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Archive for October, 2007

Prop. 93: Dueling lawyers?

Campaign lawyers for Proposition 93, the term limits measure on the Feb. 5 ballot, are disputing the opinions of two attorneys quoted in a Sacramento Bee story on Tuesday who said the new law could open the door for termed-out legislators.

A press release from the “Yes On Prop. 93” campaign quotes its attorneys, Robin Johansen and James Harrison, who said:

“This measure is clear — only current and newly elected Members will be subject to its provisions. It expressly contains a narrow transition provision that allows existing Members to serve a full 12-years in the house they’re currently in so long as those years are served consecutively. By creating this single exception — for current members only — it precludes any other exceptions. This would include former members currently covered and termed out by Proposition 140.”

I wrote about this controversy in my column on Sunday, where former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla said he might run for his old seat if the voters pass Prop. 93 in February. He also said he would consider legally challenging the proponents’ position that the law applies only to sitting and future legislators and excludes former lawmakers.

The proposition would allow legislators to serve a total of 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate. The current law restricts legislators to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

It’s more controversial provision would allow incumbents who would have termed out in 2008 to seek re-election and serve up to 12 years in the house in which he or she currently holds office. That includes Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch.

As someone pointed out in my earlier blog item, put four lawyers in a room and what will you get? Four opinions.

Posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Lee to co-host “Clean Slate” workshop

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will co-host the third annual “Clean Slate” record remedies summit, a day of free legal advice and assistance to help formerly incarcerated people clear up criminal records and put their past behind them, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 3 at Berkeley High School, 2223 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Besides Lee, those taking part will include Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson; Alameda County Superior Court judges Gordon Baranco and Trina Thompson; and representatives from the Alameda County Superior Court, Alameda County District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, All of Us Or None, and the East Bay Community Law Center.

Lee is scheduled to speak during the 9 a.m. opening ceremony; she, Thompson and others will hand out certificates of rehabilitation to some of the program’s success stories from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and workshops for the yet-to-be-rehabilitated will run from 1 to 3 p.m.

Posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
Under: Alameda County, Assembly, Barbara Lee, Sandre Swanson, U.S. House | No Comments »

Diablo Dems listen to prez candidates

It’s 6:16 p.m. and more than a dozen Democrats (numbers grow every few minutes as folks get off work and make their way to the restaurant) are gathering around the television in the back room of A.J.’s Pub in Concord eating nachos, having a beer or a soda and listening to the presidential candidates on MSNBC from Philadelphia.

So far, it’s a pretty quiet crowd as the questions center around the Iraq War and Iran in the early minutes. A number of folks in the room have “Obama” buttons but there’s no obvious interest in any one of the candidates just yet.

I’ll come back later on and describe their reactions to the debate, who they thought won and who they thought had the best lines.

6:45 p.m.
Wow, it seems as though the Democratic candidates are all running against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, agreed Democrats Sally Sweetser and Marie McDonald. They are referring to the very critical language from sens. Barack Obama and John Edwards about Clinton, particularly her vote to reconfigure troops in Iraq with an eye toward stemming involvement from Iran.

“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” Sweetser said. “It seems as though most of the candidates are setting up Hillary to be the nominee.”

Both women liked all the candidates’ anti-war rhetoric, though.

“I’m really glad to hear all of them be so definitive about being against the war,” said McDonald, who supports Edwards.

7:15 p.m.
During the second break, the first reaction that comes to the mind of Ellis Goldberg of Danville is:”I’m concerned that Democrats are circling the firing squads.”

He’s talking about the ongoing anti-Clinton theme of this debate. But he agrees with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who said that Clinton has a serious electability problem in the general election.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about being left voting for the lesser of two evils,” Goldberg said.

He blames cynicism among voters who may philosophically side with a particular candidate but view the die as cast for a front-runner with an air of inevitability.

“The only candidate to get any applause during this debate so far has been (Ohio Rep. Dennis) Kucinich but no one will vote for him because no one thinks he can win,” Goldberg said.

The best line so far?

That came from Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Goldberg said.

Biden called GOP candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani the “most unqualified candidate to run since (President) George W. Bush … He only has three words: A noun, a verb and 911.”

7:45 p.m.
Pundits were putting a lot of pressure on Obama in the days leading up to this debate to come out swinging in this event if he hoped to overtake Clinton’s substantial lead in the polls.

We’ll have to wait and see how the pundits rate Obama but a table of Obama supporters is happy with their candidates’ performance in this debate so far.

“He’s keeping his cool,” said Donna LoBue. “He has the answers. But he’s not getting emotional. Hillary is getting emotional. That keeps him above the fray.”

