California 2012: Your Guide To Responsible Voting


You’ve heard us get on Obama’s case a lot on this podcast.  We’re not an easy audience, and as progressives we often feel left out in the cold by a Democratic party that panders to the middle.  Fine.  That’s a feeling we’re used to ignoring in an election year because the alternative is always super insane, and this year is no exception.  The 2012 presidential race is obscenely close considering that President Obama, a legitimate smart-person with the capacity for empathy, is running against an aggressive bully of a wealthy robot, Mittens Romney, but such is life in the Americas.  Here at Brain Trust, while we may get on Obama’s case, we also take issue with the oft-repeated claim by opponents and general non-news-followers that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything.  From where we’re sitting, he’s accomplished quite a lot, so, instead of focusing on how unfit Mittens is for office with his non-plans and fake math, we’re going to give you some reasons to vote FOR Obama.

Lets begin with the big one – Obamacare (which we prefer you call the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that we just ignored our own preference).  You’ve heard us rail on about wanting a single-payer healthcare system for months, and we aren’t giving up hope on that one, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t thrilled that some form a health care reform has finally passed.  The ACA may not go as far as we’d like, but has a lot of consumer protections that help everybody – students (who can stay on their parents’ health plan till 26), low-income Americans (who will be offered affordable insurance options for once), women (who will have access to women’s health services), and basically anybody who is an American and currently breathing.  This law also hits us in a very personal way – for one of us it is going to be the difference between being able to buy insurance and being considered uninsurable over minor health conditions.  It is literally going to change our lives.  Moreover, this is the first time a national law has recognized the importance providing insurance to all Americans.  The idea that everybody deserves healthcare shouldn’t be controversial, but it is and we hope that Obamacare will have a part in changing that.

Obama has had plenty of other victories as well – he ended the war in Iraq, ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, made it possible for undocumented students to get green cards and become full members of society, saved the American auto industry, helped turn around a disastrous recession, and plenty more.  Sure, he’s done some stuff we’re not proud of, but overall, haven’t the last four years been sooooooo much better that the preceding eight were?  Yes.  The answer is yes.  We suggest you vote for him so we can avoid having some compassion-deficient robot in office ruining our economy and raising our taxes while cutting his own.  We endorse President Obama for President of the United States.

BUT, “I’m in a safe state and Obama is so blah,” you say?  Great.  Here’s the plan:


If you live in a state where your vote counts (you know who you are), please ignore this section.  Voting according to your principles doesn’t cut it in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, or any of the other swingers.  If you’re in California, New York, or somewhere else that does nothing more than host fundraisers, however, why not vote for somebody with good ideas that are not heavily compromised by corporate interests, Wall Street, and other insider-problems?  That’s where the Green Party comes in, our favorite third party funtimes brigade, which rests in the political area that, at one time, belonged to Democrats and now seems to belong to a disparate group of sane people, some of whom run actual legitimate idea-havers for office. 

Jill Stein is a doctor and environmental health advocate who, like everybody else on the ballot, went to Harvard.  Stein, however, has an environment and people-focused platform that offers progressive alternatives on many issues Democrats routinely ignore (common sense gun control, worker’s rights, true clean energy, protecting civil liberties, providing a legal status to law-abiding undocumented workers, protecting the environment, etc).  If a perfect world where people could vote for a platform they believe in and not think solely about strategy, she’d be our girl in every state.  As it is now, we recommend you consider voting for her if you live in a safe state and want your vote to actually make a difference.  No, she’s not going to win, but a strong Green showing sends a message to whoever does win that there are lots of voters out there that care about these issues.

If you live in a safe state, we endorse Jill Stein for President of the United States.



Dianne Feinstein is the senior, less preferable senator from California.  Unfortunately for Feinstein, we just end up comparing her to her senate comrade Barbara Boxer (alliteration we can support) who is a goddess among humans.  Despite Feinstein’s touchy relationship with the far left (namely, us) because of her vote for the Iraq War authorization and her continued support for the Patriot Act (which every thinking human has realized is a big fail), she’s got a pretty decent voting record.  She voted for the Affordable Care Act, she’s proposed repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and she’s a big leader in the fight to re-authorize the assault weapons ban.

Helping Dianne out in this race is her opponent Elizabeth Emken, who is a total hack-job and is running a campaign based solely on the fact that Feinstein won’t debate her (why bother?) and that she’s old, which is just plain mean.  She’s also really on Feinstein’s case about her vote for the Affordable Care Act, leaving us to wonder if she realizes what state she’s running for office in.  In any case, we endorse Dianne Feinstein for California Senate because it’s the best option we have.




