only vote third-party with ranked-choice voting). So these analyses only consider Democrats.
As part of my analysis I consulted the full Issues pages of each major candidate, the full official voter guide, other voter guides such as the SF Chronicle’s, and other materials. Nearly all recommendations link to longer explanations, which total over 9,000 words. I hope you find the result useful.
Governor: ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA
Given Newsom’s lead, this is a strategic vote to shut out Republicans from the general election, which could improve Democrats’ odds in U.S. House elections (though Mike Shellenberger has the best platform).
Lieutenant Governor: ELENI KOUNALAKIS
Kounalakis is the only candidate pledging to address California’s most pressing issue: housing.
Secretary of State: ALEX PADILLA
Padilla is the incumbent and sole Democrat with political experience in the race.
Controller: BETTY YEE
Yee is the incumbent and only Democrat running.
Treasurer: VIVEK VISWANATHAN
Viswanathan is a policy wonk unafraid to challenge the status quo on matters critical to California’s financing and affordability.
Attorney General: DAVE JONES
Jones will ensure cities pull their weight in fighting our housing shortage.
Insurance Commissioner: RICARDO LARA
Lara is a Democrat with political experience and interest in single-payer healthcare.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction: MARSHALL TUCK
Tuck understands the importance of teacher reforms for improving education.
U.S. Senate: DIANNE FEINSTEIN
Reelect Feinstein, a progressive, pragmatic legislator.
Explainer coming soon.
My default vote for ballot measures is “no.” I spent several hours researching these, and only feel comfortable making my choices after that investment. Whenever possible, I believe in giving legislators — who have significant investigatory resources — the power to make the best legislation and funding decisions, and similarly giving agencies the power to enact those laws. I voted against Proposition 68, as well as San Francisco Propositions F and H, specifically on these grounds.
Prop 68: NO
This $4 billion general obligation bond for parks, environmental protection, and water infrastructure would tie up the General Fund with unfunded earmarks.
Prop 69: YES
We should keep our promise about the directing gas tax revenue to transportation projects.
Prop 70: NO
We should make it easier to budget, not harder by requiring a one-time two-thirds vote to use revenue from the cap-and-trade program.
Prop 71: YES
Prop 71 avoids legal issues if votes on ballot measures change between election night and final vote tallies.
Prop 72: NO
Excluding rainwater capture systems from property tax assessments is another unnecessary cut to property taxes and the schools that depend on them.
Board of Equalization District 2: MALIA COHEN
Cohen is the only candidate running on issues (albeit for a role of questionable value).
Regional Measure 3: YES
Increasing tolls to fund transit improvements will reduce congestion and pollution.
Mayor: LONDON BREED #1 (Mark Leno #2)
London Breed is the sole candidate campaigning on a message of unity, particularly manifested in her pragmatic and inclusive approach to housing.
U.S. House of Representatives: NANCY PELOSI
Speaker Pelosi is one of the most effective legislators of our time, who has led the party through Obamacare and the Resistance alike.
Explainer coming soon.
Assembly District 17: DAVID CHIU
Chiu advocates for housing and has no real opposition.
No explainer, as this primary has no effect given only two candidates. Also, Chiu’s opponent lacks a functional website.
Superior Court Judges: CHENG, KARNOW, LEE, and ROSS
Retain the current judges to reject politicization of judgeships.
For a nonpartisan overview, I recommend bythebay.cool. I don’t fully agree with their summaries, but like ballot.fyi did for the 2016 California propositions (same creators), it provides a thorough and engaging overview of these complicated bills.
Prop A: YES
Enabling these revenue bonds will fund clean power projects.
Prop B: NO
Forcing board and commission members to step down before running for office could lead to lower-quality politicians unable to build their careers within government.
Prop C: NO
This commercial rent tax funding childcare is riskily high and precludes housing and homelessness services funding.
Prop D: YES
The other commercial rent tax will responsibly fund badly-needed housing projects.
Prop E: NO
Banning flavored tobacco harkens back to prohibition and the history of the damaging drug war.
Prop F: NO
Eviction counsel may be a worthwhile expenditure, but this is best left to legislation rather than inflexible ballot measures.
Prop G: YES
G would make San Francisco a better place for children by taxing our increasingly valuable land.
Prop H: NO
Government officials, not police unions, should decide policy on the complex issue of taser use.
Prop I: NO
This toothless measure about courting sports teams has no place on the ballot.
How did I compare?
The voter guides I most relied on were from YIMBY Action and SPUR (both San Francisco only), and SF Chronicle. Voter guides from the Democratic Party (San Francisco and California) and the Republican Party didn’t include any rationale, but remain a useful comparison point.
These aren’t entirely apples-to-apples as none of these voter guides provided recommendations on all 29 measures and races, but still give an idea. I found it particularly interesting that I disagreed with the Democratic Party on over 40% of choices, despite only voting for Democrats; this also doesn’t only reflect my aversion to ballot measures, where my agreement was only slightly lower.