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Keeley: California Forward Not Dead, Still Kicking

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

I come to praise California Forward, not to bury it.

Actually, I have no real issue with Calbuzz’s micro-reporting on the narrow point of whether or not California Forward’s efforts to have the legislature and governor place a real budget process reform measure on the November ballot, will be successful.

I do have an issue with Calbuzz using that as the measure of California Forward’s overall effectiveness in the broader area of fixing California’s broken tools for governance in the 21st Century.

As many of your readers know, California Forward was founded a couple of years ago with the support of a hand-full of large California foundations who had grown exasperated by the rapid decline of California’s governance capacity.

Whether the issue was and is education, environmental protection, healthy economy, human services, or any of the other major issues facing our state, California seems to have become mostly incapable of making progress.

Obviously, there are exceptions, with the most notable being AB 32, the state’s landmark and comprehensive global climate change statute. For the most part, and regardless of the state’s economic condition, Sacramento has become a place where good ideas seem to go to die.

California Forward, a bi-partisan (or, some would argue, a non-partisan) organization came into existence to deeply examine what is broken in California’s systems of governance, and to build support for thoughtful, best-practices reforms. It has been known from the start that many of the solutions are likely to take a few years to achieve, while some may be able to be adopted more quickly.

In 2008, California Forward joined other “Goo Goos” such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AARP, to sponsor the statewide ballot measure that took the decadal redistricting of legislative lines out of the hands of legislators, and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

That effort is underway now, and there are those who want to see it succeed, and others who are attempting to smother it in the crib. Regardless, it is one of the reforms that many who look at California’s governance tools believe needs exactly this reform.

For a couple of years, California Forward has worked both inside and outside Sacramento to develop a set of “best practices” reforms of California’s perennially late and “not worth waiting for” budget-making system. The California Forward package includes two-year budgeting, budgeting by objectives, mandatory oversight of the governor’s implementation of the budget by the legislature, and other items used by many, many states that are considered well managed.

The clear 600-pound gorilla in the budget reform room is the majority vote. California Forward is recommending that the existing two-thirds vote to adopt the budget be replaced by a simple majority vote provision in the state constitution. This would put California in the same place as 47 of the 50 states who have just such a provision. This change would NOT change the current requirement to obtain a 2/3rd’s vote to raise taxes.

Other issues on our agenda include term limit reform, initiative reform, and campaign financing. Each will take more time to develop into a broadly-supported reform.

I have read with interest your obituary of Repair California, the folks who wanted to get a Constitutional Convention to the ballot. I have also read your pieces on other budget reform efforts, such as that by Professor Lakoff at the University of California Berkeley.

I hasten to add that I respect both efforts, as it is critically important for as many voices and ideas as possible to be in the mix if ideas to fix California’s broken governance tools.

California Forward is, however, different. We are taking a multi-year, multi-subject approach to solving our vexing governance problems. We are very likely to have to take a few laps around many tracks to get all of this done, but we will get it done. California should accept nothing less.

To accomplish that, California Forward is undertaking an unprecedented civic engagement project. What I like to call the California Conversation. This project, which has been approved by California Forward’s board of directors and is deep into the design stage, is an attempt to have a conversation with literally millions of Californians regarding the state of governance in California, and what can be done to fix it.

This, too, is likely to take time to do it right — and to make changes that will provide lasting improvements.

Wrap: Megablunder; Offshore Blues; Free Mickey!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The Calbuzz Department of Handicapping and Short Jockeys has been pretty darn impressed with how few major mistakes Team eMeg has made thus far in her maiden voyage into big-time California politics.

With a couple of exceptions.

Blunder #1, as we’ve noted before, was Whitman’s stand against AB32, California’s historic measure to control greenhouse gasses. It was unnecessary in the Republican primary and will pose a problem for her among moderates and independents in the general election.

And now comes Blunder #2: Whitman’s call last week to build more prisons, to be paid for by cutting other programs. We saw the story, by Torey Van Oot in the Sacramento B Minus but didn’t see any follow-up, which was odd, given what a huge strategic screw-up this was on Meg’s part.

“Whitman, who opposes raising taxes and wants to reduce the state work force, declined to identify a specific funding source for the costly new facilities, saying instead that cash could be freed up by cutting other areas of government,” Van Oot reported.

