Archive for 2009

Clint Reilly Un-Retires to Run Con-Con Campaign

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Clint-HeadShotIn a move guaranteed to juice up the 2010 campaign, sponsors of a plan to convene a state constitutional convention have coaxed political consultant emeritus Clint Reilly out of retirement to lead their initiative effort.

Reilly, one of California’s more successful political operatives during the more than two decades he ran campaigns, made his bones managing an all-star roster of clients who went on to national prominence, including Barbara Boxer,  Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi.

He signed a contract last week to serve as chief strategist for Repair California, the political organization formed to pass two initiatives to call California’s first Constitutional Convention in more than 130 years.

“It’s a romantic idea, to return to the process our forefathers used in forming our state,” Reilly said in an interview with Calbuzz. “Sacramento is so dysfunctional, and the electorate is so alienated from their government, that it’s going to take a citizen movement to break the stranglehold of special interests.”

Since quitting the consulting business in the mid-90s, Reilly has run for mayor of San Francisco, waged war in federal court against the consolidation of Bay Area newspapers, become a philanthropist and built a real estate investment business. As owner and CEO of Clinton Reilly Holdings, he is on the board of the Bay Area Council, the corporate organization that has led the constitutional convention movement.

“Clint has a remarkable strategic sense and a passion for organizing, ” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the business group, “which is all too often missing in statewide campaigns, and just what this historic effort needs to succeed.”

Repair California has submitted ballot measures that would authorize “a limited Constitutional Convention” to address four problems underlying the dysfunction of state government: the budget process; the election and initiative process; the relationship between state and local governments; and improving government efficiency.

Under the proposed initiatives, the convention could not propose tax increases or deal with polarizing cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage, immigration, or the death penalty. Measures to call the Convention are aimed at next November’s ballot; if they’re approved the convention would be held in 2011 and its reform package would go to voters in 2012.

“It’ll be a positive campaign,” Reilly told us. “We need to explain the importance of making major structural changes in state government.

frank jordan

P.S. – You’d retire too: Reilly’s too polite to say so, but one of the things that no doubt helped convince him to quit consulting was running the 1995 re-election campaign of then-San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan. Shortly before election day, the mayor was locked in a tight race with Willie Brown, when Jordan decided to perform one of the all-time, astonishingly dumb-ass, brain lock acts in the 233-year history of American politics.

Without mentioning it to his manager, Jordan invited two shock jocks from KRQR-FM into his home, where he proceeded to accept their invitation that he get naked with them in the shower while they broadcast their show live. Exactly why Jordan thought the Soap on a Dope stunt was a really good idea remains unclear to this day. In any case, it helped elect Willie Brown and helped drive Reilly into the retirement from which he has now emerged.

Tom Campbell: Whaddya Mean I’m No Change?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

campbellprofessorAfter publication of our piece, “Gov’s Race Lacks a Change Candidate,” here and in the L.A. Times, we heard from several of the candidates for governor who, um, mildly disagreed with our trenchant analysis. The Calbuzz Department of Fair and Balanced Journalism & Customer Service Outsourcing passed their comments on to the newsroom, which today presents a response from Republican wannabe governor Tom Campbell.

Dear Calbuzz,

While I unquestionably agree (of course) with the nice things you say about my specificity in trying to deal with the state’s problems, I think most of your readers would disagree with you that my approach “boil[s] down to more efficient management of the status quo.”

In 2005, as California’s Finance Director, I authored the most sweeping ballot reform of California’s broken budget system in at least the last quarter century. The idea – which I am still proposing in this campaign – is modeled after Gramm Rudman at the federal level.

My proposal is that when state revenues grow faster than what it necessary to cover the previous year’s spending, adjusted for inflation and population, the extra goes into a reserve, which can only be used when revenues fall as they are now. During an impasse, the previous budget continues automatically. If revenues aren’t sufficient, then all items would be cut, in equal percentages, across-the-board.

Unfortunately, in 2005, this revolutionary idea (Prop 76) was defeated.  If it had been adopted, California would have avoided the budget crisis of the last two years – we’d actually be in balance, because our spending would never have shot up like a rocket when the years were good; and when the years turned bad, we would have had a reserve on which to draw.

