The Jury Talks Back

9/29/2010

Vote for me because I am a woman

Filed under: California Politics — aunursa @ 7:48 pm

I’m one of those people who takes my voting very seriously.  I study the election pamphlets in order to make choices for each of the offices.  All of the judicial offices, the water district, the sheriff, etc.  I cross out any candidate who failed to submit a statement.  Then I study each statement in order to find anything that can help me choose to vote for or against the particular candidate.

Sometimes I can make a choice based on the person’s stated positions, priorities, or background.  In some cases, the candidates are equally vague or unacceptable, so that I don’t vote for that office.  In this election, however, one of the candidates made my choice very simple.

Deputy District Attorney John Creighton is running against Administrative Law Judge Victoria Kolakowski for Alameda County Superior Court Judge.  Both candidates have 20 years of legal experience and are rather vague about their priorities.  Creighton touts his prosecution of gangs, while Kolakowski worked in consumer law.  Normally this would be a tossup for me.

But Kolakowski cited an ad hominem reason to vote for her:

Less than a third of the judges currently serving on the Alameda County Superior Court are women, and it is time for another experienced woman to be added to the Court.

This statement is very helpful in my decision.  A person is qualified to be a judge based on judicial experience and the ability to give parties equal and impartial treatment before the law.  Kolakowski’s statement suggests to me that she tends to group a person into categories rather than as an individual.  If she expects the voters to treat her based on her gender, then should we expect that she will treat each case based on the personal characteristics of the litigants?

John Creighton will not receive my vote because he is a man.  Creighton will not receive my vote because his opponent is a woman.  Creighton has earned my vote specifically because his opponent has played the gender card.

* * * * *

Yesterday, after I had prepared to write this post, the Oakland Tribune published an article about the race.  It turns out that there’s even more to the story.

[The candidates] have different opinions on what qualifications are necessary and what the bench currently needs in a judge.

Kolakowski, the transgender candidate who won a three-candidate primary election in June, says her background – both professional and personal – will add a much needed splash of diversity to a court system filled with prosecutors.

Creighton, who has the backing of roughly 80 percent of the judges in the county court system and an endorsement from the candidate who came in third place during the primary, says he has the legal experience — more than 25 years in the district attorney’s office and thousands of hours in trials — necessary to run an efficient, compassionate and fair courtroom.

Kolakowski cites her experience as a political activist, and devotes an entire page on her web site to her transgender identity, implying that voters should elect her so that she can make history as the first transgender trial court judge in the United States.

There are many places where a diverse membership is desirable, even advantageous.  Councils, commissions, and other groups can benefit from the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the various members.  By contrast, the judiciary should be populated by judges who are qualified, not by their diversity, but by their ability to make sound decisions based on the facts and the law.

The reasoning displayed by both candidates reinforces my confidence in my decision.

9/15/2010

Wayback Machine: 1980

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin M @ 8:41 pm

“In the wake of today’s liberal meme: “She can’t be elected“. I bring you Time Magazine, March 31, 1980:  But Can Reagan Be Elected? (emphasis mine)

For several decades, it has been an article of faith among politicians and political analysts that no candidate can win a U.S. presidential election unless he can dominate the broad center of the spectrum, that all candidates on the edges of the left or right are doomed. Barry Goldwater’s “extremism . . . is no vice” campaign of 1964 provides the classic evidence, reinforced by George McGovern’s 1972 defeat in 49 out of 50 states. And since G.O.P. Front Runner Ronald Reagan relies upon a base of support that is on the far right wing of the Republican Party, some experts have long declared that if he wins the nomination, the G.O.P. would simply be repeating the suicidal Goldwater campaign. Ex-President Gerald Ford left no doubt about his views when he warned last month: “A very conservative Republican cannot win in a national election.” But last week, after Ford gave up his own ambitions and Reagan’s nomination took on a look of inevitability, a reassessment was under way across the country. The consensus was that although many hazards lie ahead, Ronald Reagan indeed has a chance to be elected as the 40th President of the U.S. National opinion polls continue to show Carter leading Reagan by an apparently comfortable margin of about 25%. They also show that more moderate Republicans like Ford would run better against the President. This suggests that Reagan is not the strongest G.O.P. choice for the November election and that he clearly faces an uphill battle. Nonetheless, few political observers now write off Reagan’s chances, and certainly not Jimmy Carter’s chief election strategists.