It didn’t take Attorney General Jerry Brown long to see that Meg had drawn a line dividing prisons on the one hand and schools on the other.  Crusty jumped right in where any good Democrat would be – on the side of schools.

Brown called Whitman’s plan to build prisons while reducing spending “snake-oil math.” Moreover, he said, “It is a gross misrepresentation to say you’re going to cut taxes, you’re going to somehow build more prisons and you’re not going to cut (education and other) spending.

“When you build more prisons, that costs money, then you put people in it, that costs money, then you have to build more hospital beds … it’s gigantic.”

Don’t say Calbuzz didn’t give you a heads-up that a dichotomy between schools and prisons – with Jerry on one side and Meg on the other – will be a major line of attack when Brown gets around to engaging Whitman one-on-one.

We’re just sayin’.

Let Mickey Speak! You don’t have to agree with Mickey Kaus, the pioneer political blogger and rabble-rousing Democrat who has declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate, to believe the guy ought to have a chance to speak at the California Democratic Party state convention in a couple of weeks.

But he’s not on the official list of approved speakers Party Chairman John Burton has deemed viable to seek the party’s nomination.

Of course, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is the incumbent. She’s beloved within the Democratic Party. And she’s going to win the nomination. But Kaus is a serious political thinker who argues 1) the Democratic Party’s approach to immigration is essentially an open-border policy that is unfair to native-born, low-income workers and 2) the party is so beholden to big unions — especially the California Teachers Association — that it has conceded its positions on virtually every issue to what’s best for the preservation of the unions, not necessarily for California’s schools or its working class.

“I have no beef with Barbara Boxer. I’ve voted for her twice,” said Kaus. “I’m not running against Boxer as a person. If she wins, I’ll support her.” But, he argues, Boxer has the wrong stand on his two critical issues and so he’s challenging her.

“If I can just reach half the people who agree with me, I’ll do shockingly well,” he said, pointing for inspiration to Ron Unz’s run against Gov. Pete Wilson in  1994, when he won 34% of the Republican primary vote.

“It seems odd that John Burton can just scratch me off the list,” Kaus said of the CDP chairman. “He’s a little like Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq.”

See, that’s another reason — besides the fact that he’s a blog hero — that Kaus should be allowed to speak: he’s entertaining. Which is a lot more than we can say for most of the characters who will be hogging the microphone at the convention.

Offshore Obama: The president’s Sister Souljah play on expanding offshore oil drilling, at least off the coasts of red states,  won’t change the debate over Governor Schwarzmuscle’s push for the Tranquillon Ridge project in Santa Barbara (the defining piece on the issue is here ): Arnold will keep trying to resurrect it, and both sides in the enviro feud over its virtues will claim that Obama’s new policy confirms their position is the correct one.

Green backers of the plan, to allow the PXP energy company a state lease to drill from an existing platform in federal waters, can properly argue that the Administration’s decision not to allow new drilling off California removes, at least for now, the specter of the Minerals Management Service awarding new federal drilling rights for the site, after the current lease expires.

That issue has been central to the debate about whether an agreement with PXP, negotiated by the Environmental Defense Center, has enforceable “end dates” for drilling.

However, opponents of the project can now rightfully claim that last year’s vociferous campaign against T-Ridge by much of the state’s environmental community was partly responsible for the hands-off California policy, by sending a clear and strong political signal to Obama that he’d be touching a very hot stove in California if he even suggested expanded drilling here.

If Schwarzenegger now gets his way on T-Ridge, it will re-open the door for drill-baby-drill types to point to the new state lease as evidence that expanded drilling off the coast is still politically tenable.

Calbuzz bottom line: Advantage opponents.

eMeg’s Wish List: What $40 Million Could Buy

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

As the entire political world holds its collective breath awaiting Meg Whitman’s decision about how much fresh cash to toss into her campaign,  the Calbuzz Department of Economic Research and Widespread Google Investigations has launched a major probe to answer a key question: What could she have bought with the $40 Large she’s already spent running for governor?

Let’s be clear: this isn’t one of those touchy-feely, bleeding heart columns about how eMeg could have paid for medical and dental care for 200,000 poor kids in the Healthy Families Program, or saved SSI/SSP grants for 90,000 low-income seniors and disabled people, or back-filled the entire cut in state funds for school districts in San Joaquin County.

