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Why Flash Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong on Redistricting

Friday, August 19th, 2011

For California’s crybaby Republicans, the only fair redistricting plan would be one that sustains their phantasmagorical belief in their own ascendancy, popularity and influence.

After endlessly complaining about the unfairness of life under Democrat-run gerrymanders, the GOP in 2008 enthusiastically latched onto baby daddy ex-Governor Schwarzmuscle’s campaign for an independent body to redraw the state’s political maps. Under terms of the successful measure, Republicans were granted equal representation with Democrats on the new 14-member redistricting commission.

Now, despite being favored by the commission’s partisan false equivalence, which skewed the numbers of the state’s actual voter registration, GOP types  wail to the heavens that the just-released plan, based on the process that they endorsed, is discriminatory, dishonest  and (sniff) just not fair, darn it.

Exhibit A: The hissy fit pitched by our pal Jon Fleischman this week over at Flashreport, where he thundered about the over-arching, Save the Republicans Republic importance of staging a referendum campaign to undo the commission’s work on state senate districts, a don’t miss column that makes Flash the hands-down winner of the Jayson Blair Little Pulitzer Award for Organic Delusional Syndrome Reporting.

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Past is prologue: Put aside the fact that when Prop. 11, which created the new redistricting system, was on the ballot, Fleischman couldn’t gush enough about it.

On second thought, don’t put it aside.

On Oct. 23, 2008, less than two weeks before the election, the Flash rallied Republican support for the measure, writing that supporting the reform initiative was “one of the most important votes that any conservative in this state can cast.”

In a post headlined, “Vote Yes on Prop 11 – Custom Made for GOP Gain,” he  assured his right-wing readers that:

As a conservative leader, I couldn’t have written a measure better designed to increase Republican numbers in the legislature…

More:

That’s right – despite all of the rhetoric of misguided Prop. 11 supporters, who somehow believe that this measure will end partisanship in Sacramento – it will not.  But what it will do is add more Republicans into the mix, giving us more votes to stop spending increases, tax increases and the growth in government that we have seen at the hands of the liberal Democrats who control the institution. 

Since Calbuzz is nothing if not fair and balanced, we note in hindsight defense of Jon that he could not have known that by the time the new districts arrived, they’d be complemented by a new, wide-open primary election system that could doom his fond, YAFer hopes for ever-tighter gridlock triggered by evermore bitter partisan warfare.

But still.

The three fallacies of Jon: Now that the “custom-made for GOP gain” plan has arrived, creating a landscape that includes an increase in the number of competitive legislative districts, Flash has changed his tune and, as Tom Meyer illustrates above, today wants redistricting to be thrown into the courts (not surprisingly, given that all six of the justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans), which is the aim of his referendum.

The lamentation about why the cosmic unfairness of the current lines requires a referendum boils down to three points:

1-The new senate lines could result in Republicans losing their ability to obstruct the possibility of any tax increases, ever, for anything, regardless of how voters might feel about it:

In my opinion, the State Senate maps as drawn virtually guarantee that Republicans in the upper chamber will no longer represent over a third of the total Senate membership, and thus will quickly lose much of their current relevance to the legislative process.

Earth to Flash: With their current anti-everything platform, California Republicans are well on their way to Whigdom. Last time we checked, statewide GOP registration was 30.88%; by what possible stretch should  Republicans feel entitled to one-third of  senate seats, when they can’t even register one-third of California voters?

2-GOP incumbents got really, really screwed.

The bill of particulars in the Fleischman indictment of the new districts includes specific concerns about incumbent GOP senators who suddenly face tough re-election prospects:

Senator Sam Blakeslee is a “redistricting victim” with his current Republican-leaning Central Coast seat vaporizing before his eyes.

Huh. And all along we thought Prop. 11 was supposed to bring about political districts that belong to the voters, not the politicians – you know, “our districts,” not “his district.”

