Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for August, 2009

Rallies in support of health care reform

As members of Congress prepare to return to Washington, D.C., the Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America is putting together events nationwide – including at least two here in the Bay Area – to demonstrate support for health care reform that it says would lower costs, protect patient choice and ensure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.

From noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 1, there’ll be a gathering outside House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller’s district office at 1333 Willow Pass Road in Concord.

“Congressman Miller will join Bay Area residents from all walks of life as they express their support for health insurance reform, talk about what reform would mean and how to fight back against the lies being spread by the special interests and Republicans in Washington,” according to the news release. “Participants will also be thanking Congressman Miller for his support and delivering hundreds of declarations of support for the President’s three principles for reform, signed by constituents, as he heads back to Washington to get it done and pass health insurance reform now.”

Similar events are planned noon outside the district offices of Rep. Barbara Lee at 1301 Clay St. in Oakland; of Rep. Mike Honda at 1999 South Bascom Ave. in Campbell; and of Rep. Zoe Lofgren at 635 N. First St. in San Jose.

The day after that, Wednesday, Sept. 2, people will gather from 5 to 7 p.m. on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, with a similar message for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the rest of the delegation. “Stand with us in unity and numbers as we display our support for the President’s call for significant health insurance reform,” says the Web site. “Let’s make sure our representatives hear our voices and take our message that health insurance reform cannot wait back with them to D.C.”

And at noon Thursday, Sept. 4, there’ll be a sendoff rally outside the district office of Rep. Jerry McNerney at 5776 Stoneridge Mall Road in Pleasanton.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, George Miller, healthcare reform, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 20 Comments »

New York Times covers CD10 election

The New York Times has filed a story about tomorrow’s10th Congressional District special election.

We’ll forgive the venerable Times for the San Francisco dateline.It’s close enough, right?

But the NYT says the election is all about health care, at least among the Democrats. Considering the fact that the five Democratic candidates’ views on health care reform are nearly interchangeable, one does wonder how much the issue of health care will motivate voters tomorrow.

Nonetheless, it’s not every day that East Bay candidates are quoted in the New York Times. Here are the first couple of grafs:

SAN FRANCISCO — While it may it may be too soon to tell whether the current passion surrounding health care will carry over into next year’s midterm elections, voters in California’s 10th Congressional District will go to the polls on Tuesday in a race in which the issue has been front and center.

“We knew in our polling that it was big,” said State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat. “And we knew the numbers were going to go up from what we were hearing from D.C.”

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: 2009 CD10 special election | No Comments »

CD10 PAC contributions top $250,000

Political action committees, or PACs, have contributed $250,250 to three elected Democratic candidates and one Republican running in tomorrow’s 10th Congressional District special election.

Click here to see my spreadsheet detailing the PAC contributions, including the contributor, date of contribution, amount and the industry represented. (I compiled the data from from and the Federal Election Commission websites.)

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier leads with $107,100 in PAC dollars, followed by $93,900 for Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and $34,250 for Joan Buchanan.

Republican David Harmer has received $15,000, including $5,000 from the PAC operated by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The other candidates received none or very minor PAC contributions.

The PAC involvement has generated some interesting chatter on the progressive blogs such as Calitics, where a commenter posted an interesting response to Garamendi’s own posting about a favorable poll. The poster refers to Garamendi’s Aug. 6 appearance in Solano County where he said he had not received any insurance company money as of that date.

One would have to engage with Garamendi in a debate of over the definition of “insurance” to get to the bottom of what appears to be information contrary to his statement. But the health care industry has undeniably made its presence known in this race. It matters because health care reform is at the forefront of a national and Congressional debate.

