Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Gas Tax Necessary – But Waayyy Insufficient

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 4.07.04 PM (1)By Patrick Atwater
Special to Calbuzz

California’s history has been defined by visionary public works, from the world’s largest port to the nation’s first freeways to pioneering aqueducts to best in class public universities.

The digital revolution has transformed countless industries yet, by and large, a time traveler from the 50’s would find the operational practices of California government strangely familiar.

Nothing equal to the development, over a century ago, of professional water utilities or universal public schooling — institutions that implemented nearly ubiquitous access to clean water and essentially eradicated illiteracy in America — has been developed for the digital era.

California can and should lead the world in building the great public works of our era — public technology that tackles our big challenges as a state.

During the gold rush, the Argonauts were those traveled by ship from every corner of the world to take their chance in the fields. Today California government can and should hire thebest and brightest technologists from across the globe — modern Argonauts– to set a new standard of excellence in public service.

Gas tax and the future. The current debate about the gas tax offers an illuminating example. The reality is that superficially both the left and right are right about the gas tax but, at a deeper level, completely wrong. Yes we do need more funding to fix our roads and yes we do need more efficient management of those funds.

The harder truth is that neither the gas tax funding nor the efficiencies being debated are nearly enough to fix California’s $137 billion road maintenance deficit. The scariest thing about that number is that it’s only a coarse estimate; the true size of our problem is unknown.

The quality of California’s roads is assessed through a cargo cult of obsolete standards from the seventies. Cities often don’t even measure their own street quality, instead hiring a consultant to guesstimate the conditions of their roads based on neighboring cities.

Even measuring the actual conditions falls short.

Often cities will hire consultants to literally eyeball street quality via “windshield surveys” — aka driving around. The current leading practice of using military grade lasers to measure street smoothness suffers from multi-year lags and does not account for bike lane infrastructure, a growing need in California’s cities.

The image below shows a bit of the bike path I take to work that the City of Los Angeles rated as “good.” Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 4.15.08 PM

The cambrian explosion in low cost sensors highlights the opportunity for California to pioneer new approaches to managing our city streets. The simple GPS, accelerometer and camera technology available in every smartphone provides the foundation to see the literal ground truth.

Transformation needed. The question is whether we will have the creativity and courage required to modernize how our government operates and leverage that digital technology. A group of leading public technologists and myself have articulated a set of Open California Principlesthat highlights the immense opportunity to improve how basic public services are delivered.

Regardless of your political persuasion, we all benefit from quality roads and every human needs access to clean water. Realizing that potential acquires an urgency given the civilization-scale calamities we face. Governor Brown put the situation pointedly in his 2018 state of the state address.

“Our world, our way of life, our system of governance — all are at immediate and genuine risk. Endless new weapons systems, growing antagonism among nations, the poison in our politics, climate change. All of this calls out for courage, for imagination and for generous dialogue.”

The world urgently needs a symbol of hope, a leading example of how openness to new ideas and new people from new places is critical for a successful society. California can and should lead on global challenges like climate change. Yet our big public problems in road repair, housing and innumerable other areas highlight the urgency of getting our own house in order.

The New Frontier. Those basic problems also highlight the new frontier.

Today more than just material riches, California can lead a gold rush in good government, taking early heroic public technology work started by the Obama administration and cities across the country to the next level. Many interests vested in the status quo will complain. Modernizing obsolete public institutions will involve lots of turf wars and conflicts with parochial bureaucratic tribes.

California at its best has always been about its common future, the belief that here a better life is possible for everyone. Living up to that dream, we should be willing to pioneer the next chapter in California history with the boldness of our ancestors. Please join the discussion on the Open California Principleswith the courage, imagination and generous dialogue that future deserves.

Patrick Atwater is the Executive Director of Applied Research in Government Operations (ARGO), a public data infrastructure nonprofit who’s big claim to fame is delivering California’s first ever measurements of Governor Brown’s historic new water efficiency legislation. He can be found online @patwater. 





