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Posts Tagged ‘ballot initiatives’



DBI: Cal Forward, Con Con, Campaign Finance

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

A plague in the newsroom: When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the Old Chronicle had a cityside editing slot known as the “Plague Desk,” assigned to whatever unfortunate assistant city editor was tasked with herding the cats who covered Politics, Law and Government.

In due time, old school Old Chronicler Carl Nolte invented a fanciful PLAG  desk publication, which he called “DBI: The magazine of politics, law and government.”

DBI stood for “dull but important,” and, thanks to Nolte’s abiding interest in designing and drawing covers for his imaginary mag, it featured headlines like, “Infrastructure: Threat or Menace?” and “The Secret World of the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District,” or “Up Close and Personal with Regional Planning Superstars” and “What’s New in Waste Water Management.”

For whatever reason, in recent weeks the News Gods have favored Calbuzz with a plague of DBI stories, from tax reform to T-Ridge, so today we honor Nolte’s extraordinary contributions to newsroom saloon humor with our own version of DBI.

Kaufman, wearing a Calbuzz botton

Cal Forward moves forward: California Forward has hired ace Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman to quarterback their 2010 campaign for two reform initiatives, after their efforts to get things started faced some delays, thanks in part to a big assist from Calbuzz.

Facing an April 16 deadline to collect 694,354 valid signatures — which means a million or so raw ones — Cal Forward is still awaiting title and summary for its proposed constitutional amendment to revamp the state’s budget process. AG Jerry Brown’s office, which appears to be struggling to keep up with the zillion or so would-be  initiatives flying around, only recently signed off on the group’s other measure, aimed at keeping the state’s hands off local government revenues.

“We’re definitely going ahead with the initiatives. The deadline is tight, but we’ll have enough time,” Kaufman told us, adding that she is confident Cal-Forward, a business-labor-goo goo coalition, will have no problem raising money for the campaign.

Kaufman, who’s elected half the Democrats in the Assembly and whose  client list also includes the CTA, is coming on board amid a batch of rumors about Cal Forward floundering to qualify its initiatives.

Some members have been grumbling that the bipartisan group should scrap its local finance measure, because it’s too similar to an initiative backed by the League of California Cities. Cal Forward’s John Stevens defended the measure, noting that it would give cities, counties and school districts new authority to gain voter approval of one-percent increases in the local sales tax with a majority, instead of a two-thirds, vote. Passage would be pegged to a comprehensive government finance plan prepared by local pols, Stevens told us.

Their second initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment which, at post time, was  still gathering moss in Crusty’s office, has gained more attention and discussion.

Among other provisions, it would require the governor and Legislature to put in place a performance-based budget and a two-year spending plan. It also would reduce the two-thirds requirement for passage of a budget to a majority of both houses.

Amid the initiative push, some legislators are still screwing around with their own version of a similar ballot measure, a rear guard action which isn’t helping the urgency of Cal Forward’s own effort.

Cal Forward submitted an amended version of the budget reform initiative after Calbuzz reported that the original would place restrictions on the Legislature’s ability to enact new fees for state services under the Sinclair Paint decision, an obscure but important policy procedure. After we blew the whistle on the play, some liberal-leaning Cal Forward types screamed bloody murder, and the Sinclair section was rewritten, a move which is partially responsible for the delay.

And thank you for that.

Con Con petitioners vs. pros: We hear there’s a story percolating about the, um, questionable actions by agents of some statewide signature gathering firms unhappy about the initiative petitions being circulated by backers of a constitutional convention.

Apparently some of the professional petition movers fear that delegates to a constitutional convention will, among other things, seek to change the current ballot initiative process, disrupting or killing their business. They want nothing to do with the con con effort, which instead is trying to organize its own, largely volunteer, petition force of 400 people on the street by President’s Day.

Word is that some of the opposition to the convention petitions has been expressed in what you might call your allegedly extra-legal manner. Nobody’s talking for the record about this yet, but don’t be surprised if there’s some action on this front within the week.

What campaign finance decision means for us: The best line we’ve read about last week’s big U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to buy elections contribute to federal campaigns appeared in the NYT’s thundering editorial of outrage about it, which summed up the politics pretty well:

The ruling is likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore. With one 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.

Beyond the bald facts of partisan politics, two other things seem perfectly clear about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: 1) it will create more work for lawyers; 2) its practical impact in California this year will likely be limited to Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate race.

