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Archive for 2011



Press Clips: Charge of the Lite Gov Brigade

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Let’s be clear: Prince Gavin Newsom of Marin County is a perfectly fine Lieutenant Governor. He attends and votes on all the boards he’s supposed to. He is an excellent ceremonial speaker. He’s tried to make himself useful by crafting a thoughtful Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda for California. And most important, he’s young, healthy and standing by in case something should befall our 73-year-old Gov. Gandalf.

He’s ambitious, sure, but so’s every good politician. He’s a bit wonky, but that counteracts his pretty-boy good looks and hair. He’s got some nasty friend’s-wife-schtupping in his background, but now he’s got a lovely wife and family. All in all, he’s a model Lite Gov.

The problem is not Prince Gavin. The problem is California doesn’t need a Lieutenant Governor. It’s a useless statewide office. Not that it’s a big drag on the state’s budget — just a bit more than $1 million a year and 8.6 full-time equivalent positions.

But as old Chronicler John Wildermuth noted the other day, in capturing the Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry, “When was the last time anyone voted for the clerk of the Supreme Court, the surveyor general, the state printer or the railroad commission, all statewide offices until the early 1900s?”

On the other hand, who’s going to propose and push for a constitutional revision doing away with the office of LG? Why bother?

We agree with our friend, the Great And Wise George Skelton, that with his jobs plan Newsom’s “head was exactly in the right place, focused on California’s most important issue: how we can compete with other states and nations in a sophisticated, cutthroat global economy.”

But the office of LG has absolutely no power. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Gavin’s press releases about International Canary Day and Solidarity With Sperm Whales seldom get much coverage. He has managed to raise about $300,000 since winning his office. So some people are betting he’s got a political future. Which he likely does. As long as he stays away from actually governing. Which doesn’t seem to be a problem, as Calbuzz cartoonist Tom Meyer ably demonstrates.

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Life in imitation of art: Latest evidence that the quality of political discourse has still not reached rock bottom: a headline that we thought we’d never read and really wish we hadn’t:

“Arianna discusses the debt ceiling deal with Piers Morgan”

This one’s wrong on so many levels we’re not sure where to start, so we’ll just give the final word to Calbuzzer William E. Wallace: “The hack chats with the hacker.”

We were too busy calling the president “a dick”: We’re big fans of media critic Jason Linkins’ exploding head, ad hominem attacks on the Beltway media types, despite his occasional lurch into obscure, or even incomprehensible, references, but the guy went way above and beyond this week with a pair of must-reads about the debt deal.

First came a warm-up rant about the shameful spectacle of the MSM’s injection of false equivalence into the debt story in heretofore unimaginable toxic levels, a concern we’d recently expressed ourselves, with characteristic understatement. Not so for Linkins:

Journalism is about choices. With millions of Americans out of work, the press decided to put all of its labor into creating the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. Because journalists had become so inured to being led by the nose by the important people to whom they needed “access,” they abandoned the American people. Their excuse? “Well, no one in Congress is doing anything about unemployment, so what’s to cover?”

Way back when this whole saga started, the GOP’s gambit was, “Give us what we want or we will put the full faith and credit of U.S. Treasury bonds into default.” It shouldn’t have been necessary to point out to the press that this was an utterly insane, from-the-furthest-reaches-of-Mars position to take. After all, the debt ceiling had been raised many, many times before, without any fuss worth mentioning. If you cannot say objectively that threatening to blow up the world’s economy was an extreme position, then the word “objectivity” is meaningless.

But far from taking an immediate stand against the insanity, the press treated the threatened demise of global society as just another interesting point of view among many. It was an exciting tactic, sure to cause waves in the political waters of the Imperial City. Pop some popcorn and let’s see where this takes us! Well, where it’s taken us is “past the brink.” Our political culture has been permanently altered. It has now been deemed an acceptable tactic, in politics, to take hostages and make demands.

Next, so upset by the utter failure of the over-paid press to do its job, Linkins proceeded to do it for them, with a nice little Q&A that honestly explained how the debt deal will actually affect, you know, actual people, but not before totally pantsing Politico for throwing a party at which all the butt-smooching sycophants in Washington could get together at once to compare notes about the inanities they’d been writing for weeks:

Over the past few days, the media has frothed over their horse-race traditions, pleasuring themselves with the question of who “won” the debt ceiling debate. And once they felt they had an adequate answer to that question, they threw a party! Left out of the conversation, as per usual, are ordinary Americans.

Because I doubt that more than a few will make the attempt, I shall hereby try to explain what just happened in simple terms, and then inform all the normal people who are typically left out of the political conversation what life is likely to be like, from here on out.

Calbuzz sez check it out.

Raising Abel: Speaking of heads exploding, we became urgently  concerned about the fate of our pal Jon Fleischman when we heard that Abel Maldonado, the Flash’s personal vision of the anti-Christ, made a big insider’s list of “50 Politicos to Watch.”

