Archive for 2011

Gandalf: A Great Seer, with Nothing Up His Sleeve

Friday, June 17th, 2011

You have to hand it to Jerry Brown: he’s pretty good at predicting the future.

Right now, however, he’s having a little trouble handling the present.

It was more than three months ago when Governor Gandalf put on his swami cap at the request of the esteemed George Skelton, who asked Brown to forecast how things would play out in the Capitol if he couldn’t cut a deal with Republicans over taxes:

Events will unfold like this, (Brown) predicts without hesitation, if the Legislature fails to muster the required two-thirds majority vote … “I put up an all-cuts budget” … Then the Democrats change [the all-cuts budget] and put in gimmicks. Then I veto it. Then everybody sits there until we run out of money. It’s not going to be a pretty sight. It’s like one-two: No tax, all cuts, gimmicky budget, veto, paralysis.”

Not bad for government work.

On Thursday, however, as Brown shocked the denizens of Sacramento (particularly those with a “D” after their names) by vetoing a just-passed Democrats-only budget, it seemed quite clear that his time travel thinking never got past that whole “paralysis” thing. So our reaction to the veto, not unlike that of others, can be summed up in four words:

Now what, Mr. Wizard?

As a policy matter, you gotta admire the guy for the speed with which he boomeranged right back to the Legislature this B.S. budget, a quicksilver stew of borrowing gimmicks, phony fund shifts, raids on schools, a rosy economic scenario, plus a perennial crackpot scheme to host the world’s biggest garage sale with state property, all slap-dashed together to make sure all the solons keep getting paid.

(Whether or not that comes to pass, however, is still up to Controller John Chiang to decide, given that state lawmakers are charged with passing, not just a budget, but a “balanced budget.” Hint: when the words “complex accounting maneuvers” appear in virtually every story written by the Sacramento press corps, chances are the thing may be falling a little short of that standard).

Politically, however, Brown’s big move to knock all the pieces on the floor and start the game over seems less impressive.

It’s true, as he said in his veto message, that “Republicans in the Legislature blocked the right of the people to vote” on the budget you had proposed.

But he was the one who sold himself to voters as the world-class wily politician whose rare combination of charm, experience and intellect would convince everyone to sit down and reason sweetly in an atmosphere of good fellowship, before heading out into the night for a couple of pops.

Not for lack of trying, but after doing little else for five months, Brown has flat-out failed to get four Republican votes (1 would be good for starters)  for anything with the word “tax” within a half-mile of it. And as far as we can see, he still doesn’t have a decent strategy for getting those votes.

Instead, it’s just Brown, standing there with the public employee unions looking over his shoulder, pleading for some sort of bi-partisan cooperation that neither side has an incentive to offer. New ideas, indeed.

(Before we forget: Amid the endless gloomy gridlock feedback loop, we did hear an interesting idea from one prominent Republican on Thursday: offer the GOP that you’ll step down and phase out the tax extensions – 100% this year, 75% next year, 50% the year after, 25% in the fourth year and 0% in the fifth year — in exchange for the votes. Sure, it would mean more cutting, or more economic growth, next year, but it would make it clear that Brown is truly willing to actually eliminate those temporary tax increases enacted under Gov. Schwarzmuscle. Just a thought).

From Brown’s veto message:

We can – and must – do better. A balanced budget is critical to our economic recovery. I am, once again, calling on Republicans to allow the people of California to vote on tax extensions for a balanced budget and significant reforms. They should also join Democrats in supporting job creation and ending tax breaks for out-of-state companies.

If they continue to obstruct a vote, we will be forced to pursue deeper and more destructive cuts to schools and public safety– a tragedy for which Republicans will bear full responsibility.

Easy enough to say, but it just means that the governor is threatening to throw Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. As we’ve mentioned, oh, 72 or 73 times before, the Republicans WANT an all cuts budget – passed by the Democrats and signed by Brown.

So where does that leave California? Back at square one, exactly as Speaker John Perez and Senate President Darrell Steinberg aptly noted. .

