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Rep. Eric Swalwell visited Afghanistan, UAE

It’s been a travel-heavy recess for freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton.

Just weeks after his trip with a congressional delegation to Israel and the West Bank, Swalwell returned Thursday from another co-del to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Swalwell with 1st Lt Chris Mitchell of Fremont

Swalwell with 1st Lt. Chris Mitchell of Fremont

Led by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the House Armed Service Committee’s ranking Democrat, the delegation met with top U.S. military officials including Marine Four-Star General Joe Dunford, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. They were briefed on the drawdown of American troops, the transition of responsibility to the Afghanistan National Security Force and the supporting role our troops are now playing. Swalwell’s office reports he also met with troops from his own 15th Congressional District, as well as local Afghan leaders and military officers.

In the UAE, the lawmakers were briefed by military and intelligence officials on the developing situation in Syria as well as the strategic partnership between the UAE and the United States.

“I was encouraged to see that the efforts of our Armed Forces have better prepared Afghan troops to play a primary security role in the region as we significantly reduce our troop levels in Afghanistan,” Swalwell said in a news release issued Thursday. “I especially appreciated the opportunity to visit with our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan, including several of my constituents.

“Since being sworn-in back in January, I’ve been able to celebrate many troop homecomings from Afghanistan in the East Bay and also sadly have eulogized at a funeral of local hero who gave his life serving in Operation Enduring Freedom,” he added. “It was an honor to visit our troops in Afghanistan to express my appreciation for their service to our country and dedication to a smooth transition of power as we step back to play a supporting role. Our troops’ preparation of the Afghan Forces will help ensure that the country is never again a safe harbor and training ground for terrorists who wish to plan attacks against Americans.”

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Brown’s judicial shuffle might enable House run

In a somewhat unusual move, Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a Bay Area judge – who has a familiar name – to another county’s bench, perhaps in order to help facilitate her husband’s planned run for Congress.

Carrie McIntyre PanettaCarrie McIntyre Panetta, appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court bench in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was named to the Monterey County Superior Court bench Thursday by Brown.

Panetta, 46, is the daughter-in-law of former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta; her husband, James Panetta, is a deputy district attorney who moved from Alameda County to Monterey County in 2010.

James Panetta – a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer who was awarded the Bronze Star for his 2007-08 deployment to Afghanistan – earlier this year said he’s interested in succeeding Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, in representing California’s 20th Congressional District.

Carrie Panetta was an Alameda County deputy district attorney from 1999 to 2007 and an associate at Brobeck Phleger and Harrison LLP from 1992 to 1999. A Democrat, she holds a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota. She fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Monterey County Superior Court Judge Terrance Duncan. A superior court judge’s annual salary is $178,789.

UPDATE @ 3:02 P.M.: Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said he would leave it to Judget Panetta to explain the move, and acknowledged it’s not common for a judge to be re-appointed from one county’s superior court to another’s. A voice-mail message left at Panetta’s courtroom in Oakland has not yet been returned.

UPDATE @ 10:35 A.M. FRIDAY: “We’re excited, very excited about the appointment and the move,” Judge Panetta said Friday morning, noting her husband has been working in the Monterey County District Attorney’s office since 2010. “It was really to get the family back together full-time … we had decided we want to make the Monterey peninsula our home, raise our girls there.”

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CA17 poll: Honda holds solid lead over Khanna

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, holds a commanding lead over fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, though he falls short of a majority of voters, according to a new poll commissioned and released by Honda’s political allies.

honda.jpgThe poll, conducted Aug. 2-4 among 806 likely voters in the 17th Congressional District, found 49 percent support Honda, 15 percent support Khanna and 36 percent remain undecided. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, and has a 3.5-point margin of error.

This isn’t so surprising, considering Honda’s name recognition after almost six and a half terms in office, and how early in the 2014 electoral cycle we are; a lot of people simply aren’t tuned in yet. Leah Cowan, Khanna’s campaign manager, said he’s undaunted.

“Since we launched our grassroots campaign in April, Ro has been working tirelessly to engage thousands of voters across the district by knocking on doors, hosting meet-and-greets, and participating in community events,” Cowan said. “What we’re seeing on the ground is strong support for Ro’s positive message of working to create good paying jobs, build a 21st-century education, and make government more responsive to people, not special interests. As more people continue to hear his ideas, we’re confident they’ll move our way.”

The poll also found that about 46 percent of voters would be more supportive of Honda’s campaign if he runs on the idea of increasing Social Security benefits – a plan he touted at a news conference earlier this month in Fremont, days after this poll was conducted – while 13 percent said they’d be less supportive, 35 percent said it would make no difference and 6 percent said they wouldn’t be sure. This question was asked of only 416 voters, and has a 4.8-point margin of error.

I’ve heard that the voters surveyed with this poll were front-loaded with information about the candidates’ positions on Social Security before they were asked whom they would vote for. (SEE UPDATE BELOW.)

