Geoff Geis


My ballot

Tomorrow, I will vote for a new governor and a United States Senator (I’ll also vote for a member of the House of Representatives, but that’s boring). I’ll also cast my vote on the statewide ballot propositions, despite my opposition to the proposition system itself. This is how I will vote in the most important races:

Governor: Jerry Brown. People have been “down on Brown” because he’s a cynical career politician. I’m excited about him, though! He’s had the job before, and his age means that he’s not going to try to use the governorship as a stepping stone for something greater. Maybe – just maybe – he can make important-but-unpopular decisions without fearing electoral backlash. I like his personal candor; perhaps he’s cynical, but he seems honestly cynical and very much “alive” as a personality. He reminds me of Joe Biden, my initial candidate for president in 2008.

When Brown was governor he spoke out against Proposition 13 – the law that says that all budgets and tax increases must be approved by 2/3 of the legislature or the electorate.  While it is unfortunately not within the governor’s power to repeal the proposition (although he can certainly advocate its repeal from his bully pulpit), Meg Whitman supports the proposition and has even attempted to use Brown’s stance against him. Proposition 13 is the single most destructive piece of legislation in California history, and it must be repealed for our state to have any chance for survival into the future.

Also, Meg Whitman seems grossly unqualified for the job.

Senator: Barbara Boxer. Boxer has been a leader in the Senate for years, and she’s part of a Democratic Party that needs to retain control of the Senate in order to counterbalance the wave of reactionaries that are predicted to conquer the House.

Also, Carly Fiorina seems grossly unqualified for the job.

Proposition 19: No. I support the legalization of marijuana, which should never have been illegal in the first place. I also support tax revenues for the state. Proposition 19, however, ought to be defeated.

The first reason that I can’t go with Proposition 19 is its defiance of federalism. I believe in secessionism – despite the Civil War, I think that states should be able to leave the Union if they feel that it no longer benefits them to be a part of it. I do not, however, support nullification. Our federal system is based upon a balance-of-power between national, state, and local governments – a hierarchy that was decided well before California chose to be a part of the United States. If a state believes that it is in its self-interest to be part of the federal system, then it must defer to federal law. Defiance of federal law by individual states weakens the efficacy of the entire system.

If California attempts to nullify federal law by popular vote with Proposition 19, it would create a bad precedent. If the federal government were to let such a law stand without challenge, then it would tacitly give the right to states around the country to amend federal laws whenever their whim directed them to do so. Texas, for example, could nullify the part of federal law that says that school children should not receive religious indoctrination in schools. Alabama could nullify laws that ensure the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies. Montana could repeal assault weapons bans, and Arizona could repeal federal anti-discrimination laws.

Large amounts of people in those states would agree with those policies, just like so many people in California want to legalize weed. The strength of the federal system may mean that California potheads should be cautious and keep their weed in the trunk while driving (which is pretty much the only time that anyone ever gets in trouble for pot in this state), but it also keeps stupid people in other places from doing terrible things that harm their citizens. Worthwhile trade? I think so.

Yet the passage of Prop 19 wouldn’t actually weaken the federal government — it would merely challenge it to act. The Obama Administration is well aware of the Constitutional ramifications of allowing Proposition 19 to go into effect, and Attorney General Eric Holder has already stated that the administration will fight it. There will be a federal injunction to delay the law’s inaction, and it will be backed up by DEA officers on the ground in California with license to arrest entrepreneurial citizens who are taking advantage of the new law. California will hardly become the Amsterdam-like wonderland that some people are anticipating. There’s a possibility, in fact, that things might actually become more difficult for pot smokers in the state as the federal government attacks growers and distributors.

Those negatives aside, there don’t seem to be tangible benefits that would come from Prop 19.

Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law last month that reduced marijuana possession to an infraction, not a misdemeanor. That move removes the argument that Prop 19 will save the state money in legal processing and incarceration fees, and it also plays against the argument that marijuana laws are used to facilitate racial profiling (I admit that it doesn’t completely solve that problem, but if police forces are racist they will find a way to profile people with or without marijuana prohibition).

The other supposed benefit of Prop 19 is that it will bring tax revenues to the state. Yet the law doesn’t actually specify any statewide plan for taxation – rather, it leaves that to municipalities. Cities will be in competition with each other to attract new marijuana businesses, and one of the main bargaining chips they’ll have will be in the form of tax rates. If somehow Prop 19 survives federal challenges and actually legalizes weed, then cities that want pot farms and marijuana tourism will levy negligible taxes to attract them to town and the state will see little-to-nothing in terms of tax money.

