First all-woman delegation leads Contra Costa

For the first time in Contra Costa County history, all three of its representatives in the California Assembly are women.

That bucks state and national trends, where despite comprising slightly more than half the population, women make up less than a third of the California Legislature, 16 percent of the House of Representatives and 17 out of 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

I sat down in a Contra Costa Times conference room recently with Assemblywomen Nancy Skinner, of Berkeley; Susan Bonilla, of Concord; and Joan Buchanan, of Alamo, where we talked broadly about why women are underrepresented, how to encourage more women to seek public office and how women legislate differently than men.

Read a sampling here of what the women had to say or watch the full video below.


AD15: Dems pump $1.4 million into race

The California Democratic Party and affiliated party central committees from throughout the state have dumped $1.42 million into the re-election bid of Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo.

That compares with $648,372 from the California Republican Party on behalf of its nominee, San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson.

The figures include contributions through the last reporting period of Oct. 16 plus late contributions reported to the California Secretary of State as of yesterday.

Where are the parties spending this cash? Some of it is going into mailers and postage:

  • Anti-Buchanan mailers: 9
  • Pro-Buchanan mailers: 8
  • Anti-Wilson mailers: 7
  • Pro-Wilson mailers: 6
    TOTAL: 30

The anti-Wilson mailers focus on the biggest noose around his neck — the fact that San Ramon pays its city manager more than any other city manger in California, according to California League of Cities survey, while he runs as a fiscal conservative. Wilson doesn’t like it but you can bet he would use it if his opponent were in the same boat.

On the Buchanan front, the California Republican Party sent out a host of absurd distortions based on the ridiculous premise that she bears responsibility for every bad outcome contained  in the state’s last two budgets.

Granted, as a Democrat, Buchanan doesn’t agree with a lot of the GOP’s ideas about taxes and government spending. But I think it’s fair to say that every member of the California Legislature was unhappy with the last two budgets and their votes in favor of them reflected the necessity to pass a budget rather than support for its contents.

I’ve posted one of the anti-Buchanan mailers below and her campaign’s response to the some of the assertions:

WHAT IT SAYS: “Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan voted to release 16,000 dangerous criminals early from prison.” And “Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan’s vote released criminals with a history of attacks on children as well as a convict arrested for rape 18 hours after his release.”

BUCHANAN’S RESPONSE:   That’s ridiculous.  Assemblymember’s are not responsible for local parole decisions.  The bill specifically required each county’s community corrections programs to be developed and implemented by the probation department, as advised by a local Community Corrections Partnership.

WHAT IT SAYS: “Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan voted to cut the education budget by $8.4 billion. Due to Buchanan’s cuts, teachers received layoff notices, schools were unable to buy updated textbooks, testing budgets were slashed and school maintenance was reduced.” (Chronicle, Feb. 20, 2009, SB3x4)

BUCHANAN’S RESPONSE:  Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan voted to pass a budget that closed a $40 billion deficit at a point when the state was days away from issuing IOUs and closing major construction projects.  The budget included cuts to all major programs, including education, but also included a provision to pay back education when the economy turns around.  Only 3 Republicans voted for the budget.  The remaining 24 refused to vote to support any of the budget bills.

WHAT IT SAYS: “Joan Buchanan allowed access to sex and drug websites on school computers.” (San Ramon Valley Unified School Board minutes, 11/7/2000, 1/22/1991)

BUCHANAN’S RESPONSE:  Students in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District have never had access to sex or drug websites on school computers.  All computers are filtered.

Here is the mailer:


AD15: Candidates face CCT ed board

I sat in on yesterday’s editorial board meetings with the two Assembly District 15 candidates, Democratic incumbent Joan Buchanan and GOP nominee and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson.

The editorial board members asking the questions included Times Publisher David Rounds, Editorial Page Editor Dan Hatfield and editorial writer and columnist Dan Borenstein. (I am not a member of the editorial board and have no vote on the endorsement selection, but I occasionally sit in on the interviews for news-gathering purposes.)

Watch portions of the meetings below.

In Wilson’s session, the board focused heavily on matters related to the salary and pension of San Ramon City Manager Herb Moniz. The mayor has come under heavy criticism for running as a fiscal conservative at the same time he defends Moniz’ pay, which was the highest in California in 2009.

But what emerges from the discussion is the massive gap between Wilson and members of the editorial board when it comes to knowledge of how public pensions work in California.

