California Latino GOP group steps up its game

Former Bush White House aide Ruben Barrales – also a former San Mateo County supervisor, and a child of Mexican immigrants – will be the first president and CEO of GROW Elect, a group founded in 2011 to recruit, endorse, train and fund Latino Republican candidates in California.

The organization says Barrales’ hiring is part of an aggressive expansion of its plan and a dramatic increase in its funding.

Ruben BarralesBarrales for six years served as President George W. Bush’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, the White House’s senior representative to state, local, territorial and tribal government officials. He liaisoned with governors, mayors, state legislators and other elected officials, and also separately served as a chairman of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.

Barrales was elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1992 and served as the board’s president 1996. He ran for state controller in 1998 but lost to incumbent Democrat Kathleen Connell. He served as president and CEO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a San Jose-based public-private civic organization, from 1998 to 2001.

Most recently Barrales has served as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO – the largest regional chamber in California, with a full-time staff of 26 and an annual budget of $4 million.

GROW Elect has elected 30 Latino Republicans to local office across California since 2011, it says; among the successful candidates it supported in November were incumbent Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves, incumbent Hercules City Councilman Dan Romero, Dublin-San Ramon Services Board Member Edward Duarte, and incumbent Hayward Unified School District Trustee Luis Reynoso.

“GROW Elect has already made a difference in California,” Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day said in the group’s news release. “With Ruben’s leadership it will take the recruitment and support of Latino Republican candidates to a new level.”

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in the news release that this news is “long overdue.”

“We all have a stake in the work of GROW and Ruben Barrales,” McCarthy said. “We are all better served when there is a vigorous and real two-party system, with candidates vying for the votes of, and seeking to represent, all Californians. I’m grateful for Ruben’s dedication to both empowering the Latino community, and strengthening the Republican Party, in California.”

State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Walnut, congratulated Barrales as well and said GROW Elect “has done tremendous work in electing Latino Republicans to local office and I look forward to continuing my involvement with this organization.”


Barbara Lee proposes ‘Dept. of Peacebuilding’

Rep. Barbara Lee is taking up where fellow firebrand liberal former congressman Dennis Kucinich left off by pitching a bill to establish a cabinet-level “Department of Peacebuilding.”

Lee, D-Oakland, on Friday introduced H.R. 808, the Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2013; she said the term “peacebuilding” refers both to activities that target the root causes of violence as well as the broad measures used to prevent violent conflict and create sustainable peace.

“This culture of violence that we live in is unacceptable. On our streets and across the globe, the pervasive presence of violence has infected the lives of millions, and it is far past time we address it as a nation,” Lee said in her news release. “We invest hundreds of billions each year in the Pentagon, in war colleges, military academies, and our national defense universities all to develop war tactics and strategies. Now we need that kind of investment in peace and nonviolence here at home.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each life cut short by a homicide costs the U.S. economy $1.65 million, she noted; worldwide, the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that violence and conflict cost the global economy $9 trillion in 2011.

“The Department of Peacebuilding advances the good work of my friend and former colleague Congressman Kucinich and has the potential to reduce suffering on a national and global scale while saving billions of dollars through violence reduction and increased economic productivity,” Lee said.

Kucinich in each session of Congress from 2001 to 2009 introduced a bill to establish a Department of Peace. But other lawmakers have introduced bills with the same goal; the first bill calling for such a department was introduced in 1935 by U.S. Sen. Matthew Neely, D-W.Va.

Lee’s proposed department would develop national strategies and programs for violence reduction both domestically and internationally. Working across agencies, the Secretary of Peacebuilding would sponsor conflict prevention and dispute resolution initiatives, facilitate peace summits between conflicting parties, encourage community policing, and support efforts by local community and religious groups to reduce gun violence, racial and ethnic violence, and prevent violence against women and LGBT Americans.

H.R. 808’s original cosponsors include Reps. Robert Andrews, D-N.J.; Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.; John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro; James McGovern, D-Mass.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Jared Polis, D-Colo.


