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AD15: Big IE money spent to support Thurmond

15th Assembly District candidate Elizabeth Echols is complaining that political committees “funded by oil and tobacco interests” are spending generously on independent-expenditure mailers in support of her opponent, Tony Thurmond.

And that’s true, although many other interests are behind the spending as well.

Tony ThurmondElizabeth Echols, 54, of Oakland, is former regional administrator for the Small Business Administration; Thurmond, 46, is a former Richmond councilman and former West Contra Costa County School Board member. The two Democrats are vying to succeed Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who is term-limited out of office at this year’s end.

The “Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, a California business coalition” has reported spending $68,722 in the past week on mailers, research and polling to support Thurmond.

Records show the Alliance raised $713,980.69 in the first half of this year, and has reported no large contributions since. Among the money it collected this year was $125,000 in May from the California Independent Petroleum Association PAC, $90,000 in May from Philip Morris USA, and $25,000 in January from the Occidental Oil & Gas Corp. So, oil and gas accounted for about a third of the committee’s income; the rest came from a wide array of companies, unions and Indian tribes.

Another committee, Keep CA Strong, has reported spending $29,848 on Thurmond’s behalf in the past week.

It reported no cash on hand at mid-year, but reports having received $75,000 on Sept. 19 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Independent Expenditure Committee; $200,000 on Sept. 22 from the California Independent Petroleum Association PAC, $25,000 on Sept. 26 from the California Apartment Association Independent Expenditure Committee; and $2,450 on Sept. 27 from the aforementioned Alliance for California’s Tomorrow. Here, then, the oil industry’s share is bigger.

Echols“It’s very unusual for this district for this kind of money to come in – these are big corporate interests that don’t spend money idly” especially in so solidly progressive a district, Echols said Tuesday. “I believe they know I will be an effective champion for the environment, for funding our schools and for economic opportunity.”

She acknowledged the Alliance has a “broad mix” of backers, but she said she finds “more telling” the Keep CA Strong committee’s limited donor base and money-in, money-out model.

The independent spending notwithstanding, Echols said her campaign has “good, strong resources and a message that is resonating well with voters.” She might not be able to match the outside spending dollar for dollar, she said, “but I believe we will be the stronger campaign in the end.”

Thurmond said Tuesday he “was really caught off-guard” by the spending: “I don’t even know who these groups are.”

“The irony is, I’m the candidate who’s taken a pledge not to take money from cigarette companies – I’m a social worker, I work with youth,” he said, noting he also voted against oil interests while on Richmond City Council. “Whatever they’re doing, they’ve done independently. My record is clear, my entire campaign is based on progressive values.”

Thurmond said the spending “really speaks to the need for reforming how politics works and overturning Citizens United so we have less special interest money in politics.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Assembly | No Comments »

Actors tout Tuck for schools superintendent

Marshall Tuck, the Los Angeles school-reform advocate who’s running neck and neck with incumbent Tom Torlakson for superintendent of public instruction, has added a little star power to his campaign.

Tuck’s new two-and-a-half minute campaign video features actors Joel McHale, Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Adam Scott sitting down with the candidate in a “strategy session.”

My favorite line (of course): “You’ve been endorsed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Who gives a s—?”

Tuck’s campaign issued a news release saying that while the video provides some humor amid a heated campaign, it takes a serious look at key issues facing the race.

“As a parent, I want to make sure we give every child access to a great education,” Bell said in the news release.

Celebrity factoid: Of these four actors, only Scott is a California native, born in Santa Cruz. Bell and Shepard hail from Detroit’s suburbs, McHale from Seattle.

UPDATE @ 11:47 A.M.: Good questions from Twitter follower Steven Herbert: “Do any of them have children old enough to be in public schools? If so, how many are in public schools?”

Bell and Shepard have one daughter, Lincoln Bell Shepard, born in March 2013, and they’re now expecting a second child; they live in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. Scott and his wife, Naomi, have two children, son Graham, 7, and daughter Frankie, 5, and live in LA’s Hollywood Hills section. McHale and his wife, Sarah Williams, have two sons, Eddie, 8, and Isaac, 6; they live in Hollywood Hills as well.

I don’t know what schools the kids attend.

Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, education, Tom Torlakson | 2 Comments »

Tim Donnelly praises Brown for signing DNA law

Somebody note the date and time: Assembly Tim Donnelly, the conservative former gubernatorial candidate who spent much of the spring trashing Gov. Jerry Brown, just said something nice about… Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown on Friday signed Donnelly’s AB 1697, the DNA Protection Act, which prohibits using the state’s criminal-justice DNA database from being used as a source of material for testing, research or experiments by any person, agency or entity seeking to find a causal link between genetics and behavior or health.

Tim Donnelly“I would like to thank Governor Brown for standing with me once again to defend the civil liberties of all Californians,” Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said in a news release. “California will continue to use DNA samples for forensics, missing persons, collecting evidence or other legal means. With AB1697 now law, we have prevented government from abusing our privacy. We have protected the civil rights of all Californians from this high tech tyranny.”

Donnelly said the new law is critical to protecting those who’ve been arrested from the government’s genetic snooping.

“Currently, the government of California has hoarded over 1.8 million DNA samples,” he said. “As the cost of DNA sequencing decreases and the ability to process large amounts of data increases, the state has the unprecedented ability to link genetics with criminal activity. While this may sound like the movie Minority Report, it is no longer science fiction. Thanks to AB1697 becoming law, the DNA of every Californian will be safe from being violated by an ever-intrusive government.”

The bill certainly wasn’t controversial. The Assembly passed it 78-0, and the state Senate passed it 33-0.

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Under: Assembly, Gov. Jerry Brown, Tim Donnelly | No Comments »

Pols want AG to probe CPUC’s ties with PG&E

Peninsula politicians want state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate possible crimes involving the California Public Utilities Commission’s shockingly cozy relationship with PG&E during the agency’s probe of the utility after the deadly 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane will hold a news conference Friday morning in San Francisco to deliver a letter to Harris.

The latest revelation of emails between CPUC staff and PG&E executives led to the outser of officials at both this week. The utility also disclosed in a regulatory filing that it may have violated PUC rules with emails it sent the agency as recently as January.

E-mails released by PG&E showed that the utility tried to influence the selection of the administrative law judge who would decide how much customers’ rates should go up to pay for required gas pipeline improvements after the 2010 blast killed eight and injured more than 50.

“The letter from Hill, Mullin and Ruane also cites what appear to have been a series of illegal interventions on PG&E’s behalf in the penalty case against PG&E for the explosion in San Bruno perpetrated by the CPUC’s executive director and former general counsel – including pressuring its own attorneys to advocate no penalty in the case, which attorneys felt to be ‘illegal and unethical;’ reassigning the attorneys after they refused to back down; and firing one when he pressed PG&E to produce pipeline safety records,” according to a news release from Hill’s office.

Gov. Jerry Brown offered full-throated support for CPUC President Michael Peevey last month even after an initial disclosure of e-mails related to the San Bruno case.

“I know there’s been a lot of ink poured out on this topic, but I would say he’s a very effective leader, he gets things done” especially on promoting renewable energy, Brown said of Peevey at the time. He went on to describe Peevey as “a strong force,” the likes of which hasn’t held the CPUC’s reins since John Bryson did so during Brown’s second term, from 1979 to 1982.

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Attorney General, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Jerry Hill, Kamala Harris, Kevin Mullin | No Comments »

Mike Honda urges Brown to sign Martins Beach bill

Rep. Mike Honda is urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill that would re-open San Mateo County’s Martins Beach, the focus of a fierce battle between a billionaire who closed off the access road and surfers and advocates wanting to reach the beach.

The Legislature last month sent Brown SB 968 by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which would instruct the State Lands Commission to consider buying Martins Beach Road if it can’t cut a deal with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to voluntarily open access to the coastline near his sprawling property.

“The people of northern California have waited too many years to regain their historical access to Martins Beach,” Honda, D-San Jose, wrote in a letter to Brown dated Thursday. “The State of California has always recognized the importance of open spaces for its citizens and provided them access to the beautiful coasts in the Coastal Act of 1976. We must preserve this treasured public access to our state’s best resources.”

The beach isn’t in Honda’s 17th Congressional District; it’s in Rep. Jackie Speier’s 14th District. But Honda’s office says he’s been “a supporter of open spaces throughout his political career,” advocating for projects throughout the South Bay and Peninsula. (Speier’s office says she “supports public access,” but described no position on SB 968.)