Flash goes on to bemoan the fate of Senator Tony Strickland, a chief political enforcer of way-right, ideology inside the GOP caucus:

In 2008, Strickland was elected to a slightly better district than the one in which he would seek re-election, and he was barely elected with over $5 million spent on his behalf.  And it is worth noting that Strickland was THE target in 2008 — in 2012 he would have to share the spotlight, and the resources, with (other endangered Republicans).

Let’s recall that race: In 2008, “Landslide Tony” was elected by exactly 857 votes out of 415,109 cast.

The bottom-line for his win: his predecessor in the seat, now-U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, succeeded in 2001 in convincing state senate  leaders to give him a few more Republican voters, after the first draft of the districts then circulating made him fear he could lose re-election.

The architects of the 2001 Incumbent Protection Act redistricting plan  accommodated McClintock, adding a little slice of conservative Santa Clarita, in L.A. County, onto the bottom of the Santa Barbara-Ventura county 19th SD.

Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly where then-Assemblyman Strickland eked out his 2008 win over ex-Assembly member Hannah Beth Jackson. (Given his near-death experience against a Democrat only slightly to the right of Fidel Castro, you would think Strickland in office might have made some effort to listen to the concerns of the 50% of the voters who opposed him; instead, he  promptly joined Senate GOP’s Grover-bot thug caucus. But we digress).

In other words, Strickland won the seat precisely because of gerrymandering, and now Flash is beside himself because Taliban Tony will no longer be  protected by gerrymandering.

Again, we’d have to check the clips to be sure, but we’re fairly certain that was the whole point of the commission: crafting districts in which voters select representatives in the place of districts where politicians select the voters.

3-Corporate interests and their lobbyists don’t seem to understand that the new districts could threaten the status quo in Sacramento:

Flash again:

That having been said, we have the curious case that many business-oriented “third house” PACs seem to be quite opposed to the referendum.  In talking to some of them, there is a hesitancy to give (to the referendum) campaign because of the unpredictable outcome.  There is no iron-clad guarantee that the court-drawn Senate lines will be better, and the lobbyists in Sacramento have bosses to do not much like the idea of spending large amounts of money without a guaranteed improvement.

Here’s an alternate theory: Maybe business interests aren’t interested in joining a rear-guard action on redistricting because it’s bad for business.

Maybe their reluctance has less to do with an “unpredictable outcome” of the initiative and more to do with the fact that the fruits of Republican obstructionism over the last decade have been declining schools, more debt, deteriorating infrastructure and a world class university system that’s quickly becoming second-rate.

Maybe businesses actually understand that their economic self interest is better served by a government that’s not too hobbled by partisanship to provide decent public education, public health, public transportation, public recreation and water delivery systems and services.

If we recall our U.S. history, the whole notion of using tax dollars for the government to help build and sustain the private sector goes back to the administration of Abraham Lincoln, who we heard had something to do with starting the Republican party.

The Republican-dominated Congress passed a series of measures that transformed the nation’s economic landscape for all time. The weakness of the northern Democratic minority and the defection of southern lawmakers enabled Republicans to enact a legislative agenda that significantly expanded the role and financial reach of the government and helped to create a national economy that dwarfed its predecessor both in scale and in wealth.

You could look it up.

2018 Update: Tony V Looks for Life After L.A.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who flirted with and ditched a run for governor in 2010, threw himself back into the center of California politics Tuesday, proposing to close Proposition 13′s gaping corporate loophole and limit its controls on property taxes to residential homeowners.

“Progressives have to start thinking – and acting – big again,” he said in a speech to the Sacramento Press Club that Tony V’s people promoted as the Next Big Thing.

Former Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa, who will be termed out of the mayor’s office in 2013, also called for employment tax credits for businesses, eliminating the corporate income tax, extending sales taxes to services and giving school districts and local governments power to raise property taxes by majority vote.

