Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Jessica Levinson sits in for Ian Masters: Political Reform in California"

In case you missed it, here is a link to the radio show I guest hosted on KPFK. I had a great time discussing political reform issues with Ann Ravel, Chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause, and Torey Van Oot, reporter for the Sacramento Bee

Monday, January 14, 2013

Should We Just Let Doctors and Legislators Do Their Jobs?

Having just recovered from a nasty bout of the flu, I have spent altogether too much time watching television, and thanks to the wonders of TIVO, a type of television I rarely watch otherwise: commercials. I learned some important lessons as a result of this experience. Apparently I would be happier, healthier, and far more productive if I simply started taking more prescription medication. Many of these medications have potentially terrifying side-effects, but I assume that there must be other medications for those as well. In sum, all I need to do is to ask my doctor, and then I will quickly be on the road to being a happier, healthier me.

This kind of patient-consumer choice about my medical care got me thinking about our political representatives. If pharmaceutical companies are to suggesting that I ask (and presumably to forcefully ask) my health care professional about my need for various prescription drugs, then what is to prevent me from directing my government representatives about my need for various programs, services, and tax increases?

In both cases am I simply being a smart consumer? An informed advocate for myself?

In the case of medical care I am a firm believer in asking questions, educating yourself, and being your own advocate. Should the same be true in the case of political representation? It's my representative's job to make decisions for the public good, and they often use my money (in the form of taxes and fees) to do that. It seems the same set of directives -- to inquire, educate, and advocate -- would also be useful to employ in the political arena.

But in both cases the patient or constituent may want to recognize that at a certain point it is beneficial for all involved to respect the expertise of the health care provider or political representative. We shouldn't try to bully doctors into giving us prescriptions for medications we don't need simply because the people on the commercials just look so darn happy. Similarly, we should let our representatives do their jobs, acknowledging that their job is to legislate for the best interests of their constituents, and our job is to advocate for our best interests and determine whether or not they have done so effectively. And in general we certainly shouldn't bypass our representatives, enacting legislation through the initiative process (legislation which we think will make us happier, but too often has unintended side effects). Sometimes the solution is worse than the ailment.

As patients and constituents we must always balance the need to be alert and informed with the need to allow those with expertise to do their jobs.

Finish reading this post on

Will Pot Shops Be Legal in Los Angeles?

Welcome to Los Angeles where pot shops are legal, maybe, or used to be, or might be in the future. In the past the City of Angels has tried, and seemingly failed, to regular or prohibit pot shops. The City Council banned pot dispensaries, but then lifted the ban. There are approximately 700 to 1,000 pot shops in the City.

Because this is Los Angeles, it looks like the voters will weigh in. But because it is Los Angeles they might not. Welcome to local politics.

Thus far the City Council has failed to put forward specific plans. Two groups, both medical marijuana advocates, are proposing competing ballot initiatives. One measure would allow people who have passed a background check to sell medical marijuana and would increase taxes on medical marijuana by approximately 20%. The increased tax revenue would like pay for the increased cost of regulation, and is also the reason the measure must go to a vote of the people. Owners and operators of those businesses would also have to abide by other requirements, such limited operating hours as zoning laws. Proponents of the measure contend that because of the zoning requirements, which would keep pot shops away from schools and parks, the number of pot shops in the city would be about 150.

The other measure would allow only those pot shops that were open before September 2007, when the City imposed a ban on new shops, to stay in business. That would mean about 100 pot shops would be allowed to operate in the City. Because this measure does not include a tax increase, it may not be put to a vote of the people.

Law makers and enforces in Los Angeles still have to contend with competing state and federal laws. Under state law it is legal to possess medical marijuana and for pot shops to sell it. However, under federal law it is still illegal to possess and sell marijuana.

It will be interesting to see how much of an issue this topic becomes as the race to become the next mayor of Los Angeles heats up.

Finish reading this post on

Will Money Matter in the Los Angeles Mayoral Race?

Depending on who you believe, there are five top tier candidates vying to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Two are women. One of those women is African American. Four are Democrats; one is a Republican.
Running for the highest elected office in the City of Angels is not an inexpensive undertaking. The question is how much fundraising and spending will matter. Certainly money helps candidates get their message out to the voters. This is why the Supreme Court has long equated money with speech.

But beyond the opportunity to reach the voters, does spending beyond a certain point sway the voters? There may, however, be a tipping point, or a saturation level at which more increased spending on political advertisements does not equal an increase in support. In addition, it may matter whether a candidate is spending her own funds, or the funds of contributors. In other words, candidates who have raised money from others may have a base of support, even if that base is only comprised of people who can and want to give money to political candidates.

A second question relates to how much weight the voters give to outside spending. Spending by so-called independent groups can fill a candidate's fundraising gap. But do the voters listen to political communications by candidates more than they do to communications by outside groups? Or do voters not differentiate?

Thus far in the current mayor race those two questions are at play. Republican Kevin James, who has never held public office, spent more than any other mayor candidate in the fourth quarter of 2012. However, he raised much, much less than the top tier candidates. James raised slightly more than $42,000. City Controller Wendy Greuel raised $672,230, and City Councilman Eric Garcetti raised $727,503 during that period.

James does have the support of an independent committee, which thanks to recent court decisions can raise and spend unlimited sums. This spending could play a key role in James' bid for mayor, even though legally he is not allowed to direct that outside spending. The group may run negative advertisements against the other contenders.

Finish reading this post on