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Your 2018 California Midterm Election Study Guide

Get the lowdown on all of the big 2018 California midterm election races and propositions.

The midterm elections are nearly upon us.  After two years of the constant barrage of crises and pandemonium, the media has done an excellent job turning the midterm elections into a referendum on the President. While impacting Congress is generally important, it is more important to actually pay attention what is happening on the local level.

For anyone who cared to read the last edition of this piece, The 2016 California Proposition Study Guide, this refrain will sound familiar to you. That's because we can actually take note of the fact that, despite the runaway clown car that the presidency has become (or the suggestion that the entire state is rioting), California has been humming along just fine. This should serve as a sobering reminder that state and local politics matter; but so long as everyone participates.     

This piece is going to cover the Governor's Race between Gavin Newsom and John Cox, the U.S. Senate Race between Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon, and the down-ballot state measures. Similar to my last piece, this article will examine the positions from both sides. For those of you that click the links, please note that the vast majority of the links contained in this article will ultimately push you behind a paywall after you've reached your monthly allotment. To get around that, you can just open the links in incognito mode.

The Governor's Race - Gavin Newsom (D) v. John Cox (R)

Gavin Newsom is the current Lieutenant Governor and the former Mayor of San Francisco. John Cox is a businessman and has never held elected office in any state.  

Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom

Argument for Newsom - Politics has, for better or for worse, become incredibly polarized and Newsom is no different. Understanding that California is a liberal stronghold, Newsom has staked out an agenda more liberal than any other governor in states that lean towards the democrats. These major initiatives include: universal prenatal care and preschool; housing and homelessness; leading the charge with universal health care; and economic development.

Newsom brings a loaded resume of experience in California politics spanning over 20 years. This, contrasted with John Cox, who has run four failed campaigns for political office, including a bid for President in 2008, and who did not live in California until 2011.  Newsom has also been an outspoken critic of the President, which has bolstered his profile in a state that earns a lot of ire from the White House.  

Argument For Cox - The major point that Cox has at his disposal is that California has notoriously high taxes and the state is seemingly still falling apart. Taking those facts into consideration, and the fact that Newsom's agenda will almost certainly result in higher taxes, Cox has staked out a policy platform of traditional conservatism.

Much of his campaign focuses on the exorbitant costs of public works projects that Newsom has overseen while Lieutenant Governor: the high-speed (and high cost) rail project, state taxes that are among the highest in the nation, and a panoply of issues at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Cox seeks to address these issues by lower taxes by repealing the gas tax, halting construction of the high-speed train, and by rolling back land-use regulations by to spur on development in attempt to curb the housing crisis.

My Take - Newsom's plan is ambitious and is going to be an expensive endeavor: universal preschool and child care - up to $8 billion per year; taxpayer-financed, single-payer health care - $400 billion per year; and untold costs associated with his state-wide initiative to address homelessness.  It is difficult to see any way in which these policy initiatives can be achieved without raising taxes, especially if the state suffers any sort of economic downturn.

John Cox

John Cox

Cox's policy platform is noticeably thin and an endorsement from the President is not going to help his stock in the state. Cox's lack of political experience and several failed campaigns for various levels of office are noteworthy, indicating that his message fails to resonate with voters. However, he is not wrong in asserting that bureaucratic red-tape, excessive taxes, and an increasing disparity in housing are real crises which have worsened under the watch of Democratic leadership.

Nevertheless, I'm of the general philosophy that you promote the best qualified candidate available. Newsom knows California, has many political connections within the state (for better or for worse), and has been involved with the execution of Governor Brown's vision for the last 8 years. He is qualified for the role and I support Newsom for Governor.  

U.S. Senator Race - Dianne Feinstein (D) v. Kevin de Leon (D)

Dianne Feinstein is the current senior Senator for California, seeking a fifth full term. Kevin de Leon is a California State Senator, representing Downtown and East Los Angeles.

Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein

Argument for Feinstein - Experience and a sense of bipartisan stability are the main arguments for supporting Feinstein. She is an institution in California and though de Leon has mounted an impressive campaign running to her left, Feinstein remains wildly popular, having carried every single county (including de Leon's) in the State's primary. To that end, she has received the endorsements of California's major papers. She also has received the personal endorsements of major Democrats, including former President Barack Obama

From a policy perspective, her and de Leon do not differ wildly in their platforms.  Rather, with Feinstein, the argument rests on her results: she authored the federal assault weapons ban in 1994 and led the fight to expose the CIA's torture program. Recently, she authored the Keep Families Together Act in response to the President's immigration policy of separating migrant children at the border. Locally, she was a leading advocate for the Desert Protection Act, which created the Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks, as well as the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act.  