Fortunately, soon came word that Flashreport had been named one of California’s top political blogs by the Washpost’s political junkie feature, “The Fix.” Right behind Calbuzz.

In any case, with the easily distracted Fleischman thankfully saved, we’re delighted to send mega-thanks to all our loyal and disloyal readers for your support in pushing us into the top spot. And to all a good night.

Remap II: Dueling and Outcast Incumbents Galore

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Having exhausted our splenetic humours, if not our administrative remedies, on the Calbuzz screed against whining and complaining about the proposed district maps from the Citizens Redistricting Commission, we finally found time to check in with policy analyst Eric McGhee, top chrome dome on redistricting at the Public Policy Institute of California, for a clearer sense about the partisan implications of the new maps.

McGhee said the plan just approved by the commission actually has fewer competitive seats than the draft maps they released in June, but overall is still significantly more competitive than the current gerrymander.

And while the new scheme gives Democrats a good chance to capture two-thirds majorities in both the Assembly and the state Senate, while also picking up additional House seats, he said anticipated results depend on the model you forecast for the make-up of the electorate next year.

“If we had these maps in 2008, the Democrats would have picked up a lot of House seats – 4, 5, 6 — and then in 2010 they would have lost them all,” McGhee told us. “There’s a very real chance the Democrats could get to two-thirds in both the Assembly and Senate,” if the electorate mirrors that of Obama’s big win in 2008. But if it looks like 2010, “they may actually lose (legislative) seats,” he added.

Put another way, while the state’s voting patterns have become more Democratic over the last 10 years, Democrats have not been able to take full advantage of it because the 2001 Incumbent Protection Act redistricting they engineered distributed their voters – or, to be more precise, concentrated them – in a way that put a ceiling on the number of seats they could win.

Fun with numbers: 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 28 under the draft plan; the total includes 2 additional Assembly districts (9 competitive to 11); 4 additional Senate districts (3 to 7) and 6 additional House districts (4 to 10). Here’s how he breaks down the competitive seats:

Assembly (8, 12, 16, 36, 40, 41, 44, 60, 61, 65, 66); Senate (5, 21, 25, 27, 31, 34, 39); House (3, 7, 9, 10, 24, 26, 31, 36, 41, 52)

At this point, it’s impossible to predict how those numbers break in handicapping the fate of many individual pols, because of the uncertainty arising from the large number of incumbents who got stuck in districts with other incumbents.

Of 173 total incumbents in the Legislature and the House (we refuse to think about the Board of Eek because we never really understood what they do and in any case hope they go away), 75 landed in a district with at least one other incumbent; in most cases – 59 – it’s an incumbent of the same party, while 16 are matched in a district with an incumbent of the other party.

This is a bigger deal in the House, where 15 Democrats and 8 Republicans ended up in a district with another incumbent. But for legislative seats, many of the same party incumbent pairings include at least one office holder who will be termed out next year; only 10 Assembly members are in a district with a colleague who’s not termed out, and just two senators are in that situation.

Bottom line: The headache-inducing, complex calculus of incumbents holding joint tenancy may be the strongest evidence yet that Ron Nehring’s whining (see Remap I) about how poorly Republicans fare under the commission’s plan is totally misplaced.

Says McGhee: “The randomness of this—coupled with the fact that in many, if not most, of these cases, there is an open seat next door that is more comfortable for one of the incumbents—suggests to me that the commissioners really didn’t know where the incumbents were located.”

Winning the lottery: The small amount of sympathy we have for Republican life’s-not-fair caterwauling comes when we look at the new 19th state Senate district in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Both Republicans who currently represent areas of the district — senators Sam Blakeslee and Tony Strickland – got pushed out, to the north and the south respectively, leaving just one incumbent lawmaker, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams, in the district.

Conservative blogger John Hrabe, writing over at CalWatchdog, has been trashing redistricting commissioner Gabino Aguirre, a Central Coast Latino labor activist, for a variety of purported sins, including his political ties to Williams, a line of attack that’s been picked up by the indefatigable Tony Quinn.

Hrabe bangs a little heavy on the keys for our taste, but when you look at Williams’ new 37th Assembly district, which is about as safe for him as can be, along with the new 19th SD , the future of the hyper-ambitious young pol looks bright indeed, whether he sits still for two more, two-year terms in the Assembly, or jumps into a 2012 race that could bring  two four-year terms in the senate. Coincidence? You be judge.

Remap I: Enough with the Kvetching Already

Monday, August 1st, 2011

For years, we’ve listened to whining from Republicans about California’s unfair, gerrymandered Legislative and Congressional districts. “If only there were a fair reapportionment of voters,” so goes the argument. “Republicans would stand a fighting chance to fully represent the electorate in the state Legislature and Congress.”

Well, the bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission, created by initiatives in 2008 and 2011 (with strong support from many in the GOP), has released its proposed district maps for the Assembly, state Senate, Board of Equalization and Congress and guess who’s whining still.