PACs related to the insurance and health care industry who contributedto candidates in this campaign include:

GARAMENDI: Doctors Company, $2,500; Pacifc Life Insurance Company PAC, $2,000; Molina HealthCare Inc PAC, $1,000; American Health Care Associates PAC, $2,000

BUCHANAN: Anesthesia Service Medical Group good Government Fund, $5,000; Wellpoint Inc. Well PAC, $2,500; American Insurance Association PAC, $1,500; California Dental Association PAC, $5,000; American Medical Association PAC, $5,000

DESAULNIER: Intuitive Surgical Inc PAC, $500

Unions, however, have been the largest financial participants in this campaign. DeSaulnier has been the primary beneficiary, collecting $60,900, or more than half that amount. Here is a partial list of totals by type of PAC or industry:

Unions: $110,400
Financial services: $17,000
Medical industry: $14,000
Insurance: $13,500
General business: $11,500
Lobbying firms: $11,000
Rep. George Miller’s PAC $10,000
Women’s groups: $8,250
Indian tribes: $7,400
Energy/oil companies: $7,000
Agriculture: $5,000
Education: $5,000
Mitt Romney’s PAC: $5,000
Waste management: $5,000
Lawyers/legal: $4,000
Telecommunications: $3,000
Homebuilders: $2,500
Securities and investments: $2,500
Construction services $2,500
Hospitals/nursing homes $2,000
527’s:  $1,000
Auto industry: $1,000
Real estate $250

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: 2009 CD10 special election | 5 Comments »

CD10 outcome could trigger more elections

The campaigns for the 10th Congressional District have nearly reached the end of the line and polls will open in a matter of hours.

By this time Wednesday, we should know the outcome of what has been a suspense-filled accelerated primary election season, chiefly due to the presence of three elected Democrats in the contest — Lt. Gov. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo.

The Democratic top vote-getter will become the prohibitive favorite in the Nov. 3 runoff election and if one of these three ultimately prevails, it will trigger one of three events:

1. If Garamendi wins, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will nominate someone to fill out the remainder of his term or 2010. The nomination is subject to approval of both houses of the California Legislature. But if state lawmakers fail to vote within 90 days, the governor’s choice automatically takes the seat.

2 and 3. If DeSaulnier or Buchanan win, a vacancy in the Assembly or Senate seat triggers the state’s special election rules. The governor cannot appoint members of the Legislature. The governor has 14 days as soon as the seat becomes vacant to call a special general election, which must occur within 114 to 126 days. A special primary will be held eight weeks prior to the general election.

Of course, one could extend this line of thought to the extreme. Let’s say DeSaulnier wins the Congressional seat and triggers a special Senate election. Then Buchanan wins the Senate seat and her departure triggers a special Assembly election. All of which translates into millions of dollars to pay for more special elections and all on the backs of the district’s taxpayers.

A few folks have already indicated they will run for an open Senate seat, including Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich and West Contra Costa School Board Trustee Tony Thurmond. Open seats usually attract additional candidates, so we almost certainly expect that list would grow.

As for the lieutenant governor’s seat, talk among Sacramento politicos is that Schwarzenegger favors the appointment of a Republican although the names of several prominent Democrats have surfaced, too.

The governor can either use the post to elevate someone into a position where he or she can run as an incumbent in 2010 for this job or even for governor. Or he could nominate a place-holder, someone who poses no threat to the current gubernatorial or statewide candidates.

“The person who gets appointed has an advantage and the (governor and his staff) will be very careful about who they give that advantage to,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California and a former Republican political consultant.

On the GOP side, names include state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria. He infuriated Republicans when he voted with Schwarzenegger last year for a state budget that contained tax hikes in return for a redistricting ballot measure. On the plus side, Democrats might go along with it; his departure from the Senate creates an opportunity for Democrats to win the seat in a special election. But it would look like political pay-back, a label the moderate Maldonado might not survive in a tough 2010 primary.

Another GOP possibility is Assemblyman Mike Villines of Fresno, the former minority leader who also sided with Schwarzenegger in February on a state budget that included temporary tax hikes in return for spending reform.

There is also speculation that Tom Campbell, the governor’s former finance director, might be persuaded to give up his gubernatorial bid in exchange for the lieutenant governor’s nomination. Campbell’s presence could lead to an unusual partnership between the two Constitutional offices. (Garamendi and Schwarzenegger are not pals. Garamendi’s opposition to the governor’s policies and ballot measures cost the lieutenant governor half of his office budget.)