No, what we’re after is the kind of high-end loot, luxe and lucre that a person of refined tastes like Her Royal Megness might quite naturally be more financially focused on. So before Mrs. Margaret Cushing Whitman makes what she likes to call another “incremental investment” in her campaign, here’s a look at the Top 10 Toys and Other Cool Stuff she’ll miss out on if she doubles down on the $39 million in mad money she’s spent already:

1-Madonna’s apartment – For the cost of just a couple months of advertising, eMeg could set herself up in Madge’s four-story, 26-room, 12,000 square foot Upper East Side townhouse, complete with 9 fireplaces, 13 bedrooms and servants quarters. Talk about your governor’s mansion!

2-Naming rights for an NBA arena. While Amway is getting its name plastered on the new home court of the Orlando Magic, Whitman could get a head start in buying good will in Sacramento by building a swell new home for the Kings in rockin’ Meg Arena.

3-Conan O’Brien’s silence. NBC paid the former late night failure talk show host $40 million to shut up, get off TV and go away, which Calbuzz would view as a real bargain if eMeg did the same.

4-A Cape Cod wastewater treatment plant. The plucky citizens of Chatham, Mass. are cheering the fed’s award of $40 million in grants and loans to upgrade the local sewage plant so it can prevent algae-generated nitrogen from killing all the eelgrass. Take that, AB32!

5-An end to Paula Deen’s dick jokes. The Food Network celebrity chef diva is being sued for $40 million by the Celebrity Chefs Tour for doing too much cussing and not enough cooking – not to mention offering quips about the male member,. This is a formula that might be just the ticket for Governor eMeg’s team building sessions with the Legislature.

6-1.5 million copies of Steve Poizner’s book. Now that her GOP opponent has soared on Amazon’s best-seller’s list, while skillfully managing to totally piss off the students at the high school where he once taught, Whitman may be politically better off foregoing future promotions of her own dozy volume in favor of pushing the authorial offerings of The Commish.

7-Her very own volcano. A couple hundred fewer points assailing Poizner with her negative ads would allow Her Megness to match the Department of Energy’s largesse in financing a batch of geothermal power projects tapping into the super-heated water that lies below the Newberry volcanic cone south of Bend, Oregon.

8-A long-lost Rembrandt painting. “Portrait of a man, half-length with his arms akimbo” has been kept out of sight since 1968, when Mark Rudd and other Columbia protesters  endangered it during an occupation of the administration building, where it then hung. Mrs. Griffith Rutherford Harsh IV could have  snatched it up at auction for the price of one of her “incremental investments” in buying financing the governor’s race.

9-A Hindu temple. OK, so the Turkish limestone and Italian marble Swaminarayan Mandir temple is in Canada, fercrineoutloud, but it would make a swell place to exile Jerry Brown off to, should she succeed in burying him beneath several hundred million of her billion dollars.

10-Fire Island’s “Gay Paradise.” If she cut back on her annoying TV spots, eMeg could have outbid investors in buying Fire Island Pines, which its buyers call  “the most beloved gay community in the world” – and had plenty of change left over to pick up 13 private islands near Belize (4), Panama (2), Brazil (2), the Phillipines (2) and one (1) each in Nicaragua, Chile and Bora Bora to send her fat and happy, overpaid campaign staff for some R&R.

Why eMeg would prefer to be governor rather than grab any of these things is a question that’s beyond our pay grade ($0). But we’re glad she does, since otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to write about on a slow news  day.

eMeg Invades Libraries; Commish Escapes Bondage

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Let’s hear another chorus of  “No Motherland Without You” Not content to road block the state’s airwaves, Meg Whitman has now opened another communications channel to force feed her campaign talking points to all Californians. According to Team eMeg:

Meg Whitman has mailed two copies of her plan, “Building A New California”, to about 1,400 public libraries throughout the state. The 48-page policy magazine concentrates on her three priorities: creating jobs, cutting government spending and fixing education.

“In an effort to provide California voters with the information they need to make an informed decision about which candidate has the right experience and leadership skills to be the next Governor of our state, I’ve mailed my plan for ‘Building A New California’ to our state’s public libraries,” said Whitman. “I encourage the libraries to display my magazine in their periodicals section so voters can gain a clear understanding of how I will govern, if elected in November.”

Such a deal. What’s next – framed oil portraits of Her Megness in every K-12 classroom? “Thanks Dear Leader, for all you do for us” signs erected by Cal Trans on every freeway exit? eMeg loyalty oaths sworn and signed by every faculty member at UC?

