Quantcast

Archive for 2009



Swap Meet: Oil & Con Con Meet Gambling Cowboys

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

namlogoNew push for Con Con: Latest player to jump into the battle for a state constitutional convention is the New America Foundation, the influential non-partisan. D.C.-based think tank, which maintains a formidable intellectual presence in California.

The foundation, which is home to big brain journalists including Calbuzz contributor Mark Paul and Blockbuster Democracy blogger Joe Matthews, is sponsoring two community forums in Southern California over the weekend. On Friday, they also released a new research report recommending that convention delegates be average folks, rather than the collection of hacks, flacks and usual suspects who are no doubt lying in wait to hijack the process.

Author Steven Hill based the conclusion on evidence gleaned from case studies of the “deliberative democracy” movement, a host of ordinary people political groups that tackled projects ranging from the rebuild of the World Trade Center to the economy of Northeast Ohio and post-Katrina reconstruction in New Orleans:

“Some have wondered if average people are capable of the kind of in-depth understanding of complex issues that will be necessary for redesigning California. But the truth is, average Californians are the only ones who can lead our state out of the quagmire of special interests and partisanship that currently is paralyzing it. That’s because average Californians bring a special quality that too many incumbents and the political class in general do not have: a pragmatic desire to solve the state’s problems, regardless of ideology, partisanship or career self-interest…

“Participants often demonstrate a ready willingness to mix and match elements from differing political approaches – market-based, public sector, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’– as long as the result is a solution that will work for themselves and their communities.”

oil_platformOn-again off-again on-again off-again oil project on-again: Enviros around the state are scrambling yet again to block the controversial PXP oil drilling project off the Santa Barbara coast (a Calbuzz debate on the issue is here and here ), amid reports that approval for the offshore plan is part of a proposed framework in the closed door, Big Five budget negotiations.

“We heard it’s back in the budget and the governor is lobbying very aggressively for it,” said one key player in the long-running fight over the project. “They would put (the project) into a trailer bill.”

If approved, the PXP project would be penciled in for producing $1.8 billion in royalties over the next 14 years, including $100 million in the current fiscal year; foes of the plan, which was defeated earlier by the State Lands Commission but resurrected by Schwarzenegger in the budget fight, bitterly complain that California could reap much more – $2-4 billion annually – and with less risk to the environment, by enacting an oil severance tax on existing production.

California currently is the only one of 22 oil producing states that does not have such a tax., according to a drill down piece by LAT business columnist Michael Hiltzik who went deep into the weeds on the issue.

Environmental groups “started (Thursday) sending dozens of alerts to tens of thousands of coastal activists letting people know that Schwarzenegger’s Vampire was up and stumbling around yet again,” one coastal advocate told Calbuzz. “How many times do you have to kill something, anyway?”

Fox100

What happens in Vegas: Over at Fox and Hounds Daily our friend Joel Fox is trumpeting an editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal that fiercely attacks suggestions the Prop. 13 be amended, and assails California for having high taxes and too much regulation of business.

As California teeters, Democrats are left to contemplate how this living laboratory of liberalism — with its smothering taxes, intrusive regulatory apparatus, generous social services and well-fed, heavily unionized public sector — could now find itself on the brink of collapse.

Rather than conclude the obvious — that decade after decade of high-tax, anti-business, anti-growth policymaking designed to sate an ever-expanding state is ultimately unsustainable — a handful of liberals have found their culprit: Proposition 13, a measure limiting property taxes passed by voters in 1978.

Not surprisingly, neither the editorialist nor Fox mentioned that Nevada closed its own multi-billion dollar deficit this year by raising taxes, that the state’s unemployment rate is higher than California’s or that the Silver State was ranked the #2 most dysfunctional government in the nation.

To his credit, Fox did acknowledge that “one of the reasons I’m reprinting the editorial here (is) because it quotes me.”