Democrats who might make the short list include former Assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg. I’m told the two have a strong relationship and Hertzberg might view it as a pulpit for his California Forward initiative, a study of potential governance reforms in the state.

Other Democratic names that come up include former state Controller Steve Westly, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee.

Would Schwarzenegger appoint a Democrat? Who knows? He is unpredictable. And with just a 1 1/2 left in his term, he could always decide to shake things up.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: 2009 CD10 special election, California Legislature, Congressional District 10, Schwarzenegger, Tom Campbell | No Comments »

No, the OTHER Kenneth Starr

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission today posted on its website all warning letters issued between July 1 and August 24; starting tomorrow, it’ll post all advisory, warning and ‘no violation’ letters on its website one week after the letter is issued by the Enforcement Division.

“The issuance of these letters by our Enforcement Division is a function that many just don’t know about,” FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson said in a news release. “The public and media should have access to this information, which details not only those that have violated the Political Reform Act and not received a fine, but instances where the FPPC has found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

I took a quick spin through the lists posted today and one recipient’s name immediately caught me eye: Kenneth Starr. According to the FPPC’s July 16 letter – from which the recipient’s address has been redacted – Mr. Starr “failed to comply with the campaign reporting requirements when you contributed $10,000 in 2006 to Westly for Governor.”

Has the world gone mad? Could Kenneth Starr – the antagonist of President Bill Clinton, and lead counsel before the California Supreme Court last year for the pro-Proposition 8, anti-gay-marriage folks – have been a big-time donor to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2006?

Actually, no. A glance into the Secretary of State’s database shows the Kenneth Starr who gave money to Westly is actually a New York City-based financial adviser and accountant to the stars.

To make things right, that Starr must immediately file the appropriate papers with the Secretary of State, the Registrar-Recorder of Los Angeles County, and the San Francisco Department of Elections. Although it’s a violation of the law, “we are closing this matter with a written warning to you,” the FPPC wrote, adding future conduct or newly discovered information could lead it to reopen the case later.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: campaign finance | Comments Off on No, the OTHER Kenneth Starr

New poll shows Garamendi still in the lead

A second KPIX televison poll shows Lt. Gov. John Garamendi still in the lead in Tuesday’s special 10th Congressional District primary election to replace Ellen Tauscher.

All the same caveats apply to these results as those of the first poll, of course. This is a robo or automated telephone survey by SurveyUSA, which means that a computer called 800 households of likely voters on Thursday and Friday rather than a live pollster, a technique generally frowned upon by traditional pollsters.

But it is interesting to note that the numbers have not moved for most of the candidates, particularly given state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s recent mail and cable attack on Garamendi’s lack of residency in the district and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan’s $850,000 personal loan to her campaign.

I would love to see some of the campaigns’ internal tracking polls to see if these numbers match but we haven’t had any leaks of such numbers in the past few weeks.

Keep in mind that the top vote-getter in each party will advance to the Nov. 3 runoff but here are the latest SurveyUSA  poll findings:

John Garamendi (D) — 25 percent

David Harmer (R) — 20 percent

Mark DeSaulnier (D) — 16 percent

Joan Buchanan (D) — 12 percent

Anthony Woods (D) — 9 pecent

Chris Bunch (R) — 5 percent

David Peterson (R) 3 percent

Mark Loos (R) — 2 percent

Other — 3 percent

Undecided — 5 percent

It appears that Harmer is likely to emerge victorious on Tuesday as his party’s standard bearer although he would like to do do better than 18 percent in a district where 30 percent of the voters are Republicans. To win in the Nov. 3 runoff, Harmer will need every last Republican vote and those of a bunch of independents and Democrats.

Even though Garamendi holds the lead, the SurveyUSA pollsters describe the top three in the Democratic field as “bunched” largely because in low turnout, stand alone special elections, it is very difficult to predict the outcome.