Argument for de Leon - While Senator Feinstein, currently 85, has proudly served her state in the U.S. Senate for over 20 years, the argument for de Leon is that it is, quite simply, time for her to step aside and allow the more progressive wing of the party ascend to power. De Leon has run a grassroots campaign, with a platform built on advocating for single-payer healthcare and setting aggressive goals for renewable energy. He also helped lead the successful effort to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

Kevin de Leon

Kevin de Leon

In a political climate with the perception that Feinstein has been soft on the President, de Leon also presents a fresh face willing to more forcefully combat the administration. De Leon, as the son of a single immigrant mother, has a well-documented history of advocating for progressive immigration and labor policies. In a stunning rebuke of Feinstein, the California Democratic Party endorsed de Leon over Feinstein.

My Take - I honestly think it is and has been time for Feinstein to leave.  It would have been ideal had she and Barbara Boxer rode off into the sunset together. But that's not the reality we've been dealt and in the interim between Boxer's retirement and present day, a great deal has changed.

So too has the political wherewithal that the new batch of California Democratic leadership has exhibited during her brief stint in the Senate.  I'm talking, of course, of Kamala Harris' embarrassing display (I won't bother to elevate it to a cross-examination because it most certainly was not) of then-Judge Kavanaugh during critical confirmation hearings. If this is sort of grandstanding that more progressive candidates offer, I want none of it.  

De Leon does not differ in substance significantly enough from the status quo for me to stand behind his candidacy. California needs  thoughtful, measured, and demonstrated leadership as its elected representatives in Washington. I support Feinstein for a fifth term as Senator for California. 

Proposition 1 - Authorizes Bonds to Fund Specified Housing Assistance ProgramsProposition 2 - Authorizes Bonds to Fund Existing Housing Program for Individuals With Mental IllnessProposition 3 - Authorizes Bonds to Fund Projects for Water Supply and Water Quality, Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Water Conveyance, and Groundwater Sustainability and StorageProposition 4 - Authorizes Bonds Funding Construction at Hospitals Providing Children's Healthcare

I grouped these Propositions together for the obvious reason that they all seek voter approval for the government to issue bonds to finance various projects. As I am generally anti-increase my taxes, I'll spare you the pro-con analysis and just cut to the dispositive facts. In the end, if these four Propositions pass, they will collectively create an additional $1.1 billion in annual tax liability spread amongst Californians.  

Proposition 1 seeks $4.0 billion for housing programs and veterans’ home loans. Proposition 2 sells future revenue from the millionaire’s tax for $2.00 to guarantee $2.0 billion in bonds for homelessness prevention housing. Proposition 3 issues $8.9 billion in bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects. Finally, Proposition 4 issues $1.5 billion in bonds for children’s hospitals.

The San Diego Union Tribune does not have any faith in Proposition 1, which is about all I need to hear in a county that has a large veteran population. Proposition 2 seeks to remedy a problem that does not  appear to exist, as counties statewide have been and are still using funds received by way of Proposition 63 to fund housing for the mentally unstable.  


Proposition 3 seeks to spread the costs of repairing the aqueducts in the Central Valley among all Californians, which have sunk because of excessive groundwater pumping by farmers.  The critical portion of the damage is localized in the Friant-Kern Canal, which is part of the Central Valley Project, a federally funded program.  This means that Proposition 3 seeks to raise funds for a problem that the federal government should be addressing.   

Proposition 4 brings with it the lowest overall tax burden and the most noble goal of providing additional financing for the children's hospitals throughout the state.  Specifically, $1.0 billion will go to the eight, privately owned non-profit hospitals, that have recently been financially squeezed due to a high volume of Medi-Cal patients. The rest of the money would be spread amongst those children's hospitals which are part of universities or the 150 public and private nonprofit hospitals that treat children with special needs.

To the extent you couldn't figure out where I come down on each of these Propositions based on my tone in discussing them: 

No on Proposition 1.
No on Proposition 2.
No on Proposition 3.
Yes on Proposition 4.  

Proposition 5 - Changes Requirements For Certain Property Owners to Transfer Their Property Tax Base to Replacement Property

Proposition 5 seeks to allow California homeowners aged 55 and older (as well as the severely disabled and natural disaster victims) an exemption from paying property taxes based solely on the purchase price of their new home. Instead, they would pay property taxes based on a combination of their new and old home values.