“Protecting our open spaces and California’s sacred wilderness is more than sound public policy – it’s our obligation,” Honda wrote. “In my work, first as a County Supervisor, as a State Assembly member, and finally as a member of Congress I have continually fought to ensure public access to open spaces for all Californians to enjoy – equal access to our state’s treasured assets is a core value – and one that should be afforded to all, regardless of income.”

Hill, San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley and members of the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club will hold a news conference Friday morning outside the closed gate to Martins Beach to urge Brown to sign the bill.

Brown, in a meeting with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board a few days before SB 968 reached his desk, declined to comment on the issue: “I think that topic is being sufficiently contested, it doesn’t need any further comment from me.”

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Jerry Hill, Mike Honda, U.S. House | No Comments »

Bay Area campaign calendar heats up

The general-election season is in full swing, with a full calendar of campaign and fundraising events for Bay Area candidates. Here’s a sampling of what’s going on out there in the next week or so:

11th Congressional District: Tue Phan – the Republican retired immigration judge from Danville who’s facing off against state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, for the seat from which George Miller is retiring – is having a fundraiser tonight at La Veranda Café in Clayton. Tickets cost $150 per person or $275 per couple; it’s hosted by Roger Petersen, who ran against Miller in 2008 and 2010.

16th Assembly District: California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte will be in the East Bay this weekend to stump and raise money for Catharine Baker, the Dublin attorney who’s facing off against Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti for the 16th Assembly District seat. Brulte and Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen will join Baker for a fundraiser Saturday evening at a Danville home, with tickets ranging from $100 to $4,100, and Brulte plus GOP volunteers from across the state will be out walking precincts for Baker on Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, Sbranti and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, will kick off the Tri-Valley area’s United Democratic Campaign with a rally, phone bank and precinct walk on Saturday, and then wine scion Phil Wente will host a fundraiser for Sbranti on Sunday in Livermore with tickets ranging from $500 to $4,100.

15th Assembly District: Elizabeth Echols of Berkeley, one of two Democrats vying for the 15th Assembly District seat, has a fundraiser set for next Tuesday evening, Sept. 16 at the Piedmont home of Steve Schiller and Kristine Kaiser; tickets cost from $100 to $1,000. The other Democrat hoping to succeed the term-limited Nancy Skinner is Tony Thurmond of Richmond, who’s opening his campaign HQ this Saturday, Sept. 13 on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito; walking in the Solano Stroll on Sunday; and holding house parties next Wednesday and Thursday in Berkeley and El Cerrito, respectively.

Lieutenant Governor: Ron Nehring, the Republican challenger to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, will hold a meet-and-greet next Monday evening, Sept. 15 at a San Rafael home; will address the Novato Republican Women Federated at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16 at the Marin Country Club; and will appear with 10th State Senate District candidate Peter Kuo at a dinner Tuesday night in Fremont.

State Controller: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the Republican candidate for state controller, will speak at a Nob Hill Republican Women’s Club dinner next Wednesday, Sept. 17 at San Francisco’s L’Olivier restaurant. Swearengin’s opponent is Democrat Betty Yee, a Board of Equalization member from Alameda, who has evening receptions scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 11 in Fresno; Friday, Sept. 12 in Folsom; Monday, Sept. 15 in Santa Cruz; and Friday, Sept. 19 in San Francisco.

Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Assembly, California State Senate, Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Fabian Nunez to lead campaign vs. ‘Six Californias’

Former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez will chair OneCalifornia, the effort opposing the “Six Californias” ballot measure pushed for 2016’s ballot by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper.

Fabian Nunez“Six Californias is an impractical, unworkable, and unconstitutional scheme that is undermining the California brand throughout the world just as our state is making an economic comeback,” Núñez said in a news release. “Our state’s diversity has always been its strength; tearing it up into six pieces is a solution in search of a problem that does nothing to address the challenges we face as a state that we need to tackle with the greatest talent pool imaginable: nearly 40 million Californians.”

The measure would split California into six states, each with its own government; much of the Bay Area, plus Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, would become the state of Silicon Valley. California’s northernmost parts would become Jefferson, as some counties up there have wanted for years; some North Bay counties would become part of North California; Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield would be among Central California’s largest cities; Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara would wind up in West California; and San Diego would anchor South California.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office reports Draper’s plan to split California – now 14th among the 50 states in per capita income – would create both the nation’s richest state (Silicon Valley) and its poorest (Central California).