First Amendment sluts that we are, Calbuzz is all for widespread dissemination of information. But the idea of using taxpayer-funded institutions as distribution points for political propaganda strikes us as kinda’ creepy, and just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Poizner’s Eyes Wide Shut: Steve Poizner’s flack, Jarrod Agen, couldn’t put enough distance between his boss and Erik Brown, owner of  Dynamic Marketing Inc., whom Poizner’s campaign paid more than $10,000 for literature and mailings last May.

That’s ’cause Brown is the galoot who was reimbursed by the Republican National Committee for almost $2,000 in charges at Voyeur West Hollywood, a risqué, bondage-themed nightclub in Hollywood.

All the news about this, btw, was broken unflinchingly  by The Daily Caller,  conservative TV yakker Tucker Carlson’s DC online political site.

Records show Brown charged Poizner for more than $10,000 in services in May 2009, but a Poizner spokesman immediately distanced the candidate from Brown, the DC reported. Spokesman Jarrod Agen said Brown is merely a “direct mail vendor” and is not a consultant to the Poizner campaign. He says Brown hasn’t worked for them since June. “You can’t call someone a ‘Poizner consultant’ who we haven’t dealt with in nearly a year,” Agen said in an e-mail to the DC.

Catch up with the story, including RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s role, here and  here.

More guilty pleasures: Check out The Daily Beast’s close comparative analysis of Democrat and Republican sex scandals, which includes a ranking of the top 58 of the last 20 years, featuring three Californians – Kevin Shelley (#29); Gary Condit (#43) and Gavin Newsom (#53) – as well as Andy Borowitz’s blindingly insightful look at what l’affaire de Voyeur means for the RNC’s stance on gay marriage.

How about naming rights for the Wednesday edition? Our Department of Newspaper Credibility and On-Time Driveway Delivery has long found problematic the Chronicle’s practice of running Willie Brown’s column in its news pages.

We have nothing against the Sunday Mr. Speaker feature – in fact we’re often entertained or informed by one of his self-serving items. Given Brown’s impenetrable tangle of political, financial and legal interests and conflicts in San Francisco and California, however, prudent editorial  judgment would seem to err on the side of running the column on the op-ed page, where readers would understand up front that what they were getting wasn’t “news” in any sense of the word.

Now comes the Bay Guardian to report that Chronicle columnist Brown has been representing PG&E’s political interests before the state Public Utilities Commission, with nary a word of disclosure to readers. When the Guardian’s Tim Redmond called up editor Ward Bushee to ask WTF, he offered this see-no-evil response:

Our readers like his column to a large degree because he’s the Willie Brown with a long and colorful political history and many connections…Willie is not an employee or a member of the Chronicle staff but his columns go through standard editing procedures. He understands conflict of interest as well as anyone. I’m confident that he would not use his column to promote or benefit outside interests or clients. But if you feel differently, why don’t you contact him and ask him these questions directly.

Huh? In other words, the ethical standards of the San Francisco Chronicle are now left to the journalistic judgment and best intentions of Willie L. Brown Jr. to determine. And you wonder why newspapers are in the dumper.

And don’t call me chief: “The Wrap” is one of our favorite Hollywood news sites, but not necessarily the first place we look for serious media criticism. But Dylan Stableford delivered a well-deserved smack on the snout to the 15 dead tree newspapers in the nation whose editors decided that passage of health care reform did not merit play on the front page.

Among the papers that put the story inside, and the yarns they featured on the front instead:

Palm Beach Daily News, Palm Beach, Florida
“Census Forms Arriving in the Mail.”

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Florida
A story on Hollywood’s suddenly feeble leading men pegged to Ben Stiller’s “Greenberg” character.

Commercial-News, Danville, Illinois
Photos of a maple syrup open house.

Don’t stop the presses!

Calling all wingnuts: Frank Rich nailed it with Sunday’s column in which he loudly called out the racism and sexism of the Arayan Nation Tea Party legions, noting correctly that their complaints about health care are nothing more than a gauzy curtain for their bottom line concern: there’s a black guy in the White House:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play…When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Patriots, indeed. 

Why Goo Goo Plans are Toast; Labor Runs Amok

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

We come to bury California Forward, not to praise it. The goo goo reform plan, now subsumed into SCA 19, contains a host of worthy measures affecting budgeting and spending. But it’s the much-needed centerpiece – reducing the two-thirds vote needed to approve the state budget – that is its undoing. For now.

