Progressives push legislature to use supermajority for big change
by Brian Leubitz
When the Legislature hit the magical 2/3 mark after the November 2012 election, a lot of progressives started dreaming big. Prop 30 just passed, and a statement had been made for a progressive vision of California. A majority of Californians had just voted to raise their taxes. Whether thanks to the strong field campaign around Prop 32 or through changing demographics of a presidential election, the Democrats gained big on the Legislative front.
But muddying these waters was a lot of mixed messaging. Gov. Brown had at least signaled that he thought Prop 30 was the only tax revenue measure that we should pass for a while, and some of the Democratic legislators had more or less said the same thing.
On the other side, the dreams were building for those who focused less on the immediate political future and more on the long term progressive vision. Progressive leaders were looking at Prop 13 reform, oil severance taxes, minimum wage increases and more. A lot of powder has been kept dry over the past few years with the constant budget fight, and with that superminority concern out of the way, some looked to really mount the pressure. And to be clear, they have mounted a lot of pressure. I've seen enough of these discussions between progressive leaders and legislators to know that the pressure on them is real.
"The supermajority is something that you have to use it or lose it," said Rick Jacobs, head of the 750,000-member Courage Campaign, which has been at the liberal vanguard of several grassroots and online campaigns. "It is time to be bold. What is anybody afraid of?" (SF Chronicle)
To some extent, this is about two competing theories of politics. One says that you have a limited supply of "capital." Under this model, you can only expect to do so much progress on the legislative front. Gov. Brown is pushing for a gradual and slow movement that prioritizes consensus and getting buy in from as many as possible. On the other hand, progressives tend to favor an idea of politics that promotes efficiency. You get into it what you put in kind of thing. Voters will respect action, even if they don't get every component right away.
But for now, Speaker Perez and Sen. Steinberg seem to be of the same mind as the Governor. They're taking it slow for the time being. Steinberg has said that he doesn't plan on [touching Prop 13 this year, and Speaker Perez thinks this is just the beginning of a larger fight.
Even though Democrats could override Brown's veto with their two-thirds majority, "a lot of Democrats from more conservative areas don't want to vote to raise taxes because they know it would kill them in their districts," said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Pérez.
Plus, say Democratic leaders, it is still relatively early in the legislative calendar. Budget negotiations are just beginning.
"C'mon, it's only the second inning. There's a lot of time left in the session," said Maviglio. "We're moving forward on a lot of bills that are friendly to labor and progressives.
"I would tell some of the people who are saying these things to just relax," Maviglio said.(SF Chronicle)
Now, perhaps that last sentence could be more eloquently phrased, but Mr. Maviglio speaks of building a long term progressive supermajority in the Legislature. It's a laudable goal by any Democratic perspective, but getting everybody on the same page isn't necessarily the easiest task, even within the same party.
Right-leaning groups took on traditional Democratic power base with the help of "top-two" voting
by Brian Leubitz
Both Michael Allen and Betsy Butler faced difficult reelections in 2012. Butler decided to run in what was basically a new district when she opted for the progressive AD-50 seat. She did represent a small portion (less than 10%), but she certainly didn't carry the same incumbent advantage you typically expect. She defeated Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom in the primary, but with top-two she had to come back again to face Democratic Santa Monica mayor Bloom.
Meanwhile in Marin County, Michael Allen had to move from his Santa Rosa base to a Marin district due to the new districts. Like Butler, Allen, while an incumbent, was new to these voters. San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine was something of a grassroots champion. He was very involved with the state Democratic party, serving as eboard rep for the old AD-6, as well as the local party. However, he saw the writing on the wall after his second place finish, and started aggressively courting independent and Republican voters.
The CalBuzz team took a deep dive into how the two races went downhill for the two "incumbents," and the story is well worth a careful read and a tale on how typically conservative interest groups will look at influencing a new one-party Legislature.
We also know that we'll see lots more of this kind of thing in the future - in both Democratic and Republican races - as the top-two primary system encourages moderate candidates with guts and gumption to take on left- and right-wingers in hopes of getting into a run-off election where independent and other-party voters can provide the margin of victory.
