Editorial: Two women atop the ballot
Californians go to the polls in less than two weeks and heading the ticket for Democratic voters are two women we enthusiastically endorse: Hillary Clinton for president and Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate.
Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney and current state attorney general, is well known to Bay Area LGBT voters and is the most qualified person on the ballot. She pledges to bring progressive values to the Senate, and is a good successor for the retiring Barbara Boxer, who is the more liberal of the state's two senators. In a phone call with the Bay Area Reporter last month, Harris discussed her position on several current issues. She voiced her general support for legalizing recreational marijuana, though she has some concerns regarding drivers' possible impairment and how law enforcement would measure that. But she was clear with us that she wants to see marijuana removed from the federal Schedule I category, instead being put in Schedule II. That change alone would make it easier for universities to do cannabis research, among other opportunities.
Another issue that Harris supports is the so-called ban the box movement, which is backed by many civil rights groups and ex-offender advocates. The goal is to remove from hiring applications the check box that asks prospective applicants if they have a criminal record. According to the National Employment Law Project, California is one of 23 states that have adopted the policy, as have numerous cities, including San Francisco, which extends its fair-chance laws to private employers in the area. "I plan on leading the national effort around ban the box if I'm elected senator," Harris told us. "We shouldn't so quickly exclude a whole population ... from a fair evaluation of their feasibility to do the job." To Harris, someone who has served their time has paid their debt to society and should not continue to be punished. As Harris noted, "The best way to get people not to reoffend is to get them a job."
Harris said that her first bills in the Senate would likely focus on criminal justice reform efforts. Another senator who has done similar work, New Jersey's Cory Booker (D), encouraged Harris to run this year, she said.
Most importantly for our readers, Harris has a long track record with the LGBT community as a proud ally for equality. She famously refused to defend Proposition 8, the state's same-sex marriage ban, saying it violated the Constitution. (The U.S. Supreme Court threw out Prop 8 in 2013.) When she was district attorney, she convened one of the first conferences to tackle the so-called panic defense, which is still used in some parts of the country by defendants claiming to be driven to murder because they panic when they discovered their victim is a transgender person.
We do disagree with Harris over her decision last year to fight a federal judge's order that the state provide surgery to a trans prisoner, but Harris told us that she was representing her client, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in that case. (Later, the state announced a historic settlement that should allow trans prisoners to access the care they need while incarcerated. Harris said she agreed with the case outcome.)
Overall, we believe Harris will be a great addition to the Senate, which is just about at a standstill under Republican control. The Democrats take back the Senate this November, in which case Harris would be poised to hit the ground running.
This election cycle is more contentious than eight years ago. But now, as Barack Obama ends his historic presidency, his work needs to be built on and the one candidate who can do that is Hillary Clinton.
Over the years, Clinton, like a lot of politicians, has grown to embrace LGBT rights, in stark contrast to the presidency of her husband. Clinton has gained impressive experience over the last eight years, taking the top diplomatic job in the Obama administration by serving as secretary of state and then running this national campaign for the White House. She is detail-oriented, and we would argue that's good for the country. We can't risk a president like Donald Trump who flip-flops on positions and carelessly tosses out policies without specifics. His popularity is confounding to us, but Republicans like his "tell-it-like-it-is" persona. The anger he has stoked is not a solution for the country's problems and his gullible supporters cling to the belief that he will deliver on all of his promises.
Clinton has been tested with the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders. He has only recently shown any interest in the Democratic Party, after his supporters bullied Nevada state Democrats at their convention about party rules – rules that were set in place months ago. Polls may show him besting Trump in a general election matchup, but the surveys don't take into account his vulnerabilities to attacks by Trump and the Republican Party as a self-described Democratic socialist. Sanders will be relentlessly criticized. Sanders has not explained how he will pay for programs such as "free college for all" and dismantling the Affordable Care Act in favor of a single-payer plan without a hefty tax hike for everyone. That would be a nightmare. Obamacare isn't perfect, but currently only 9.1 percent of people under age 65 are uninsured. Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years, yet has little to show for it. He has not reached out to minorities, even as Latino voters are a key demographic in California. On gun control, he is out of touch with the Democratic Party and gun control advocates. He's the liberal angry white man equivalent of Trump.