More super-early endorsements for Mike Honda

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, continues firing shots across the bow of potential Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, this time with endorsements from former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and 20 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

As long-circulating rumors of Khanna’s 2014 candidacy in the 17th District began to gather steam and attention a few weeks ago, Honda had trotted out endorsements from President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. The newest endorsements came Thursday.

“As a past Chair of the Democratic National Committee, I am proud to have served with Congressman Mike Honda in the leadership of our national party, and I proudly endorse him for re-election to Congress in 2014,” Dean said in a statement issued via Honda’s campaign.

“Progressive Democrats have relied on Mike for many years as he has consistently championed the values we share, shaping our debate nationally and locally on issues such as education, immigration, the economy, the budget, the environment and the right of all families to pursue the American dream,” Dean said. “Mike has also served as an effective leader of our diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as a critical ally of the LGBT community. The people of the 17th Congressional District can continue to count on Mike to stand toe to toe with those who seek to roll back the progress that our grassroots efforts have produced.”

CAPAC chairwoman Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, issued a statement on behalf of herself and 19 other members of the caucus, of which Honda is chairman emeritus. This endorsement might be particularly notable given the 17th District is the first majority-Asian American/Pacific Islander district in the continental United States, and the South Asian community has been a huge component of Khanna’s formidable fundraising.

“Since day one, Mike has been a fearless advocate for the AAPI community on a host of critical issues – from fighting the spread of viral hepatitis, to voting rights, to creating jobs and to reuniting our families and ensuring fairness in immigration reform,” the caucus’ statement said. “Now that he currently represents the first majority Asian American Congressional district in the U.S., Mike’s leadership is needed more than ever before.”

Among the caucus members signing the statement were Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Khanna, a former Obama Administration official, sat out last year’s election after raising a record-breaking $1.2 million but choosing not to challenge veteran-but-vulnerable Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont. That might’ve been a crucial career miscalculation, as Democrat Eric Swalwell took down Stark in November, and now there’s talk that Khanna might see Honda as a similar target in 2014.

Khanna’s campaign papers never specified the district or year in which he would run, and he has said he’s still mulling where and when to make his bid. “My decision on whether to run will not be based on Washington politics, it will be based on conversations in the local community,” he said early this month. “I want to determine where I can best help in aiding the community and improving our economy.”


Zoe Lofgren offers bill to limit domestic drone use

A new bill coauthored by a Bay Area congresswoman would establish due process protections for Americans against government-operated unmanned aerial drones in U.S. airspace.

H.R. 637, the Preserving American Privacy Act by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, would also forbid law enforcement and private drones from being armed with firearms or explosives while operating within U.S. airspace.

“The expanded use of drones on U.S. soil raises serious Constitutional and civil liberties issues that Congress needs to address,” Lofgren said in a news release. “These devices should be used in a safe, open, and responsible manner. This bill would ensure that drones follow strict guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy while still realizing their practical applications for science, border security, public safety, and commercial development.”

Said Poe: “Just because Big Brother can look into someone’s backyard doesn’t mean it should. Technology may change, but the Constitution does not.”

The bill would require that government agencies must obtain a warrant to use drones to collect information that can identify individuals in a private area, and get a court order and provide public notice beforehand to collect information that can identify individuals in defined public areas. Those requirements would be subject to exceptions for emergencies, border security and consent, however.

The bill also would forbid privately-operated drones from being used to capture images or sound recordings of people engaging in personal activities in certain circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.


Barbara Boxer on the Chuck Hagel filibuster

U.S. Senate Republicans defeated a motion today to end debate and call a floor vote on confirming former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as U.S. Secretary of Defense.

The 58-40 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the Republican filibuster. Republicans are saying they intend to allow a floor vote at the end of this month, but Democrats say this is the first time there has ever been a filibuster – however temporary – of a defense secretary nominee.