What makes these two Assembly races particularly intriguing is the fact that both Republican and Democratic strategists were crucial in electing moderate-to-liberal Democrats who were perceived as less beholden to labor unions and thus more palatable to business interests.
There's also the fact that the California Chamber and Western Growers - after thumping Mr. Speaker Himself - appear to have tried to hide their involvement by working through shell vendors, sharing valuable data and personnel and failing to report their spending until they were exposed months later. (HT to Dan Morain for digging into this whole issue.)(CalBuzz)
I won't spend a long time going over their article, but rather implore you to read the whole thing, and maybe again a second time. While I won't rehash the viscous AD-50 race that was already well documented here, I happen to personally like Marc Levine. I've known him for several years through CDP and other events, and he ran a strong campaign. The IEs that supported him, however, were hardly paragons for progressive values. Maybe a bit more disclosure will blunt the impact of these IEs, but they are clearly here to stay.
Termed out Assemblyman looks to spread cash with treasurer "campaign account"
by Brian Leubitz
I love it when people are honest. I particularly love it when they say things that most people don't dare to actually mention. So, hats off to Asm. Dan Logue for admitting that his "campaign" for treasurer is actually a fundraising trick to allow big donors to double give money to Republican extremists:
Logue acknowledged that his setup could allow donors to essentially donate to GOP candidates twice -- once directly and once through a transfer of funds given to his campaign account -- circumventing campaign contribution limits. But he said he saw the move as necessary to protect the interests of businesses.
"I am absolutely terrified that the Democratic majority is going to dismantle the business formula in Sacramento and make it even worse than it is now," he said. "So I'm really committed to making sure small business has a voice in Sacramento, and this is how I'm doing it."(SacBee)
In case you forgot Logue, he's the guy that worked very diligently to get Prop 23 on the ballot. You know, the one that would have ditched our landmark climate change legislation. Logue likes to look at businesses and corporation as pure good in the world. Which is awesome for him, becuase that sounds like a great way to live.
However, in the real world, we need regulations to protect our environment, consumers, and our general safety. But, Logue is all-in on his worldview, so no surprise that he's looking to any and all techniques that can help him out.
For better or worse, our campaign finance system has more holes than a good Emmental cheese. This is just one of them, and elected officials from both parties use the trick. But, credit where credit is due, Logue told the truth about his plan to circumvent the finance restrictions with the loophole.
But, as the adage goes, don't hate the player, hate the game.
Well, this is interesting news: Steve Glazer, Gov. Brown's top campaign strategist and a long time local politician in Orinda, is looking to replace the termed out Joan Buchanan.
Gov. Jerry Brown's political adviser, Steve Glazer, will run for a state Assembly seat in 2014, Glazer announced this morning. The Orinda councilman will seek election in the Democratic-leaning Assembly District 16, the East Bay district from which Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, will be termed out.
Glazer cast himself as a moderate in a prepared statement, criticizing a legislative process he said is captive to "the extremes of both political parties." (SacBee)
Glazer just started his third term on the Orinda council, so he has the local connections that are often the key to the endorsements that make races in the low turnout June off-year elections.
The district is a fairly moderate district, so it hardly shocks to see him to go moderate. Brown, for his part, has been called the "most powerful conservative in Sacramento." Glazer's campaign would fit right in on both levels.
The top-2 format will treat such a "moderate" campaign well, and his name ID and connections to money should put him as a favorite to at least get in that top 2. However, there are a long list of viable candidates for this district, so there is more to shake out before next June.
AD-65 - Northern Orange County: Fullerton, Buena Park, Anaheim
Pres 2008: Obama 50%-47%
Gov 2010: Whitman 50%-42%
Sen 2010: Fiorina 50%-41%
Incumbent: Chris Norby (R-Fullerton)
Candidates: Chris Norby (R), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton)
Rating: Likely Republican
This district vacillates between safe GOP and likely GOP, but Norby's performance in the primary (59%) raised eyebrows on his vulnerability. This area is turning blue quickly as Latino growth explodes, and this election might show exactly how much potential this district has for the Democrats in their quest for two-thirds...
