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Posts Tagged ‘constitutional convention’



Where’s Wald…. uh, Political Reform in California?

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

By Richie Ross
Special to Calbuzz

Remember the dot com bust?  Lots of people invested lots of money in lots of web stuff that didn’t end up doing much.

Too many of them were selling e-stuff about selling e-stuff.  They didn’t make real stuff.  They didn’t create value.  They were based on processes. And in the end, their over-priced stocks weren’t worth anything.  The dot com bubble burst.

For the last 18 months there’s been lots of breathless chatter about the need to “reform” California government, especially the two-thirds vote requirement.

Leading the charge for reform was Waldo.  You know him. He’s the geeky guy in the red-and-white striped shirt, glasses and knit cap who’s hard to locate.  So where was Waldo?

The signs of Waldo’s reform bubble busting surfaced last year.

First, the Bay Area Council announced that their much-discussed Constitutional Convention wouldn’t address Proposition 13 and its two-thirds vote requirement.

Then on January 14, one of the Bay Area Council’s key corporate sponsors, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced they had qualified their initiative to expand the two-thirds vote requirement to communities seeking to establish or expand a public power alternative to PG&E’s monopoly.

Finally, on February 13, we read that the Constitutional Convention effort had “fizzled.” The Bay Area Council “didn’t have the money” to qualify the initiatives necessary to allow a vote on having a Convention.

PG&E went on to spend $46 million on Proposition 16.  Where was Waldo?

Before rushing to mount a high horse and condemn PG&E, let’s take a moment for introspection.  Was PG&E unique in their insincere association with “good government reform” throughout 2009 followed by a banal display of self-interest?

All through 2009, California Forward competed for the “Waldo Top Reformer” title with the Bay Area Council.

But when it came down to it, they too tried to put together a “reform” which would expand the two-thirds beyond taxes and apply it to fees adopted by the legislature for environmental protection.

Putting aside both their motivation or the merits of whatever they thought they were doing, California Forward put themselves in a position where they were compromised on the two-thirds vote debate… they couldn’t attack Proposition 16 even if they were inclined.

And why did the No on 16 campaign only raise $90,000?

If the campaign against Proposition 16 had a dollar for every speech ever made about the evil of two-thirds, then it would have been able to compete against PG&E.  Thank God the newspapers stepped up their game and did a good job exposing the Proposition 16 scam.  Waldo didn’t.

PG&E is a big political contributor.  They give tons of money.  Lots and lots of that money goes to politicians who give speeches condemning the two-thirds vote.  But outside of three or four elected folks who contributed to the No on 16 campaign, PG&E bought silence.  Yes, even Waldo’s.

It seems that interest groups only oppose the two-thirds vote when it hurts their own stuff, not because of some high-minded majority-rule principle.

If the two-thirds vote violates what people think is right, why wouldn’t people who’ve taken PG&E’s money have donated it to the No on 16 campaign?

In the end, everyone talked more than they cared.  And some talked out of both sides of their mouth.

Next up:  all of those who did nothing will point to Proposition 16’s defeat as proof that the two-thirds vote is unpopular and ought not apply to their “stuff.”  Hmmm.

Waldo the Reformer’s bubble has burst.  Like the dot com bubble, there wasn’t much to it.

Richie Ross’s controversial Calbuzz piece on using the baseball arbitration system to deal with the state budget is looking better and better.

Keeley: California Forward Not Dead, Still Kicking

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

I come to praise California Forward, not to bury it.

Actually, I have no real issue with Calbuzz’s micro-reporting on the narrow point of whether or not California Forward’s efforts to have the legislature and governor place a real budget process reform measure on the November ballot, will be successful.

I do have an issue with Calbuzz using that as the measure of California Forward’s overall effectiveness in the broader area of fixing California’s broken tools for governance in the 21st Century.

As many of your readers know, California Forward was founded a couple of years ago with the support of a hand-full of large California foundations who had grown exasperated by the rapid decline of California’s governance capacity.

Whether the issue was and is education, environmental protection, healthy economy, human services, or any of the other major issues facing our state, California seems to have become mostly incapable of making progress.

