JERALD ROBERT GERST, MD, MPH

Who am I?

Son of an Iowa farm family, I went to Harvard on scholarship and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, followed by Medical School at UC Davis on a Regents Scholarship. While still in medical school, I also obtained a Master of Public Health degree in Health Planning and Administration from UC Berkeley.  I served a total of four years in the US Public Health Service, including internship, residency, and a year detailed to the US Coast Guard, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. I have spent the past three decades caring for mostly working folks, first in Emergency Medicine and then in Occupational Medicine. For almost a third of this time I operated my own clinic, my own practice, which has given me an appreciation of the problems that business in general, but especially small businesses, confront. I consider myself a fiscal conservative, a social progressive, a civil libertarian, and a conservationist.

Why am I running for Governor?

I am hoping to stimulate debate about the possibilities of achieving universal health coverage in a way that does not drive business out of the state. In addition, I want to educate young people about how decisions being made right now will affect them and their families in the future, with the goal of increasing their involvement in the political process. I have three adult children, each of whom graduated from a UC campus. They want to stay in California; I want to help make that possible for them and their peers.

Harm is headed towards our children and grandchildren in the form of declining competitiveness in the global market, coupled with an already crushing (and still rising) load of public debt. By speaking out, with as much force and passion as I can, and with whatever eloquence I can muster, I hope to meet a parent’s responsibility of standing in harm’s way. I hope to educate young people about how the choices we make now will affect them in the future and motivate them to become engaged in the political process.

In addition, an opportunity was missed, shortly after the Recall, to couple Workers’ Compensation and other insurance reforms to universal health care coverage. That window of opportunity has not entirely closed, but it will require creativity and compromise to effect a deal at this point. My professional experience, coupled with my academic training, gives me a perspective which just may help define such a deal.

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What is the central premise of my campaign?

All of American society, but perhaps especially California, is afflicted by a breakdown in three understandings, or compacts, that are essential to the functioning of any society over time and have, especially, served to make the United States the greatest society in human history. The first, and most important, is the inter-generational compact, the willingness of one generation to make sacrifices in order to lay a foundation upon which the next generation can build. The second is the understanding between management and labor, business and the workforce, that discipline, motivation, and hard work will be equitably rewarded. The final compact is that between government and the governed, that hard-earned money collected in the form of taxes will be spent efficiently and effectively, in the best interests of society over time.

More on this central premise.

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WHAT ARE MY PRIORITIES ?

1) Balanced budgets—on time.

The course of action I am proposing will, I believe, probably require a constitutional amendment.
1) If, by April 1st, there is no budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Governor and the Legislature start forfeiting their salaries (and per diems). They start getting paid again whenever they finally agree on a budget. There is no retroactive recovery.
2) If, by May 1st, there is still no budget, the state’s fiscal Big Four (Treasurer, Controller, and heads of Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization) issue a joint statement, projecting revenues and fixed expenditures (interest on state bonds, etc.). If there is enough of a margin to accommodate the current budget, it remains in place as the budget for the upcoming year; if there is not, the current year’s budget is proportionally reduced to fit the projection. It becomes, and remains, the budget for the upcoming year until the Governor and the Legislature adopt a new budget. This will give department and agency heads two full months to develop action plans to cope.
3) My nickname for this is the “April Fools—May Day” plan.

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2) Universal health coverage, kept as cost-neutral to business as possible by combining it with a number of insurance reforms and consolidating the medical components of auto insurance, homeowner’s and renter’s insurance, and general liability insurance. Over a decade ago, when he ran for Governor, John Garamendi made a similar proposal; it was a good idea then, and it still is.

3) Funding necessary infrastructure spending with a balance of bonds and modest tax increases. Doing it with debt alone pushes the interest rates higher and unfairly burdens our descendants. Over a generation ago, Governor Pat Brown focused statewide infrastructure spending in three areas: the California Water Project, the freeway system, and higher education—the University of California and the CSUS systems. These expenditures laid the foundation of California’s prosperity, including world-leading technological development. Going beyond the incumbent’s proposals, the needs of today are similar, but slightly different: water conservation and reclamation, to make the best possible use of the water resources we have, mass transit, to unclog those same freeways, and, yet again, higher education, in order to keep California in the technological forefront. In order to maintain our prosperity, we cannot rely on making things cheaper. We must either make them better, or, ideally, make things that others want, but no one else can produce. Technological superiority, including and especially biotechnology, is the key that can continue to unlock a bright future for California.

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Contributions

The mission of this campaign is its message far more than its candidate. If you want to help spread this message, you can send contributions by check to:

Gerst for Governor
PO Box 2760
Rohnert Park, CA 94927

Volunteer

If you want to help get out this message email me with this information:
Your name, address, email address, and phone number(s).
Also include any experience or skills your have which may be appropriate to this campaign

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Watch this Site

Please continue to check this site; additions are coming and will include, among other things: a bit more about my background and motivation; more detailed positions on these and other issues; and Tales of the Sixties (a few stories about my youthful involvement, including what I experienced while delivering county caucus materials for the Freedom Democrats in Mississippi, what I saw as I was tear-gassed on the streets of Chicago, while wearing a three-piece suit and a press credential, and what it was like to help build the stage at Woodstock).

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More on the Central Premise of the Campaign

1) Inter-generational compact: This understanding began to unravel early in the 20th Century, with the migration of the rural population to small towns and cities, and the straining of family ties by distance. This process accelerated markedly after World War II, with the mass migration from both countryside and central cities to the suburbs.  Increasingly, the public sector, especially schools, lost support as the generation of the grandparents no longer had grandchildren attending schools in their own communities.  Increasingly, seniors began to insulate--and thereby isolate--themselves in age-restricted communities. The final blow, from which we are still reeling, came with the Vietnam War, which took inter-generation distrust and disaffection to a society-rending level. In my agenda, what the older generations provide is a willingness to tax themselves to fund part of the infrastructure (the public sector equivalent of saving and investing) instead of using their political power to do it all with bonds (the public sector equivalent of running up the credit cards and having the statements sent to one’s offspring). This benefits the young in two ways: first, part of the infrastructure is paid for now, rather than later; second, a willingness to tax ourselves for part of this will have a favorable impact on the bond raters, resulting in lower interest rates, a lower cost of borrowing the money.