Gandalf’s Budget Logic, Dr. H, GOP Debate Recap

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

You may be wondering why Gov. Jerry Brown still thinks he can find four Republican votes in the Legislature to temporarily extend taxes when he couldn’t even find four votes just to put a measure on the ballot giving voters a chance to decide at the ballot box whether to temporarily extend taxes.

Here’s why: Despite some downbeat data from the Public Policy Institute of California and an SEIU poll by David Binder, Brown has confidence in polling by Jim Moore that finds Brown’s plan for $12.5 billion in temporary tax increases favored 50-33% by actual voters and 55-34% among voters aged 60 or more.

Seven in 10 voters oppose the idea of the Legislature and governor approving taxes without a popular vote, while 77% of voters approve a spending cap on new state programs until temporary taxes expire in five years, 68% favor placing limits on public employee pension benefits and 61% oppose making fewer budget cuts and increasing taxes more.

Whether any of this matters is altogether unclear. For one thing, while 63% of Democrats and 52% of independents like Brown’s plan, 53% of Republicans oppose the idea. And that’s statewide. You can bet that the Republicans in districts that have elected Republicans to the Assembly and Senate are even more strongly against extending taxes. And so the Reeps in the legislature who have taken a stand against Brown’s plan are merely representing those who’ve elected them.

Which mean Gov. Gandalf is out of luck, unless he has polling in individual Assembly and Senate districts (which we don’t think he’s got) or unless he can show some recalcitrant members that their districts are about to be so completely realigned that they’d better not look like obstructionists. Best we can tell, however, while their districts may well be dramatically altered by the new maps, no Republican seems ready to cross his or her tea party line.

Calbuzz cartoonist extraordinaire Tom Meyer demonstrates how out-of-synch most conservative Republicans will likely be with the new district boundaries. But that fact doesn’t seem to have changed any minds yet.


But it’s also unlikely Brown can actually do what he has said he would do if tax extensions aren’t passed: we just don’t see the Democrats going along with an all-cuts budget – not when they’ve already absorbed budget cuts they never would have allowed a Republican governor to make.

In fact, since Brown has no Plan B, it looked late Tuesday like the Democrats in the Legislature are taking things in their own hands and are prepared to approve a majority-vote budget today, cutting universities further, raising vehicle registration fees and extending a quarter-cent sales tax.

If this goes through, they’ll deliver the governor a phonied up balanced budget — like back in the days of Gov. Schwartzschmuck — with all the bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors Brown foreswore during his campaign for governor. Our bet: Brown argues that he tried but the Republicans blocked him from allowing people to have a vote.

How unsavory. Speaking of which . . .

Dr. H. Mailbag

The all-knowing, all-seeing Dr. P.J. Hackenflack has been inundated with questions about U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner (D-Twitter) and his sexting scandal. Here’s one of those queries:

Dear Dr. H.,

I read that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Twitter) is taking a leave of absence from Congress to seek professional treatment. As an eminent psychiatrist, please explain what kind of treatment this would be?
— IM Curious, Yucca Valley

Dear Mr. Curious:

There are several methods of treatment for exhibitionist narcissistic stupidity sufferers, up to and including shock therapy, whereby battery cables are clipped to a man’s unmentionables to prevent obsessive tweeting.

In any case, first steps for Mr. Weiner will likely include lessons in advanced Photoshop and a course in self-waxing. He also requires a slew of tests by a professional since, as the esteemed Dr. Garry South informs us, “A diagnosis of narcissism is really unfair to narcissists.”

Besides a much-needed name change, Mr. Weiner also may be a candidate for a foreskin reattachment, although in this case the object re-covered would be his “send” finger.

Not exactly Lincoln-Douglas: Since Calbuzz probably represented about 40% of the total audience for CNN’s Monday night Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, our Public Trust and Freeload Swag Department feels a deep civic responsibility to report on the affair. A quick recap on how each of the wannabes did, in order of finish:

Mitt Romney: The putative front-runner still looks like the best the GOP has to offer, but whenever he’s on the TV, we’re mysteriously left with a big greasy spot on the LCD screen. Two words Mutt: Blow dry.

