Archive for 2009

Nice Slide Show of California Political Figures

Sunday, March 15th, 2009


Jerry Brown’s Double Bind in Running for Governor

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

We’ve been through this movie before: candidate with superior experience runs for high office arguing that he or she has what it takes to manage the government from day one.

This was Hillary Clinton’s strategic mistake. While Barack Obama was campaigning as the candidate of change, Clinton kept saying she had the experience. But Clinton’s message made the very case that Obama wanted voters to take away: She represented the past, the status quo, while he represented the future.

This is Jerry Brown’s challenge, too. He was always ahead of the curve. They called him “Gov. Moonbeam” because he proposed that California should have its own communications satellite — not so far out in hindsight, was it?

But he was ahead of the curve when huge numbers of today’s voters weren’t yet born. The more he emphasizes his experience, the more he looks and sounds like a flash from the past.

Or as Garry South, Gavin Newsom’s consultant, puts it indelicately: “The more he babbles on about how cutting edge he was in the ’70s, the more he makes himself a relic.”

We’re not sure anyone can make Brown look old school. He’s the most adaptive, chamelon-like changeling California has ever witnessed. Paddle on the left, paddle on the right. Oppose Prop. 13, support it with all your heart. Oppose Prop. 8, vow to enforce it, argue against it in the Supreme Court.

But he’s in a political double bind and arguing about all the wonderful things he did three decades ago won’t make him the next big thing.

Red Ink Still Rising in California Budget

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

The Legislative Analyst’s new report, detailing how California’s wheezing economy has already poured $8 billion of new red ink into the barely-afloat budget plan passed just three weeks ago, raises the already-high stakes for the May 19th special election.

With state revenues crippled by the recession, leg analyst Mac Taylor says the economic forecast assumptions underpinning the 18-month budget fix passed last month were $8 billion too rosy.Even before this new $8 billion problem, the budget was shakily premised on passage of six ballot measures to be decided at a May 19th special election, which collectively represent nearly $6 billion in revenue needed to make that plan pencil out. This means that the governor and legislature could be facing a brand new deficit of as much as $14 billion on the morning of May 20.

And the outlook for the most crucial ballot measure of the six – Proposition 1A – is problematic, with Republicans shooting at it from the right – because it keeps in place for two more years $16 billion worth of “temporary” tax increases used to balance the budget – and liberal Democrats blasting away from the left – because it puts a cap on state spending that would lock in place some of the cuts made in the same deal.

As a political matter, it also means that any happy horsepuck plan for expanded programs – Universal health care! Better pay for teachers! High speed rail for all! – peddled by the candidates for governor may be dismissed out of hand, at least until they explain precisely how they plan to balance the budget we already have.

The Legislative Analyst’s new report is found here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/2009/bud/feb_overview/feb_overview_031309.aspx

California Budget and Taxes Wonk Alert

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Pioneer Lansford Hastings must be the most optimistic guy in California history.

At the 1849 constitutional convention founding the state, Hastings opposed a limit on the load of public debt California could take on, for the curious reason that “in all likelihood, no debt at all would be created after the government got on its feet, no matter what amount the constitution permitted.”

So much for optimism.

A native Ohioan, Hastings authored “The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California,” a kind of pre-Civil War Lonely Planet Guide, aimed at wooing millions of settlers to the Golden State. In his book, he reported a speedy overland alternative to the Oregon Trail; sadly the short-cut’s popularity was cut short, after the plucky but unlucky folks known as the Donner Party discovered a few problems with it that Hastings did not completely think through.

The man didn’t have much luck with budget prognosis, either; within two years, the state ran up $2 million in red ink, and never really stopped. Taxpayers now fork out $5 billion a year in interest for the insatiable borrowing that props up what is charitably called California’s spending plan.

Amid the debris of last month’s budget train wreck, business-oriented, good government advocates and liberal activists have called for a 21st century constitutional convention, to revamp the fiscal and political structures. The plan is just one part of a sweeping new push for reform in Sacramento and beyond that will soon (wonk alert!) confront Californians with a set of crucial, if arcane and complex, issues critical to their self-governance.

  • Last week more than 400 people showed up for a Sacramento summit meeting to discuss the constitutional convention proposal. The event featured an intriguing mix of Bay Area corporate leaders – fed up with the economic ripple effects of the budget meltdown – and statewide liberal activists – eager to pass reforms giving more power to majority Democrats in the Legislature. The group is eyeing a 2010 ballot initiative to jump-start the convention process.
  • On May 19, voters in a hastily convened special election will decide the fate of six initiatives, whose passage underpins the latest budget deal. The most far-reaching is Proposition 1A, which would cement into the constitution a cap on state spending and a rainy day reserve fund. The kicker: Prop 1A’s passage would also authorize $17 billion in higher taxes, by extending temporary raises in levies for income, sales and vehicles tucked into the new budget. The measure, already enmeshed in litigation, is opposed by a strange bedfellow alliance of anti-tax GOPers and pro-spending Democrats.
  • During the 2010 race for governor, voters also will decide whether to put in place the so-called “open primary” plan championed by state Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria. That system would radically alter the state’s political landscape and weaken the power of California’s two major parties.