Argument For - Basically, the idea is that seniors can't move because if they do, their property taxes are going to be so high they simply cannot afford them. This has resulted in seniors being "frozen in their homes," which has precluded younger buyers from being able to purchase a home. By passing Proposition 5, seniors will be given more flexibility to move and allow younger homeowners access to the market.  


Argument Against - Proposition 5 seeks to skew tax breaks away from people who do not own a home and/or may be struggling to buy one and provide those tax breaks to people who already own a home.  In addition, under Propositions 60 and 90, homeowners over the age of 55 that move to a cheaper house in the same or 11 reciprocating counties can already transfer their current property tax bill to the new house. Finally, Proposition 5 could starve state coffers to the tune of $2.0 billion a year, thereby further draining funds for schools, Medi-Cal, and local government.   

My Take - I have little to no sympathy for homeowners over the age of 55 who are complaining about your property tax bill. At least you own a home in California. I don't and might never.  

No on Proposition 5.  

Proposition 6 - Eliminates Certain Road Repair and Transportation Funding; Requires Certain Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees Be Approved by the Electorate; Initiative Constitutional Amendment

In 2017, the California Legislature passed the Road Repair and Accountability Act (RRAA), which levied a $0.12 per gallon tax on gasoline and a $0.20 per gallon tax on diesel, as well as raised vehicle registration fees, for the purposes of investing $5.4 billion into California's transportation systems.  Proposition 6 seeks to repeal the RRAA and amend the Constitution to require voter approval for any gas tax increases in the future. 

Argument For - There are few things more American than hating tax increases and the argument for Proposition 6 is rooted in that hatred.  Moreover, there already exists a tax on all gasoline in California and an independent analysis released by CalTrans showed that only 20% of the funds raised by the already existing gas tax were spent on roads.  Proponents of Proposition 6 are quick to note that California residents already paid some of the highest gas taxes in the nation, with a family that owns two cars currently paying $520 to $620 in gas taxes.

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Argument Against - Anyone who has the good fortune of idling to and from work in Los Angeles will know that there is nothing glamorous about our roads. Some figures estimate that the low quality of the roads already costs California drivers around $843 per year.  Additionally, every county in the state is and has already received funding through the RRAA and some projections estimate that the RRAA will generate 682,000 jobs in infrastructure over the next decade. As a final point, opponents note that the Constitutional Amendment portion of this Proposition will make it unreasonably difficult for future Legislatures to raise taxes to adjust for inflation.

My Take - I absolutely loathe paying taxes when I don't see my life receive even minor improvements. I'll be the first person to raise my hand and say that the roads suck, the high speed bullet train is a farce, the LA Metro is hot garbage, and if Elon Musk doesn't stop ripping blunts with Joe Rogan, the underground super-tunnel is probably doomed.  That said, I'm far too cynical to sit here and think there isn't some nefarious purpose behind Proposition 6.  

Fortunately, I have to look no further than Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, John Cox, and Devin Nunes as the major financial backers of Proposition 6. Cox makes sense because he's running for Governor.  The rest make sense because they want to increase Republican turnout to try and hold as many House districts as possible. But none of it makes sense if you actually care about trying to improve California roads at the marginal cost of about $1 for every time you fill up your tank.  

No on Proposition 6.

Proposition 7 - Conforms California Daylight Savings Time to Federal Law; Allows Legislature to Change Daylight Savings Time

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This is pretty simple: Senator Marco Rubio (and his small hands) introduced the Sunshine Protection Act which may allow the federal government to establish a nationwide standard that would make daylight savings permanent across the nation. Proposition 7 allows California to join the party if the federal law passes. I hate nothing more than falling back and springing forward and for that reason...

Yes on Proposition 7.

Proposition 8 - Regulates Amounts Outpatient Kidney Dialysis Clinics Charge for Dialysis Treatment

Proposition 8 seeks to limit the amount that kidney dialysis clinics can charge for their services to 115% of their costs for direct patient care and quality improvement.

Argument For - The largest dialysis corporations in the state, DaVita and Fresenius, made approximately $4.0 billion in revenue last year.  However, patients who require dialysis are being charged $150,000 a year, often for substandard care. Under Proposition 8, any money collected under the 115% cap would have to be paid back to private insurers as rebates, as well as a fine to the state.  


Argument Against - The main proponent of Proposition 8 is the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and Proposition 8 is a strong-arm tactic to either force those clinics out of business or into the union. This could result in fewer dialysis clinics for the approximate 66,000 patients who require the life-saving treatment.  

My Take - To date, DaVita has put up approximately $61.5 million and Fresenius has put up approximately $27.7 million in opposition to Proposition 8.  These are large corporations making calculated business decisions on what is worth their return on investment. As between unions and massive corporations, I'll take my chances with the unions.  

