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Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category



How the Right Has Exploited Immigration for 80 Years

Friday, January 8th, 2016

KidsCrossBorderBy Harold Meyerson
The American Prospect

“They keep coming,” the advertisement’s narrator intoned, while the screen showed footage of undocumented immigrants scurrying across a highway. The year was 1994, and the ad was the centerpiece of California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign.

Trailing in the polls after a lackluster first term, Wilson resurrected his prospects by excoriating the Clinton administration for its presumed lack of border enforcement and by backing a ballot measure (Proposition 187) that would deny all public services, including the right to attend K-12 schools, to the undocumented.

Short-term, the strategy worked. Wilson won re-election; Proposition 187 passed handily, though it was soon struck down by the courts. Long term, Wilson’s strategy proved to be a Republican cataclysm—indeed, in a state on track to become “majority minority,” (today, California is 39 percent Latino, 13 percent Asian, 6 percent black and 38 percent non-Hispanic white), a more thorough act of political suicide is hard to imagine. (Editor’s note: Last July, Calbuzz explained how Donald Trump has done for the national GOP what Wilson did for California. Here’s the link.)

theykeepcoming2GOP Latino Outreach In 1996, Latinos began voting in far greater numbers, overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; in time, as the GOP’s anti-immigrant crusades continued, they were joined by the state’s Asian voters as well. What had been a politically purple state at the time of Wilson’s re-election turned deepest blue.

Today, Democrats hold nearly two-thirds of the seats in the legislature, represent more than 70 percent of the states congressional districts, and of the 56 regularly scheduled elections for statewide office that have been held since 1994 (for the eight statewide constitutional officers and the two U.S. senators), Republicans have won exactly one—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2002 gubernatorial bid.

tumpadWilson Replay In only slightly modified fashion, updated versions of Wilson’s ad began popping up on TV screens and social media this week. Donald Trump’s very first ad features a narrator proclaiming, “He’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for,” over footage showing a mass of people streaming across the border.

Ted Cruz responded with an ad showing people in proper business attire hastening across the border, while Cruz asks if economic elites would be so blasé about immigration if the migrants were a threat to professional, rather than low-wage, jobs—a right-populist twist if ever there was one. (Given America’s changing demographics, of course, Trump and Cruz are likely inflicting the same kind of long-term damage on the national Republican Party that Wilson inflicted on California’s GOP, but candidates and their managers are existentially allergic to thinking long-term.)

tedcruzThe Cruz footage, of course, was staged. But then, the Trump footage, as his campaign belatedly acknowledged, was a video clip not of the U.S.-Mexican border, but of the border between Morocco and the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla. (Mexico, Morocco—sound alike, swarthy people, don’t speak English: What’s the diff?)

Seen this Movie Before But Republicans have a long tradition of staged border footage. Indeed, the very first political ad ever screened was of dangerous, foreign-accented hordes streaming over the California border. Only, the hordes were really actors, the footage was shot by MGM, and it was presented to the California public not as an ad but as a documentary newsreel that was screened in virtually every movie theater in the state.

The “newsreel” (actually, newsreels—there were three of them) was the linchpin of the GOP’s ultimately successful effort to defeat the 1934 gubernatorial campaign of socialist author and activist Upton Sinclair, who had stunned the state by winning that year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary and who was clearly favored to win the general election until the Republicans launched a multi-million-dollar barrage of falsifications designed to bring Sinclair down.

The barrage included a well-publicized effort to suppress voter turnout by threatening to prosecute and send to prison for up to seven years “fraudulent” voters with no fixed addresses or who had recently moved. (There is little new under the Republican sun.)

Thalberg200But the “newsreels,” which were commissioned by MGM studio chief Irving Thalberg, were the GOP’s pièce de resistance. In answering a question on how he’d follow through on his pledge to create jobs in Depression-wracked California, the somewhat ethereal, political novice Sinclair had said he’d be so successful that the unemployed of other states would flock to California.

Thus inspired, the MGM crew staged footage of unsavory characters with menacingly foreign accents crossing the state line into California, endorsing Sinclair as they came. (Some of the footage was actually outtakes from the William Wellman-Warner Brothers picture Wild Boys of the Road, about Depression-engendered hobos.) One bearded figure with a heavy Yiddish accent said of Sinclair, “Vell, his system vorked vell in Russia; vy can’t it vork here?” (In actuality, Sinclair had a long record of anti-communism, and the Communist Party reviled him during the campaign as a “social fascist.”)