2) The competitiveness of the global economy, the worldwide marketplace, is actually the major culprit here, not corporate greed. Businesses can hardly provide employment if their goods and services are not competitively priced. (I do not propose to have an easy solution for the overall problem; trying to insulate ourselves from the global economy, even if it were possible, is hardly advisable. Advancing prosperity worldwide is clearly the best way to advance peace.) However, I am absolutely convinced that universal health coverage will do more than anything else to maintain the morale of the workforce. If we can just work together to eliminate the risk that illness will wipe out everything for which a family has worked, its home, its savings, and its ability to fund the children’s education and the parents’ retirement, we will have gone a long way towards restoring a compact that is essential to maintaining productivity and, thereby, competitiveness.

3) Finally, in order to rebuild trust in itself, government must demonstrate that it is doing everything in its power to spend tax money wisely and well. During the latter part of the 90’s state government grew faster than the state’s population. There is no way that the public will accept even modest increases in taxes to fund infrastructure spending unless government, especially at the state level, gets serious about increasing efficiency and cutting costs. Once again, I have no simple solutions, no easy approaches, for tackling this problem. I do know that there have been a number of studies, produced with much fanfare, and then largely and quietly ignored, about how to do this. I would begin by taking them off the shelf, dusting them off, and re-examining them. I promise you that any set of proposals I advance will be motivated strictly by a desire to increase efficiency and/or effectiveness, rather than a desire to consolidate power in the Governor’s office.

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SPECIFIC PROPOSALS

Fiscal Responsibility

Before initiating modest tax increases, in order to take a more balanced approach to funding of infrastructure spending, it is necessary for whoever becomes governor to demonstrate a serious intent to reduce current state government spending. The heads of the various departments and agencies should be given a directive to develop action plans to develop and present, no later than March 1, 2007, plans to reduce the operational component of their budgets by 5% for the upcoming fiscal year, without significant loss of performance. (Actually, there is no reason the incumbent could not issue such a mandate at any time, for the fiscal year 2006-2007; there is no need to wait.) The following year, the mandate would be to reduce operational spending by 3-5%, with no more than a slight decrease in performance (to the extent that performance can be quantified, 1-2% would be acceptable). Businesses confronting projected declines in revenue take such actions routinely. The CEO of California, Inc. needs to start running it in a more business-like manner.

There have been a number of studies commissioned with the object of improving the efficiency of state government. They have been, to the best of my understanding, largely disregarded; before commissioning yet another study, these need to be re-examined. Any action undertaken should be solely on the basis of improving efficiency and/or effectiveness; reforms should not serve anyone’s hidden political agenda.

Any large organization tends to suffer from a spending disorder that, in a rather bizarre way, mirrors, in reverse, eating disorders. Instead of binge and purge, managers tend to hoard and splurge. That is, money is hoarded throughout most of the fiscal year, in order to be certain that the budget is not overspent; it is then splurged, generally in an inefficient manner, at the end of the fiscal year, in order that future budgets not be cut. There have been some efforts to curb this tendency; they need to be strengthened. Managers need to be rewarded for efficient operation, not penalized.

Before discussing tax increases, let us review one specific tax cut which I would propose as a condition for any increases. I would call for a phase-out, over a five-year period, of California personal income tax on the dividends of publicly-traded California corporations. The objective of this would be to create an incentive to keep California-based corporations in California, as well as to stimulate new investment in California. Closely-held corporations would, of course, be excluded, in order to avoid conversion of salaries to dividends. Furthermore, the corporations must have both their headquarters and a significant proportion of their operations in California. What constitutes “significant” is clearly open to negotiation and would depend upon economic analysis and projections of fiscal impact.

Finally, a definition of what I mean by “modest” tax increases: a 0.5 to 1% increase in the sales tax, a $0.10-15 per gallon increase in the gasoline (fuel) tax, a 5-10% surcharge on the personal income tax, and comparably-sized increases in tobacco and alcohol taxes. These would expire in five years, unless renewed by the Legislature. The increase in gasoline tax would go towards road repair and mass transit. These increases, while hardly negligible, are not onerous. Coupled with reductions in spending, they will help us to bear, here and now, our fair share of the infrastructure spending which is so necessary (and which, in many cases, is really deferred maintenance long overdue), rather than transferring the entire burden to the young.

Yes, I am aware that, in proposing tax increases, I am flouting conventional political wisdom. However, I am a physician, and, just like a physician, I have made my assessment and have recommended a specific treatment for what is the fiscal equivalent of cancer. If we do not act now, the burden of debt service and debt repayment will hang over California for a generation or more, crippling the ability of government, at both the state and local levels, to provide such essential services as police, fire, roads, and schools in the future. Taxing ourselves now, coupled with prudent, efficient infrastructure spending, is the public sector equivalent of saving and investing. Doing all of the funding with bonds is the public sector equivalent of running up the credit cards—and sending the statement to our children. Unfair! Foul! Time out!

I see myself as a fiscal conservative, a “save and invest” Democrat, not a “tax and spend” Democrat. I hope that California comes to realize that, not only is this the correct, conservative course of action, it is also the smart course. Until and unless we demonstrate the willingness to discipline ourselves in the form of increased taxes, those who rate bonds will not improve our rating, and we will be unable to lower the rate we pay. By demonstrating discipline, and lowering rates, we will actually save substantially; over time, we will recover a significant amount of these increased taxes in the form of reduced interest rates on our bonds.

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Universal Health Coverage

Although there are many Democrats who favor a “single payor” approach to health care financing, I am not one of them. As a civil libertarian, I am wary of channeling all the funds through government (however, federal statutes against employer-mandated coverage may necessitate the indirect approach taken by Massachusetts). “What government pays for, government controls” is a truism that should caution us. As a physician, I know the extent to which government, especially at the federal level, already controls much of how the health care system operates; I am loathe to give it total control. In any case, since so much of the funding of the health care system comes from the federal government, this type of approach is almost certainly unworkable at the state level.