More recently, in order to save the state billions, I also proposed a sweeping, innovative overhaul of our state’s health insurance system based on free market principles, which can be read in detail at www.campbell.org.

darwinThese are the types of solutions I am offering – innovative, market-oriented overhauls of the way our state does business.  When you look at the mess we’re in, it’s hard to imagine proposing anything else.

Best Wishes,

Editors note: There were no injuries.

Press Clips: We’re All Journalists Now (Even Willie)

Friday, November 6th, 2009

028-956Speaking of New Media: If there was any remaining doubt that everyone is a journalist in the age of new media, Willie Brown erased it once and for all during his welcoming comments at his big election day Breakfast Club event in San Francisco Tuesday.

Brown, who previously held such exalted positions as Speaker of the Assembly and Lord Mayor of San Francisco, since retiring from politics has added a lofty new title: Item-Grubbing Columnist.

Plugging his weekly Sunday Chronicle offering, which features such hoary journalistic standbys as amateur commentating on the local NFL franchises, political rumor-mongering of the highest order and exclusive interviews with cab drivers, Brown issued this shameless call to his audience of 800 potential sources: “Send me your items,” he said, “I promise I won’t check them out.”

hiltzikLAT keeps the crown: For the second week in a row, the by-God L.A. Times newsroom keeps possession of the coveted Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry. Honors this time go to business columnist Michael Hiltzik, for “Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign an uninspiring product launch,” an elegant, superb filleting of the newly-minted political candidate. Citing Hurricane Carly’s contortions in explaining why she didn’t bother to vote in three-quarters of the state’s elections this decade, Hiltzik notes that:

Fiorina explained that this was because ‘I felt disconnected from the decisions made in Washington and, to be honest, really didn’t think my vote mattered because I didn’t have a direct line of sight from my vote to a result.’

Yet during her reign at Hewlett-Packard, according to public records, her corporation spent $4.7 million to lobby Congress and donated more than $390,000 to political candidates through its political action committee. Fiorina and her husband, Frank, a former AT&T executive, have made more than $100,000 in political donations personally since 2000.

That suggests not that Fiorina ‘felt disconnected’ from what was going on in Washington, but rather that she understood all too well that in politics, money talks. Why bother to vote when you can get what you need with greenbacks.”


Block that mid-term: iCarly’s anti-climactic formal announcement drew a fair amount of national attention, in large part because the GOP Senate primary between her and the indefatigable Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Red Meat, aligns with the political meme of the moment, in which GOP establishment types are besieged by hordes of tea bagging, death paneling, grassrooting, conservative “populists.”

The narrative line achieved break-through status in the endlessly analyzed special election for New York’s 23rd congressional district, where big mouth, big ego national names like Sarah Palin and Dick Armey drove the moderate Republican nominee from the race in favor of a third party conservative candidate, managing in the process to hand the district to a Democrat for the first time in a century.

The internal feud dynamic was examined most intelligently and comprehensively over at Politico, which also reported with a straight face how bumbling Republican blowhards were shamelessly spinning that they scored a great victory by losing the seat.

The snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of- victory frame was deftly handled by NYT satirist Gail Collins, as Jon Stewart exceeded his own high standards, moderating a dead-on parody panel of self-important cable news political analysts chopping it over the mid-terms, which featured usual suspects Sam Bee, Aasif Mandvi and John Oliver.

matierandrossGavin, we hardly knew ye: Chronicle scoop artists Phil Matier and Andy Ross had a dandy excloo with their report that Gavin Newsom pulled his own version of a Mark Sanford, mysteriously slipping out of  town on an unplanned trip, making his own travel arrangements and not bothering to let his staff in on the details.

Unlike Sanford, the wingnut governor of South Carolina who went underground for a few days to visit his Argentine paramour, Newsom was headed for a rendezvous with his wife and child, but his conduct in the matter was erratic enough to force his flack to peddle a wheeze about Hizhonner feeling fluish when reporters asked why he skipped Willie Brown’s aforementioned bash.