Henry can you hear us?  Come back to us!  Oh how we miss you! 

Listen up here people.  This is serious.  If you’re in Henry Waxman’s new district and you don’t vote for him and/or he loses, we will personally hunt all of you down and it will not be pretty.  Seriously.  Test us.  We dare you.

He’s running against Bill Bloomfield, and you all know how we feel about people whose name involves alliteration.  Do not trust these people.  He’s a “former” Republican turned Independent, but let’s not get it twisted…he raised money for McCain in 2008.  He’s a Republican.

Waxman is one of the strongest progressive voices, and despite looking a little like Filius Flitwick, he’s been on the right side of all the progressive issues out there.  Trust us, if we could be endorsing Waxman for President, we’d probably be doing it.  During one memorable election season, in fact, one of our parents tried to do just that. 

Anyway, do the right thing people.  This one is a no-brainer.  We endorse Henry Waxman for Congress.



Oy, this was a confusing one.  As you may remember, the Congressional race in California’s 30th district was one of the most hilarious/confusing results of the newly christened jungle primary system.  As a result of the recent redistricting, two incumbent Democrats ended up vying for the same seat and winning the top two spots in the primary race, pitting them against each other in a very expensive, very inconsequential general election.  That’s complicated enough, but this race is much, much more than all that.  What we have in the 30th is two politically indistinguishable, middle-aged, grumpy-looking Jewish men WITH RHYMING NAMES.  Yes, friends, this is Berman/Sherman, and it is the best race of all the races. 

Berman/Sherman is no backwater, local election, you see.  The race was already on its way to legendary-land when something even more awesome than the basic facts of the race happened: an actual, literal, real-life fight.   During a debate at Pierce College, -erman 1 got in –erman 2’s face and things devolved from there, with Sherman eventually asking Berman if he “wanted to get into this.”  Then a very aggressive looking shoulder push and stare-down commenced.  The argument began over immigration, but not because they disagreed on the issue, just because Sherman took issue with Berman’s claims about his voting record.  Yeah. 

Now, there are a few minor differences between these two, though most of the press coverage has (unhelpfully) focused on their similarities.  Berman is in his 70s and has served in Congress for almost twice as many years as the comparatively sprightly, 57 year-old Sherman, who has been in office for the last 16 representing Sherman Oaks and environs.  Berman is much more of a Washington insider and is an influential member of the Armed Services Committee, which is sort of yucky and makes us scowl.  Also, Berman’s power has not always been used for good – he was one of the Democrats that bought into the whole WMD scenario in Iraq and gave Bush carte blanche to walk around trying to upstage his dad by fighting expensive foreign wars.  For us Brain Trusters, that’s a crucial difference and one that we’re willing to make an endorsement decision over.  Our preference was only strengthened when we discovered that Berman has been endorsed by a slew of insider-y Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman (who, for the sake of all that’s real and true, we’ll consider a Republican in this context).

So, we’re endorsing Brad Sherman.  He’s not as entrenched in the beltway culture as Berman and where differences crop up, he’s got better principles.  He’s consistently voted against free trade bills in an effort to keep jobs here, his voting record has been highly rated by almost every union, and he voted in favor of investigating Bush over the Iraq boondoggle.  We’re into it, and so is our buddy Bill Clinton, so if you can remember his name when it counts, we recommend a vote for Sherman over Berman.  He’s got a helpful mnemonic device working in his favor – he’s Sherman from Sherman Oaks.  Got to it.



This is the home district of your truly.  As we alluded to earlier, due to some redistricting nonsense we are no longer represented by Henry Waxman.  This new, harsh reality often leads us to cry ourselves to sleep at night. 

To make matters worse, our new Democratic incumbent is Adam Schiff, and sadly we don’t mean the fictional character from over 200 episodes of Law and Order.

Schiff is a “Blue Dog Democrat”, and for people unfamiliar with political jargon, that means “Republican.”  Still, of the “Blue Dogs” he votes with the party 94% of the time (the highest percentage of anyone in the caucus), leaving one to wonder why he considers himself to be one of them anyway.  They’re annoying, so why bother Adam?

We’ll cut him some slack considering his generally decent voting record, the fact that he introduced a bill to overturn Citizen’s United, and that he had his “No H8” photo taken.  We endorse Adam Schiff for Congress because we had to.

