Before I start: For those who want to do their own research, the League of Women Voters has excellent impartial analyses of California propositions (and your own state's measures) available. They also provide short pro and con statements for each of the measures, so you can hear the arguments on both sides in proper context.
Feel free to pass this on if you find it useful.
President: - Barack Obama. If by some strange aberration you are an American undecided voter as of Nov. 2 and have yet to form your opinion of the candidates, remember, details are below the LJ-cut.
Prop. 1A (high-speed rail bonds) - YES
Prop. 2 (farm animal standards) - YES
Prop. 3 (children's hospital bonds) - NO
Prop. 4 (abortion waiting periods) - NO
Prop. 5 (nonviolent drug offenses) - YES
Prop. 6 (law enforcement bonds) - NO
Prop. 7 (renewable energy generation) - NO
Prop. 8 (restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples) - NO NO NO NO NO
Prop. 9 (victims' rights law) - NO
Prop. 10 (Alternative Fuel Vehicles bonds) - NO (see notes!)
Prop. 11 (redistricting) - YES
Prop. 12 (veterans' bonds) - YES
First of all: I am a flaming, radical liberal, who nevertheless believes it is government's job to function smoothly and fairly and leave the extremism to us. I am a registered Democrat and embarrassed former Libertarian. I voted for Schwarzenegger in 2006, John Kerry and Gray Davis in 2004, and Harry Browne and [downticket Libertarian] in 2000 (ah, youth). I am fscking sick of the California state GOP's suicide pact against raising anyone's taxes anywhere by any amount, and the corresponding yearly melee it creates in Sacramento; that having been said, dumping new bonds and project mandates on top of the current underfunded mess is really stupid, so every bond measure this year has to pass a damn high bar with me.
My votes have a few variations from both party and progressive orthodoxy, which generally fall into line with the paragraph above.
Barack Obama: After the last 8 years, this one's a no-brainer. McCain bragged about supporting Bush over 90 percent of the time before he started running away from Bush's 27 percent approval rating, and has been endorsed by both Bush and Cheney. McCain's been running an innuendo and fear-based campaign that at one point was running literally nothing but negative ads. McCain's responses to the biggest campaign events have shown a deeply erratic and unpresidential temperament -- picking uncurious, substance-free Palin out of nowhere with only 10 minutes of VP vetting; and "suspending his campaign" to sort of go to Washington, D.C. and be in the same room as people talking about the economic crisis.
But the most important reason to pick Obama is an affirmative one: He actually cares about issues. He thinks. He doesn't treat "intellectual" like a latte-sippin' cussword. Have you seen the uncut video of his now-infamous encounter with "Joe the Plumber"? In response to a criticism of his policy, Obama stops, lays out details, offers a justification, and suggests why a tax policy that might not benefit that one person at that exact moment might still be not only right, but in his self-interest. It's breathtaking. In response, the right wing has been breathlessly whining for weeks about how raising the top tax bracket back to the rates of a decade ago is SOCIALISM!!!1!!!oneoneone. Which group do you want in charge of fixing problems?
I respect people who want to vote (or have voted) for third-party candidates in order to generate more progressive momentum, but the perfect is the enemy of the good, and Barack is a damn good candidate.
Prop. 1A (high-speed rail bonds) - As mentioned above, new state spending is really not smart right now. So why did I vote yes anyway? Because I read a lot of arguments back and forth, the project seems pretty well thought out, and there's one word that makes this pass the high threshold for new state spending: Infrastructure.
California's broke, but we're also facing a recession. Infrastructure spending is a direct and effective stimulus (generates $1.59 of economic activity for every $1 invested). It has lasting effects that will improve Californian lives long after the recession clears out. The project is forward-thinking, doable, and there really is a genuine window of opportunity now that will get more expensive to seize of as rights-of-way expire and sprawl sprawls. That justifies a yes vote.
Prop. 2 (farm animal standards) - Hard to know where your food comes from and not be for a measure that at least seeks to give them room to stand and stretch. As an omnivore, I am willing to accept whatever price increases occur as a result, and I hope this is a step toward sustainable agriculture.
Prop. 3 (children's hospital bonds) - As Kevin Drum is fond of saying in his endorsements, "We. Do. Not. Have. The. Money." Heartless old Baxil is happy to look into the eyes of the crying children and point out that we still haven't spent all the cash from the LAST bond measure a few years ago for the exact same thing.
Prop. 4 (abortion waiting periods) - Wait, is it Halloween already? This ballot measure has risen from the grave a third time and it's no better this time around. Imposing mandatory parental notification on scared pregnant teenagers sounds good in theory, but the teens who aren't telling their parents now are the ones with a good reason not to. The solution is not to limit options and destroy the lives of kids in really scary situations; it's to provide them with emotional support, choices and counseling, oh and maybe give them real sex education before abstinence-only bullshit guarantees they get cornered.
