In 1962, only 2.63 percent of California votes were cast by mail. That percentage has grown almost every election since then, reaching more than 60 percent in 2014, before dropping a few points in 2016. That means that by the time you read this, most of you will have already cast your ballots for the June 5 election. Now you’re just sitting back and waiting to see if the rest of the voters were wise enough to agree with you.
At stake in this issue is a range of offices and ballot measures, but some decisions made by the electorate could be short-lived or could lead to reruns in future elections.
At the top of many San Francisco voters’ minds is likely the race for mayor. The soap opera tale of the city’s executive office over the past six months has enough drama to make Aaron Sorkin feel like he’s run out of ideas. First, longtime Mayor Ed Lee died unexpectedly in December while shopping at a Safeway. He was automatically replaced by London Breed, District 5 supervisor and president of the Board of Supervisors. But the board had more to say about the matter, as the left wing of the board cobbled together enough votes to remove Breed as mayor in late January and replace her with District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who would serve until he is succeeded by the winner of the June 5 poll and who is not running in this election.
“I wholly reject the notion of a ‘caretaker mayor,”’ Farrell told the Marina Times in March of this year. He certainly hasn’t governed as a caretaker. Instead, he has aggressively moved to address longstanding pain points such as crime and filthy streets (see News Briefs, page 3). That could be a matter of what he would do no matter what in this position; he has long supported increased police staffing and he was addressing homelessness long before it became a major topic among other local politicos. But in April, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Farrell and a team of political advisors “frequently convenes” at off-site locations, presumably planning a political future despite Farrell’s protestations that he doesn’t have political plans.
Whoever wins in June and takes the mayor’s seat from Farrell has only a year and a half before facing another vote; he or she will simply be filling out the rest of Lee’s second full term.
The leading candidates are Breed, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, former supervisor and former state Senator Mark Leno, and former District 2 Supervisor Angela Alioto.
In many parts of the country, the distance between San Francisco moderates and leftists is a distinction without a difference. The race also includes a Republican (Richie Greenberg) and a social worker (Ellen Lee Zhou) who echoes a number of Greenberg’s positions, but they and a couple more candidates do not have a chance. Alioto, on the other hand, is the candidate in the top four most willing to touch the third rail of local politics, criticizing the sanctuary city policy she helped create but that she says has been twisted to protect dangerous felons.
Of the remaining top three, Breed carries the banner for the so-called moderates and Leno and Kim do the same for the so-called progressives. On the retail level, the battle includes charges of racism; Breed supporters made that claim against the supervisors who voted her out of the mayor’s office, and Jane Kim had foul, racist words shouted at her during a recent candidate forum, something that was condemned by both Kim and by Breed — whose supporters were believed to be behind the action.
But what will carry the day on June 5? It won’t be the street theater; it won’t be hyperbole about rich campaign backers, which all candidates have. What might tip the balance is ranked-choice voting, in which voters indicate their second and third choices in case their first choice does not win. Leno and Kim have teamed up to suggest if you’re a progressive, vote for them as the 1–2 choices, in whichever order floats your boat. Breed tends to lead in the polls, but not by a significant margin. The final victory might depend on who Breed supporters select as their second choices. My prediction? Mark Leno has avoided much of the animus Kim has attracted, and he’s establishment enough to be a comfortable second choice. If it’s not Breed, it’s likely Leno.
If it’s neither, then you learned a sobering lesson about betting based on a newspaper article.
THE BALLOT MEASURES
Local voters will be asked to vote on two charter amendments. One would issue revenue bonds for power facilities to produce “clean power”; the other would force appointed members of boards and commissions out of office if they declare their candidacy for state or local elective office.
The more interesting measures involve broader matters. Proposition C would use new taxes levied on commercial rents to fund childcare and education, and Proposition D would use new taxes levied on commercial rents to pay for housing and homelessness services. When voters are asked to decide on conflicting or confusing measures, they often vote no on all of them. That’s their way of telling the politicos to come back again in a future election with clearer propositions.
