Bittersweet day for California’s Senators

California’s U.S. Senators are overjoyed that the U.S. Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy limiting gays’ and lesbians’ participation in the U.S. Armed Forces. It now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

For the record, Senators Richard Burr, R-N.C., and John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against cloture on the DADT repeal, but then voted in favor of the repeal itself – perhaps having their political cake and eating it, too?

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., after the cloture vote:

“The first vote today to move forward with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was 63-33 to end discrimination against gay men and women in the United States military. Seventeen years ago, the vote was exactly the opposite, 33-63. One-third of support has changed to two-thirds of the United States Senate supporting the repeal of Don’t ask, Don’t Tell over the past seventeen years.

“I strongly believe that is emblematic of the change of thinking in the United States. Over these last years, gay Americans have established themselves as heroes, as professionals, as academicians, and as brave warriors for our country.

“There are millions of stories that demonstrate this, but I will share just a few that stand out. In 1975, I was there in San Francisco when a woman carrying a gun attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. It was a gay man who grabbed her gun which deflected the shot aimed at our President.

“In 1982, I remember when a plane crashed on the 14th Street Bridge in Washington and passengers were on the verge of drowning in the ice-covered Potomac River. It was a gay man who jumped in the freezing water to save them.

“It was a gay woman serving as an Army medic in Iraq who saved the lives of innocent civilians who were critically wounded after a car bomb exploded in their midst. I can go on and on.

“Gays and lesbians are not the first group of Americans to be denied their civil rights. And they are not the first group to fight in service for the cherished freedom and equality which they have been denied.

“They have struggled long and hard to see this day. They have fought and died for their country, and they are out there on the battlefield today as we stand here debating whether they deserve their rights. I am proud to see this vote for them today.”

And from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“This is a historic vote for equality, civil rights and a stronger America. This vote is a continuation of our nation’s march toward full equality for all.”

But both are disappointed that the DREAM Act – which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students who go to college or serve in the military – fell five votes short of the 60 it needed in order for cloture to be invoked, debate to end and a final vote to be called.

Said Feinstein:

“I am deeply disappointed. I looked up in the galleries which were filled with bright young faces of young people whose only desire was to be good Americans – to better themselves, to become educated, to earn a living, to be willing to fight for this country, and be proud of the fact that they are American. They have no hope of becoming American without the DREAM Act.

“The DREAM Act is important to the United States. I have no doubt that this legislation will be debated on the Senate floor again. To the young people who watched this vote today and feel deep despair- keep fighting.

“For those that did not support this legislation, I ask that you think about the years that these bright young people will spend in limbo. These young people could be putting their education to good use but instead will be unable to realize their potential and give back to the country they consider home. I look forward to when I can cast my vote in favor of the DREAM Act again.”

And, from Boxer:

“It is a sad day for our country when we turn our backs on some of our best and brightest young people who grew up in America, love America and want to serve America.

“I commend the brave young men and women who have stepped forward at great personal risk to call America’s attention to this injustice, and I will not rest until the DREAM Act is the law of the land.”


Woodward will headline Contra Costa event

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author Bob Woodward is the keynote speaker at Contra Costa USA 2011, an annual daylong conference sponsored by the Contra Costa Counncil.

Woodward’s speech is titled, “Inside the Obama White House,” and follows the release of his latest book, “Obama’s Wars.”

The conference, set for Jan. 27, also features former San Francisco Mayor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr., economic forecaster Christopher Thornberg and Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.

Walters and Thornberg will speak during the morning session. Brown Jr. is the luncheon featured speaker. Woodward will deliver the evening presentation.

Contra Costa USA opens at 8 a.m. at the Concord Hilton, followed by presentations and lunch. The evening’s activities begin at 5:30 p.m. with a reception and dinner at 7 p.m.

The council is a nonpartisan, econoimc devleopment and public policy advocacy organization supported by members’ dues.

Ticket information will be available after Jan. 3 at www.contracostacouncil.com, 925-246-1880 or info@contracostacouncil.com.


East Bay delegation speaks on tax bill

Every single Bay Area member of Congress, except one, voted against the compromise tax cuts and unemployment extension legislation passed by the House of Representatives just before midnight Thursday.



Only Jerry McNerney, the Pleasanton Democrat who narrowly avoided defeat in November, supported the $858 billion bill negotiated chiefly between President Barack Obama and the Republicans.

“The economy is struggling and any shock or uncertainty will almost certainly cost jobs,” McNerney said via email. “Moreover, it is absolutely essential to extend unemployment benefits for the families put out of work by the recession. I am also proud of some of the renewable energy provisions. On the whole I believe this bill will help the economy recover.”

McNerney’s vote is consistent. In early December, McNerney was one of 20 House Democrats nationwide who sided with Republicans in favor of extending Bush-era tax cuts to everyone and not just the middle class. The bill failed.

Politically, McNerney’s stance makes sense. Thanks to the 11th District’s jurisdictional strategy of the Altamont Pass, McNerney has one foot in the Central Valley and another in the Bay Area.  Unlike his Bay Area colleagues, who handily won re-election their safe Democratic seats, McNerney is in the most competitive district in California and among the most competitive in the nation.

