Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Op-Ed: How Brown Could Do Worse Than Expected

Friday, June 13th, 2014

ericcantorBy Chuck McFadden
Special to Calbuzz

Gov. Jerry Brown has to be thinking about the stunning upset of Eric Cantor in Virginia. If he isn’t, he’s not as smart as everyone says he is. Conventional wisdom says Democrat Brown will cruise to victory this November, just as conventional wisdom said Cantor would cruise to victory in the recent Republican primary.

So here’s a bit of unconventional wisdom: The governor will be re-elected but Republican Neel Kashkari will do better than today’s conventional wisdom dictates. Connect these dots and you’ll see why:

Money Isn’t Everything First, while it’s true that  Brown has tons of money — more than $20 million is the latest count — Cantor also had lots of money. He spent $5 million on his campaign, compared with the $200,000 spent by his Republican opponent, David Brat. And remember, that $5 million was spent in a measly congressional district, not a state with 38 million people. So maybe money isn’t as important as conventional wisdom says it is.

gaspumpmoneySecond, there’s a sleeper issue just waiting to foul up Brown’s re-election effort: a possible hike in gas prices. Starting next year, California’s cap-and-trade program will be applied to fuel producers. The Western States Petroleum Association, representing fuel producers, says the increased cost to producers could hike gas prices by 12 cents a gallon. Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board doubts cap and trade would have that much of an impact, but another fuel industry spokesman, Jay McKeeman of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, disagrees, saying fuel producers would not swallow the cost increase, and it would indeed be passed on to consumers.

Crazy Train Finances Third, Brown and Democratic leaders in the Legislature are proposing that 25 percent of the proceeds of future cap and trade revenue be used to fund Brown’s proposed $68-billion-and-counting high speed rail project. That creates an association between a hike in price for gasoline –caused by cap and trade — with high speed rail. A 2013 study by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed that 54 percent of likely voters opposed high speed rail.

In a state with an electorate that cast more than a quarter of a million votes for an indicted state senator running for secretary of state, the “thought” process among a sizable number of voters could be this: Gas price supposed to go up; that ripoff at the pump goes to (ugh!) high speed rail; Jerry Brown is governor; bad governor.

Granted, the issue that riled the rustics in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District — immigration — is a far cry from gasoline prices in California. But both are made to order for simplistic, emotional campaign themes, as Cantor found out the hard way. And few issues touch a nerve among California voters the way anything to do with driving a car does.

brownglareBorn-Again Tax Cutter? A proposal from state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg could be a bright spot for Brown. Steinberg — who is not running for re-election because he’s termed out — has suggested a flat 15-cent-per-gallon price hike on gasoline in place of any price increase from cap-and-trade. He’s not likely to get it approved by the Legislature, but if he does, Brown will be presented with an opportunity to veto it at the top of his lungs, thereby establishing his bona fides as an opponent of gas tax increases.

Admittedly, this is all conjecture. For one thing, there is something about Eric Cantor that causes a lot of people to dislike him intensely. Brown may not exude charm, but he’s not despised, like Cantor is. And Brown won nearly three times as many votes as Kashkari did during the June 3 first go-‘round. And, yes, the governor is a master politician. As Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently commented on Brown’s political skill:  “Most of us are playing checkers; he’s playing chess.”


But voters, especially in California, are volatile. And didn’t someone once say something about “A little unconventional wisdom now and then is relished by the wisest men”?

Calbuzz contributor Chuck McFadden covered politics for The Associated Press in Sacramento. His biography of our very own governor, Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown is published by the University of California Press. His opinion is his opinion.

Why Brown and Kashkari Will Not Meet in 10 Debates

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

tryionkashkaricroppedRepublican Neel Kashkari has challenged Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to 10 debates, which is what Brown did in 2010 when he was facing Meg Whitman. Then, however, the job was open, and neither was the incumbent governor. And eMeg had more money than she knew what to do with while Jerry was rattling his tin cup.

Joint appearances would “show the voters that we can act as adults and actually treat each other with respect,” Brown argued then. “We’ll certainly consider debating, providing we can work out the scheduling and details to offer something substantive and worthwhile to voters,” his spokesman says today with the back of his hand.

jerrygandalfKashkari is the Tyrion Lannister of California politics. Like the most popular character in “Game of Thrones,” he’s emerged out of the Republican party as a rare rational humanist from a tribe packed with vicious xenophobes, weapons fetishists and autocratic Tories; like Tyrion, aka “The Imp” and “Halfman,” Kashkari is a puckish, elfin figure; and like his HBO show counterpart, the GOP wannabe is way over his head in a high-stakes game of politics and power.

