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The Many Ages of Adulthood in the Nanny State

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is flirting with the idea of letting 16- and 17-year-olds vote in local elections. Last year, Supervisor John Avalos floated the notion, but it didn't go anywhere. But this is an election year -- and in election years, noxious proposals carry extra currency. So expect City Hall to pass the measure and put it on the ballot. Then expect voters to exercise better judgment and reject the measure.

Sadly, Supervisor Scott Wiener -- San Francisco's idea of a moderate -- has announced that he is inclined to support the measure. Ditto progressive Supervisor Jane Kim.

Of course the city's progressive wing wants high school kids to vote -- they want to lure young people into the tent before they start working for a living and paying taxes. At a Chronicle debate Wednesday for the race to replace state Sen. Mark Leno, candidate Kim said she loves the scheme. She explained, "18 years old can be a very awkward time to register to vote," before adding that it's "better for young people to register to vote when they're living at home with their families." In other words, it's easier to get teens to register when they are under their parents' charge and before they are independent. Translation: It's easier to get children to do what they are told.

Voting, smoking, drinking

Wiener, a rival in the race, said that he has seen many intelligent high school students who are more informed than people in their 40s, 50s and 60s "who deny climate change, say that President Obama is not a citizen of this country" -- I think he meant they say Obama is not a "natural born" citizen -- and believe other things not sustained by the facts. It's the rare politician who is willing to disparage older voters by saying many are less worthy than high school students who have never had to work for a living and pay the rent.


Only Ken Loo, the nonelected fireman in the Wednesday debate, talked sense. "The voter age should be 18," he said. Most kids under 18 "don't have a job yet. Most of them don't have an income yet." Loo charged Wiener, Kim and other supporters with "hypocrisy" for pushing the "nanny state" -- San Francisco voted to raise the age at which adults can buy cigarettes to 21, before Gov. Jerry Brown signed a similar state law. City Hall thinks "you're not responsible enough at age 18, 19 and 20" to choose to buy, or not buy, tobacco. Yet somehow 16-year-olds are responsible enough to decide who passes such laws.

(Like Loo, I would discourage any adult from smoking, but it is legal and I don't think the government has the right to outlaw a legal activity for law-abiding adults. The same goes for the drinking age.)

Last year, when Avalos was pushing his vote at 16 measure, I asked him whether he believed 16- and 17-year-olds should be able to buy cigarettes. No, he replied. Giving a teenager the right to vote, he added, is "very different from saying someone is adult." Somehow San Francisco has constructed a system where adults cannot choose to buy legal products -- tobacco -- while children should be encouraged to vote for the folks who write these crazy laws.


Blurring the lines

Conservatives don't have clean hands on this score. I have supported laws that allow the state to charge minors as adults for certain violent offenses. Under President Ronald Reagan, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which led all 50 states to set a drinking age of 21. That put an end to a bright line between adulthood and childhood.

Liberals have blurred the lines much further. Girls of any age can elect to have an abortion in California, but they can't get a tattoo without parental consent until they are 18. Liberals construct fancy arguments to justify the differences, but we know that they are using age as a pretext to trample on the rights of free adults to do things they do not like. If you fit their politics, they want to expand your franchise. If you do not, they feel free to tell you what you cannot do. Next stop: You have to be 21 to buy a gun to protect yourself.

Attorney general's stance

Attorney General Kamala Harris came to The Chronicle's editorial board Thursday to ask for the paper's endorsement in the race to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer. After the state's top law enforcer discussed how the brain's judgment faculties begin to develop at age 18, I asked her about voting at 16. Harris, a Democrat of course, had just said children's brains haven't developed judgment yet, and still she answered that she liked the idea of letting minors vote. Here's an idea for a slogan: "Voting. Judgment optional."


Like the bulk of Sacramento, Harris also supported a ban on tobacco sales to adults under age 21. I don't know what's worse in California politics, the fact that state solons keep redrafting the age of adulthood to suit their whims, or the fact that they don't even realize when they are trampling on people's rights.

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