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Archive for August, 2012

Yee’s SB 249 ‘bullet button’ ban looks dead

A bill to close what the author says is a loophole in California’s assault weapons law appears dead for this legislative session after a key committee decided to hold it.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee was to have heard SB 249 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, on Thursday. This Friday, Aug. 17, is the deadline for fiscal committees to meet and report bills to the floor; Friday, Aug. 31 will be the deadline for each house to pass bills, after which the Legislature will recess.

“I am deeply disappointed that the bill is being held by the Appropriations Committee,” Yee said in a news release. “My greatest fear is that another senseless act of violence will happen before the loophole is closed. Despite the gun lobby’s efforts to derail common sense legislation, I will not give up this fight.”

California already has the nation’s strictest assault-weapons law, but Yee offered this bill in May to tighten it a bit further.

The state already bans ammunition magazines that can be removed from a gun simply by pressing a button, when used on guns with features such as a pistol grip or telescoping stock; the intent is to slow reloading of such weapons. But gun makers created new mechanisms so magazines can be removed in seconds using the tip of a bullet, or in some cases, by placing a small magnet over a “bullet button.”

Yee’s bill initially sought to ban this, but he had watered it down as other lawmakers balked at taking on the gun lobby. After the Colorado movie-theater shooting, however, Yee saw resurgent interest in the bill; he announced last week that he was re-amending it to its original goal, with a new endorsement from state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

“When California enacted our assault weapon law there was no intention of allowing such easily changeable magazines on military style weapons,” Yee said today. “It is imperative that we close this loophole as soon as possible, either through legislation or new regulations at the Department of Justice.”

Posted on Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Leland Yee | 8 Comments »

County Dems seek $$$ from would-be endorsees

An anonymous caller directed me to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee’s website, where candidates filling out an endorsement application are asked for a $50 contribution “to offset the cost of our endorsement process.”

“It just seems undemocratic,” said the caller (whom I assume meant that with a small “d”), acknowledging he’s running for a local office and so declining to provide his name lest he incur the party’s wrath. “I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and this is a little bit over the top; it’s not like I don’t already contribute to the president and other campaigns.”

Chairwoman Robin Torello said the county party started soliciting such contributions from candidates in 2010, although it just raised the suggested ante from $25 to $50 “because it was not covering our expenses, plus this is a bigger year with more races.”

Torello said her committee is looking at almost 200 Democrats running in more than 120 local races across the county this November. Vetting so many candidates for endorsement means spending on everything from printing, postage and phone costs to refreshments for the volunteer committee members who’ll be sitting through five full days of interviews, she said.

The process takes “dozens and dozens and dozens of hours, and we’re all volunteers except for one staff person, but one person can’t do all this,” she said, noting the $50 is just a suggested contribution. “We don’t not interview people if they don’t pay – it’s a donation to help defray the costs. And we’re just aligning ourselves with other county committees that have been doing this for years. We think it’s warranted.”

Contra Costa County Democratic Party officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on whether they charge such fees, too. (UPDATE @ 8:22 A.M. WEDNESDAY: They don’t, chairman Chuck Carpenter said in an e-mail last night.)

On the other side of the Bay, San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee Chairman David Burruto said his committee used to charge “a nominal fee just because we had to Xerox a lot of things,” but in this age of fast, cheap email has stopped doing so.

“We don’t charge anything,” he said. “The only thing we ask of candidates sometimes is if they want to be on a slate mailer.”

In the South Bay, chairman Steve Preminger said “at no point in our endorsement process does the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee state or imply that a candidate seeking our endorsement should make a financial contribution or pay any fees to the SCCDP.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Democratic Party, Democratic politics | 3 Comments »

Don Perata endorses Eric Swalwell for Congress

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, today announced he’s endorsing Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell in his campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

Don Perata“It is time for new energy and true leadership from the next Representative in Congress for the 15th District, and Eric Swalwell is the right person for the job,” Perata said in a news release.

Swalwell, in the same release, said Perata “is known for getting results and I admire that. I respect his willingness to work across the aisle to get things done for his constituents and the State, most notably when he worked with then-Governor Schwarzenegger to place and successfully campaign for five infrastructure bond measures on the ballot in 2006 to improve roads and mass transit, build more affordable housing, repair levees, and upgrade educational facilities.”