The “newsreels” so enraged Sinclair supporters that arguments broke out in movie theaters across the state, and some chains stopped showing them. They also alarmed many in California’s Jewish community for their blatant use of anti-Semitic stereotypes (much as many Latinos and Muslims are alarmed today by the GOP’s descent into racist and nativist stereotypes). Some Jewish leaders condemned the studio heads (all of whom opposed Sinclair and all of whom were Jewish) as traitors to their people.

History Repeats Itself The only real political difference between the 1934, 1994, and 2016 versions of the GOP’s border demagogy is that the 1934 version focused on state lines, not international borders. The opposition of the California right to economic migrants from other states during the Depression was every bit as intense as the Republicans’ opposition to transnational immigrants today, and the stereotyping every bit as vile.

The Oakies who came to California fleeing the Dust Bowl in the years immediately following 1934 were often stopped at the state line and turned back by self-appointed border guards, or subjected to vigilante violence in attacks on migrant farmworker camps. (Such scenes are depicted in both the book and the film of The Grapes of Wrath.)Given the right conditions and sufficient rabble-rousing, even God-fearing white Protestant Americans could be turned into the “other.”

haroldmeyersonNo matter the particulars, the GOP’s determination to exploit and engender anxiety and bigotry for political gain, even, or especially, when it requires blatant and repetitive falsification, has a long and storied pedigree, as more than 80 years of the party’s border propaganda makes sickeningly clear.

Our old friend Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American Prospect where this article originally was posted.

Stop the Presses: Women, Latinos Hate Cruz, Trump

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

cruzmunsterNews that the loathsome Ted Cruz has rocketed to the lead in the Field Poll ahead of the noxious Donald Trump among California Republicans is mildly interesting, but not nearly as important as the findings regarding women and Latino voters of all stripes.

True, Cruz has shot up to 25% from 6% in October, passing Trump at 23%, up from 17% in October. That suggests that if he holds on throughout the primary season, Cruz could try to capture a huge cache of GOP delegates from California late in the game. Of course, Trump’s campaign hasn’t befouled the Golden State yet, so who knows where things will stand by June 7.

Of course, neither Cruz nor Trump nor likely any Republican stands a chance of actually winning California in the general election. That will be Hillary Clinton. (Clinton enjoys a 55%-39% favorable rating among California women voters and a 63%-29% favorable among Latinos.) But who knows – maybe California Republicans could play a role in picking their nominee if the rest of this crowd keeps beating the others’ alleged brains in.

No Love for Donald: What is more important is this: the natavistic, misogynistic, narcissistic Trump is reviled by two of the most critical voting blocs in California (and U.S.) politics – women and Latinos.

trumpchuckyTrump, about whom 95% of likely voters have an opinion, is viewed unfavorably by 85% of Latinos and favorably by a measly 10%. Not too surprising for a candidate who opened his campaign with a racist attack on Mexican immigrants and whose calling card is the big fat fence he’d like Mexico to build to keep out immigrants from the south.

Moreover, his unfavorable rating among women voters is 76%, compared to just 20% favorable. Of course he has insulted women from Megyn Kelly to Hillary Clinton in the most juvenile, vulgar and tasteless terms and offered exactly nothing by way of support for women’s issues.

In California – as Calbuzz has noted ad nauseum – candidates who oppose a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and women’s right to choose abortion have no chance of statewide electoral success. And to the extent that California portends America’s sympathies, this bodes poorly for Trump’s chances nationwide.

Cruz a Non-Starter: And then there’s Cruz, the Grandpa Munster doppelganger and Joe McCarthy disciple, who is slightly less reviled in California because he is less well known – by 80% — with 51% unfavorable and 29% favorable.

Among Latinos, Cruz is viewed unfavorably by 51% of voters and favorably by just 19%. And among women, the Texas rattlesnake senator has a 48% unfavorable rating and a 28% favorable standing. These numbers can only grow worse for Cruz if his extremist right-wing views on immigration and abortion rights become better known to California voters.

None of this may matter much because California’s presidential primaries come so late in the nominating process. What’s more instructive is how these numbers reflect on the leading candidates’ appeal to two key constituencies in the popular vote.

Bottom line: Of course, Trump’s reaction to all these, you know, facts, would no doubt be meh. The fact that he doesn’t play by the rules is old news, but the implications of that — and how other Republicans softened up the political landscape enough for him to get away with it — is the subject of a must-read piece by Mark Schmitt, director of New America’s political reform program:

But in recent years, Republican politicians especially have not only defied the rules, they have also protected themselves from the consequences. Restrictions on voting, along with aggressive redistricting, reduce the influence of the median voter. Campaign war chests (including “super PACs”) scare off opponents, from within their own party as well as the other. By crippling civil-society institutions such as unions and community groups, which organize middle- and lower-income voters, they sometimes avoid being held accountable. They can use ideological media to reach mostly like-minded voters.