What, then, am I proposing? I favor a “play or pay” approach in which employers either provide “basic” coverage for employees who work 20 hours or more per week, or pay into a fund to help provide such coverage. Employers would, of course, remain free to provide coverage above the basic level, as they are today. The state would define “basic,” and the definition, both in terms of services provided and co-pays and deductibles (yes, expect those; the cost otherwise would be prohibitive), would be adjusted over time, both in response to changes in standard of care and inflation. (Most families without a wage-earner working over 20 hours per week already qualify for Medicare, Medi-Cal, or both; the problem here, especially for Medi-Cal recipients) is accessibility to care. This is a very complex problem; its resolution will take coordination and cooperation between government and providers and is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, it will ultimately require some additional funding in order to improve the quality of providers willing to accept Medi-Cal; there is no getting around that aspect of the problem.)

An individual would look to the same provider to provide medical care for all problems, whether work-related or not, whether caused by automobile or other accidents. This is what is meant by “24 hour” coverage, originally proposed by John Garamendi over a decade ago, in his campaign for Governor. This would then permit extensive reforms in casualty insurance (Workers’ Comp, automobile, homeowners’, and general liability) resulting in substantial savings to both individuals and business.

With regard to Workers’ Compensation, my particular area of expertise, several major reforms will dramatically reduce its cost to employers. Universal coverage will permit the elimination of “future medical” coverage, an aspect of Workers’ Comp that is especially wasteful because it is speculative: setting aside money in the form of reserves for possible future treatment which often never occurs. It would also permit the redefinition of what is considered a work-related injury or illness. At present, almost any contribution of work to the causation of a problem permits it to be considered industrial; universal coverage would allow this to change to “preponderance” (more than half) of causation. The combination of these two reforms would go a very long way towards relieving the sense of unfairness that employers feel about the California Workers’ Comp system; it would contribute greatly to keeping jobs in California and attracting new employment.

There are other benefits to consolidating medical coverage and redefining what is, and what is not, work-related. Presently, industrial injuries take several times as long to resolve as diagnosis-matched non-industrial injuries. In other words, if one looks at a particular type of injury, the fact that it is being treated on a Workers' Comp basis means that it will take several times as long to resolve, at least in terms of getting people back to work. This difference is even more striking in light of the fact that employers frequently provide modified work for industrial injuries, but not for non-industrial ones. What causes the difference? The more cynical of observers may say that it is attributable to a conscious, deliberate effort to “milk the system.” While this certainly is a factor, my experience of the past two decades has taught me that it is not the only factor, and it is probably not even the predominate one. Workers’ Comp injuries do not occur in psychological vacuums; they are frequently in the context of stress, both at home and at work. The anger, frustration, and resentment that injured workers feel about other issues frequently become focused in their industrial injuries, preventing resolution by actually physically retarding healing. There is, indeed, a mind-body connection; in these circumstances, it works against everyone’s best interests. Creating a more clear dividing line between industrial and non-industrial injuries will, by no means, eliminate this tendency, but it is an essential starting-point.

There is flagrant waste and abuse related to medical treatment provided in the context of automobile accidents and other “personal injuries.” Consolidating medical treatment is an essential pre-requisite to reducing this. Treatment will be based upon what is most likely to resolve the injury and maximize physical recovery, rather than what is most likely to maximize financial “recovery.”

Serious consideration should be given towards limiting recovery for “pain and suffering,” a major driver of increased insurance costs. This has been done, for some time, in the case of medical malpractice insurance; had it not been done, California would have suffered greatly in terms of both availability and quality of physicians and surgeons. (The cap on “pain and suffering” awards in malpractice will probably need to be adjusted upward, to at least partially offset the erosion of inflation. My fellow physicians will not be thrilled by that proposal, but fair is fair. The trial lawyers will welcome that, but will be incensed by my proposal to extend it to all tort liability. Tough. It should be the long-term best interests of society that guide such decisions, not pressure from special interest groups. Appropriate and adequate health care for everyone is a clear, overriding good; doctors’ and personal injury lawyers’ interests simply have to take a back seat on the Universal Health Care bus.) At the very least, “pain and suffering” should, in no case, exceed actual economic loss attributable to decreased wages and increased expenses.

There are other aspects of this reform, such as the specific mechanisms for recovering and recycling back into the health care system the contributions of auto insurance and other casualty coverage, that are both negotiable and too complicated to admit of discussion here. However, one unintended, but predictable, consequence of decreasing the cost of Workers’ Comp insurance will be to lessen the financial incentive to employers to maintain safe workplaces. One way to help offset this would be to strengthen Cal-OSHA, both its consultative and enforcement arms. However, serious consideration should be given to consolidating the payment of all disability, whether SDI or Workers’ Comp, in a system that is jointly funded by employers and employees and that is experience-rated. This would create mutually reinforcing incentives for employers and employees to create and maintain safe work environments and to reduce loss of time from work from all causes.

The greatest financial concern for an individual or a family, right after job security, is the risk of devastating financial loss due to lack of medical coverage. Eliminating this risk with universal health coverage, making the potential loss manageable, will not, in and of itself, maintain the morale of the workforce and restore the crumbling compact of mutual interest between employers and employees, but it is the essential first step.

Finally, a word or two about risk stratification and population-based coverage. The former is, essentially, a series of pricing and marketing techniques designed to lure those who consider themselves unlikely to need coverage into plans with higher co-pays and deductibles, at a somewhat lesser cost. While this is appealing to those who do not anticipate needing their coverage, and while those co-pays and deductibles may be acceptable for a year or two, no one can know when he or she, or a family member, may permanently fall out of that favored risk pool and be compelled to choose a plan that provides better coverage. Risk stratification is a strategy of the for-profit health insurance carriers to segregate the healthy (or, more accurately, their dollars) from the sick. It undermines the basic concept of insurance, which is the pooling of resources and the sharing of risk. Not only does this drive up the cost of health insurance, both higher and faster, for those who have need of it, it subtracts money from the health care system, putting it in the pockets of health insurance company executives and shareholders, rather than investing it in facilities and equipment to provide better care, in the future, for all. Population-based coverage seeks to provide coverage for broad-based populations, across the twin spectrums of age and health, over time. Not only does it reduce the cost, over time, for everyone, it also permits, indeed, encourages, the practice of evidence-based preventive medicine which decreases the total cost of care to the community in the long run.