Four Republicans joined with Democrats in voting for cloture today: Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Here’s what U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said on the Senate floor before the vote:

Barbara Boxer“Mr. President, I am glad we are voting today on the President’s choice for Secretary of Defense, our former colleague, Chuck Hagel. I stand here as a Senator who has had a number of questions as well about some of the things he said in the past, some of the votes he has cast, and some of his philosophy. And what I did, as soon as I learned he was the President’s pick, was to ask those questions. Remember the President is the Commander in Chief. This is a critical appointment. It has to be someone he has faith in, puts his trust in, and he picked someone. He picked a brave hero who served in Vietnam.

“So I wrote all my questions down, and believe me, they covered some tough ground on women’s rights, gay rights, Iran, and Israel. There were a number of questions.

“I asked if it would be all right if when the answers came we could put them online so people could see the answers. The answer that came back was absolutely yes. The answers to my questions were very clear and very strong.

“Senator Hagel has evolved on certain issues. He admitted to a mistake on a couple. That is the hardest thing for any politician to admit. There are four words politicians hate to say – ‘I made a mistake.’ He admitted to that on a couple of issues.

“I just think the way he is being treated is so sad. It is so sad. When I watch some of the questioning from my colleagues — not all of them, a couple of them, and I am not referring to my dear friend, Senator Inhofe – it was reminiscent of a different time and place when someone would say: ‘I have here in my pocket a speech that you made on such-and-such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times.

“I am so glad we are voting today. I know it is going to be a close vote. I don’t know what the outcome will be. I do believe eventually this good man will be the Secretary of Defense. I believe that in my heart. If anyone is still undecided on this vote, let’s understand that never in history have we had a 60-vote requirement – to my knowledge – for a nominee for Secretary of Defense. If I am wrong, I hope to be corrected. There is a reason for it.

“Lord knows I was one of the key voices of dissent on the Iraq war, and I was not happy about a lot of the people who were put into place by George W. Bush. Believe me, I didn’t want to see them continue in those positions. I think they led us astray in Iraq, and it led to so many thousands of deaths. However, I never dreamed of requiring a 60-vote majority. In my view, this is not a good day for the Senate.

“I know my friend, Senator Inhofe, is very sincere. I am on the Foreign Relations Committee; I am a senior member of that committee. We have listened to the State Department on Benghazi. We have had briefings and hearings and answers came in. We had secret briefings that were highly classified. We had open hearings.

“I have to say, what more are you trying to get out of this? Benghazi was a crisis. It was a disaster. It was terrible. There should have been more security there, but don’t blame the brave Americans for it. Blame the terrorists who did this. As the facts became available, those facts came right out. Why are we trying to stop this good man because of something he had nothing to do with?

“In closing, I hope if you are on the fence, you will vote today for Chuck Hagel, and a ‘yes’ vote on cloture.”


State Sen. Leland Yee responds to death threat

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, today issued a statement regarding the arrest of a Santa Clara man who allegedly made a threat against Yee’s life in response to the lawmaker’s gun-control legislation:

“First, I want to thank the CHP and the various law enforcement agencies who are working on this case.

“Four weeks ago, I received an email to my Senate account detailing a very explicit threat on my life. The author of the email specifically stated that if I did not cease our legislative efforts to stop gun violence that he would assassinate me in or around the Capitol. He stated that he was a trained sniper and his email detailed certain weapons he possessed.

“This threat was unlike any other I had ever received. It was not a racist rant on my ethnicity or culture, but instead it was very deliberate and specific. As a psychologist, I was deeply concerned by the calculating nature of this email.

“My Chief of Staff immediately forwarded the email to the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the CHP to investigate.

“As you know, law enforcement made an arrest on Tuesday and executed a search warrant of the suspect’s home in which they found illegal weapons and bomb-making materials. I have no other details regarding this case and all such questions should be directed to the CHP.

“With that said, I want to make it crystal clear – these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence. This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic.

“Again, I want to thank the CHP for their swift action and I want to thank my family, staff, and constituents for all their support.”