What it does
Proposition J is a policy statement calling for "the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney." The measure lists several reasons why the president and vice president should be impeached, including the abuse of power in relation to illegal electronic surveillance, the detention of citizens and non-citizens, the use of torture, the disregarding of his duty regarding the impact of Hurricane Katrina, and the abuse of executive power. This measure is a non-binding resolution that requires a simple majority for passage.
Those who support this measure claim:
- There is a long history of local governments making policy statements about higher levels of government. This is an established role for local governments, going back as far as New England townships seeking redress for actions by the English Crown in colonial America. In more recent decades, opposition to the Vietnam War and to nuclear weapons were often expressed through measures passed at the local level.
- The claims in the impeachment statement reflect direct financial and personal losses for San Franciscans. For example, local residents have suffered directly or indirectly from the actions behind these charges, from those with relatives serving in Iraq or affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to those who have been spied upon or detained. Additionally, the lack of accountability at the federal level results in big losses for San Franciscans as taxpayers and sends the wrong message to all other levels of government.
- The mechanisms to restrain the abuse of executive power are demonstrably broken: a one-party Congress that refuses to investigate obvious abuses, and national media that infrequently question the White House. Impeachment is a necessary step to hold our president accountable.
- Because there is not a national impeachment campaign, raising the issue of impeachment must start at the local level.
- This measure is a legitimate expression of protest to a set of policies and actions that local residents do not and cannot control.
- Passing this measure would encourage the State of California, which is officially allowed to petition the federal government, to call for impeachment.
Those who oppose this measure claim:
- It is already the policy of the City and County of San Francisco to support impeachment. There is no need to vote on this issue twice. It is a waste of the voters' time and the taxpayers' money to put this on the ballot.
- Policy statements involving U.S. foreign policy should not be placed on our local ballot because they undermine the importance of other ballot measures.
- The measure not only calls for the impeachment, but also the conviction of both Bush and Cheney although there is not yet any formal evidence. We typically believe in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." The measure should have simply called for impeachment but left aside the notion of conviction, since impeachment is a prerequisite for conviction, and then the measure would be deemed a success if the president and vice president were impeached. The idea of conviction adds nothing to the measure.
- Calling for impeachment any time there is serious local disagreement with the policy tact of an administration makes a circus of American politics. The impeachment of President Bill Clinton was not constructive, and it distracted our leaders and the nation as whole from more serious concerns.
- Presidential excesses sometimes occur in wartime and no previous president was ever impeached for them, including Abraham Lincoln (suspension of habeas corpus, detention of opponents), Woodrow Wilson (Mass arrests of suspected anarchists during and after WWI), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Japanese internment, arrests of anti-war opposition).
- Passing this measure would further reinforce San Francisco's reputation as a political outlier and could harm the Democrats' attempt to be perceived as moderate among many voters.
It is already San Francisco policy to call for impeachment. In February 2006, the board passed a resolution with a vote of 7-3 "calling for a full investigation, impeachment or resignation of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney." The measure was not signed by the mayor but became law when he did not veto it within the required period of time.10 The current measure before the voters differs primarily in that it specifies as a goal the "removal from office" of the president and vice president.
Similar measures have been adopted or proposed in other localities, including the Vermont communities of Newfane, Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney, as well as Arcata and Santa Cruz in California. This November, Berkeley voters will decide on a similar measure. The particular version before the San Francisco voters was modeled on, but not copied from, similar measures in these other communities.
Passage of the policy statement could inadvertently be seen as a direct endorsement of U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi becoming president. This is based on the assumption that if the Democrats were to take control of the House of Representatives and Pelosi were elevated to speaker, then she would be next in line to take the presidency in the event that the president and vice president were removed from office. While the measure was not written as an endorsement of her campaign, this is a distinctly local implication of the measure.
Unlike other measures, on which we take a vote for or against a proposition, a strong majority of the SPUR board (well more than 60 percent) believed that SPUR should not take a position on this measure. Not only do we not have expertise in foreign policy, but also this is a distinctly partisan measure. Despite the unusual coincidence that the measure in fact could be an endorsement of making Nancy Pelosi president of the United States, it is not otherwise directly about San Francisco. We as an organization and as voters cannot possibly take a position on all national and global political issues that are of concern to or indirectly impact San Franciscans. That list is too long. Nonetheless, the United States has a long tradition of local governments expressing their distaste for or dislike of positions in higher levels of government. That is, in fact, how policy ideas are supposed to bubble up from the local level to the national level. Local governments have made strong statements about the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons and research, and the current Iraq War. This measure is yet another example of such a policy statement and thus is a legitimate part of our democratic experiment. SPUR, however, tends not to support nonbinding policy statements.
SPUR voted to take a "Neutral" position on this measure.
10See File 060156 and Resolution 0109-06 "Calling for a full investigation, impeachment or resignation of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney." http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/bdsupvrs/resolutions06/r0109-06.pdf.