The Jury Talks Back

6/8/2010

How I voted in the California election

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 7:05 pm

I had intended to write up full-scale analyses of each of the propositions prior to the election, but my morale got shattered, and my willingness to devote energy to anything other than rank avoidance dwindled away.

But someone expressed interest, so even though it’s too late to sway anyone’s votes, here are the short versions:

Proposition 13:

As I explained here, Prop. 13 is a minor technical revision to the Constitution which I have a hard time caring about in any way. It’s almost certainly harmless. It’s probably pointless – I just don’t believe there are a substantial number of unreinforced masonry buildings owned by people who aren’t retrofitting them but would if they were given a reassessment exclusion which lasted until their next sale instead of fifteen years. It’s on the ballot because the only way to change it is via a ballot measure, and the people I think should be deciding this unanimously placed it on the ballot, so I voted yes … but I would have preferred not to have to care about it.

Proposition 14:

This measure would change the way elections are conducted in California. Currently we have partisan primaries (run by the state and paid for by the state) to select partisan nominees who automatically qualify for the general election. The new system would be to have jungle primaries in which all candidates of all parties are on the same ballot; the top two vote getters would advance to the general election but would not be the nominees of their parties. (Presidential elections would be handled differently).

Activists of all parties hate it.

I like it: I think the single biggest problem with California politics is that the election structure requires candidates to appeal to the most extreme members of their respective parties. To win the primary, Democrats must appeal to Democratic activists, and Republicans must appeal to Republican activists … resulting in candidates who are forced to the extreme and then are punished for comprmising, and resulting in the 30% of the state who are nonpartisan (plus the liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats) being frozen out of the legislative process.

Part of the fix to this is to fix redistricting, which is why I voted for Prop. 11 in 2008. (DISCLAIMER: I am currently an applicant to be a member of the state redistricting commission). Another part of the solution is to change the incentive structure for elections. Proposition 14 should do that: it should encourage candidates to run to the middle in all races, and in lopsided districts it should allow the centrist members of the dominant party to combine with the other party’s members to elect a centrist partisan rather than a radical partisan.

It’s not a cure-all. But it’s worth trying.

Proposition 15:

I really like the idea: take one race and see if public financing works. It’s great to have an experiment limited to one race rather than experimenting with the entire system; and it’s particularly appropriate to use the Secretary of State as a test bed for this kind of reform.

I really dislike the fact that the implementation discriminates between candidates based on the party in which they are registered.

So did Prop. 11, but in that case the initiative was fixing a critical problem. In this case, it isn’t. So I’d rather wait for a measure which doesn’t have this flaw.

Proposition 16:

Proposition 16 is a measure to change the state constitution to require a particular type of government action – and only that particular type of government action – be approved by a 2/3 majority vote of the voters.

I don’t like supermajority requirements unless there’s a compelling public policy reason for them.

I don’t like singling out particular kinds of action unless there’s some compelling public policy reason for it.

There isn’t in this case. Public provision of electric power is no different than public provision of garbage collection (or of sewage collection) or, to be honest, of water. Why should the state constitution carve out a particular hurdle for this type of public provision of utility service and not for others?

It shouldn’t.

The measure is being advertised as a way to protect the taxpayers’ money and allow people to vote on how their money is spent. But the advertising ignores what I think of as the key questions: what makes public power provision different, so that it should be subject to a public vote when other things aren’t; and what makes public power provision so special as to require a 2/3 majority vote?

As far as I can tell the answer is: nothing except the fact that the primary sponsor wants the state to write into the constitution an effective way to prevent competition.

In short: the proposition is a scam perpetrated by PG&E. It deserves defeat.

Proposition 17:

I don’t understand this initiative.

I know it has something to do with changes to the rules for auto insurance to allow a particular type of discount to be portable when you change insurance providers, and that the trade-off for it is a barrier to entry to the insurance market for people who don’t already have insurance.

I see no particular reason to prefer that trade-off.

Moreover, I don’t understand the ramifications – which consumers win by this? Which don’t? What are the long-term second-order effects on the industry?

I don’t have the time, skills, or interest to figure this out. Figuring this out is why we have an Insurance Commissioner.

so I resent being asked, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea, and I don’t want to spend the time figuring it out.

I feel somewhat bad for reflexively voting ‘no’ without taking the time to understand it. But … unless someone can make a case that it’s worth my time, why should I?

