Scandal can’t slow Assembly fundraising

Even a key supporter’s scandal can’t slow the hustle and bustle of a contested campaign.

Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer – now in rehabilitation for undisclosed addictions after a former lover allegedly attacked her in a Newark motel room early this month – and her husband, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, had been scheduled to hold a fundraiser tonight at their home for Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk, who’s running for the 20th Assembly District seat.

Quirk, who’s tight enough with the Lockyers that he served as the treasurer for Nadia Lockyer’s 2010 supervisorial campaign, emailed supporters Sunday to announce that the event – for which tickets cost from $50 to $1,000 – had been moved to an Italian restaurant in Oakland Hayward. (My apologies; I frequent Buon Appetito myself, and misstating the city was a careless error on my part.) “Nadia and Bill Lockyer will have an event at their home sometime in the spring,” Quirk wrote.

You’ve got to wonder whether that’s wishful thinking, given that family’s unfortunate disarray.

As Quirk competes with Democrats Jennifer Ong and Sarabjit Cheema and independent Mark Green (while Republican Adnan Shahab has dropped out) in this top-two primary, the fundraising beat goes on even in districts with incumbents.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, is still calling for RSVPs to her wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres reception with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, next Tuesday, March 6 at Alamo’s Round Hill Country Club. Tickets start at $50 while a “leader” package of 10 tickets plus signage and special acknowledgement costs $3,900, all going to buoy Buchanan’s bid for a third and final Assembly term serving the newly drawn 16th District. Among her challengers will be Republican David Haubert of Dublin.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M.: Per the comments below, I neglected to mention Estes Albert “Al” Phillips of Livermore as a Republican contender in the 16th Assembly District. I’d noticed a statement-of-intent in the Secretary of State’s database under the name Estes Phillips, but didn’t know he goes by Al and so couldn’t find his campaign’s website earlier. My apologies.


For-profit medical pot? No prob, law’s author says

A former South Bay lawmaker who authored the state’s medical marijuana framework says state officials have misunderstood, or perhaps twisted for their own ends, a crucial section of that law dealing with whether dispensaries can operate on a for-profit basis.

It’s been the state’s contention for years that for-profit dispensaries aren’t allowed. But former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, issued an open letter earlier his month saying that’s not at all what his SB 420 of 2003 said. Here’s the operative part of that letter:

John VasconcellosIt was certainly true that one side wanted to outlaw any profit-making, while the other side did not and would not. So right there and then – in order not to lose our coherence as a working team hoping for a broadly supported result and to hold our coalition together – we took the openly deliberated, fully appreciated compromise way out: We catered to neither side on this issue. Instead the Task Force crafted the language that appears in Health and Safety Code section 1 1362.765(a) as follows: “…. nor shall anything in this section authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit.”

It was so carefully crafted that neither side could claim victory. In effect that issue was entirely left to whatever otherwise is the status of that issue in California law.

Although certain members of our Task Force did advocate for a prohibition on profit-making, that position was firmly rejected by the Task Force in favor of the above compromise language.

The language we fashioned means nothing more – nor less – than what it explicitly says. Nothing in that section prohibits profit. Nothing in that section explicitly authorizes profit, either. But I must point out that nobody is required to obtain an “authorization” from the Legislature to make a profit in California.

In fact, it would have been utterly incongruous for us constituting that A.G.’s Task Force, to have come up with such a ban on profit, which could not readily be interpreted or found to be explicitly or implicitly in support of implementing Proposition 215’s intention to allow patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.

In short, the language in question, which was painstakingly crafted as a result of careful give-and- take from all sides, simply restates a self-evident fact about what is not in that section, but the language does not in any respect purport to prohibit profit – if that had been the intent, the language would have so stated clearly. It obviously does no such thing.

This made my head hurt a little, so I called Oakland attorney Robert Raich, who has argued a medical marijuana case to the U.S. Supreme Court and was part of the task force that drafted SB 420. He broke it down for me: This language was a sop to the cops.

“We needed to throw a bone to them to make them happy so they wouldn’t completely oppose it and walk away from the table altogether,” he said. “But you don’t really need authorization from the Legislature to make a profit. … The fact that it says it doesn’t authorize profit doesn’t mean it prohibits it.”

Raich said he explained it to one of his Oaksterdam University students thusly: The student can say he doesn’t authorize his girlfriend to use his car, and if the girlfriend then drives it, she has run afoul of his lack of authorization. But if the student says he doesn’t authorize Raich to drive Raich’s car, there’s no real effect because the student never had authority over Raich’s car to begin with.