But there's a rub, since this District only constitutes a third of his old District, Norby has a Challenge, he needs to get his name out there, just as Quirk-Silva does. People shouldn't write this one off, the Republicans aren't.
With Labor Day coming up, races shifting into gear
by Brian Leubitz
With the national political conventions starting up, the political season is here. And so, with that, how about a look at three races in the Assembly that could be good news for Speaker John Pérez and the Democratic caucus.
AD-8 (Dem Ken Cooley(pictured) v Rep. Peter Tateishi)
The Citizens Redistricting Commission rejiggered two suburban Sacramento district held by Democrats to create this new district. Those seats were held by retiring Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, who was elected in 2008, and Dr. Richard Pan, who upset Republican Andy Pugno in 2010 (Pugno is now running in another seat against fellow Republican Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, and Dr. Pan is in another Sacramento district). The new AD-8 has a 1.1% Dem. registration advantage.
This long-time competitive seat in the Central Valley now tilts Democratic. The Citizens Redistricting Commission removed Republican portions of Fresno and Tulare and added a larger portion of Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Bakersfield. With these changes, Dems now command a big registration advantage. However, turnout will still be critical come election day.
Salas, the first Latino elected to the Bakersfield City Council in its 138 year history, has a big cash advantage over former Delano councilman Rios. In fact, Rios is in a cash hole that the GOP caucus doesn't seem to be interested in repairing. Rios was an insurgent that defeated the party favorite, and faces an uphill battle without significant institutional support.
I'll look at two more districts in the second part coming soon.
During campaign season, it's expected for politicians to set up their headquarters in the district. Not only does it make the campaign and the candidate accessible to his or her own constituents but also gives back to the district's business community.
So, while Butler may not have done anything illegal by setting up shop outside the district, she certainly hasn't done herself any favors.
The open house, which takes place this Saturday, also happens to fall on the first day of Passover, this even though AD50 is the center of Los Angeles' Jewish community.
SuperPACs. They've changed the political landscape, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Now, here in California, Independent Expenditures have pretty much had the same leeway as SuperPACs do on the federal level for years. But the stakes for the presidency are worth, apparently, far more for corporate special interests and billionaires than control of our Legislature. Apparently.
But, this week the Assembly joined several other states in calling for the overturning of Citizens United:
The California Assembly yesterday approved a resolution urging Congress to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The split decision helped give rise to super PACs by allowing unlimited contributions from corporations and unions to attack or support politicians, as long as the committees don't coordinate with candidates. The California bill, AJR 22, is part of a campaign to pass such resolutions around the country.(CalWatch)
This is a noble sentiment, and I applaud the Assembly Democrats for making it. However, let's be real here. The Supreme Court, with its conservative core, isn't particularly interested in seeing a return of regulated campaign finance. Since the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, it has all been a big race to deregulate campaigns. SUre, there have been fits and starts of trying to come up with some way to control spending. To find some way to equalize the voice of the people, so that the rich don't hold vastly more power than those who can't afford to buy nationwide TV spots.
But that hasn't happened. Overturning Citizens United is an important step. However, as the "Move to Amend" groups are pointing out, the key underlying distortion is that for some reason the Court thinks that money is speech, and that corporations are people. It isn't, and they aren't.
Democratic activists hoping for big gains in the California legislature this year were dealt a serious blow after campaign finance reports released last Thursday raised troubling questions about Assembly Speaker John Perez's strategic priorities and the California Democratic Party's ability to achieve a two-thirds majority in the State Senate and Assembly.
Democrats would have to pick up at least two more seats in each chamber to achieve the super-majority needed to pass revenue increases over the objections of a Republican minority.
Yet campaign finance reports reveal that Speaker Perez, Sacramento Democratic lawmakers and PACs donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to safe Democratic Assembly districts while virtually ignoring new "swing" districts or defending others against possible Republican pickups.