PPIC Poll: Why Feinstein is Crushing Kevin de Leon

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

feinstein-newThe just-out poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that, with two Democrats on the ballot because of California’s top-two primary system, more than half of Republicans (52%) and a quarter of no-party-preference independents (26%) say they won’t vote for anyone for U.S. Senate.

Which is unfortunate for state Senator Kevin de Leon, given that he has totally surged ahead of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, um, but only among Republicans, conservatives and Trump supporters who plan to vote for Senate in November.

Overall, Herself is still crushing Mr. Sacramento Big Shot,  40-to-29% among likely voters, which becomes 52-to-37% if you exclude the 23% of likelies who say they won’t cast a ballot in the race.

KDL’s Right Wing Base Confirming the paradoxical findings from last week’s (all rise) Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics State Poll, the closest thing de Leon’s has to a “base” is among the 37% of likely voters who approve of President Donald Trump (the vast majority of them Republicans). Which is big fun, given that the singular rationale for de Leon’s flailing candidacy is that the Senior Senator from California isn’t tough enough on Trump.

In the de Leon-Trump cohort, de Leon leads the incumbent about two-to-one – 25-to-13%. Sadly, for the ex-state Senate Majority Leader, 54% of those who approve of Trump say they won’t vote in the Senate race at all. Among the 61% majority of likely voters who disapprove of Trump, i.e. those de Leon is actually trying to appeal to, Feinstein crushes de Leon 57-to-32%.

Feinstein leads 60-to-27% among liberals and 44-to-38% among moderates, but de Leon has conservatives 24-to-19% — another odd finding, given his support for Medicare for all, down-the-line backing of labor and other liberal causes; Which suggests that right-wingers have no idea who he is, but figure he’s better than Feinstein, who they regard as a crazed liberal.


Democrats for DiFi De Leon’s other shred of good news from PPIC is that he has pulled about even with Feinstein among Latino likely voters, which is to say his natural base, with 38% compared to her 40%. But among Democrats (whose executive party board, omg, endorsed de Leon), Feinstein leads 60-to-30% and she edges him among independents 33-to-28%. Among Republicans, de Leon leads 21-to-18%.

De Leon’s standings also likely have less to do with his own campaign than it does with Feinstein’s status as the senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where she has been a high-profile, leading voice against arch-conservative and accused sexual molester Judge Brett Kavanaugh — Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Which de Leon also insists she’s doing all wrong.

That Feinstein’s lead, which was 22% in July in the PPIC poll, has been cut in half is hardly surprising, given that some Republican, conservative and Trump approving voters have flocked to him as a way to vote against Feinstein, highly visible in national media as an anti-Trump leader. As every school child knows, Feinstein is considerably more moderate on most issues compared to de Leon. But in a Fox News worldview, the former San Francisco mayor is a leader of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy and de Leon’s her opposition. The enemy of my enemy, etc. etc.

Gov Race and More In other PPIC news, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is running well ahead of Republican challenger John Cox, 51-to-39% — Shocker! – with a straight-line party split (Democrats 86-to-8% for Newsom; Republicans 85-to-9% for Cox) and a small lead (42-to-37%) among independents.

The collapse of the Republican Party in California and Newsom’s strong base in the Bay Area and Los Angeles where Democrats dominate, renders the governor’s race all but unattainable for a non-celebrity GOP contender with scant resources.

In addition, PPIC said, “A slim majority of California’s likely voters oppose Proposition 6, the measure on the November ballot to repeal recently enacted increases in the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Proposition 10—which would expand the authority of local governments to enact rent control—is also trailing.”

Generally speaking, when propositions don’t have strong majorities this close to an election, they’re likely toast. In the history of propositions in California, “No” beats “Yes” about two-thirds of the time.

PPIC interviewed 1,710 California adult residents on cell phones and land lines September 9–18. The margin of error is ±4.8 percent for the survey’s 964 likely voters.

