VOTER’S GUIDE 2020: Los Angeles & California

Context and recommendations for everything on your ballot.

Photo by izayah ramos on Unsplash

Welcome! This is a walk-through for the November 2020 Ballot in Los Angeles. I’ll be taking a look at every statewide proposition, the City Council and County Board of Supervisors, elections for LA’s judiciary and DA office, and explaining how to explore your U.S. House and CA Assembly/Senate races.

If you just want the picks — no context needed — check out the below graphic. Otherwise, let’s get started…

President/VP: Joe Biden & Kamala Harris

Biden wants to expand healthcare, tax the rich, and fund education for young people. He ain’t the perfect candidate but he undoubtedly has my vote against the incumbent.

House of Representatives: Check Your Local Listings

Enter your ZIP code here to find your district and current representative. Check out Ballotpedia to find out who the candidates are in that race. Give them a Google. They’ll likely have a website with policy positions and a list of endorsements.

I live in Santa Monica, which puts me in CA District 33. My current representative is Ted Lieu, a progressive liberal with feisty Twitter fingers and a disdain for Trump. Our policies don’t match perfectly but he has my vote over his unlikely Republican challenger.

CA Assembly & Senate: … Check Your Local Listings Again

Use this site to find your CA assembly and senate district and current member. Ballotpedia will have the information for your local assembly race and senate race.

There are 80 members of California’s state assembly. Assembly members serve in two years terms… which means that every seat is in contention. I live in Assembly District 50 where Richard Bloom is facing a challenge from filmmaker Will Hess. Bloom has been an effective politician. He has my vote.

There are 40 members of California’s senate. Senate members serve in four year terms. Half of the seats are in contention during every election. I live in Senate District 26 (confusing, right?) and my Senator Benjamin Allen is not in an election year.

LA County District Attorney: George Gascón

This is a tight race between incumbent Jackie Lacey and challenger George Gascón. Lacey is a supporter of the death penalty who has failed to hold police accountable for violence. Her husband pointed a gun at BLM protestors who went to her home. Many politicians, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, have now chosen to support her challenger.

Gascón is a former San Fran DA with more modern ideas of justice that include ending cash bail, rolling back the war on drugs, and holding police accountable for their actions. He has support from Democratic leaders like Kamala Harris as well as BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors. LA has an enormous police force and a record number of police-involved violent incidents. This is a hugely consequential election.

LA City Council:

The LA City Council has 15 members who each represent 200,000+ Angelinos. It is the single most powerful city council in America. LA City Council has the power to veto the mayor’s actions and introduce legislation for his approval. Tight elections are rare for LA City Council. This is a special year.

NOTE: You will only be able to vote in these races if you live in the district. Check out this map to find yours and reach out to friends who live in the below districts.

District 4: Nithya Raman

Raman is running to defeat incumbent David Ryu. She is the perfect candidate. Raman has a background in urban planning, created a homelessness services non-profit, and is running to be the most progressive candidate on the council. She is rightly focused on addressing homelessness through both care and affordable housing. She wants to push LA towards a reimagined system of public safety that allows traditional police to work more effectively while providing more specific, effective services to the overpoliced. She is an effective organizer who has built an impressive grassroots movement in the Silverlake, Hollywood, Hancock Park, and Sherman Oaks communities.

District 10: Mark Ridley-Thomas

This seat is open because Council President Herb Wesson (you’ll read more about him in a second) has been termed out of office. Ridley-Thomas is running against Grace Yoo. He is the heavy favorite. Ridley-Thomas has a lengthy political career that includes the CA State Senate, the LA County Supervisor Board, and even the City Council itself. He is an imperfect candidate — he’d love us to forget about his USC scandal — but he is the better option between the two. Even better: this next four year term will make him ineligible to serve any longer on City Council. The seat will be open again for a better candidate.

Supervisor District 2: Holly Mitchell

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is a 5 person governing body. It’s even more influential than the LA City Council. While the city of LA has a budget of ~$10B, the county’s budget is upwards of $30B.