Records also show that most of these donations were given to Allen and Butler during a three-week period last December, and that many Democratic Assemblymembers who donated did not give money to any other Assembly campaigns. The timing suggests a coordinated and conscious effort from leadership to funnel money to these candidates at the expense of other candidates running in more competitive districts.
But as Butler and Allen enjoy the largess of their colleagues in Sacramento while running in districts so safe a Democratic corpse could win, two other candidates running in swing districts which could potentially lead to Democratic super-majorities enjoy no such protection.
Even Democratic State Senator Ted Lieu, whose district overlaps much of AD66, gave $1,000 to Butler, but nothing so far to Muratsuchi.
Additionally, while PACs - including the Professional Engineers in California Government, the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the California State Council of Laborers - gave over $300,000 to Butler and Allen, many of them presumably at Perez's direction, Muratsuchi received only $11,900 in PAC money, including $1,000 from the California League of Conservation Voters - $6,800less than they gave to Betsy Butler.
The clock ticking down on the last night in the California statehouse is always a lot like waiting for last call at a rowdy bar around 2 AM -- you wonder how much damage will done before the last shot.
Looking more closely at the current ma (of course this can change) it appears our new State Senator until 2014, will be Noreen Evans. How many people are aware of this change? It's not a bad thing for sure. Mark Leno will run n SF in 2012, and it looks like Noreen will run in NORCO (that's us, Marin and points north)n 2014.
Now, the interesting question is whether Michael Allen will stay in his new District WINE, which he shares with Assemblymember Wes Chesbro, or move south and run in MARIN (and Southern Sonoma) in 2012. Or will he work it out with Wes, as Wes will be termed out in 2014, but Allen will have another term. Oh, the intrigue.
The Assembly Budget Committee is going all bonkers today, reviewing various proposals from the Governor. Fortunately, for the time being, Brown's proposals seem to be more of a ceiling than a floor:
The Assembly Budget Committee plans to approve much of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget today, but it will reject some of his most controversial cuts to social service and health programs, according to a document released Thursday by the committee.
In particular, Assembly Democrats will not eliminate welfare aid for children after a four-year time limit, and they plan to cut grants by 5 percent rather than 13 percent. They will, however, impose a four-year time cap for adults proposed by Brown.
As Senate Democrats did Wednesday, Assembly Democrats will reject Brown's proposal to cap doctor visits and prescription drugs for Medi-Cal patients. They will also reject Brown's plan to eliminate Adult Day Health Care.(SacBee)
Right now, the 10-cap Medi-Cal maximum, a cruel cut if there ever was one, won't survive very long. I'll try to update this a little bit more throughout the day. If you see anything interesting, put it in the comments.
California's clean air and water, pristine coastline, wild open spaces and public health protections don't happen by accident. They happen because champions for the environment run for office, and once they're elected, they work to pass laws that protect our natural resources and improve our quality of life.
Today the California League of Conservation Voters released our annual California Environmental Scorecard. The Scorecard is the behind-the-scenes look at the battle to protect the Golden State's natural legacy and public health, and reveals how the governor and members of the state legislature voted on critical environmental proposals in the 2010 legislative session. Take action and let your legislators know what you think about their 2010 scores: Visit http://www.ecovote.org/
The story of the 2010 Scorecard is as much about how the environmental community stopped multiple attacks on the environment as it is about how we passed strong laws that protect our quality of life. But the story doesn't end there, because we expect more attacks in 2011 that falsely claim we need to sacrifice the environment in order to improve the economy.
Emboldened by the tough economic climate, anti-environmental legislators introduced dozens of so-called "regulatory reform" bills in 2010 in an attempt to weaken environmental protections. The good news is that, with the help of environmental champions in the state Senate and Assembly, CLCV and our allies successfully defeated the bills that posed the most serious threats to the environment and public health. At the same time, environmental advocates were able to deliver several important proposed laws to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, including bills dealing with energy storage, recycling, water conservation, pesticides, clean energy jobs, and oil spill prevention.