But read the whole thing.  As Time noted:

Reagan confronts a Democratic President who, after a temporary surge in the national polls because of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan, is now plagued by declining job ratings. The odds are that by fall, Carter will be trying to defend his management of an economy with double-digit inflation and rising unemployment, gasoline prices of upwards of $2 per gal. and a reduced budget that offends many of the traditional Democratic-constituencies. New York Opinion Researcher Daniel Yankelovich sums it up: “The biggest thing Reagan has going for him is Carter.”

The way things are drifting, with every other day some contest going from Leans Dem to Tossup, or from Leans Rep to Solid Red, nearly anyone can be elected if they clearly reject the financial madness of the Washington elite.  According to Real Clear Politics, if the Republicans only split the current tossups, they’ll have 224 seats and a 46 vote pickup.  If they sweep the tossups, they”ll gain 64 seats for a 242 – 193 advantage.

Not bad for a party that 16 short months ago Time called an ….

endangered

9/14/2010

Propositions 20 and 27

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 3:50 pm

In 2008, the California voters narrowly passed (by a margin of 1.8%) Proposition 11, a sweeping reform measure which denied the state Legislature the power to draw state legislative district boundaries, vesting it instead in a commission comprised of citizen volunteers randomly drawn from a pool created by staffers of the state auditor. (Disclaimer: I was an early applicant for the commission, but failed to make it past the first round).

The proposition was designed to apply only to state legislative offices in order to not draw the ire (and opposition) of the national Democratic party.

Districts created by the Commission would have to respect pre-existing communities of interest, a term which was not defined.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, activists have qualified two ballot measures to change it: Proposition 20, which would give the Commission the added responsibility of drawing Congressional districts; and Proposition 27, which would abolish it.

Proposition 20 would:

(a) take the power to redraw the borders of Congressional districts away from the state legislature and hand it off to the Redistricting Commission;
(b) subject Congressional districts to a higher standard for minimal population deviation than other districts are held to (Congressional districts “shall achieve population equality as nearly as is practicable”, while other districts “shall have reasonably equal population with other districts for the same office”);
(c) define ‘community of interest’ as ‘a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation’;
(d) allow any registered voter to petition and stay implementation of districts if the district map is subject to a referendum;
and
(e) make a bunch of minor, substanceless wording changes.

Proposition 27 would:

(a) abolish the redistricting commission;
(b) vest the power to draw districts back in the state legislature;
(c) explicitly allow referenda for laws changing district boundary lines;
(d) require districts to be precisely equal in size unless that is mathematically impossible, in which case a variation of no more than plus or minus one person would be allowed;
(e) require districts to minimize the division of cities and counties and prohibiting cities and counties with population smaller than the ideal population of a district from being split (except to achieve population equality or contiguity, or to comply with federal law)
(f) require a broad public hearing process for the legislature to ask for citizen input on district boundaries;
and
(g) limit the amount of money spent on redistricting to $2.5 million

I voted for Proposition 11 not because I thought it was an ideal solution to the problem of redistricting, but because there is something fundamentally problematic, in my mind, about legislators drawing their own districts. The 2000 redistricting was abominable, a plan whose entire purpose was to protect the incumbents of both parties by drawing districts which were more partisan and therefore more likely to re-elect; preventing a repeat performance is in the interests of everyone in the state.

But the plan itself was problematic, and I understood why many voted against it: in particular, it had conflicting goals – it wanted both to increase the competitiveness of elections and to require that districts be compact and represent definable communities of interest. These are incompatible goals; no electoral district drawn as a subset of San Francisco and the peninsula will be competitive (nor will a district drawn out of the northeast corner of the state), and yet a system which ensures that districts respect communities of interest will draw such districts.

Still, I will be voting against Proposition 20 and Proposition 27.