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office declined to comment on Vasconcellos’ letter.

But, having covered California’s medical marijuana policy since 1997, I’m guessing the state isn’t impressed. I think its lawyers would note all marijuana cultivation and distribution was illegal before voters approved certain narrow exceptions in Proposition 215 of 1996, the Compassionate Use Act; that ballot measure certainly didn’t create a right to profitable sales. Vasconcellos’ 2003 law also didn’t alter that status quo: The section dealing with collective/cooperative cultivation is silent on it, and the section Vasconcellos cites, dealing with primary caregivers, made it clear the Legislature wasn’t authorizing such sales.

So I’d be willing to bet that if someone presents Vasconcellos’ letter in court, the state would argue that such a radical departure from existing law isn’t something the Legislature would have left to implication or conjecture. But I also think the state would argue that Vasconcellos’ letter doesn’t fit within the rules that courts use for determining legislative history and intent, and so is moot anyway.


McCarthy’s and Issa’s GOP convention gaggles

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, held press gaggles after their speeches to the California Republican Party convention tonight.

Both dismissed concerns that women weren’t adequately heard from at last week’s oversight hearing on religiously affiliated institutions being compelled to provide health care insurance that includes contraception. “This is not about contraception, this is about religious freedom,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the GOP must attract California’s Latino and Asian-American voters “if we ever want to be the majority,” and is poised to do so by touting conservative policies on the economy and education. But “we’ve got a long way to go in the process,” he said, acknowledging the party must find a way to address immigration and a path to citizenship for people already here.

He said he believes social issues will take a back seat to energy and the economy in this election, and that the GOP’s nominee will emerge battle-tested and ready to challenge President Obama. “Are we better off than we were three years ago? No, we are not.”

Issa said he looks forward to a robust debate among the many Republican candidates vying to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – of which he’s not one, he noted.

“I personally think Senator Feinstein has no intention of serving out another term,” he said, but rather will retire part-way through and let the governor appoint a replacement who later can run as an incumbent.

“I think she has served the state fairly well” yet is out of touch with what the nation needs, Issa said.

As for the presidential race, he said, he believes Mitt Romney is the best choice to improve the economy but if Newt Gingrich winds up as the nominee, “I’d be in Tampa cheering for the smartest man about to take the White House since Thomas Jefferson.”

And asked about oil drilling off California’s coast, Issa said “the question is ‘Can you do it safely?’ Post-BP, you don’t want to rush into anything.” Meanwhile, he said, there are far better opportunities to drill for oil and natural gas on land.


GOP candidates sign up for ‘Trailblazer’ program

As House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, prepares to take the podium at the California Republican Party convention’s banquet in Bakersfield, a news release has just gone out announcing that 33 GOP candidates have enrolled in his “California Trailblazers” legislative recruitment, training and advisement program.

The program is modeled on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program McCarthy founded for House candidates.

“As Republicans we see this election as an opportunity to embark on an economic comeback for both America and California,” McCarthy said in the news release. “Also, as Republicans we’re ready to begin the California Republican comeback. I believe that the Trailblazers program is essential to this effort. The Trailblazers program will work to find and give needed resources to principled reform-minded Republicans who are ready to bring fiscal discipline back to Sacramento, and economic growth and job creation back to California. I am proud to be a part of this effort.”

State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff said in the release that the threat of a Democratic super-majority makes it “more important than ever to put our best team on the field this November. The rigorous training these candidates will go through will prepare them to win and fight for a fiscally conservative agenda in Sacramento.”

And Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway called it “a terrific way to train Republicans to become stronger candidates and arrive in Sacramento ready to lead”

Once candidates meet campaign infrastructure, grassroots support, fundraising and other metrics specific to their races, they will advance to “Pathfinder,” “Rising Star,” and ultimately “Trailblazer.” The program also will provide ongoing education through fundraisers, coalition-building experts, media training and issue briefings. A preliminary campaign college for candidates was held in December, California Trailblazers in April will announce the candidates who have graduated to “Pathfinder” status.


State GOP urged to oppose insurance measure

Consumer advocates held a news conference – well, maybe not exactly a news conference – outside the California Republican Party’s spring convention this morning in Burlingame to ask the GOP to shun a November ballot measure pushed by one of its biggest donors.