KDL Pulls Even With DiFi! (Among Right-Wingers)

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

kdlKevin de Leon’s campaign for U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein began, and continues, as an assault from the left, as he charges that she’s too soft on President Trump and too weak on liberal issues.

So it’s more than a little ironic to note that the only voting cohorts where he’s competitive in the latest poll that shows Difi still stomping him is, wait for it — Republicans and, specifically, those who like Donald Trump.

Excuse us while we pause to build a stadium big enough to hold our laughter.

In the latest Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics State Poll, de Leon is tied with Feinstein 20-21% among Republicans and 21-22% among likely voters who approve of Trump. Sadly for him, he trails Feinstein 44-24% among all likely voters and a whopping 58-26% among those who disapprove of Trump. And just for good measure, DiFi is crushing KDL 61-27% among Democrats and 40-20% among independents.

But hey, among the 36% of likely voters who approve of Trump, KDL is neck and neck with Feinstein. It’s among that pesky 63% of likely voters who disapprove of Trump that he’s sucking wind.

Why Feinstein Kept Sexual Assault Letter Secret

Monday, September 17th, 2018

difiwomenFour days before sending the FBI a confidential and anonymous #MeToo letter that has roiled the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said in an interview that his confirmation was not a done deal.

“We’re not finished,” the California Democrat told at least half of us, in a 30- minute sit down at the Four Seasons Resort-The Biltmore in Santa Barbara on Sept. 9, that followed a talk to local Democratic women.

“Staff will be going through all of the transcripts, picking up things, underlining things, messages will be coming in, information will be given to the committee,” she added, in advance of a “markup” at this week’s meeting of the Judiciary Committee, on which she is the ranking Democrat. “Always is.”

Whether or not Feinstein, in mentioning new information and “messages coming in” was, consciously or unconsciously, referencing the startling, then-secret letter from Bay Area professor Christine Blasey Ford that charges Kavanaugh with sexual assault back in high school, the sudden furor over the allegations demonstrates that she was correct in assessing that Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointment is not a fait accompli.

“From the outset, I have believed these allegations were extremely serious and bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh,” Feinstein said a statement this Sunday, shortly after Ford herself made her charge public. “I hope the attacks and shaming of her will stop and this will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.”

The statement also made clear why she kept Ford’s letter confidential for weeks, an answer to attacks from across the political spectrum: her feminist belief that the choice to tell the story was Ford’s — not her own.

Christine-Blasey-Ford-648x381The mysterious letter. As majority Senate Republicans rushed to push through Trump’s nomination in time for the court session that begins Oct. 1, Ford on July 31 sent a letter to Feinstein, via Rep. Anna Eshoo, alleging that as a prep school student, a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a party, molested her and muffled her screams. She asked it be kept confidential. (CNN has published the text of the letter).

Despite the lurid details in her description, Ford said she wanted to keep the story private, fearing that she would be battered in a political brawl and he would be confirmed anyway. Feinstein reportedly told no one about the letter, except for a few aides, until September 12, when The Intercept news site reported the existence of the letter and said Feinstein refused to share it with Democratic colleagues.

That day Feinstein sent it to the FBI, and was promptly assailed on all sides: Republicans accused her of a cheap last-minute smear and Democrats protested her secrecy, while Beltway pundits ripped her and re-election foe, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, condemned her “lack of leadership.”

On Sunday, Sept. 16, for the first time, Ford went public, in an interview with the Washington Post: “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she said of Kavanaugh, who “categorically and unequivocally” denies the incident. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Ford’s attorney since has repeatedly given Feinstein shout-outs for respecting her client’s previous plea for secrecy, most notably on CNN , in the Post and in an interview with the NYT:

But Ms. Katz said that throughout August, Ms. Feinstein’s aides had checked back with Ms. Katz from time to time to see if Ms. Ford would go public. But Ms. Ford, fearing she would be attacked, wanted to remain private, and the senator respected her wishes, Ms. Katz said.