Clinton has her faults, to be sure – we've written about them – but at her core she is an accomplished politician who will work to move the country forward in a positive direction for all, address income inequality, defend marriage equality, and, as she said during her recent rally in Oakland, "end discrimination against the LGBT community."
Clinton has our endorsement for president.
May 19, 2016 Editorial: Henderson for SF Superior Court
This year voters have three solid candidates to choose from to fill an open seat on the San Francisco Superior Court. But one of them, Paul Henderson, is our choice in the race.
Henderson is a gay African-American man and was a prosecutor in the district attorney's office. He now works in Mayor Ed Lee's administration as his deputy chief of staff and director of public safety. He created a program to transition kids out of the criminal justice system and started a hate crimes unit in the DA's office.
Henderson is passionate that San Francisco's bench reflects the community it serves, and he rightly points out that there is no gay African-American man sitting as a judge. Why is that important? Consider what Henderson told us about his first day of work as a prosecutor when he arrived at the courtroom. The judge told him he had to leave and go outside to wait for his lawyer. That's right. A San Francisco judge mistook Henderson for a criminal defendant. "That wasn't a moment a shame," Henderson told us. He wants the public to know that "This judge sees me. The next person who walks in with a box of cases won't have that."
He worked for over 15 years as a trial attorney with a heavy caseload in the courtroom arguing hearings, defending motions, and conducting trials, taking 46 matters to verdict. In his questionnaire, Henderson also said he developed and implemented a number of programs related to justice reforms before moving into management positions. He also served as a pro-tem Superior Court bench officer resolving criminal cases, and has several years of experience as a hearing officer in Alameda County, where he heard civil appellate cases.
Outside of the courtroom, Henderson told us, he has contributed to the legal profession by a deep involvement in public service activities. He has served "alongside numerous boards and agencies designed to create opportunities for others while maintaining a high profile of service."
He was independently reviewed by the Bar Association of San Francisco and found to be well-qualified from its judiciary committee.
If elected, he told us, he wants to exercise his own discretion. That's something we wish more judges did. There's no one-size-fits-all formula for dispensing justice, and at the local level, judges should be able to come up with appropriate measures. Henderson told us that he has spent his entire career thinking about complex issues like disparities in the criminal justice system and how to address them. And he said that if elected, he would enhance the bench and promote the values of San Francisco.
"I believe my voice and experience should be heard in a courtroom," he said.
Judicial candidates seeking election aren't allowed to talk about how they would rule on various cases, and furthermore, they can't disclose their views on any issue because it could affect a future case before them. With Henderson on the bench, San Francisco residents will be getting an experienced, qualified candidate who possesses judicial temperament. He is smart and hardworking. Those characteristics will serve him – and the people of San Francisco – well.
May 19, 2016 Editorial: About those DCCC endorsements
As for our selections for San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, we didn't line up on the side of the Reform Slate or the Progress Slate. Instead, we chose candidates from both sides of the aisle.
The DCCC, which runs the local Democratic Party, is where the grunt work gets done. Registering voters, doing outreach, raising money, attending meetings. The only hint of glory comes every election cycle, when the committee makes its endorsements and is courted by candidates. For many years, it was seen as a steppingstone to elected office in the city, but recently, the DCCC has become overrun with elected officials – current and former – who usually win due to their strong name recognition. That's the predicament we find ourselves in this year, as a record nine members of the Board of Supervisors (out of 11) are seeking seats on the DCCC, in addition to school board members, college board members, and others.
Our basic approach to selecting candidates was: have they done the hard work for the party? On that same criteria, we did not reject officeholders out of hand, who had long involvement in the DCCC.
The number one qualifier was that the candidates return our questionnaire seeking endorsement of the local LGBT newspaper, along with other questions about their background and philosophy. It was their decision to participate in our process.
Finally, we looked at diversity, again, with an eye to qualified LGBT contenders, but also straight allies who have been there in the trenches with us.
In Assembly District 17 we have endorsed Joshua Arce, Bevan Dufty, Zoe Dunning, Michael Grafton, Pratima Gupta, Shaun Haines, Frances Hsieh, Rafael Mandelman, Gary McCoy, Leah Pimentel, Rebecca Prozan, Alix Rosenthal, Francis Tsang, and Scott Wiener.