Measure G:

This is a San Mateo County measure involving a short-term (4 years) parcel tax whose revenue would be used to plug a hole in the local community college district’s budget caused by state budget cutbacks.

To start with: community colleges are a fantastic resource which are, I think, more important to the well-being of the state’s working class population than CSU and UC, and are a vital service which should not be cut back. I would support cuts to CSU and UC before I’d support cuts to the community colleges.

And yet … a temporary tax to plug a long-term budget hole?

This might make sense if there were any reason to believe the state’s budget crisis would end in the next four years.

There isn’t.

And so it doesn’t.

The measure calls out for another election in four years to plug the exact same hole we’re plugging now.

So … we should buckle down and either pass a permanent tax now or figure out how to balance the books without the increase now. But we shouldn’t be trying to use a short-term temporary fix to the problem.

That way lies continuing crisis.

And wouldn’t it be better not to renew the crisis?

5/31/2010

Mercury News article on poll misstates Fiorina’s chances

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

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Carly Fiorina holds a comfortable lead in the race for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer.  However writers Ken McLaughlin and Mike Zapler erroneously concluded from the Los Angeles Times/USC poll that “in a theoretical matchup, only one of the three GOP primary candidates can beat [Boxer]: former Silicon Valley congressman Tom Campbell.”

How do they draw that conclusion? By determining that moderates swing elections in California.  “Among the moderates, Campbell, a fiscal conservative who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, beats Boxer 46 percent to 33 percent. But Boxer beats Fiorina among moderates 48 percent to 30 percent.”  The photo caption emphasized, “Carly Fiorina will likely win the GOP candidacy for the U.S. Senate but will not unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer.” [emphasis added]

Based on that poll, Fiorina’s chances would indeed be slim if moderates and only moderates voted.  But even McLaughlin and Zapler acknowledged that 31% of registered voters identified as conservative and 24% identified as liberal in addition to the 39% that identified as moderate.

Therefore the relevant question is not which candidate would moderate voters prefer, but which candidate would the be choice among all registered voters.  So who wins in a Boxer-Fiorina matchup among registered voters?  Amazingly, the writers didn’t even mention the poll result in the article.  To get the answer I had to find the actual poll.  Reviewing the data, I discovered that Boxer’s lead over Fiorina is just 44-38 among all registered voters (including leaners).  While that’s more favorable to Boxer than a race against Campbell in which he leads 45-38, a mere 6 point margin with over five months left is much too close to count out Fiorina.  (Among likely voters, Boxer hold a similar 45-39 lead over Fiorina.)

I would be interested to know whether writers took into consideration the enthusiasm gap when considering likely voters.  There’s a good chance that pollsters are underestimating the significance of conservative and center-right voters to sway the election.   At any rate, the Mercury News made a sloppy error in failing to consider — or even report — the full poll result.

5/15/2010

What happens if the elections office misspells a candidate’s name?

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 6:21 pm

A Peace and Freedom party candidate for Governor is upset – and rightly so – that the state misspelled his name in the printed voter’s guide. It is too late to fix the problem without enormous expense, so the state isn’t going to; the window of opportunity for that has passed.

This brings to mind a more serious question, though: what is the effect if the name is misspelled on the ballot?

Section 13103 of the California Election code requires that the ballot contain “the names of all qualified candidates”, and Section 13104 requires the old name to be used when the candidate changes his name within one year of the election, unless the name change was the result of marriage or a court order.

Section 18401 makes it a misdemeanor to prints or circulates such a ballot a misdemeanor, but this isn’t helpful: the state isn’t going to prosecute all of the poll workers in the district for the ‘crime’ of handing out the ballot which the county elections office told them to hand out, and the punishment for a misdemeanor is hardly going to act as a deterrent to the kind of human error which would cause one to confuse ‘Mohammad’ with ‘Mohammed’.

This evidently hasn’t been an issue; I wasn’t able to find a single reported case in California in which a court ruled on the ballot misspelling of a candidate’s name.

Could a candidate who discovered this misspelling before the election sue, looking for an injunction ordering the ballots to be reprinted?

Could a candidate who discovered the misspelling after the election sue to void the election result (assuming he could demonstrate that voters were actually confused by this?)

Ideally you’d want both of these outcomes, but the Elections Code doesn’t seem to call for them; could a court, using equity power, interpose them anyhow?

5/13/2010

Proposition 13

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 2:04 pm

This year’s Proposition 13 is a minor technical revision to the California Constitution; it’s so minor, and so technical, that it’s generated virtually no controversy (nobody submitted an argument against), and it wouldn’t even be on the ballot had the authors of a previous proposition not required that any modifications get voter approval.