Obviously, there are exceptions, with the most notable being AB 32, the state’s landmark and comprehensive global climate change statute. For the most part, and regardless of the state’s economic condition, Sacramento has become a place where good ideas seem to go to die.

California Forward, a bi-partisan (or, some would argue, a non-partisan) organization came into existence to deeply examine what is broken in California’s systems of governance, and to build support for thoughtful, best-practices reforms. It has been known from the start that many of the solutions are likely to take a few years to achieve, while some may be able to be adopted more quickly.

In 2008, California Forward joined other “Goo Goos” such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AARP, to sponsor the statewide ballot measure that took the decadal redistricting of legislative lines out of the hands of legislators, and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

That effort is underway now, and there are those who want to see it succeed, and others who are attempting to smother it in the crib. Regardless, it is one of the reforms that many who look at California’s governance tools believe needs exactly this reform.

For a couple of years, California Forward has worked both inside and outside Sacramento to develop a set of “best practices” reforms of California’s perennially late and “not worth waiting for” budget-making system. The California Forward package includes two-year budgeting, budgeting by objectives, mandatory oversight of the governor’s implementation of the budget by the legislature, and other items used by many, many states that are considered well managed.

The clear 600-pound gorilla in the budget reform room is the majority vote. California Forward is recommending that the existing two-thirds vote to adopt the budget be replaced by a simple majority vote provision in the state constitution. This would put California in the same place as 47 of the 50 states who have just such a provision. This change would NOT change the current requirement to obtain a 2/3rd’s vote to raise taxes.

Other issues on our agenda include term limit reform, initiative reform, and campaign financing. Each will take more time to develop into a broadly-supported reform.

I have read with interest your obituary of Repair California, the folks who wanted to get a Constitutional Convention to the ballot. I have also read your pieces on other budget reform efforts, such as that by Professor Lakoff at the University of California Berkeley.

I hasten to add that I respect both efforts, as it is critically important for as many voices and ideas as possible to be in the mix if ideas to fix California’s broken governance tools.

California Forward is, however, different. We are taking a multi-year, multi-subject approach to solving our vexing governance problems. We are very likely to have to take a few laps around many tracks to get all of this done, but we will get it done. California should accept nothing less.

To accomplish that, California Forward is undertaking an unprecedented civic engagement project. What I like to call the California Conversation. This project, which has been approved by California Forward’s board of directors and is deep into the design stage, is an attempt to have a conversation with literally millions of Californians regarding the state of governance in California, and what can be done to fix it.

This, too, is likely to take time to do it right — and to make changes that will provide lasting improvements.

How General Jerry Brown Won the Sun Tzu Primary

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

“I assume most of you have read ‘The Art of War,’” Attorney General Jerry Brown said to the California Young Democrats last weekend. “The good general,” he said, paraphrasing Sun Tzu, “wins the war by not fighting. You defeat your adversary’s strategy. I’m going to do that.”

Which sent us running to the bookshelf to grab our own Thomas Cleary translation of the 2,000 year old text of the great warrior philosopher, whose writings were mandatory reading among insiders in the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign.

We’re not sure when Jerry took up Sun Tzu. We thought he was one of  Tom Paine’s  Winter Soldiers, or an acolyte of C.K. Chesterton or something. Whatever, there’s much in “The Art of War” that helps illuminate Brown’s dealings — more of which we’ll see today when he formally announces his candidacy.

If, as Mao Zedong — another student of Sun Tzu – concluded, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” then we need to ratchet back a notch or two to substitute political arts for military arts, and read Sun Tzu as a guide to the modern-day partisan battlefield:

A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective . . . Deception is for the purpose of seeking victory over an enemy; to command a group requires truthfulness.

Brown has followed this advice in spades, which led the California Republican Party to spend countless hours drawing attention to Brown by constantly sending out emails wondering when he’ll enter the fray.