The case against Proposition 27 is easier to explain.

For one thing, it would jettison the current system without ever giving it a chance to operate; that might be necessary and good if the system in place were clearly a disaster, but it’s really difficult to say that about a system which draws random volunteers, screened for conflicts of interest, and hands them the power to do their best. What we enacted two years ago is as close as it’s possible to get to enpaneling a disinterested jury; until and unless it produces flawed results, it seems worthwhile to give it a try.

But even if the current system were problematic, this proposed system is absurd.

In a world with apartment buildings, drawing district lines with a maximum variance of one person is a statistical improbability. It is a virtual guarantee that all new district plans will be tied up in court, and that the lines will ultimately be drawn by a special master appointed by the Supreme Court – because the state Constitution will be demanding the effectively impossible, and the legislature will be unable to comply. (Similarly, requiring a broad system of public hearings but then limiting expenditures to $2.5 million creates an inherent conflict: holding hearings up and down the state will be expensive).

Worse yet, the measure is fundamentally dishonest. “Our political leadership has failed us”, the findings and purpose section of the initiative says – and it proposes to fix that problem by taking power away from randomly selected citizens and handing it back to the political leadership of the state Legislature. The Findings & Purpose declaration also claims that the current law will enable the creation of severely underpopulated districts reminiscent of the ‘rotten boroughs’ of the past – never mind that the districts created under the current system must comply with Supreme Court rulings on the relative sizes of districts. It also claims that the reason state Assemblymen have a home field advantage when running for the Senate is that current law requires that each Senator represent two Assembly seats – while ignoring the fact that the current districts were drawn under a different law which didn’t require that, which makes it clear that any home-field advantage currently held cannot possibly be the result of that law, which has never yet been acted on or carried into effect.

So: Proposition 27 tries to replace the current (not-yet-used) system with a return to gerrymandering by the legislature, helped along by an all-but-impossible absolute equality provision, and misleading and dishonest justifications.

The previous system was broken; Proposition 27 doesn’t address the things which made it broken.

The current system is untested and worth a try.

And the findings & purpose section of Proposition 27 is so dishonest that its authors shouldn’t be trusted to run a lemonade stand.

My problem with Proposition 20 is subtler, and it boils down to two things:

(a) The Proposition 11 system is untested and, while I believe we should give it a shot, I’m hesitant to give it more power while I’m not yet sure how well it will work. Experimenting can be good; but rushing headlong into adopting the new way of doing things before we even find out the results of the experiment seems unwise.

(b) I think it’s an error for California to voluntarily abdicate its power to effect the composition of the national legislature without other powerful states doing so. It’s tantamount to voluntary disarmament in an arms race; it can only hurt California’s political interests.

I usually find the arguments for and against propositions in the state voter information pamphlet to be useless and unconvincing at best and misleading at worst.

While I’m not going to vote for Proposition 20, I find the argument against it in the ballot pamphlet to be a great example of this: it tells me that Proposition 20 will cost millions of dollars and that I should vote against it for that reason. But this is silly; for one thing, a few million dollars is worth it to get a reasonable redistricting process in place; for another thing, most of the costs of the redistricting commission are fixed, up-front costs; assigning them more responsibility may trigger an incremental cost increase, but that will be tiny compared with the fixed costs already being spent.

Worse yet, it claims that the proposition requires that districts “must be segregated by income level.” But that’s not true; it requires that district lines be drawn to “minimize the division” of “a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation.” The proposition then goes on to cite as examples “those common to an urban area, a rural area, an industrial area, or an agricultural area, and those common to areas in which the people share similar living standards, use the same transportation facilities, have similar work opportunities, or have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process.” This isn’t an attempt to segregate by income; it’s an attempt to say, hey, districts should be drawn in a way which maximizes the similarity of social and economic outlook of the voters of that district.

This does seem to me to be inconsistent with one of the premises of Proposition 11 – that the districts should be more competitive. But since Proposition 11 had internally conflicting premises, weakening one of them is probably a good thing overall … and even if it isn’t, the argument against seriously mischaracterizes it.


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