Perata is a longtime East Bay political figure who always has been tight with the organized labor community, and so his endorsement of Swalwell might mark a chink in the union armor Stark has tried to don (pun intended) since June’s primary election – most notably with his hiring of former Alameda Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Cornu to run his campaign.

Perata’s endorsement of Swalwell comes about a week after that of former Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, who reportedly got quite an earful from Stark about it. Maybe Perata should screen his calls for a while.

And he might not be the only one. Rumor has it another influential and labor-friendly politician from the East Bay – this one still in statewide office – is about to give a dual endorsement in this race. Stand by for more info on that…

UPDATE @ 6:16 P.M.: It’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

“We need a leader in Congress who understands the immediate need to support our education system and to invest in our public school students so they are ready for the jobs of the future. We need to empower educators to teach not to tests, but to individual needs,” Torlakson said in a statement emailed this evening. “I see Eric as a tireless advocate for our children in Congress. I look forward to having him as a partner at the federal level committed to delivering our children a high-quality 21st Century education.”

Torlakson already had endorsed Stark earlier; Stark still has way more endorsements from public officials and unions than Swalwell.

To me, getting a dual endorsement is a little like kissing your sister – a tie nobody wants, about as useful as staying out of it completely and giving no endorsement at all. That said, Torlakson is a longtime East Bay Democratic player who has worked closely with labor unions and won a statewide campaign, and the fact that he’s not standing solely by Stark in this race probably says something.

I managed to get Torlakson on the phone a few minutes ago to clarify why he added this endorsement. He said he’s seen Swalwell’s “depth of knowledge and energy to tackle the issues that will support our schools and children … emerge as the campaign has gone forward.”

Asked whether he would consider helping out with fundraising or campaign appearances for either campaign, he replied, “It remains to be seen, I haven’t been asked.” Pressed on whether he would do so for one campaign over the other, he replied, “We’ll see as it moves along.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Don Perata, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 38 Comments »

A lawmaker’s daughter goes over to the dark side

The grapevine tells me Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, recently accompanied her daughter on a trip to the University of Missouri, Columbia, who’ll soon be starting there as a freshman; apparently Stephanie Sierra is interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree from Mizzou’s renowned journalism school.

You’d think someone with Speier’s rhetorical skills could’ve talked her daughter into pursuing some line of work more honest and popular than journalism – maybe, used car sales, or perhaps ambulance-chasing tort law.

In all seriousness, however, Sierra appears to have had a distinguished record at Mercy High School, the same Catholic girls’ prep school in Burlingame that her mother had attended. As juniors, she and another student founded a “P.S. We Care” foundation to raise money to help people with autism; as a senior, she served as the student body’s secretary.

Mizzou was transformative for me, not only for the practical journalism education it offered but also as an expansion of horizons for a coastal kid suddenly dropped into the Midwest. I hope Ms. Sierra has as positive an experience there as I did.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

Obama & Romney’s newest television ads

“Mitt Romney thinks that students should ‘borrow money’ from their parents to help pay for college or start a business, and under the Romney-Ryan budget, college aid would be cut for nearly 10 million students and the tax deduction for college tuition would be eliminated,” the Obama campaign said today in rolling out this ad. “President Obama, on the other hand, understands that a college education should be in reach for as many students as possible – and that’s why he has overhauled higher education financing by eliminating bank middlemen from college loans and used the savings to double funding for Pell Grants.”

The “Get Real” ad will air in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

“With every paycheck, Americans paid more and more into Medicare,” the Romney campaign said today in rolling out this ad. “Now, when you need it most, President Obama cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will strengthen Medicare and protect the commitments made to current seniors.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney | 7 Comments »

Renewed calls for gun control: article and video

After writing a story that’s appearing today – about how mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wisc., have led to renewed calls from California lawmakers for more stringent gun-control measures – I was on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday to discuss the same topic:

Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2012
Under: gun control | No Comments »

Reax to Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., as his vice-presidential running mate this morning in Norfolk, Va.

(I’m genuinely surprised; I was thinking it would be U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.)

Here are a few previous pieces on Ryan: reactions to his 2011 budget plan; a town-hall meeting at Facebook’s headquarters less than a year ago; and his speech at Stanford, during that same Bay Area visit, on repealing President Obama’s health care reform.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Ryan “a reformer and a proven leader who will be a great partner to Governor Romney in his efforts to get our country, and our economy, back on track.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, today said Ryan “led House Republicans in voting to end the Medicare guarantee, which increases costs on seniors and weakens America’s great middle class in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas.”