It would be amusing to see The Imp and Governor Gandalf square off. Maybe Kash could explain further his desire for California to more fully develop California’s oil and gas. (Ten debates would produce more gas for sure.) And the wonky wizard could expound in Latin (sic transit transit?) the value of investing in high-speed rail instead of highways.

Of course, we in the so-called “news media” always root for debates (but not 10, fercrineoutloud). In fact, we insist demand humbly propose that at least one Calbuzzard should be on the panel of journalists that questions the candidates.

But seriously, if you were Gandalf’s political adviser, would you tell him to give The Imp equal status and exposure by sharing the debate stage with the incumbent governor? Of course not. Calls for the free flow of ideas and a robust interchange of positions on the critical issues are always a function of ethical relativism. And even though Brown rejects transactional ethics, he’s also a savvy tactician.

grim reaperWhen you’re 30, 40 or some other factor of 10, points ahead of your challenger in the polls, you’d only agree to debate if a) you thought it was the right thing to do or b) you thought voters might think you’re a chicken-livered kissy-mamma if you don’t. And maybe not even then.

“I guarantee you he is going to duck and hide underneath his desk and avoid trying to debate me,” The Imp said on KFMB-AM radio in San Diego the other day. Seriously? You think you can bait Gandalf?

Kashkari is now arguing that Gov. Brown can be beaten. But in the June primary, Brown carried every county except Modoc and Lassen. And even in those,which Tim Donnelly carried, Brown beat Kashkari handily.

Sorry Neel, there’s only one challenger who might have a chance of beating Brown in November. And as far as we know, the Grim Reaper has not taken out campaign papers.

Note: Our exclusive mashups of Tyrion Kashkari and Governor Gandalf were made by the talented David Trounstine.

Why New Move On Rape Kit Backlog Is Needed

Monday, June 9th, 2014

nancy-skinner1-226x300By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

At a time when sexual assault is a growing national concern, legislation crucial to victims of rape has moved forward in Sacramento.

The measure, by East Bay Democrat Nancy Skinner, would require law enforcement agencies to “specify timelines for the testing of rape kits and for entering the information into a national database.” Rape kits are used to collect evidence from victims to held convict assailant.

The Assembly passed Skinner’s AB1517 late last month among increasing evidence of the dimension of the problem: the number of rapes reported at four-year colleges and universities “increased 49 percent between 2008 and 2012,” according to NPR, while congressional recently held hearings on rape in the military as the Pentagon reported that 26,000 cases of “unwanted sexual contact” occurred in 2012.

“Sending rape kits to the lab quickly tells the survivor we care, helps law enforcement solve this and other crimes and makes us all safer,” Skinner said.

The measure, expected to be acted upon by the senate over the summer after passing the Assembly 68-to-0, encourages the submission of forensic evidence to crime labs as soon as possible, but “no later than ten days after being booked into evidence.”

Within 60 days of submission to a law enforcement agency, the crime lab must “process evidence, create DNA profiles” and upload them into CODIS, the acronym for Combined DNA Index System, a national computerized data base for DNA samples.

hrwA political win for survivors:  The legislation represents a victory for women’s organizations and victims’ advocates, who have been fighting to end the backlog of rape kits since 2008.

In California the issue began to emerge in 2008, when Sarah Tofte a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) began to investigate the status of untested rape kits in the City and County of Los Angeles. Local police and sheriffs departments denied there was a problem, but were unable to quantify the number of untested kits.

The 2009 Human Rights Watch research showed, however, that 12,000 kits remained untested in City and County police storage units.

L.A. media responded with articles and editorials on the backlog and elected officials soon agreed to fund the additional technicians needed to test all kits in storage.

In 2011, the City of Los Angles issued a statement that all kits in storage had been tested.  In the process, 753 matches to perpetrators were obtained through CODIS.

Cold cases: The rape kit backlog first came to national attention in 1999, when New York City uncovered 17,000 untested kits in storage.  In the course of four years, the backlog was cleared with all kits analyzed.