Michele Bachmann: That voice can shatter glass from 100 yards away, but she greatly exceeded expectations by speaking in complete sentences and not drooling.

Newt Gingrich: Only in this group could he manage to sound reasonable, as in noting that the GOP probably shouldn’t replace Medicare with vouchers without consulting, you know, the American people.

Ron Paul: Slam dunked the gold standard vote.

Herman Cain: His foursquare opposition to Sharia law probably resonated with the ABA, while his bold embrace of deep dish over thin crust no doubt won cheers in Chicago.

Tim Pawlenty: His cowardly refusal to attack Mitt face-to-face after bashing him on TV the day before makes him the biggest sneaky weenie since Anthony posed for his Blackberry in the locker room.

Rick Santorum: Google his last name. Case closed.

Biggest winner: The Tea Party.  The National Journal’s Ron Brownstein ably made this point, but unfortunately failed to note how this puts the Republic in imminent danger: What’s first on the presidential agenda – repealing child labor laws or putting seniors onto ice floes?

Biggest loser: Sarah Palin. Putting aside her, um, ideas and policies, Bachmann did a nice job of fully occupying Ms. Grizzly’s political space, without reverting to Alaskan word salad or otherwise making an utter fool of herself. Ergo: Who needs Sarah?

A final word: CNN’s John King, who we remember from his considerably less-coiffed days as an AP workhorse, did an extraordinary job as moderator. Besides herding and hustling the seven cats on the stage through two hours of 30-second answers, King flawlessly juggled a non-stop stream of incoming tweets, dumb audience questions and queries from a pack of local reporters eager for face time, not to mention rattling off a series of cringe-worthy, pre-packaged “this or that” joke  questions, cutting to commercial on time and relentlessly pursuing his own smart follow-ups, as when he revealed Pawlenty to be a craven wimp. Three cheers for the Fourth Estate.

Remap: Quakes! Tsunamis! Makeovers! Angst!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

California’s press corps churned out an extravaganza of metaphor over the weekend, laboring desperately to explain in plain English the most hated word in the political writer’s lexicon.

“Reapportionment,” a sprawling, stinking weed of a word that once every 10 years spews noxious fumes which send “don’t read this” signals straight to the brains of news consumers across the land, presents a confounding challenge of written composition for even the craftiest of political scribes.

Struggling to bury this five-syllable clunker (medieval Latin: apportionare) in the fourth graf or lower (or to avoid it altogether!) these writer warriors dig deep into their fine-writing-done-cheap trick bags to lure readers into spending even a brief moment with the single story that best represents the worst brand of spinach journalism (“read this – it’s good for you”).

And so: “Political earthquake roils California delegation,” screams one outlet, while another raises the stakes with “An earthquake with a tsunami,” even as a 48-hour Google News search yields 120 hits for the phrase “California political landscape” in the process of being, variously, “transformed,” “shaken-up,” “made over” or covered in “sweeping angst.”

In honor of our colleagues, these brave soldiers in the daily war of words, we present below a lively game of “Match That Metaphor” to test how closely political junkies read their favorite reporters. We also recommend that hopelessly hardcore types check out the early Saturday edition of Rough and Tumble, which presented no fewer than 22 stories about the new plans released by the state’s independent commission on reapportionment redistricting political cartography drawing new maps.

And amid this cloudburst tempest of tornado-like, gale-force, cyclonic blizzard monsoons, here’s our own look at the key factors in play in the just released plan for (you know what).

Competitiveness.  PPIC policy fellow Eric McGhee, one of the smartest eggheads about this stuff we know, notes that the new scheme from the (all rise) California Citizens Redistricting bears a strong resemblance to two 2005 plans, one from the Rose Institute and one from the Institute for Governmental Studies, that were prepared to show how the state could be mapped without gerrymandering.