Schwarzenegger's 2010 score of 56% factored into an average lifetime score of 53 percent over his seven years as governor. The governor received national recognition for leadership on environmental issues. However, he leaves office with a mixed legacy, having championed some issues-notably, bold solutions to climate change-and having proven less reliable on others, including protecting public health and state parks.
How did your legislator perform on the environmental community's priority legislation to protect the environment and public health? Learn your legislators' scores and then let them know what you think! (More after the jump).
Today let's look at one campaign there, home of the national and California DFA Grass Roots All Stars.
Melissa Fox is running in AD-70, an assembly district that Obama carried by almost 9,000 votes. The district includes the progressive bastion of Irvine as its largest city and UC Irvine as its largest employer. UCI is also a huge pool of voters, with 26,000 undergraduates and 15,000 graduate students, staff, and faculty.
On the Republican side, the candidate has become an invisible man. After winning a hotly contested primary against three more moderate Republicans, Don Wagner disappeared. He hasn't updated his website since May, when he announced his endorsement by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his Facebook page is collecting "work at home" spam, and he failed to file a candidate statement for the pamphlet that goes to all voters. Wagner has been seen at only a few events - Tea Party rallies outside his district.
CHERRY VALLEY - 65th Assembly District Democratic challenger Carl Wood has invited Republican incumbent Paul Cook to a series of debates. In a personal letter Wood declared it "our duty" as candidates "to make every effort to inform voters about our candidacies." In an election year where voters are said to be hostile toward incumbents Wood's invitation includes his assurance that he will make "every accommodation" for Cook in order to make these debates happen.
Wood's campaign manager, Michael Kreizenbeck, hopes Cook will agree to the debates. "A debate that discusses issues like jobs, home foreclosures and the substantial needs of veterans is certain to hurt Cook's chances of reelection, but I don't see how Cook can run from this opportunity to explain himself directly to voters," Kreizenbeck said.
(CaliforniaForever works on Carl Wood's Assembly campaign)
Carl Wood, the former PUC Commissioner that ended those rolling blackouts is now the Democratic contender for the 65th Assembly District seat, most of which lies in Riverside County. On June 15th it was reported in the Press Enterprise that a communications mix-up between the Riverside ROV and the USPS allowed 12,563 absentee ballots that were mailed on time to remain in the custody of the post office past their due date. The law is that the ballots cannot be counted unless they are in the ROV office on Election Day, June 8th. In a press release dated June 17th, after the fiasco became public, Carl Wood proposed a simple solution to prevent the disqualification of valid ballots in future - use the postmark to determine the timeliness of absentee ballots.
Two weeks after Wood took the lead, neighboring Republican Assemblyman Brian Nestande has followed according to an article in The Desert Sun, by introducing legislation to, you guessed it, allow postmarks rather than arrival time at the ROV to determine whether the ballots are on time. Of course it is possible that Nestande did not know that Wood had introduced the idea two weeks prior. Success, as they say has a thousand fathers.
Where was Carl Wood's incumbent opponent on the electoral travesty? So far Assemblyman Paul Cook is a no show on the thousands of uncounted ballots. If the AWOL incumbent ever decides to address the loss of voting rights to thousands of voters in his district, he may be hard pressed to avoid supporting the policy solution of his fast-acting opponent, Carl Wood. Perhaps in this case success will have only 999 fathers.
(This is a fantastic look at how dramatically Orange County has changed in the last 40 years, from Democratic candidate for AD-70 Melissa Fox. - promoted by Robert Cruickshank)
I recently came across a fascinating - and very revealing - article about the political history of Orange County.
Dated July 7, 1974, and titled Orange County: The Right Wing Cradle, the article shows how dramatically Orange County, and in particular my own 70th Assembly District (Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Foothill Ranch, and most of the cities of Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach, and Tustin) has changed, both politically and demographically, in the past four decades.