Prince Gavin’s abrupt withdrawal from the gov’s race drew full Chronicler attention, including columnist Chuck Nevius’s exploration of Gavin’s psyche and Cliff Staton’s compare and contrast op-ed measuring Newsom’s stumblebum performance in his truncated campaign unfavorably against that of Dianne Feinstein, the last S.F. alcalde to run for governor.

Margin of error: Capitol Weekly, bouncing back from their last, disastrous venture in the world of polling,  published a new poll showing  Meg Whitman in a commanding position in the GOP race for governor with 37% (including leaners), compared to 15% for Tom Campbell and 6% for Steve Poizner.

While still wobbly, it’s the first survey we’ve seen by Cap Weekly’s Republican pollster, Adam Probolsky,  that  isn’t some push-poll, mash-up with whack-a-doodle numbers.

One big problem: In reporting that  “Former eBay executive Meg Whitman has opened up a wide lead in the Republican race for governor, according to the latest Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll,” they compared their new numbers to the most recent Field Poll (which showed Whitman 22, Campbell 20 and Poizner 9) — instead of matching the new numbers to their own previous, badly flawed, poll (which had the race Campbell 13, Whitman 10 and Poizner 8).

But you can’t do that – not unless you’ve demonstrated that your polling is in league with the Field Poll for accuracy and reliability.

That said, props to Cap Weekly for recognizing that their previous effort with Probolsky was little more than crapchurn* fodder. The new  survey still lacks adequate explanation of its methodology: it took us a bunch of emails and digging to figure out the survey was a random sample of registered voters, screened for participation, and based on a 2010 primary turnout model that projects 46% men, 54% women, 47% Democrats, 36% Republicans, 15% DTS, 69% whites, 12% Latinos and – a number we think is too low – 53% voters age 55 and older.

Whether that’s the right model for June 2010 or not, at least it’s transparent. We don’t even mind that Capitol Weekly asked a few push questions designed to see how vulnerable the candidates are to various negatives. You can read about them here.

One intriguing finding: 29% of men age 55 and older said they’d be more likely to vote for Jerry Brown knowing that at 72, he’d be California’s oldest governor ever elected, compared to 15% of men who said this would make them less likely to vote for Brown. But among women 55 and older, 19% would be more likely to vote for the geezer and 27% would be less likely.

* Crapchurn – Calbuzzspeak for the continuous stream of meaningless, speculative and/or irrelevant alleged factoids and factillae, thrust upon a long-suffering public by MSM and  online analysts alike.


Short takes: CoCo Times columnist Dan Borenstein deserves a medal for  unrelenting perseverance in pounding away at the public employee pension story; time after time, Borenstein piles fact upon fact in exposing the distressing framework and figures of cushy pension deals in the local government jurisdictions served by his paper…Weintraub watch: Extra, Extra – NYT columnist discovers Jerry Brown! Next Sunday: A trenchant meditation on the Golden Gate Bridge…Thanks to the redoubtable George Foulsham for pointing us to “Buy One Anyway,” Slate TV’s take-off  of those soft-focus, heal-the-world TV donation pitches, with scrap heap newspaper persons the objects of maudlin charity and pity. Life in imitation of art.

New Calls for Brown to Produce Docs in “Tapegate”

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

HarveyThe consumer advocacy group at the center of the flap about Jerry Brown’s ex-spokesman secretly recording phone calls has sent a formal demand to the Attorney General’s office, seeking all internal documents that could shed light on the matter.

The Public Records Act request, filed by Consumer Watchdog, is one of at least three separate efforts to dig deeper into the controversy, which began with the disclosure last week that Scott Gerber, Brown’s former press secretary, recorded conversations with reporters without informing them or asking their consent. Gerber resigned on Monday.


Brown shrugged off the controversy Tuesday, during a scrum with reporters before delivering a speech in San Francisco. His new press officer has not only insisted that no one in the Attorney General’s office besides Gerber had knowledge of his actions, but also argued that, in any case, his actions did not violate legal restrictions on when a recording can be made without the consent of both parties.

