Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

De Leon Takes on California’s Most Durable Liberal

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

deleonnewWe interrupt our sabbatical to bring you this breaking news:

Ambitious but termed-out, Kevin de Leon, the 50-year-old state Senate President, on Sunday presented himself as a tougher progressive alternative as he announced a primary challenge to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, 84, one of the nation’s most venerable, influential and well-positioned liberal Democrats.

De Leon’s long-rumored candidacy sets up the prospect of a costly internecine battle in a secure blue state at a time when senior Democrats are urging donors to invest in House and Senate contests elsewhere that could wrest control of Congress from the Republicans.

“I am running for the U.S. Senate because you deserve a seat at the table,” he said in an email announcement. “You deserve jobs that afford your family a better quality of life. You deserve an opportunity for our children to have a free and equal education. You deserve clean air. You deserve universal healthcare.”

Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s chief strategist, framed the issue more bluntly: “What exactly is he gonna’ do that she can’t do?”

healthcareA key issue. The last item on de Leon’s otherwise stock Democratic agenda – universal health care – could emerge as a dividing line in a primary fight between Feinstein and him, and it also highlights a key stylistic difference between them.

“Universal health care” is a guaranteed lefty applause line, and during the last legislative session, de Leon passed in his own house and sent over to the Assembly, what he portrayed as a serious plan for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach in California. As a practical matter, the measure was more of an outline for a bill than a landmark piece of legislation, as it lacked a comprehensive plan for state funding.  When it landed in the Assembly, Speaker Anthony Rendon promptly bottled it up for that reason, and took heat from RoseAnn DeMoro of the California Nurses Association and other blowhard lefties for doing so.

“Kevin sent over a long press release, then went in front of the cameras while we were left holding the bag,” one of Rendon’s lieutenants told us.

For her part, Feinstein has been a supporter of Obamacare; according to Carrick, she also agrees with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a plan to add a public option feature to the Affordable Care Act that would allow people to buy into Medicare, a concrete step towards what the proposal calls “universal care.”

Of course, neither that idea nor de Leon’s notions about “universal health care,”will be anything but fantasies until and unless Democrats regain power in Congress. Still, the Medicare buy-in is the kind of incremental, step-by-step legislative effort at which Feinstein excels, but which has fallen badly out of favor among liberals who see President Donald Trump as an existential threat.

De Leon appeals to some Democratic liberals who view California as ground zero of the resistance to Trump and who have expressed frustration at Feinstein’s less-than-fiery, work-within-the-system opposition to America’s 46-percent 45th president.

In the simplest terms, when it comes to dealing with Trump, she wants to preserve and protect the furniture he’s trying to break; de Leon is for flinging it back at the White House.

dianne_feinstein1Breaking it down. Purely as a matter of partisan politics, it is counter-intuitive for de Leon to take on a fellow Democrat in one of the party’s safest seats in the nation, given the country’s current political landscape.

With Republicans controlling every lever of government in Washington, the Democrats’ top priorities for 2018 nationally are:

1) Flipping 24 Republican-held congressional seats, including at least seven in California, while hanging on to all their own, in an effort to win back control of the House;

2) Battling an extremely unfavorable Senate electoral map in a desperate bid not to fall deeper into the hole than their current 48-seat minority status; Republicans (despite their own little civil war) must defend only nine seats next year while the Democrats have 25 on the ballot, including 10 in states that Trump won.

Feinstein was first elected to the Senate 25 years ago and has remained, for most of that time, the state’s most popular elected official in public opinion surveys. Her re-election is the closest thing to a gimme that Democrats have in 2018

In that context, Pelosi said in a brief interview recently that “it is counter-productive” for Democrats of whatever stripe to pour into an intra-party primary fight millions of dollars that could be used in more critical campaigns.

That is why Feinstein, in announcing her re-election bid last week, had lined up the immediate endorsements of key liberal Democrats – including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris; ex-Sen. Barbara Boxer; Lt. Governor and 2018 gubernatorial front-runner Gavin Newsom; leading Trump Twitter antagonist and L.A. Rep. Ted Lieu, along with the United Farm Workers union. We’re told there are more like that to come.

trumpcrazyWhere’s the beef? Feinstein has angered many on the grassroots left since Trump’s election, because they find her opposition to Trump too measured.  Although she forcefully opposed the critical nominations, both of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, she also has voted to confirm about half of Trump’s Cabinet appointments.