Today, New York is a model for effective processing of rape kits.  Most importantly rape victims are receiving fair and timely treatment in N.Y.C.

“The policy (of testing all kits) is a no-brainer given all the rapes we have been able to solve and prosecute,” a deputy district attorney in the New York City sex crimes unit told Human Rights Watch in 2008.

A special cold-case unit was established in New York to pursue new investigations when matches were found. According to the 2009 HRW report, two thousand hits occurred in CODIS, resulting in 200 cases that were pursued by the special unit. At the time of the report’s publication, New York City’s arrest rate for rape had increased “dramatically from 40 percent to 70 percent.”

labNew California protocols:  In 2011, the California Bureau of Forensic Services, a division of the California Department of Justice, issued a protocol to all state run laboratories.  It mandated an immediate delivery to the labs of three evidence samples collected by a sexual assault response team.  The program is called rapid DNA service or RADS.

The remaining evidence then goes to the police or sheriff’s department to be held, if needed, for future adjudication of the case.  Previously, local law departments determined if and when the kits were to be sent to labs to be tested.

Another factor expediting lab work is the growing use of robots to analyze multiple samples in kits. The use of robots has improved turn around times for processing rape kits.

The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies for the costs of mandated programs.  As these programs are to be paid for by the state, the local cost of the recently implemented protocol for DNA analysis in state-run labs is covered.

While some progress for victims of rape has occurred, however, the California protocol only applies to laboratories run by the state.  These facilities cover 46 out of 58 counties, but they represent only 25 % of California’s population.  Most large cities don’t use state labs and are not subject to the new protocol.

AB 1517 would fill the gap left by the new protocol that does not cover three quarters of the state’s population.

schwarzeneggerFailed Legislation:  In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill  (AB 1017) that would have required local jurisdictions to report the number of kits in storage and whether they have been tested.  The governor’s veto message expressed his concern about the cost to implement the legislation, a greater priority for him than just rape victims.

In 2011, Governor Brown vetoed additional legislation to create a pilot project to test and analyze kits in ten counties (AB 322), objecting to counties being required to participate in programs they opposed.

Among advocates, there is an urgency and impatience for Skinner’s bill to pass.

A new urgency on AB1517: A 2013 CNN report estimates the number of untested kits nationally may be as high as 400,000.

“Our efforts must address the backlog throughout the State and Nation,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, “and this legislation serves as a vital step toward that goal.”

Susan_RoseThe real cost to society has been the loss of justice for thousands of survivors of rape in California, whose voices have not been heard while they have waited for years for resolution of their cases.

With neither financial resources nor technical expertise now a policy problem, Brown is likely to have the opportunity to begin to fix the problem and to send a powerful message to other states: rape victims are a priority in the California justice system.

Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is active with Human Rights Watch.

Press Clips: Six Takeaways From No-Doze Election

Friday, June 6th, 2014

autoposyOur Department of Post-Mortem Political Analysts and Bleached Bone Feasting Hyenas has gnawed the last crusts of Election Night Pizza and now turn to their task of sifting the detritus of Tuesday’s results. Their secret report:

The Big Story: At 9:29 p.m., Calbuzz became the first to tweet-port election night’s most stunning story, that state Sen. Leland Yee, under indictment on federal corruption charges, was outpolling Dan Schnur, the high-profile tribune of political reform in the Secretary of State’s race.

However, when the Snooze Analysts who actually get paid to do this stuff got around to it the next day, they fumbled for an explanation – maybe Shrimp Boy’s Chinatown GOTV operation was slicker than we thought? – as the real reason stared them straight in the face: as with every election in the last 40 years, the biggest story, routinely ignored, or kissed off with a 10-inch voter turnout yarn on A11, is that the vast majority of Californians couldn’t care less about politics, and many of those who do are barely literate on the subject, which suggests the Politician-Consultant-Media Complex is gazing through the wrong end of the telescope, for which we all deserve to be burned in hell.

rollthediceWhither Top Two: It worked! It failed! It’s too soon to tell!  Amid a boatload of speculative thumb suckers about the impact of the first statewide office jungle primary, it appears that it’s begun to accomplish what backers promised it would:  rein in wing nuts and restore some semblance of a partisan balance to California. Maybe.