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IMMIGRANTS, THE POLITICS OF FEAR AND THE POLITICS OF HOPE

It was predictable that the purveyors of the politics of fear would select immigrants (mainly, but not exclusively, illegal immigrants from Mexico) as their scapegoats for this election cycle. Gay marriage, and gays in general, worked reasonably well for them last time around, but did not really permit them to tap into the thick, deep vein of racism that still, alas, runs just under the surface of political correctness in our society. Journalists can write story after story about how these folks benefit our economy and enrich the cultural diversity of our society, but that matters little. The traders in fear, the hatemongers, know their target audience quite well by this point; the susceptible don’t read newspapers very much, especially not The New York Times. Besides, it’s so much easier to fear and despise the folks who clean the office buildings, maintain the grounds around them, and serve you your McMeals (with unflagging politeness and smiles).

However, I do not intend to make light of the problems posed by illegal immigrants. While most of them work hard in jobs not greatly valued by the rest of the labor force, some do not. While most of them contribute to our economy and society, some drain it. Illegal immigration is a complex problem that will not be readily resolved by a simplistic solution. Its complexity is highlighted by the fact that, at the same time members of Congress are trying to push through harsh, if not downright unworkably punitive, legislation to try to prevent it, the President has advanced a proposal for a Guest Worker Program.

Immigration policy is, of course, set at the Federal level and is primarily enforced by Federal officials; the role of state officials and agencies is quite secondary. Nevertheless, the fact of large-scale illegal immigration has a major impact on state and local agencies and should be of concern to any candidate for state office. I would strongly urge that Congress slow down, abruptly, and agree to pursue a solution next year, when motives are less politically suspect, and the chances of reason prevailing are thereby markedly increased. I would also urge members of Congress to counsel with two groups, in particular: members of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and individuals of Hispanic origin who work in government social service agencies. My conversations, over the past several decades, with these individuals, have revealed perspectives that are balanced and well-reasoned. They are, in general, sympathetic to the immigrants, but acutely cognizant of the problems created by their presence here illegally.

Those who fear the immigrants, whether for economic or social reasons, should take a bit closer look. La cultura latina, especialmente la cultura mexicana, es del corazón, de la familia, y de la vida. En estos tiempos, nuestro país necesita estas cualidades. (Latino culture, especially Mexican culture, is from the heart, of family and life. In these times, our country needs these qualities.)

Finally, I think we should ask ourselves how that ebullient exponent of the Politics of Hope, the man who assured a staggering, reeling nation that it had “nothing to fear but fear itself” would approach this problem. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no mean strategic thinker, would take the larger, and longer, view. He would observe that, for the United States to maintain the possibility of being a stabilizing force in a rapidly changing world, it would need the support of the rest of the Americas. Indeed, he made just such an observation on the eve of World War II, moving adroitly and effectively to eliminate Nazi inroads in Latin America. If he were here, I believe he would counsel us to reach out even further than he did, towards at least economic integration of the Americas. Juntos, todas las Américas tienen la fuerza para proteger el futuro para todos nuestros niños y para hacer este futuro brillante. (Together, all of the Americas have the strength to protect the future of all our children and to make that future brilliant.)

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RESPONSE TO CHRISTIAN COALITION OF SAN DIEGO

The following is my response to a very structured (the word “slanted” comes readily to mind) questionnaire from the Christian Coalition of San Diego County.  As a candidate, I received several such questionnaires and tried to respond to them as openly and as accurately as I could.

Christian Coalition of San Diego County:

Thank you for sending me your questionnaire.  I would like to respond, but the questions are structured in such a manner that to respond in a “yes, no, abstain” manner would obscure my opinions, rather than reveal them.  I do understand that not responding in such a manner prevents you from directly comparing my views to those of other candidates.  Sorry.  I do hope you will direct your readers to my website, gerstforgov.org, where this response will be posted, because I do not wish to seem to be evading the questions you pose.

However, let me first answer a question that you do not pose directly, but which is raised by the very nature of your questionnaire, indeed, by the very fact of your organization’s existence:  What is the greatest threat to democracy in the United States today? 

The greatest threat to democracy in the United States is the continuing erosion of the separation of church and state.  It is, in my opinion, a greater threat than terrorists, the global economy and its leveling effect on national economies (especially our own), the “dumbing down” effect of multi-million dollar “sound bite” campaigns, and the deterioration of environmental quality, combined.  Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, exists as a public monument today because a Jew, grateful to Jefferson for championing freedom of religion, bought it, preserved it, and donated it to the public.  The wisdom of Jefferson, and the other founders of this nation, is not to be lightly discarded; along with the other rights defined in the Bill of Rights, freedom of religious expression has served to make us a nation which derives strength from diversity.Go to Top of Page

Born to an Iowa farming family, I was raised as a Methodist in the 50’s and 60’s.  The Jesus I was taught to love and to emulate was, and remains, a towering figure of understanding and tolerance, of love and forgiveness, the very embodiment of those qualities, those values.  I must admit, having looked for my Jesus, my savior, in the tone and content of your questions, I find him strangely, inexplicably, absent.   

Now, let me try to deal with the specific issues which you raise.  I am, at least at present, opposed to school vouchers.  I have never failed to support bond issues to strengthen public schools, even when my children were attending schools in another district.  I am unwilling to subtract money from the public schools until and unless they are sufficiently strong to permit such subtraction without deterioration in the quality of education they provide.  I do support and encourage the creation of charter schools.  (Your placing this question first indicates that your top priority is channeling public money into church-affiliated schools.  What do you think Jesus would have to say about such an ordering of priorities?  Do you think, perhaps, he would see it as abandonment of the needs of the least fortunate in our society?)