And while she has not hesitated to criticize Trump, she committed a cringeworthy verbal blunder during an appearance in San Francisco last month, when she said that Trump “has the ability to learn and to change. And if he does, he can be a good president. And that’s my hope.”

We know it was just the Convent of the Sacred Heart girl in her, speaking prayerfully about the Perfectibility of Man, but seriously, Dianne?


De Leon has picked up the comment, and now claims it as one rationale for his candidacy,

“We just have a two very different world perspectives,” de León told political writer Joe Garafoli Sunday. “The state has changed significantly over the past 25 years, and we’re overdue for a real debate on the issues.”

Three takeaways. Eight months before the primary, it is of course impossible to forecast how de Leon’s audacious move will play out. Here are some key factors that will shape the race:

governance_5Governance vs. protest. Feinstein is among the last of a breed of old-school, statesmanlike U.S. Senators, who believe in compromise and seek to work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to problems, a centrist political style that has been her trademark since she started out in San Francisco city politics in the 1960s.  With Trump, white nationalists and radical congressional Republicans now polarizing the U.S. more than at any time since the Civil War, however, some liberal Democrats may want a bolder and louder activist Senator who focuses more on fighting and less on legislating.

Old vs. New. At 84, Feinstein is older than her hometown Golden Gate Bridge; at 50, De Leon represents a generation of Democrats whose ambitions have been throtled by the longevity of elderly incumbents, including Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown, Pelosi and, until recently, Boxer. Termed out and with no statewide office openings available to him, de Leon will try to cast the race as change vs. more of the same.

The Jungle Primary. As a practical matter, de Leon’s play will be to finish at least second in the June 7 open primary (top two finishers advance to run-off, regardless of party) and then frame the run-off with Feinstein as a traditional left-vs.-center Democratic brawl.

He will try to rally Bernie Sanders supporters (worth noting: de Leon backed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016; also in 2008 over Obama), Latinos and lefty activists like the California Nurses Union, around issues like single-payer health care, immigration and climate change.

That said, we were struck by this nugget tucked into the story about de Leon’s announcement by Mike Blood of the AP:

In a bitter Democratic leadership fight in the state earlier this year, De Leon sided with the party establishment candidate for state chair, Eric Bauman, over Kimberly Ellis, who was backed by Sanders’ loyalists. 

“Let’s not mince words: Kevin De Leon is no progressive,” Ellis said in a statement Sunday. She added that De Leon “embodies the worst sort of pay-to-play politics that progressives are trying to rid from our party.”

The open primary is tricky terrain; Feinstein is hardly a conservative on any of de Leon’s issues, and she also appeals to registered independents whom de Leon will struggle to attract; if Republicans find a credible Senate candidate, it’s easy to construct a scenario in which de Leon finishes out of the money in June. And there may be more candidates who jump in: investment banker and Democratic moneybags Tom Steyer, among others, is window-shopping the seat.

Back to nap time now.

PPIC Poll: Is Feinstein in Trouble? Not Likely

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

dianne_feinstein1Calbuzz interrupts our hiatus to file this breaking news report:

We don’t doubt the polling finding from the Public Policy Institute of California, released tonight, showing that 50% of likely voters say Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein should not run for re-election, versus 43% who say she should. But we doubt it means much.

At 84, Feinstein is not only older than the Golden Gate Bridge (as we’ve repeatedly, if  churlishly, noted before), she’s an old-fashioned moderate, a throwback who believes in compromise and genuine legislating, in an era when left-liberal Democrats and flavors of the week, like Kamala Harris, are making all the noise. And, oh yeah, Feinstein’s actually, you know, effective, plugged in and a power with which to be reckoned on Capitol Hill.

Which is why it would be a bad bet to think Feinstein can be beaten, assuming she wants to run again. And, for the record, we chatted with her at a social event recently, and came away unshaken in our long-held belief that, barring health issues, she’ll run for a fifth full term.

First, the numbers:

According to PPIC, 60% of likely Democratic voters say DiFi should run again, versus 33% who says she shouldn’t. In other words, even as an octogenarian middle-of-the-roader, she’s solid among Democrats (and even six in 10 liberals).

Of course, 75% of Republicans say she shouldn’t run again, compared to 19% who say she should. But Republicans constitute an increasingly dwindling sector of the California electorate and most of them wouldn’t want any Democrat in the Senate. It’s kind of amazing, actually, that nearly one in five likely GOP voter says DiFi should run.

If Feinstein has any problem in the numbers, it’s among independents, 58% of whom say she should not run and just 33% saying she should give it another go. That’s reflected also among moderates who are about evenly split on whether she should run again.