Ro KhannaKhanna earlier this month had said he favors immediate action to ensure Social Security’s solvency at current benefit levels “without making empty promises that could ultimately threaten the system overall.” He said he’s “in principle open to expanding benefits after the solvency is ensured.”

That’s not good enough, according to the liberal groups that commissioned this poll.

“Voters in California’s 17th District strongly support expanding Social Security, so it should be no surprise that they also strongly support Mike Honda, the only candidate in the race who unequivocally backs the idea,” Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean said in a news release. “At the end of the day, Californians expect their representatives to be the progressive leaders in Congress and, on the issue of Social Security expansion, Honda is once again answering that call.”

UPDATE @ 10:20 A.M.: PCCC spokeswoman Laura Friedenbach says the question about which candidate the voter supports came early in the poll questionnaire, and was not preceded by any information about the candidates’ stances on Social Security.

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Lawmakers demand Obama consult them on Syria

Three Northern California House Democrats have signed onto a bipartisan letter urging President Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any military strike against Syria.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, are among 18 Democrats and 98 Republicans who’ve signed onto the letter drafted and circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets,” the letter says. “Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

Other California members who’ve signed Rigell’s letter include Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville; and John Campbell, R-Irvine.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., sent their own letter to the president today urging that he consult Congress.

And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama today urging the president to “personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy.”

UPDATE @ 11:54 A.M. THURSDAY: More Bay Area House members have signed onto Rep. Barbara Lee’s similar letter.

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Fracking battle heats up for session’s final weeks

The debate over fracking is reaching a fever pitch in Sacramento, as activists urge a moratorium in the final weeks of this legislative session.

A coalition of more than 100 environmental, health and liberal groups on Wednesday released an open letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose such a ban and blasting SB 4, a pending bill that would allow some fracking to go forward.

“This is a do-or-die moment in the fight against fracking in California,” CREDO political director Becky Bond said in a conference call with reporters, adding that although state Sen. Fran Pavley – SB 4’s author – has been a reliable ally to environmentalists in the past, “it’s appalling that this bill is the best the Legislature has to offer Californians.”

“We know that there’s no safe way to frack,” she said. “Anything less than a moratorium is reckless and unacceptable.”

But the only moratorium bill that has made it to a floor vote this year – AB 1323 by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City – was defeated in a 24-37 Assembly vote in May.

California must act now, Pavley said by email later Wednesday.

“Companies are fracking and acidizing wells in California now, and we can’t afford to wait for another attempt at a moratorium to take action,” she said. “Strict regulations are our best tool right now to protect the public and the environment and hold the industry and regulators accountable.”

Pavley’s bill would establish a regulatory program for hydraulic fracturing and acid-injection methods of extracting oil and gas, including a study, development of regulations, a permitting process, and public notification and disclosure.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Yet opponents say SB 4 “does nothing to make fracking any less dangerous,” per Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch.

Victoria Kaplan, a campaign director with MoveOn.org, told reporters that public opinion against fracking is building steadily in California. “The more people learn about fracking, the more they hate it – that’s what we’re seeing this summer.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said fracking not only “endangers the air we breathe and the water we drink,” but also would set back California’s efforts to roll back climate change. Not only does the fracking process release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – but burning the oil that it produces from the Monterey Shale will generate more than 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, she said.

SB 4 is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Activists plan to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures Thursday to committee chairman Mike Gatto’s and Assembly Speaker John Pérez‘s offices, urging them to add an immediate moratorium on fracking to SB 4.

This is only the latest such petition: MoveOn.org says more than 120,000 people have signed various petitions to ban fracking in California.

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CA17: Honda on Obamacare, Khanna on women

Rep. Mike Honda will host a town hall meeting on how Obamacare’s implementation will affect his 17th District constituents. Representatives from Covered California – the state’s health benefit exchange created under the Affordable Care Act, which starts enrollment Oct. 1 – will attend the meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the Fremont Senior Center, 40086 Paseo Padre Parkway.

Honda, D-San Jose, earlier this week announced more than 49,000 people across the nation had signed his petition to end the Food and Drug Administration’s policy of banning all blood donations from gay and bi-sexual men. (As of now, more than 50,000 have signed, still short of the 75,000 he’d sought. see update below) The policy has been in effect for more than 30 years, but the issue rose to prominence in his district this summer after Campbell Mayor Evan Low was turned away from a blood drive he’d organized. Honda notes he’s been urging a change in the policy since 2008, when San Jose State University suspended campus blood drives because of the ban.

Honda’s Democratic challenger, former Obama administration official Ro Khanna of Fremont, held a Women’s Equality Day event at his campaign office Monday night to roll out his “Women in the Workplace Agenda.” The plan includes promoting family-friendly work environments, removing workplace inequities, increasing women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and supporting women entrepreneurs.

Khanna and his campaign volunteers will be pounding the pavement this Saturday in San Jose.

UPDATE @ 1:22 P.M.: A clarification – I’m told that Honda’s petition’s signature goal automatically increases as various thresholds are surpassed. So, the goal increased from 50,000 to 75,000 when the 50k mark was passed.