Yet, like some of the others at this event, this group of folks wearing Obama stickers also like Kucinich and would vote for him if they thought he could win in the more conservative parts of the country.

8:30 p.m.
The nachos are gone and the beers consumed and the post-debate crowd hanging around AJ’s Pub didn’t see a clear winner emerge from tonight’s event.

“I was leaning toward Edwards but I heard good things from (Connecticut Sen.) Chris Dodd and Richardson,” Sweetser said. “I also think Biden is a stealth candidate. But I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

Goldberg, on the other hand, doesn’t view as serious the second-tier candidates like Dodd and Biden.

“This was all about Edwards and Obama hitting Clinton,” Goldberg said. “Those other candidates are here for entertainment and they know it.”

They both agreed, though, that Clinton was on the defense all evening.

Among her toughest moments, they said, was when she failed to answer one way or the other a question about whether she supported a proposal in New York to give illegal immigrants driver’s licenses. Edwards and Obama both said they were confused by Clinton’s answer, and most of the folks watching in Concord yelled out agreement during the debate.

But this audience was far from a representative sample of voters; it’s vastly white and over the age of 45 years old.

The sole young person in evidence, Christina Walburn, a 27-year-old Obama supporter, says she is satisfied with her candidate’s performance and believes he will prevail despite the air of inevitability around talk of Clinton’s candidacy.

“I don’t think Obama had to come out in this debate swinging and throwing punches at Clinton,” she said. “He just had to be himself. He did that. He’s been so consistent. You get what you expect every time you hear him.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: 2008 presidential primary | No Comments »

Election experts agree with Canciamilla

Joe CanciamillaSacramento Bee story today agree with former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla’s opinion that a term-limits measure on the Feb. 5 ballot — Proposition 93 — could allow him and termed-out legislators to return to Sacramento.

I wrote in my Sunday column about how Canciamilla may challenge in court — if voters pass it — the proponents’ contention that the measure specifically excludes lawmakers who have already termed out.

Canciamilla served six years in the Assembly and say that Prop. 93 would allow him to serve a total of 12 years. (See my column for details on how the measure would change the law.)

Bee reporter Shane Goldmacher contacted several election law experts who concurred with Canciamilla’s interpretation:

“I don’t see any basis for saying a person who has previously served six years is precluded from serving another six years,” said Daniel Lowenstein, an election law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who helped write the state’s Political Reform Act in the 1970s. “It is quite clear.”

Richard L. Hasen, a professor who specializes in election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that while the measure “may have been written to provide a specific rule for current members, it does not appear, on its face, to limit already termed out legislators” from returning to the Assembly.

This throws an interesting curve at Prop. 93.

If sitting legislators are allowed to seek re-election, why not allow all those termed-out lawmakers another shot at Sacramento? Let me know what you think.

Photo of Joe Canciamilla as it appeared on on Feb. 7, 2007

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: California Legislature | No Comments »

Legislative campaigns heating up in Berkeley

hancock.jpgThe Sierra Club today announced its endorsement of Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, in her bid to succeed state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, in representing the 9th State Senate District.

“Turning around global warming, protecting open space, and investing in Clean and Green Technology will ensure that our children and grandchildren have a better future,” Hancock said in her news release. “I am proud to have the Sierra Club’s endorsement and will continue to work with them to protect our environment.”

Among Hancock’s other endorsements are Congressmembers George Miller and Ellen Tauscher, Oakland Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council. But remember, Hancock’s candidacy might be cut short if Proposition 93, the term-limits reform measure on the Feb. 5 primary ballot, passes and enables Perata to run for another term. Former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D-Oakland, is in the race too; see her full endorsement list here. Perata has endorsed them both, and both have said they’ll drop out of the race if Proposition 93 passes.

worthington.jpgMeanwhile, Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington officially kicks off his campaign for Hancock’s 14th Assembly District seat today; he’ll be joined by supporters, elected officials and volunteers from 5 to 7 p.m. at Le Bateau Ivre Restaurant in Berkeley. Worthington issued a release saying he’s excited to start campaigning and is looking forward to the challenge of getting elected to higher office and fighting for universal health care, tackling global warming, and enacting public financing of election campaigns.

“Most of my life has been about taking on big challenges, and overcoming them,” Worthington says. “I spent the first 11 years of my life as a foster child, bouncing around between various foster homes. I also spent time on the streets as a homeless youth. These challenging early life experiences gave me the compassion I have today for those who are less fortunate, left out, and have no one to speak up for them.”

