Archive for 2009

Items: eMeg Yaks, Choice Threatened, Trees Die

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

meghandsWhile Calbuzz patiently awaits eMeg’s callback, letting us know what time to pick her up for dinner, we’re whiling away the time reading the transcript of her sit-down with old friend Teddy Davis of ABC News.

When Davis asked Her Megness why she was a better choice than Jerry Brown 2.0, we were surprised that her response was basically: “I’m not a career politician.” Weak sauce: Neither was Arnold Schwarzenegger and look how well that turned out. Polls show voters want a change. From what? How, exactly, does yet another outsider from the private sector represent change? Maybe eMeg’s good  pal President Mitt Romney can explain.

We liked this question: “How is the Meg Whitman Republican Party different or similar to a Sarah Palin Republican Party?” which she not very courageously deflected:

“You know, I like to think that I will subscribe very much to the core Republican principles of small government. Making a small number of rules and getting out of the way. Keeping taxes low. Creating an environment for small businesses to grow and thrive.”

Pressed on whether she’d support a constitutional convention, Meg made one thing overwhelming clear: she won’t support anything that even opens the possibility of reducing the two-thirds majority needed either to pass the budget or to raise taxes.

“We can’t have a constitutional convention as a Trojan Horse to undo the two-thirds majority,” she said.

Teddy is more informed than most national reporters about California, having worked for the Gray Davis campaign and as a speech writer in his administration before leaving to go to law school and then on to ABC. Still the Whitman camp’s decision to go with him reflects an ongoing media strategy of focusing on out-of-state and national outlets. Can’t wait to see how she does in the New York Republican primary.

Add NutMeg: Whitman is getting whacked pretty good around the blogosphere for her latest knuckleheaded comment, in response to a Wall Street Journal (more national press!) question about the media:

The aggressive coverage also contrasts with the fawning profiles she received while at eBay, and Ms. Whitman can sound thin of skin about the press. Asked how she plans to improve media relations, she says, ‘Some of these newspapers, as you know better than I, will not be around in the near term.’ Given her high-tech background, Ms. Whitman says her campaign plans to get her message out through the Web better than any previous candidate.

Clearly, bashing newspapers and talking up the web is a tactical move by eMeg to prepare the ground for an exclusive interview with Calbuzz. Hey, is that the phone?

taliban.jpgCan the Taliban be far behind? As Susan Rose reported in this space last week, the House vote approving a health care bill that includes anti-abortion language poses a major potential threat to women’s access to reproductive health services which goes far beyond the ranks of those enrolled in a  “public option” insurance program.

Now, as first posted by Talking Points Memo David Dayen at firedoglake, a new study by the George Washington University School of Public Health has concluded that the anti-abortion amendment could eventually eliminate abortion as an elective procedure in the country altogether.

We conclude that the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange…

(The Stupak Amendment) can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets.

You can read the full study here.


As the state sinks slowly in the West: If you can read only one story about the latest horror show study of California’s budget sinkhole – and why would you want to read more? – check out Greg Lucas’s take on the new Legislative Analyst report over at California’s Capitol:

The first term of California’s next governor will be a fiscal nightmare with a cumulative budget shortfall over four years of nearly $83 billion, according to the fiscal forecast released November 18 by the Legislative Analyst.

Lucas quotes Leg analyst Mac Taylor thusly:

The scale of the deficits is so vast that we know of no way that the Legislature, the governor and voters can avoid making additional, very difficult choices about state priorities,” the report says. “In the coming years, major state spending programs will have to be significantly reduced. Policymakers will also need to add revenues to the mix (emph. ours).

Waste, fraud and abuse, indeed.

Press Clips: Best line of the week honors to NYT’s Gail Collins, who riffed  on the  news about revised medical conventional wisdom about mammograms with a reminder of the weird weltanschung of newspaper columnists:

I had breast cancer back in 2000, and I am trying to come up with a way that I can use that experience to shed some light on these new findings. I have never believed that everything happens for a reason. But I do feel very strongly that everything happens so that it can be turned into a column.

More felicitous phrasing turned up in a smack that the Chron’s editorial page delivered to the nose of the puppy-eyed Gavin Newsom, opining enough already with his “illusion of delusion” following his withdrawal from the governor’s race and instructing him to grow up and start acting like a mayor instead of a whiny adolescent engaged in a “sulkathon.”