None of this screams re-election for Feinstein, but nothing in the survey suggests she could be beaten, either. As one Democrat close to Feinstein put it: “Those numbers are some of the best for any Senate candidate running anywhere in the country. Voters aren’t going to decide on her age — they’re going to decide on what happens in the campaign.”

Then Some History:

Let’s remember that back in June 2016, Bernie (Not-a-Democrat) Sanders, darling of the left liberals, was supposed to have been mounting a challenge against known Democratic moderate Hillary Clinton in California and was said to be within two percentage points in the average of final polling. But Clinton waxed Sanders 53-46%. And, of course, Clinton went on to win California against Donald Trump 62-32%.

California voters – despite their “left coast” reputation –historically like to elect middle-of-the-road politicians statewide. You could look it up.

And, of course, there’s the fundamental adage of campaigns: you can’t beat somebody with nobody.

Who’s going to beat her — state Sen. Kevin DeLeon,  a statewide unknown who’d bust his pick trying to raise the money it would take to mount a serious challenge. Entreprenurial wunderkind and non-profit activist Joe Sandberg? Puh-leeze. Let him try self-funding and see what a real moneybags looks like in the person of Feinstein spouse Dick “Big Green” Blum. Tom Steyer? Won’t challenge a fellow member of the ruling class.

We don’t believe DiFi can be beaten from the left or that a Republican can win statewide. Which means, early PPIC polling or not, if she runs, Feinstein will hold on to her seat in the U.S. Senate.

Now we’re going back to sleep.

P.S. If Dianne decides NOT to run, we’d like Jerry Brown for the job.

Death of Truth, Part IV: We Bother Because We Care

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

mussolinirump2shotIt gives us no pleasure to interrupt our sabbatical to lament, once again, the Death of Truth.

But when the president seeks to turn the Boy Scouts of America into his own brown-shirted Trump Youth Group with enough lies to put Joseph Goebbels to shame, when he seeks, with lies, to undermine public confidence in fundamental institutions of democracy like the news media, the Justice Department and the intelligence agencies, we feel compelled to slam shut the barbecue, crawl out of our yurts and scream into the wind.

Once Again Into the Breach It was more than seven years ago that we wrote:

goebbelscaramucciPerhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.

A candidate couldn’t say one thing one day – like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and another thing another day – like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They’d be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.

But in the California governor’s race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:

– The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it is barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.

– The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)

– It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they’re not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).

Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.

putintrumpOh But We Were So Much Older Then That was then. Today, the mainstream media are working hard to expose the facts and even separate truth from falsehood, and Donald Trump, the Prevaricator in Chief, is so vile and mendacious that even Meg Whitman – who sparked our outrage back then – has, to her credit, emerged as an implacable critic.

We revisited the Death of Truth in September 2012, when the New York Times, in its news pages, called Mitt Romney out for lying, and again in March of 2016, when Trump was emerging on a multitude of mind-altering untruths.

What is so disturbing is that even with the news media continuously calling out the lies emanating from Trump and his malicious administration, the balance of power in Washington still has not shifted. And it won’t unless and until Republican members of Congress feel threatened by an imploding White House. Or the Democrats take back the House of Representatives and Trump is impeached for – at least – obstruction of justice.

What will happen when Trump, as he is bound to do because he is a criminal narcissist, fires Robert Mueller and pardons Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and anyone else he has to in order to shield himself from further exposure? How will Neil Gorsuch and the other Right Wing Supremes rule when Trump pardons himself? Will any facts matter?

Not likely.

Which is why we’d have been better off to stay on sabbatical.

Independence Day: Calbuzz Takes a Sabbatical

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

trumpcrazyOn Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, the headline over our take was not only ominous and apocalyptic but, in all modesty, both spot on and damned prophetic, too:

“Jan. 20, 2017: The Madness Is About to Get Real.”

Whatever lies, jive and tripe ooze from the filthy mouth of Donald J. Trump at today’s Inauguration, the plain fact is this: the U.S. is about to embark upon a destructive, dangerous and chilling new era led by a mentally illignorant and authoritarian kleptocrat.

Truth be told, few of the countless zillions of words that have been published, posted, podcast, broadcast, tweeted and Instagrammed since about the 46% 45th president’s first 150 deranged days have, in reality, advanced the ball much.

