Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

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.”

CA GOP On Knife Edge; USC Pollsters, LAT Weasel

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

kashkaridonnellyCalifornia Republicans stand at a crossroads: Will they join the ranks of voters in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon and other states who have chosen Establishment conservatives over Tea Party knuckledraggers? Or will they add California to the roster of states like Nevada, Missouri and Illinois who chose teabaggers who later got skunked by Democrats.

Until this weekend, polls were suggesting that Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the Tea Party “patriot” was on his way to becoming the GOP standard bearer by defeating former U.S. Treasury operative Neel Kashkari, the Establishment’s choice, in the open primary.

Neither of them has a prayer against Gov. Jerry Brown in November. No non-incumbent Republican has been elected governor of California after a primary election since Pete Wilson won against token opposition nearly a quarter century ago.

But the USC Dornsife/LA Times poll University of released over the weekend found Kashkari slightly ahead of Donnelly in the race for second place and the right to lose to Brown in November.

“Among likely voters in the primary election, Democratic incumbent Brown has 50 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent for Kashkari and 13 percent for Donnelly, with 10 percent of likely voters still undecided,” USC/LAT reported.

LATgraphicFun with numbers: So at odds with other recent polls was the result, that the survey’s directors and the LA Times itself weasley weasely called the race for second place “a statistical tie” and a “dead heat” – which they did because their finding was so close to the margin of error for likely voters in their poll.

In other words, the pollsters weren’t confident enough in their own results (or their model of likely voters*) to assert that Kashkari has surged ahead of Donnelly. “It’s too close to call, but Kashkari has some momentum going into the final stretch,” Dave Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican firm that conducted the poll along with the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, told the LA Times.

And our friends Seema Mehta and Michael Finnegan (or their editors) at the Times chose not to buy into the survey’s actual findings, hedging their bets, writing: “The difference between the two vying for the second slot in the general election was within the poll’s margin of error.”

But according to the results released by USC, Kashkari’s 5-point lead among likely voters is actually just outside of the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent for likely voters.

The race could be called a dead heat if you were looking at all the registered voters in the survey, where the results had Kashkari at 13 percent and Donnelly at 12 percent with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent. But then, you wouldn’t be relying on the voters you expect to be a part of the final tally. Moreover, among those who told the pollsters they’d already voted, Kashkari led 15-12 percent.

If you’re going to reject your own poll’s findings, you really ought to explain why.

Bottom line: Most Establishment Republicans are hoping and praying for Kashkari to win second place on Tuesday so they can avoid the inevitable investigative story that would follow a Donnelly victory – into whether their candidate actually has an opposable thumb.

*P.S. On Monday, after this post went online, our pal Timm Herdt at the Ventura Star, posted an item that came out of a media call the pollsters did with reporters that may shed some light on why the Times was hinkey about standing by their poll findings:

…predicting voter turnout in an election that most analysts believe will approach or exceed record-low turnout is a fairly dicey proposition. In a conference call with USC’s pollsters today (Scott Tiell of the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and David Kanevsky of the Republican firm American Viewpoint), they noted the poll’s “likely voter” universe represented 41 percent of their sample of 1,511 registered voters. Given the rate of mail-in-ballot returns so far, no serious political observer expects actual turnout to even approach 41 percent of registered voters. The consensus is 30 percent, plus-or-minus a couple percentage points. The pollsters did the best they could, as they counted as “likely voters” only respondents who had voted in at least one of the two most recent statewide primaries and who said they had either already voted or were almost certain that they would vote.

“Still, it seems likely the poll counted a fair amount of people who won’t actually vote. Perhaps the most instructive number came from the response of those who said they had already voted, and it showed a virtual dead heat: 15 percent for Kashkari, 12 percent for Donnelly.

John Vasconcellos: Mensch Who Fought for Decency

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

John-Vasconcellos2-772x350If you didn’t know John Vasconcellos, the former Assemblyman and state Senator from Santa Clara who died last weekend at age 82, you might think, from all of the tributes written about how “humane” and “caring” he was, that he was a gentle soul.

You would be wrong.

He was voluble and irascible, passionate and fierce. All in the cause of his lifelong quest to do good in the world. He strove for a personal and civil politics of love and truth, decency and integrity.

Vasco didn’t just wear his liberalism on his sleeve: he waved it like a bloody banner. He was, perhaps, the last honest man in Sacramento. Which is why people from all walks of life and both sides of the political aisle loved him.

