Feinstein accuses Reeps of trying to take away ‘essential rights’

In an unusually fiery speech, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Republicans of threatening to take away “essential rights” from workers, women and the middle class by undermining government under the guise of reducing the deficit.

The typically temperate six-term senator, speaking at a Democratic State Party convention luncheon Saturday, offered what amounted to be her first volley for the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign with a hard-hitting assault on Congressional Republicans.

She took a swipe at the Tea Party movement while she was at it — to the delight of more than a thousand party activists who attended the lunch.

“What I’ve seen in Washington — it’s the most difficult environment I’ve seen in American politics,” she said, “made harder still by the far right wing and the Tea Party who have entered into the arena of politics with an agenda to cut government so it cannot serve the people.”

The far right, she said has tried to “systematically disassemble the American dream” by seeking to roll back investments in infrastructure, health care reform and Medicare.

“They are more radical and hostile to working people and hostile to a Democratic president than the Gingrich Congress,” she said. “This is our fundamental challenge.”

It was the Bush presidency that brought economic upheaval to the nation by fighting two wars while providing tax cuts to the wealthy, Feinstein said.
“Americans have always fought wars with taxes — people pay to help,” she said. “The Bush administration put it all on the debt. That’s the debt President Obama and the U.S. Congress inherited.”

The continued economic stagnation, controversies over Obama’s health care reform, and the bank bailouts all led rise to the Tea Party movement and punishment at the polls for Obama in 2010. Republicans swept into office and took control of Congress, but Feinstein said she believes they have overreached whatever mandate they earned.

“They have no plans for jobs and an economic recovery,” she said. “They’ve come in with a radical ideological agenda to dismantle our social and economic safety net. Their solution is to shift the burden of debt reduction onto middle and low income families. And we have to stop them.”

One of the most blatant examples of using their new-found powers to pursue their ideological agenda rather than lift the country out of its economic doldrums, Feinstein said, was their attempt to halt funding for Planned Parenthood.

“This is an organization that literally saves women’s lives and they wanted to kill it,” she said. “As long as I’m in the Senate, that will never happen.”

She singled out U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the chairman of the House budget committee hailed as the Republican guru on fiscal discipline, for doing the bidding for the wealthy. Ryan was the author of the U.S. House’s budget bill, which has been criticized for falling too heavily on the poor while maintaining tax cuts for the wealthy.

The Ryan budget, she said, essentially privatizes Medicare and turns it into a voucher program, increasing premiums and doubles the out of pocket costs for seniors. It slashes $127 billion in food stamps, includes large cuts on energy and infrastructure and defunds the Affordable Health Care Act.

“It shreds the social safety net at a time when the economy is still stressed,” she said. “Two thirds of Paul Ryan’s cuts would hit the low and middle income Americans very hard, and 72 percent of the cuts would go to fund tax cuts that would largely benefit the very rich. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wrong and it must be stopped.”


Gavin Newsom tries to hew to party line, but cuts his own path on a pair of issues

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was looking awfully candidate-ish as he made the rounds at the Dems’ convention hall Friday afternoon. You had to pry him from activists, who flocked to him with the zeal of autograph hounds.

And no matter how much he tried to avoid straying from the party line, Newsom, whose hair was coifed up to standard and teeth looking extra-whitened, cut his own swath on a couple issues:

When asked to opine on Gov. Jerry Brown’s insistence on holding an election for new taxes, Newsom said, “I’m going to support our governor. That’s the commitment he made, he’s holding strong to that and I respect that.”

But …

“At the same time, there may come a time where even the best intentions need to be reassessed because the state will be put in a cash crisis (if the budget isn’t resolved) in a number of months. It would be perfectly acceptable if Governor Brown says, ‘OK, I’ve done everything I can. I’ve agreed to all these concessions, but I still can’t get their (Republicans’) support. I’m not going to watch higher education get devastated …”

At what point should the governor pull the trigger and drop his plan to seek a vote of the people, Newsom was asked. (left unasked — my bad — was the question of how anyone thinks Republicans will vote directly for a tax increase if they won’t even vote to allow a vote of the people on taxes).

“If we start pulling out I.O.U.s, it’s certainly self-evident. If there’s a certain point where we have a crisis of confidence. If we get close to that date, clearly something will have to give. But this should be resolved well before that.”

And …

When asked about the White House’s decision to revoke the San Francisco Chronicle’s pooling privileges (in covering President Obama on his Bay Area ATM stops), because intrepid political reporter Carla Marinucci caught on tape and then posted online video of protesters haranguing Obama at a fund-raiser, Newsom said, “I don’t want a ‘Newsom Attacks Obama headline.’

