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A few of 2014’s most notable political speeches

When Rep. Mike Honda eked out a win over his Democratic rival, Ro Khanna, last month, he gave a rather pugnacious victory speech (or rather, his first campaign speech of 2016) that raised and perhaps singed a few eyebrows.

But Honda’s speech barely compared to the embarrassment of riches that 2014 offered in political speech. Let’s take a moment to laud some of the finer moments in public oratory from the year that was.

The Godwin’s Law Award goes to Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas:

“So it is amazing that in the name of liberality, in the name of being tolerant, this fascist intolerance has arisen. People that stand up and say, you know, I agree with the majority of Americans, I agree with Moses and Jesus that marriage was a man and a woman, now all of a sudden, people like me are considered haters, hate mongers, evil, which really is exactly what we’ve seen throughout our history as going back to the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe. What did they do? First, they would call people ‘haters’ and ‘evil’ and build up disdain for those people who held those opinions or religious views or religious heritage. And then the next came, well, those people are so evil and hateful, let’s bring every book that they’ve written or has to do with them and let’s start burning the books, because we can’t tolerate their intolerance.”

The Let-Bygones-Be-Bygones Award goes to Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.:

“I want to say to lobbyist Pete Hoekstra, you are a disgrace. And I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance.

“To Brian Ellis, you owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You had the audacity to try and call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you — to stop people who are more interested in themselves than doing what’s best for their district.”

The Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do award goes to Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. (who is now resigning after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud):

“The bottom line: You had my back when I needed you most, and I’ll never forget it. As the only Republican federally elected in New York City, I know I have a profound responsibility.”

The Let’s-Get-Ready-To-Rumble Award goes to California Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Champ (a registered sex offender previously convicted of manslaughter, and now facing attempted murder charges after allegedly shooting his neighbor in August):

“I will fight to bring back the highest form of proven education, from God Almighty. Read his Bible. Just do it.”

The Everything’s-Better-In-Idaho Award goes to… Idaho, for having such a fantastic gubernatorial debate:

http://youtu.be/EocFjwaJNw0

“I’m about as politically correct as the proverbial turd in a punchbowl, and I’m proud of it, and I’m going for it…”

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Some of my favorite stories of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, I’ve been ruminating on my favorite political moments of this year – not the most important or impactful ones, perhaps, but the ones that either made me shake my head in amazement, or guffaw out loud, or both.

And so, in no particular order:

Homeless NeelNeel Kashkari takes it to the streets: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, distrusted by the more conservative elements of his own party, managed to beat out a more right-wing rival to finish second behind Gov. Jerry Brown in June’s top-two primary. In July, he made an inspired attempt to rekindle his unusual momentum (for when was the last time you saw a statewide GOP candidate running on so ardent an anti-poverty platform?) by spending a week “undercover” pretending to be jobless and homeless on Fresno’s streets. I said it then and I still believe it: “You’ve gotta give him credit for cojones. Whether California voters believe the state is worse off under Brown’s stewardship remains to be seen, but this is not something you would’ve seen Meg Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, Dan Lungren or Pete Wilson do in a million years.”

Neel's drowning kidNeel Kashkari drowns himself in hyperbole: Aaaaand then we had the rest of Kashkari’s campaign. Unable to maintain the buzz that his “homeless” stint created, polls shows his campaign on the slide as contributions dried up. In October, he aired a television ad depicting his rescue of a child that Brown had left to “drown” in poor schools. Candidates want people talking about their ads, but if the viewers’ main sentiment is, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?,” you’re probably doing it wrong.

ManoramaManorama K. Joshi (or Manorama J. Kumar): The 17th Congressional District battle between Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, had a lot of weird moments, but few that rivaled the revelation that Khanna donors and supporters had been instrumental in getting Republican Joel Vanlandingham onto the ballot. It seemed the idea was to dilute the GOP vote that would’ve gone to Republican Vanila Singh, as a means of ensuring Khanna would finish second behind Honda in June’s top-two primary. “No, I don’t want to talk to anybody, thank you,” Joshi replied when I buzzed her Newark apartment. Yeah, I’ll just bet you don’t.

Leland Yee (photo by Karl Mondon)“Uncle” Leland Yee gets pinched: When an editor called me early one morning in late March to tell me state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, had been arrested, I could never have anticipated the circumstances. Payoffs and gun trafficking and a Dragon Head named Shrimp Boy… oh, my! The affidavits accompanying the original criminal complaint and the superseding indictment filed in July made for 2014’s most compelling political reading, hands down. And yet Yee finished third in a field of eight candidates for Secretary of State in June’s top-two primary. Seriously, California?

DRAPER map 022514Six Californias comes apart at the seams: Honestly, it took me a while to figure out whether renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper was serious about his plan to split California into six states, or if he was doing some sort of Andy Kaufmanesque political performance art demonstrating the absurdities enabled by our ballot initiative system. As it turned out, Draper was for real, and so was the $5.2 million he sank into gathering signatures to put his measure on 2016’s ballot. But not enough of the signatures were real, so he blew it, depriving all of us of two years worth of joke-making.

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Pelosi paints GOP with Scalise’s (white) brush

House Democrats are turning the thumbscrews on their Republican peers, hoping to follow the imminent resignation of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. – who has pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud – with a leadership shakeup.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is under fire for having addressed a white supremacist group – the European-American Unity and Rights Organization – in 2002. And some Democrats want to paint the rest of the GOP caucus with the same brush.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying Scalise’s “involvement with a group classified by the Anti-Defamation League as anti-Semitic and the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group is deeply troubling for a top Republican leader in the House.”

But actions speak louder than whatever words Scalise said in 2002, Hammill continued.

