On Oct. 15, a group of women donning burgundy sweaters guided students into University Club’s main dining hall at 6 p.m. for an informational party. These women belong to the non-greek sisterhood Wadada Wa Rengi Wengi (WRW), a social justice-focused organization. The objective of the evening was to give an overview of the 11 propositions on the midterm ballot, weigh the pros and cons of a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ vote on each proposition and ultimately allow the students to make their own informed decisions.
“It’s really hard to do your own research sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone help guide you through it,” Emilia Rivera ‘20 said.
The event was led by Professor of Political Science Renée Van Vechten, who stated that her goal was to summarize the for and against arguments of each proposition, not to advocate for any position. To further assist voters, Professor Van Vechten pointed students to the official government voter’s guide, where voters can find an explanation for what a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote means for each proposition, as well as arguments for and against each proposition—mostly created by lobbyists.
Professor Van Vechten began explaining that the process of voting on propositions is called direct democracy. Separate from a presidential election whereby delegates are the final determining factor of the outcome, the total vote of each individual is the only factor that determines whether or not a proposition is passed.
“We might as well call ourselves a ‘hybrid’ government,” Professor Van Vechten said. “Because we have the power to make laws—that is, we the people—as well as the state legislature … We’re one of about half of the states that allow that, but ours is really permissive. So we get a lot of these things on the ballot every time there’s an election rolling around.”
Once Professor Van Vechten finished her brief introduction, much of the first half hour was spent discussing the first four propositions, all relating to the spending of general obligation bonds. For those unaware, Professor Van Vechten gave the following description:
“Basically what that means is that the state of California is going to say … ‘We want you to loan us four billion dollars worth of bonds. We will pay them back over a certain number of years,’ … It’s basically a promise to pay back whoever loans you the money. It’s a bonded loan essentially.”
Combined with interest, bonds like the one described in Prop 1— which would be spent on programs that would fund veterans and affordable housing—would obligate the people of the state of California would pay back (via taxes) almost double the face value of the bond over a 35 year period.
“So figure two people per-household, four people per-household, at a minimum [Prop 1] will help about 55 thousand people,” Professor Van Vechten said. “But we’re talking maybe it could help a couple hundred thousand people with housing.”
Professor Van Vechten argued students should pay close attention to Prop 1 because it attempts to address, though very half-heartedly, the housing crisis which college students are poised to confront upon graduation. By 2025, Professor Van Vechten stated that California would need three and a half million more houses in the state in order to keep housing affordable for residents.
The first four propositions on the ballot offer bonds to fund a number of things besides affordable housing. Prop 2, for instance, suggests that existing county mental health bonds be spent on housing for individuals with mental illnesses—repurposing money accumulated from taxes to be spent on the treatment rather than the housing of the mentally ill.
Prop 3 is a nine billion dollar bond (roughly 17 billion with interest) that would be spent on the repair of waterways, filtering of groundwater, and maintenance of water infrastructure to avoid spending another billion dollars rebuilding dams like Oroville. However, Junior Santiago Rodriguez brought up grievances over this proposition from the League of Women Voters, who worry about a lack of “adequate project oversight and financial accountability.”
Prop 4 would provide bonds funding construction at non-profit, UC, and private hospitals providing children health care. Rivera clarified that “construction” encompasses renovation, new offices/rooms, and new technology. Here, Van Vechten took a firm position.
“This is kind of a hard one to not vote for,” Professor Van Vechten said. “Why? Because it’s for kids! I mean who doesn’t want to help kids right?”
However, she made clear that one grievance is that roughly $250,00 of the bond would go to private hospitals, which some would argue would need the money less than non-profit or UC hospitals.
After the four bond-related propositions, several others captured the interest of Bulldogs in attendance. Prop 6, for example, proposes to remove the gas tax currently in place to fund the infrastructure of roads. Despite this tax, the state of California has an infrastructure grade of C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers, meaning that the current funds from taxes are not enough to maintain quality roads. In opposition to the proposition, one student voiced concerns about the dangers of damaged roadways.
“I think it’s worth [keeping the tax so] that people aren’t literally dying from failed infrastructure,” sophomore Christian Ortiz said.
Poor roadway conditions result in more traffic-related deaths in the United States, but Professor Van Vechten reminded students that it will most harm low-income car drivers who have to commute long distances.
“We already have really high living expenses here in California,” Professor Van Vechten said. “It costs a lot more [in California than most other states] to fill up gas tanks.”
Students also raised concerns about Prop 10, which expands local governments’ authority to enact rent control on residential property. One student explained that their parents who rent out their home worries that they would be unable to pay for rising mortgage. On the other hand, Professor Van Vechten explained that because of the lack of rent control, her own sister’s rent for her single room in a Santa Monica home has gone up 71 percent in the last year and a half.
“We don’t want vulnerable people to be at the mercy of landlords who could raise the rents,” Professor Van Vechten said. “On the other hand, you’ve got people who own property who don’t want to be told ‘you’ve got to do it this way’ because it may not match what they’re actually paying. Then they don’t have any actual incentive to rent it out.”
Once Professor Van Vechten had given an overview of each proposition, the event ended with snacks and an information questioning session in which students could approach her one-on-one.
On Oct. 23, Professor Van Vechten also took over the University of Redlands Twitter account to field questions from students about the upcoming election.
“Your vote will count,” Professor Van Vechten wrote from the Twitter account. “Read the voter guide and arguments. Consult nonpartisan sources like the League of Women Voters. Ask questions. And you don’t have to vote on every person or initiative if you aren’t swayed.”
Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Alex Laner.
Correction was run to remedy the sweaters being purple to their actual color burgundy.