The aforementioned City Council President Herb Wesson is essentially pulling a switcheroo with Mark Ridley-Thomas, who currently serves on the Board of Supervisors for District 2. To be fair, Herb Wesson has plenty of positive attributes. His recent leadership during COVID-19 and BLM activism has been commendable. However, his tenure on the council has been marred by a gerrymandering scandal. KNOCK.LA points out that the overwhelming majority of council votes have been unanimous under his leadership, suggesting that decisions are being made without the public’s knowledge. Personally, I resent what appears to be a deliberate effort to skirt term limits and allow both he and Ridley-Thomas to effortlessly retain power in Los Angeles.

Holly Mitchell has served in CA’s assembly and senate. Her focus is on homelessness, the environment, and criminal justice reform. She also has extensive experience managing CA’s budget. Mitchell is an effective, progressive leader that may signal a welcome change to the Board.

LA Superior Court:

LA’s Superior Court has ~500 judges who handle cases from every part of the legal system. Judges are elected to serve for 6 year terms. In 2020, there are three elections to fill the open seats. Each candidate is a Democrat.

Office #72: Steve Morgan

Morgan is a former prosecutor and a LA County Deputy District Attorney. He has a variety of endorsements, including the LA Times and LA County Democratic Party. His opponent, Myanna Dellinger, has more progressive ideas and the backing of groups like the Sunrise Movement LA. She is also a woman vying for a position that a majority of men currently hold. Unfortunately, she has been given a rating of “Not Qualified” by the LA County Bar Association

Office #80: Klint James McKay

McKay has extensive experience as an arbitrator, judge pro tempore, and administrative judge. He has received a “Well Qualified” rating compared to his opponent’s “Qualified.”

Office #162: Scott Andrew Yang

Both candidates in this race are “Well Qualified.” Yang is a Deputy District Attorney with experience in the Sex Crimes Division. David Diamond, his opponent, is a practicing attorney and adjunct professor.


Prop 14: Stem Cell Research: YES

This proposition would fund the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a research organization that seeks to combat diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The institute would receive $5.5 B in additional funding. The total taxpayer cost — including interest — is estimated to be $7.8 B.

Stem cells are pluripotent: they can develop into many different and potentially useful types of cells. They are found in bone marrow and are also created during an embryo’s maturation process. Extracting stem cells for research often involves using in vitro fertilization (combining sperm and egg in a laboratory). Opponents have likened this to abortion. It’s not an accurate comparison. The embryonic stem cells are extracted from a blastocyst — a bundle of around 100 cells — days after fertilization. Stem cell research is humane and has the potential to unlock treatment for serious diseases.

Funding scientific research is a worthwhile cost to taxpayers in California.

Prop 15: Business Property Tax: YES

This proposition would raise taxes on large businesses that own land in CA. Currently, properties in CA are taxed based on their original purchase price. Makes sense, right? If your home increases in value, you don’t want to pay higher taxes for it. However, the same rule applies to commercial property.

This proposition, sometimes called the “Split Roll,” would change the property tax rule for large businesses. They’ll have to start paying property taxes based on the current value of their land. This doesn’t apply to homeowners, small businesses, or farmers. Businesses with more than $3M in CA property will see their taxes go up, generating between $6.5B and $11.5B for cities and counties. Big bonus: 40% of that money will be spent on education.

Especially in the pandemic, large businesses threaten to overtake smaller ones. Misguided tax allowances are a major part of that. Applying common sense taxes to corporations is a must.

Prop 16: Affirmative Action: YES

Affirmative action has been illegal in CA since 1996. This proposition would reverse that.

Affirmative action is a loaded phrase… so let’s break it down a little. Affirmative action means that public organizations — eg: government offices, public colleges, state agencies — can consider race, gender, and ethnicity in their decisions. It is currently legal in 42 states.

A long history of discrimination in California has left its population on unequal footing. A family that was denied loans, fair housing, and educational opportunities won’t face the same circumstances today as a family that never dealt with institutional racism. Affirmative action allows employers and schools to consider the full attributes of an applicant. It DOES NOT allow racial quotas for colleges, which are outlawed by the Supreme Court. However, it does allow UC schools to contextualize a student’s full profile and move away from the troublesome SAT scores and extracurricular activities that boost the applications of privileged students.

