Bay Area Dems urge probe of Justice Thomas

Five Bay Area House members were among 20 House Democrats who urged the Judicial Conference of the United States yesterday to refer U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Justice Department for an ethics probe.

Thomas has come under fire recently for apparently failing to meet personal financial disclosure requirements under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Specifically, he had indicated for years that his wife was receiving no income, when in fact she earned nearly $700,000 from 2003 through 2007 working for the conservative Heritage Foundation. Also, the New York Times reported in June that Thomas didn’t disclose his use of a private yacht and airplane owned by his friend, real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

“Based upon the multiple public reports, Justice Thomas’s actions may constitute a willful failure to disclose, which would warrant a referral by the Judicial Conference to the Department of Justice, so that appropriate civil or criminal actions can be taken,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, the House Rules Committee’s ranking Democrat, wrote yesterday in a letter to Judicial Conference Secretary James Duff.

Slaughter wrote that Section 104(b) of the Ethics Act requires the Judicial Conference to refer to the U.S. Attorney General any judge who the Conference “has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.”

“Particularly as questions surrounding the integrity and fairness of the Supreme Court continue to grow, it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices,” Slaughter wrote. “While we continue to advocate for the creation of binding ethical standards for the Supreme Court, it is important the Judicial Conference exercise its current powers to ensure that Supreme Court Justices are held accountable to the current law.”

Among the letter’s signers were Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Pete Stark, D-Fremont.


Jerry Brown slips state Senate some snark

Gov. Jerry Brown a while back had said he planned to veto a slew of bills he considered unnecesary, but he’s clearly willing to sign a few just to send a message. We’ll let today’s signing message speak for itself:

To the members of the California State Senate:

I am signing SB 769 which allows for a dead mountain lion to be stuffed and displayed.

This presumably important bill earned overwhelming support by both Republicans and Democrats.

If only that same energetic bipartisan spirit could be applied to creating clean energy jobs and ending tax laws that send jobs out of state.


Edmund G. Brown Jr.

UPDATE @ 3:57 P.M.: SB 769’s author, state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, is playing it straight, not mentioning the signing message but noting she authored the bill after a museum in her district was told by the Department of Fish and Game that no authority existed under Proposition 117 of 1990 to authorize the display of a lion that had been accidentally taken.

“It’s really unfortunate that the initiative was written so poorly that the legislature had to intervene 21 years later and correct this problem,” she said in a news release today. “This legislation was important to my district and many museums throughout California that want to display a mountain lion. I’m pleased to be able to work on behalf of my constituents to finally get this bureaucratic mess straightened out.”


Poll: Hancock would beat Swanson in SD9

A poll reportedly commissioned by state Senate Democrats shows state Sen. Loni Hancock with a wide lead over potential challenger Assemblyman Sandre Swanson in a one-on-one battle for her 9th State Senate District seat.

The poll shows 44 percent of likely voters in the newly drawn district supporting the incumbent Hancock, 18 percent supporting Swanson, 8 percent supporting other candidates and 31 percent unsure. Goodwin Simon Strategic Research conducted the telephone survey of 402 likely voters Sept. 24 through Sept. 27; the margin of error is five percentage points.

In his memo, Goodwin wrote that Hancock leads Swanson by 25 points among Democrats, by 27 points among nonpartisans, and by 36 points among minor party voters; she also leads among the district’s few Republican voters. Also, she leads him in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, he wrote, and by 10 points in the city of Oakland.

“Hancock leads Swanson among black voters (who comprise about 17% of likely voters), and holds a very wide lead among white, Latino, and mixed race voters,” he continued. “Moreover, a match-up of positive paragraphs, drawn entirely from the two candidates’ websites — and intended to be as fair as possible to both candidates — widens Hancock’s lead to 30 points: 52% to 22%. Hancock should win this race fairly easily; it would be very difficult for Swanson to catch up to her.”

Now, for the caveats: My source provided me neither the actual methodology and script for the poll nor the cross-tab information for subgroups. All I have is this memo. But the fact that this poll was even commissioned means Hancock’s supporters are looking to paint her as a lock for re-election.

I’d reported back in February that Swanson had filed a statement of intention to run in 2012 — when he’ll be termed out of his current seat — for the 9th State Senate District. At the time, Swanson said his nascent Senate campaign already had held its first fundraiser. Still, he said, “the final decision on running obviously can’t be made until the district lines are drawn … and nobody up here has anything to say about that.”

“Given the time frame that the redistricting commission has set for this summer, you can’t develop a credible campaign (for 2012) unless you develop the infrastructure for that now,” Swanson had said, noting that Hancock “was the first one I talked to,” he added. “We have met and I told her I was going to open up this committee, and she completely understood.”

He had called her “a friend and a colleague I’ve worked closely with,” and said he’s unlikely to challenge her if they both remain in the same district. “This is about seeing where the lines fall,” he said.

Well, those lines fell so that both Swanson – who lives in Alameda’s Bay Farm Island section – and Hancock, of Berkeley, do indeed both live in the district. Friends they may be, but this poll’s existence makes it seem like someone has been taking Michael Corleone’s advice to “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

The “Swanson for Senate 2012” committee had $61,197.48 in the bank as of June 30; I see no record of any big-ticket contributions reported since then. Hancock’s 2012 re-election campaign committee had $66,964.12 in the bank as of June 30, but she looks to have raised at least $13,600 since then – half from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and half from state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s campaign committee.

UPDATE @ 5:03 P.M.: It seems this showdown is ON.