That may well be true, as a legal matter. As a political matter, however, the dispute over the recordings is the first bump in the road for Brown’s back-to-the-future campaign for governor. While he cleared the Democratic field with the withdrawal of Gavin Newsom, the controversy could provide ammunition to Republicans, as well as prove a drip-drip-drip distraction if he does not deal with it fully and forcefully.

“This isn’t going away,” said Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog’s founder.

His organization’s demand, dated Oct. 30, seeks “copies of all transcripts of phone calls recorded by (Brown) or any employee of the Department of Justice.”

“If there are recordings of phone conversations that have not been transcribed, we request a list of the recorded conversations, including the time and date of the call and the names of all people on the call,” the letter says.

In addition to Consumer Watchdog, the Bay Area News Group, which owns and operates a chain of daily papers including the Contra Costa Times , reported that it has submitted two Public Records Act requests to the AG, seeking copies of recorded conversations with its reporters, along with other documents.

And the Chronicle, whose reporter Carla Marinucci conducted the interview with Gerber which first revealed the taping, has called on the Attorney General in an editorial to “fully clear the air about this breach of the law on his watch…and make public his findings.” (Update 1230 p.m. We just learned that the Chronicle also has filed a PRA seeking documents in the case).

At the same time, two Republican legislators have written to Brown, demanding he appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate alleged “crimes” arising from the matter.

Christine Gasparac, Brown’s new press secretary, issued a statement in response to the demand, by Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, and Senator George Runner, R-Lancaster. She said that “the Department’s highest-ranking criminal lawyer” looked into it and concluded “the evidence that has surfaced thus far does not constitute a crime.”

Well and good, but her assertion is all but guaranteed not to put the matter to rest. The practice of having high-ranking law enforcement officials investigate themselves has been pretty problematic since the good old days of John Mitchell.

What it’s all about: The political Sturm und Drang about the recordings (several news organizations have referred to Gerber “taping” conversations, but we understand he used a digital device) has largely obscured the substantive issue underlying the political controversy.

car-crash(Weed whacker alert!) Here’s the background:

Since 1988, auto insurance rates and companies in California have been governed by Prop. 103, an initiative written by Harvey Rosenfield, who led  a coalition of consumer and other grassroots groups that passed it. Under 103, insurance companies are allowed to use three basic criteria for determining the customer premiums: driving safety record, miles driven per year and years of driving experience.

One factor they are greatly restricted in using they are not authorized to use is a driver’s history of insurance coverage. Prior to Prop. 103, insurance companies would sometimes submit drivers to a Catch-22, denying them coverage because they never had coverage before (California has required auto insurance since 1984). It was also not unheard of for insurers to add a surcharge on a policy for a driver without previous coverage, or one who had missed a payment, or had interrupted coverage for other reasons.

Some insurers, including Mercury Insurance, have fought that restriction. In 2003, while larmercuryinsuranceding up Sacramento with campaign contributions, they got a bill passed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis which permitted companies to use prior coverage as an element in determining rates. But the state Court of Appeal Supreme Court invalidated the law in 2005, saying it violated Prop. 103.

Fast forward to 2009: Now comes Mercury and its allies with a new initiative, aimed at the 2010 ballot, to allow insurers to consider a driver’s history of coverage in determining rates.

As all good Calbuzzers know, the process of getting approval for an initiative petition to circulate for signature gathering includes getting the Attorney General to issue a “Title and Summary” that boils down the effect of the proposal, and is located at the top of the petition.

On August 13, Brown’s office approved a Title and Summary that said the Mercury measure:

Allows insurance companies to increase or decrease the cost of auto insurance based on a driver’s coverage history…Allows insurance companies to raise the cost of auto insurance based on the absence of prior automobile insurance coverage. Allows insurance companies to lower the cost of auto insurance for drivers who have continuously maintained auto insurance coverage, even if they change insurance companies.

But in short order, the initiative was withdrawn and Mercury submitted a second, similar measure. On Oct. 27, Brown’s office gave it this Title and Summary:

“Allows auto insurance companies to base their prices in part on a driver’s history of insurance coverage…Changes current law to permit insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers who have continuously maintained their auto insurance coverage, even if they change their company, and notwithstanding the ban on using the absence of prior insurance for purposes of pricing.”