And by recasting politics as a winner-take-all conflict between wholly incompatible ideologies and identities — as most of the presidential candidates have done — they help to closely align party and ideology, so that those who identify as Republican will always vote Republican and vice versa. When politicians know more or less who will vote and how, they can ignore most voters — including their own loyalists.

And thank you for that.

Happy Holidays from the Cooked Geese at Calbuzz

Friday, December 25th, 2015

dylan thomas With all best wishes, here’s our annual holiday greeting on behalf of our Department of Spiked Eggnog and Cooked Geese, an excerpt from our favorite yuletide poem, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by the late Calbuzzer Emeritus Dylan Thomas:

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”

flexible flyer“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like dumb, number thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”

Happy holidays from Calbuzz.

Chair Ann Ravel Explains Why the FEC is Broken

Monday, December 21st, 2015

ann ravelWe asked our old friend Ann Ravel — former Santa Clara County Counsel, former chair of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, now chair of the Federal Election Commission — to explain why the FEC is so disfunctional, hoping she would call out the Republican commissioners for their partisan obstructionism. Here, in a Calbuzz exclusive, Ravel spells out the issues but is too diplomatic to slash and burn.

By Ann Ravel
Special to Calbuzz

I am the Chair of the Federal Election Commission for a few more weeks, before the yearly title rotates to another commissioner in January, as required by law.  My year as Chair has taught me even more clearly just how dysfunctional the Commission is, and how our dysfunction is harming the democratic process in this country.

It is the FEC’s responsibility to ensure the integrity and fairness of elections by issuing regulations to clarify campaign finance laws, by providing advice about how to comply with those laws, and by enforcing the laws when they are violated.  To maintain public trust in our representative democracy, the Commission must perform these vital functions.

But the Commission, which consists of 6 members, no more than 3 of which may be affiliated with one political party, has been unable to do any of these things when it comes to the significant election spending issues facing this country today.

Some of my colleagues seek to excuse this failure by arguing that the Commission was intended to deadlock 3-3; a majority vote of 4 is required to take any significant action.  In effect they claim that the Commission they are charged with leading was in fact intended to never do anything.  This is absurd.

richard_nixonSpawn of Watergate Congress created the FEC in response to Watergate, specifically because that scandal demonstrated the need for an independent enforcement agency that would ensure the effective disclosure of  political campaign funding and spending. Congress designed the bipartisan structure of the Commission to prevent partisan targeting, not to paralyze the agency. But when three Commissioners repeatedly and consistently vote against enforcing the law, paralysis is the result.

My colleagues frequently quote Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement that “the tie goes to the speaker” when the First Amendment is implicated, as justification for not enforcing the law in anything other than the most obvious and minor transgressions.  But while the courts have invalidated portions of the campaign finance legal regime created after Watergate, many core principles of campaign finance law have been specifically upheld but not enforced by the Commission.

In Citizens United v. FEC, for example, the Court reasoned that independent expenditures by corporations do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption when they are independent of candidates and their committees. If they are not independent, but instead coordinated with candidates, the law clearly continues to prohibit such spending.

The FEC rules describing when political spending is coordinated, however, are grossly outdated.  The most recent revisions to those rules, finalized over five years ago, were drafted in response to a 2008 court decision, not  in response to Citizens United and the subsequent Speechnow.org v. FEC case that created super PACs. The Commission has never issued coordination rules that specifically address the growing role of super PACs and other outside spending groups in elections.  There has also never been an investigation of a super PAC coordination case at the FEC, in large part because of the antiquated rules.

carolinehunterGOP Intransigence Despite my request to the Republican member of the FEC’s regulations committee, Commissioner Caroline Hunter, there was unwillingness to even consider coordination rules that would address the new realities of super PAC spending. My colleague Commissioner Ellen Weintraub and I thus have made public a Coordination Rulemaking Proposal that would be a first step in addressing the new realities of coordination, but there is little hope that the Commission will have the votes even to permit the public to comment on this important issue.

Rather than writing new rules clearly prohibiting the new forms of coordinated political spending that have developed post-Citizens United, the Commission has instead gone in the opposite direction and permitted even more coordination between candidates and outside groups.   In a recent advisory opinion, the Commission allowed agents of candidates (for example, a member of Congress’ chief of staff) to also raise money for an “independent” super PAC that only raises money for that same candidate.  That opinion also allows a candidate to speak at a fundraising “event” for a super PAC that is raising money for that candidate, even if there are only a couple of attendees at the “event.”