Proposition 20: Yes. Gerrymandering is a real problem. Prop 20 is good for democracy in the state.

Proposition 21: Yes. I thought about this one a lot. As opponents of the proposition have said, it is a de facto new tax. In 2010, are our state parks really the top priority for a new tax? No, I can’t say that they are. What I can say, however, is that I would gladly pay $18 a year to get free admission to all of the state parks. And I can also say that these beautiful natural wildlife refuges ought to be insulated so that they don’t get destroyed by opportunists during this years-long budgetary crisis that is not likely to conclude soon.

Proposition 22: No. This bill would hamper the state’s ability to raise money in times of emergencies. The state is already so restricted when it comes to raising funds that it makes no sense to restrict it further. Sometimes I wonder if the people who write these propositions are actually hoping for California’s collapse.

Proposition 23: No. Prop 23 is probably the worst thing on the ballot this year. It is short-sighted, and it will benefit no one but predatory oil companies in other states that don’t want lose customers in California. “Going green” will require much hard work and structural change in this state, but suspending our efforts to do so for short-term economic gains will only damage our economy and our environment for the future.

Proposition 24: Yes. Over the last few years, the state legislature has passed some fairly ridiculous tax breaks that help big businesses to defray their costs in the state. This measure would repeal them. The LA Times editorial board said to vote against this one because initiatives aren’t the right way to change decisions by the legislature – their argument was that it was “micromanagement.” I agree with their argument, but I’m still voting yes. Why? I believe that the initiative system itself is micromanagement, and a dangerous bastardization of representative democracy. But it’s also the law of the land in California. Unfortunately, with both the initiative system and Proposition 13 in place and not looking like they’ll be gone anytime soon, the “wrong way” to make changes in our state is sometimes also the “only way.”

Proposition 25: Yes! I’m enthusiastically in favor of this proposition, which will end the super-majority needed to pass budgets in this state. This begins to peel away some of the restrictions from Prop 13, and it’s good progress even though it doesn’t go far enough (our government still won’t be able to raise taxes without a super-majority).

Proposition 26: No. This would require a super-majority for certain state and local fees that are now done the proper way, through a regular majority. Obviously I hate it.

Proposition 27: No. Oh, the proposition system sucks so hard! Prop 27 would undo Prop 20 if they were both to pass. What a great illustration of the stupidity inherent in our system.


Filed under: Human Interest, , , , , , ,

My Ballot on the June 8 Propositions

For the record, I am an ardent opponent of the Propositional Democracy system that is currently in place in California. The founders of our Republic didn’t trust the general public to make sound decisions on complex issues about which they were ill-informed, so they made our nation a representative democracy: every couple of years or so, we hire people to full-time jobs making these decisions for us.

California’s initiative process is an attempt to make California a more “direct” democracy. Yet giving micromanagerial duties to the people of our state has only created problems. Even those of us who are well-informed are not privy to enough information or blessed with enough free time to truly give each issue the attention it deserves. As a result, hard decisions are made based not on scholarship but on thirty-second television advertisements and intentionally vague and opaque ballot language.

The effect of the Propositional system has been disastrous for our state. Over the last few decades, uninformed voters have concurrently voted for so-called “fiscally conservative” tax measures whilst also voting for massive socialist undertakings that cannot logically be funded with anything other than tax money. This idiocy is a direct cause of our current fiscal insolvency, and we have no reason to be optimistic that things will reverse course before California collapses in a similar fashion as Greece.

The Proposition system is also terrifying from a Civil Rights perspective, as evidenced by the passage in 2008 of Proposition 8. While reprehensible and bigoted on its face, Proposition 8 is even more frightening for its deeper implications. To borrow a concept from Martin Niemöller, none of us is safe if we live in a society that believes it is okay to remove minority rights on the basis of a simple majority vote. That Prop 8 passed is troubling; that our system even allows things like Prop 8 to be on the ballot is even more troubling.

But this is the system with which we, unfortunately, are stuck. And as tempted as I am to boycott such a retarded method of deciding statewide law, a boycott would be nothing but ineffective in this situation. Other people will vote, whether I vote or not. While I don’t agree that I should be making these decisions, it is my duty as a citizen of California to consider them as thoroughly as possible and to vote on them.

This is what my ballot will look like today:

Prop 13: Limits on Property Tax Assessment. Seismic retrofitting of existing buildings. Legislative Constitutional Amendment. Provides that construction to seismically retrofit buildings will not trigger reassessment of property tax value. Sets statewide standard for seismic retrofit improvements that qualify.