At which point Harvey Rosenfield’s head exploded.

Rosenfield immediately took to his Consumer Watchdog blog to blast Brown for issuing a different Title and Summary on the second initiative, which he said “accommodated the company by obscuring the premium increases” that would occur.

“I have rarely seen political cowardice on this level from a seasoned public official,” he howled.

Rosenfield’s blog caught the attention of the resourceful Carla Marinucci. She interviewed Rosenfield, then interviewed Gerber and top attorneys in the AG’s office, and then proceeded to write a newspaper story about the dispute, which was posted on the Chronicle’s web site at 5:57 p.m. on October 28.

Upon reading the story, Gerber and his colleagues in the AG’s office felt that it did not fully reflect their position. In their view, the second initiative submitted by Mercury was substantially different than the first, and therefore received a substantially different Title and Summary (*Rosenfield disputes this assertion and says the second initiative made only minor changes from the first; Consumer Watchdog has filed a separate Public Records Act request with the AG regarding the issue).

So Gerber phoned up Marinucci’s editor to complain; her posted story mysteriously disappeared from SFGate, the Chron’s news site, somewhere around 6:30. At 9:44 p.m., a second version of Marinucci’s story popped back up on SFGate. It had several changes:

A sentence reporting that Rosenfield was angry with the AG’s office for “rewriting the measure” was corrected to say he was upset with Brown for “approving a new summary for the ballot measure.”

— A comment by Gerber, calling Rosenfield’s charges “utterly ridiculous,” was extended to include a new paraphrase, expanding on the AG’s position: “The summary was rewritten, he said, because sponsors of the measure made substantial changes to it. The new summary is a fair and accurate description of the measure, Gerber said.”

A new paraphrased comment by Rosenfield, denying the AG’s statement that there were substantive changes between the first and second intiatives, was added; his quote about Brown’s alleged “political cowardice” was moved down, from the fourth graf in the first version, to the 9th graf in the second version; another Rosenfield quote attacking Brown for a “flip flop” was deleted in the new story.

So Gerber basically earned his money that day by pushing back on Marinucci’s story. Except for one small problem: While going over her head to complain to her editor, Gerber had buttressed his argument by using a portion of a written transcript of the interview Marinucci conducted with him and the office attorneys.

Which led to a key question: Um, WTF did he get a transcript?

Which led in turn to a key conclusion: Uh, he taped the damn interview.

The Chronicle reporjohnmitchellted on the incident on Oct. 30. That story included Gerber’s acknowledgement that he had recorded calls with reporters somewhat routinely. This led to a fair amount of outrage by some media advocates, among other critics, including Calbuzz, which said that Brown had no alternative but to fire Gerber; he resigned with class a few days later, accepting complete responsibility for his actions, and basically clearing everyone else in the office.

And there the matter stands. For the moment.

Bottom line: It remains to be seen how well Brown’s all’s-well-that-ends-well declaration stands up to challenge from Rosenfield and assorted media organizations. Not to mention Republicans sniffing for blood.

*Weed Whacker Alert II: Kathy Fairbanks of Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates, which  supports the disputed initiative, checked in to take issue with Rosenfield’s statement that the two versions of the initiative have only “minor differences.” She said the second measure submitted to the AG contains “major changes” from the first, preventing insurers from raising rates because of the expanded use of a driver’s insurance history that the measure would  permit. Fairbanks also noted that insurers are currently allowed to use coverage history in a limited way, through so-called “loyalty discounts” offered drivers who stay with the same company for a significant period of time; the disputed initiative would give the insurance industry greater latitude in this area. The Rosenfield-Fairbanks disagreement on this point is the crux of a key future campaign argument if the measure makes the ballot. (Update 4:45 p.m. Rosenfield fires the first shot here).

Carl Pope: “A Ridiculous Way to Take a Shower”

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By Carl Pope
Special to Calbuzzshower

A month after I arrived in California in 1973, I landed at Ontario airport for a Sierra Club meeting. Driving along the freeway past a median stocked with oleanders, the sprinkler system went on. A Club leader sitting next to me from Oakland hissed, “that’s what they do with our water down here.”