Golden Lone Star State: Perhaps the biggest humiliation for California to date is a takeout in The Economist that compares the Golden State unfavorably to Texas, ferhevvinsake. Noting that Chief Executive magazine has ranked California “the very worst state to do business,” compared to the top-of-list rating of Texas, the piece concludes that “Mr. Schwarzenegger’s lazy governorship could come to be seen not as the great missed opportunity but as the spur for reform.”

.

Fishwrap: eMeg Spends, Steve Spins, Sarah Pales

Friday, July 17th, 2009

megauctionThe road to Damascus: While the Capitol Knucklehead Patrol keeps flailing in their efforts to pass a new budget, Calbuzz — issue oriented and solution driven, as always –- experienced an epiphany about how to stem the tide of red ink: Let’s let eMeg do it.

The campaign of Republican wannabe governor Whitman –- aka The Political Consultant Relief Act of 2010 –- announced this week that the candidate had kicked another $15 million of her own dough into the race, bringing her self-contributions to $19 Large to date.

This works out to $123,376.62 per day (or $5,140.69 an hour) since announcing her candidacy in February, according to sources in the Calbuzz CFO’s office; at this rate, she can pay off the deficit in a jiffy * and save all of us a lot of trouble.

Whitman’s early embrace of the famed Governor Al Checchi strategy seems designed with two basic purposes: 1) to intimidate and demoralize the opposition and 2) to bypass the media, old and new, in controlling the message and introducing herself to voters through a no-doubt stirring set of TV spots, a movie that Californians have seen before but never really warmed to.

For Whitman, the first problem with her Checchi strategy is that one of her primary rivals is Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who made his own pile in Silicon Valley and who keeps assuring us that his campaign will be “fully funded”; in other words, even though he’s currently throwing around nickels like manhole covers, when the deal goes down, he’ll spend whatever it takes.

“This election isn’t an eBay auction and you can’t win by out-bidding your opponent,” cracked recently arrived Poizner flack Jarron Agen. “With the economy in a recession, our message to Meg is: don’t stop at $15 million, spend it all and do it locally.”

Meg’s second problem is that while she seems intent on running a saccharine, Morning in America campaign – “Young voters find inspiration, common ground at San Diego MEGa WOMEN event,” her treacly website proclaims this week – both Poizner and the earnest Tom Campbell seem determined to talk about issues that actually matter to GOP voters.

Poizner noticeably stepped up his substance quotient in recent days, picking a fight with Nancy Pelosi in a speech about water delivered in Firebaugh, which was aimed straight at the heart of the conservative base in the drought-stricken Central Valley, where he also picked up another half-dozen ham and egg endorsements from local mayors, supervisors and tax assessors.

Next he showed up at Thursday’s big meeting of the tax reform Commission on the 21st Century Economy in San Francisco to ally himself with Republican true believers of the Arthur Laffer jihadist brigade: “As Governor, I will cut taxes for Californians,” he said after testifying to the commission.

While his woefully unspecific blanket statement at first glance seems kinda silly, Poizner’s red-meat-and-potatoes pitch is less designed for subtlety and weed whackers than for seizing hearts and minds among the true-believing anti-tax Republican base.

*(Calbuzz truth squad: Actually, if eMeg keeps giving her campaign money at the current rate, she’ll spend about $57 million of her fortune by next November’s election. Our Green Eyeshade Division advises that paying off California’s $27 billion deficit would take her slightly longer – until July 17, 2606. And we’re pretty sure she doesn’t have that much.)

palin winkStop the presses: Sacramento is not the worst state capital in America. In fact, according to the National Journal’s analysis of “The Six Most Dysfunctional State Governments” in the nation, California comes in a sorry sixth, scoring only 6.25 points out of a possible 10, and trailing South Carolina, Alaska, Illinois, Nevada and New York.