You got it. Republicans who have found themselves the “victim” of the dissonance between California’s population on the one hand and the GOP’s policies, candidates and rhetoric on the other. Here’s Exhibit A, from Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party:

The Commission created 40 districts where the Democrats are the largest party (75%), and 13 where Republicans hold the plurality (25%). [Sidenote: Of Californians who choose to register with one of the two major parties, 59% choose the Democrats (7,569,581) and 41% choose the Republican Party (5,307,411).]

While Democrats were given the greatest number of total seats (40 vs 13), Republicans were given greatest number of competitive districts, both in absolute and relative terms. Of the 40 districts where the Democrats are the largest party (“Democrat districts”), only two (5%) have a party registration advantage of under 5%, and 4 (10%) have an advantage of under 10%.  Among the 13 districts where Republicans hold the plurality (“Republican districts”), 4 (30%) have a registration advantage under 5%, and 8 (62%) have an advantage under 10%.

The average registration advantage in the Democrat districts is 22.4%.  In the Republican districts it is 12.1%.

No incumbent Democrat was drawn into a Republican district.  Four Republicans were drawn into or are expected to run in districts where the Democrats are the largest party: Mssrs. Dreier, Lungren, Gallegly, and Denham.

The most heavily Republican district in the state will be the 52nd district, represented by Rep. Duncan Hunter.  The district has a Republican registration advantage of 21.6%.  Rep. Barbara Lee will hold the state’s most Democratic district: her party enjoys a 55.3% advantage in the 13th district.

Districts With No Ideology

We’ll set aside the gratuitous use of terms like “Democrat districts,” and the fact that the Redistricting Commission actually over-represented Republicans (by proportion of voter registration, Democrats (44%) should have had six members, Republicans (31%) four members and Decline-to-State and others (25%) four members) on the 14-member panel. We can also set aside Nehring’s utter dismissal of all those voters who are not registered in a major party.

What he’s complaining about is the partisan effect of the proposed new maps. And here’s a little secret, Ron. IT WASN’T THEIR JOB TO CONSIDER PARTY WHEN DRAWING DISTRICT BOUNDARIES!

That’s the whole point. As we explained last month in an exchange on the Spencer Roberts Wheelspinners Facebook group, after one commenter  wrote that “reapportionment is supposed to draw districts that represent the overall political viewpoint of Californians:”

Reapportionment is supposed to be done without regard to party registration. It’s about representing one person, one vote, following certain guidelines, starting with the Voting Rights Act and then taking into account communities of interest, contiguous boundaries, etc.

Using party as a factor is what the Democrats (with help from Republican incumbents) did for years. The problem for the Republican Party is that it has a demographic problem: Latinos, especially, reject them (because of their stands on various issues) and that’s a problem for the GOP when reapportionment is done fairly. It is 100% wrong to say “reapportionment is supposed to draw districts that represent the overall political viewpoint of Californians.” In fact, it should be blind to peoples’ political point of view.

Here Comes the Judge

Nehring should know this. He should know it was Chief Justice Earl Warren who wrote:

Population is, of necessity, the starting point for consideration and the controlling criterion for judgment in legislative apportionment controversies. A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm. This is the clear and strong command of our Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. This is an essential part of the concept of a government of laws and not men. This is at the heart of Lincoln’s vision of “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” The Equal Protection Clause demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races.

N.B.: No mention of party registration or political ideology.

In fact, about the only complaint we’ve seen so far that might have validity is one that won’t do the GOP whiners much good.

It’s from Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, who argued: “We believe the Commission did not completely embrace this unprecedented opportunity to ensure that the state’s growing Latino population can achieve full and fair representation in California’s democracy.”

This is tricky because while illegal immigrants count in terms of population, they are not citizens of voting age. That’s a big deal in determining who gets counted when using population as “the starting point for consideration and the controlling criterion for judgment in legislative apportionment.”

A Three-Fifths Plan for CA?

A small historical footnote from the Calbuzz Department of Antiquities, Crackers and Clam Chowder: counting people for the purposes of apportionment has been a problem in the U.S. since its newborn days.

At the Philadelphia Convention on 1787, delegates from the slave states argued that slaves should be counted for the purposes of distributing taxes and apportionment of members of the House of Representatives. Since slaves couldn’t vote, slaveholders would have increased representation in the House and the Electoral College. Delegates opposed to slavery wanted to count only free inhabitants to limit the influence of the slave states.

The final compromise, in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, was to add to “the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service to a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxes, three fifths of all other persons.”

It wasn’t until after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1865), that slaves were counted as whole individuals and not three-fifths of a person with passage of Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1868) which states “Representatives shall be apportioned …counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed…”

As far as we know, no one has proposed counting illegal immigrants as three-fifths. But we haven’t checked that closely in Arizona.

Coming tomorrow: In Part II of our Remap Special Report, Calbuzz looks at the numbers.