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Archive for February, 2011

Yee introduces online voter registration bill

Californians would be able to register online to vote, under a bill introduced today by state Sen. Leland Yee.

Some states already offer online registration but California has put it off, awaiting implementation of a “VoteCal” statewide online database system now delayed at least until 2015. Yee’s bill instead would allow online registration through county registrars’ offices.

Under his SB 397, citizens would input their voter information online and the county elections office would use the voter’s signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify authenticity. That signature would have to match the voter’s signature at the polling place; currently, polling place signatures only need to match the paper registration signature, which Yee says potentially allows for greater occurrences of fraud. (Ed. note: Steve Weir, quoted below, correctly noted there’s no checking of signatures at the voting precincts against registration signatures unless there is an allegation of a problem with a voter; Yee’s office said it had misunderstood the process, but still believes matching registration signatures to DMV signatures will stymie fraud.)

“In the 21st century, especially here in California, it is long overdue to have online voter registration,” Yee, D-San Francisco, said in his news release. “SB 397 will not only help protect the integrity of the vote, but will allow many more individuals the opportunity to register and participate in our democracy.”

Yee says county elections officers believe this would save money and eliminate administrative errors from mistyping the data entry from a paper registration; after Arizona implemented online voter registration, he said, some counties saw their costs decrease from 83 cents per registration to 3 cents per registration.

If Yee’s bill becomes law, it would let counties start using online voter registration for the 2012 Presidential Primary and General Election. Paper registration would still be available.

Contra Costa County Voter Registrar Steve Weir agrees the bill would help with data entry error avoidance. “We make mistakes in data entry and sometimes, people’s handwriting is difficult. In addition, with the 15 day close of registration, we can still be receiving legitimate registrations 5 days before an election and for major elections, it is very difficult to get all registrations into our system so that the voters name appears on the roster (or supplemental roster).”

“I like the idea that people register themselves and don’t depend upon “drives” for registration and for signature gatherers as these folks bend the rules,” Weir continued. “We have a drive that did not pay the return postage. The SOS sent them to us this month even though the registrants actually registered in time for the November Gubernatorial General Election.”

But Weir said the DMV signature is key. People going to DMV for the first time must produce an identifying document – a birth certificate or some naturalization documentation, for example – whereas signatures on standard voter registration cards aren’t checked against citizenship/identifying documents.

“I am not convinced that the DMV is able (legally, we’re told that a private vendor owns those signatures) to physically attach those signatures to on line registrations,” Weir said. “So, in concept, we like this option, although we want to see the actual language of the bill. Our Association will have a Legislative meeting on March 4 where we’ll go over the details of the bill.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Leland Yee, voter registration | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers urge banks to allow aid for jobless

Five Northern California members of Congress are pressuring mortgage servicers to work with a new federally funded program in California intended to help unemployed homeowners pay their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

The Keep Your Home California Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program provides qualified unemployed homeowners up to $3,000 a month for up to six months to help pay their mortgage. But according to the office of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, if the monthly mortgage exceeds $3,000, the servicers won’t accept any payment at all, even if the homeowner could send a second check to cover the difference between what is owed and what the program covers. As a result, unemployed homeowners who could avoid foreclosure proceedings thanks to this program are instead at risk of failing to pay their mortgage and landing in foreclosure.

“If this program is to have meaningful success, mortgage servicers are going to have to get on board with processing these payments,” Miller said in a news release. “Refusing to accept dual payments is unacceptable and is a disservice to the homeowners who are doing everything they can to stay in their homes while they look for work. Homeowners shouldn’t have to forfeit their homes because of bureaucratic intransigence by banks and servicers.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, another of the letter’s signers, said “it’s time that banks and servicers become part of the solution and not the problem.

“It’s ridiculous that servicers and banks are unwilling to participate in a program that will help protect the value of the very asset on which their loan is based on,” she said. “I find it deeply troubling that servicers would have borrowers default rather than simply accepting payment.”

In their letter – also signed by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz – they wrote that, “we believe refusing to accept supplementary payments from homeowners is inexcusable and we strongly urge you to remedy this problem expeditiously… It is unacceptable that servicers in California are unwilling or unable to figure out a workable resolution to this problem, particularly given that two viable options to address the issue exist.”

Those options, they say, are either to accept two checks (one from the program and one from the homeowner) or to forebear the amount of the mortgage that exceeds the $3,000 program payment.