The magazine rated states according to four critieria, and while we scored big in “Policy Challenges” (10) and “Leadership Problems (8),” we lagged far behind in “Criminality” (1) and “Media Circus” atmosphere (6). Calbuzz notes that four of the five states finishing in front have had recent sex scandals while Alaska has Sarah Palin’s ongoing snowbilly soap opera saga. Memo to Arnold and Co. — Let’s get busy up there.

Calbuzz gets results: The worst idea of the year , Sen. Leland Yee’s effort to take control of the University of California away from the Regents and give it to the Legislature has died a quiet death at least for this legislative session.  “I guess the Regents have pretty powerful friends, that’s all I can say,” said Yee, D-S.F. Or rational ones, anyway.lorettacycle

Inquiring minds want to know: If Loretta Sanchez — she of the wacky Christmas cards – were to give up her seat in Congress and get herself  elected to succeed Arnold, would she forego the Governor’s Mansion for the Playboy Mansion?

Follow that story: Latest on the effort to free San Francisco journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, imprisoned in North Korea, is here , here and here.

Blue Plate Special: The Parsky Commission — you know, the bi-partisan panel charged by the governor with coming up with a unified proposal to restructure California’s tax system — on Thursday decided to accept for study the proposals from liberals to be thrown into the mix along with proposals from conservatives already in the hopper.

This is a smart move by the commission, which will now ask the governor for an extension of its term for at least another 45 days or so. The current leaders of the Legislature have pledged that whatever single proposal comes out of this group will get a straight up or down vote in both houses — an unparalleled  opportunity for a group of politically  and economically savvy outsides to affect fundamental change in California. If they don’t blow it by failing to find a compromise set of ideas.

Press Clips: Merc Up, Chron Down, Politicker WTF?

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

kenmclaughlinHats off: Mega-kudos to Ken McLaughlin of the San Jose Mercury News for a smart and solid Sunday package on what California’s wannabe governors say they’d do about the state’s budget meltdown.

Using what Calbuzz likes to call “actual  reporting,” he contacted all five contenders to ask the same set of seven fundamental questions about state finances, ranging from their stance on the two-thirds vote requirement to how they would bridge the partisan gap on fiscal matters.

His report, along with the complete responses he received from four of the campaigns can be found here.

McLaughlin is what was once known as an actual newspaper reporter, who properly avoided eye-rolling at some of the answers he got — leaving the chore of providing truthy context to three of California’s most popular quote machines –- Larry Gerston, Barbara O’Connor and Dan Schnur. But even this trio of go-to chrome domes seemed restrained in their commentary by the limits of the formal newspaper form.

Calbuzz, not so much. Here’s a report card on how the candidates did, from worst to first.

EGBrown3Jerry Brown: F General Jerry figures that everybody already knows who he is, so why should a little thing like California going down the toilet make him bother to break a sweat and respond to a serious newspaper’s serious questions about the crisis? Here’s why: because when the Merc reported seven different times that Brown “declined to answer the questionnaire (saying) that he was on vacation and not yet a declared candidate” it made him look like a jerk.

megcrop1

Meg Whitman: D You’d think with all the money Her Megness is forking out to her army of media retainers, they’d come up with something better than the generic campaign mush they put in her mouth. Example: “Political posturing would be off the table,” she said in answer to how she would ease partisan dysfunction. Really? Off the table? Whoooaa, that’s some tough stuff there, eMeg. Which goes to our oft-expressed concern about her candidacy to date: it’s one big pile of platitudes without a glimmer of political experience, savvy or instinct within it.

GavinNewsomGavin Newsom: C No surprise, Prince Gavin’s answer to everything is, “Come to San Francisco, where I’ve paved the streets with gold.” To his credit, Newsom comes out foursquare in favor of dumping the two-thirds budget vote requirement, but most of his answers are tiresome retreads of his self-congratulatory self-appraisal of his own record. Until the Chronicle favors us with some perspective on his claims (see next item) California voters are on their own to figure out how much of it’s true.