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. – who many people think lost the 2008 election the day he named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate – said Ryan “has proven that he is fully prepared to address our nation’s economic challenges, which have only worsened over the last four years under the Obama-Biden Administration.”

Obama for America campaign manager Jim Messina said Ryan “proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors.”

Paul RyanFormer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Ryan’s “command of economic policy and the federal budget will prove invaluable as Governor Romney fights to reform government, accelerate job growth and rein in the out-of-control spending that has been a hallmark of President Obama’s years in office. This courageous choice is the type of leadership American voters deserve. And, I believe it will ensure a victory for the Romney-Ryan ticket this November.”

Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green called Ryan “a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare. This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney. It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer.”

Posted on Saturday, August 11th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney | 44 Comments »

Heavy hitters helping Garamendi raise funds

Rep. John Garamendi, challenged in his bid for re-election by Republican Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, apparently feels it’s enough of a race to warrant asking some well-known names to help him raise money.

John GaramendiGaramendi, D-Fairfield, on Monday had a fundraiser at the San Francisco office of the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm, with former Mayor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown as the guest speaker and the current and former chairmen of the California Democratic Party – John Burton and Art Torres, respectively – among the co-hosts. Individual tickets ranged from $250 to $2,500, while “PAC Friends” were asked to give $1,000 to $5,000.

Now Garamendi is touting an evening with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday, August 21 at Prima, a lovely Italian restaurant in Walnut Creek; the theme will be “rebuilding the American manufacturing base.” Individual tickets for this one range from $500 to $2,500, while PAC sponsors will pay $2,500 and PAC co-hosts will pay $5,000.

“This is a critical event for me,” he said in an e-mail that went out today. “The Republican SuperPACs have made me a prime target in the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, pouring over $130,000 of PAC money into my opponent’s campaign in just the last two weeks of June and now buying up millions of dollars of air time to smear and distort my image. Please consider supporting my campaign and help me fight back by attending this event.”

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, campaign finance, John Garamendi, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Retired CoCo Sheriff Warren Rupf passes away

Retired Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf

Retired Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf, the county’s own larger-than-life lawman, died earlier today after a two-month battle with a swift and deadly form of cancer.

Rupf told folks about his diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia in early July and predicted then his time could be short. Few might have imagined just how quickly the cancer would strike.

Warren’s wife, Carole, was at his side when he passed away at a Walnut Creek hospital.

Friends and family are working on the details of his memorial service and I’ll post information as soon as it is available.

Rest in peace, sheriff. We’ll miss you.

Read the Sheriff Department’s press release here.

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Bay Area lawmakers propose ammo control law

Three Bay Area lawmakers introduced legislation yesterday that would require that law enforcement be notified of large ammunition purchases.

AB 2512 – co-authored by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; and state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley – would require vendors who sell, supply, deliver, or give possession of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition to an individual within any five day period to report the transaction to the local law enforcement agency where the individual resides within one day. State law does not currently require any oversight, tracking or reporting of large-quantity ammunition transactions.

Their bill also would prohibit large-capacity conversion kits or “clip kits” which allow more than 10 rounds to be shot without reloading.

This is a “gut-and-amend” of Skinner’s previously introduced bill that would’ve fined certain limited liability companies for failing to file tax returns.

The lawmakers cited James Holmes, charged with murdering 12 people and attempting to murder scores more in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, as having amassed 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the course of a few weeks without raising any red flags with authorities.

“While incidents like Aurora may be rare, gun violence is an ongoing, yet unnecessary threat in communities throughout California. As lawmakers we need to do everything we can to minimize it,” Skinner said in a news release issued today.

Hancock said California “has been a national leader in adopting thoughtful gun safety laws,” and she hopes this bill “will further protect the public from becoming a victim of gun violence and prevent tragedies like the one in Aurora, Colorado.”

Ammiano said nobody has a legal, vested interest in being able to fire off hundreds of rounds in a short time. “We’re not taking ammunition away from legitimate sportsmen and women. We just want to be sure local law enforcement has the tools it needs to stay ahead.”

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Loni Hancock, Nancy Skinner, Tom Ammiano | 9 Comments »