Whether Brown was formally a candidate or not makes a difference only in the most superficial sense, however. And while a few Democratic insiders have fretted over Brown’s late engagement in the campaign, why in the world the GOP thought  it could affect the race by wondering “Where’s Jerry?” is beyond comprehension. Brown has followed Sun Tzu’s advice that:

…those who win every battle are not really skillful – those who render others’ armies helpless without fighting are the best of all.

Also:

When you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided.

And, after all, what could be more formless than Brown’s non-campaign to date, in which he has husbanded resources and waited for the right moment to leap because, as Sun Tzu always liked to say:

If you know the place and time of battle, you can join the fight from a thousand miles away. If you do not know the place and time of battle, then your left flank cannot save your right, your right cannot save your left, your vanguard cannot save your rearguard and your rearguard cannot save your vanguard.

Whether Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner – with their many millions of dollars – is Brown’s opponent, he will be outspent in the general election. Even if labor, environmental, ethnic, gay and other liberal Democratic constituencies pool their money independently from the Brown campaign, it’s unlikely as much will be spent on Brown’s behalf as either of the potential GOP rivals can spend individually.

Which means Brown must fight a guerrilla war, feeding off the masses, merging with the people, striking swiftly and withdrawing, refusing to stand his puny, small-arms militia against the clanking, armored divisions of eMeg and the Commish.

So we won’t be surprised if Crusty the General Brown soon starts quoting from another military expert and tome: Lin Biao’s “Long Live the Victory of  People’s War!”

Even lamer than we thought: More details have emerged on our report on how the big-bucks corporations of the Bay Area Council bailed on financing its own signature reform initiative for a constitutional convention.

Our sources say that council corporate members had pledged, both at the group’s annual dinner and at two board meetings, to ante up $2 million to seed the campaign. But BAC CEO Jim Wunderman, and John Grubb, a senior vice president who resigned in order to manage the campaign on behalf of an arms-length group called Repair California, were blindsided when actual contributions from council members amounted to less than $300K.

Worse yet, two-thirds of that money came from one guy – Lenny Mendonca, managing director of the S.F. consulting firm McKensie & Co., while AT&T, BofA, PG&E, et. al, sat on their hands. Pathetic.

This far and no farther: After we noted in our deconstruction of Ken McLaughlin’s good interview with eMeg that she’s all over the lot on social issues, a sharp-eyed Calbuzzer alerted us to another contradiction in her stance on immigration:

On illegal immigration, Whitman said she disagreed with her campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, over Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that was ruled unconstitutional.

She said it was wrong to write an initiative aimed “mostly at children” by denying them health services and an education. “The children did not come here on their own,” she said.

But she said the state has to draw the line when it comes to many other services. For example, she doesn’t believe illegal immigrants should — as is currently the law — be entitled to in-state tuition at California’s public colleges and universities.

In other words, the government should pay the K-12 school costs to educate children of undocumented immigrants – but then draw the line at affording them in-state tuition rates for attending UC and CSUs.

The policy implications for this are curious to say the least: once California has borne the full cost of primary schooling for these students, what is the self-interest for the state suddenly to impose a ceiling on the extent of their educational achievement? We’d hate to think eMeg figures that limiting the children of immigrants to a high school diploma will help drive down the costs of good help in Atherton and Woodside.

Hi, this is Osama and I’m a first time caller: Seeking to stop the bleeding from a self-inflicted wound, wannabe GOP Senator Tom Campbell challenged rivals Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore to a radio debate on foreign policy and, miracle of miracles, the whole thing came together swiftly and is actually going to happen.

Campbell has found himself in the free fire zone for his past links to jihadist professor Sami Al-Arian, which raised the broader question of the depth of his commitment to Israel’s security. With his debate play, Dudley Do Right clearly is trying to ju-jitsu the issue in hopes of stomping Hurricane Carly and Red Meat Chuck with his superior knowledge of national security issues.

Kudos to Calbuzz blogroller and Sacto radio yakker Eric Hogue for putting the whole thing together in record time. The debate is set to air Friday, March 5 from 12 to 1 pm on the Eric Hogue Show on KTKZ 1380 and scheduled to be real time webcast.