Steve Poizner: B Poizner mostly offered warmed-over campaign rhetori126719_poizner_GMK_c but two things stand out: 1) unlike Meg, he doesn’t lay the solid waste on with a trowel, and also seems to understand he isn’t getting paid by the word; 2) alone among the candidates, he talks specifically about ways and means to modernize and apply basic management techniques to government that don’t begin and end with Attila the Meg-style reflexive cutting and wholesale firings.

tomcampbell1Tom Campbell: A Dudley Do-Right does it again, emerging as the best-informed, most thoughtful and most candid one of the bunch. Campbell’s economics intelligence is buttressed by his sweat-the-details understanding of the fine strokes of public finance. A former Director of Finance, he has proposed a serious and balanced approach to addressing the deficit in both the long and short term, and his answers to the Merc put the rest of the field to shame.

Chronicle Watch II: Still MIA - Prince Gavin sent out a release the other day announcing a major campaign swing through Southern California and making the case for himself this way:

“Mayor Newsom announced his candidacy for governor earlier this year by releasing an online video on GavinNewsom.com that ties his record of success as mayor to his vision for California’s future.

“’In San Francisco, we’ve not accepted excuses. We’ve protected people’s civil rights, created a universal health care program, protected teachers from layoffs and enacted a local stimulus plan that will put people back to work and save jobs. And we’ve done it while balancing our budgets and seeing our bond ratings go up.”

No knock on Newsom for peddling this self-aggrandizing narrative wheeze – it’s what political candidates do. But, as Colombo would say, there’s just one thing that keeps botherin’ us: Are Newsom’s claims true? If so, to what extent? If not, where’s the evidence to disprove them?

Unfortunately the one and only institution in a position to easily address the issue is the Chronicle, Newsom’s hometown daily paper, which has spent years covering the guy, but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to answer the key political questions anytime soon.

By giving Newsom a pass now, effectively granting him a big ole’ summer fling in the Free Spin Zone, Chron editors are missing an opportunity for important public service journalism, booting a chance to show they’re still a vital statewide voice and reinforcing the notion that newspapers are too clunky and slow to help define swiftly emerging narratives of a crucial, nationally-watched campaign.

When Calbuzz delivered a gentle love tap last week, chiding the paper for ducking its responsibility to examine their own mayor’s extravagant claims, the High Sheriffs of their newsroom got into High Dudgeon about our post, putting on frightful frowns and hurling personal insults at Calbuzz: “So much for journalistic integrity,” one senior editor sniffed at the buzz boys, in an email distributed to staff.

Sticks and stones backatcha, chief, but the plain fact is, this ain’t about integrity – it’s about Journalism 101.

The job of calling balls and strikes on a hometown candidate who’s seeking to spring up the political ladder comes with the territory for what you like to call your major metropolitan newspapers. And for years, under the leadership of recently departed politics editor Jim Brewer, the Chron often performed that duty better than most.

Back in 1990, when another S.F. mayor was running for governor, the paper helped pioneer the “truth box,” that now-routine, campaign watch graphic that helps voters measure the veracity of a candidate’s TV ads. Over the years, they’ve regularly published other, useful fact-checking features following debates, major speeches or campaign appearances by candidates and officeholders at every level.

Because this Internets thing has changed everything about campaigning – most notably the pace and speed with which claims, counterclaims and charges fly around – that kind of reporting is more than important than ever.

So why in 2009, three months after the city’s mayor formally announced his bid to be California’s next chief executive, trumpeting his record in San Francisco as evidence of his worthiness, has the Chronicle not published a single piece that simply lines up Newsom’s campaign trail statements about an issue and submits them to the truth test?

At a time when the state is in crisis, teetering on the edge of financial failure, and their guy is telling everyone he meets that he can fix it, inquiring minds want to know.