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Under: George Miller, housing, Jackie Speier, John Garamendi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 13 Comments »

NRCC, Jerry McNerney joust over budget proposal

When I was rounding up East Bay House members’ feedback on the President’s budget proposal yesterday, the office of Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said he was on a plane and couldn’t be reached. The National Republican Congressional Committee was quicker on the draw, sending this statement from spokesman Paul Lindsay to media in McNerney’s and about five dozen other Democratic districts across the nation:

“Jerry McNerney’s Democrat leaders have again shown they lack the courage to address the fundamental fiscal and economic problems that continue to hold back America’s small businesses from creating jobs. Instead, Democrats in Washington have made it clear that they will double-down on the policies that continue to push this country toward bankruptcy and place more burdens on job creators. It remains to be seen whether McNerney understands what his constituents already do, which is that more spending, taxing and borrowing does nothing but destroy jobs.”

The NRCC was at it again this morning, issuing this statement:

Since President Obama unveiled his budget plan on Monday, a bipartisan consensus has emerged that it fails to adequately change our country’s current fiscal course and lead the way back to job creation. Instead, the President’s budget plan proposes higher taxes, increased spending and more borrowing, which means if California Democrat Jerry McNerney supports the plan, it would be a clear sign he intends to follow party orders instead of responding to the demands of his constituents. Since several high-profile Democrats have already panned President Obama’s misguided budget plan, will McNerney do the same and finally listen to voters who want an end to higher debt, astronomical deficits and unbearable taxes?

“The fact that some Democrats are already distancing themselves from the President’s budget demonstrates that this irresponsible proposal takes us down an unsustainable path which weakens our economy and does nothing to create jobs,” said NRCC Communications Director Paul Lindsay. “Will Jerry McNerney support yet another failed Democrat policy that grows government and increases the burden of debt on every American, or will he finally listen to his constituents in California as he faces the threat of another challenging election?”

(Never mind that many Democrats’ problem with the President’s proposal seems to be that it cuts too deep into programs protecting vulnerable communities, not that it “weakens our economy and does nothing to create jobs.”)

This afternoon, McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh forwarded me his statement:

“As I consider the president’s budget, I will be looking to see how these proposals will affect the people I represent, many of whom have been hit hard by the tough economy.

“Based on my initial review, I’m heartened to see the president’s commitment to investing in infrastructure and clean energy initiatives. I spent over two decades working in clean energy and know firsthand the potential this field holds for creating jobs. Our country can create the next generation of jobs if we make the right choices now and invest in research and development of new technologies.

“However, I’m also concerned about some of the cuts the president is proposing. At a time when many communities are struggling, cutting assistance to police departments, job training programs, and grants to local governments will have a negative effect.

“As I continue to go through the proposal, I want to see what steps are laid out to create jobs. I’m interested to hear from the people I represent regarding the president’s budget and look forward to their thoughts and ideas.”

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Under: Jerry McNerney, Obama presidency, taxes, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Cowboy libertarian starts radio show



My favorite cowboy libertarian, former California GOP communications director Patrick Dorinson, has started his own radio show on Sundays 3-5 p.m. at NewsTalk 1530 KFBK in Sacramento.

Dorinson bills the show as, “saddle up for some straight talk, good old fashioned common sense and a little cowboy wisdom.”

Cowboy Libertarian fans may also want to read his blog on Fox about how the cowboy code is not frivolous.

Last week’s show featured Idaho Rancher Jennifer Ellis discussing the constant struggle to survive against Mother nature and radical environmentalists who want to stop ranching and all energy development on public lands.” He also talked with James Owen, author of “Cowboy Ethics, Cowboy Values and The Try” talking about the “need to return to the basic principles that made America exceptional.”

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

New redistricting map proposal surfaces

For all you redistricting junkies out there, political guru Tony Quinn, co-author of the California Target Book, has written a fascinating post at Foxes and Hounds about one way the new independent California Redistricting Commission might redraw the state’s congressional districts.

The map predicts the loss of a Bay Area seat belonging to either Rep. George Miller, of Martinez, or Pete Stark, of Fremont.

This could get very interesting.

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

South Bay judge confirmed to federal bench

The U.S. Senate today voted 93-0 to confirm Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Edward Davila to the federal bench serving California’s Northern District.

Davila, 58, is expected to receive his commission shortly and will fill a judgeship that has been vacant since U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel took senior status on Oct. 30, 2009, according to the circuit executive’s office for the 9th Judicial Circuit.

President Barack Obama had nominated Davila in May 2010, but although the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Sept. 29 and recommended his confirmation Dec. 1, the Senate recessed without confirming him; the President re-nominated him Jan. 5.

Then-Gov. Gray Davis appointed Davila to the state court bench in 2001. Perhaps the most publicized case over which he presided was that of Anna Ayala and Jaime Placencia, who attempted to hoax the fast-food chain Wendy’s by planting a severed human finger in a bowl of chili.