From the Post: Katz said she believes Feinstein honored Ford’s request to keep her allegation confidential, but “regrettably others did not.”

anitahillThe Year of the Woman. It’s worth noting that Feinstein was first elected in 1992, the “Year of the Woman” election following Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations during the historic Clarence Thomas Senate hearings.

In her Sunday statement, she explained the ethics of her decision not to surface Ford’s story herself: “It has always been Mrs. Ford’s decision whether to come forward publicly,” she said. “For any woman, sharing an experience involving sexual assault, particularly when it involves a politically connected man with influence, authority and power – is extraordinarily difficult.”

While Fox News and GOP senators may continue kvetching, we predict the condemnation of Democrats and even de Leon about the letter will end (Update. Okay, so we were half right: Feinstein’s Senate colleagues are now defending her, but de Leon is still on the attack, saying she screwed up by not finding unexplained ways and means “to devise a way to act on sensitive information …while maintaining appropriate confidentiality.”

All righty then: I hate this restaurant – the food’s bad and the portions are too small.

Here’s a Post story, published two days after our original post, summarizing the react to Difi’s actions to date.

Feinstein speaks. In the interview before the Ford story broke, DiFi discussed Kavanaugh and other political issues, as she:

–Pushed back against de Leon’s argument that she is too moderate to represent California in the Trump era, along with criticism that she apologized, instead of standing up for, anti-Kavanaugh protestors during the Judiciary Committee hearing: “You don’t do that in the Senate – you don’t turn it into a roughhouse.”

–Acknowledged that, “sure it hurt,” when the state Democratic Party executive board endorsed de Leon over her, but shrugged off suggestions that she is out of touch with its progressive wing: “We did pretty well in the primary,” in which she was the overwhelming winner in a crowded field, capturing 70 percent of Democratic votes, she said.

–Refused to answer whether Trump should be impeached, in contrast to de Leon, who has stated that impeachment should be pursued, even with Democrats in the congressional minority. “It’s for a future day, I’ll leave it at that,” she said, arguing that the Constitution is strong enough to withstand Trump: “Absolutely.”

kavanaugh–Defended as “very honorable people” Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Maine and Alaska, the two key, pro-choice Republicans whose votes are crucial to blocking Trump’s pick, while declining to speak on the record about her conversations with them: “It would be a very big thing for them to go against the party.”

–Agreed that Kavanaugh would be “a likely vote” to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, adding, in effect, that Kavanaugh tried to dupe the Judiciary Committee by calling the landmark ruling “settled law,” but stopping short of stating that it was “decided correctly.”

–Criticized Kavanaugh for evading questions probing his views on executive power and whether or not a President is exempt from criminal prosecution: “He wasn’t going to step away from the President in any of his answers.”

–Denounced the constant storm of “chaos and unpredictability” in the Trump White House — “My God, how would I know what he would do tomorrow or next week?” – but also professed her confidence in key Administration members to manage it, specifically Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (We note with alarm that the Defense secretary is reportedly on the outs with Trump and may soon be replaced however).

–Expressed disappointment in Republican congressional colleagues who “seem so afraid to cross” Trump, but said she will continue efforts to work with GOP members on issues on which she believes bipartisan solutions are still possible, citing current discussions on immigration legislation.

A transcript of the interview is posted online here. A version of this post also is being published by the Santa Barbara Independent and at Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts.

Even Trump Resisters Prefer Feinstein to de León

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

diannecyclops2Democratic State Sen. Kevin de León, 51, has one argument in his race to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 85: she’s too old. Which is not an argument he can make because it’s ageist, tacky and crass.

So he disguises his case against the senior senator: “It’s time for a change,” “we need new leadership” and the kicker — “she’s too weak on President Donald Trump.”

Nevertheless, in the June 5 primary, Feinstein stomped de León amid a 35-candidate field, 44-12 percent. With nearly three million total votes, Feinstein won 70 percent of Democrats, carried every county, and triumphed in all 100 state legislative jurisdictions on the ballot, including de León’s own 24th Senate district.