Earth to Chris Reed: Calbuzz lists Politicker on our blogroll because we enjoy the work and work ethic of Chris Reed, who proclaims his site “America’s Finest Blog” and juices the predictable conservative cant of his frequent rants with a lively, passionate, hair-on-fire style that’s fun to read and often informative.

And while we usually subscribe to the just-spell-the-name-right school of publicity (that’s two z’s in buzz, mister), we must confess we’re bemused, if not bewildered, by his out-of-right-field attack on our post about a recent PPIC report that undercuts the Republican claim that high taxes are driving rich people out of California. Reed’s rant, which purports to show how the PPIC is “disputing” our report is based on a willful, agenda-driven misreading of what we said and his pique at our failure to confirm his own view of the world:

“(When) I read the actual short report…I didn’t see what I expected,” he writes, in accusing Calbuzz of journalistic crimes and misdemeanors. Huh? And this would be our problem, why?

To be safe, we put in our own call to PPIC to ask if we’d gotten something wrong, and to confirm the obvious: that Politicker was simply trying to conjure up a controversy to drive traffic: “We don’t see any dispute about the results of our research as published” in Calbuzz, a spokeswoman told us. “Interpretation and headline writing are what you do, and we aren’t going to get in the middle of that. But we’re delighted to see our work scrutinized and discussed.” Us too!

Must read of the week: If you can read only one California budget story this week (and why would you want to read more?) make it Dan Walters’ Tuesday column,  which strips the fiscal meltdown down to its essence in 492 plain and simple words. The big fella’ may have lost a few feet off the fastball, but he can still bring it when he needs to.

5 Questions: How Laura Chick Watchdogs Stimulus

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

laura chick (color)

By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

With California receiving billions  in federal stimulus dollars, the chief watchdog on how the money gets spent is former Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick. Appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to the newly-created, $175,000 post of Inspector General in April, Chick earned a reputation in L.A. as a fearless advocate for transparency and propriety in spending public money, battling politicians from former Mayor Jim Kenny Hahn to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo over her critical investigations of their operations. Amid ongoing debate about the effectiveness of the stimulus, and whether a second stimulus is necessary, Chick answered questions about the policy and her new post posed by Calbuzzer Susan Rose.

Calbuzz: How much stimulus money will come to state government and over what period of time?

Laura Chick: Approximately $50 Billion will hit the streets of California. It has already started flowing and will continue throughout the year.

CB: What does an Inspector General do?

LC: An Inspector General is an independent entity charged with the oversight of how certain government dollars are spent. I describe my job as overseeing the stimulus funds this way: deter, detect and disclose any waste, fraud or abuse.

CB: Do the Feds have a rulebook? How will you determine what is a legitimate use of state money and when it is misspent?

LC: The Federal Government has very specific rules on how the dollars must be spent. I believe in addition to those rules the spending of these funds should pass the “public smell test.” I’m asking local governments and agencies to imagine that a front page story will appear in their local newspaper what they are spending the dollars on. If they spend a restless night’s sleep thinking about that, I say don’t do it.

CB: How did you get the job of California Inspector General and how does it differ from Controller for the City of LA?

LC: After the President signed the stimulus bill, Governor Schwarzenegger asked that I take the newly created job of Inspector General overseeing Recovery Act spending.. He impressed upon me that he is deadly serious that all of these dollars must be spent in the right way. He gave me a commitment that I would have total independence and that I would have all the resources needed to get the job done.

This job is different from the position of City Controller in that it is not about auditing. The IG is about investigations, assessments and inspections in real-time. The Controller is Los Angeles’ chief auditor, and audits take a long time to complete. As IG, I am in there at the front end, hopefully catching problems before they occur.

CB: What do you hope to accomplish in this new position?

LC: By showing the public that government can spend their taxpayer dollars wisely and well, we can begin to restore people’s trust and confidence in government and get them believing that government can in fact, do things right.