For Buchanan, the issue is disclosure of public employees’ salaries, which the Assemblywoman has opposed when it comes to front-line workers such as school teachers and janitors. But Buchanan has reversed her stance after the scandal in the small southern California city of Bell, where investigators have uncovered wildly excessive salaries and misuse of public funds.

The Contra Costa Times, among other news organization, successfully sued to force the release of public employees salaries and pensions and has used that data to help uncover abuses such as pension spiking.

Watch portions of the two editorial board meetings below.


Anti-Wilson torrent pours into AD15

Everyone knew it was coming.

The California Democratic Party and Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan unleashed a triple whammy this week against her opponent, GOP nominee and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson.

Television and radio ads hit the airwaves today and a brochure landed in mailboxes in the past few days. (See all three below.)

All contain the same theme: Wilson cannot call himself a fiscal conservative at the same time he supports paying San Ramon City Manager Herb Moniz the highest city manager salary in California.

Moniz earned $356,000, the top pay in the state, according to the League of California Cities’ salary compensation study. (Three other city managers collected more money in 2009 but after one-time retirement payments were subtracted, Moniz remained was No. 1.)

The issue could seriously damage Wilson’s chances of victory on Nov. 2. Voters of all political stripes are angry over the scandal in Bell, where the city manager earned in excess of $800,000 and he and several city councilmembers were indicted on charges of stealing public money.

Wilson has consistently supported Moniz’ salary. He correctly notes that Moniz’ pay figure includes the cost of health insurance when other cities did not report the figure as part of their top managers’ salary. (This is requires clarification, however. San Ramon does not provide Moniz health insurance but the city boosted his salary about $20,000, the value of that insurance.)

Wilson also says that San Ramon is an exceedingly well-run city and Moniz does the job without a bevy of assistant city managers found in other communities.

“It’s pay for performance,” Wilson said during a recent interview. “Show me a better-run city in California or the U.S. Look at all the awards we have received … We pay in this society for performance. Look at athletes. Look at executives.”

Wilson continued to say, “You can pay less and have to fear for your life when you have to talk out your door or you can not have the amenities. But what good is that? It’s quality of life. We don’t have that in California. But we do have that in San Ramon.”

Click here to listen to the radio ad:

Abram Wilson radio ad by Lisa Vorderbrueggen

Watch the video below:

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AD15: Buchanan outraises Wilson





Democratic incumbent Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan substantially out-raised her Republican opponent, San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, according to campaign reports filed Tuesday.

Here are the totals:

Buchanan: $896,075 in contributions; $620,630 in expenses; $387,656 cash in the bank; and $55,404 in debts.

Wilson: $495,521 in contributions; $520,284 in expenses; $93,205 cash in the bank; and $15,415 in debts.


AD15: GOP drops cash on Wilson





The California Republican Party dropped a total of $142,000 today and Friday into the candidacy of GOP Assembly candidate Abram Wilson, according to state campaign filings of contributions in excess of $5,000.

I’ve been wondering when someone was going to spend some money on this race, viewed as one of the most competitive of Assembly contests in the state.

In 2008, Wilson and the successful Democratic nominee, Joan Buchanan, and their respective supporters, spent a staggering $3.4 million.

And now, here it almost October and voting by mail starts Monday, and the money adds up to just under $1 million combined between the two candidates.

It’s expected to be a tough year for Democratic incumbents. The state still doesn’t have an approved budget. The economy is in the dumps. People are angry and frustrated with political gridlock in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

But Buchanan has a couple of things going for her in the 15th District.

The Democratic Party’s registration lead over Republicans has expanded to 6 percentage points, up from 1.7 points in 2008. If Democrats show up to the polls, and that’s not a sure thing, she will have an advantage.

Buchanan, of Alamo, could also benefit from the fact that her opponent is the mayor of San Ramon, a city that pays its manager, Herb Moniz, more than any other city executive in California, according to a recent League of Cities compensation survey. (Three other cities reported higher total payments in 2009 than San Ramon but the figures included retirement payouts.)

Wilson has steadfastly defended Moniz’ pay, citing San Ramon’s solid fiscal standing as just one example of the executive’s valuable skills. The mayor also accurately notes that the compensation figures were self-reported to the league and many did not include health insurance and other benefits, making direct comparisons difficult.

Nonetheless, in the wake of the Bell scandal, where the city manager earned $800,000 a year and he, along with a half-dozen individuals, were indicted on criminal charges related to misuse of public funds, the voters are undeniably sensitive to the issue.