GimmeRewriteInquiring minds want to know how editors at the B- let this sloppy wet kiss to the nether cheeks of Sacramento super-consultant firm California Strategies get into the paper…Memo to copy desk: next time you decide to use the words “No surprise” in a headline over an item about a “completely predictable” report, save yourself some time and just make it: “Don’t read this.”

Deep Throat call home: Love the sourcing on this item, about Schwarzmuscle chief of staff Susan Kennedy getting ready to jump ship, by the otherwise reliable Josh Richman of the Coco Times, who sets things up with a blind quote:

“I was told by a good source – a very senior person from inside the horseshoe – six, seven weeks ago that once she got water done, she’d go to Mercury to make some money off the campaign,” one source said, asking not to be identified.”

For those keeping score at home, make that one 6-4-3.

Clint’s crystal ball: Carly Fiorina’s camp didn’t waste any time eblasting around an intriguing piece by Clint Reilly over at California Progress Report,  in which he makes the case that iCarly is going to be a lot tougher Senate candidate than the political class expects. Dismissing out of the hand the GOP primary challenge of Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, Reilly notes Willie Brown’s Boxer-is-the-luckiest-politician-in-California meme and opines that Hurricane Carly will give Babs all she can handle in a “bare knuckles…donnybrook.”

“Political handicappers have underestimated Fiorina’s chances,” the Great Man sez.

chronbldg-246x300-whtElegy for the Chron: We’re a little late getting to this one, but “Final Edition: Twilight of the American Newspaper” by Richard Rodriguez in the November issue of Harper’s is by far the smartest and most elegantly written piece we’ve read on the decline of ink-on-trees journalism

At a time when the Hearst-owned Chronicle is reduced to hawking itself on the basis of its shiny newsprint, Rodriguez traces the rich and romantic history of the Chronicle from its Civil War start by the de Young brothers, who arrived from St. Louis in San Francisco and promptly “invented themselves as descendants of French aristocracy.”

From its inception, the San Francisco Chronicle borrowed a tone of merriment and swagger from the city it daily invented – on one occasion with fatal consequences: in 1879 the Chronicle ran an expose of the Rev. Isaac Smith Kalloch, a recent arrival to the city (“driven forth from Boston like an Unclean Leper”) who had put himself up as a candidate for mayor.

The Chronicle recounted Kalloch’s trial for adultery in Massachusetts (“his escapade with one of the Tremont Temple choristers”). Kalloch responded by denouncing the “bawdy house breeding” of the de Young boys, implying that Charles and Michael’s mother kept a whorehouse in St. Louis. Charles rose immediately to his mother’s defense; he shot Kalloch, who recovered and won City Hall. De Young never served jail time. A year later, in 1800, Kalloch’s son shot and killed Charles de Young in the offices of the Chronicle.

‘Hatred of de Young is the first and best test of a gentleman,’ Ambrose Bierce later remarked of Michael, the surviving brother. However just or unjust Bierce’s estimation, the de Young brothers lived and died according to this notion of a newspaper’s purpose – that it should entertain and incite the population.

Rodriguez weaves the story of the paper deeply into the texture of the history of the city (as well as his own biography as a Sacramentan seeking “a connection with a gray maritime city at odds with the postwar California suburbs”). Starting with the refreshing premise that the collapse of newspapers is not merely the result of disruptive technologies, he offers an extended, not-a-wasted word reflection on the loss of civic community in an age of disintermediation and virtual atomized niche markets.

When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed; a sense of place has failed. If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death – and why else would the editors celebrate its 144th anniversary? And why else would the editors devote a week to feature articles on fog? – it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.

Great stuff. There’s a pay wall in front of the piece, but it’s worth figuring a way to get around it, or even buying a ticket for admission.


Finally: While Calbuzz was buzy slapping around the Jerry Brown uncampaign operation for squandering Crusty’s dominant position in the governor’s race, Keith Esparros at NBC Bay Area had an entirely different take: That Jerry is getting great publicity as the peoples’ crime fighter while keeping his ass out of the fire fight.

That’d be fine if the strategy also allowed Brown to maintain his lead in the polls and buzz about him which — by the way — he’s going to need to keep independents interested enough to vote in a no-action Democratic primary, or risk losing them in November.