With this backdrop, Democrat legislators have introduced three separate measures to roll back the requirement for a two-thirds vote to pass a budget, while liberal activist groups are circulating petitions to qualify two similar 2010 initiatives, both aimed at ending the minority veto that Republicans now effectively hold over tax and spending proposals. One would overturn the 2/3rds requirement for budget votes; the other also seeks to dump the 2/3rds needed for new taxes.

Ted Anagnoson, a visiting professor of political science at UCSB, unearthed in the state archive a report, prepared during a previous push for constitutional reform, which traces the history of California’s government structure (including a footnote on Lansford Hastings’s no-worries-be-happy stance on debt). Anagnoson said in an interview that the fate of the supermajority vote is perhaps the most important, and polarizing, issue amid the new political reform debate.

“The two-thirds budget vote is the single thing that makes Sacramento difficult to govern,” he said.

Reflections On The S.F. Chronicle

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

By Jerry Roberts

I started working at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1977, as a temporary, vacation relief general assignment reporter, and left a quarter-century later, after serving five years as the paper’s Managing Editor.

For most of my Chronicle career, the paper was owned and operated by the descendants of Charles and Michael de Young, who founded it as the Daily Dramatic Chronicle in 1865. In 2000, the family sold out to the Hearst Corp., which struggled with the paper’s finances from the day they bought it; two weeks ago, Hearst executives announced they would shut down The Chronicle unless employee unions made massive concessions, starting with the disappearance of at least 150 jobs.

The financial woes afflicting the Chronicle mirror those of once-flush metro dailies across the country; the rapid economic and cultural changes shaped by the internet shattered their business model of aggregating a general interest, geographically discrete, mass audience to sell to local and national advertisers at premium rates.

For a newspaper junkie who spent more than half my life in daily newsrooms before moving to academia in 2007, the decline of the Chronicle and of the industry is heart-breaking to watch. Here are my own two (three, actually) cents on what’s happened and where things may be headed:

1-The future for newspaper journalists lies in fully understanding – and truly accepting, once and for all – that the value of the product is the news, not the paper, then moving full speed ahead on some version of web-to-print publication that merges daily breaking news coverage with a one-to-three day-a-week print product focused on analysis, opinion and explanatory journalism.

2-News organizations, regardless of platform, should concentrate intensely on three fundamental value propositions:

a) Local news, which comprehensively covers, uncovers and demystifies the information that is most directly and immediately relevant to folks in their communities – public safety, schools, government actors and actions, arts and entertainment, for starters – as consumers, taxpayers and citizens (as sites like Noozhawk and independent.com do in Santa Barbara)

b) Collaborative investigative reporting that bulds on and fulfills the traditional watchdog responsibilities of public service journalism, by aligning and strengthening the organization’s own reporting resources with the expertise, passion and reporting power of online communities (as the Sun-Sentinel did in its Pulitizer short list investigative series on FEMA mismanagement of hurricane disaster relief).

c) Intelligent aggregation and synthesis that brings clarity to the vast mass of daily information that pounds each of us all day, every day, by discovering and highlighting the most important and revealing online reporting and commentary (with models that RealClearPolitics, Huffpost and Daily Beast, among others, are in the process of developing hourly).

3-The current, webwise conventional wisdom that newspaper executives and editors were stubbornly blind to the huge implications of the digital revolution for their businesses is just wrong. Every news organization and editor I know, going back 10 years and more – does anyone at the Chron remember the 39 Steps of the Change Project? – were working hard to reinvent and reposition their products for an era of radical transformation.

It is true that most of these efforts inadequately foresaw the full scope and speed of the coming change; however, they fell short in larger part because the executives and editors charged with finding and navigating the New Media pathways to change were under simultaneous, unstinting demands to ensure that the Old Media legacy products continued to serve, maintain and expand existing, aging audiences in the fullest possible way.

Under the insistent demand for short-term results and profits, the Production Imperative of putting out the best damn daily paper possible inevitably trumped the Mandate for Change, so that rethinking and reinvention mostly remained timid tweaking around the margins.

However, the problem was less a failure of imagination of what the future would look like, as the lofty thinkers of the web world smugly argue, than a failure to bite the bullet, by cutting loose and redirecting critical mass amounts of resources, in the form of time and labor of substantial numbers of reporters, editors and business side employees.

This both/and proposition meant that the short-term, daily deadline driven Sisyphean slog up the hill always took precedence over the long-range necessity to provide the luxury of time needed to experiment, discover and, yes, even fail, in properly exploring ideas, platforms, operations and organizational structures required to forge the right strategies and goals to adapt Old Media forms to New Media realities.

These four links offer an up-to-date, if disheartening, overview of the rapidly moving transformation of the news media landscape.

The East Bay Express details how Hearst in San Francisco has made a take it or leave it offer to the Newspaper Guild to accept the loss of 150 of 460 jobs at the Chronicle – and fast – or suffer the loss of 225 instead.

In Seattle, Hearst is moving to turn the print editions of its Post-Intelligencer into an online only product,

Over at his newsosaur blog, my old city editor Alan Mutter provides the best, smartest and most fact-based real time coverage of newspapers in transition, including a recent two-parter about paid online content (featuring a discussion of the situation in Santa Barbara).

Finally, the Times today has a takeout on the feasibility of the non-profit model for print products, using Mother Jones magazine as a case study, another financial alternative now being widely discussed.