Núñez, 47, who served as Speaker from 2004 to 2008 and is now a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, will lead a political and legal drive against the measure. OneCalifornia was founded by Forward Observer CEO and former Gov. Wilson Cabinet Secretary Joe Rodota and Steven Maviglio, former press secretary and now a Sacramento-based Democratic political strategist.

A Six Californias spokesman didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment Thursday.

DRAPER map 022514Draper, 56, of Atherton, in July filed about 1.3 million petition signatures Tuesday in hopes of qualifying the measure for the November 2016 ballot. Six Californias has yet to report any contributions by anyone other than Draper, who has put $5.2 million into it so far.

The deadline for counties to report signature verification is next Friday, Sept. 12, and OneCalifornia claims the qualification rate so far isn’t looking good: The measure is below the 71.0% validity rate required to qualify for the ballot in a majority of potential “states” and below the 67.4% validity rate required for a full count in half the “states.”

“I hope this will be a short-term gig,” Núñez said of his OneCalifornia leadership. “For our state’s sake, I’m hoping voters will not have to endure further discussion of a such an ill-conceived and meritless idea that’s become the subject of late night talk show jokes.”

If enough signatures are verified, however, Núñez says the OneCalifornia committee will explore a legal challenge. Based partly on my reporting, the OneCalifornia committee has called for the Secretary of State to investigate reports of signature-gathering fraud by the firm Draper hired, Carlsbad-based Arno Political Consultants.

UPDATE @ 3:44 P.M.: “These guys are spending an awful lot of time on something they don’t believe to be real,” Six Californias spokesman Roger Salazar said Thursday. “It’s no secret political insiders don’t like Six Californias because it decentralizes power to regional leaders. Six Californias gives us a chance, a choice and a change.”

UPDATE @ 4:30 P.M.: Draper just issued a statement about Fremont-based electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors’ decision to site its first battery “gigafactory” in Nevada. Note that Draper is an investor in Tesla and Steve Jurvetson – who with Draper and John Fisher founded a prominent venture-capital firm – sits on the company’s board of directors:

Tim Draper“Today California has lost another opportunity to create more jobs, and improve our economic environment. Losing Tesla to Nevada is just another reminder that our state needs change. California has high unemployment and the percentage of people living below the poverty line is steadily increasing. Our state needs a massive investment in infrastructure and a streamlined process to help grow and keep businesses.”

“How much longer do we tolerate a monolithic, job losing California? We continue to live in the state ranked worst in the nation for business. Six Californias gives us a chance, a choice and a change—and more jobs.”

“Six Californias is our opportunity to solve the many problems we face today. Six Californias gives us an opportunity to create a better future for all 38 million of us. Six states that are more representative and accountable. Six states that embrace innovation and strive to improve the lives of residents. With Six Californias we can refresh our government. California is a beautiful place to live. Let’s make it a great place to thrive.”

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Under: ballot measures, Fabian Nunez | 4 Comments »

SD10: Wieckowski & Kuo speak out on Tesla

Electric-car manufacturer Tesla’s decision to site its first “gigafactory” for battery production in Nevada has brought a wave of disappointment from Californians, including the two candidates hoping to represent the Fremont-based company’s 10th State Senate District.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, looked for silver linings:

Bob Wieckowski“While I am disappointed in Tesla’s apparent decision to locate its battery factory in Nevada, I am proud of California’s partnership with Tesla resulting in significant job growth in Fremont, Santa Clara County and among the automakers’ suppliers. I am hopeful that as the company grows, Tesla may build additional battery facilities or other specialized facilities in California as it scales up manufacturing for current and future products. Our region continues to benefit from the growth of auto research and design investments in the Bay Area and Tesla is an important part of that industry growth locally. With more than 6,000 employees in our state and the new Model X on the way in 2015, Tesla will continue to contribute to California’s position as the green technology leader and highlight our commitment to job creation.”

But Republican candidate Peter Kuo noted the Legislature couldn’t reach a deal before adjourning last week on a bill to provide further incentives for Tesla to put the plant in California:

Peter Kuo “Over the past year California, and specifically the Bay Area, has seen tens of thousands of current and future jobs depart for other states. Jobs fleeing California has become common place, this is unacceptable and unsustainable for our economy.