Is Brown Blowing It? Polls, Tapes & Hollywood

Friday, November 20th, 2009

jerrysmugNow that Jerry Brown has swooped in and out of Hollywood to collect more than $1 million in a single night, it’s well past time for him to hire a cadre of actual professionals to manage and focus his scattershot uncampaign for governor.

The skinflint, pig-headed arrogance which so far has led him and chief of staff lovely wife Ann Gust to think they could steer his ambitions for a third term through the most uncertain political environment in recent years is starting to look stupid: Brown has awkwardly stumbled through the first real controversy of his nascent campaign at a time when Republican front-runner Meg Whitman has been steadily building strength. (Jerry Brown photo by Phil Konstantin)

Whatever you think of the methodology of the new November Rasmussen Poll that has Brown and Whitman tied (improbably, we think) at 41%, the megatrends of the survey (which had Brown leading in September 44%-35%) seem indisputable: Pushed aloft with more than $20 million in early spending, fueling a duck-and-hide strategy, eMeg right now is growing stronger, while Crusty seems determined to fritter away his dominant position by stubbornly maintaining the annoying conceit that he’s not really a candidate yet.

035-996The AG’s big haul in Bel-Air on Wednesday night at the $32-million home of Sandy Gallin, former agent for the likes of Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson, was “a huge success and a great launch for his effort down here,” according to organizer Andy Spahn, Steven Spielberg’s former political ramrod.

Spahn said the event raised more than $1 million from about 85 attendees who were invited by a host committee that included  JJ Abrams, Wallis Annenberg, Barry Diller, Larry Ellison, John Emerson, Diane von Furstenberg, David Geffen, Reed Hastings, Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jena and Michael King, Katie McGrath, Peter Morton, Jan Chet Pipkin, Lynda and Stuart Resnick, Michele and Patrick Soon-Shiong, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, Curt Tamkin and Tom Unterman. Each of whom pledged to give or raise $50,000.


Calbuzz pressed Spahn for the most important detail — what was on the menu. But he  wouldn’t give it up, except to say that Wolfgang Puck catered the event and was there. (Since Andy wouldn’t say, Calbuzz will just assume Jerry’s Kids dined on roast duckling, spring lamb, veal, arugula, alfalfa sprouts and endive salad, washed down with Chateau Angelus St. Emilion Grand Cru 2005, eh?)

But hey, Jerry can raise all the damn money in the world and it won’t do him any good stuffed under the mattress in his Oakland loft. Brown’s contempt for political consultants is well known, demonstrated most recently with the release of a transcript of a taped interview with AP political writer Beth Fouhy back in April:

“I have been around for awhile. When my father ran for governor they didn’t have all these paid consultants, you had volunteers…now everybody has vendors to talk to them about your hair style and about their internet page and their this and that. The consultants take an enormous salary but they gotta do something…When you pay these guys twenty grand a month they have to produce something. The candidates often don’t understand because they haven’t been doing these things.”

matthauWell guess what, Mr. Cranky Pants Walter Matthau wannabe? This ain’t your father’s campaign for governor.

There isn’t a good political consultant in America, enormously paid or not, who would have allowed the flap over former spokesman Scott Gerber’s secret taping of reporters to mushroom from a one-day kerfuffle story into an 18-day tortuous ordeal the way you did, before it finally dawned on you that the thing would never end until you tossed it to somebody credible enough to conduct an independent investigation.

Our progressive friends over at Calitics may be just a tad hysterical in the face of the new Rasmussen numbers: “Enough of this dithering from Brown already,” the estimable Brian Leubitz cried out yesterday.

Which caused Brown adviser Steve Glazer to reply: “They should work harder for Jerry Brown. We need all segments of the Democratic Party to pull together if we’re going to win this race against a deep-pocketed Republican.”carradine

Cool and breezy,  Grasshopper.  But Leubitz nailed it when he wrote of Brown:  If he wants to run for governor, great, fantastic, let’s do it. But Brown needs to realize that he just can’t skate through without bothering to announce that he’s running.


P.S. We don’t have access to the Rasmussen survey questions, the crosstabs or crucial information about the poll that would give us confidence to take it seriously. Some friends who’ve seen some crosstabs tell us it models the expected November electorate 44% Democrat and 38% Republican, which is a bit of a tilt toward the Republicans, but not too bad. But we don’t know who the client was (if any), what ballot titles were read to respondents, how the sample was drawn, what the geographic or demographic distributions were, etc., etc., etcFor our guidelines on taking polls seriously, click here.