The numbers did reflect a surge in the candidacy of Anthony Woods, a gay Iraq War veteran from Fairfield. He has garnered considerable attention and even dollars although he probably doesn’t have enough time to overcome the strong name identification and hefty bank accounts of his better-known opponents in this accelerated special election cycle.

In response to the poll results, DeSaulnier’s campaign spokeswoman Katie Merrill says “the fact that the numbers didn’t change at all says to me they are not talking to anyone who has actually been targeted in this election,” Merrill wrote to me in an email. “All three campaigns were only mailing to about 60,000 households, so the SurveyUSA poll would have had to have found all of their sample from those 60,000 households to get a real sense of what’s happening in this race. That’s almost impossible given their methodology. They recognize that of course, which is why they describe us as all bunched together even though Garamendi is 9 points up in their poll.”

The only poll that really counts, of course, is Tuesday when the voters make their decisions. We’ll see then how closely the SurveyUSA poll tracks with the final results.

Posted on Sunday, August 30th, 2009
Under: 2009 CD10 special election | 29 Comments »

Lawmakers want AG to probe Sutter Health

State Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and a dozen other Northern California state lawmakers wrote to state Attorney General Jerry Brown today, asking that he investigate the business practices of Sutter Health – the latest salvo in the battle to keep San Leandro Hospital and its emergency room open.

The letter asks the Attorney General to investigate whether Sutter Health has a pattern of using assets and profits of county, district and private safety net hospitals to its own benefit and to the detriment of the surrounding community.

Corbett hosted a town hall meeting last night in San Leandro; she says more than 300 people were there to show support for keeping the hospital and ER open, and some raised questions about Sutter Health’s activities at hospitals in San Francisco and Marin County as well.

“It’s clear that there is a strong community will to support the hospital and emergency room. Residents want to know why Sutter is not listening to them,” Corbett said in her news release. “I am asking the Attorney General to investigate their practices and protect the health and welfare of our citizens. I am grateful so many of my colleagues have joined in my request; it shows that many members of the legislature are concerned about Sutter’s actions in communities throughout the state.”

Besides Corbett, those signing the letter included state Senators Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa; and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; as well as Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Jim Beall Jr., D-San Jose; Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata; Joe Coto, D-San Jose; Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Ellen Corbett | 2 Comments »

AG’s office enters Michael Jackson death probe

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced today that, at the Los Angeles Police Department’s request, agents from his office have launched an independent probe into matters uncovered in the investigation of “King of Pop” Michael Jackson’s death.

“Responding to a request from the LAPD, agents from my office will investigate several physicians whose names have come up in the course of the Michael Jackson death inquiry,” Brown said in a news release. “This investigation is at its earliest stages, and no conclusions can be drawn at this point.”

LAPD met Aug. 20 with representatives from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to discuss information uncovered during its investigation. Brown’s release said BNE agents will review relevant records and documents in coming weeks, but LAPD remains the primary agency respsonsible for investigating Jackson’s death.

The Attorney General’s office maintains a prescription drug monitoring system, known as CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System), designed to identify and deter drug abuse and diversion through accurate and rapid tracking of controlled substances.

First Anna Nicole Smith, now Michael Jackson. Who’ll be the next celebrity-death case jacket to be opened in Brown’s office?

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009
Under: Jerry Brown | 2 Comments »

Ex-Antioch councilman talks about Garrido on national radio

Speaking of hearing voices, I just heard the voice of former Antioch councilman Ralph Hernandez on the radio in my car. He was featured on the nationally syndicated Osgood File this morning on KCBS.

Well, well. Ralph goes national. Folks may remember that he resigned from City Council a number of years ago (corrected at 10:41 a.m.) but he has remained a vocal community activist or agitator, depending on your point of view.

It seems Hernandez, a private investigator, was hired by Jaycee Lee Dugard’s kidnapper Phillip Garrido to verify affidavits from people who used a machine Garrido had invented, as Dave Ross on the Osgood File described it, “that allowed him, without speaking, to make other people hear voices inside their heads.” (Click here to see the Contra Costa Times stories.)

