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Water deal still not done

It’s almost 9 p.m. and I’ve been sitting in the hallway outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office for almost on eight hours now.

The giant sculpted gold bear in front of the guv’s door has a microphone perched on it. The press corps is sitting around on laptops and borrowed desk chairs from nearby offices, which is an improvement over the cold granite tiled floor.

The Big Five was supposed to go back into a third round of talks at 8 p.m. but they didn’t show up until a few minutes ago.

The Dems say they have a document for the Republicans to review. Schwarzenegger’s spokesman says we should expect a statement in an hour as to the status of the negotiations and what the governor intends to do about the roughly 350 bills he is holding hostage pending the outcome of a water deal.

Will there be a water deal tonight? It’s hard to say. What legislators say in the hallway outside negotiations and what they say to each other behind closed doors is often a major divide. Neither side wants to give ground in the court of public opinion. Whatever they come out with, if they come out with anything, will be claimed as victory by both sides.

In the meantime, one of the top aides has offered me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Another aide came through with pizza. I can’t accept gifts valued more than $5. How much is a PB&J worth?

Posted on Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, water | No Comments »

Bills escape veto threat

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed 89 bills despite a threat to veto 700 pending pieces of legislation hostage unless top leaders reach a water deal by midnight.

He did veto 94 bills but he nixed them on their merits rather than as part of a promised blanket rejection of most of the Legislature’s work of the past year.

The Big Five — the governor and the top leaders of the Republican and Democratic members of the legislature — were still meeting as of 4:15 p.m. in an effort to reach an accord. The governor has until midnight tonight to sign or veto the 704 bills that have been sent to his office.

As expected, the governor signed bills that would have created financial hardships in the state if they had been vetoed, including Senate Bill 19 authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, which will establish links between student achievement data and teacher and principal data. It is a requirement of federal stimulus dollars in the federal program called “The Race to the Top.”

Schwarzenegger also signed  bill that implements a number of reforms in the state prison system designed to save about $280 million.

Among East Bay legislators bills that were signed into law include state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s Senate Bill 147, which creates career technical courses at the Californa State University system and Senate Bill 702, which requires personnel in health clubs’ child care centers to follow guidelines designed to shield children from pedophiles.

He also signed a bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, that will place on the Web employers’ workers compensation insurance status. It will allow workers to know whether or not a potential employer has insurance.

Read on to see the full legislative update from Schwarzenegger’s office:

Posted on Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Legislature | 1 Comment »

East Bay legislators dubious about state water deal

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

I talked with three Contra Costa state lawmakers via telephone this morning about their views on the Big Five water talks under way in Sacramento today. I did not hear much optimism about a the chances of a deal by tonight’s deadline.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and assemblymembers Joan Buchanan and Tom Torlakson view the closed-door talks on the controversial and complex subject as unlikely to produce a package that will attain either legislative or public support, and urged the resumption of public hearings.

DeSaulnier of Concord, who scuttled his planned trip to Spain this week in order to participate in the California water negotiations, called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move to hold hostage 700 bills on his desk pending a water deal counter-productive.

“The governor’s unique talents are unsuits for this time right now in Sacramento,” DeSaulnier said. “He just not very good at negotiation.”

“What’s the rush?” he added. “Are they worried it will start raining and with the drought over, the pressure will be off to pass reforms? I think we can get a deal but we need to do it with continued public hearings and public discussion, not artificial deadlines.”

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch

Even if the Big Five emerge today or Saturday arm-in-arm with a package, the East Bay legislators say the question of how to pay for it remains a huge sticking point.

All three say they oppose financing the estimated $8 billion to $12 billion package through general obligation bonds. Repayment of general obligation bonds comes right of the top of the state’s general fund, which means the money cannot be used elsewhere.

They favor the use of revenue bonds, which are repaid by water users including residents, businesses and farmers.

“It the midst of these horrible deficits, and we’re facing additional horrendous challenges next year, do we want to cut more from schools or higher education?” said Torlakson, D-Antioch.