Deep Thoughts: Who Validates the Validators?

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Web wh033-827acker alert: As the Ebert & Roeper of the still-emerging fine art of online political attack videos, Calbuzz believes that the pallid  gnomes laboring away in the campaign media shops of eMeg and The Commish are having entirely too much fun.

The latest You Tube exchange between GOP don’t-invite-ems Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner features nice examples of two very different, but equally effective, dirt-dishing genres: Team Whitman’s offering is a high-concept, full-length (1:28) narrative rip job that bashes the Insurance Commissioner for junketeering to Las Vegas and making exaggerated claims about his record, accompanied by The Who doing  “Who Are You?” and highlighted by grainy images of Poizner amusingly framed by yellow crime scene tape.

Stevie Wonder’s posse by contrast checks in with a spare, minimalist (0:28) design noir approach that uses as its central image a blurry video of a Y2K-era Billy Bass singing fish – neo-post ironic cultural iconic chic! – belting out “I Will Survive” in front of headlines that proclaim eMeg’s enduring love affair with the Delta smelt.duvall

We love the smell of napalm in the morning.

The truth about bullshit: It goes without saying, of course, that the audience for these things is small – if select and influential (we name no names). But web whackers nonetheless are significant, both as off-Broadway sneak peaks of themes that may be later recycled in actual, obscenely expensive TV campaigns, and as hints to the level of credibility the candidates believe it’s necessary to meet in their abiding efforts to kneecap the other guy.

Production values aside, what we find praiseworthy about these new web ads is that the Whitman and Poizner camps both e-blasted memos citing the third-party sources that support their attacks. Because your Calbuzzards were pioneers (We walked to school – uphill – through six feet of snow – barefoot!) of what has come to be called “the truth box,” the standing feature graphic by which the MSM deconstructs and factually checks claims made in campaign ads, we applaud these responsible exercises in assertion attribution.

Givenbullshit that, the latest round of online fusillades raises several key points:

1-Memo to flacks: In the future please include in your fact sheets the title, artist and recording date of all music used in ads. We’re old, have two good ears between us and don’t have time to hang out on Lime Wire.

2-The meat of the toughest claims in both ads is drawn from the reporting of Ken McLaughlin of the Murky News, who appears to be the only guy in California doing any useful work. In several pieces packed with Actual Reporting, McLaughlin has not only revealed the squishy, tree hugging beneficiaries that Smokestack Meg selected for the largesse of her charitable foundation, but also bitch slapped Poizner for inflating and enlarging his record and role in delivering savings to consumers and taxpayers. Hello?  Is anyone else playing the game or are you gonna let Ken just keep running round and round the track by himself?

3-Whitman’s web hit includes a number of faux headlines, most of them quoting language lifted directly from the Merc story. However, the toughest punch is a hed that screams “Steve Poizner Caught Lying” which is from a different source altogether.

And that one raises some interesting questions.


Whom do you trust? In Whitman’s ad, the “lying” headline is attributed on screen to “California Political Blog.” That phrase is written in bold-faced letters over a smaller, plain type face underline that reads “Orange Juice Blog 11/15/09.”

Orange Juice Blog is a venerable (2003) site that promotes itself as “Orange County’s top political blog.” It’s run by a fellow named Art Pedroza who’s been in and around the OC’s Beirut-style politics for years, variously as an advocate, candidate, consultant, public official and Republican operative.

A stroll through the site shows a strong, hyper-local focus on Orange County – “Al Amezcua and Dennis DeSnoo joined forces to oust AUHSD Trustee Harald Martin” – in-your-face heds – “Republican Ed Perez incoherently babbles about Lorri Galloway” – plus funny photos of political enemies pictured with cat whiskers or above captions that say things like “Colonic extraction was deemed necessary to save the patient.”

There’s also evidence of feuds with other conservative bloggers and blogs, like Flashreport and Red State, as well as utter disdain for Steve Poizner:

Poizner is the Republican Party’s Phil Angelides. A rich, funny-looking guy with an odd last name. He may prevail in the primary – but he will be toast in the general election.