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Don Perata, Elections, Loni Hancock, Wilma Chan | No Comments »

College trustee blasts Guy Houston

Tomi Van de Brooke
Contra Costa Community College Trustee Tomi Van de Brooke has sent Assemblyman Guy Houston a blistering e-mail after her name appeared on an endorsement list posted on

Van de Brooke writes that she is not endorsing Houston, who terms out of the Assembly next year, in his race against incumbent Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho.

“I am not endorsing you for supervisor,” she wrote. “I am endorsing Mary Piepho whom you encouraged to run for supervisor. You have never received any indication that I would support you for this seat. I called you the day you announced and expressed my concerns about you running for supervisor.”

But the list that Van de Brooke cites and includes in her e-mail is actually Houston’s old Assembly endorsements, said Houston’s spokesman Matthew Del Carlo.

The first sentence of the page identifies it as his Assembly campaign. And in another clue as to its origins, it not only lists Van de Brooke but it also includes Piepho and several other names of folks who supported him for Assembly but are definitely not embracing him for supervisor.

The page wasn’t intended for public viewing, Del Carlo said. It is a leftover page from the Assembly web site that staff plans to update for the supervisor campaign.

“There’s no live link to this page from the (supervisor campaign) web site, so I’m not sure how it was accessed,” Del Carlo said. “We removed the page as soon as we heard about it. But it’s clearly his old Assembly endorsement list.”

Regardless, Van de Brooke’s reaction reveals her strong feelings about Houston’s decision to run against Piepho.

“I detest what you are doing and believe you should live with term limits and go back to your pre-elected life or find a more relevant seat,” she wrote. “Taking my personal support for Mary out of it, I believe you to be an Alameda County-based person and this is simply an opportunistic move on your part.”

Van de Brooke is not alone in her negative assessment of Houston’s choice of races. But whether or not it will make a difference next year remains an unanswered question.

Photo of Van de Brooke taken from Contra Costa Community College web site.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: Contra Costa politics | No Comments »

Alameda County registrar messes up

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters mistakenly sent letters to 234,000 permanent absentee registered Republicans, Democrats and members of other parties advising them that they had failed to select a qualified political party for the Feb. 5 presidential primary election.

The county meant to send the letter to about 60,000 voters permanent absentee voters registered as “decline to state” but a staffer sent the wrong mailing list to the out-of-state printing company.

In this climate of suspicion about the integrity of voting equipment and systems, hundreds of voters have deluged the registrar’s office with angry phone calls and complaints.

But no voter has been stripped of his or her party registration, nor has there been any nefarious activities on the part of any county employee, said Alameda County spokesman Guy Ashley.

“It was a mistake that we regret and we are doing everything we can to clear up the confusion,” Ashley said.

Next week, the election department will send out a follow-up letter of explanation to those who received the letter in error and it will send the original letter to the correct list of “decline to state” voters.

Why did the letter go out in the first place?

It was intended to let “decline to state” voters know that they cannot vote in the presidential primary for the candidates of registered parties except for the Democrats and the American Independents. In contrast, the California Republican Party restricts voting in its primary to members of its party.

This means that a “decline to state” permanent absentee voter may request a nonpartisan, Democratic or American Independent ballot for the Feb. 5 presidential primary. He or she may not ask for a Republican ballot.

But the letter did not mention the GOP or spell out the Republican Party’s rules. It simply said, “We are sending you this notice because you did not choose a qualified party when you registered to vote.”

“People are confused and angry,” said Ryan Hatcher, executive director of the Alameda County Republican Party. “We don’t think there was any voter fraud here. It was an honest mistake. But people are vigilant these days about the voting system and a lot of Republicans think this is a move against them.”

The wording of the letter also bolsters critics of the GOP’s decision to exclude “decline to state” voters who say the party’s policy will push the growing numbers of independent voters into the arms of the Democratic Party.

Hatcher plans to meet with the county election staff this afternoon to discuss the wording in both the apology letter and the notice “decline to state” voters.

For a link to today’s story on the issue in the Oakland Tribune, click here.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: Election 2008 | No Comments »

Schwarzenegger video of the week

This week, “It’s all good news!”

A couple of thoughts:
(1.) Nobody who has been ordered to flee for his or her life, and is left wondering whether his or her home is burning to the ground, is “happy.” Calm, perhaps, but not “happy.”
(2.) Call me old-fashioned, but to me, the governor grabbing this reporter’s hand looks like a sexist lack of professional respect. Answer the question, keep your hands to yourself.