Thirty six years later, too little has changed in our politics – and too much has changed about our climate, economy and water supply. The state has committed to deliver huge quantities – eight times as much as it has — of water over long distances through often uncertain canals after storage, leakage and evaporation in outmoded dams, all at enormous expense to a bankrupt state treasury.

Tens of billions have been spent on engineered storage, dams and reservoirs, yet two thirds of the state’s water is stored the old fashioned way – in snow and ice. Most of the rain that falls in urban areas like Los Angeles is hastily rushed into concrete channels and dumped uselessly into the Pacific Ocean. One third of the water LA needs in an average year falls as rainfall – almost none is put to wise use.

And most of the water that is delivered at the cost of billions of dollars, after being stored in snow and ice, is put to purposes like growing alfalfa wastefully in the desert, or to drip out of leaky urban plumbing systems. Much is recklessly contaminated with various pesticides and toxic wastes, inadequately treated at still billions in further expenses, and delivered to households who are understandably anxious about its quality – leading them to purchase bottled water, the manufacture of a quart of which takes more than a gallon of wasted H2O.

Meanwhile, once vibrant fisheries have been devastated, at the costs of tens of thousands of jobs, farming communities have been left dangling uncertainly while businesses wonder when the next drought or earthquake will turn off the tap for good.

dripThis is a ridiculous way to take a shower.

Add the fact that the very climate which provides this water is changing rapidly. The snow and ice will be gone, the annual rainfall will vary widely — we may even get less, a lot less. The San Francisco delta is dying as an ecosystem, eroding as a levee network, and utterly unreliable as a water conveyance structure.

The Colorado River, upon which much of the Southern part of the state relies, is gradually drying up. The Salton Sea is on the verge of becoming the world’s second largest toxic waste dump (after the mess the Russians made of the Aral.)

And the response from the Governor and Sacramento? Essentially, more of the same.

Instead of recognizing the we need to use every drop of water that falls near us first, and rely on long distance transport and surface storage as last resort, the measures being considered this week continue excessive reliance on outmoded engineering water storage solutions, lower the emphasis on protection provided by existing law for the health of California’s waterways, do almost nothing to enhance local self reliance on water supplies, and fail to guarantee common sense reforms of water policy.

The taxpayers are still being asked to pay for damages to common water resources done by private interests, and our children are being asked through bonds to bail out those who created the problem.

We are still going to try to force a huge portion of the state’s water supply through the unstable and fragile bottleneck of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where a single engineering flaw, natural disaster or malicious attack could bring the entire state to its knees for years.

The Klamath, which was once the second premier fishery in the nation, may finally begin to recover once its four dams are taken down, but only decades after the mismanagement of the river caused the collapse of the once magnificent salmon runs, and only after several years in which there was no California salmon season at all. Groundwater recharging incentives under consideration are half-hearted, and there is no meaningful movement towards protection for the quality of increasingly vital groundwater resources

It is a signal of our folly that it was only twenty years after I became a serial felon, for using gray water in my East Bay garden during the last major drought, that California has finally legalized the practice of using household water sensibly. But almost none of the commercial and public buildings I frequent have simple water conservation technologies installed. There is no serious talk about re-engineering urban areas as sponges.

Instead we continue to guarantee water shortages by treating them like a roof and gutter, designed to get rid of, instead of soaking up, precious rainfall. Farmers are still paid to dump toxic chemicals in the state’s most precious resource, but cities have no money to develop water recycling, storm water capture, groundwater storage. New reservoirs are glibly laid out on maps, but there is no conversation about the fact that hotter summers mean that there may be no water to fill those – or even today’s dams.CarlPope-SierraClub

Indeed, it is fair to say that Sacramento is in deep denial of this fundamental reality: California’s landscapes, forests, farmlands and cities must now be primarily managed to meet the biggest challenge of the 21st century: adequate, secure, clean and safe supplies of water for urgent human and environmental needs. Water is precious. We need to stop wasting it.

Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club.