In other words, it’s your run-of-the-mill, highly-opinionated, irreverent, score-settling, rip-your-face-off, stick-it-in-and-twist-it political web site with agendas that may or may not be completely transparent. Fair enough, but one thing Orange Juice is not is a take-it-to-the-bank source of journalistically-based information about the California governor’s race.

As noted above, Whitman in her ad attributes the “Steve Poizner Caught Lying” headline to Orange Juice Blog only as a secondary source, underneath a cite line that reads “California Political Blog.” On the Orange Juice site, the original hed (“GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner caught lying”) was splashed atop a brief anti-Poizner rant that introduced excerpts from McLaughlin’s carefully written and balanced piece (which the blog attributed to “The San Jose Mercury Bee”).

While the OJ post falls obviously and fully within the bounds of fair comment on the story, it raises an intriguing question for the truth box patrols: Who validates third-party validators?

billy-bassQuestions without answers: Put another way, does the “lying” headline meet the basic standard and level of credibility worthy of use by a major candidate campaigning for the highest office in California? In other words, does the singular fact that something is published on a web site, any web site, qualify that information to be employed by a serious contender leveling a serious charge in a big statewide race?

If it is, what is to prevent candidates from using campaign cut-outs, perhaps clad in pajamas and tin foil hats, from posting all manner of web-based vitriol beneath all manner of screamer headlines, and then featuring those posts in TV attack ads as evidence that neutral parties think ill thoughts about their rival?

Is it acceptable political practice to use some neutral, official sounding name, like  “California Political Blog,” as a beard for partisan sources? How will truth-box referees analyze the quality of the information behind such allegations, or determine the motives and agendas of the allegators? At what point do we throw a penalty flag when the original source of charges is something like the  Breitbart/Newsmax/Drudge  re-validation crapchurn loop? Where, exactly, is the line to be drawn? Or is the very notion of a line self-incriminating evidence of discredited MSM-style thinking?Roseanne_Roseannadanna

As Roseanne Roseannadanna famously said, “You sure do ask a lot of stupid questions.”

In fact, reflecting on these matters gave Calbuzz a major headache (which didn’t get better when we asked the Whitman campaign about the issue, and  the volcanic Sarah Pompei offered this lavamoric answer: “We might even consider using Calbuzz.” Walked right into that one).

At first we thought, well, third party validators should only be considered credible if they have some proven form of journalistic cred.  And then we thought, oh no, Calbuzz, that can’t be right: as hip, black jeans-wearing New Media guys, we fiercely oppose all forms of institutionally credentialed gatekeeper journalism.

the_thinkerWhich left us with three basic conclusions:

1-The whole concept of third-party journalistic validation is being rapidly devalued by the unlicensed, uncredentialed, unapproved, unruly Internets.

2-Caveat emptor.

3-Never forget the ABC Rule: Always Believe Calbuzz.


Humpday: What Sarah & eMeg Have in Common

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

palin winkThere’s always a local angle: Amid the all the media frippery about Sarah Palin’s new cash cow memoir, Calbuzz has been desperately searching our beat for any bit of trivia to let us horn in on Sarahmania. Finally, our Betamax, Eight Track Tape and Historic Video Research Department unearthed from the vault a classic bit of on-air political combat featuring a key player  in California’s race for governor.

Tucker Bounds, who currently serves as Meg Whitman’s deputy campaign manager for communications, in 2008 was signed on to the “McCain for President” effort, which at one point dispatched him to defend Palin on CNN in an appearance that quickly became a You Tube classic.

Just four days before, what your political writers like to call your Republican Standard Bearer had picked the then-obscure Alaska governor as his running mate, and the first wave of white-hot media scrutiny was still focused on her, um, credentials as a potential Commander in Chief. CNN’s Campbell Brown greeted Bounds with a ferocious assault, demanding he support the McCain camp’s argument that Palin was far more qualified for executive office than Barack Obama.brown bounds

When Bounds cited Palin’s alleged experience leading the Alaska National Guard, it was on. Brown spent the next several minutes ripping his face off, repeatedly taunting him to name a single action Palin had taken in that role that remotely qualified her to be president. Without a shred of supporting evidence for his claim, Bounds gamely hung in through the rest of the “interview,” but when it was over, McCain’s furious handlers abruptly canceled the candidate’s long-scheduled appearance with Larry King as retribution for Brown’s slashing performance.