“There’s no impact on state races,” said Karen Getman, one of the smartest campaign law attorneys in the state, with Remcho, Johansen & Purcell.  “But in House races and the U.S. Senate race, the dynamic has changed.”

With most of the state’s congressional districts nicely gerrymandered for one party or the other (this could change in the future if a proposed initiative for a new redistricting commission to redraw House seats passes), it’s unlikely to cause huge changes on that front.

But Boxer, who’s already facing a very tough political environment for Democrats, could well become a test case for how the new court decision affects a big, expensive Senate race. It’s easy to imagine any of the three contenders for the Republican nomination – even third-place runner Chuck DeVore, who could benefit from Tea Party astroturfing right-wing donors or industry-specific hit squads – flooding the zone with big corporate bucks against Babs.

Of course, the decision also allows labor to contribute freely to independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of candidates, so it’s likely Boxer would get a boost from SEIU and AFL-CIO types if she runs into trouble. Bottom line, of course, is that the big winners will be campaign media buyers and TV stations throughout the state, which could find corporations and campaigns road blocking available ad times.

Our own discount copy

Costco Carla strikes again: The forces of eMeg are being weirder than ever in providing info about “The Power of Many: Values for Success in Business and in Life,” the Great Woman’s new self-serving propaganda piece memoir.

Seems like Her Megness is concerned about running afoul of state laws that might look askance on her using the private book venture for campaign purposes, and so has engaged a new battalion of purse holders and coat carriers to staff her book tour.

While campaign types insist they couldn’t possibly scare up a review copy of the thing for the Sensitive New Media Guys covering the governor’s race, the Chron’s resourceful Carla Marinucci scored one in her weekend big box foray:

With less than five months until the June 8 gubernatorial primary, the release of Whitman’s book – listed at $26, but available at Costco over the weekend for $14.99 – is as much a skillfully timed campaign effort as it is a literary one.

Following Costco Carla’s leadership on the matter, Calbuzz managed to secure our own copy of the book at the Santa Cruz Costco Monday, fighting off hordes of fellow shoppers who were actually looking for bargain prices on cargo shorts and shrink-wrapped cartons of dental floss.

We know you’ll find it as scintillating as we have already to hear eMeg tell us, “I personally would have passed on buying Shatner’s old toupee, but I found getting Weird Al for eBay Live! an irresistible opportunity.” We’ll have a full report once we manage to work our way through the damn thing, which clocks in at 277 pages.

Excloo: SV Firm Rolls Out Initiative by Facebook

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

048-105Three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm today are rolling out a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project – founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell – will make it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

Costs will be negotiable, but according to Barry, they will be “dramatically less” than the $1 to $2 per signature currently paid to signature-gathering firms. Because ballot proponents typically need about 600,000 signatures for a statutory measure and about 1 million for a constitutional amendment, cutting the price for signatures could go a long way toward empowering boot-strap, grassroots forces.

The product will not be good news to those reformers who believe it already is too easy to manipulate California law by initiative. However, the  Verafirma partners argue, “We will make the initiative process less costly for true grassroots efforts. In essence, we will return the initiative tool to its original purpose as envisioned by Hiram Johnson and others.”

Since Democrats and the left are – at this point anyway – light years ahead of the Republicans and the right in online networking, Verafirma’s Democracy Project would appear, at the outset, to favor those forces. It could help level the playing field by giving the low-rent populists the same power now enjoyed by corporate conglomerates.

As Verafirma argues in its YouTube presentation: “Ultimately, this is not about interest groups talking at voters but friends talking with friends, neighbors talking with neighbors, all using Verafirma as a natural tool to allow them to understand and participate in their government.”

It could also empower wing nuts, who otherwise could not get their measures onto the ballot. As Barry put it, “Technology, whether Tivo or atomic energy, has a variety of uses . . . This technology will ultimately force reform.”

Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, is a San Jose political consultant,  former campaign manager for Steve Westly’s 2006 campaign for governor, California state director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and chief of staff for former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales.

Marubio has been a political fundraiser and activist in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and has worked in the cryptography and electronic signature field for clients including the Federal Reserve Bank, Citi Corp, Travelers Insurance, NetSuite and JP Morgan Chase. He is currently CEO of Xignature, an electronic signature company.