Previous SVOTWs: October 23, October 16, October 9, October 2, September 25, September 18, September 11, September 4, August 28, August 21, August 7, July 31, July 24, July 17, July 10, July 3, June 26, June 19, June 12, June 5, May 29, May 22, May 15, May 8, May 1, April 24, April 17, April 10, April 3, March 27, March 20, March 13, March 6, February 27, February 20, February 13, February 6, January 30.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, General | No Comments »

Spooky horse can swap ends in a heartbeat

Perhaps politicians can learn a few things from cowboys, especially during these times of unproductive special legislative sessions on health care and water issues. A new book says, for instance, “Don’t think a spooky horse can’t swap ends in a heartbeat.” Many horse riders–and maybe too few politicians–have learned that one the hard way.

Or how about this? “Don’t start a fire you’re not big enough to put out.”

Author Paul Bianco thinks people running our government talk a lot but maybe should listen more to normal, rural folks. To people like his Sierra Nevada neighbors. Voters there, as elsewhere, are casting ballots more and more for politicians who make sense to them – and less because of political party affiliation. And Bianco tells the public, in general, that folks in his Plumas County town have had to soak up some wisdom and efficiency, not as a hobby out of a self-help book, but as a matter of survival.

In Graeagle, for instance, every winter is pretty much a disaster. But there’s no screaming for help. No politicians drop by, with an entourage of reporters. There’s no emergency declarations — just residents who have learned to quietly, and efficiently, deal with a whole lot of snow.

Bianco, who’s had his own ups and downs, has captured mountain folks’ mind-set in his entertaining book, “Finding the `Why’ in Graeagle.’’ (Why didn’t they include a `y’ in the name? It would have been inefficient.) The book is a unique collection of sad, romantic, inspiring, funny and sentimental western-country tales, as people learn life’s hard lessons doing everyday stuff — eating in cafes, camping, hunting, ranching, and partying on holidays in the lovable, tough, homey little town. Woven throughout is a list of hard-learned wisdom, called “Mountain Ranch Rules.’’

The book has caught the eye of some at the Capitol. And they’ve seen the suggestions for an easier life, not only in general, but also as it applies to politics.

–Don’t think it takes that long for the cows to come home.
–Don’t start a pack trip with anyone who thinks nothing is going to go wrong.
–Don’t think your words are near worth your actions.
–Don’t hang your hat on a loose rack.
–Don’ give yourself more than half-credit for having out-smarted a half-wit.
–Don’t fix the fence without knowing what side the bull’s on.
–Don’t lean off the side of a horse to open another man’s gate if you’re not sure which way the owner’s attitude swings.
–Don’t count on a spooky horse and a nervous rider to work things out.
–Don’t fault the horse because you fell off.

Paul Bianco can be reached at P.O. Box 1001, Graeagle, CA, 96103; phone, 530-836-0539; or

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2007
Under: General | 1 Comment »

Stark to discuss war accountability at local meetings

pete-stark.jpgHot on the heels of unreeling some scathing rhetoric as Congress failed to override the Preisdent’s veto of the original SCHIP bill, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, is preparing to bring some cutting commentary back to the district at a series of town meetings this Saturday, Nov. 3, and again on Saturday, Dec. 1.

In a flier that went out to consituents recently, Stark noted companies “such as Blackwater and Halliburton that contract to provide services to our troops in war zones ought to be accountable under U.S. law. If they violate human rights, kill innocent civilians, or overcharge taxpayers, they should be prosecuted and punished.” Current law doesn’t do so, he said, and so the House this month passed H.R. 2740, the Holding Security Contractors in War Zones Accountable Act.

Similarly, Stark wrote, there is no federal statute aimed at preventing contracting fraud during times of war, even as Halliburton stnads accused of billing more than $2.5 billion in unsupported costs relating to Iraq reconstruction and troop-support contracts, about a quarter of the total suspected fraud. To fill this gap, the House recently passed H.R. 400, the War Profiteering Prevention Act.

As both bills pend in the Senate, Stark invites constituents to discuss military contracting and other subjects at his upcoming town halls. This Saturday, they’ll be 9 to 10 a.m. in Union City’s city council chambers, 34009 Alvarado-Niles Road; 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the San Lorenzo Adult School auditorium, 820 Bockman Road; and noon to 1 p.m. in Earhart Elementary School, 400 Packet Landing Road on Alameda’s Bay Farm Island. The Dec. 1 meetings will be from 9 to 10 a.m. in the Fremont Senior Center, 40086 Paseo Padre Parkway; 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the San Leandro Library’s Estudillo Room, 300 Estudillo Ave.; and noon to 1 p.m. in Alameda’s city council chambers, 2263 Santa Clara Ave.

Stark’s 13th Congressional District includes all of Alameda, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Union City, and parts of Cherryland, Sunol and Pleasanton.

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2007
Under: Iraq, Pete Stark, U.S. House | No Comments »