In Assembly District 19 we have endorsed Kat Anderson, Keith Baraka, Joel Engardio, Mark Farrell, Sandra Lee Fewer, Tom Hsieh, Mary Jung, Rachael Norton, and Marjan Philhour.
May 12, 2016 Editorial: Wiener for state Senate
San Francisco voters, along with those in some northern San Mateo County cities, have an opportunity to send a qualified gay man to Sacramento in Scott Wiener, who's seeking to replace a fellow gay man, Mark Leno, in the District 11 state Senate seat. We endorse Wiener in this race, as he's the one candidate who's able to hit the ground running on numerous state and regional issues. During his time on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Wiener has been one of the hardest working members, taking on issues other supervisors don't want to handle or forging his own legislative agenda, with an emphasis on housing and transportation, both of which are critical to San Francisco's – and the Bay Area's – future success.
If elected, Wiener promises to bring that same tenacity to the Capitol.
It's important to know that once Wiener sets his mind on something, he pushes until he succeeds, or often tries again if he doesn't. When his ballot measure for a tax on sugary beverages fell short of the two-thirds vote it needed to pass in 2014, Wiener and Supervisors Malia Cohen and Eric Mar came back with another approach: an ordinance requiring health warnings on posted soda ads in San Francisco. It passed but is being challenged in court. When a bunch of nudists took over Jane Warner Plaza a few years back, Wiener first tried legislation that required a towel to be placed on the seats nudists used. When that didn't work, he passed legislation to ban public nudity in the city, with the exceptions of some street fairs and festivals, like the San Francisco LGBT Pride parade.
That's the kind of attitude we need in Sacramento. For years, lawmakers like Leno and gay former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano have tried to pass reforms to the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to get out of the rental business by evicting tenants. Neither was successful, unfortunately. Now, with affordable housing becoming an issue statewide, the time may be right for Wiener to push through reforms. "I'm not a fan of the Ellis Act," Wiener told us during an editorial board meeting, adding that it was "sold at the time" as a benefit for small property owners. "It's gone well beyond that," he said.
But there are other housing needs too, and Wiener said the state has a broader role to play in affordability issues. He favors stronger incentives to add more housing and affordable housing and noted that the state "is really the only one that can create those incentives."
On transportation, Wiener has been a leader for years. He serves as chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's regional transit body, and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation district's board. He's a supporter of high speed rail and told us it should start in the Bay Area, where there aren't alignment issues like in Los Angeles. As an advocate of regional investments, Wiener would work well with the Bay Area's legislative delegation to help secure critical state and federal funding for BART improvements and other key projects, like extending high speed rail to Caltrain.
On health issues, he would like to expand San Francisco's Getting to Zero HIV prevention plan statewide. A component of the plan is getting more people on PrEP, the once-a-day pill that's been shown to prevent HIV; Wiener himself began taking PrEP in 2014. He'd also like to work on HIV decriminalization laws (they have been put on the back burner in recent years, he said, and he'd like to get them "back on the middle burner").
Wiener has proved during his five years on the Board of Supervisors that he can get legislation passed – one of the latest and most important was an expanded parental leave law that Mayor Ed Lee recently signed. We are confident he will bring that same work ethic to Sacramento. He's the right candidate to replace Leno, who has endorsed him. San Francisco has a history of sending exceptionally qualified people to the state Legislature. Wiener would continue that trend, and more importantly, he'll be able to effectively work with his colleagues to develop more regional approaches to some of the Bay Area's biggest issues.
Wiener and his main opponent, Supervisor Jane Kim, are both expected to advance to the November general election after the June 7 primary, so we will see more campaigning in the months to come. But make no mistake, for LGBT voters, Wiener is the top choice and we endorse him for state Senate.
May 12, 2016 Editorial: Yes on all ballot measures
Proposition A: Public Health and Safety Bond. Yes. This measure authorizes general obligation bonds in the amount of $350 million. The funds are to be used for necessary public health and safety measures including seismic stability for San Francisco General Hospital (Building 5), as well as repairs and upgrades at neighborhood fire stations and health clinics. Twenty million dollars is provided for homeless sites and services. Prop A requires approval by two-thirds of the votes cast. It will not require an increase in taxes, as it will be funded by the retirement of previous bonds now retired. Vote Yes on Prop A.