I will probably be voting for this measure, while grumbling about it being on the ballot at all.

———-

The state constitution contains very specific rules for property taxes, including rules that govern how the taxable value of a property is determined. In general, the taxable value of existing construction does not change until the property is sold, but new construction triggers a revaluation.

That said, certain kinds of new construction are exempt, including two exemptions for earthquake-safety improvements: (1) “reconstruction or improvement to a structure, constructed of unreinforced masonry bearing wall construction” (emphasis added) is constitutionally exempt for fifteen years if it was “necessary to comply with any local ordinance relating to seismic safety”, and (2) the Legislature has the power to exempt “the construction or installation of seismic retroffiting improvements or improvements utilizing earthquake hazard mitigation technologies” entirely … except that such rules may not override the 15-year exclusion for unreinforced masonry.

Proposition 13 replaces both of these with a new constitutional exemption for: “that portion of an existing structure that consists of the construction or reconstruction of seismic retrofitting components, as defined by the Legislature.” This new exemption runs until the property is sold.

My reading of these suggests that it’s a weakening of the exemption: the constitutional exemption for masonry buildings is replaced with an exemption subject to legislative redefinition. That weakens the rule, as the legislature can arbitrarily define away “seismic retrofitting components” or, alternately, define them to be so broad as to encompass everything under the sun. The law has no limitations which I can see on how the legislature defines the term.

The tradeoff is that this allows owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to exclude improvements for a longer period. Aside from the unfairness of treating unreinforced masonry building owners disfavorably, I think the argument is that the potentially shorter-term treatment reduces the economic value of the exclusion and thereby reduces the exclusion’s effectiveness as a bribe: there are some number of unreinforced masonry buildings which are not being retrofitted because the owner has decided that the cost is too high, and a longer-term exclusion would reduce the costs enough to make the safety improvements economically viable.

Both of these strike me as being a stretch. It seems unlikely to me that the legislature would define away this exclusion (because that would be interfering with earthquake safety, an unlikely proposition) or arbitrarily broaden it (because that would reduce state revenue, something the state legislature would be reluctant to approve). I also find it unlikely that there are a substantial number of people who (a) are not fixing safety issues with their unreinforced masonry buildings because they think the expense is unjustified and (b) would be convinced to do it by changing a fifteen-year exclusion into an exclusion-until-sale. There may be some, but I can’t believe it’s a substantial problem.

Either way, this seems like an issue with minor risk and minor reward. It’s somewhat hard to care about, and extremely difficult to get worked up about. That said, there appears to be a benefit (at least one person will likely be motivated to repair their property because of it) and there doesn’t appear to be a harm … and, to the extent that I think this is the sort of thing which we hire representatives to thresh out for us, the fact that our representatives put it on the ballot unanimously (while not being able to agree on anything else) counsels me to vote for it.

3/2/2010

The line is so thin I can’t even see it.

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 2:55 pm

The California Assembly is considering a bill to make it a crime for registered sex offenders to use any social networking site. It’s almost certain to pass; no legislator is going to stand up for the rights of sex offenders, particularly when children might be involved.

The law defines “social network Web site” as “any Internet Web site designed with the intent of allowing users to build networks or connect with other people and that provides means for users to interact over the Internet.”

This definition is, unfortunately, completely unworkable.

The intent of the legislature is clear to anyone who is familiar with the politics: keep sex offenders away from sites like Facebook where children might unwittingly be exposed to them. The fact that it would also prohibit sex offenders from using professional networking sites like LinkedIn is just collateral damage, and not something that we need to worry about too much, both because sex offenders are bad people and because most of them can’t get jobs that would use professional networking, anyhow.

But a literal reading of the words would seem to ban any form of web-based email (webmail being displayed on an internet web site, and being designed to allow users to connect with other people and providing a means for users to interact, via email, over the Internet). In an increasingly email-dependant culture, that’s a highly problematic restriction. It’s so problematic, and so clearly not the intent of the legislature, that the California courts are likely to read the definition more narrowly, allowing email but excluding actual social networking sites, which will end up in practice being defined by something other than the definition in the law.

So the first problem with the bill is that poor drafting creates a result so obviously absurd that it invites courts to step in and redefine the terms in the law.

But the second, bigger problem is that there is no sensible way to draft such a definition.