“Just this year, House Republicans have refused to restore the Voting Rights Act or pass comprehensive immigration reform, and leading Republican members are now actively supporting in the federal courts efforts by another known extremist group, the American Center for Law and Justice, which is seeking to overturn the President’s immigration executive actions,” he said. “Speaker Boehner’s silence on this matter is yet another example of his consistent failure to stand up to the most extreme elements of his party.”

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Barbara Lee blasts ‘demagoguing’ on NYPD slayings

Those blaming President Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or protesters for the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers Saturday are “demagoguing the issues” and doing the nation a disservice, Rep. Barbara Lee said Tuesday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“As someone who supports nonviolence and gun safety and gun control and peaceful resolutions in Congress, I don’t think there’s any way any of us in the protest movement, in the progressive movement, would condone that” kind of violence, said Lee, D-Oakland, whose own East Bay district has seen clashes between protesters and police in recent weeks.

Everyone should mourn for victims of violence including the slain officers, she said, but protesters should continue calling attention to instances of misconduct.

As with changes that followed the civil rights movement, she said, “it’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to come from (former New York Mayor Rudy) Giuliani and all the powers that be that believe all is well in America. It’s going to come from the people who see the injustice.”

Lee made the comments during a telephone interview in which she laid out her legislative priorities for 2015, which might be summed up as “Back to the Future.”

First and foremost Lee hopes to get Congress to “do our job” and vote on setting parameters for U.S. military involvement in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The old, post- 9/11 authorization to use military force – which she famously was the only House member to oppose – should be repealed and replaced with something more focused and timely, she said.

“We all know that ISIS poses a threat and we must address it, but we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t create more danger, hostility and anger,” she said.

Asked about a German human-rights group filing war-crime complaints last week against former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and others based on recent reports about the CIA torture program, Lee replied, “I think the international community should deal with it in the way they see fit. … I’m sure people abroad are saying, ‘Wait a minute, the United States must comply with international law.’”

Lee said she’ll redouble her efforts next year to create “pathways out of poverty” and reduce income inequality, reintroducing bills she has carried in past sessions including a plan to halve U.S. poverty in a decade. She authored similar bills in 2011 and 2013.

“We’ve got to help people into the middle class,” she said. “We’ve got to eliminate poverty in the richest country in the world.”

She said she’ll also work to maintain funding for the nation’s HIV/AIDS programs – “We can’t forget that the global and domestic pandemic is still upon us” – and reintroduce her bill from July to create a tax credit for people who are in-home caregivers for their own family members. “I think I’ll get bipartisan support for that.”

She also expects some help from across the aisle in trying to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, now that the Obama administration has announced plans to start normalizing relations. She was returning home from her 21st trip to Cuba when that announcement came last week, part of a group of House members and other delegates who went to study that nation’s public-health system.

“I take people down there, particularly members of Congress, so they can make their own decisions … They should be able to see the realities of Cuba,” Lee said, adding she knows many Republicans will see the wisdom in lifting the 50-year old embargo. “I’ve been working on this since ’77 and never gave up home, so I’m not going to give up hope now.”

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Assemblyman decries city council replacement

One of new Assemblyman Kansen Chu’s first acts will be to decry the process by which his San Jose City Council replacement is being chosen.

Kansen ChuAs my colleague Mike Rosenberg reports, the council is slated to vote Friday afternoon, in its last meeting of the session, on an interim appointment before a special election next year to replace Chu, who left his District 4 council seat for the state Assembly earlier this month.

Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo and outgoing Mayor Chuck Reed have named former District 4 councilwoman Margie Matthews – who endorsed Liccardo for mayor – as their pick. The proposed appointment is seen by the mayor-elect’s critics as a political maneuver that could tip the balance of power at City Hall in his favor. But Liccardo and his supporters say it’s merely a chance to ensure the District 4 residents of north San Jose are represented on key issues, as the winner of the upcoming election will not take office until as late as August.

Chu issued a news release late Thursday saying he’ll hold a news conference Friday morning at San Jose City Hall along with Councilman Ash Kalra and representatives from various community groups to “express their outrage at the anti-democratic, unethical tactics” Liccardo is using to fill the seat.

“The effort to hastily appoint a caretaker to represent the constituents of Council District 4 has been an example of government secrecy and deception,” the news release said. “With moving application deadlines, no community outreach, and an application and interview process with a pre-identified and selected candidate, the community has had little opportunity to voice its concerns about the potential candidates or the process being used.”

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Banker named to run California-China trade office

A prominent Bay-Area based international banker has been tapped to run the California-China Office of Trade and Investment, established last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Kenneth Petrilla“The hiring of Ken Petrilla, one of the most experienced international banking executives in California, shows how serious California is about its trade relationship with China,” Mike Rossi, Brown’s senior jobs advisor, said in a news release.

Petrilla, 68, of Ross, has served for several years in San Francisco as head of the China desk at Wells Fargo, facilitating opportunities involving Chinese companies doing business in the United States.

Brown created the California-China Office of Trade and Investment to serve as a hub for California companies interested in entering or expanding in China – the world’s second largest economy – and for Chinese companies seeking investment opportunities in California – the world’s eighth largest economy by GDP. California exported $24.2 billion to mainland China and Hong Kong in 2013, as the combined China region became the Golden State’s number one export market.

“There is a Chinese expression that opportunities multiply as they are seized, and Ken Petrilla is just the person California needs to seize these opportunities,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, which manages the Trade Office for the state.

Petrilla said it’s hard to imagine a more exciting job “than straddling two of the world’s most dynamic economies and lending my expertise to helping them both grow more intertwined.

“The people of California and China have so much to gain as trade shifts into what many people have called the Century of the Pacific,” he added. “I hope in this role I can give back to California as much as this state has given to me.”

Petrilla earlier held other posts within Wells Fargo, including responsibilities for all Wells Fargo business and activities within Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).