Prop. 5 (nonviolent drug offenses) - On the one hand, this is spending by ballot box. On the other hand, this gets nonviolent drug users out of jail, reducing overcrowding and giving people who haven't harmed anyone else a good second chance. Short of the U.S. ending the insane drug war, this is about as good as it gets toward reducing the prison-industrial complex. Yes.
Prop. 6 (law enforcement bonds) - Remember that prison-industrial complex I mentioned 15 words ago? This is an attempt to fix our overcrowded and understaffed jails by ... building more jails and hiring more prison guards. Hey, who's a cute widdle countwy that alweady impwisons the most people per capita? Oh yeah! You are! Don't you want to awwest even MORE people? Good snookums!
Prop. 7 (renewable energy generation) - Meh. Based on the ballot arguments and analysis, this appears to be a well-meaning but poorly-written bill. The opposition's claim that it would basically shut down the small alternative energy providers that already exist does seem to have some facts, rather than hyperbole, behind it. The big environmental groups oppose it, so I don't see a compelling reason to vote yes. (Edited to add: See comments for an alternate viewpoint.)
Prop. 8 (restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples) - Others here have spoken eloquently on the various effects of Prop 8 over the last few weeks, so I'll link to an incomplete sampling of their arguments:
athelind: The separation of church and state is there to protect churches from each other, and Prop 8 directly violates that. [*]
chipuni: A "No" vote on Prop 8 is pro-family in the best way: it creates more of them. [*]
eclective: Prop 8 is a fundamental roadblock to couples struggling to make tough medical decisions. Also: Voting for it could be an unintentional step toward the state stopping recognition of marriages entirely. [*]
summer_jackel: As a lawyer, it's clear Prop 8 supporters are confusing legal marriage and sacred marriage, and none of their arguments deal with the measure's actual effects. [*]
tugrik: Prop 8 crosses a line when it imposes religious values on constitutional law. [*]
I'll try to sum up my feelings briefly. The "Yes on 8" people claim they're protecting marriage and families. You're not protecting families by breaking up thousands of them. You're not protecting marriage by kicking thousands of dedicated, longtime couples out of the institution, while divorce rates for those who aren't in jeopardy top 50%. How much couples counseling could the $30 million spent on the Yes on 8 campaign have bought for heterosexuals in struggling relationships? Want to save marriage? Fix it, don't waste your time on scapegoats.
Prop. 9 (victims' rights law) - Meh. Another attempt to be tougher on crime when our jails are already bursting at the seams. We wouldn't have this problem with violent criminals being paroled early if we didn't waste so much room on ridiculous mandatory minimum sentences for victimless criminals. Fix the problem, not a symptom that makes the real problem worse.
Prop. 10 (Alternative Fuel Vehicles bonds) - This is being opposed by virtually everyone as a giveaway to T. Boone Pickens straight out of the state coffers. It offers huge kickbacks on natural-gas vehicle purchases with no requirements that the vehicles stay in California where we get the benefit from them. NO. There are much better ways to incentivize greener transportation. (Further details in the links below.)
Prop. 11 (redistricting) - Before the rest of the liberal crowd starts up a lynch mob, let me explain. Currently, state office districts are drawn by the lawmakers themselves; this proposition would force them to be drawn by a panel of 5 Dems, 5 GOP and 4 independents. Could this throw the state further toward the Republicans? Maybe; but it's hard to morally argue against creating a numerically fair process. I'm not impressed by the collective left-wing freakout and avalanche of "No" endorsements; given California's demographics, any fair redistricting would still leave it heavily progressive.
The most cited argument for the proposition is that it will reduce partisanship. A study suggests that's false, and I actually agree. But what's really important to me is that it will reduce corruption. Legislators that can draw themselves into safe districts are basically invincible ... and once you get unaccountability, in either party, you get rot. More competitive districts offer more opportunities to replace the bad seeds before they get to McClintock or Doolittle proportions.
Prop. 12 (veterans' bonds) - This is on the ballot as a formality. The bonds are at no cost to taxpayers; the veterans pay the bonds back themselves. There's no downside.
Other Endorsement Lists
Nevada County Democratic endorsements for GV race and statewide props
Placer County GOP endorsements: Anything this consistently wrong [PDF] is unintentionally useful.
League of Women Voters proposition endorsements
Courage Campaign endorsements, including a snapshot look at how other progressive groups endorse the propositions
Kevin Drum's annotated proposition endorsements (and more on 1A). Kevin's a moderate, wonkish Democrat and a blogger I've been reading for years.
Rebutting the letter Drum printed re: 1A
CalPIRG endorses Prop 1A
Prop 7: Arguments For/Against: Was very helpful in clarifying the issue for me.
A legal breakdown of the issues behind Prop 8
LA Times editorial: Why to reject Prop 10
Thanks for reading. Hope it was helpful.