Handling racism in California is a complex task. Affirmative action is an imperfect but necessary tool in giving opportunities to those who deserve it.

Prop 17: Parolee Voting: YES

This proposition would allow California who are on parole to vote. Currently, both CA prisoners and parolees are unable to vote.

Voter disenfranchisement is a longtime American tradition. It’s unacceptable. We call ourselves a beacon of democracy… but we don’t live up to the label. Parolees are people who have served their time and are deemed ready to “re-enter society.” We should want parolees to be civically engaged. Denying them a vote only pushes them away at the crucial time when they should be reconnecting with their communities.

Prop 18: Youth Voting: YES

This proposition would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and special elections IF they’ll turn 18 by the general election.

Let’s keep it simple: the more engaged Californians who vote, the better. Youth turnout is currently poor in California. This is a common sense measure that may push young citizens to engage with their government. In today’s hyper-information world, there’s no doubt that 17-year-olds are capable of making informed voting decisions. They deserve to have a voice.

Prop 19: Age Property Tax: NO

This is a tricky one. This proposition would do two things. First, it offers a property tax break to older Californians. Reminder from Prop 15: property taxes in CA are based on purchase price. When older citizens buy a new home, their property taxes increase… especially if they’ve been locked in to a low rate after decades of home ownership. Prop 19 would eliminate that increase and allow seniors to buy a new home while still paying their old property tax rate. That rule also applies to people with disabilities and those who lost their homes in a fire. Second, this proposition eliminates a tax break for inherited properties. Same idea, opposite result: when a property is passed onto a family member, they’ll now have to pay the updated property tax that fits the current value of the home.

Realtors really want this to pass. They’ll make a killing selling homes to seniors. Firefighters want it too, considering they’d get more money from the tax revenue on inherited homes. Gov. Gavin Newsom backs the proposition, too.

A similar version of this proposition failed in 2018 because it only included the first part. The additional provision about inheritance is an attempt to make this more palatable to voters. I’m not convinced that it’s enough. The inheritance tax is great: families shouldn’t be able to hoard wealth by passing down properties with low taxes. The tax break to older citizens, though, will only benefit those who currently own homes and do nothing to combat the affordable housing crisis. The biggest winner is the powerful California Realtors Association. This prop is a mixed bag that isn’t worth passing.

Prop 20: Tough on Crime: NO

This proposition would upgrade some crimes — shoplifting, petty theft — as felonies, increase penalties for parole offenders, increase DNA collection of people who commit misdemeanors, and reduce opportunities for inmates to gain parole.

California has a long history of cracking down on crime, backtracking as those efforts failed, and then beginning over again. Prop 19 includes some common sense measures, like classifying domestic violence as a “violent crime,” but those are wrapped up in unnecessary anti-crime efforts. Our criminal justice system needs to move towards rehabilitation and social services. It doesn’t need to punish shoplifters more aggressively. This is an unpopular, punitive proposition.

Prop 21: Rent Control: YES

This proposition would allow cities to stop landlords from raising rental prices AKA rent control. Opponents say that it would discourage property managers from building more housing and decrease government revenue through lost property tax.

High rents are a major part of CA’s enormous unhoused problem. Even for those who can pay, rental prices are high compared to other states. Prices decreased for the first time since 2010 during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some cities already enact rent control, this proposition would reinforce and expand that power statewide. It would help keep rentals affordable for Californians.

Prop 22: Gig Workers: NO

California has already passed a law forcing companies like Uber, Postmates, and InstaCart to classify their contract workers as employees. It requires the companies to extend benefits like paid sick leave, health care, and overtime pay. Uber’s not happy — they’re refusing to comply. It’ll cost them tons of money and they’re threatening to pull their business from the state. It’s an ongoing legal battle.

The proposition would exempt such companies from having to comply with the new law. Instead, they’ll have to offer a more limited set of benefits.

The gig economy is growing. More and more people are making a living by working for apps through untraditional hiring processes. It’s blood-pumping capitalism… the type that helps out mega-corporations and can leave workers in the dust. This measure would allow those companies to operate as they please. There’s an evolving conversation around how to handle benefits for workers in the modern economy. CA’s current state law is a progressive leap in the right direction and this proposition would eliminate that progress.