The article describes Orange County as "a stronghold of the John Birch Society, a former stomping ground of the Klu Klux Klan, the fastest growing county in the United States, and the home of the first drive-in church."
2010 won't be as good of a year as 2008 for Democrats. It is really hard to repeat that kind of success. However, here in California, we have a chance to do better than we did in 2008. In 2008, we picked up a few of assembly seats (10, 15, 78, and 80) and lost one (30). In the senate: nothing. Hannah-Beth Jackson lost to Tony Strickland by a razor's edge, but that's as close as we got.
The dynamic will certainly be different in 2010. Barack Obama is not on the ballot, instead we will have a senate and a governor's race to lead the ticket. Perhaps some Carlyfornia Dreamin'? With all that taken into consideration, the Target Book has officially come out with their "races to watch." As Dave pointed out last week, the Target Book is pretty much the chronicler of the conventional wisdom for these races. Not necessarily the best wisdom, but the CW in Sacramento, for better or worse.
In a couple of seats, this will make a huge difference. To take one example, Alyson Huber is in a very, very difficult position. She will not have the same kind of grassroots enthusiasm behind her, both for Obama-less reasons, and for reasons of her own relationship with the grassroots. Considering that she won by just a few votes, she'll need everything that can go right to go right. She voted for the budget, which will piss off some right-leaning DTS voters, and she's also skated close enough to the center to also piss off some left-leaning Dems and DTS voters.
Now, obviously some of the seats are a lot more likely to be competitive than others. It's going to be quite tough to get a Dem in DeVore's 70th AD or to take out Garrick. Yet, there are some interesting races, some of which were not really on the radar in 2008. It will be interesting to see if the Assembly pays a little more attention to races like AD-36 a little sooner this time around.
And over in the Senate, yup, it's just the one. SD-12 will be the sole race that is really in play, unless something crazy happens with the LG appointment.
The Assembly is struggling to to achieve what the Senate has already done: pass a substantive prisons bill. Instead we get a bunch of legislators changing their minds about a sentencing commission, and in the end, setting us backward on reforming the prison mess.
Today, Speaker Bass revealed the details of the legislation that she plans to put up for a vote come Monday. You can see a summary of that bill over the flip (h/t SacBee). To say it is entirely underwhelming would be an understatement.
The bill makes some minor changes to the Senate Bill on the way things are handled, including the "wobblers", which are crimes that can be charged as either a felony and misdemeanor. They changed some of the alternative custody rules and the definition of "grand theft." Really, nothing all that substanital. They don't restore funding for rehabilitation programs that were stripped in the Senate Bill.
But what they do take out of the bill is the "Public Safety Commission" aka the Sentencing Commission. Without the sentencing commission this bill isn't worth the pixels on your screen. It won't fix the prisons. It won't create any substantive change. It will merely kick the can down the road. In order for this bill to be worthwhile, it MUST have a sentencing commission with teeth. A sentencing commission that allows policy makers who understand public safety to make the decisions, not political hacks trying to make their way to the next job. Again, if it can play in Kansas, it can happen here. The only thing missing here are a few legislators with courage.
In other words, this bill misses the opportunity presented by the budget challenges. Frankly, we only have so many cracks at this apple, and this is the perfect storm for a sentencing commission: A Republican Governor providing some cover, a budget mess requiring cost savings, and a federal court order hanging over our heads. The time is now. Like Arnold and his crew are using the mess to shock doctrine the state, we should use this mess to fix the state.
But the Assembly frankly does not have the courage to do what they believe is right. I know they believe it is right, because they passed it as AB 160 back in 2007. The Senate can get it done, the Assembly should be able to muster the votes too.
We can move forward in one of two directions: We can pass a decent piece of legislation, or we can pass this half-hearted nothingness. We can have real reform, or we can just keep going on the same path that we've been pursuing. In all likelihoods, the Assembly will pick the latter, and nothing will really be accomplished. We might even end up with the federal courts deciding how to release prisoners. But, as activists, we must all remember who stood up to make the tough vote, and who did not. In politics, there is always an accountability moment.