You can see the affidavits yourself at

I’ve heard from other folks in Antioch that Hernandez described his work for Garrido as “verifying the existence of angels.”

Hernandez said in the Ross interview that he sat inside the Garrido house, met the wife and was introduced to a young woman between the age of 15 to 20. It’s unclear if this was Dugard or one of her two children fathered by Garrido.

But when Ross asked private eye Hernandez if he saw or felt anything strange in the house, well, here’s a short segment of the transcript:

(Ross:) Anything strange about the house itself? I mean, if anybody would walk into that house, would they have any inkling what might have gone on there?

(Hernandez:) Well, no. I didn’t have any reservations about the house. I didn’t say to myself, like: ‘Hey, there’s something strange there.’ I didn’t get that.”

(Ross) No, just an ordinary fellow who had invented a machine that let him insert voices telepathically into other people’s heads …

What does Ralph say about his time in the national spotlight? So far, he hasn’t returned my call although he had clearly been talking to the media and probably law enforcement.

Hernandez  told me in an email that he will make me wait to talk to him about Garrido for as long as he has been waiting for me to write a story he suggested that compares the levels of pension benefits of retirees from various public agencies. Back when Ralph suggested the story, my editor said the idea had merit but thought it was too ambitious for our limited resources at the time.

So, I wait by the phone, another one of those devices that lets you hear voices inside your head.

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 14 Comments »

Medical malpractice tort reform a red herring

I’ve written or contributed to several stories in the past week on health care reform, and a few readers have e-mailed to ask why I didn’t delve into tort reform to bring down medical malpractice premiums that they believe are driving skyrocketing health care costs.

The answer: Because medical malpractice premiums aren’t driving skyrocketing health care costs.

From Bloomberg News:

(A)nnual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, in a 2005 study. Insurer WellPoint Inc. said last month that liability wasn’t driving premiums.
Obama told an American Medical Association meeting in Chicago yesterday that his efforts to cut costs and increase coverage couldn’t succeed without freeing doctors from the fear of lawsuits. While that may be what his audience needed to hear, the evidence that malpractice drives up health-care costs is “debatable,” said Robert Laszewski, an Alexandria, Virginia, consultant to health insurers and other companies.
“Medical malpractice dollars are a red herring,” Chandra said in a telephone interview. “No serious economist thinks that saving money in med mal is the way to improve productivity in the system. There’s so many other sources of inefficiency.”

The Congressional Budget Office in 2004 concluded that medical malpractice tort reform wouldn’t have a significant effect on health care costs:

Malpractice costs amounted to an estimated $24 billion in 2002, but that figure represents less than 2 percent of overall health care spending. Thus, even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.

And Americans for Insurance Reform, a coalition of nearly 100 consumer and public interest groups around the country, issued a report in July which found:

    • Medical malpractice premiums, inflation-adjusted, are nearly the lowest they have been in over 30 years.
    • Medical malpractice claims, inflation-adjusted, are dropping significantly, down 45 percent since 2000.
    • Medical malpractice premiums are less than one-half of one percent of the country’s overall health care costs; medical malpractice claims are a mere one-fifth of one percent of health care costs. In over 30 years, premiums and claims have never been greater than 1% of our nation’s health care costs.
    • Medical malpractice insurer profits are higher than the rest of the property casualty industry, which has been remarkably profitable over the last five years.
    • The periodic premium spikes that doctors experience, as they did from 2002 until 2005, are not related to claims but to the economic cycle of insurers and to drops in investment income.
    • Many states that have resisted enacting severe restrictions on injured patients’ legal rights experienced rate changes (i.e., premium increases or decreases for doctors) similar to those states that enacted severe restrictions on patients’ rights, i.e., there is no correlation between “tort reform” and insurance rates for doctors.

Actually, at least 30 states already have capped medical malpractice lawsuit awards. One of ‘em is Texas; wanna see what’s driving health care costs there? This is a good read.

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009
Under: General, healthcare reform | 13 Comments »