I am vehemently opposed to the re-criminalization of homosexuality that is implicit in your question about school curriculum.  I support the concept of Alternate Domestic Unions for gays, equivalent to marriage in every way except for name.  I strongly believe that Jesus would want commitment encouraged (and, by implication, promiscuity, whether heterosexual or homosexual, discouraged).  However, I recognize that there are many good people, who are not homophobic bigots, willing to accept gay unions, who simply cannot accept the term “marriage” being applied to gay unions.  I am unwilling to trample on their sensibilities.  When I left the Midwest, as a young man of eighteen years, I believed that homosexuality was a perversion and a sin.  The experiences of my life, especially those of my career as a physician, have taught me otherwise.  Sexual orientation is, I believe, a combination of a number of factors, but it is largely genetic and determined at birth.  I believe Jesus would surely counsel understanding and acceptance.  I cannot believe that he would condemn the love and commitment that I have witnessed in a number of gay unions.  I would suggest that those who are eager to combat perversion and sin direct their attention towards those who kill in the name of their “religious” beliefs; that is the ultimately perverse sin.

While I am opposed to any change in California’s laws regarding abortion, I would very much like to reduce the number of abortions performed.  My experiences as an emergency physician, with abused women and children, make me adamantly unwilling to allow society to make this choice for women; they must be allowed to make it for themselves.  However, I do not believe that we, as a society, are doing nearly enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Similarly, I feel that society is providing very little non-coercive support to women (and especially teenagers) who find themselves in this situation. 

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If elected, any decisions that I would make regarding clemency for convicted murderers would be based upon clear, compelling evidence of remorse and rehabilitation.  If the legislature should decide to place a moratorium on executions, while the standard of proof required for a death sentence and the manner of execution, among other things, are re-considered, I would sign such legislation.  I must confess that I am very torn on this issue.  For me, one of the most compelling arguments for elimination of the death penalty is the tortuous period of waiting which the families and friends of victims endure, as the appeals process drags on.  If we, as a society, tell them that the murderer of their loved one deserves death, if we raise that expectation in them, then justice should be served swiftly; we should not inflict upon them decades of indecision and anguish. 

It seems rather strange to address gun control as a “Christian” or “family” issue. Nevertheless, I have no intention of changing current California law.  I have always believed that mentally stable, law-abiding citizens should have the right to own non-automatic weapons.  I see no need for them to own assault rifles, RPG launchers, bazookas, flame-throwers, and the like, or to purchase armor-piercing ammunition.  If there are to be any changes in laws and regulations regarding control of firearms, especially concealable weapons, I would give considerable weight to the opinions of the law-enforcement community.

I believe that my opinions regarding gambling and pornography are probably in reasonable congruence with the author of the questionnaire.  I am very troubled by the waste of the resources of so many families that is implicit in the spread of casinos and gambling.  I am also opposed to children having access to pornography, whether on television or via the Internet.  However, these are federal issues, and I am really not certain how to tackle them.  If elected governor, however, I would press as hard as I legally could press to determine just who is profiting, and how much, from Native American casinos, in order to be certain that organized crime interests are not using them to gain footholds in otherwise law-abiding communities.

I see no harm in allowing school children a few minutes, at the beginning of the day, for silent prayer or contemplation.  In fact, it is probably a good idea for all of us to take time to reflect upon the gift of the day ahead of us, and what we will do to make the most of it

Sincerely,

 

Jerald Robert Gerst, MD, MPH

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END THE OCCUPATION NOW

No, I am not proposing an abrupt withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.  Although it is possible that, five or ten years from now, that will be seen to have been the most sensible course, it does not seem so now.  Nevertheless, we must not simply continue to drift as casualties mount.  Therefore, I am advocating an abrupt end to the Bush Administration’s occupation of the Executive Branch of Government.  Done in the following manner, this will dramatically improve the odds of obtaining an acceptable resolution in Iraq, not to mention the numerous benefits here at home.

It would begin with George W. Bush appearing in front of a televised joint session of Congress to inform us, at long last, of the real reasons for the invasion of Iraq, since it has been abundantly clear for some time that Weapons of Mass Destruction were never more than a rationalization, a justification for a decision that had been made for other considerations.  (If Vice-President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld have not yet informed him of the real reasons, it is about time they do so.)  This would be followed by a apology to the American people for having abused their trust.  This, in turn, would be followed by the resignation of Richard Cheney and the nomination of Colin Powell (or, if he were unwilling, John McCain) to succeed him as Vice-President.  The Senate, being present, could promptly confirm this nomination.  Then would come the resignations of Bush, Rumsfeld, and Rice, followed by the nomination of a moderate Democrat, by the new President, to become Vice-President.  Both the new President and Vice-President would then pledge not to seek office beyond 2008; both parties would agree to let the new, bipartisan administration determine the course of our policy in Iraq and the larger struggle against terrorism and that the 2008 election would focus on domestic policy, on how best to strengthen the US socially and economically. 

Perhaps the greatest irony of this course of action is that the greatest beneficiary would be George W. Bush himself.  He would, at the end, be seen as contrite, self-sacrificing, and (although this is a bit of a stretch) noble in a tragic sort of way.  It would spare him much of the excoriation he can expect at the hands of future historians.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, our troops are still bogged down in an occupation, generally on the defensive, rarely in a position to take the initiative in an urban, guerilla war.  The principle casualty of our invasion in Iraq is the volunteer military, including the National Guard.  To their everlasting credit, these brave people are willing to give up six months to a year of their lives and to take their chances on losing their lives; that was the deal, as they understood it, when they signed on.  Volunteering to go on active duty for several years at a time, with much greater chances of losing jobs, homes, and spouses is an entirely different matter.  They could not have reasonably anticipated that type of sacrifice to be asked of them.

What, then, can we do to try to make up to them what we owe; what can we do to keep their experience and expertise in uniform to serve us and to bolster recruiting for the future?   We can strengthen the Cal-Vet home loan program.  We can also make the education benefits which they have earned go farther and buy more.  What we can do is to double the value of their tuition dollars at UC, CSUS, and community college campuses.  Perhaps we can even afford to give “double your money” benefits to veterans from other states and triple benefits to California veterans; however, I would want to see a cost estimate of that proposal before committing myself to it. 

What is clear is that we must not let the horrendous misjudgments and mismanagement of our military assets by the Bush administration result in the long-term degradation of those assets.  Despite the Bush administration’s despicable manipulation of public opinion, the threat posed by terrorists is real and is not going away in the near future.  Military force alone cannot eliminate it, but neither can it be eliminated without the judicious use of military force.  We owe our military a debt of honor; we cannot expect them to continue to volunteer to defend us if we are unwilling to pay it.