“The payment on a $12 billion bond is $700 million a year,” said Buchanan, D-Alamo. “If we are going to pass legislation and ask voters to pass a bond, we need to ask how we’re going to pay for it.”

Buchanan also says that she and other Delta area lawmakers will demand sufficient time to evaluate any proposal and talk with their constituents.

“A half a million people live in the Delta and the impacts of new policies could last decades,” Buchanan said. “You can bet that I and my staff will be reading every word.”

Postscript: DeSaulnier’s trip to Spain was, ironically, a Senate-sponsored event to study the country’s national water system. “I learned more about water by staying home,” DeSaulnier said.

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009
Under: California Assembly, California Legislature, California Senate, Environment, State politics, water | No Comments »

Willie Brown Jr. wows Contra Costa mayors

Willie Brown Jr.

Willie Brown Jr.

Iconic California politician Willie Brown Jr. offered Contra Costa mayors last night a surefire formula to fix California’s problems: Ditch term limits and end the two-thirds voting requirement in the Legislature to pass a budget. (Watch the full speech below.)

Brown was the keynote speaker at the Contra Costa Mayors Conference meeting in San Ramon.

Term limits have robbed the Legislature of experienced lawmakers and the valuable relationships that produce solutions, he said. And the two-thirds rule has allowed a minority to hold the budget and the entire state of California hostage, something he says he never allowed when he was the Speaker of the Assembly.

Brown also opposed the idea of calling a Constitutional Convention unless California can somehow persuade John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to attend. Such a convention, he said, would open up the process to loud minorities who will outlast reasonable people and lead to disaster for the people of California.

Instead, he said the state activate a Constitutional Revision Committee comprised of smart people with proven expertise and require lawmakers to vote their recommendations up or down.

Oh, and if Willie Brown were still in Sacramento, he modestly suggested, things would not be in such a mess.

Watch the full speech below. He is a fantastic public speaker.

Posted on Friday, September 4th, 2009
Under: California Assembly, California Legislature, Contra Costa County | No Comments »

CD10 outcome could trigger more elections

The campaigns for the 10th Congressional District have nearly reached the end of the line and polls will open in a matter of hours.

By this time Wednesday, we should know the outcome of what has been a suspense-filled accelerated primary election season, chiefly due to the presence of three elected Democrats in the contest — Lt. Gov. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo.

The Democratic top vote-getter will become the prohibitive favorite in the Nov. 3 runoff election and if one of these three ultimately prevails, it will trigger one of three events:

1. If Garamendi wins, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will nominate someone to fill out the remainder of his term or 2010. The nomination is subject to approval of both houses of the California Legislature. But if state lawmakers fail to vote within 90 days, the governor’s choice automatically takes the seat.

2 and 3. If DeSaulnier or Buchanan win, a vacancy in the Assembly or Senate seat triggers the state’s special election rules. The governor cannot appoint members of the Legislature. The governor has 14 days as soon as the seat becomes vacant to call a special general election, which must occur within 114 to 126 days. A special primary will be held eight weeks prior to the general election.

Of course, one could extend this line of thought to the extreme. Let’s say DeSaulnier wins the Congressional seat and triggers a special Senate election. Then Buchanan wins the Senate seat and her departure triggers a special Assembly election. All of which translates into millions of dollars to pay for more special elections and all on the backs of the district’s taxpayers.

A few folks have already indicated they will run for an open Senate seat, including Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich and West Contra Costa School Board Trustee Tony Thurmond. Open seats usually attract additional candidates, so we almost certainly expect that list would grow.

As for the lieutenant governor’s seat, talk among Sacramento politicos is that Schwarzenegger favors the appointment of a Republican although the names of several prominent Democrats have surfaced, too.

The governor can either use the post to elevate someone into a position where he or she can run as an incumbent in 2010 for this job or even for governor. Or he could nominate a place-holder, someone who poses no threat to the current gubernatorial or statewide candidates.