Of course, the Washington Post and New York Times have each done extraordinary work in digging out in depth and detail some of the treacherous corruption, doltish recklessness and grotesque money-grubbing that now controls the White House (starting with the indispensable “Trump’s Lies” and the Post’s running database of mendacity), not to mention the Ayn Rand crazies in Congress.


And a few sharp analysts have been admirably and astonishingly indefatigable in laboring to apply restrained reason and rational perspective in framing, again and again and again, the poisonous behavior and words of the Bull Goose Loony, such as Ezra Klein, who’s just published a superb summary of how Trump has bathed the nation in reeking toxicity, which should be published on the front page of every U.S. newspaper on the Fourth of July.

We are diminished when our president has little respect for the institutions and norms that have protected our country. Trump has done his best to sow doubt about the legitimacy of America’s electoral system, of its civil servants, of its courts, and of its media. He has created an enemies list to explain away his failures and misdeeds — in his telling, he is beset by “so-called judges,” the deep state, illegal voters, and fake news.

Given Trump’s relentless domination of the political world and deadline-every-second news cycle, we’ve curtailed our own analysis and commentary about all this, however, because a) we’ve run out of adjectives for “repulsive” and “loathsome”; b) grandkids and golf; c) giving free rein to uninhibited outrage is physically dangerous to the well-being of a couple of geezers with two cancers, one spleen, an open-heart and a batch of other surgeries between us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but over the past few years, we were far ahead of the curve on stuff like the Death of Truth, Trump’s crippling narcissistic personality disorder, the salience of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, the Death of Compromise, California’s post-Trump political exceptionalism and other important concepts, and so find ourselves exasperated when these ideas suddenly occur to Beltway bloviators as if they were original thoughts.

In his essay, Klein notes that, “to consistently engage with Trump is to be diminished by him.”

Exactly correct. So we’ve decided to put Calbuzz on cruise control for a time uncertain.

We’ll still post a few pieces from elsewhere that we find compelling; and odds are we won’t be able to keep ourselves from leaping back into the mix even before the 2018 campaigns get cranked up. We’ve already done our civic duty in publishing extended interviews with all the major candidates for governor, save one coward who’s too much of a weenie to handle us (see below).

In the meantime, we’ll drop by with our usual blinding insights, as time, medical appointments and the appearance of inspiration allow.

A few parting thots:

gavinlookrightCandy-ass Gavin: We’re astonished, if not surprised, that Prince Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in governor’s-race polling, is too much of a scaredy-cat wimp and cowardly wuss to answer a few basic questions about the state and what he would do as governor, as every other serious contender has – shout-out to Antonio, Delaine, John and Tom (not to mention Jerry Brown when he was preparing to run back in 2009).

His overpaid coat carriers at Ace Smith’s SCN Strategies (who double as consultants to Sen. Kamala Harris) have hilariously tried to explain why they won’t let their clients talk to us.

On October 10, 2016, after Harris’s debate with former U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, SCN’s Sean Clegg wrote:

I noticed no byline on your debate story. I just have to say you guys do a poor job concealing your misogyny. What shallow crap. Good thing your blog hasn’t been relevant since 2010.  Will be advising all my clients thusly! [Note: Calbuzz has never used bylines except for our guest contributors.]

And on May 8, 2017, when we were trying to get Newsom on the phone for an interview before the California Democratic Party convention, SCN’s Dan Newman wrote:

I say this not on behalf of any of my colleagues or clients, but personally I would be reluctant to facilitate any interview because I find your blog’s occasionally savvy insight and wit tarnished by mean-spirited cynicism. This isn’t partisan or personal — you needlessly demean my friends and foes, clients and competitors, with schoolyard taunting and petty name-calling. I’m certainly guilty of doing the same thing on occasion over the last two decades, but as I get older while wandering through the Trumpocalypse, I find this approach increasingly distasteful and unproductive.

chicken-011Poor babies.

Gavin’s refusal to sit down with Calbuzz — as enforced by his vaunted brain trusters — demonstrates something worse than cowardice: it’s a signal of his weakness of character and his willingness to hide from critics and questioners that ought to serve as a warning to serious political reporters, donors and activists that Newsom does not have the stones to govern California.

difistareWhither Dianne. For two years, we’ve never softened our confidence that (all rise) the Senior Senator from California would seek re-election in 2018, which now has become conventional wisdom. Sure, she’s lost a few feet off the fastball, but she remains the toughest, most experienced and valuable asset that Democrats in California, not to mention the nation, have amid the horror show in Washington.

Run, Dianne, run.

kamalaharrisKamala for President. Really?