Next up: Having established Palin’s national security cred with the Alaska National Guard, Bounds qualifies Whitman for national duty by noting that  countless armies of toy soldiers have been bought and sold on eBay.

Palin Redux: We saw only snippets of Palin’s long-awaited appearance on Oprah (slight digression: we hadn’t caught sight of O. since the inauguration and she appears in recent months to have been seriously working out with the knife and the fork) but that was plenty.

oprah.0.0.0x0.360x381Putting aside her utter lack of self-awareness and full-blown case of narcissistic personality disorder, the fact that she’s making MILLIONS OF DOLLARS with her inane book set off a round of Calbuzz tooth-gnashing that cracked a couple of old amalgam crowns dating back to the ’80s.

Among the commentariat, Alessandra Stanley’s account in the Times seemed to best capture the excruciating experience of watching Palin’s insufferable, self-absorbed mugging and posing:

On the show Ms. Winfrey treated Ms. Palin the way she handled former child star and self-described incest victim Mackenzie Phillips — with guarded civility and thinly veiled skepticism.

When Ms. Winfrey asked about her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston, who has been saying unflattering things about Ms. Palin and may be shopping a book of his own, Ms. Palin tried, and failed, to stay on message. She began by saying that “national television is not the place” to air grievances against the father of her first grandchild, then proceeded to call him “Ricky Hollywood” and say that his plans to pose for Playgirl magazine amounted to “aspiring porn.”

When Ms. Winfrey asked if she would invite Mr. Johnston to Thanksgiving, Ms. Palin gave one of her trademark wandering answers: “You know, that’s a great question,” Ms. Palin said. “And it’s lovely to think that he would ever even consider such a thing.”

As for Johnston & Johnson, Levi is The Man in producing this week’s sign the end of civilization is near here.

It’s Willie’s williebrownspeakingWorld, the rest of us just live in it: Speaking of world-class egomaniacs, Willie Brown offered a defining look into his political soul in his Sunday offering for the Chron (still running in the news pages for reasons that remain unfathomable).

Defending Speaker and home girl Nancy Pelosi against criticisms that she ceded too much to conservative Democrats (including passage of the strongly anti-abortion Stupak Amendment) in moving health care reform through the House, the Ayatollah opined:

Nancy knows that the first thing on every Democratic House member’s mind is getting re-elected. In turn, as speaker, her first and foremost job is to ensure they get re-elected.

She also knows that the most important vote they cast once they are re-elected will be to keep her as speaker.

And if that means letting them be a Republican now and then, so be it.

Ah-ha. Forget a strong public option, abortion rights and cost containment, what really matters is who gets to wear the crown. Got it.


These are the good old days: Bill Watkins, California’s sharpest  economist and FOC (Friend of Calbuzz) has moved his formidable financial forecast operation south, from UC Santa Barbara to the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

There, his newly ensconced Center for Economic Research and Forecasting has just delivered a doozy of a downer prognosis for the state, which translates from econo-speak to: grim, grim, grim.

Among the more striking features of the report is the vehemence of its criticism of state government amid the painful recession:

California’s economy –burdened by endless budget deficits, high taxation, declining spending, onerous regulation, and what seems to be a generalized lack of concern about the economy – continues to underperform the United States economy in every measure. It is amazing to us to watch the political class during this business cycle.

The political problems with Sacramento have become too obvious to ignore, hence, the various proposals to change state government. The economic problems are apparently not so obvious. They continue to be ignored. There seems to be a consensus that California will bounce back, ‘just as we always have.’ We don’t believe California will bounce back without a positive effort…

Balancing California’s budget over the long run would be a good initial step in a positive effort to encourage growth. As it is, the State will face another budget crisis this winter. Based on past performance it is a safe bet that they will not provide a permanent solution that is consistent with long-term economic growth.

Yeah, but other than that they’re doing a helluva job up there, no?

2010: Initiatives Pandemic! Goo-Goos Run Wild!

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

pokerBack in August we warned of a back-room deal inside California Forward – the good government reform group – that involved taking away the Legislature’s ability to raise fees by majority vote in exchange for allowing the state budget to be passed by majority vote instead of the two-thirds required now.