Rep. George Miller, D-Pleasanton, in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C., said he opposed the bill on a several fronts. One, he said, it hiked the already sky-high federal deficit through tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest residents that will yield no national economic benefit.

And second, Miller said, when the one-year, 2 percentage point reduction in the Social Security wage tax, expires at the end of 2011, Congress will come under tremendous public pressure to extend it.

“If Congress doesn’t extend it, we’ll be accused to increasing taxes on working families,” Miller said. “But at that point, if you extend the reduction, it will begin to undermine Social Security and fuel talk about privatization.”

Here’s a run down of what East Bay members of Congress had to say about their votes on the bill:



Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove: “Public policy is about choices, and there were better choices than this bill. I fought for a bill that would have worked for the American people.  Our alternative proposal called for a $250 rebate for seniors. Instead of draining the Social Security trust fund, it called for a reduction in the income tax rate for working and middle class Americans. And instead of borrowing from China and our children to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, we offered a compromise that would have made sure every American earning up to $1,000,000 would not see a tax increase over the next two years. With the money saved, we would have invested in infrastructure and paid down the deficit. This plan would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and been more fiscally responsible.”



Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont: “Santa Claus is arriving early for a handful of wealthy individuals and industries this year. Wall Street should be throwing a parade today.  They can certainly afford one after the President failed to uphold one of his signature campaign promises of letting tax breaks for the rich expire as planned.”



Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez: “The bill was going to pass. I did not pretend otherwise. But at some point, you have to say no. If we increase the deficit, is it really worth it? For many things contained in this bill, like unemployment extension, the answer is yes. But to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and change the estate tax, my answer is no.”



Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: “We should let the Bush tax breaks for the rich expire. Period. They are a big part of the current deficit in the first place. Extending them for another two years digs us deeper into this deficit hole – and we know who will end up paying for it. It won’t be the rich – it will be the poor, low income communities, and communities of color, who lack well paid lobbyists to look out for their interests on Capitol Hill.”

Read through for Miller’s op-ed piece on the subject.

Continue Reading


Group knocks Lofgren, seeks ethics panel shakeup

The current lineup of the House Ethics Committee – chaired by a South Bay lawmaker – should be disbanded and the panel entirely repopulated in the next Congress, a progressive-leaning anti-corruption watchdog group said in a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Speaker-Designate John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“The American people demand that members of Congress act with honesty and integrity,” wrote Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “It is unfortunate that some of those charged with investigating unethical conduct may themselves have handled those responsibilities in a manner allowing charges of misconduct, unfairness and partisanship to be leveled. As the likely leaders of the 112th Congress, it is imperative that you step in and take firm action to get the situation under control and instill confidence in the ethics process.”

CREW cited in its letter an alleged breakdown of relations between Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and committee staff; complaints and cross-complaints by Lofgren and Ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama; Bonner’s ordering the Capitol Police to block the doors of the committee offices for a week; reports that committee members and staff argued about what documents should be subpoenaed; the suspensions of two staff investigators; intimations that Lofgren undermined staff efforts to prepare a fair and thorough case; and what it called the committee’s failure to obtain and review clearly relevant documents from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and the House Financial Services Committee’s staff.

CREW also suggested the House leaders authorize an investigation into exactly what has happened during the inquiry into Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, including whether members or staff deliberately declined to obtain or produce either incriminating or exculpatory evidence.

“Confidence in the House ethics process already is historically low and the information slowly leaking out showing a dysfunctional committee in turmoil and disarray is sure to further diminish any remaining respect,” Sloan wrote.


Pair of Contra Costa electeds say ‘No thanks’

The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors this week delivered official farewells and fancy framed proclamations to retiring Sheriff Warren Rupf, District Attorney Robert Kochly, Treasurer-Tax Collector Bill Pollacek and Auditor Steve Ybarra.

Well, sort of.

Only Rupf and Kochly showed up. (See video of Tuesday’s presentations below.)

Pollacek and Ybarra declined to participate. Supervisor John Gioia told the audience that both men had opted to receive their proclamations at another time. That isn’t entirely true.

Word is the two men told the board to take their plaques and put them where the sun don’t shine. Well, perhaps they didn’t use those exact words. But don’t expect either Pollacek or Ybarra to make room on their living room walls for them.

There’s no love between Ybarra and several members of the board. Several  members publicly accused Ybarra of exacting political revenge when he released an unprecedented and highly critical audit of how Supervisor Federal Glover was spending the proceeds of the Keller Canyon mitigation fund.

And Ybarra says Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho has treated him and his staff with disdain ever since he endorsed her opponent, Guy Houston, in 2008.

As countywide, independent elected officials, Pollacek and Ybarra have often said they answered to the voters, not the Board of Supervisors, despite the board’s control over their budgets. They didn’t like what they viewed as arrogant attempts to relegate them to the status of a mere department head by people who were elected by a smaller district rather than countywide.

The incoming Treasurer Russ Watts and Auditor Bob Campbell are proteges of their predecessors. It will be interesting to see how the men navigate the political scene, particularly if they are asked to endorse candidates. Supervisors Gayle Uilkema, Piepho and Glover are up for re-election in 2012.

Here are the videos of the Kockly and Rupf presentations.