Consumer Watchdog and the Consumer Federation of California want the party to oppose the auto insurance measure being pushed by George Joseph, the chairman and founder of Mercury Insurance. I say it was not exactly a news conference because I was the only reporter who showed up; one other, from the World Journal, arrived just as the speakers were finishing talking to me. The organizers were, however, undeterred.

Stedge and Holober“We’re appealing to their sense of fairness, that they don’t want to penalize hard-working Californians – that’s why we’re here,” said federation executive director Richard Holober, standing near a table on which piles of phony $1,000 bills bearing Joseph’s visage were stacked – a representation of the $2 million that Joseph has given the state GOP in the past two years. “We hope they have an open mind.”

CRP spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns said the party has not yet taken a position for or against the measure.

Holober said this is only the latest battle in George’s 20-plus-year war – including the Mercury-bankrolled Proposition 17 of 2010 – to roll back consumer protections put in place by voters with Proposition 103 of 1988.

The Joseph-funded committee supporting the measure contends it rewards consumers for following the law and will let consumers get a new discount for having car insurance. Current law only lets insurance companies offer consumers continuous coverage, or loyalty discount for maintaining car insurance if the consumers stays with the same company, the measure’s supporters say; the measure will let consumers receive a discount for their years of continuous automobile insurance coverage, regardless of the company where they seek insurance.

It’s an improvement over Prop. 17, they say, in that the discount will be available even to those with an interruption in insurance due to military service or up to 18 months of unemployment.

But Holober and Consumer Watchdog’s Brian Stedge insisted George’s measure will wind up penalizing many Californians who go without insurance (and presumably, without driving) for more than 18 months due to unemployment, illness or use of mass public transit. There’s no connection between a driver’s record of continuous insurance coverage and that driver’s safety record, he said, and so its unfair to charge someone up to 40 percent more for insurance just because they went without it for a while.

This is nothing more than Prop. 17 – which 52 percent of voters rejected less than two years ago – warmed over, he argued. “It does feel like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ here … fueled not by human flesh but by money – the zombie comes back to life.”

Stedge called it “a punishment for not driving a car” and “a billionaire’s attack on the middle class.”

They brought as an example Sharada Polavarapu, 30, of San Francisco, who said she relies on the city’s excellent public transportation system and so doesn’t currently drive or carry auto insurance. But under this measure, if she were to go back to driving and start buying insurance again, her premiums would rise from about $1,200 to almost $1,700 per year.


RNC co-chair rallies troops at CA GOP convention

The GOP is leaner, meaner and ready to send President Barack Obama packing in November, Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day told members of the state party’s executive committee today.

Day, who came up through the party’s ranks in Florida, tried to rally the troops as they lunched on salad, lasagna and cheesecake during the opening day of the California Republican Party’s spring convention in Burlingame.

When she and Chairman Reince Priebus took over at the start of last year, the RNC couldn’t even meet its own payroll, she said. But after cutting staff and spending while honing the committee’s outreach, the RNC was able to raise $27 million in the fourth quarter – $4 million more than the Democratic National Committee, which had the advantage of an incumbent president.

“We are not going to let the Democrat party … define who our candidate is,” she said, as it did in 2008 when GOP nominee John McCain had to spend a few crucial post-nomination weeks raising money rather than getting his message out. This year, she said, the RNC will be well positioned to immediately transfer close to the $20 million allowed by law to the nominee.

The GOP has more than 100,000 Twitter followers and more than 250,000 connections on Facebook, she noted, and won what she said will be bellwether 2011 special-election House races with Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Rep. Bob Turner, R-N.Y. Now it’s working to prevent the recall of Wisconsin officials including Gov. Scott Walker – who incurred labor’s and Democrats’ wrath by rolling back public workers’ collective bargaining rights – “because we know they have the right plans, they’re taking America in the right direction.”

The RNC is aggressively reaching out to Latinos, and is preparing to do the same with African-Americans and Asian-Americans, she said, while also developing a mobile device application for GOP activists with everything from talking points to micro-targeting data.

Day called the Obama presidency “a total disaster,” including overreaching on health care, miring the nation in debt, and a failed stimulus including the money lost on Fremont-based solar manufacturer Solyndra. Republicans must prevail in November, she exhorted the crowd, or else become the first generation to leave a lesser America for the next.

“Our children and the next generation deserve better … Enough is enough,” she said, vowing to send President Obama back to Chicago on a Boeing 787 built in Charleston, S.C., “that he did his very best to stop from happening.”