But …

“I’m such a fan of Carla — and a new media fan — I don’t think the president needs to go there.

“Especially for a newspaper that’s hardly been his chief critic. … I understand some frustration — we all do, in those private moments. But you learn quickly, we’re in a reality TV show, even when we’re taking a shower, I sometimes wonder.

“Maybe I’m so used to San Francisco. I thought that was the most benign protest I’ve been to in 15 years. I’m thinking, c’mon. And they were quite respectful. A bunch of them were giving a standing ovation at the end of the president’s speech. They only took one or two peopel out. So, I don’t know if they needed to go there.”

Hey, for a convention that was supposed to be bereft of drama, if you count Chairman John Burton’s remark that Gov. Jerry Brown should “try shooting” a Republican to get them to OK taxes, this has been a regular carnival.


Former FCC, CPUC member goes to Comcast

In the latest case of a former public official going to work for the industry he or she used to regulate, Comcast today named former Federal Communications Commission member and California Public Utilities Commission member Rachelle Chong as its regional vice president of government affairs for California.

Rachelle ChongChong will oversee all aspects of Comcast’s governmental affairs activities, as well as all cable and telecommunications policy matters, throughout the state. She will be based in the company’s Livermore office.

“Rachelle has a proven track record as a prominent telecommunications lawyer, fair regulator and a motivational leader,” Curt Henninger, regional senior vice president for Comcast California, said in a news release. “Her understanding of technology and ‘hands on’ management style, combined with her creative approach to the ever-evolving world of communications and her life-long ties to California, make her the perfect choice for this role.”

Chong was the first Asian American to serve on the FCC, and holds the same distinction with the CPUC.

She was appointed to the FCC by President Bill Clinton in May 1994, and served until November 1997, working on implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, digital television transition rules, children’s television, the first spectrum auction rules, and services rules for many new wireless services.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to the CPUC in January 2006 and reappointed her in December 2008; there, she led broadband initiatives and regulatory reform in the communications area, including implementation of the state’s first video franchise law. She also led the CPUC’s smart grid, electric vehicle, demand response and dynamic pricing energy initiatives.

In between the two regulatory stints, Chong was a partner at Coudert Brothers in San Francisco and Palo Alto, leading the firms’ West Coast Telecommunications and Internet Practice Group. Later, she was general counsel and vice president for government relations of Broadband Office, Inc., a Kleiner Perkins-funded broadband, communications, and applications service provider start up.

After her CPUC service, Chong was appointed by the governor to be special counsel for advanced information and communications technologies at the California Technology Agency, leading broadband, digital literacy, and public safety communications initiatives for the state and advocating before the FCC, Commerce Department and Congress on communications policy matters.

A Stockton native and San Francisco resident, Chong holds an undergraduate degree from Cal and a law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law.


Jerry Brown cancels new death-row housing

Gov. Jerry Brown just announced he’s canceling plans to build new housing for condemned inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

“At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the State of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state,” he said in a news release. “California will have to find another way to address the housing needs of condemned inmates. It would be unconscionable to earmark $356 million for a new and improved death row while making severe cuts to education and programs that serve the most vulnerable among us.”

Planning for a new condemned inmate housing facility at San Quentin began in 2003 under Gov. Gray Davis and continued under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The facility was designed to hold 1,152 inmates, allowing for future growth in the condemned population; California currently has 713 condemned inmates, of whom 42 are from Alameda County and 18 are from Contra Costa County.

Brown’s office says the project would have added another $356 million to the state’s debt, at an annual cost of $28.5 million in debt service that would have come out of General Fund dollars.

UPDATE @ 3:08 P.M.: From state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:

“Governor Brown should be praised for his thoughtful decision to reject the ill-conceived plan to build a new death row inmate complex at San Quentin, which would have cost the state more than $1.6 billion over the next decade,” said Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “Given the severity of our budget crisis, it makes no sense to spend millions of General Fund dollars every year on this wasteful plan. We have known for a long time that the project has deep flaws, including inexcusably high construction and operating costs and the fact that the complex is likely to run out of space just three years after it opens.

“Working with the Senate Budget Committee, which I chair, we included budget bill language requiring the question of double bunking of death row inmates to be legally resolved before the project proceeded. Lacking this resolution, the Condemned Inmate Complex expansion would have reached capacity within three years of its completion, leaving taxpayers with a billion dollar hangover. I thank Assemblymember Jared Huffman for his commitment and partnership in stopping this mistake.”