Why Conservatives Should Be Against Term Limits

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

By Bob Naylorbobnaylor
Special to Calbuzz

First, a confession. I served in the California Legislature for eight years. I am a Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan Republican. I termed myself out by running for higher office (and losing). I voted for term limits.

As Pete Wilson likes to say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Turns out, it’s a very bad idea. What made it seem like a good idea?

1. “Citizen legislators, not career politicians.”

That is the slogan from the website of U.S. Term Limits, where I searched in vain for any other philosophical justification.

There are some sad cases of career politicians  — especially when they cling to office too long, like Senator Robert Byrd, or the California equivalent, the late Senator Ralph Dills, who was first elected in 1939 and served continuously (except for a few years on the bench) into the ’90s, when he was termed out of office. His last campaign slogan was:   “Too old to quit.”

But for every old hack forced out by term limits, there are at least as many people who are superbly competent, bright and balanced with profound institutional and policy knowledge.

Examples include the late Senator Ken Maddy, moderate Democratic Senator Bob Presley, Senator Jim Brulte, and I would argue, Speaker Willie Brown, at whom the term limits initiative was aimed (Brown was at his best getting difficult budgets through for Republican governors).

Furthermore, “citizen legislators” are few and far between. Most new legislators have served for years in local office or are well connected as union organizers or are staff members to the incumbents or other influential officeholders. Some are independently wealthy. There aren‛t many “Mr. or Ms. Smiths” going to Sacramento.

2. Overcoming the artificial advantage of gerrymandering.

We don’t need term limits to do that because we have Prop 11 (redistricting commission), right? But Prop 11 will not likely make a big difference. Eighty per cent or more of all districts will still be safe seats, because our body politic is geographically polarized — red counties and blue counties, hardly any purple counties.

3. Incumbent advantage.

I used to argue that elections are never really competitive because incumbents raise lots of money, have a big name ID advantage, typically have safe districts whether gerrymandered or not and get a handsome salary while they are campaigning. Challengers rarely have a chance.

But what has happened under term limits? Because the stakes are so high, the existing incumbent or the local political party establishment recruits the successor and forces competition to drop out. There are fewer competitive primaries than there are complete blowouts, often no primary at all.

So term limits have not produced competitive elections or many citizen legislators, but the reason conservatives should oppose term limits has more to do with their negative impacts.

They have made our politics even more polarized. In place of people who are secure and long-serving enough to say no to their “anchor tenant” backers when the good of the state demands it, we now have people who are worried about their next primary election when they try to move up after one or two more terms. From their first day in office, they typically tow the line of the unions, or the trial lawyers, or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who dominate the low-turnout partisan primaries.

When the Legislature is polarized, the majority ideology is in total control. And in California, that means the left. The art of finding enough middle ground to do what is necessary to meet a crisis, whether it be attacking the budget problems, the water crisis, or infrastructure decay, is almost a historic relic.

It is also a simple fact that two to four years in office are just not enough time to master the political complexities of a 120 member bicameral Legislature, let alone attain the policy expertise that has marked the great legislators. First term chairs of major policy committees, sometimes bringing in their own all-new staff, can rarely match the skill of a Bill Lockyer as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, or Quentin Kopp as chair of Transportation. There are exceptional performers, of course, but they overcome huge, and generally harmful barriers artificially imposed by the cheap slogans of the term limits movement.

On balance, the Legislature as an institution for policy-making has nearly broken down. Ask anyone who has been around the Capitol for a long time.

As a conservative, I favor returning to the model of the Founding Fathers. The original constitutional qualifications for office are being a citizen, a resident and of age. There are plenty of other checks and balances without adding term limits. In California, we have added the recall and the referendum to restrain legislative abuse.

If a legislator has mastered the political art well enough to deserve another term, the people of that district should have the right to grant it.

Bob Naylor served in the California Assembly from 1978 -86, as Assembly Republican Leader from 1982 -84 and as California Republican Party Chairman from 1987 -89. He is a partner at Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller and Naylor.