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TALES OF THE SIXTIES

You might enjoy reading these; for some of you, it may stir old memories; for others, it may give you some idea of what the Sixties were really about (it was really the Seventies that were about drugs and sex).

Mississippi and the Freedom Democrats

In the spring of 1968, I was awarded an undergraduate research grant from the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard to study the Mississippi Delta from the perspective of a development economist, which is what I considered myself at that time.  I remember my parents’ concern, and I especially remember how I reassured them.  “I’m really not a civil rights worker,” I explained “and, besides, no civil rights workers have died in Mississippi in two years.”  In retrospect, I can only imagine how much effort it took for them to try to appear reassured; I had incredibly supportive parents.

It would be nice to say that a great undergraduate thesis came out of that summer; however, that would not be the truth.  But by the end of the summer, I had finally begun to acquire some perspective and the beginnings of wisdom, and I would like to try to share the most memorable of my experiences from that summer.  That was the summer when a group calling themselves the Freedom Democrats decided to challenge the “regular” or “John Bell Williams” (then governor of Mississippi) Democrats right to be seated at the Democratic National Convention.  Materials needed to be taken from Jackson to the various counties so that county caucuses could be held, as a prelude to a state convention of the Freedom Democrats.  Since I had told one of the organizers that I was taking several days to go to New Orleans, I was asked if I would take materials to Gulfport and to a county (whose name, alas, I have forgotten) just north of Lake Ponchartrain.  On the way from Jackson to New Orleans, I dropped the materials off in the latter county.

From New Orleans, I called the contact person in Gulfport (a union official) and was told where, in the docks, to go—and was advised to show up after dark and to be inconspicuous in my arrival.  I started to get a little nervous about this simple errand.  Being cautious, I scouted out the area around the warehouse where I had been directed to go, picked a spot to park in an alley off the main street, and took the long way around to get back to the warehouse.  (Hey, I’d read James Bond, hadn’t I?  I thought that, if someone was watching the door, they would head off in the wrong direction looking for my car.)  I met the man, gave him the materials, and headed back towards my car, taking the shorter route.  As I was just about to turn into the alley, a car behind me turned on its lights.  Panic set in; I ducked into the alley, ran to my car, and drove about four or five blocks, turning into several side alleys that I had memorized earlier, and, heart pounding, got onto a main street, with some traffic, heading west.  I must have been half way back to New Orleans before I had convinced myself that I was not, in fact, being followed.  Then it occurred to me that the person turning on the car lights was, in all probability, the man whom I had met, and I felt so foolish that it was decades before I ever told anyone that story. 
After spending several days in New Orleans, I headed back towards Jackson, stopping off at the little country church where the caucus in the first county was to be held.  I asked if I could observe the caucus, because history was about to be made, and I wanted to be there to witness it.  At first, I was a bit self-conscious about being the only white person there, but several couples, and several single ladies, in their seventies and eighties, by appearances, asked me to sit beside them, and I began to relax.  Then, as we were introducing ourselves, we could hear a larger vehicle pull up on the fresh gravel outside the church.  Several of the ladies looked fearful, and, when I asked what was wrong, one replied, “The Klan; they’ll come in pickups!”  As it turned out, it was not the Klan; it was a young black man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties.  The ladies knew who was expected, what they would be driving, and they had forgotten that this particular young man had just purchased a pickup.  I ventured the opinion that John Bell Williams had, in all probability, put the word out not to disturb the Freedom Democrat caucuses in any way, since that would mean automatic disqualification for his delegation in Chicago.  They looked at me as though they wanted to believe what I was saying, but that decades of experience told them otherwise.  Looking back, I realize that I had the type of confidence in my own assessment of things that only the young and inexperienced can possibly have. 

In any case, there were no more disturbances from outside.  The fireworks, on the other hand, had barely begun.  It was apparent that there was a very marked divide between generations; the young men in charge of the caucus had an agenda, but the oldsters had the votes and were disinclined to be railroaded by the younger generation.  An exceptionally outspoken elderly lady asked if I would please serve as a resource on the rules of order.  I tried to demur, but the ladies looked so crestfallen, so dismayed at being disenfranchised by their own after waiting so many decades for that day, that I relented and responded as knowledgeably as I could.  The end result was that the delegation to the state convention included the outspoken elderly lady.  I got more than a few glares and glowers from the young men, but they said nothing.  When I got back to Jackson, however, I was informed, in no uncertain terms, just how I had “interfered” and disrupted things.  When I ventured something about democracy having been served, I was given an extremely terse explanation of the difference between democracy and politics.  Nevertheless, when I observed the state convention several weeks later, the outspoken lady, noticing me, paused in mid-diatribe to give me a smile and a wave that were positively coquettish. 

I had occasion, later that summer, to reflect on the momentary fear of those elderly ladies.  I was introduced to Charles Evers, the older brother of Medgar Evers.  At that time, Charles was Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, the first African-American mayor of any city in Mississippi since Reconstruction, as I recall.  All of the civil rights leaders then wore suits and white shirts; Charles had his suit jacket folder over his left forearm and hand as I was taken up to him, introduced, and shook his hand.  As I walked away, he adjusted the position of the jacket, and I could see the handgun that was a few inches away from my midriff as we shook hands.  While I could understand the ladies fear in the church, I remain, to this day, quite unable to comprehend just what Charles Evers felt in coping with the omnipresent threat of death, in guarding himself against it and yet being a leader, an example for others to emulate.  Decades later, as the dream of a color-blind America had dimmed, I asked someone what could be done to resurrect the hopefulness of those days, the expectation of a different and brighter future.  “Bear witness,” was the reply.  I hope I have.