Yet in its infinite wisdom – after DiFi had already demonstrated her appeal – 217 members of the California Democratic Party’s executive board overwhelmingly gave its endorsement to de León — a guy who lost his own district!

mcristanceA confederacy of dunces. And here’s how monumentally out of touch de León (and the wingnut CDP “e board”) really is:

In the most recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, among the 55% of likely voters who prefer that candidates push back against the Trump administration, Feinstein leads de León 62-25 percent.

In other words, those who most agree with de León’s campaign of resistance against the Trump regime would rather have the venerable Feinstein in the Senate doing the resisting.

So much for the collective mind of the armchair Marxists, Berniecrats, Sacramento hacks, county committee factotums, and sincere grassrooters who comprised the needed 60-plus percent majority of the 333-member “e-board” to hand de León an organizational victory that humiliated California’s most nationally influential Democrat — amid an election season with existential stakes for the anti-Trump party.

“The California Democratic Party’s executive board,” iconic political Democratic insider Willie Brown wrote of the vote in Oakland, “appears to be on a suicide mission.”

deleonnewFearless forecast. Termed-out this year, the 51-year-old de León remains influential in pay-to-play Capitol circles, an ambitious robo-pol with no immediate landing spot now positioning himself for the future with a cash-starved, long-shot Senate challenge.

As a practical matter, the Dems’ November 6 election pick will have little or no impact – or about as much as the party had when it snubbed Feinstein in the 1990 governor’s race primary after she voiced her support for the death penalty and got booed by delegates to the Democrats’ state party convention.

True, de León now may use the party’s formal seal of approval on campaign materials and also has access to lists and data for about 8.4 million registered Democrats. But unless felled by tsunami, quake, or medical emergency, DiFi will win a fifth full term,.

As a political matter, however, the action is still significant:

• For heavy breathers among the Beltway political press corps, whose grasp on California politics often revolves around hot expense-account restaurants, the Dem-on-Dem dissension fuels reportage about the party’s time-honored circular firing squad tendencies, a popular narrative of self-sabotage seized upon by pro-Trump media and spinners.

• For donors and campaign professionals, the saga serves as a distraction from California’s main political event ​— ​the battles for a half-dozen Republican congressional seats Democrats must flip in hopes of capturing the House as a bulwark against Trump’s absolute power; it also diverts Team Feinstein from the ceaseless Beltway battles where her prominent committee perches are consequential.

• For California voters, the episode offers new evidence of the historic weakness of parties in a state where individual media brands matter more than partisan organization. At a time when California’s Republican party moves ever closer to right-wing irrelevance, Democrats now tack hard leftward ​— ​while Feinstein, Jerry Brown, and both Clintons, not to mention battalions of pre–Proposition 187, pro-choice, moderate Republicans, have found the statewide political sweet spot is center-left or what we have labeled mas o menos liberalism,

rejected-rubber-stampWhy they did it. In defense of KDL: De León is a hero to some lefty Dems, for whom Feinstein’s anti-Trumpism lacks passion and who credit him for authoring the pro-immigrant “sanctuary state” law. Unlike Feinstein, de León also voices support for single-payer health insurance and impeachment now.

Daraka Larimore-Hall, state Democratic vice chair and local party chieftain, said, using the nickname initials favored by de León fans, “KDL embodies our values.”

Larimore-Hall chafes at the notion that he and his colleagues blundered with their endorsement, shrugging off the near-unanimous support Feinstein has from Democratic heavyweights, from Barack Obama to Senator Kamala Harris.

“It’s not the job of the party to act as a rubber stamp,” he said. “A lot has changed in California and in the world since the ’90s, and [Feinstein] has not changed with it.”

The Democrats seem undiminished in their commitment to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A version of this post was previously published at Newsmaker With Jerry Roberts. No animals were injured in its production.