Proposition E is familiar to anyone who has shopped at a small grocer or corner store lately, because prominently displayed in many retail windows is a sign to “Stop the Prohibition Proposition.” The measure would prohibit the sale and distribution of flavored tobacco and related products.
Proposition F would provide taxpayer-funded lawyers for any residential tenant facing eviction in the city. Coming on the heels of a wave of reported eviction abuses, Proposition F could run into trouble as taxpayers would also be funding lawyers for legitimate evictions, further raising the cost of renting in the city and dissuading potential landlords from taking advantage of city encouragement to rent in-law units.
Proposition G would add a parcel tax in the city to increase the pay of educators.
Proposition H is a bit of a confusing proposition about arming San Francisco police officers with “conductive energy devices” (popularly known as Tasers). The problem is that the city already has a policy allowing Taser use; critics of this proposition say it has more to do with giving the police union control over the deployment rules for the devices. Police Chief Bill Scott, police-friendly Mayor Farrell, and supervisors ranging from Breed to Peskin all oppose the proposition. It is supported by the president of the S.F. Police Officers Association, the city’s Republican Party, State Senator Scott Wiener, and others. Good luck to voters figuring out what they want.
The final local measure is Proposition I, a quixotic declaration that the city won’t try to steal sports teams from other cities. The official writeup for the measure both expresses sadness about the loss of the 49ers and says the authors of the measure “regret and apologize” for San Francisco’s nabbing the Warriors from the East Bay. After the election, we are looking forward to someone doing a survey of whether football fans voted differently than basketball fans.
And last but not least, there is also Regional Measure 3, which would increase the Bay Bridge toll up to $9 and six other bridges to $8, with the money targeted for various transportation improvements.
Statewide races include the primary elections for governor, U.S. senator, and a raft of other positions, including secretary of state, controller, and treasurer. Of those, the governor and senator races are the most closely watched.
Current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has led almost every poll for governor, though not always by a commanding lead — there are still lots of undecided voters — and he is extremely likely to be one of the top two candidates to head into the November general election. The second, third, and fourth places in the gubernatorial race keep fluctuating depending on the poll you consult, but at this point second-place is a race between former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, and Republican businessman John Cox, who received President Trump’s endorsement. Some observers believe that Villaraigosa would have a better chance against Newsom than Cox. Conservative policy expert Carson Bruno (formerly of Hoover Institution and now with Pepperdine University) has said that if Cox got one of the top-two slots, the race would be all but over, giving Newsom an easy ride to victory in this heavily Democratic state; but if the general election were a Democrat-on-Democrat battle between Newsom and Villaraigosa, either might win and it would also force a real debate on policy differences between the two.
You are not likely to see a tough policy debate in the race for Senate, where incumbent Dianne Feinstein is rolling along pretty smoothly to expected reelection. Fellow Democrat Kevin de León might well finish in the top two, but he presents no real obstacle to Feinstein.
On the statewide proposition front, voters are being asked to authorize bonds for parks and natural resources protection (Proposition 68); restrict certain transportation revenues to transportation spending (Proposition 69); force a supermajority vote in the legislature for tapping the cap-and-trade reserve fund (Proposition 70); require successful ballot measures to take effect within five days of certified victory (Proposition 71); and, to use the official state voter guide words, permit the “legislature to exclude newly constructed rain-capture systems from property-tax reassessment requirement” (Proposition 72); which tells you how much voters are being asked to micromanage the state’s governance.
HOW AND WHEN TO VOTE
By the time you read this, advance voting by mail and in-person will have been taking place for weeks. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked on or before June 5 and be received by San Francisco’s elections department by June 8. You can vote at City Hall before election day Monday–Friday through June 4, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; on June 5, you can vote there from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You can learn more about where to vote and details about the candidates and ballot measures at sfgov.org/elections.