At least there is this?

At least there is this?







These first two props are out of order because something is amiss in the numbering of this season’s California “memorize-your-way-to-glory” prop-o-palooza.  These two education funding proposals appear to do exactly the same thing, yet are listed 7 numbers away from each other on the ballot.  The fine print is that only one these measures can pass (the one with the most votes), but voters can vote for both and they will be presented as two completely distinct props on your ballot.  Take that, straight-forward, yes/no voting!

So what are these similar but oh-so-differently-numbered measures?

Prop 30 was sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown, 1996 democratic presidential primary loser (and hero to one uninformed but adorable not-yet voter who still has a button supporting his 90s bid).  It will increase funding to Cali’s schools by raising taxes by 3% on all money made in excess of $250,000 and increasing sales tax by ¼ cent.  Opponents contend that we already have the highest sales tax in the union (a tax that we at Brain Trust find regressive and…annoying).  They probably also, however, contend that rich people do too much society to pay for something that benefits poor people.  We’re willing to forgive the sales tax thing in exchange for keeping this financial burden firmly with the 1%, who get special treatment on their federal taxes anyway for being so rich and beautiful.  If this measure passes, it’s worth billions to California’s underfunded schools, which we’re into, and of the two measures, this one has all the best backers.  We’re talking teachers unions, Democrats, and other people we trust.  We recommend a YES on 30. 

Prop 38 was sponsored by education advocate/rich person Molly Munger, and seems vaguely self-promotional because the title of it bears her name.  It will increase taxes by a slightly smaller margin, but the increase will affect Californians of every income level.  Additionally, some of the money raised will go to paying down California’s debt, so only about 70% of the tax increase goes into the schools, and unlike 30, which funds K-12 schools and community colleges, this increase will only impact the K-12 set.  It sounds pretty “blah” already, but the list of backers is also extremely weird and includes Molly Munger (obvs), PTA presidents, actors, and a bunch of fake-sounding activists.  In an unlikely twist, both the California Republicans and the California Democrats are united in being against 38, so the plot is basically about as thick as it can get.   While we’re firmly in support of money going to schools, this one feels wrong.  We recommend a NO on 38.




This is one of those props that’s nearly impossible to read about without falling asleep.  It was put together by a coalition of think tanks (eeeek) and supporters claim it will make state government less wasteful.  Though often co-opted by unsavory types, this aim isn’t horrible in and of itself.  Still, Prop 31 just recycles a bunch of not-very-good, kind-of-outdated, empirically debunked ideas about how to do this. 

Beyond our vague complaints with the lack of actual thinking these think tank writers did in drafting this aggressively tedious measure, there is also one very specific problem we have with it.  Basically, this measure could jeopardize a bunch of public health and environmental laws and we don’t stand for that kind of tomfoolery.  Under Prop 31, any governor could declare a fiscal emergency unilaterally and suddenly have the power to cut public programs without any oversight or transparency. 

Translation: If this measure passes, any rando conservative governor could decide tomorrow that the state is having a fiscal emergency and make cuts to healthcare, education, and social programs just ‘cause.  Evil stuff.  We recommend a NO on 31.




Certainly the most controversial and public of this slate of props, Prop 32 is the one you’ve seen all the annoying TV ads for.  It’s bad enough that the factions backing this measure are actively trying to ruin your Modern Family-watching, but unfortunately their evil plans do not stop there.  Here’s what your SuperPAC-funded television ad time isn’t telling you:

Advocates for this prop claim that it will “take aim at special interest groups,” but what it really does is restrict the ability of unions to participate meaningfully in the election process.  It bans them from using their automatic payroll deductions for political purposes, and though it makes the same restriction on corporations, here’s the thing: corporations don’t use automatic payroll deductions for this type of spending and unions do.   What makes this measure additionally annoying is that the wording is tricky.  On paper this prop sounds really positive; in practice it will amount to a strengthening of the SuperPAC-driven post Citizen’s United culture that we at Brain Trust (all humans in America) so abhor.  A simple glance at the list of backers should set off any half-way decent person’s alarm bells anyway – the Koch Brothers’ SuperPAC, American Future Fund, is right up there with a bunch of conservative wackos, suspect education reformers, and irrelevant former politicians. 