I mean, it’s one thing to say that Facebook is clearly verboten, but that the web-based interface to Outlook (used in many corporate environments) is ok. But what of gmail? I mean, gmail is email, as long as you don’t enable buzz, so it should be ok … but buzz is self-consciously a facebook lite, and the intent of the legislature is probably to ban it. So are sex offenders allowed to use gmail but required to turn buzz off? How are they supposed to know that? (And if they can’t, does the law really give them fair notice of what conduct is prohibited?)

This problem will only get worse as the technology evolves: google seems to be betting that the future of online conversation is in a blurring of the distinction between social networking, email, and text messaging – and they’ve lost very few such bets in the past. In that world, with the distinction between email and social networking elided, how does a court decide which websites are allowed and which aren’t? I suppose they could develop a “predominent purpose test” which looked to whether the site was predominantly email (like outlook web access) or predominantly social networking, and just draw arbitrary lines in the tough cases. But that will create a brittle, unpredictable system.

On the one hand, the legislature could fix this problem by narrowing its definition. But fundamentally the entire approach seems doomed.

5/19/2009

How to Save California: Four Reforms

Filed under: California Politics — Kevin M @ 8:12 am

California is a mess.  Not just the fiscal mess in Sacramento, but a local mess of overcrowded cities, stalled infrastructure, unresponsive local government and litigious interest groups.

Today’s ballot proposals don’t do anything but partially paper over the problems we face.  Win or lose, the problem is still growing and the powers-that-be are still digging.  They appear unable to address the real issues, largely because their constituency isn’t the people any longer — it’s the employee unions and the various interest groups that form their political base.

Several folks here have tried to address the issue of “What to Do?”.  Here’s my take.

I have four suggestions.  Some of these I’ve mentioned before, here or there, and some are new.  I guarantee that no one will like all of them.  While I think that the end of the gerrymander will help (assuming the new reapportionment jury system works), the government still needs to break out of its dysfunction.  Here’s how I see it:

1.  Restore the Prop 4 (Gann Initiative) spending cap.

Prop 4 passed in 1979 with 74% of the vote,  limiting state government spending to increases in population and cost of living.  Period.  It was nibbled to death by several propositions over the years (e.g. 1988’s Props 98 and 99) and largely repealed by Prop 111 in 1990, which changed the formula so that the limits were mostly imaginary (much like Prop 1A today).

Prop 4 was undone when the legislature responded by not spending money on infrastructure, and the people voted the limits out to get traffic relief.  This is the typical reaction of the blob — starve the public of services while maintaining the bureaucracy until the public caves.  They always lay off librarians and teachers, seldom the back office.

If only one thing can be done, a hard spending cap is a good first choice.

2.  Defined-contribution retirement plans.

Since about 1980, private sector retirement plans have changed markedly.  Rather than having “guaranteed” retirement payouts from a company-run fund, individuals now direct portable, tax-deferred, retirement funds largely independent of their employers.  These “defined-contribution” plans have the advantage of being inheritable should the employee die early, being (largely) independent of the employer’s success (or even existence), and a predictable annual expense to the employer.  Some industries that have resisted this change, such as the auto industry, have shown that relying on company-run defined-benefit plans can be a poor idea.

But, while the public has converted to defined contribution plans (401(k), IRA, etc), state and local government employees have not.  Instead, through sweetheart negotiations with the politicians their unions finance, employee pensions are both guaranteed and excessive.  It is not uncommon for a local government employee to retire at age 50-something and take “home” more on their first day of retirement than they did on their last day of work.

Since, unlike the auto industry, government has the ability to take money directly from their “customers”, these pensions cannot fail like private ones can.  But the impact of high pensions coupled with poor fund management can leave state and local finances in complete disarray, and taxpayers may not be willing to make up the losses.

This is long-term disaster for the state.  Even if corrected overnight (and even if we get past the current funding crisis), these pensions persist for decades.  It is not clear what to do about existing pensions except suck it up and try to grow out of it.  But we must stop adding to the problem.

State and local pension plans must be converted to the defined-contribution variety as soon as possible, preferably for all workers but certainly for new ones.

3.  Critical project exemptions from EIR requirements

Nearly every construction project in the state, public or private, requires a detailed environmental impact report.  There are some very good reasons for this.  However, the system is often gamed by project opponents who use the EIR process as a delaying tactic, and the entire process ignores the fact that often there is substantial environmental cost to doing nothing.