“They have met their mission,” he said of the commission. “They didn’t consider partisanship and they didn’t consider incumbency.”

McGhee defines a “competitive district” as one that falls between +5% Republican registration and  +10% Democratic registration, a range designed to account for a) the greater propensity of GOPers to vote and b) the increased likelihood of D’s crossing over than R’s.

Using that measure, he concludes that the number of competitive districts, counting both houses of the Legislature and Congress, increases from 16 to 34 under the draft plan; the total includes 7 additional Assembly districts (9 competitive to 16); 6 additional Senate districts (3 to 9) and 5 additional House districts (4 to 9).

Displacement. A second big impact of the commission’s preliminary plan is that a large number of incumbent representatives and legislators would land in the same districts as an office holder of the same party. Notable examples include a Sacramento Assembly district, where three Democratic members  all landed, the Southern California turf where Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon and longtime fellow Republican Elton Gallegly now squat, and an El Lay House seat where Democratic stalwart Howard Berman is thrust cheek to jowl with Representative Brad Sherman (ee-yew).

Overall, the redistricting plan includes 173 House and Legislative seats, of which 111 are now held by Democrats and 62 by Republicans. Of these, McGhee reports that 32 Democrats and 13 Republicans have been placed in a district with another incumbent of their party.

Partisanship. The draft plan released by the commission represents a net win for Democrats, reflecting the increasingly blue tint of California, as Republicans now represent less than one-third of registered voters.

Crunching the numbers on competitiveness, displacement and partisanship, McGhee estimates that Democrats could be favored to pick up two additional Assembly seats – which would give them the 54 needed for a two-thirds majority; one additional senate seat – which would give them 26, or one shy of two-thirds and up to five seats in the House, where Democrats already hold a 34-19 advantage over Republicans.

Democrat Garry South and Republican Jim Brulte, both of California Strategies, have been warning for months that the combination of redistricting and the top-two primary system is likely to provide Democrats with two to five more House seats and could easily result in the Democrats taking two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature.

After the preliminary maps were released, South said his outlook was even more certain. “These lines are disastrous for the Republicans,” he said. “The demographics of California are killing them.”

The dirty little open secret of reapportionment, he said, has been that the Democrats who controlled the system in the past had made safe Democratic AND Republican districts in exchange for protecting incumbents. But with party and incumbency now irrelevant in drawing the maps, the raw demography of the state undercuts Republicans in general and conservative Republicans in particular.

“There’s no place to run, no place to hide,” South said.

More change.  The district lines released by the commission last week are still preliminary, and the 14-member board will hold further hearings over the summer, with the final lines due on August 15.

Of the complaints heard so far, not surprisingly some by whiny incumbents, the most important come from several civil rights groups, whose leaders say the proposed lines do not properly reflect increases in Latino population over the past 10 years.

This is hugely significant, of course, because the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights, was already used to reshape several districts around the state in the 2001 reapportionment.

It is still unclear how the political or legal efforts of Latino groups, in addition to other pressures that surely will be brought to bear on the commission, will or will not change the proposed lines.

What is clear is that politicians eyeing a race in 2012 need to start raising money as soon as possible because the release of the final lines in August will kick start the campaign.

As one Democratic hopeful put it, “It’ll be like getting shot out of a cannon.”

Match That Metaphor

Who (a-e) used which metaphor (1-5) to describe reapportionment?

1- California’s grand experiment with “citizen redistricting” produced sweeping angst across the state’s political landscape Friday as the first round of congressional and legislative maps hit the streets.
2- Political earthquake roils California delegation
3- The first draft of California’s once-a-decade redrawing of its political map ignited a chaotic game of musical chairs Friday
4-“It’s an earthquake with a tsunami”
5- The…proposed districts are part of a statewide political makeover being fashioned for the first time this year by an independent commission.

a-Joe Garofoli and Carla Marinucci
b-Doug Johnson, Rose Institute
c- Lisa Vorderbrueggen and Tracey Kaplan
d- Timm Herdt
e-Alex Eisenstadt, Politico