Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A civic duty

John Stossel, my oldest child's hero, has a new article arguing that it is some people's civic duty not to vote; because they haven't a clue what is actually going on. As you can guess, he took a lot of flack for taking such a position.

Of course, what people really have is a civic duty to inform themselves. It's not hard these days. But if you haven't bothered, then I guess I would have to agree with Mr. Stossel: stay home next Tuesday, don't send in your early ballot. You can try again in 2 years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Voting for judges

This article proposes willful sabotage of the current system of voting for judges, not by doing anything illegal or unethical, but by intentionally underming it. Do not read on if such an approach does not appeal to you.

In Arizona, we vote every 2 years on the sitting judges in the District and county courts. The vote is a straight up-or-down vote. They run unopposed, and presumably are replaced when voted out. I do not remember having such an opportunity in the 12 or so years I have lived here, but there may have been one or two.

On my ballot (which I just filled out today) there were at least 60 judges. Now, I consider myself a conscientious citizen, so I went to the trouble to find the performance reviews on the state site (you can find them here). For each judge, we given a review by a panel of 30, along with comments on the jurist by the lawyers and jurors who have worked with them.

All of this gives the impression of a lot of information, but is it? Let's examine the three sources. First, we know nothing of the biases, motivations (and in the case of the 18 citizens, qualifications) of the 30 members of the review panel. If they vote against a particular judge, was it because they were really incapable, or was it because they did not like how the judge ruled in some particular case. John Grisham has made me paranoid of the hidden workings of our judicial process. Second, how many of us really trust the opinions of the lawyers who appeared before these judges? Lawyers do their thing to win, and their judgment of a judge is likely to be colored more by past and pending cases than by any objective sense of the judge's qualifications. Finally, we are given the opinions of those who sat on juries in cases where the judge presided. Not to be too cynical, but you know the only people who serve on juries are those people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty. I know it's not exactly that, and I myself would love to serve some day, but the stress that this would place on my life means that my goal, at least for now, is to not serve. Further, what basis do we have for expecting that the jurors' opinion is anything more sophisticated than a personal like or dislike?

In the end, there may be a great deal of data, but very little information in these judicial review packets.

Is there a better way to select judges? I don't know. None comes to mind. But in the meantime, I am devoted to sabotaging the current system by voting NO on every judge on the ballot. I have done so in the last 3 elections, and will continune doing so into the forseeable future. I invite you to join me. Let's get rid of the current system, and make them devise another. It may not be better, but I doubt it will be worse.

Term limits do come to mind...

Arizona Proposition 300 - NO

Prop 300 is a pay raise for Arizona legislators.

I am not always against such pay raises. In general, I believe that not paying a legislature guarantees that only the wealthy can serve, because of the time involved. But as several of the comments in the Secretary of State booklet point out, the only real job given to the Arizona legislature by the constitution is the passing of a budget. This is technically true, and if you have read my initial comment on this subject, you know that I am not a big fan of the way that they have used the initiative process to avoid making politically difficult decisions.

Of course, we do get what we pay for, but it has been a long time since I felt we even got that from this group.

I recommend voting NO on 300.

Arizona Proposition 202 - NO

Prop 202 is a promoted as an initiative for further cracking down on the hiring of illegals by increasing penalties for identify theft (the means many illegals use to obtain jobs) and by revoking the licenses of business that knowingly or intentionally hire illegals. These are laudable goals, but the initiative is so convoluted, and makes so many changes, that at a minimum the law of unintended consequences should warn us about voting for it.

But there are more serious issues with prop 202 than that. First, it overturns Arizona's E-Verify program, which by all reports has been very effective in reducing the number of illegals even looking for a job. Why would the writers of this proposition seek to eliminate such an effective program. Second, the new penalties proposed only apply to businesses which are licensed by the state. My fear is that, in an effort to increase the reach of this law, the state would expand the definition of "licensed" further eroding our liberties. Finally, the law requires that the state wait to act until the Federal government has itself acted. But isn't that what we are complaining about - that the Federal government is not acting?

Taken together, these issues cause me to have no problem at all recommending that you vote NO on 202.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arizona Proposition 201 - NO

Prop 201 calls itself the "Homeowner's Bill of Rights."

Rather than include an outline of its content, I will make my recommendation right up front. Vote AGAINST 201. The proposition forbids home builders from recovering attorney's fees from buyers who sue them. This removes all incentive to mediate or find a mutually acceptable resolution to a dispute over flaws in a new home. If this proposition passes, lawyers will troll new neighborhoods looking for clients to sue the home builder over the smallest of flaws. No risk to the purchaser, but a massive risk (read cost increase) for the builder.

I am for massive lawsuit reform, including loser-pays. This is the very opposite.

I recommend voting NO on 201.

Arizona Proposition 200 - NO

Prop 200 is a massive re-write of the laws that regulate the deferred-presentment industry, also known as "payday loans."

The proposition actually does 2 things: first, it extends the law that permits payday loan businesses in Arizona. Currently, the law that regulates this industry is set to expire in 2010, at which time it would be illegal to operate a payday loan business. Secondly, the proposition adds significant new regulations to the system.