As Calitics notes, liberal labor money trumped business in some key races, most notably in the marquee 16th Assembly District contest, where the peerless Gale Kaufman led CTA’s stern punishment of Steve Glazer (along with a brutal IE run by Chris Lehman)  for tip-toeing off the Democratic orthodoxy reservation by daring to challenge the power of public employee unions.

Still, the election’s bottom line winner is state Republican chairman Jim Brulte, whose one-foot-in-front-of-the other strategy for restoring the GOP to seriousness yielded tangible results: it’s impossible that a candidate as rational as Neel Kashkari, the Tyrion Lannister of state politics, would have defeated Sharia Screwball Tim Donnelly in a straight-up partisan primary, and the emergence of the impressive Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen offers a glimmer of hope for the GOP’s bench-building efforts. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll wake up and embrace the Calbuzz strategy for a two party-system.

Not Neel Kashkari

Not Neel “The Imp” Kashkari

The 2018 Race: NeelThe Imp” Kashkari is now positioned to build some 2018 cred with his sacrificial lamb campaign against Governor Gandalf, but it was AG Kamala Harris who quietly but forcefully staked her front-runner claim in the four-years-hence field. Her vote total – 1,597,296 – was second only to Governor Brown’s, as she collected 53% in a field of nobodies, and was notable in outpacing Prince Gavin, who won less than 50 percent in the Lite Governor’s race and trails Herself by 67,508 ballots (yeah, yeah, we know he ran against seven stiffs and she only faced six).

Come nut-cutting time, when the two sit down to divide up the world, we see Harris’s superior star power as a better fit for Washington than Sacramento; she’d do well to keep  her options open, however, because it’s a fool’s game to think that Ageless Wonder Dianne Feinstein will be anywhere but on the ballot in 2018, in pursuit of a sixth Senate term.

Media mavens: Mega-plaudits to the Hearst Chron’s Carla Marinucci, John Wildermuth and a cast of thousands for executing the smartest and most solid MSM game plan in evidence on election night, a tribute to long-ago great strategic plans devised by newsroom icons like Jim Brewer and the crafty Dave Hyams. Among other things, our monitoring of the Twitterverse showed that Costco Carla was the first to call the Kashkari-Donnelly race, and the only one to report a perceptual scoop about Dems missing a big chance to foist Donnelly onto the GOP, while her teammates swarmed the high-profile 16th AD and the Honda-Khanna 17th CD contests all night.

Also: kudos to the SacBee’s political team, which put together a thorough, all-you-need to know day-after news report, a thankless task in many ways tougher that covering the election itself, since everybody’s sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated and plain old cranky; a don’t-miss huzzah to Dan Morain for his splendid feature on mystery man David Evans; ongoing accolades to “The Nooner,” featuring Scott Lay’s indispensable daily data dumps about cash being shoveled into every race in the state, a labor of love that sends us off to nappy time every we think about the energy needed to do it.

crystal_ballCrystal Balls: As we wrote on election night, the USC/LA Times pre-election poll was spot-on in forecasting the Kashkari-Donnelly race; as we wrote the day before, however, they were totally weasley gun shy about saying so at the time, and led our, um, colleagues at the LAT down the wrong path in getting squirrely about their own results.

Given that, the chest-thumping touchdown dance the big brain pollsters at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner performed the next day, proclaiming themselves geniuses for being on the money in advance of the election – two days after they were too chicken to state clearly what their own data showed – was an astonishing display of gall.

Calbuzz gets results: While Governor Gandalf claimed individual honors for garnering the most votes on Tuesday – 1,730,495 – he ran far, far behind the total collected by the Calbuzz “Vote for the Story” slate card – 2,316,794 at post time. Oh sure, our eight-person Bad News Bears didn’t actually win anything, but the ragtag ticket copped five Bronze Medals and three “Everybody’s a Winner” green ribbons for sportsmanship. You could look it up.

While the MSM filed their dutiful and predictable pieces – some better than others – about the too-close controller’s race and Kashkari’s “victory” on behalf of the big money establishment, here’s fair warning that about the 800th time you guys are forced to listen to The Imp hold forth on his plan for the middle class, or bash Krusty’s “Crazy Train” (has there ever been a worse signature campaign line?), you’ll be sorry you blew off coverage of candidates who might have made the next five months interesting, or at least bearable.