“The person who gets appointed has an advantage and the (governor and his staff) will be very careful about who they give that advantage to,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California and a former Republican political consultant.

On the GOP side, names include state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria. He infuriated Republicans when he voted with Schwarzenegger last year for a state budget that contained tax hikes in return for a redistricting ballot measure. On the plus side, Democrats might go along with it; his departure from the Senate creates an opportunity for Democrats to win the seat in a special election. But it would look like political pay-back, a label the moderate Maldonado might not survive in a tough 2010 primary.

Another GOP possibility is Assemblyman Mike Villines of Fresno, the former minority leader who also sided with Schwarzenegger in February on a state budget that included temporary tax hikes in return for spending reform.

There is also speculation that Tom Campbell, the governor’s former finance director, might be persuaded to give up his gubernatorial bid in exchange for the lieutenant governor’s nomination. Campbell’s presence could lead to an unusual partnership between the two Constitutional offices. (Garamendi and Schwarzenegger are not pals. Garamendi’s opposition to the governor’s policies and ballot measures cost the lieutenant governor half of his office budget.)

Democrats who might make the short list include former Assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg. I’m told the two have a strong relationship and Hertzberg might view it as a pulpit for his California Forward initiative, a study of potential governance reforms in the state.

Other Democratic names that come up include former state Controller Steve Westly, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee.

Would Schwarzenegger appoint a Democrat? Who knows? He is unpredictable. And with just a 1 1/2 left in his term, he could always decide to shake things up.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2009
Under: 2009 CD10 special election, California Legislature, Congressional District 10, Schwarzenegger, Tom Campbell | No Comments »

GOP enters TV budget ad fray

The California Republican Party entered the TV ad wars over the state budget today with buys in the Los Angeles, Fresno and Sacramento markets.

The party either didn’t have the cash or chose not to bother with educating television viewers in the Bay Area. But I wouldn’t want you to feel left out.

Here are the ads:

Posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009
Under: California budget, California Legislature | No Comments »

Legislative records lawsuit settled

A pair of open-government groups have settled their lawsuit against the state Office of Legislative Counsel now that a machine-readable database of lawmakers’ voting records has been made available.

The California First Amendment Coalition and MAPLight.org – a Berkeley-based nonpartisan nonprofit research group that exposes connections between money and politics – said the database became available not long after they filed their lawsuit in December in Sacramento County Superior Court.

“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for the government to realize its data belongs to the people,” MAPLight.org executive director Daniel Newman said in a news release. “In this new era of highlighting transparency, we hope this settlement serves as an example to city and state governments across the country to provide public access to public information.”

California Legislative data, including how lawmakers vote, legislation in progress, and laws, used to be available to the public only in a plain-text format on the California Legislative Information website. It could be viewed and printed, but provided access to only one bill at a time, making analysis difficult. CFAC and MAPLight.org had asked for copies of the electronic database used to create the Web site, but the Office of the Legislative Counsel had refused their requests.

Now the website offers a “structured database” containing data on lawmakers’ votes in a machine-readable format. As part of the settlement agreement, which is effective today, CFAC and MAPLight.org agreed to dismiss their lawsuit and agreed that they will not re-file any similar suit so long as the Legislative Counsel maintains this structured database at the same functional level at which it exists today.

The settlement agreement also provides that the Office of the Legislative Counsel will release another database, known as the “Inquire” database that MAPLight.org and CFAC seek to review. The agreement also stipulates that the Office of the Legislative Counsel will pay $65,000 towards MAPLight.org’s and CFAC’s attorney’s fees.

“No longer can legislators use the complexity of the legislative process, and the sheer volume of bills and votes, to hide the favors they are doing for special interests that fund their elections,” said CFAC executive director Peter Scheer. “The more voters know about the influence of money on their elected representatives, the less tolerant they will be.”