“I’ve talked to my wife and obviously I’m seriously considering this run,” Swanson said a few minutes ago. “I am approaching a final decision and I’ll be making an announcement about my plans within the coming weeks.”

But he sure sounds as if he has made that decision already.

“I’ve been involved in politics for almost four decades, so I don’t panic very easily and I keep my eye on the main agenda. And the agenda in any campaign would have to be the pain Californians are facing, the insecurity that those with disabilities and relying on the safety net are feeling, the pain of those losing their homes right now… This is the campaign I would run,” he said. “The last thing I would do is concentrate on personality. Whatever I do, it would be a race about issues… I have always believed that the best idea should always win the day.”

He said this poll doesn’t scare him; when he first sought his Assembly seat, an early poll showed him 31 points behind Oakland City Attorney John Russo, and another poll just two weeks before the primary election showed him 12 points behind. Aggressive campaigning and a clear message can overcome bad numbers, he said.


Marijuana case might predict health care ruling

Eva Rodriguez, an editorial writer at the Washington Post, blogged an interesting take last night on why a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on an Oakland-based medical marijuana case could predict the court’s course on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

She’s saying that “the four more liberal justices on the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — should have no trouble reading the Constitution as bestowing broad powers on the federal government to regulate all manner of commerce.”

That’s not surprising. But she notes that the Gonzales v. Raich marijuana case – brought by Oakland medical marijuana patient and activist Angel Raich – might be significant here because conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy joined with their liberal colleagues in 2005 to uphold the Controlled Substances Act’s ban on marijuana under the government’s Commerce Clause powers.

Joan McCarter, writing this morning at the Daily Kos, dug into Scalia’s concurrence to find the relevant language:

Our cases show that the regulation of intrastate activities may be necessary to and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce in two general circumstances. Most directly, the commerce power permits Congress not only to devise rules for the governance of commerce between States but also to facilitate interstate commerce by eliminating potential obstructions, and to restrict it by eliminating potential stimulants.[…]

As the Court put it in Wrightwood Dairy, where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, “it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

This, Rodriguez and McCarter seem to believe, indicates Scalia might feel the same way about the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.


Pleasanton mayor plans congressional bid

Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman

Four-term Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman hopes to succeed Congressman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, when he retires, perhaps as early as this year but more likely in 2014.

Hosterman, a Democrat, has a state campaign account on record with California as a candidate for Assembly District 18 but she is not running for that seat. Per state law, as a soon-to-be-termed-out elected official, she had to park her campaign money elsewhere by the end of July and she lived in AD18 at the time.

She no longer lives in Assembly District 18, which was redrawn in mid-August as part of the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process. Intead, she lives in the new Assembly District 16 and would have to challenge incumbent Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan.

“Because I am termed out in 2012, prior to the end of last year, in accordance with FPPC, I had to park my campaign funds somewhere,” Hosterman wrote me in an email. “At the time, a state Assembly seat made sense, and at that time, I lived in the 18th!”

Since then, Hosterman says she spoke with Stark, who represents the newly drawn 15th Congressional District.

“However, after speaking with Congressman Stark, I am going to mount a campaign for his seat (in) 2014,” she wrote. “In the meantime, I’m going to work hard on his behalf to keep him in office until he decides to step down. If that’s 2012, I’ll be read to run, and if he decides he feels up to the fight on behalf of the people of his new congressional district, then I’ll be there for him, in a supporting role. ”

This is very interesting.

Stark announced in August he will seek re-election in 2012 and already has one opponent, Democratic Dublin Councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell.


Brown’s list of ‘public safety’ bills might be telling

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bunch of bills today that he said will strengthen public safety in California, but what he didn’t sign might be just as interesting.

Among the bills he signed was one that extends from 45 days to 60 the advance notice that the state prisons must give local police and prosecutors before the scheduled release date of an inmate convicted of a violent felony. Another will incrementally increase minimum restitution fines from $200 to $300 for a felony and from $100 to $150 for a misdemeanor. Yet another lets crime victims request to be notified by e-mail when there’s a change in the custody status of their victimizers.

The governor signed two bills by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro. SB 534 changes California’s sexual assault testing protocol to conform with federal requirements for Violence Against Women Act funding – for example, the bill specifies that any sexual assault victim who seeks a forensic medical exam isn’t required to engage with law enforcement in order to receive the free exam. And SB 622 requires out-of-state sex offenders to register in California upon moving here; Corbett said today this “makes it tougher for those who commit sex crimes in other states to hide in California.”

But the governor vetoed SB 296 by state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, which would’ve created a process for someone subject to a gang injunction to petition for relief from that injunction if he or she meets certain criteria including no arrests, gang activity or new gang tattoos within the past three years.

“This measure would require that a special form be given to gang members when they are served with an injunction to make it easier to petition the court for an exclusion from the injunction,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “Under current law, people who are served with a gang injunction are given the full panoply of legal rights to contest an injunction against them. Prosecutors believe this bill will increase meritless litigation in our courts which are already laboring under severe cut backs. I agree.”

And conspicuously missing from the list of public safety bills the governor addressed was AB 144 by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, which would ban the “open carry” of unloaded firearms in public places. The California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, along with various gun-control groups, say open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers checking to ensure the guns aren’t loaded, in accordance with state law.

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually, or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law.

An absence of action on the bill so far certainly isn’t conclusive, but it does seem interesting that the governor apparently didn’t see it as easily categorizeable with the public safety bills on which he acted today.