Churchwell is a partner at the law firm DLA Piper LLP, has represented clients in numerous initiative and referendum campaigns and served as general counsel to the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 1993-2000.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM: Here’s a pdf of the VFwhitepaper by Steve Churchwell with research and argument concluding that signatures gathered electronically meet every provision of California election law.

middle_fingerI’m sorry, I’m waiting for my close-up on “Meet the Press”: Add the Los Angeles County Republican committee to the list of those shut out of Meg Whitman’s oh-so-busy schedule.

While all but the most loyal Calbuzzers are doubtless fed up with hearing us whine about not getting some dim sum time with eMeg, when she stiffs a  local political group representing more than a million registered Republicans, it’s time to wonder if she understands that being governor comes with certain, you know, expectations for showing up at stuff.

Citing a scheduling conflict, Whitman recently declined an invitation from the Republican Party of Los Angeles County Central Committee (sic) to speak at a candidates forum Jan. 14. Her primary opponents — entrepreneur and former state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner (R) and former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) – are set to attend.

The report, by Sean Miller in DC trade rag “The Hill,” most likely won’t make this week’s edition of the Whitman campaign’s “Field Notes,” hanging as it does on sharp criticism by county vice chairman John Cozza, who says that eMeg not only ignores the GOP base but acts like a squish, to boot.

This just in from the future: Governor-elect Meg Whitman won’t be able to squeeze her inauguration into her busy schedule, but hopes to have many future opportunities to be sworn in, said spokeshuman Sarah Pompei.

bullwinkle1

Speaking of volcanic press secretaries: Not to be outdone by eMeg’s digital propaganda apparatus, Whitman rival Steve Poizner has launched his own daily campaign eblast, imaginatively titled “Poizner Press Pass” (what is this – a student council election?)

Bettina Inclan, press secretary to The Commish, is honchoing the project, and we wish her all her the best doing it daily – Daily? Really? – which is a major chore, even for a vast global organization as fully staffed up as Calbuzz . So we’re sorry to report that Inclan launched the deal with a major typo, dropping a key word from her first graf:

NOTE: This email is off the record.

Clearly, she meant to say “This email is NOT off the record.” Because nobody would try to put off the record items like, “155 days to the primary,” or “tomorrow, Steve will be in Sacramento” or even “The Hill’s Sean J. Miller takes a look at California’s governor’s race” (for the record: we planned to rip off that Hill item hours before “Poizner Press Pass” pimped it).

Not to mention that no one in their right mind would entertain the thought that something could be off the record that is sent by email to every political reporter in the state.

Our mission: We’re from the press, and we’re here to help.

Stop the Presses: eMeg Speaks, Sort of…

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

megCalbuzz caught one of Meg Whitman’s hothouse flower political performances Tuesday and, we have to admit, she’s pretty good in a controlled setting before a small, safe audience.

Preaching to the choir, she delivered a well-honed, crisp and occasionally funny monologue (many of her jokes seem to feature her neurosurgeon husband, who allegedly likes to say, “It’s not brain surgery”) to a mostly Republican crowd of about 120 at a muffin and fruit salad breakfast in Santa Barbara, the very epicenter of California politics.

Although Her Megness once again stiffed Calbuzz on our primordial, sit-down interview request, our constant caterwauling about her inaccessibility may be paying incremental dividends, as she consented afterward to answer questions from reporters for 8 minutes and 13 seconds (our Department of Measureables and MBOs makes that 2 minutes and 3.25 seconds for each of the four scribes on hand). Then she blasted off to her next event in a gray Chevy Tahoe (shortly after extolling the virtues of green energy).

Enough with the sucking up.

The thrust of her schtick, which stayed relentlessly on a boost-business-bash-government message, is a kind of Neo-Checchism, in which she made the case for her candidacy by extolling her virtues as a business executive, promising to bring her gimlet-eyed, bottom line attitudes and experience to bear on state government, viz:

“I bring 30 years of business experience to managing state government and I will tell you my core belief is we have to run this a bit more like a business.”

“First and foremost I have run a very large organization with $8 billion in revenues and 15,000 employees and I’ve done that for many years, and I’ve also created jobs.

“We have to run (state government) like a business, because there’s no question that we are driving businesses out of California, and we have a government we can no longer afford.”