MAPLight.org plans to use the structured database to create a new government transparency website, MAPLight.org California, modeled after a MAPLight.org Congress website providing transparency tools including a Money and Votes database showing connections between campaign donations and legislative votes.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, campaign finance | 2 Comments »

Danville mayor will run for state Senate

Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich

Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich

Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich says he will run for the state Senate if Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, is elected to the 10th Congressional District.

The 14-year-veteran of the Danville Town Council and an owner of an architectural firm spent the weekend at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento talking with party leaders — Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, DeSaulnier and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch — about his prospects and came away enthused.

It was his wife who told him he ought to run for the Legislature, he said. Janis teaches school in Orinda and she urged him to try and help fix a dysfunctional state budgeting process mired in partisan muck.

The Legislature’s failure to solve the state’s fiscal problems incrementally in prior years has led to massive and nearly unmanageable deficits that are pushing businesses out of California and hurting education, he said.

“I believe the opportunity for change is over the next 24 months and the voters are looking for it,” Arnerich said. ”

Arnerich is the first declared candidate for the District 7 Senate seat, should it become open.

Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg is also looking at the race and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, may well have an interest in the Senate post if she is unsuccessful in her 10th Congressional District campaign.

Posted on Monday, April 27th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, California Senate, Congressional District 10, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | No Comments »

Delaine Eastin endorses Torlakson for her old job

Tom Torlakson

Tom Torlakson

Dynamic former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin roundly endorsed veteran Contra Costa legislator Tom Torlakson, who held his superintendent campaign kick-off luncheon in Concord today.

Eastin lit up the hall at the Crown Plaza in Concord with her direct and unequivocal style, prompting not a few people to ask at its conclusion, “Where can I vote for her?”

Between glowing commentary about Torlakson’s candidacy, she blasted the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for what she called immoral cuts to education in recent budget decisions. And she vowed to vote against several of the measures on the May 19 special election ballot that she says will hurt education.

“The Legislature doesn’t have the stones to raise taxes on cigars … but they could steal from Prop. 98,” Eastin said.

But Eastin has clearly granted Torlakson, a California assemblyman and former state senator, an exception to her ire.

Eastin, an ardent women’s rights activist, even made it a point to say why she was endorsing Torlakson over his chief opponent, Los Angeles state Sen. Gloria Romero.

“All things being equal, I will endorse the woman,” Eastin said. “But Tom is the right person for this job.”

In an interesting sidenote, Eastin delivered her passionate and pointed speech right in front of the table where two potential congressional challengers sat: Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan.

But unlike the superintendent’s race, Eastin made it clear she would endorse Buchanan. She has already offered to help with the assemblywoman’s campaign, should Buchanan decide to run.

Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Under: 2010 election, California Assembly, California Legislature, Congressional District 10, education | No Comments »

Poll shows record high discontent in California

A new poll released a few minutes ago at the California Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento shows that 82 percent of voters believe the state is on the wrong track.

It is the highest level of unhappiness since the Bay Area Council began doing the survey in 2002. (The council is the chief sponsor of the summit.) Pollsters conducted the telephone poll of 800 voters between Feb. 3-5 and it has an error rate of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Just 11 percent though the state was on the right track. (Who are these people, anyway? Did they take this survey while they were on the beach in Hawaii?)

Reasons for the gloom cited included the budget deficit, gridlock in Sacramento, bureaucracy, poor schools and high taxes.

Disapproval ratings for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are in the tank, too, at 60 and 71 percent respectively. (For comparison purposes, Obama’s disapproval rating was 17 percent.)

The chief purpose of the poll, though, was to gather public opinion on whether state should convene a Constitutional Convention, a group that would examine some or part of the state Constitution and place reforms before voters.

Most voters have never heard of it. It was 1879 when California last convened such a group.

But after a series of explanations about what a convention could accomplish, about half the respondents said they would support it.

In an interesting side note, the poll found that 67 percent of those asked supported an open primary in theory. The poll was taken before the Legislature placed an open primary measure on the June 2010 ballot.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: California Legislature, Election reform, Elections | No Comments »