The gist of the regulations is to make these businesses less profitable and to make the loans more difficult to obtain. Such a policy has great appeal - the people who generally need these loans tend to be at the margins of society, and the costs of these loans can appear excessive (at much as a 400% interest rate, depending on how you calculate it).

However, I am passionately against this proposition, not because I would like to see the end of payday loan businesses, but because I believe that this law would reduce the options for the many people who already have few options. Let me give one example. The law would reduce the fees that these stores can charge to a level below what banks can charge for returned checks. This seems compassionate. But fees reflect the risk that a business assumes in a transaction. If you reduce the fee, then it becomes riskier to provide the service, and there will be fewer options. I despise predatory lending, and want the best for those people who do not have access to the funds they need to meet their obligations; but reducing the number of options they have does not help them. If there is a market for lower-cost payday loans, then eventually someone will come in and fill that need. I assume, absent evidence to the contrary, that the fees charged by this industry reflect actual risks.

The state legislature should simply extend the authorization for these businesses, then have hearings to understand specific issues surrounding them, adding reforms as needed. A massive re-structuring like 200 is likely to do more harm than good.

I recommend voting NO on 200.

Arizona Proposition 105 - NO

Prop 105 would require that any tax or spending-increase ballot proposition be passed, not by a majority of the votes cast, but by receiving a number of votes exceeding 1/2 the number of registered voters.

The libertarian in me loves the thought of this. All the arguments against note that this would make it effectively impossible for such an initiative to pass. I cannot imagine a tax proposition that I would want to pass, and this prop would reduce the number of propositions on the ballot.

However, to be consistent, I need to note that I am in general against ballot propositions because of the law of unintended consequences. While voting for this might reduce the number of overall propositions, I cannot in good conscience recommend voting for this proposition. I am against real, current propositions, not potential future propositions.

I recommend voting NO on 105.

Arizona Proposition 102 - YES

Prop 102 would amend the Arizona constitution to define marriage solely as the union between one man and one woman.

A similar proposition was on the ballot 2 years ago, prop 107, and was voted down. At that time, I went back-and-forth on the issue, ultimately voting against it (in spite of what I indicated in my blog). My reason for this was described in this post.

I am going to vote for this amendment. My primary concern with 107 was the exclusion of benefits for homosexual partners. I believed then, and believe now, that it is wrong to write that language into law. With that gone, I believe that it is reasonable to offer the population the option of specifying the "sense of the people" on what marriage means.

This amendment will not limit the rights of homosexuals in this state. They can still be in relationship, find companies that will allow them to share benefits, and press for clarification of how assets can be shared.

I still believe that the best, ultimate solution to the issue of gay rights is for the government to simplify the tax code, allowing individuals more say in what they do with their money. Such a change would eliminate nearly all of the issues that are supposedly at the core of this question. But I do not expect that to happen any time soon.

I recommend voting YES on 102.

Arizona Proposition 101 - NO

Prop 101 prohibits any government in Arizona from passing laws that criminalize health insurance decisions. Like nearly everything having to do with health insurance, the comments about the initiative confuse health insurance and health care. Be aware, this proposition speaks only about health insurance, it says nothing about obtaining health care.

The arguments against Prop 101 are all focused on the fact that this proposition would prevent the state from creating a mandatory state-wide health care plan. There is also an argument that future government decisions shouldn't be restricted in this way.

Let's take the second issue first. It is the nature of constitutional amendments to restrict the governments actions. You may disagree with any particular amendment, but no one who believes in the governmental approach of the United States can be against the concept of amending the constitution, although obvious care must be taken in this process (which is why I am against using the initiative process to amend the constitution in general).

Which leads to the first issue. I am against, as a matter of principal, the very notion of government-mandated health insurance program. Such programs are failing around the world, and I do not believe that the government has the solution. I believe that some regulation, along with an increase in the options people have, and a decrease in the tax regulations around health insurance, has a great chance of making real in-roads in increasing the availability of affordable health care for most people.

All that being said, I do not know if this proposition is a good idea. Again, I am hesitant to make changes to the constitution in the absence of a crisis. Since I do not see a crisis, I am inclined to vote NO on 101, although I can understand why someone else may vote for it.

Arizona Proposition 100 - YES

Prop 100 prohibits any state or local government from enacting a tax on the sale or transfer of real estate.

The principal argument against the proposition is that it would be irresponsible to exclude any form of potential income when the economy may be slowing down.

I reject any such argument. The truth is, we the people should put as many restrictions on the sources of income our beloved government has access to. The money belongs to those who have it, that is one of the truths that has made America great.

I recommend voting YES on 100.

The Arizona Ballot Initiatives

I am in the process of reviewing the various ballot propositions, and decided I should use my blog (which I neglect far too often) to spell out my thoughts. I will be posting over the next day or so my thoughts on the various initiatives.

But I gotta say that I find the whole thing so indicative of the failure of leadership in our country. We have so many ballot initiatives in part because our legislature refuses to make hard decisions. They leave it to the initiative process, where good information is nearly impossible to find. See my post from 2 years ago

If you are an Arizona voter and want more information, here are 2 very good resources:

Center for Arizona Policy
Arizona Secretary of State