While the speech had all the trappings of a bold leap by the lame-duck mayor into statewide politics, there was nothing in it that was new to those in Sacramento and around the state who have worked on crafting solutions to California’s fiscal quagmire.

Still, by taking a stand on the so-called “split roll,” Villaraigosa has grabbed hold of an incendiary political issue with verve and abandon unseen by other potential statewide contenders like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The mayor cast his proposals as a challenge to fellow Democrat, Gov. Jerry Brown. “We will fail if we think small,” he said. “Gov. Brown, I say, we need to have the courage to test the voltage in some of these so-called ‘third rail’ issues, beginning with Proposition 13. . . (which) was never intended to be a corporate tax give-away.”

But Brown’s advisers sounded remarkably unchallenged. “We always appreciate hearing from local government officials and I’m sure the governor will be happy to review some of these ideas,” said Brown spokesman Gil Duran.

“The test is not whether it’s a positive reform but whether it’s politically viable in an election,” added Brown adviser Steve Glazer, noting that in addition to Prop 13 reforms, people have floated an oil severance tax, increased cigarette taxes and other ideas.

The problem in Sacramento has not been a lack of ideas for a “grand bargain,” as Tony V put it. The problem has been an unwillingness by Republicans, who control just enough votes in the Legislature to throttle tax legislation, to compromise on any financial issue of substance.

Villaraigosa’s speech, which was distributed to reporters in advance of his noontime appearance, also blasted the conservative movement nationally, arguing “If the Tea Party in Washington and their counterparts here in Sacramento are intent on pitching jobs overboard in the mindless pursuit of ideology over country, we have to be willing to stand and defend our people.

“We have to break the mindset that has dominated our budget debates in both Washington and here in Sacramento. We have to be willing to press the case that the way you build wealth is by investing,” he said. “And, yes, that means making a case for new revenue to sustain long-term investment.”

The idea of a “split roll,” whereby commercial and business properties would no longer enjoy the special treatment that Proposition 13 intended for homeowners, has been widely studied. As Calbuzz reported back in June:

A little-noticed, but extremely important 2010 study by the California Tax Reform Association provides hard evidence of how much Prop. 13 has benefited those who own and operate commercial property – bank and other office buildings, shopping malls and industrial parks, for example – at the expense of homeowners.

Sure, the tax group is packed to the rafters with bleeding hearts, but their extremely detailed report on this matter is based squarely on the most neutral, bottom line information available from the Board of Equalization and assessors around the state.

And those numbers show that in 55 of 58 California’s counties, there has been a significant shift in the proportion of local property taxes paid over the past 30+ years, to the substantial detriment of those single family homeowners whom Prop. 13 absolutists just love to demagogue are the biggest beneficiaries of their iconic tax cut.

Whether or not Villaraigosa decides to run statewide in the future may now hinge on whether he can do something other than call on someone else to lead the charge on Proposition 13 and other tax reforms. Having seized the issue, the question will be whether he can marshal the forces, political and financial, to make something happen.

Otherwise, nice speech on a slow news day.

Don’t rain on our parade: Crybaby state Republicans are weeping into their Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck about California’s  newly redrawn political landscape, threatening a sour grapes referendum campaign to undo a redistricting plan that accurately reflects the ever-declining influence of their cuckoo ideology, rather than putting forth some ideas that actual people might, you know, actually agree with.

But as the Fleischman-Del Baccaro apparatchik axis, doing their best imitation of those holdout Japanese soldiers found hiding in caves 30 years after the end of WWII, specifically target the redone senate maps, candidates in at least one of the new, at-issue districts are already running around the track, raising money, plotting strategy and gathering endorsements.

The nascent campaign in the 19th Senate District, which runs between Santa Maria and Camarillo in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, has already attracted two all-in Democratic candidates, with a popular local Republican, hoping to take advantage of the state’s new jungle primary system, quietly rounding up support in the background.