There needs to be a mechanism to cut through the (often endless) red tape when critical infrastructure projects are concerned.  This is particularly important for transportation projects, since transportation requires energy, energy production necessitates pollution, and poor transportation infrastructure wastes energy in bulk.  If, on any given day, 5 million cars burn gasoline for 30 minutes longer each the amount of unnecessary pollutants going into the air in an urban region is enormous.  To delay a project that would mitigate that waste, simply because an opponent is able to trump everything by challenging the EIR and enjoining construction during endless appeals, is lunacy.

Yet one would not want the EIRs waived for trivial reasons, either, so a high bar needs to be set.  Whether this means public votes to define critical systems, or extra-super-majority votes in governing bodies, or a mechanism for judicial exemption isn’t important.  What is important is that it doesn’t take 23 years to build 10 miles of subway.

4.  Local election dates

The problem with local elections is that few vote, and this leaves critical local decisions in the hands of the most motivated.  Voters are more likely to be people who have a vested interest in the outcome, such as public employees.  Financial support for candidates is liekly to come from similarly interested groups, such as unions or government vendors, or those highly impacted by government decisions, such as developers.

Year after year, good-government folks try to get the public interested in these local elections in odd months of odd years.  Rarely do they succeed.  Yet it is clear that elections that control the bulk of California government spending should attract more than 10% of the voters and should be as independent as possible of vested interests.

So.  Move local elections to the state and/or federal calendar.  If you cannot bring the people to the election, bring the election to the people.  Hard on politicians trying to “move up” without giving up their day job, but tough.  Just be glad the rule isn’t “resign to run.”

Conclusion

That’s more than I think will ever be done, and I have serious doubts that the current players can do anything at all except try to kick the can down the street a while longer.  But they are running out of street and the can is getting huge.  I despair.  I suspect that the “answer” will be raise taxes a bunch, and if so I will be the last of 5 generations of my family to live in California.

5/18/2009

Campbell’s budget proposal

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 6:19 am

Former Congressman Tom Campbell, in anticipation of today’s debate among likely Republican gubernatorial candidates, has released a counter-proposal to the governor’s May Revise. It’s an interesting proposal.

I particularly like the observation that it’s unwise to budget on the assumption that a certain amount of fraud will be rooted out, and the observation that we can propose all the cuts we want to the Department of Corrections but can’t actually implement them unless the court receiver agrees. In addition, his point that one-time fixes aren’t helpful is very well taken. On the other hand, I think the notion is absurd that public employees can successfully be talked into a 15% pay cut.

4/7/2009

How to Pass a Law

Filed under: California Politics — Kevin M @ 8:28 am

Back when I was taking high schools civics, they said that laws got passed when the legislature passed them and the executive signed them or the legislature overrode a veto.  The currently favored method (Courts make up laws and claim they found them in the Constitution) was never mentioned.

I guess this is why when the courts do things like this the new “law” has such trouble being accepted as valid.  Witness the abortion “right” or the sorry history of gay marriage in California.

So, it’s a relief when you see them do it the right way: a straight-up legislative vote, a veto, and an override, like the way Vermont passed gay marriage today.  Whatever one thinks of the issue itself, a 2/3rds vote in the legislature is a pretty clear demonstration of the political will in Vermont, and the only reasonable course for opponents is to change the legislature.

A political decision, taken with an open vote — and open to political consequences — can be accepted, in time.  A bunch of unelected elitist judges deciding what is “good for us” is less likely to accomplish that.  The model should be the Civil Rights Act, not Roe v Wade.  It’s amazing how hard it is for this to sink in.

3/25/2009

San Francisco school board may overturn JROTC ban

Filed under: California Politics — aunursa @ 8:47 pm

The San Francisco Board of Education will reconsider its 2006 decision to end the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.  With three new board members, JROTC supporters believe they have the votes necessary to overturn the previous 4-2 decision that would eliminate the 90 year-old program from public high schools this coming June.  The program served some 1600 students at the time of the initial decision.

In November San Francisco voters passed Proposition V, a non-binding measure in support of JROTC, by a 53-47 margin.  Even in the most anti military city in America, a majority of residents support the program.

Eric Linarez, 18, echoed the arguments of many opponents in a statement reported by the San Francisco Examiner.  The teenager made the seemingly opposing complaints that JROTC discriminates against gays and lesbians and targets blacks and Hispanics for military service.  Apparently we need more LGBT soldiers to take the place of overrepresented black and Latino soldiers.  (I personally oppose the military ban on gay and lesbian service.  Openly gay soldiers serve countries such as Israel with no detrimental effects.  And obviously I reject the idea that the program does or should specifically target certain racial groups for recruitment.)