Earlier, Davila had been in private law practice in Santa Clara and worked as a Santa Clara County deputy public defender. The Palo Alto native earned a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in 1976 and a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1979.

Federal trial judges hold lifetime appointments and earn an annual salary of $174,000.

Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Under: U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Follow Times’ salary quest on Twitter

Watch progress of the next installment of the Bay Area News Group and Contra Costa Times’ groundbreaking publication of public employee salaries on Twitter. Sign up and follow @publicsalaries.

The latest Tweet: “It’s been 19 days since we’ve last heard from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and 39 days since the initial request.”

Search here to see whether your favorite public agency has responded to our Public Records Act request for salary and total compensation data.

Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Under: Public salaries | No Comments »

Former CA House candidate sentenced to prison

A former Congressional candidate from Southern California was sentenced today to one year and one day in federal prison for obstructing justice by lying about a letter sent to Latino voters during his campaign, federal prosecutors said.

Tan Nguyen (AP photo)Tan Nguyen, 35, of Oceanside, was convicted last year; in addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge David Carter also sentenced him to serve six months at a halfway house. He must surrender to start serving his sentence by March 28.

A federal jury in December found Nguyen had lied to state investigators who were probing complaints from Latino voters in the 47th Congressional District in Orange County, where Nguyen in 2006 was the Republican nominee who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove.

About 14,000 voters in the district had received a letter in Spanish that made claims about who was eligible to vote and what would happen to immigrant voters if they cast ballots; the letter had gone out on letterhead similar to that of an anti-illegal immigration group, the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which actually had nothing to do with the letter.

Nguyen, interviewed by investigators in October 2006, falsely stated that campaign volunteers created the letter without his knowledge, prosecutors said. A federal grand jury handed up an indictment in October 2008.

“The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the voting rights of all individuals. We simply will not tolerate those who attempt to interfere with efforts to enforce civil rights laws in our nation,” Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a news release.

In a sentencing memo filed Feb. 5, Nguyen’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, had argued his client shouldn’t have to serve any time behind bars.

“Without question, Tan Nguyen’s reputation took a heavy strike in the indictment, trials and conviction herein,” Steward wrote. “As a public figure, well known in the Vietnamese community and the community in general, such a hit will remove him from politics and many other endeavors for life.”

Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Under: U.S. House | 1 Comment »

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan to visit Port of Oakland

MSNBC’s “The Dylan Ratigan Show” will broadcast live next Thursday, Feb. 24 from the Port of Oakland, as the host aims to highlight the port’s ability to create economic vitality.

Dylan Ratigan (photo from MSNBC)The show, which airs at 1 p.m. PST, will examine the port’s success and how it can be adapted on a larger scale, the producers say, adding Ratigan “will also discuss emerging new evidence and economic trends that suggest that the United States is losing the global trade war and our businesses and government are facing unfair trade policies and practices.”

It’s part of the show’s “Steel on Wheels” tour, hitting the road for three days a month in December, January, February and March to check in with ordinary Americans and chart a course out of our economic doldrums. Past stops have included Seneca Falls, NY; Philadelphia; St. Louis; Rochester, Minn.; Omaha, Neb.; and Boulder, Colo. The producers say Ratigan also will host an open town hall for the public to continue the conversation of how can we rebuild America; details have not yet been announced.

“We’re looking at ways to fix our broken system, our broken democracy, and celebrate the things that do work in our country,” Ratigan said in a news release.

Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Under: economy, Media, Oakland | 2 Comments »

Contra Costa DA pulls out of AG investigation

Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson will no longer permit his staff to aide the attorney general’s investigation of a recently reinstated prosecutor, Michael Gressett, charged with the rape of a colleague.

Read the full story by reporter John Simerman here. But here are the first few paragraphs:

In his campaign last year for Contra Costa County district attorney, Mark Peterson railed at how the office investigated disturbing rape allegations against Michael Gressett, a veteran prosecutor whom he supervised in the sex crimes unit. As top dog, Peterson said he would have backed off and let another agency handle it.

Now he has.

“I sent the Attorney General’s Office a letter on Jan. 21 informing them I recused our office in terms of any investigation or involvement in the prosecution,” he said. “Obviously, anybody in our office is free to talk to either side in the case. If somebody is asked to give a statement, they can choose to if they wish. If they’re subpoenaed to testify, I’d expect them to respond truthfully and fully.”

Gressett, 54, returned to the county payroll this week, due back pay and benefits, after an arbitrator ruled Monday that the county failed to justify his July 2009 firing over the rape allegation and five other causes. The arbitrator, Norman Brand, agreed with Gressett that his firing was “tainted by political animosity.”

See Peterson’s letter below.

Peterson letter to AG

Posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 2 Comments »