As a political matter: Putting aside for the moment the existential issue that government is, distinctly, not a business –- i.e. not established for the purposes of making a profit; producing goods and services in response to market demands; or serving only those with the ability to pay for the service it does provide –  Whitman’s campaign positioning as the business candidate faces three big challenges:

1-The business of citizenship. As we’ve noted Californians have long been immune to the charms of wealthy private business types who consider the governorship to be an entry level job (see Governors Ron Unz, Al  Checchi, Bill Simon, etc.), doubly so when a candidate has failed to perform the most basic duty of citizenship; thanks to Chronicler Carla Marinucci, we know that Whitman has a spotty voting record, failing to register until 2002, missing over half the elections since (including the 2003 recall) and not signing up as a Republican until 2007.

2-The business of business. Checchi, who spent millions of his own fortune in a failed bid for the Democratic nomination in 1998, also showed how past business practices and decisions can ensnare a corporate executive candidate.

To cite just two examples of circumstances which invite the press and eMeg’s rivals to ask if this is the kind of financial expertise she’ll bring to Sacramento:

a) As CEO she hailed as a great coup her engineering of eBay’s acquisition of the online calling service Skype. The New York Times on Tuesday described it as “one of the worst technology transactions of the decade,” in reporting that eBay is about to sell Skype at a substantial loss.

b) Back in the halcyon dot-com days, as the B- has reported, she also “attracted controversy and criticism for accepting exclusive opportunities to invest in initial public stock offerings,” a practice that “led to a shareholder lawsuit against Whitman and others (and) also exposed Whitman to the national political scene when her investment drew a public thrashing by Congress.”

3-The boardroom business. While sticking to non-threatening, controlled venues, Whitman keeps ducking substantive interviews with serious California political media and debates with her rivals. The latest: her avoidance of the big Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s confab later this month which every candidate for governor except her has agreed to attend. Our friend Joe Garafoli also reports that KGO is having trouble dealing with her in their effort to put on a radio debate. This follows her earlier no-show at a Sacramento debate including GOP foes Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell, and her refusal to commit to another Republican event organized by Chapman University.

“We will certainly find time to debate between now and the primary, trust me,” she assured reporters when asked about this on Tuesday.

But being on the defensive about such an issue at this early stage of the campaign makes her look, well, afraid to venture outside her campaign cocoon, and suggests a sense of entitlement more befitting a penthouse boardroom maven than an elected official in the public arena.

As a policy matter: In her spiel, Whitman revealed an intriguing understanding of how government works. Asked directly how she can be effective in the swamp of Sacramento, eMeg claimed that she – unlike, oh say, all those stiffs who have preceded her – will use “all the levers you have as governor.” To wit:

1-Appointments. For starters, she talked about a “big infusion of the private sector into the government” and said that in selecting the 4,000 state employees under her purview she will get “exactly the right people in the right job.”

Well, actually not. There’s the small matter of attracting private sector talent – from Florida, Texas and elsewhere, she vowed – for public wages (we’ll also guess that all that far-flung talent just dying to move to River City will find California’s relocation benefits not quite up to eBay standards). Not to mention the power of the (Democratic) Legislature to torpedo or stall many of her star power appointments, or the thorny problem of trying to staff up an administration on the fly; as Obama is finding out, getting your team in place on the field while the clock is inexorably ticking is trickier than it looks.

2-Veto power. eMeg thundered about how she’ll whip the Legislature into shape: “You have to let the Legislature know what you will and will not put up with,” she said Tuesday. “You have to veto consistently so that they know what you will sign and what you won’t.” Bad dog! No peeing on the rug! Don’t ever do that again!

Excuse us, Your All-Mighty Megness, but every one of those 120 characters in what you might call your co-equal branch of government has his or her own narrow interests and constituency, and structurally none of them has much reason to fear you or your rolled up newspaper.

3-Ballot initiatives. Whitman called “the proposition process” a “double-edged sword” that needs fixing. The “pacing and sequencing of propositions is incredibly important,” she said, adding:  “I think you can only do one at a time.” Really? And the governor controls this how, exactly?

4-Leadership. Being governor, she said, is the “ultimate test of leadership and conviction” for which she is well suited because she’s “tough as nails” and has “a spine of steel.” She added: “If you have a huge need to be liked and to be popular all the time, this is not the job.”

The Calbuzz Aha Moment: Elections, it turns out, are not popularity contests. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?