Former Assembly member Hannah Beth Jackson has declared her intention to run, with a formal announcement planned for next month, while Jason Hodge, the well-connected political director of the Ventura County firefighter’s association, and the fiancée of Assembly member Fiona Ma, D-S.F., is already out on the trail.

The prospect of a Demo-a-Demo free-for-all has former SB Supervisor and longtime GOP operative Mike Stoker, who told us he’s “90 percent certain I’m running,” energetically calculating his chances. Although the new district has a 12-point Democratic advantage, Stoker has run well in the past among decline-to-state voters on the Central Coast: he got walloped by Assemblyman Das Williams in the 35th AD last fall, but ran 14 points ahead of Republican registration in the Democrat-gerrymandered district.

Another player in the mix is Pedro Nava, Williams’ predecessor in the Assembly seat, which represents a big chunk of the new 19th SD. Nava’s playing Hamlet, saying he’s still weighing options, but acknowledges he needs to move quickly if he’s getting in; were we gambling types, we’d bet he passes and strongly endorses Hodge, given the longstanding enmity between him and the Jackson/Williams team.

(Local gossip: Williams got his start in politics working as an aide to then-Assembly person Jackson; when Nava was about to term out, Williams, then a Santa Barbara city councilman, told Nava he’d back coastal advocate Susan Jordan, who happens to be married to Nava, for the seat, then changed his mind on a pretext and proceeded to bash Jordan’s brains out in the Democratic primary. Talk about your don’t-invite-’ems).

In any case, all the talk about redistricting lawsuits and referenda so far isn’t doing much to slow down the early elbowing, at least in the American Riviera. 

Are they evil, lazy or merely stupid? The shameful spectacle of the national MSM systematically freezing out Ron Paul from its Iowa Republican campaign coverage is enough to make a hog puke.

Here’s a guy whose long-held economic views, no matter what you think of them, are now embraced by a vast swath of the Republican electorate, not to mention every candidate in the GOP race, who comes within less than a point of beating straw poll winner Michele Bachmann, then instantly disappears into a Bermuda Triangle of non-coverage, while total stiffs like Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum – Rick Santorum! – keep getting treated oh-so-respectfully as serious candidates. And don’t tell us the Iowa straw poll is meaningless – of course it’s meaningless!  – so then why are the nets and cable-bots gushing and drooling all over looney tunes Michele?

Kudos to Roger Simon for blowing the whistle on this disgrace  and high fives to Jon Stewart for calling out the Fox News phonies who perpetrate this fraud.

How Perry-Bachmann Will Fight to Be the Anti-Mitt

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Two things happened over the weekend that realigned the race for the Republican presidential nomination as we had suggested it might shape up: tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won the GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, borrowing a campaign slogan from Jerry Brown, threw his hair into the ring.

The amount of media attention paid to the Ames straw poll was truly absurd. It predicts neither who will win the Iowa caucuses, the Republican nomination nor the presidency. Bachmann pulled 4,823 votes (29%), barely edging out Texas Rep. Ron (Fort Knox) Paul, who drew 4,671 votes (28%). The grand total –16,836 votes (paid for at $30/each) – was 2,620 fewer votes than eMeg Whitman took in losing Yolo County last year in her extravagant-but-fruitless campaign for California governor.

Nevertheless, by coming out ahead, Bachmann stays alive, which is a blessing to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner. As long as she is in the race, Perry, despite his bible-thumping economic conservatism and formidable fund-raising skills, will have a harder time locking up the right wing of the party. Perry’s first task – most likely — will be to try to crush Bachmann like a bug, without getting any visible blood on his hands.

“I’ll work every day to make Washington DC as inconsequential in your life as I can,” Perry said on Saturday, when he jumped into the presidential race. Hmm. The federal government, which manages Social Security and Medicare, defense policy and environmental protection. Inconsequential? Radical, but not so surprising.