In 1986, when cartoonist Garry Trudeau lampooned him as a flake in “Doonesbury” for his “California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem, Personal and Social Responsibility,” Vasconcellos reveled in the attention – for his ego was ginormous – and parlayed the limelight into TV and radio appearances and a spread in People magazine.

Today, few criminologists, sociologists or even politicians would argue with the assertion Vasco made then – for which he was ridiculed – that low self-esteem among young people is a crucial element in addiction, murder, mental illness, bullying and suicide.

Vasconcellos was willing to take the flak that inevitably came his way in pursuit of the greater good. In his personal as well as his political life. As our friend David Early wrote in the San Jose Mercury News:

Vasconcellos was a thunderous presence, almost from the day of his election to the state Assembly in 1966. He was always searching for ways to salve his tempestuous inner demons. He publicly employed an array of “human potential movement” therapies, including psychosynthesis and gestalt, hoping to release rage, tension and fear.

A Truly Human Being Vasconcellos was “the most human man I’ve ever known, a believer in mankind who strove to his last day for a political system of government that was value-based, forgiving, honest,” said his friend, former SF Chronicle reporter Mark Simon in a moving Facebook tribute.

“His friends knew him as a truly decent man who has always based his politics on the notion that humans are basically good and that public policy that stimulates and encourages the good in humankind — he calls it the politics of trust — should be the guiding principle for those who make the laws and develop governmental programs and policies,” our old pal, retired reporter Lee Quarnstrom, told the Mercury News.

Vasco wanted to be governor. But he was enough of a realist to understand that he was not a good match for the scheduling, ass kissing and especially the fund raising required to run a statewide campaign. Nor did he relish the cut-throat and negative tactical politics that is inevitably involved.

He was dedicated to human potential, not potential inhumanity. There won’t be another one like him.

Tale of Two Papers: Mass Murder and Student Media

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

dailynexus1The Daily Nexus, the independent, student-run newspaper at UC Santa Barbara, posted its first story about the mass murders in Isla Vista at 10:27 p.m. Friday night, one hour after the earliest law enforcement report of  ”shots fired.”  The paper’s reporters, photographers and editors haven’t stopped working since.

The Bottom Line, their student government-financed, journalistic rival, posted its first story two days later, an op-ed that carried this stunning headline: “Why We Have Not Yet Published Anything on the Isla Vista Shooting.”

Whenever tragedy strikes, emergency responders and journalists are some of the first on scene and are, consequently, more likely to suffer from emotional trauma because of it. As stated in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, a code we at The Bottom Line strive to uphold every day in our reporting, we are to minimize harm, whether physical or emotional. Ethical “journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.”

After extensive discussions among our Editorial Staff, advisor and alumni, we have decided to not immediately publish an article on the recent tragedy in our community of Isla Vista to minimize the emotional harm for our reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists. Before we are journalists, we are Gauchos and feel we need our time to mourn, process and recover from this senseless violence.

Paging Walter Burns.

nexusTragedy and tropes: Last weekend’s murder spree by a 23-22-year old, non-university resident of Isla Vista, the tiny, unincorporated beach neighborhood adjoining UCSB, swiftly generated in the media a host of by now sadly familiar national debates and tropes about gun control, mental illness, social media, bullying, parenting, cultural values, violent video games, Hollywood, law enforcement blunders, moral decay and pathological narcissism.

In that context, the contrasting approaches of two papers run by students to sudden and senseless, up-close-and-personal horror offers a rare and stark case study of how news media may approach – or avoid — the plague of such murderous episodes.

(Full disclosure: The writer of this post was employed by UCSB as student Publications Manager from 2007-10, serving as day-to-day publisher of the Nexus, in charge of keeping a struggling enterprise economically afloat. There is no department of journalism, or even a single course, at UCSB, so a prized student newsroom staff post involves a lot of learning on the job. A few days after starting in his new business-side position, your future Calbuzzer asked fourth year student and Editor in Chief Kaitlin Pike how he also might help student journalists with his 30 years of newspaper editorial experience: “Stay the fuck out of the newsroom” is a cleaned-up version of what she answered. And so, he almost always did).