From the Twitter feed of state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach:

Guv wants new way 2 address condemned inmate housing. Execute em. Problem solved


NRCC launches phone calls against McNerney

The National Republican Congressional Committee today announced it’s robo-calling people in Rep. Jerry McNerney’s district to highlight his “continuing government spending spree with money borrowed from foreign countries like China.”

“While families throughout California have to cut back and live within their means, Jerry McNerney continues to support Democrat policies that spend money we don’t have and borrows money from countries like China,” NRCC Communications Director Paul Lindsay said in a news release. “These calls highlight what McNerney seems to forget, which is that there are real consequences to continuing his policies that borrow $4 billion a day to fuel his addiction to government spending. As growing debt, interest and inflation threaten the economy, McNerney’s California constituents simply want to know when he will stop burdening them with more debt.”

The call’s script is as follows:

Hello, I’m calling from the National Republican Congressional Committee with an important alert about your Congressman Jerry McNerney. Thanks to McNerney’s addiction to spending, the federal government borrows $4 billion every day. That’s given us fourteen trillion dollars in debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren. And Jerry McNerney is making it worse. He voted for another Pelosi budget that would strangle our economy with more spending, more debt and more borrowing from China. Call Congressman McNerney at 202-225-1947 and tell him to stop spending your money. Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 202.479.7000.

“The Washington Republicans who are bankrolling this baseless attack are the same people behind the radical budget plan to end Medicare as we know it, slash education funding for our kids’ schools, and give more handouts to large corporations that ship American jobs overseas,” McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh replied today. “This charade is nothing more than a partisan attack at a time when we should be focused on ways to create jobs and pay down the debt. Congressman McNerney has a strong record of fiscal discipline and is committed to finding budget solutions that work, but without hurting children and seniors who count on after school programs and Medicare.”

It’s not as if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doesn’t do likewise. The DCCC on Tuesday announced automated phone calls to constituents of 42 House Republicans – none in California – holding them “accountable for choosing to end Medicare rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil making record profits or tax breaks for the ultra rich.” That call’s script:

Hi, this is Claire from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calling about Congressman XXXXXXX’s vote to end Medicare. Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belt, but Congressman XXXXXXX has made all the wrong choices. He actually voted to end Medicare, rather than end taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil making record profits or tax breaks for the ultra rich! Seniors who pay a lifetime into Medicare deserve the benefits they’ve earned. Under the XXXXXX-Republican plan Medicare ends, benefits to seniors are less, and costs to seniors increase – in order to pay for Big Oil taxpayer giveaways and the ultra rich’s tax breaks. America is built on shared sacrifice. XXXXX is choosing to place the burden on seniors. That’s not right. Please call Congressman XXXXXX at (XXX) XXX-XXXX and tell him to keep his hands off our Medicare!


Farm Bureau endorses DiFi for re-election in 2012

Demonstrating why U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is likely to keep her job as long as she wants it, the California Farm Bureau Federation today announced it’s endorsing her for re-election in 2012.

“Farmers and ranchers are in the business of getting things done, and that’s one reason that we appreciate Senator Feinstein,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said in a news release explaining his board of directors’ unanimous vote. “She has proven, again and again, that she can get things done in Washington and she has shown time after time that she will advocate effectively on behalf of California farmers and ranchers.”

He noted Feinstein’s work to free additional water supplies for farmers during recent drought years and her consistent support for long-term water solutions that include increased storage. He said the senator has authored legislation to ease the estate-tax burden on farmers and ranchers, and to reform federal immigration laws to create an effective guest-worker program for agriculture.

Unusual for the CFBF – or any other major organization – to endorse so early in the cycle, long before there are even any real opponents in the field? You betcha.

“The only other time I can think of was six years ago, when we endorsed Senator Feinstein’s previous re-election campaign,” Wenger said. “That’s a measure of how strongly we feel about her work on behalf of California and how much farmers and ranchers will benefit from her continued service in Washington.”

This endorsement also is significant for its crossover appeal. The CFBF last year endorsed Republican nominee Carly Fiorina over incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, as well as Republicans Meg Whitman for governor, Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor, and Steve Cooley for attorney general; it did endorse some Democrats in state legislative races.

Feinstein, who’ll turn 78 in June, was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and in 2006 defeated Republican challenger Dick Mountjoy with almost 60 percent of the vote. A Public Policy Polling survey released in February showed her trouncing any of several possible GOP nominees in 2012. The only Republicans who’ve formed committees so far are Keith Holbrook, a senior chemical plant technician from Sacramento County; perpetual candidate Timothy Kalemkarian of Westlake Village, who’s also running for Congress and President next year; and Michael Stollery of Studio City.