Decisions like these, coupled with our failure to enforce even the regulations that do exist, make it abundantly clear that the FEC will not be looking at whether so-called “independent” spending by outside groups is in fact independent from candidates, even though that expectation formed the basis of the Court’s decision in Citizens United.

The Supreme Court in Citizens United also strongly endorsed the value and legitimacy of rules requiring disclosure of political spending by outside groups: “disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.  This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”  Numerous courts have also upheld the law, and related FEC guidance, requiring groups whose major purpose is to influence elections to register with the Commission as political committees and to disclose their donors and spending.

Money-Faucet1000X1000Unfettered Dark Money We know that at this point in the 2016 campaign cycle, 10 times more “dark money” has been spent than at this same point in the 2012 election cycle. Even so, the FEC has not been able to muster the four  votes needed to require disclosure by those “dark money” groups that have election spending as their major purpose.

To take just one recent example, the Commission was unable to enforce the political committee rules in the Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity (“CHGO”) enforcement case.  CHGO had documents stating that its goal was to influence elections, and it spent a clear majority—millions of dollars—of its funds running ads supporting some candidates and opposing others.*  Yet the Republican bloc went to great lengths to avoid enforcing the law against CHGO, just as they have with many other organizations.

Even Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizen United, is concerned that the disclosure system isn’t working the way it should be.  In recent remarks at HarvardLawSchool, he said “In my own view, what happens with money in politics is not good.”  Disclosure of who is financing elections is an answer, but he admitted “that’s not working the way it should.”

I agree with Justice Kennedy.  But it’s not just the disclosure system that’s the problem—it is also the FEC that is not working the way it should.

* Statement of Reasons of Commissioners Ravel and Weintraub in MUR 6391 and 6471 (Commission on Hope, Growth & Opportunity), dated November 5, 2015, available at http://eqs.fec.gov/eqsdocsMUR/15044381181.pdf.

Doug Willis: First-Rate Newsman, Straight and True

Friday, December 18th, 2015

willisandjerryDoug Willis, the chief political writer for The Associated Press in California across 30 tumultuous years, died in a Sacramento hospital Tuesday night of complications following hip surgery.  Willis had suffered from Alzheimer’s for three years.  Fellow AP Sacramento staffer Chuck McFadden has some memories of Willis.

I was a comrade-in-arms with Doug during the 70’s.  He was funny, generous, and boy, was he enterprising.   He did a jailhouse interview with Juan Corona, the convicted mass murderer of farm workers in Yuba City; he sat down with Fidel Castro in Cuba; he talked about politics and The AP in speeches across Northern California.  For years after he retired, The AP brought him back aboard to call races — as many as 200 — on election nights.  He put in 37 election nights as a staffer and 13 as a consultant.

Judy, his wife of 22 years, once described Doug as “a walking encyclopedia.”  She was right.  The man was amazing.  He had a rare ability to weave together various disparate facts into a story that would make headlines up and down the state and nationally.  For years, his ability to handle figures and complex issues made him our chief writer/analyst of the state budget.  He pieced together bits and and pieces to do a big story on how much taxpayers were paying for Gov. Ronald Reagan’s trips in a leased private plane.  (Reagan’s chief of staff, Ed Meese, had switched Reagan to a private plane out of fear that a commercial airliner with the governor aboard might be hijacked — a popular activity at the time.)  Reagan did once send Doug a photograph of himself with Bonzo, the chimp with whom Reagan acted in “Bedtime for Bonzo.”  Reagan’s inscription read:  “Doug: I’m the one on the left.”

When the bureau moved out of its second-story office in the Capitol to a new Willis-designed bureau kitty-corner across from the Capitol at 925 “L” Street, Doug and I spent much of a night wrestling box after heavy box of stuff over to our new digs.  I remember we had to keep the elevator doors open at the new building so we could heave the big boxes out.  They kept trying to close. We drove the elevator computer nuts.  I don’t think those doors were ever the same again.

There were parties.  We’d tell war stories and drink.  My wife Barbara recalls that when a war story came up for a third retelling, it was time to close things down and send everyone home.  But Doug was a witty spinner of tales, and his career gave him lots of material.

It’s been told before, and I hope it never goes away; no account of Doug’s life in the Capitol can be complete without the legendary pun.

He was among a group of reporters being taken on a tour of the state Capitol renovation, a project that lasted nearly seven years — 1975-82. A  member of the group noted the large number of fireplaces in the old building, but a lack of chimneys. The guide informed the group that smoke from the numerous fireplaces was channeled to a central chimney on the roof, behind the dome. Willis then remarked, “Oh — only one flue over the cuckoo’s nest.”

Doug may have left us, but in a way, he hasn’t, really.