‘A rose by any other name…’

I’ve never seen so much hue and cry about ballot designations – the two or three word titles appearing beneath a candidate’s name on the ballot – as I’m seeing this year.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican candidate for state Attorney General, complains that GOP primary rival former Chapman Law School Dean John Eastman wants to call himself an “Assistant Attorney General” (he received the title last month when he agreed to represent South Dakota in a specific U.S. Supreme Court case) and that state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, wants to call himself a “Prosecutor/Attorney/Senator.”

It’s a local phenomenon, too – and in some cases, a circular firing squad. Alameda County Family Justice Center Executive Director Nadia Lockyer, seeking the county Board of Supervisors’ District 2 seat, announced Tuesday that someone is suing rival candidate former state Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Sunol, for wanting to call herself a “job developer/educator,” when her job on the California Unemployment Appeals Board doesn’t involve either. The next day, another candidate in that race – Hayward City Councilman Kevin Dowling – filed a complaint against Lockyer for wanting to call herself a “county manager,” a title he says doesn’t exist; her formal title is “project director.” (For a while she was referring to herself on her Web site as a Deputy District Attorney, but that got scrubbed.)

And it’s happening in LA. And Orange County.

Last week I asked state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner why he wants to call himself a “businessman” rather than going by his current, elected title. Poizner told me nobody knows what the Insurance Commissioner actually does and the title requires too much explanation, and he has 20 years of experience in building businesses.

Now, it’s one thing for proponents and opponents of ballot measures to argue or sue (as is happening a lot this year, too) over the official title and summary and/or the ballot-pamphlet arguments – those words are all many voters ever learn about some of these measures, and so jockeying for the high ground there seems worthwhile. But do you think it’s the same for candidates and their ballot designations? Are those two or three words really so important, or is all this bellyaching more a matter of getting media attention now rather than voters’ eyes on election day?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.