Proposition B: Charter Amendment: Park, Rec and Open Space Fund. Yes. Locals and visitors alike are proud and sometimes astonished by the mere size and amount of public parks and spaces in San Francisco. The crown jewel, Golden Gate Park, is 20 percent larger than its famed counterpart, Central Park in New York. But much of the parklands are on life support, seriously underfunded and surviving from crisis to crisis. Necessary infrastructure is back-burnered while individual brush fires are put out (pun intended). A park fund set aside was created in 2000 that was intended to improve the situation. It expires in 2030. But when the great recession hit in 2008 and severely impacted city revenue, park funding through the city budget was slashed. This measure will restore the share of the general fund share that preceded the recession and will extend the park fund for an additional 15 years until 2045. We are normally hesitant is support set-asides and prefer the normal budget process to address shortfalls as they arise. But the shortfalls are not being adequately addressed through the budget process and the parks and open spaces are too important to its residents and visitors to permit any further deterioration. We support this set aside. Vote Yes on Prop B.
Proposition C: Charter Amendment: Affordable Housing Requirements. Yes. Current city law mandates at least 12 percent affordable housing in any new residential development. This measure removes the 12 percent mandate in current law and substitutes a goal of 25 percent affordable units. It provides for a case-by-case review by the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors. If the review process reveals that the 25 percent goal is not attainable due to economic restraints, then the Board of Supervisors has the authority to set a different affordable housing requirement that economically permits the development of new housing to go forward. This will bring flexibility to the process and encourage the maximum amount of affordable housing. Vote Yes on Prop C.
Proposition D: Initiative Ordinance: Office of Citizen Complaint Investigations. Yes. San Francisco has fully joined the national discussion on racial bias and police misconduct, particularly following the shooting of Mario Woods on December 2. And unlike many cities, San Francisco has encouraged a thorough review of police policies and procedures. The police commission has begun a review of the department's use-of-force policies, and, at the request of Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr, the U.S. Department of Justice's community policing unit has launched a review of the police department. This measure would mandate a review of all officer-involved shootings resulting in death or injury, even in the absence of a citizen's complaint. The current structure of the OCC requires a complaint before an investigation can be opened. Many people do not know that they need to file a complaint or what the process is. This measure is a necessary reform step in trying to build confidence in the SFPD and making the process more transparent. Vote Yes on Prop D.
Proposition E: Initiative Ordinance: Paid Sick Leave. Yes. Currently paid sick leave for employees is governed by two different sets of laws: city and state. Often state law provides greater protection than city law. The purpose of this measure is to amend city law to include certain provisions that parallel or accommodate state law so that by complying with city law, the employer will also be in compliance with state law. The revisions called for do not reduce any existing protections under city law. Vote Yes on Prop E.
District Measure AA: San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution, and Habitat Restoration Program. Yes. This regional measure proposes a $12 a year parcel tax for 20 years to raise $25 million a year for clean water, pollution prevention, and habitat restoration projects in nine Bay Area counties. It will generate some $500 million over its 20-year term that will be used to leverage funding from state, federal, and philanthropic sources. It requires two-thirds of all votes cast. It would generate funds to restore bay wetlands and shelter bay communities from flooding and storm surge. Preservation of our San Francisco Bay should be a top priority for all of us who are fortunate to live in this beautiful corner of the world. Vote Yes on Measure AA.
State Proposition 50: Suspension of Legislators. Yes. If a member of the state Legislature is suspended by a two-thirds vote of the body's membership for misconduct (think Leland Yee), s/he continues to receive pay and benefits and may also vote on laws or perform other legislative actions. This state proposition would permit the legislative body (either the Senate or the Assembly) to suspend the pay and benefits of the legislator for all or a part of the suspension. This proposition also prohibits a suspended legislator from voting on proposed laws or otherwise taking actions as a legislator during the period of the suspension. While its critics worry that it could be used by a majority party to deny due process, on balance it is a common sense political reform measure. Vote Yes on State Proposition 50.