Weeks before the imperious Queen Kamala took office – relying as she does on bad advice from the craven whisperers around her — we warned that this shallow narcissist would start looking in the mirror and seeing a future president.

Old-school political reporters used to say there are two kinds of pols: work horses and show horses. Take a wild guess which of California’s two U.S. Senators is which.

While it’s true that her recent smart, aggressive and gone-viral questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was rudely interrupted because, well, she’s a black woman, the bottom line on Harris is this: (with apologies to Gertrude Stein and the fine people of Oakland) There’s not much there there. Nor does it help her cause that her long-ago lover, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, has openly suggested she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for him. (“We had been very close” — wink-wink, nudge-nudge — Brown wrote in a kissy-kissy Chronicle column two weeks ago.)

Once she’s represented California for a couple of terms and can show some policy and political chops, Harris may well be someone to take seriously. But for now she’s just the flavor of the week among the big brains in the Beltway.

calbuzzartSpraining elbows patting ourselves on the back: 
We started Calbuzz back in 2009, 1,273 posts ago, specifically because we wanted to contribute to the conversation about the 2010 campaign for governor; in our 70-odd (sometimes very odd) collective years of covering politics at every level, nothing has ever been as much fun as covering a California governor’s race.

And frankly, given the meat-ax cuts that had been inflicted on serious political reporting at every major state media organization, we also saw a market opportunity, which paid off quickly in the form of an influential readership and enough ad dollars to finance our jones for rampaging through state party conventions and other political grip-and-grope opportunities.

The political media environment, we’re pleased to say, has changed, on a number of fronts: the return of Cathy Decker, the steadiness of Mark Barabak and George Skelton and the emergence of stars like Seema Mehta, John Myers and Phil Willon, plus future MVP Javier Panzar at the By God L.A. Times; the hatching of the high-energy collaboration of Carla Marinucci and David Siders at Politico’s California report; the birth of CalMatters under the enlightened leadership of Dave Lesher, not to mention the arrival of the SacBee’s Chris Cadelago and some excellent new political reporters who came and went, like the indefatigable Shane Goldmacher, Chase Davis and Torey Van Oot, who were snatched up by media back East. We’d also be remiss not to note that the plucky efforts of Joe Garafoli and John Wildermuth to overcome Chron management’s foolish hostility towards political reporting also helps beef up California’s press corps, and made covering and following state campaigns fun again.

We like to flatter ourselves by thinking that we helped play a role in the rejuvenation of California political reporting by coming off the bench after our “retirements” and investing several hundred thousand words in kvetching, critiquing and press clipping on the subject.

Don’t forget to write.

SB 10 Would Rightly End the Cash Bail System

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

black-man-prisonBy George Lakoff
Special to Calbuzz

Imagine losing days, weeks, or months of your life rotting in a jail cell even though, in the United States, you’re supposed to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Such unjust imprisonment should never happen in a free nation. Yet it is the reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans today. Unsurprisingly, many of them are poor people of color who can’t afford to pay excessive bail fees.

They are imprisoned because the current bail system is out of control. It deprives people of their freedom for no reason other than their inability to pay. This violates freedom and poses an unconstitutional threat to our rights as citizens.

declarationHappiness not property The Declaration of Independence counts “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” among our “inalienable rights” as Americans. It’s important to remember that the original phrase from John Locke put it differently, as “life, liberty, and property.” But America’s Founding Fathers modified this phrase for a very specific and important reason – because they didn’t believe freedom should be tied to wealth and property ownership.

Back then, African Americans were deprived of their human rights and considered property under the heinously immoral institution of slavery. But times have changed, and all Americans are now guaranteed the same rights and freedoms, regardless of ability to pay.

It’s time for the bail industry to catch up with the modern world. It’s time for a big change in the bail system. In California, Senate Bill 10 would upend the cash bail system that keeps so many people locked up unjustly. It’s more than a sensible reform of a broken system – it’s a moral imperative.

mlkjailFreedom not wealth The bail system is based on the deeply un-American idea that your freedom should depend on your wealth. It’s shameful that such a system has survived into the 21st century, and must be abolished at once. How many innocent people are languishing in a jail cell today for the sole reason that they can’t buy their freedom?

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We cannot tolerate a system in which innocent people languish in our local jails because they cannot afford to pay the bail. The idea that your freedom should be determined by your ability to pay violates the freedom of every American.

SB 10 is a chance for California to lead the way on righting this injustice and restoring the freedom of every American.

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (http://cnms.berkeley.edu).