Post Primary: Brown’s Toughest Foe Still Jarvis

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

jerrygandalfFirst-term Gov. Jerry Brown was 40 years old on a warm June morning nearly four decades ago, as he sat on the Assembly dais listening to Bob Hope crack wise about California’s financial mess.

“I want to tell you how great it is to return to Sacramento, the home of my money,” the late, legendary comedian told his audience of top state officials. “This is where they make the laws, and it’s only rarely that a victim gets to return to the scene of the crime.”

Not long after the June 6 primary, Hope was in Sacramento for a long-planned ceremony honoring his 75th birthday, an event the Legislature hailed with slightly more pomp than if he’d been China’s Paramount Leader.  By coincidence, the event came days after state voters shook up Sacramento by voting overwhelmingly for the sweeping tax cut known as Proposition 13, which the guest of honor called “the kind of thing you used to hear from a girl in a bar.”

The big star also claimed an alleged surprise sighting of the ballot initiative’s author: “I knocked on the door of the governor’s mansion, and Howard Jarvis answered,” he said.

The real governor was not amused.

bob-hopeGroundhog day for Moonbeam: Hope’s long-ago, one-liner shtick came to mind last night, as 76-year old Governor Brown pounded the opposition in the primary election, positioning himself to win an unprecedented fourth term in November. Despite the mildly annoying presence (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) of Republican Neel Kashkari (who was beating wing nut Tim Donnelly by about the same margin predicted by the prescient USC/LA Times poll), it’s hard to imagine a scenario that would stop Brown from taking a career-capping victory lap in November (assuming his heart and lungs keep working).

As a political matter, Brown’s 2014 task is far easier than his bid for a second term seemed back in the 1978 turbulence of Prop. 13; as a policy matter, however, many dilemmas he’ll continue to face as California’s chief executive were forged by the events of that steaming hot summer in Sacramento, as Brown and lawmakers scrambled under intense public pressure to enact legislation implementing the radical tax cut.

The result of their labors was a complete overhaul of governance in California, as power soon became centralized in Sacramento, which took over control of doling out money to school boards and local government for public education and many social service and other programs.

“The shift started within days of Prop. 13’s triumph,” journalists and Friends of Calbuzz Joe Mathews and Mark Paul wrote in “California Crackup,” a detailed deconstruction of the state’s structural and complex political problems.

Using the new power given to it by Prop. 13, the legislature divvied up the remaining property tax…Where once there had been largely separate and relatively well defined pots of revenue – one labeled ‘local,’ the other ‘state’ – there was now a single hydraulic money system, as vast as the state’s water’s works, with the legislature controlling the sluices and valves.

Howard Jarvis_CalBuzzIn inceptum finis est: So it’s a great historic and political irony that Brown’s current, successful-to-date effort to stabilize state finances, an Augean task that remains unfinished, in many ways involves undoing policies and changing public attitudes on issues with which he struggled in his first incarnation as governor.

A few salient examples:

—The governor has spent considerable political capital in recent years on “realignment,” his work-in-progress reorganization of funding and responsibilities for incarceration, rehabilitation and other programs; the tangle of jurisdictions he seeks to unsnarl was in part shaped by passage of Prop. 13, when he and the Legislature began to consolidate political authority, and by a raft of tough-on-crime legislation passed during his second term that sent prison populations soaring.

—Brown recently has battled longtime labor allies, both over details of a proposed state budget reserve fund, which will be on the November ballot, and over his efforts to curtail some benefits for retired public employees; it was first-term governor Brown, however, who took the first crucial step in giving unions their enormous power in Sacramento and city halls, when he signed little-noticed, but sweeping legislation, that gave state workers collective bargaining rights.

—Brown in coming months will likely face an up-or-down decision of whether to sign a key Prop. 13 reform measure, passed by the Assembly and awaiting action in the state Senate, to begin to close a loophole that long has allowed corporate interests to avoid some property tax increases when commercial property is sold. Although it is far from implementation of a full “split roll” system, it is an important first in undoing yet another unintended consequence of the young governor’s long-ago implementation of Proposition 13, which has led to a massive shift of property tax burden from corporations and real estate interests onto the backs of homeowners.

kashkaridonnellyBottom line: “Jerry could be fairly faulted, not for changing his stand on Proposition 13, but how he did it,” wrote Brown biographer Roger Rapoport. “The proposition, while responding to real need, was loaded with fiscal time bombs sure to detonate in the years ahead.”