Not much of a deal for liberals, since California Forward’s proposals still would require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, and it’s unclear how significant the former would be without the latter.

But the process people – the folks who believe that passing a budget by majority vote is crucial to governing and would give the majority party a modicum of more running room – were so eager to make it possible to pass budgets that they were willing to trade off a right recognized by the courts in Sinclair Paint vs. Board of Equalization, 15 Cal.4th at 881.

sinclairpaintThat’s the authority of the Legislature to impose “mitigation fees” on business with a majority vote. Although the Legislature has never done it, there was consideration in the last set of budget negotiations of raising state park entry fees to cover costs that previously had been paid by tax revenues. Under Sinclair, it appears, the Legislature might well be able to do that with a majority vote.

Now California Forward has submitted two initiatives for the 2010 ballot. The first is focused on improving the budget process, both with the majority vote and by introducing a batch of newfangled management techniques like, oh say, “results and accountability.” The second is aimed at beginning to untangle the knotty relationship between state and local governments.

As we first reported, the proposal offered by California Forward would take away the Legislature’s Sinclair-backed authority to levy fees by majority vote, a power that manufacturers and other industries view with considerable anxiety. Here’s what it says (strikeout is language that is killed and underline is new language):

SECTION SEVEN. Section 3 of Article XIII A of the California Constitution is amended to read:

SEC. 3. From and after the effective date of this article, any changes in state taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues collected pursuant thereto whether by increased rates, or changes in methods of computation, or imposition of a new tax, must be imposed by an Act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature, except that no new ad valorem taxes on real property, or sales or transaction taxes on the sales of real property may be imposed. In addition, any bill that imposes a fee that replaces revenue that in the same or the prior fiscal year was generated by a tax must be passed by no less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature.

Fred Keeley, Cal Forward’s most avid pro-tax liberal, says he’s thinks giving up the majority vote on fees that replace taxes in exchange for a majority vote on the budget is a good deal. And Bob Hertzberg, the former Assembly Speaker and co-chairman of Cal Forward, thinks it’s not even a close call.

Calbuzz has no dog in the fight, other than to call attention to the fact that this is something the business interests in California have been adamant about and – with this measure – would obtain.

Take the initiative: Cal Forward is the ultimate non-partisan goo-goo group – backed by the California Endowment, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, and David and Lucile Packard Foundation and other non-profit heavyweights – and its reform package is far more incremental than the constitutional convention agenda being pushed by the Bay Area Council and its allies, also for the 2010 ballot.

In submitting their measures to the Secretary of State, Cal Forward put out a FAQ that took a gentle jab at the con-con idea:


“A convention would bring several hundred volunteers together for a limited time to discuss many possible ways for changing California’s Constitution – there’s no telling what decisions they would make (emphasis ours). The California Forward plan instead takes specific policies that are already working in other states and put them to work in California, helping us balance our budget, improve services and reduce waste.

Sniff, sniff.

P.S. Assuming Cal Forward and the Bay Area Council both qualify their measures for 2010, the internecine reform battle will be just one intriguing feature of what is shaping as a most entertaining ballot, with free-swinging proposals on legalizing marijuana, cracking down on public employee pensions and rewriting Prop. 13 to allow split roll assessments among the dozens of initiatives in various stages of qualifying.

Latest tally from the Secretary of State’s offices shows four measures already qualified for the ballot (three in the primary and the big water bond in the general) with 24 in circulation for signatures and other 51 awaiting Title and Summary in Jerry Brown’s office (here’s hoping the AG isn’t taping calls about all of them, or we’ll never get voter handbooks mailed out in time).

lisavFollow that scooplet: Speaking of initiatives, nice work by Lisa Vorderbrueggen over at Political Blotter, who flagged a Center for Governmental Studies report showing that most of the ballot measures hamstringing the Governor and Legislature on budget matters come from…the Governor and Legislature.

“Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you,” Bob Stern, president of the goo-goo  group (they’re everywhere!) told the Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Improving State Government, which met in Oakland last week.

“A new analysis from the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies…shows that of the $11.85 billion worth of ballot measures voters approved between 1988 and 2009, 83 percent were placed on the ballot by the Legislature…

So much for all the national media geniuses who parachuted in to report on California’s budget mess and concluded that the main problem is those whacky Left Coast voters running amok with goofy initiatives.