Prop 23: Dialysis: NO

This proposition would create requirements for dialysis clinics: an on-site physician at all times, mandate data reporting to the state, require state approval before closing, and prohibit insurance discrimination.

Dialysis clinics treat approximately 80,000 Californian annually. It’s a huge industry. This proposition is an effort by CA’s health workers union to assert themselves. In 2018, they backed a proposition that would have limited the profits of dialysis providers. Voters rejected it.

This proposition is opposed by dialysis providers who say that it will raise prices and cause the shutdown of clinics. They cite a study by the Berkeley Research Group, who say that it will increase total costs by $320M and cause half of CA’s 600 clinics to operate at a loss. They’re spending millions to get voters to reject the proposition.

CA Dems and labor organizations support the initiative. Supporters say that the measures will ensure effective care and keep patients safe.

While Prop 23 sounds good, it’s unclear exactly how much patients will benefit. There doesn’t appear to be current concerns about data reporting or the current availability of physicians. It seems that this may be a politicized effort in the battle between health worker unions and dialysis providers. Both groups do lots of good for CA but, honestly, I’m not interested in participating in their economic battle when the patient isn’t the priority. Prop 23 hasn’t won my support.

Prop 24: Data Privacy: NO

This proposition would give consumers more power over their data. It would allow Californians to limit the data that businesses use, stop them from keeping data longer than necessary, and raise fines for violating children’s privacy. On its face, it sounds great.

This is another tricky one. We’ve already passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that requires disclosure and imposes fines on companies that violate data practices. It’s a first for the nation and brings the US closer to Europe’s GDPR data protection act. CA’s law came into effect in January 2020… which means that this is a potentially hasty step.

Opponents point out that Prop 24 allows companies to raise prices for consumers who choose not to give up their data: a pay-for-privacy scheme. This initiative is the child of a wealthy San Fran real estate mogul who (I’m not kidding) freaked out about privacy after a Google engineer chatted him up at a dinner party. His heart may be in the right place, but this proposition has split the privacy community. CA is on the right path towards privacy protections. Proposition 24 seems to be an unnecessary lateral move. It does, however, create an independent agency with oversight over privacy protections. That’s good. This proposition is another mixed bag. I won’t be supporting it because it feels unnecessary and potentially problematic. This is my softest recommendation. I can completely understand those who support it.

Prop 25: Cash Bail: YES

This proposition would finally eliminate cash bail in CA. Cash bail punishes the poor. It disproportionately affects minority groups. It is antithetical to the concept of our justice system to incarcerate people based on the size of their wallet.

In 2018, CA passed a law replacing cash bail with algorithmic risk assessment that allows for the release of offenders who pose no threat to their community. This proposition is an effort by the bail bondsmen to protect their precious profits and reverse the law.

It isn’t an ideal fix. There are concerns that algorithms will reinforce prejudices in the system and codify biases against certain offenders. It’s true: algorithmic assessment will need oversight and constant improvement, but it’s significantly better than cash bail. Read more about my thoughts on cash bail in CA here.


LA County Measure J: YES

This measure was added in August following LA County’s cries for reimagined criminal and social justice. If approved, it would require the county to designate 10% of its “locally generated, unrestricted revenue to community investment initiatives.”

While the County’s total budget is near $35B, their unrestricted fund is only $4.9B. This measure would allocate between $360M and $500M to community programs like substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, mental health support, job training, etc.

Measure J is a positive, if perhaps vague, step in the right direction for justice in Los Angeles. The future of criminal justice cannot be larger prisons and harsher sentences. It must be about rehabilitation and prevention. The truth is that criminal justice isn’t just about crime. It’s about reliable jobs, education funding, substance abuse prevention, and mental health. 2020 has pushed many, including myself, to rethink what justice means. Justice is directing money to communities so that less police are needed, not more.

Additional Resources:

CAL Matters Election Guide

Democratic Socialists of America Guide

KNOCK.LA Progressive Voter Guide

I’m a resident of Santa Monica. If you’re looking for guidance on the elections and measures in that community, check out this guide!

You can find more from me on Twitter and Instagram.

man!!! boy!!! / @winshelalec on twitter

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