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The Chicago Convention

Later in the summer of 1968, after I had returned home to Iowa from Mississippi, I drove to Chicago, hoping to find some way to gain admittance to the Democratic Convention.  I had written some columns that summer for the Burlington Hawk-Eye, and John McCormally, the Editor-Publisher, graciously obtained press credentials for me.  The intensity of the next few days remains with me still, and I quite understand how someone can become “addicted to politics.”   Let me try to share with you the experience that defined that week for me.  John had decided that the real story was not in the convention hall, but in the streets, so, while the convention proceeded, he and I were in Grant Park, listening to Dick Gregory address the crowd.  Demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War (and a number of other things) had been prohibited from marching.  Dick Gregory mentioned that fact, and then went on to tell us that, so far as he knew, no one had prohibited him from inviting us down to his house for some liquid refreshment, that he was going to walk home, and if we accompanied him, he would be happy to have us.  Thus began the march from Grant Park down South Michigan Avenue.  Members of the Illinois National Guard were walking alongside us, more or less keeping us on the sidewalk.  The young man beside me was from the southern part of the state; I had a first cousin from Peoria who was then in the Guard, and I wondered if he were somewhere on the streets of Chicago that night (he was not, I found out later).  As we walked south, we left the Loop and gradually entered a residential area; we could see men standing in windows on the upper stories; we could also see their firearms.  I noticed that the young man beside me was becoming sweaty; I asked him why.  “See those rifles up there?” he replied.  Well, yes, I did; but wasn’t he carrying a rifle with considerably more firepower?  “Only if it’s loaded,” was his grim response. 

We eventually came to the area where it had been decided to stop the march and arrest Mr. Gregory and the other organizers.  They were informed that they would be arrested if they crossed a designated line; they did and they were.  John offered to pay my bail if I accompanied him over the line and we were arrested.  We crossed, but we weren’t arrested.  Some of the press had been banged up rather badly in Lincoln Park several nights earlier, and the word had evidently gone out to not interfere with the press.  In the meantime, a cordon of troops had formed across the street, and the marchers were going out and sitting down in the street.  Behind the cordon, a phalanx of utility vehicles with V-shaped frames holding concertina wire in front were forming, hub to hub across South Michigan Avenue.  Behind them stood troops with canisters of tear gas; at this point the Guard had their masks on, and people were going around handing marchers wet cloths and wetting handkerchiefs to hold over eyes, nose, and mouth.  The order was given to the marchers to arise and disperse, going back north.  No one moved.  As I recall, the order was given again, there was a brief pause, and then the tear gas canisters were flung over the vehicles as they advanced on those sitting on the street.  There was an ABC cameraman standing near me, showing the encounter from the east side of the street.  I saw his footage broadcast later that night; I have never seen it again.  Someone must have felt, as I did, watching it happen, that it made the United States appear to be a “Banana Republic.”  Meanwhile, the cloud of tear gas was spreading out.  Although John and I used our handkerchiefs as best we could, the tear gas penetrated rather quickly.  John, who was chain-smoking 2-3 packs a day at that point, got into trouble in less than a minute.  I crouched down, reached up and grabbed his shoulders, threw one of my shoulders into his bottom and half-pushed, half-carried him north to the end of the block and then east towards the breeze coming in from Lake Michigan.  By that point, he was really in distress.  Besides his smoking, a rather large chunk of the left side of his body had been blown away when he was a Marine on Iwo Jima, and his respiratory capacity was further limited.  As I stood there anxiously, wondering if I would be able to perform CPR adequately if he had a heart attack, the irony of his surviving everything the Imperial Japanese Army could throw at him only to have his existence threatened by the Illinois National Guard caused me to give a bitter laugh.  That caught his attention, and his breathing had improved enough to ask me just what was so damn funny.  When I told him, he laughed too (actually, it was rather more of a bark, but I caught its meaning). 

That night, standing there on South Michigan Avenue, I felt the greatest fear of my life.  Oh, I was not afraid for myself; somehow, I had no doubt that I was going to be fine.  I was afraid for my country.  It subsided over the next few years, not to return until the accession of George W. Bush to the Presidency.  I do not feel it every day with that same intensity; some days it is even greater; and, although I am able to set it aside and function, it never truly goes away.

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Woodstock

Let’s get a few things straight from the outset.  No, I didn’t take any of the yellow, orange, brown, purple, or black (notice how the colors just keep getting darker?) acid.  When I was in college, the “harder” drugs, frankly, scared me; several years later, in medical school, I found out why they should scare anyone.  No, I didn’t smoke either (but I did inhale).

My junior year at Harvard I edited (having first resurrected) The Adams House Drama Review, and, through participation in the Adams House Drama Society, met a pair of guys who were later to be the operators of the spotlights up on the towers at Woodstock.  The summer after my senior year, I stayed in Cambridge until heading west to Davis.  Near the end of the summer, the girlfriend of one of them found out that I was planning on going to Woodstock, and asked if she could ride with me.  Sounded like a good idea at the time; proved to be a great one, since she knew the magic phrase, the name of the lighting and sound company, which got us past three New York State troopers and into the executive parking lot behind the stage. 

Since I was there, and there early, I was given a staff pass and asked to help put some finishing touches on the stage.  Fair enough.  I was specifically asked, by the site manager, a legendary roadie named Chip (who appears in a brief cameo in “This Is Spinal Tap”) to “string these lights around the front of the stage so that (expletives deleted) Joe Cocker doesn’t stagger off onto those transformers.”  Anyone familiar with Joe Cocker’s performance style at that point will readily acknowledge the wisdom of this precaution.  Woodstock was held in a natural amphitheatre on the farm of one Max Yazger; the lowest point in the hollow lying about a hundred feet or so in front of the stage, with the hillside then rising away on the opposite side of the hollow.  The front of the stage was probably about twenty feet or so above the ground, with some very large (and very hard) electric power transformers sitting just in front of it.  It was probably about a ten to twelve foot fall down to the transformers.  So, even though he has never met me, I am, in fact, one of the friends with whose help Joe Cocker got by. 

When the concert finally started, we (the two friends who would go up the towers at night, their girlfriends, the girl I had brought, and I) staked our claim to a piece of grass between the bases of the towers.  Just at dusk (I’ve forgotten now whether it was the first or second night; remember, I was inhaling), the rain started to fall.  My friends came down off the towers and asked me for two of the three sheets of vinyl I had brought with me (one to cover the sleeping bags, one for below the sleeping bags, and one as a spare).  They were operating 220 volt, three-phase, high-wattage equipment on metal towers, and they weren’t totally confident in the grounding of their equipment.  So two of my three sheets of vinyl went up the towers to keep the spotlights—and my friends—dry.  Did that make me “The Man Who Saved Woodstock?”  Probably not; but it did make me “The Man Whose Foresight Helped Keep His Friends Dry.”  That’s good enough for me.