Hundreds of students and parents are to be commended for have worked tirelessly for over 2 1/2 years to overturn the initial decision.  The board will vote on the new measure in three weeks.

3/4/2009

Nguyen survives recall attempt

Filed under: California Politics — aunursa @ 5:31 am

San Jose councilwoman Madison Nguyen survived a recall election on Tuesday, as voters in her district voted down the recall by a 55-45 margin.  Nguyen had angered a vocal minority of constituents by favoring the name “Saigon Business District” over “Little Saigon” for a Vietnamese neighborhood.  The majority, however, saw the recall effort as a petty and pointless.

Fortunately San Jose is largely unaffected by the tumbling economy, drastic state budget cuts, and other financial problems that plague similar large municipalities.  The nation’s tenth largest city can easily afford to piss away $500,000 on the special election (in addition to the $350,000-$400,000 spent by both campaigns.)

PREVIOUSLY: Vietnamese Civil War in San Jose

2/28/2009

City Pays $1.5 Million Per Acre in Watts

Filed under: California Politics — Kevin M @ 1:04 pm

And it’s for 21 vacant acres in the worst part of Watts — right next to the Grape Street Crips headquarters Jordan Downs housing project.  There are places in West LA worth less, these days.

According to the LA Times, this is part of a $1 billion Watts gentrification project that will attempt to lure the middle class back to Watts.

Los Angeles officials are embarking on a $1-billion plan to tear down the notorious Jordan Downs housing project and turn it into a “new urban village” — an effort aimed at transforming the Watts neighborhood that would be one of the city’s largest public works projects.

The city wants to replace the project’s 700 dilapidated units, which were built more than half a century ago, with taller “mixed-use” buildings that would house not just low-income residents but also those paying market rates. The new development could include as many as 2,100 units.

One imagines they were saying the same things about “transforming the Watts neighborhood” when they built Jordan Downs.

Already, L.A. officials have spent $31 million to purchase a 21-acre piece of land adjacent to the existing project on which they plan to expand. They have earmarked millions more for planning. The financing for the project would combine federal redevelopment money, state tax credits and private investments from retailers and developers of market-rate housing. Officials hope to get some money from President Obama’s stimulus package and from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Good luck with that private investment in these risk-adverse times.  Or, like, ever.  But I guess one money pit is as good as another when it comes to government funding.

Your stimulus package at work.

1/27/2009

Vietnamese civil war in San Jose

Filed under: California Politics — aunursa @ 10:26 pm

Four years ago Madison Nguyen was elected to the San Jose City Council, reportedly the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to political office in California.  San Jose is the tenth largest city in the U.S., and nearly 10% of city residents are of Vietnamese descent.

Today Nguyen is fighting for her political life, facing a recall over an issue that has divided the city’s Vietnamese residents.  The March 3rd special election will cost the city $500,000.  If the recall is successful, it will cost another $500,000 to hold another special election to fill the seat.  Nguyen has raised about $200,000 to fight the recall; her opponents have raised $100,000.  The election will only involve voters from Nguyen’s district, three-fourths of whom are not Vietnamese.

What damning issue has aroused Nguyen’s opponents, many of whom consider her a traitor to the Vietnamese community?  What unforgivable insult caused one protester to conduct a four-week hunger strike?  What political sin did the councilwoman commit that drove more than 5000 constituents to sign recall petitions?

It’s about the nickname for a city neighborhood around Story Road with predominantly Vietnamese stores and restaurants.  In January 2008 November 2007 the city council voted between two proposed nicknames.  Many residents want the neighborhood to be known as “Little Saigon.”  Nguyen and the majority of the city council preferred the monikor “Saigon Business District.”

This nonsense, on which the city and its residents will waste between $1 and $2 million, reminds me of a scene from the Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Bele, a police commissioner from the planet Cheron, has been chasing a political fugitive named Lokai for 50,000 years.  Bele tries to explain to the Enterprise crew why he and his opponent are mortal enemies.

.

  • Bele: It is obvious to the most simple-minded that Lokai is of an inferior breed
  • Spock: The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself.
  • Bele: Are you blind, Commander Spock?  Well, look at me.  Look at me.
  • Kirk: You are black on one side and white on the other.
  • Bele: I am black on the right side.
  • Spock: I fail to see the significant difference…
  • Bele: Lokai is white on the right side.  All of his people are white on the right side.
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