Why? Because to put the measure on the ballot will itself require a two-thirds vote, which won’t happen because even if all the Democrats lined up together – and that’s not at all certain – the Republicans would kill it.

As His Royal Walters wrote last week: “Politically, the plan appears to be a nonstarter.”

Loyal Calbuzzers know that we have long argued that without a variety of reforms – including majority vote on the state budget — California will remain fundamentally ungovernable.

Sure, a governor and Legislature will play their roles, budgets will be passed, schools and prisons will operate, the state will function. But California will continue to float along like a raft on the ocean, not like a true ship of state being steered along a certain course.

Besides the majority-vote budget provision, the SCA 19 – at the request of California Forward – also includes a provision that says:

any bill that imposes a fee shall be passed by not less than two-thirds of all Members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature if revenue from the fee would be used to fund a program, service, or activity that was previously funded by revenue from a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same fiscal year or in a prior fiscal year.”

Now, Jim Mayer and Fred Silva of Cal Forward – two really smart guys whose thinking we respect – say this is NOT an attack on the Sinclair Paint decision (which Calbuzz has covered exhaustively) that allows the Legislature to raise fees by majority vote as long as there is a “nexus” between the fee and the service it pays for.

They say it only would apply to a limited situation in which a fee was proposed to replace a specific excise tax used to fund a specific program, service or activity. The measure was inserted, Mayer said, “in order to build some support for majority vote from business groups who would otherwise kill the bill.”

Which kinda underscores our point:  If it doesn’t affect Sinclair, why do it at all? Because, they say, some business interests are worried that the Legislature will try a massive bait-and-switch, swapping out tax-based revenues with majority-vote fees.

The way we read the measure, it does affect Sinclair since every program, service and activity is funded by “revenue from a tax,” and so, any place where the Legislature wanted to subvent tax funds with fee funds would require a two-thirds vote – which under Sinclair only requires a majority. But we’re not what you might call your “tax experts.”

Anyway, even if the liberals go along – and if just a few of them read this like we do, that’s not likely – the Republicans are not likely to give away their one-third-vote leverage. Which is why we say you can stick a fork in Cal Forward’s proposal.

Back Away From the IPhone!

Back in January, Calbuzz was first to break the news that three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm were rolling out “a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.”

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project, founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell, we reported, makes it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

So when we heard about Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, getting blacklisted by Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, we thought it was just a case of union protectionism run amok.

The ostensible reason for placing Barry and his firm, Catapult Strategies, on the  “do not patronize” list was that Verafirma is selling its signature-gathering technology to the folks trying to qualify a ballot measure for “paycheck protection” — labor’s most-hated proposal which would ban use of union dues for political purposes.

This didn’t make any sense. Verafirma is licensing use of a technology that anybody can use. It’s as if they’d come up with a pedestrian GPS system and Republican precinct walkers wanted to use it. It’s like selling electronic clipboards and pens. The technology is neutral. It’s like blacklisting an iPod dealer because right-wingers are buying and using his product.

But then we read Internal Affairs in the Mercury News and nosed around a bit more and it all came clear: Pulaski was doing the dirty work for Cindy Chavez, who heads the South Bay Labor Council and who is supporting Forrest Williams for county supervisor. Barry is working for Teresa Alvarado, seeking that same seat on the county board.

Chavez told the Mercury News she didn’t draft the Pulaski letter, although she knew it was in the works. And she took a whack at Barry for allowing “a company of his to support taking the right away from working men and women to speak politically.”

Calbuzz has no candidate in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors race. We just think Barry  — who worked for Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean, ferchristsake — is getting rat-fucked. Sure paycheck protection is anti-union. And one of Barry’s defenses — that it wasn’t his personal account at Verafirma — is specious.

But none of that should matter: he’s done nothing to challenge labor’s right to organize or influence politics. This stinks.

FPPC Lets Newsom Double Dip: Calbuzz called attention to a loophole in the law governing contributions a while back but the FPPC has decided that you can run for one office, max out to the limit, drop from that race and enter another and max out again from the same donors. This lets Gavin Newsom, now a candidate for gov lite, go back to all those donors who gave him $25,900 when he was a candidate for governor. Whatever.