The Nexus lineage traces to the 1930s, when the paper was “The Eagle” and UCSB was Santa Barbara State College. Loosely linked historically to Associated Students, the elected student government, the paper severed its ties with AS in the early 1970s, in the wake of bitter campus divisions and fierce anti-war demonstrations, including the iconic burning of the Bank of America branch in Isla Vista. The Nexus now publishes three print editions a week, plus frequent online postings and updates, operating mostly on ad revenue, supplemented by a small “lock-in fee” that requires a majority vote of approval by the student body every two years.

tblAn adversarial relationship: These days, the toughest coverage in the Nexus is reserved for AS, specifically the ways and means by which its elected leaders choose to spend millions of dollars in student activity fees that finance everything from a large campus recreation center to small musical performances and cultural and ethnic clubs.

Following a particularly long and nasty battle with the Nexus, AS decided in 2007 to start its own paper.

Among other things, the weekly Bottom Line in its mission statement states that it, “provides a printed space for investigative journalism, culturally and socially aware commentary, and engaging reporting that addresses the diverse concerns of our readership, including UCSB and its surrounding community. ”

Presumably, it was the paper’s “culturally and socially aware” values that led to its radical decision not to cover the murders on its news site (one of its intrepid reporters tweeted some coverage on his own).

Tragedy porn: Not surprisingly, that action, more precisely inaction, drew considerable condemnation on Facebook pages frequented by journalists – local and state, student and professional, working and retired: “Total abdication of responsibility to their staff and readers,” was a typical comment.

More surprising, however, The Bottom Line also received some thoughtful expressions of support, which traveled to the question of whether news media is culpable in such tragedies with its predictable blanket coverage and tried-and-true story budgets. La Tricia Ransom, a former editor at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

I respect that they don’t want to contribute to the tragedy porn the media too eagerly wallow in.

I also like some beliefs that if the news stopped naming the attackers, perhaps copycats will cease to see terrorism as a way to make a name for themselves. media remember the killers’ names, but not the victims.

dailynexus2Tragic Commodities: And this, reported by the weekly Santa Barbara Independent:

In front of the memorial that has grown for Chris Michael-Martinez on Pardall Road, students have raised signs that read “Stop Filming Our Tears,” “News Crew Go Home,” “Our Tragedy Is Not Your Commodity” to protest the constant presence of TV news crews, cameras, and vans in Isla Vista.

Starting about 3:30 p.m., four protesters arrived with seven-foot signs, and the protest has doubled since then, as reporters get ready for their latest evening broadcast about the seven killed Friday night.

Initially, a number of TV crews left the site when the protesters arrived, and the remaining reporters explained they were just doing their jobs and that they wanted to show the memorial. The residents replied that the news organizations were making money from their pain and that they wanted them to leave. The broadcasters ended up making their reports standing with the protest as a backdrop.

A couple of other takeaways:

SPJ and ethics: In announcing their decision not to cover the murders as a breaking news story, the Bottom Line justified their action by citing an SPJ Code of Ethics fundamental principle to “Minimize Harm.”

Whenever tragedy strikes, emergency responders and journalists are some of the first on scene and are, consequently, more likely to suffer from emotional trauma because of it. As stated in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, a code we at The Bottom Line strive to uphold every day in our reporting, we are to minimize harm, whether physical or emotional. Ethical “journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.”

Longtime SPJ leader Peter Sussman, who played a major role in writing the society’s current code (now being revised), took issue with that interpretation of the document:

That certainly wasn’t one of the intended readings of that code section, and it’s commonly balanced with another core principle in the code, “Seek truth and report it.” They seem to have ignored the latter, and along with it, the obligation to shed whatever unique light the students themselves could have cast on the tragedy in their midst.

tumblr_static_tw-sign6Triggers: The murders come at a time when “trigger warnings,” a buzzword that suddenly seems wildly inappropriate, have become a high-profile issue among students at UCSB and elsewhere.

“Trigger warnings” are start-of-class disclaimers which some students have sought professors to provide about potentially uncomfortable discussion or reading content in classes, such as suicide, rape or racism, “that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that The Bottom Line’s decision arose from its fundamentally conflicted identity as both a purveyor of campus news and an organ for elected student body leaders and, presumably, their constituents.

Old School: From where we sit — having covered the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, Jonestown, Loma Prieta Earthquake, mass slayings and many more tragedies — The Bottom Line simply doesn’t understand the bottom line. The paper surely has done no favors for anyone on its staff who aspires to be a working journalist by abandoning the field, along with its role as a community news source. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Nexus, which resumes print publication tomorrow, performed with distinction the duties of a news organization. When the deal goes down, privileges extended under freedom of the press suddenly transform into arduous, painful and exhausting responsibilities of the press.

Mega-kudos Nexites.