As I recall, it was the last night, when I had gone back over to my car (my trusty black VW bug) in the executive parking light, and was thus behind the stage, facing the crowd on the hillside, when they asked everyone to light a lighter, a match, or a candle, and then turned the stage lights off.  The opposing hillside, alive with flickering light, implying the presence of a third of a million people, or more, remains one of the most amazing things I have seen in my almost sixty years.  For a crowd so massive to have existed on that hillside for over three days, with virtually no arguments or confrontations, let alone violence, was astonishing.  To me, those lights flickering on that hillside will always symbolize the capability of human beings to co-exist peacefully, to give and take, to share, and to help one another get by.  It remains a memory of innocence—and a symbol of hope. 

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KQED FORUM

On June 1st, four of the other “Not Quite Ready for Prime Time” Democratic candidates and I spoke on the KQED Forum.  There was little time, in that context, to develop positions in depth, so I would like to amplify my position on some of the issues raised.

With regard to the death penalty, it is simply not one of my priority issues.  Far more innocents are killed by the lack of adequate health care and/or medicines; that is one of my priority issues.  Nevertheless, it remains an important moral issue for society.  There are issues which have been raised over the past decade which, in my opinion, warrant the Legislature to mandate a moratorium on executions until they can be sorted out.  First, the shockingly high proportion (about a quarter, as I recall) of those on Death Row in Illinois proven innocent by DNA testing should give us all pause.  If we are to have a death penalty, the implication of the Illinois experience is that we absolutely must have a more certain standard of proof than we currently have.  Second, it is indefensible to continue with a death penalty that is applied so inequitably.  Until and unless we can apply it equally across racial lines and across the socio-economic spectrum, it is not morally defensible.  Finally, if we are to have a death penalty, executions must be conducted in a manner that is humane.  Currently, we have a de facto moratorium, as efforts are made to resolve the last issue.  I feel that society would be well-served by a formal moratorium, mandated by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, in order to sort out the other issues as well.

With regard to Proposition 13, I addressed what I believe to be the futility of approaching this issue at this time.  I do believe that any politician who mentions virtually any change in Prop 13 risks losing the support necessary to accomplish far more important changes.  I do believe that, eventually, the number of individuals who are disadvantaged by its inequities will exceed those who benefit from it, and that the electorate will not only support, but will demand change.  However, timing is, as they say, everything, and I do not believe the time is ripe.

However, with regard to selectively increasing the property taxes of “corporations”, as my fellow candidates put it, I think we need to consider here the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Yes, corporations (and unincorporated businesses) that have owned real estate, and have not moved, are at an advantage relative to those who have changed residences or new home-owners.  However, trying to abruptly resolve that inequity will have some unpleasant consequences.  Retailers and providers of services who must stay in California will simply pass most of that increased cost of business along to their customers; in other words, they will simply pass it back to us in the form of increased prices, fees, etc.  Manufacturing concerns, for whom low property taxes are one of the few areas where California is competitive with other geographic sites, may find the increase enough to justify a move out of state. 

What I propose is that we seek to make California more business-friendly, in the ways I have outlined, in ways that do not sacrifice consumer rights, employee rights, or environmental quality.  Once we have accomplished that, and gained some credibility with the business community, we might have acquired the political capital to cautiously approach making Proposition 13 less inequitable.

Finally, one of my fellow candidates, Mr. Strimmling, broached a topic which I very much wanted to discuss, the initial bond issue which was floated, shortly after the Recall, so that our esteemed incumbent could keep his promise to balance the budget without new taxes (but which allowed him to ignore his promise to balance it with spending cuts; a promise neither he, nor anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the structure of California government, could possibly have believed).  This bond issue was, quite simply, the cost of the ticket for Arnold’s ego trip, to be paid for by our children and grandchildren.  It infuriates me every time I think of it.  If he had even a semblance of a plan to close the budget shortfall by spending cuts alone, why didn’t he present it to the Legislature?  He hasn’t even given us the courtesy of uttering, in explanation, one of his favorite movie lines: “I lied!” 

There was, before he entered the Recall campaign, an emerging consensus that the budget gap would have to be closed by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  That was the fiscally responsible, common-sense approach.  It would have worked, and it would not have left us with a chronic, structural deficit.  It would have left us with a lowered base for current state expenditures.  That would have been painful, but it was necessary.  Arnold shattered the possibility of compromise, of consensus, by the way in which he entered the campaign.  He continued to try to govern in an autocratic way with his expensive, futile, time-consuming special election and its initiatives.  Only after being slapped down soundly by the electorate did he turn his dictionary to the “C” section and begin to study the words “compromise” and “consensus.”

Which brings me to the bond issues that have been placed on the ballot.  I support them; all of them.  We have a great deal of deferred maintenance to be done; we need to begin as soon as possible.  My advocacy of a more balanced approach will simply have to wait until the next budget cycle.  I cannot help but point out, however, that the total of the current proposals barely exceeds the amount floated to balance the deficit (and bail out our esteemed incumbent) three years ago.  If he—and we—had acted responsibly then; we could afford almost twice as much infrastructure spending now and end up with the same debt.  And it is not just the principal amount of the debt, which we must repay in the future, that limits us, it is also the interest rate we must pay upon it.  The bond raters will not upgrade the quality of our bonds, and the interest we pay will not decrease, until we demonstrate real fiscal discipline, until we demonstrate a willingness to cut spending and raise taxes in order to produce balanced budgets on time.  The longer we fail to come to terms with this fiscal reality, truly the fiscal equivalent of cancer, the longer we will continue to pay higher interest rates on the bonds we do sell and the greater the burden transferred to the future.  That may be just fine with the governor’s buddies (who have never complained about getting higher rates of return on their investments, especially when those rates are tax-exempt), but it just doesn’t make sense for the rest of us, our children, and our grandchildren.

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Response to Christian Coalition of San Diego
TALES OF THE 60s
Mississippi and the Freedom Democrats
Chicago convention
Woodstock

KQED FORUM

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