“While my opponent Bob Wieckowski appears to dismiss the severity of this news, I am concerned about the economy and workers in this district. The type of policies that Bob has led on are a root cause of the exodus of businesses to more business friendly states. Since announcing my candidacy I have often pointed to California’s burdensome business climate that has resulted in an abysmal recovery in the Golden State. Tesla’s latest move hits close to home because many of those jobs could have filled by constituents of the 10th Senate District. I urge the legislature to take this seriously and stop the bleeding.”

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate | 2 Comments »

ALD newborn-testing advocates fear veto for cost

Supporters of a bill that would require newborns to be tested for a deadly disease fear it may be headed for a veto because of its cost.

Assemblyman Richard Pan’s AB 1559, requiring newborns to be screened for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), is now headed for a Senate floor vote, having been approved last week by the Appropriations Committee on a 5-0 vote. In fact, no lawmaker has voted against the bill so far; the Assembly approved it 79-0 in May.

But the only entity on record as opposing the bill is a big one: The California Department of Finance. Its analysis found adding a new disease to the current screening panel would require raising the $111.70 fee by another $11 – and that means an added $2.75 million per year in cost to Medi-Cal, which covers testing for about half the state’s births.

The Finance Department noted the federal government is reviewing whether ALD should be added to the list of recommended screenings for all newborns, but that review will take about two years and the state typically waits for that final approval before adding new diseases to its screening panel.

Gov. Jerry Brown typically doesn’t comment on bills before they reach his desk.

ALD – spotlighted in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” – is a degenerative brain disease mostly affecting young boys. The disease affects the myelin sheaths that insulate brain cells, essentially preventing the brain from communicating with the body.

It’s a rare disease – estimated at one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 births – and those who have it often have normal early childhoods. Early symptoms often seem to be behavioral and are misdiagnosed, but once the degeneration begins, it’s very rapid and usually leads to a vegetative state and then death. Advocates say cord-blood and bone-marrow transplants in the disease’s earliest stages can treat and even heal patients – if anyone knows the patient has the disease.

“Every year that California delays testing, we can expect that 30 families won’t get the early diagnoses that could save their vibrant and seemingly healthy child from this cruel disease,” said Pan, D-Sacramento, who is a physician. “For the parents who have lost their child to ALD, it is particularly tragic and painful knowing that a simple and effective test at birth could have saved their child’s life.”

Shane Louisell, 53, of San Leandro, lost two brothers to the disease – Bobby, at age 5, and Richard, at age 44 – the latter having suffered the less-common, adult-onset version of the disease. Now his nephew, in his 30s, has it too.

“The bill is so important – getting newborns screened, at least they have a chance to do something about it before it’s too late,” said Louisell, an artist and retired teacher. “It would save a lot of families grief.”

And supporters say the bill actually would save California millions because the difference in treating an early diagnosed patient and a late-diagnosed patient is roughly $1 million per year.

New York just began testing newborn babies for ALD at the end of last year; so far, six boys and one girl were found to have the disease, and so have been given a chance at life; testing of those babies’ families found a four-year-old who also was diagnosed.

You could’ve heard a pin drop as ALD victims’ mothers told their stories at the Senate Health Committee hearing in June:

Posted on Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 2 Comments »

Lawmakers OK bill to boost grease-theft penalties

A bill to boost penalties for stealing used cooking oil is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yes, you read that correctly – used cooking oil. Apparently oil from restaurants’ deep fryers has become a hot commodity worth a lot of money, with thieves draining it in the dead of night and selling it for conversion into clean-burning biofuel. Ah, California.

There's gold in that there fryer“As the alternative fuels market keeps growing, the demand for inedible kitchen grease based biofuels will grow as well,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, the bill’s author, said in a news release.

“The price increases stemming from this new demand will make grease theft a more lucrative crime in the coming years,” he said. “AB 1566 provides law enforcement with the tools to combat grease theft and protect the burgeoning biofuels market by beefing up requirements for licensed haulers, increasing the penalties for stealing grease and allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 15 days.”

The penalties have been so minor that many law enforcement agencies don’t even respond when owners report the theft, Holden contends. But according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a typical fast-food restaurant produces 150-250 pounds of grease a week and a fully loaded pumper truck could bring in as much as $900 at a recycling center.

The Assembly voted 70-0 Monday to send the bill to Brown’s desk. The state Senate had approved it 35-0 one week ago.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate | No Comments »