California Reform Movement 2010: R.I.P.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Calbuzz is way overdue for a rant about the rich irony of the once-promising reform campaign to convene a state constitutional convention ignobly sinking because of…a lack of money.

Really?

The last time we checked, the membership of the Bay Area Council, the corporate coalition whose staff leadership got the ConCon effort started in the first place, included: Amgen, AT&T, BofA, Blue Shield, Chevron, Comcast, Del Monte, Franklin Templeton Investments, Genentech, Goldman-Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Levi-Strauss, Oracle, Pacific Gas & Electric, Shell Oil, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Wells Fargo, along with more than 200 other of the most successful companies with operations or outposts in the Bay Area.

And so: The effort to qualify for the ballot the group’s signature issue foundered because it couldn’t raise more than a measly $3 million for the campaign? Come on. These guys make Gordon Gekko look like Mother Teresa.

The plain fact is that if the high-end companies that populate the council wanted the convention to go, it would have gone. Instead they slammed shut their wallets, the clearest evidence there could be that they don’t want major reform, because they already know how to navigate the twisted, dysfunctional, Byzantine, gridlocked system just the way it is; unlike average citizens, they can penetrate it with mega-bucks campaign contributions and initiative campaigns.

Exhibit A: PG&E. The Pacific Greed and Extortion Co. will spend up to $35 million on its special interest Prop. 16 on the June ballot. The measure would block cities and counties from going into the public power business without a two-thirds local vote. As Chronicler David Baker reported :

So far, PG&E has supplied all of the proposition campaign’s funding, totaling $6.5 million. On Friday, PG&E took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company’s 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share. PG&E Corp. provided the information while reporting its 2009 profit ($1.22 billion, down from $1.34 billion in 2008) and giving its forecast for 2010.

PG&E describes the ballot initiative as a matter of fairness.

Fairness, indeed.

Our sources inside the Bay Area Council and its “Repair California” political wing note that member companies are also holding back their cash in preparation, as one put it, “for a nuclear arms race in November.”

They’re worried about at least two measures to split the property tax roll to allow higher taxes on business properties, an oil extraction tax, limitations on insurance rates, repeal of Proposition 13′s two-thirds requirement for local tax increases and the potential to overturn AB 32′s climate change provisions. And that’s just for starters.

California Backward: So pathetic are current prospects that Repair California is seriously considering throwing in with the California Forward folks and creating some kind of alliance or united front for reform, even if they have to drop their proposal to actually call a constitutional convention and just push the measure that would authorize voters to call a convention.

California Forward, that other paragon of reform circa 2009, is meanwhile dying a somewhat slower death. The incrementalist sponsors of this once-ballyhooed goo-goo group  are also having trouble, um, raising money – to campaign for two proposed initiatives.

Excuse us if the Calbuzz Paranoid Caucus entertains the notion that what you like to call your  Corporate Interests lost interest in this sucker the minute we blew the whistle on Cal Forward’s backroom attempt to dump the Sinclair Paint exemption, which would allow a majority of the Legislature to raise revenue by imposing mitigation fees on business.

Much of what’s left in one of the Cal Forward measures is spinach-and-broccoli good government stuff like performance-based budgeting, while the other tracks a similar initiative sponsored by the League of California Cities. The one element well worth saving in the Cal Forward soup is authorizing communities to raise the local tax by 1 cent with a majority of the people — which is NOT in the League’s “Keep Your Mitts Off Our Budgets” measure.

Some of the Cal Forward folks — most of whom have been totally feckless at raising money — think they can still get a) a billionaire angel to be named later to fund their ballot measures or b) a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to put something like their measure on the November ballot that would allow approval of a state budget by a majority vote, instead of the two-thirds required now. FFC. Good luck with that, guys.

Meanwhile, the bottom line on the collapse of the goo-goos was articulated nicely by the L.A. Times edit page:

This election year will bring many promises about bold leadership and new ideas, but there comes a point in most democratic societies at which the machinery gums up and some of the most cherished hallmarks of liberty — campaigning, voting, serving in office — descend into mere ritual. That’s when it’s time to rebuild the machinery.

Or not.

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.