Yes on Proposition 8.

Proposition 10 - Expands Local Government's Authority to Enact Rent Control on Residential Property

Proposition 10 would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which restricts a city’s ability to impose rent control regulations, specifically on buildings built after 1995. Passage of this measure would allow municipal rent control laws.

Argument For - Proposition 10 would allow, but not require, local municipalities to impose rent control on single family homes or other residences, which is currently precluded under the law. As has been well-documents, California is in the midst of a housing crisis. Each municipality faces its own, unique issues and allowing them the flexibility to decide what renter protections to implement.  


Argument Against - Localized rent control laws are going to chill development, which in turn will only exacerbate the housing crisis.  Moreover, certain economists have found that rent control does not actually help with housing affordability. Finally, Proposition 10 entrusts resolution of affordable housing crises with local officials who, in certain instances, have done more than politicians at other levels to create the crisis in the first instance.  

My Take - The rent is too damn high and we all know it. However, the problem with exorbitant rent prices, from my vantage point, is less about rent control and more about the red-tape that prevents developers from building new apartments. In San Francisco, literally every building has been designated a historical building, thereby precluding new development. In Los Angeles, you can't knock over a tree without having a city council hearing.  

The environment is important.  So too is preserving the historical beauty, culture, and character of our landmark cities. But at some point, if we're going to address the very real problem of housing all of our wonderful Californians, we're going to need to choose utility (i.e., functional, affordable developments) over historical nostalgia.  

No on Proposition 10.

Proposition 11 - Requires Private-Sector Emergency Ambulance Workers to Remain On-Call During Work Breaks; Removes Certain Employer Liability

Proposition 11 would allow ambulance providers to require workers to remain on call during their breaks, would require more training for emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and provide more mental health training.

Argument For - First responders, regardless of type, are generally on call during rest and meal breaks.  Moreover, were the private employers required to comply with labor laws, they would potentially lose $100 million in revenue.  

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Argument Against - In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, the California Supreme Court ruled that private security guards are subject to state labor laws and could thus be unreachable during work breaks.  Private ambulance providers worried that this ruling would be extended to them and attempted to resolve the issue through the Legislature, which resulted in stalled efforts.  Enter: Proposition 11.

My Take - This is quite clearly an effort by the Employer to obtain a law that is skewed in its favor at the expense of its Employees.  Unsurprisingly, the industry is looking to protect its revenue and shield itself from potential liability from labor lawsuits, both reasonable goals from the perspective of the Employer.  However, this is an issue better resolved by the interested parties through the normal function of government (i.e., negotiation through the Legislature) and not through this state's already overly-convoluted referendum system.

No on Proposition 11.  

Proposition 12 - Establishes New Standards for Confinement of Specified Farm Animals; Bans Sale of Non-Complying Products

Proposition 12 would amend Proposition 2 (2008) to ban the sale of meat from animals confined in areas below certain precise measurements.

Proposition 2 moved the humane treatment of farm animals a step in the right direction.  It is time to take the next step.  

Yes on Proposition 12.


A Final Note

I took a hiatus from writing because of the constant deluge of hysteria that has infected the political discourse in this country. Seemingly every day is another crisis of a different magnitude and every hill has suddenly become the one on which we should die. There isn't any take worth having in these political times because of the speed with which the story, topic, and outrage changes.  

On the point of outrage, I think there is a certain danger in the way issues have been and are continuing to be framed. Seemingly every decision boils down to life or death, democracy or fascism, and freedom or tyranny. Life is not binary and the issues that we need to address as adults often deal with a spectrum of complex options to difficult problems.  

Keeping that in mind, we are faced with the challenging task of making important decisions in this unfortunate climate. By way of example, many people are going to snap to judgment and vote against John Cox because he bears the big, bad R, wears a red tie, and got an endorsement from the President. But that sort of polarized nonsense is what got us into this quagmire in the first instance. 

None of us, least of all me, have the answers to all of life's questions.  But the concept of voting, and the underlying discourse that is supposed to go into it, is that we all exchange our ideas and perspectives, shaped by the circumstances that have molded us into the people we are, in the hopes that the compromise that comes out of that effort creates a system in which all of us can happily co-exist.

So vote with your heart and convictions because that's important. But keep in mind that you don't have all the right answers, that your perspective is constantly evolving, and you have plenty left to learn in this life about yourself, about the world around you, and about the people with whom you share it. 

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Oh and don't forget to gram your "I Voted" sticker for ALL of the likes.

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