This prop has the power to create a horrendously lopsided political system in California; one in which private corporations are able to buy our candidates but unions are barely given a chance to participate.  Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not just a problem for union members.  This is a problem for anybody who qualifies as a non-bazillionaire American worker because organizing is how the middle-class gets a political voice.  We recommend a DOUBLE NO on 32 (vote early and often!).  




Prop 33 does something boring relating to car insurance and good driver discounts.  We nearly started watching a cat video while we read about it, but then we got to the part about how the fine print will allow insurance companies to charge more to customers who don’t have continuous coverage.  Based on our possibly flawed understanding of continuous coverage laws as they apply to health insurance, this measure’s capacity to discriminate against the uninsured concerned us immediately. 

Also, among the lists of prominent supports for Prop 33, the affiliations run from the “former California State Senate president pro tempore” to a man listed simply as a “small business owner.”  A low rent list of fans if ever we’ve seen one.  We can’t even.

We recommend NO on 33, but we can’t really be bothered to articulate why because the whole thing is so exhausting and there is a cat video in our inbox.




This measure would end the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.  It would also direct extra money to law enforcement to investigate homicide and rape cases. 

Prop 34 is an easy one for anybody who has heard of a man named Troy Davis or has ever made a stupid mistake and thought, “well, at least nobody died.”  Duh.  Yes.  100% yes.  We recommend a DOUBLE YES on 34.  

It’s time, people.  Catholics, where you at?  Why doesn’t this ever get you worked up the way abortion does?




Proposition 35 will increase prison terms for human traffickers.  Human trafficking is basically another way of saying sex slavery, and we don’t mean the kinky kind.  Seriously, get your minds out of the gutter people, it’s serious stuff.  This is truly a horrible act that usually happens to girls age 12-14, and we’d almost take back our vote on prop 34 to give human traffickers the death penalty.  On top of increased prison terms, 35 would require all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, require criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims and mandate law enforcement training on human trafficking.  Plus, the group against it is called the “Exotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project”, which sounds like a fake “project” if ever we’ve heard of one.  This one’s seriously a no-brainer.  We recommend a Yes on 35.




Remember how great it was when we voted on the 3-Strike proposition the first time in 1994?  Well, it was so fun, we get to do it again.  This time with feeling!  Prop 36 will restore the original intent of the law by giving repeat offenders of non-violent crime double the ordinary sentence INSTEAD of sentences up to life in prison.  Currently there are homeless people serving longer sentences than rapists (both legitimate and illegitimate) for having stolen food one too many times.  Sound crazy?  We agree.  Also, because we won’t have to house these non-violent criminals as long in our prison system, it will save the state up to $100M a year, which can hopefully be used to buy us all presents.  We recommend a YES vote on 36.




MMMM…those GMOs sure are delicious!  That’s Genetically Modified Organisms for you non-scientists out there.  But wait, are they delicious?  To us food snobs it sounds like they may not be.  Also, might they be killing everyone?  Nobody knows, which seems like a good enough reason to vote yes on 37, which would require labeling of GMOs on our food.  And if that’s not enough, 61 other countries around the world require labeling of GMOs, including all of Europe.  If nothing else, this would be a simple way to catch us up to the rest of the world, because we all know we won’t be doing it in math and science anytime soon.  We recommend a yes vote on 37.




Hooray!  Another proposition that should be solved by our state politicians, who we hire and pay to deal with the tax code.  Morons.  Thankfully, we’re able to step in and save their butts.  Back in 2009 said moron politicians passed a tax loophole that allowed California companies to create jobs outside of the state and also pay less in taxes, leaving the state hemorrhaging jobs and tax revenue.  Umm…DUH.   Proposition 39 would close the tax loophole and dedicate half of the money to clean energy.  We recommend a yes vote on 39.




Bipartisanship?  WHAT?!  To us, that usually means something suspect is going on, but in this case it seems pretty legit.  The headline of the LA Times endorsement of Prop 40 reads: “Who Supports Prop 40?  Anyone With a Brain” (seriously, that’s the headline).  And while we know that discounts a large part of the state’s population, we’re hoping that even those non-brain havers will come through on this one.  

Prop 40 would continue to allow the non-partisan Citizen’s Redistricting Commission group to draw the legislative districts, as opposed to politicians, because seriously, who knows what those losers would come up with.  The only pro we can think of is a potential map being drawn that would allow for more Berman vs. Sherman style congressional races.  Otherwise, this one seems pretty simple for anyone with or without a brain.  We recommend a YES on 40.