Yes. While I’m generally opposed to anything that lowers or restricts property taxes, I don’t see anything insidious about making it easier for companies to retrofit their buildings.

Prop 14: Top Two Primaries. Reforms the primary election process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races. Allows all voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference. Ensures that the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will appear on the general election ballot regardless of party preference.

Undecided. This is the one that’s going to tear at my little heartstrings all the way to the ballot box. Why I might vote Yes: I’m sympathetic to the proposition, because analysts predict that it will have a moderating effect on politics in California by putting more centrist candidates in office. While not a centrist myself, at this point I feel that the state is too fragmented and in too much danger of collapse for any sort of radical politics. At this juncture, we need more pragmatists like Governor Schwarzenegger. This law will probably increase those. Why I might vote No: As much as I believe that we need moderate consensus right now, I’m wary of supporting something that might stifle third party activity into the future. Also, states with similar laws have found that they make it much easier for incumbents to keep their jobs. A huge reason for supporting representative democracy, as I do, is the idea that our representatives can lose their jobs if we find that they do not actually represent us. Protecting incumbency runs contrary to that ideal.

Prop 15: Removes Public Financing of Elections ban, increases lobbying fees.

Yes. Our federal elections system has shown us that candidates can succeed by opting out of public financing (although President Obama’s election actually thwarts the wisdom that that is always anti-democratic, because he was able to create his substantial warchest through individual donations rather than corporate underwriting). That said, in our current climate minor candidates stand absolutely no chance of succeeding, and public financing at least gives them a chance. Plus, this raises fees for special-interest lobbyists. We aren’t going to ever end lobbyist influence on government, so we might as well take some of their money.

Prop 16. Imposes new two-thirds voter approval requirement for local public electricity providers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

No, No, No, No, No!!!! This is probably the most insidious ballot measure this year, and one of the most deceptively worded/advertised. Supporters are calling it a “voters’ rights” bill, but requiring a “two-thirds” majority to do anything is NOT democratic. It is functionally impossible to get 67% of people in this state to support anything that will cost them money in the short run, so this effectively kills any city’s chances to initiate public utilities to complete with private utilities. Municipalities are currently trying to create these public utilities so that they can provide more energy efficient (i/e “green”) policies that will in the long run save us money and reduce the damage that our density is causing to our environment. In the short term, those efforts will be costly – but they are essential. This bill is an attempt to stop them from doing that and to essentially give Pacific Gas & Electric an unbreakable energy monopoly. The shrouding of Proposition 16 in “pro-democracy” rhetoric is frankly despicable. That this bill will most likely pass is an example of the backwardness of the Propositional system itself.

Prop 17. Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute.

No. Here’s another shiny example of something on which individual citizens absolutely shouldn’t be voting. Just look at that title, and how it’s worded – could it really possibly be that simple? Now, notice that the main supporter of the bill is the Mercury Insurance Group – it’s starting to seem fishy, isn’t it? The law has been advertised as being cost-reductive, because drivers who have had consistent insurance can get discounts. Yet analysts for major newspapers across the state have found that the law will actually increase insurance premiums for quite a few people – people who don’t currently have insurance, or who have only recently gotten it. This will disproportionately affect the poor, and it may dissuade some people who do not have insurance from getting it.

Measure E. Emergency Neighborhood School and Teacher Retention Measure.

Yes. Our schools are crumbling, and this will try to help them with an increase in taxes on property. Opponents are trying to pull their weasel-like “common people are going to pay more taxes” crap on this one, but it’s silly. We’re talking $100 a year per piece of property, for a limited time, in an emergency attempt to save our educational system. If we fail to prioritize education, we will suffer dire consequences in the future.

Filed under: Features, , , ,


This is Soft Sailors! We're a new band from Los Angeles. We don't have any upcoming shows scheduled, but you can hear us online:

Also, here are some solo songs I've uploaded recently to Soundcloud. I'm playing solo July 19th at the Pickle Factory at 647 Lamar Street in Los Angeles and September 1st at Los Globos in LA for a KCHUNG benefit.

In 2011, I released my first solo album, Princess. You can listen to it and download it on Bandcamp:

From 2005 until 2011, I was in the band Pizza! This is our album We Come From the Swamp:

From 2008-2010, I was in the band Big Whup. Here's one of our songs that I sang, called "Cover My Eyes:"

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