“Perry is a little bit ‘out there,’ even in a Republican context,” Hendrick Hertzberg, wrote recently in the New Yorker.

He loves the Constitution, needless to say, but he wants to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. That is, he wants to outlaw the Federal income tax—a step which, given that he also wants to eliminate the capital-gains tax, the corporate-income tax, and the inheritance tax, would put Uncle Sam in a bit of a hole. He also wants to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. That is, he wants to take the power to elect senators away from the people and give it to back to state legislators. He thinks Texas has a right to secede from the Union and maybe ought to do just that if Washington keeps oppressing patriotic Americans with things like health care. He wants to let states “opt out” of Social Security.

 And, as John Heilemann wrote in New York Magazine:

The natural space for Perry is in the ultra-right, anti-Establishment bracket in the contest, where the top seed, after last week’s debate, is likely to be occupied by Michele Bachmann. This year, Perry enacted what he deemed “emergency legislation” requiring any woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram first, and her doctor to tell her “the size of her fetus’ limbs and organs, even if she does not want to know.” He was a strong supporter of the Texas anti-sodomy law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003. His devotion to guns is such that back home he enjoys packing “a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets,” as he has boasted. And then, of course, there was the suggestion that made him a tea-party hero: that if Washington potentates continued to “thumb their nose at the American people,” Texas might have no choice but to secede from the Union.

For some, here in California, like former Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, all this is unimportant. All that really matters is Texas’s record on jobs – which they attribute to Perry – of creating what they say is “40% of the net new jobs in America in the last two years.”

It’s a record that has been and will be vigorously challenged – by Barack Obama and many others, including the Wall Street Journal, where Charles Dameron explored Perry’s “crony capitalism”that involves Texas investing nearly $200 million in companies headed by Perry’s supporters, contributors and pals.

Here’s material that’s typical from folks who’ve looked into Perry’s record:

Perry argues: Since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all of the new jobs created in America. Now think about that. We’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America, but forty percent of all the new jobs were created in that state.

Yet in its ongoing report, Texas on the Brink: A Report from the Texas Legislative Study Group On the State of Our State, members of the Texas House of Representatives provided these employment-related statistics from their state (where 50th is the lowest and 1st is the highest):

– Average Hourly Earnings of Production Workers on Manufacturing Payrolls – 38th
– Government Employee Wages and Salaries – 24th
– Percent of Workforce that are Members of a Union – 41st
-- Workers’ Compensation Coverage – 50th

Make no mistake. Rick Perry is a terrific campaigner. He fires up conservative audiences, he’s glib and well-spoken on the stump, he’s handsome and well-dressed and he’s a terrific fund-raiser. Perry may be seeking to turn America into a theocratic oligarchy, but if he and Mitt Romney are the only two candidates in the race by next June and the contest comes to California, there’s every chance Perry could win the California primary.

“We may have issues that separate us, but bringing those diverse groups together and making sure we have a candidate who can beat Obama in November is the most important thing we can do,” he told Republicans in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday — an implicit swipe at Bachmann. “And it’s got to be someone that understands, that knows how, who has had job creation experience in their background.”

Paul Begala, who knew Perry when he first came to Austin as a state rep, reports that his nickname among legislative staffers was “Crotch,” because he wore his jeans just a little too tight. We like Begala’s line: “Rick Perry would be a good candidate if you thought George Bush was just a little too cerebral for you.”

But if Michele Bachmann is still in the race come June, she and Perry will wind up in a devilish battle for the tea party/caveman wing of the California GOP, leaving Romney the traditional conservative and moderate Republicans. Maybe California will matter after all.

P.S. For a first look at how Perry will most likely bury Bachmann, check out Politico’s Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin’s report from Waterloo.

Note to the California GOP: Now’s a good time to press Romney and Perry to show up in LA for your convention in September.

This just in (Monday 1:45 pm) — a similar snap of GRP munching a corndog: