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CA17: Sec’y of State Alex Padilla backs Ro Khanna

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has endorsed Democratic candidate Ro Khanna to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in the 17th Congressional District.

Alex Padilla“Ro Khanna will help get Congress working again with his innovative ideas and freedom from special interests,” Padilla said in Khanna’s news release. “Ro’s commitment to building a grassroots campaign has shown me that he’s serious about increasing participation, and being accountable to the people he represents. I look forward to working with him as a United States Congressman.”

Khanna said he’s honored to have Padilla’s support. “As he did in leading the charge to bring automatic voter registration to California, Alex has proven he can offer new solutions and get things done. I look forward to working as his partner in Washington to bring about results for the people of California.”

This is Khanna’s second bid to unseat Honda, who is now serving his eighth House term. Honda defeated Khanna last year by 3.6 percentage points.

Padilla is the state’s second prominent Latino politician to endorse Khanna; state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, did so in September. The 17th District’s population is about 16 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2014 American Community Survey.

Other Democrats picking the challenger over the incumbent this year include San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone. Khanna also has peeled away two local officials who had endorsed Honda last year.

Honda recently announced his endorsement by Northern California House members Nancy Pelosi, Zoe Lofgren, Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, Jared Huffman and Ami Bera, as well as by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

UPDATE AT 6:40 A.M. MONDAY: I’ve noticed now that Padilla had endorsed Honda in last year’s race.

Posted on Sunday, November 15th, 2015
Under: Alex Padilla, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 8 Comments »

Jerry Brown honored by GOVERNING magazine

Gov. Jerry Brown is among nine public officials nationwide honored as the year’s most outstanding leaders in state and local government by GOVERNING magazine.

From the magazine’s website:

Not that long ago, people were questioning whether California could be governed. The state faced multibillion-dollar shortfalls every year, leading to questions about whether California would go broke before Greece. In terms of dysfunction, Sacramento appeared to have beaten even Washington.

Then Jerry Brown returned as governor. When he took office in 2011, the state was $26 billion short. This year, lawmakers were fighting about what to do with a surplus. Much of that had to do with the state’s rising economy, but Brown had helped put the state back on a sustainable course.

In 2012, he convinced voters to raise sales and income taxes. Since then, he has managed to curb the impulse legislators have to spend money as fast or faster than it’s coming in, using his veto power freely and instead diverting the money to the state’s rainy day fund. “His ability to follow through on his promise to voters that he was going to stabilize the financial situation, which every year had been a problem, has made all the difference in the world,” says Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

GOVERNING’s profile also praised Brown’s work on benefits and rights for undocumented immigrants, higher education funding, climate change, and combating the state’s historic drought.

“We’re thrilled to be recognizing such remarkable officials,” GOVERNING Executive Editor Zach Patton said in a news release. “These outstanding men and women are tremendous examples of the power of public service, especially at the state and local level.”

“We are all too aware of the daunting challenges facing many of our states and localities and the people who live in them,” said GOVERNING Publisher Mark Funkhouser. “But this year’s award recipients inspire me with great optimism, showing how determined leadership can address even the steepest challenges.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 3 Comments »

Rule change would hide politicians’ disclosures

The state’s political watchdog agency is mulling a rules change that would mean dropping elected officials’ economic disclosures and “behested payments” reports from its website after seven years – effectively removing them from public view.

And in a state where lots of people often hold one or more public offices for way longer than seven years, that seems like a bad idea.

The proposed rule change would require that Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests disclosures and records of behested payments – charitable contributions directed by a public official to a charity of their choice – be taken off the Fair Political Practices Commission’s website after seven years.

Keep in mind that even in this age of term limits, a person can serve up to 12 years in the Legislature and up to eight years in a particular statewide constitutional office – though many politicians play “musical chairs” through several such posts for careers spanning decades. Many officeholders would still be in office when their earlier disclosures start disappearing, these disclosures are crucial tools for exposing the influence of deep-pocketed donors and possible conflicts of interests.

A rule like this would’ve made it much harder for me and my colleague, Thomas Peele, to fully report our October 2014 story about Gov. Jerry Brown’s extensive business dealings, or my May 2015 story about the many millions Brown has directed in behested payments as California’s attorney general and governor.

The FPPC had opposed a bill this year to reduce transparency around behested payments by allowing funds solicited from government programs to go unreported, but the Brown signed the bill into law last month, Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber noted in a Capitol Watchdog article Wednesday.

“A sole contribution solicited in 2008 may not reflect direct influence over a vote or action in 2015, but it can certainly help paint a trend and pattern over time of a politician’s relationships and who they rely on for support,” Balber wrote.

“Once upon a time, too much data might have felt like dead wood, too voluminous to be used in any meaningful way. Today, technology is giving us new and innovative ways to manipulate government and campaign data every day,” she continued. “We can do more this year with data provided in 2000 than we could for the previous 15 years. It’s the worst time to be taking information out of public view.”

FPPC staff will hold an “interested persons” meeting on this proposed rule change at 2 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 12 at the commission’s offices on the 8th floor of 428 J St. in Sacramento. People also can take part in this meeting by teleconference, by calling 877-411-9748 and using access code 723284. Or, Californians can make their opinions known in writing, addressed to Commission Counsel Val Joyce at, or via snail mail at 428 J St., 8th floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.

UPDATE @ 4:35 P.M. THURSDAY: FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga noted in an email today that the proposed regulation change would let the commission remove the forms from the website after seven years “but will not require us to do so. It will be based on a ‘as-needed’ basis, which gets to section 81009 (g) which states that we (or any agency) may remove the form for space-saving or technical purposes as long as an original is still available.”

“And as for behested payment reports, we put them online as part of our goal and attempt to provide disclosure, and to provide meaningful and timely information,” he said. “As for why only certain ones are posted with us right now, it’s been a matter of practicality and labor availability.”

Wierenga said the FPPC’s goal “is to increase transparency through technology, and the new e-filing will do so. It’s also a goal to provide meaningful, current, timely information that matters most to most people, especially before an election.”

I replied that I didn’t understand why the FPPC, once it already has the Form 700s and behested payments information online, would take them down.

Wierenga replied that the commission’s staff in reworking its website found it had more than 300,000 PDF documents and began considering “what makes common sense in balancing the public’s right to know with privacy concerns, possibly outdated information, etc.” The proposed change would give staff some flexibility rather than having to go to the commission for approval, he said, and since the agency already goes beyond the letter of state law by not only retaining records for seven years but making them available online, “we figured it’s just consistent at this point to keep the time frame the same.”

“Once e-filing is the norm, and fewer and fewer forms come in to our offices physically, taking up time to scan and space to store –, yes, you’re right, we can and probably will re-visit the issue,” he said. “And there are obviously no plans for someone to sit at a computer in a few years to start deleting information at seven years and one minute and counting. We already go above and beyond what’s statutorily required… so there’s no reason to think, and under the current Chair’s direction, no movement to do anything other than streamline, make more efficient, look for ways to improve technology and disclosure, etc.”

UPDATE @ 10:10 TUESDAY 11/10: The FPPC staff has withdrawn the proposed rule change.

Posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015
Under: Sacramento | 1 Comment »

Bay Area lawmaker wants to legalize ‘ballot selfies’

A Bay Area lawmaker will introduce a bill making it legal for Californians to take “selfies” of their voting ballots and post them on social media.

Marc LevineAssemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said it’s good for voters to share their civic participation. He’ll introduce his bill when the Legislature returns to session in January.

“As voters go to the polls this week, I encourage them to declare their participation in the elections process,” he said in a news release. “California law should encourage voter pride, political speech, and civic engagement through social media. Laws prohibiting this activity were written before sharing digital images over the internet was ubiquitous. It is time to update those laws to reflect technology and the world in which we now live.”

For now, section 14291 of the state Elections Code says that “after the ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” Anyone photographic their ballot and posting that photo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media would be in violation.

But Levine notes that a recent federal district court decision indicates this state law might be an unconstitutional denial of voters’ First Amendment free speech rights. The court ruled that a New Hampshire law banning disclosure of one’s ballot – and levying fines of up to $1,000 – is unconstitutional, finding that the ballot selfie is a form of political speech that can be restricted only by meeting the highest standard of constitutional scrutiny.

“The ballot selfie is protected political speech,” Levine said Monday. “Elections officials must demonstrate public harm through nefarious use of ballot selfies before denying voters their First Amendment rights. I encourage California voters to exercise their right to political speech.”

Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2015
Under: Assembly | 4 Comments »

Jerry Brown blasts states fighting carbon-limit plan

California Gov. Jerry Brown vowed Friday to fight the 25 states and various business groups that are suing to block the Obama administration’s plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants.

“While the world’s scientists warn of the existential threat we face, these misguided political representatives seek to take America into a dark age of climate denial,” Brown said in a news release. “I will do everything in my power to fight this pernicious lawsuit.”

Power plants are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases among stationary sources in the United States, accounting for about a third of all emissions. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan sets greenhouse gas emissions guidelines for each state based on current levels of pollution; on average, it would help cut pollution from existing power plants nationwide approximately 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

California already is primed to meet and exceed these new, national reduction targets, having committed to cutting emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 under an executive order Brown issued in April – the most ambitious target in North America and consistent with California’s existing commitment to reduce emissions 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050.

Brown has been focused on subnational pacts – collaboration between cities, states and provinces around the world – to fight climate change, even as national governments seek a deal ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference next month in Paris.

Posted on Friday, October 23rd, 2015
Under: energy, Environment, Global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

SD9: School funding activist launches campaign

Katherine Welch, an education funding activist from Piedmont, will formally announce her 9th State Senate District candidacy Saturday, joining two longtime East Bay politicos in the race.

Katherine WelchWelch, 54, was registered as a Republican as of early 2014 but is running as a Democrat against Democratic former Assembly members Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Sandre Swanson of Alameda, as well as San Pablo Vice Mayor Richard Kinney, a Republican.

“I’ve always been a Democrat, if you look at my political contributions,” Welch said Friday, adding that registering for a time with the GOP “was more my frustration with the political process than about the candidates I support … It was a little bit of a protest.”

Campaign finance records support her claim. Welch has contributed to the unsuccessful Proposition 34 of 2012, to abolish the death penalty; ActBlue California, an online Democratic fundraising clearinghouse, in 2012 and 2014; Joan Buchanan’s and Sandra Fluke’s unsuccessful Democratic state Senate campaigns in 2014; and Democrat Betty Yee for state controller in 2014. And her federal contributions dating back to 2004 have supported only Democrats.

She also sank money into last year’s effort by Educate Our State – a nonprofit of which she’s a board member and former chairwoman – to field a ballot measure that would’ve protected local property tax revenues designated for schools from being borrowed or otherwise re-directed by state lawmakers. The measure failed to get enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Welch said Friday she’s making her first run for public office partly to encourage more moms like herself to “go up there (to Sacramento) and start talking about the things we’re not talking about in this state” – mainly, about fully committing to full funding for public schools.

“I’m fortunate enough that I have the time and the passion to do it,” she said, adding that “this whole ‘it’s my turn’ mentality” among politicians is unhealthy for the state and nation.

But asked whether Skinner’s and Swanson’s platforms are lacking, Welch replied, “I’m not running against anyone. … It’s not a question of who’s more progressive, it’s a question of priorities.”

She’s running because “kids, public education and people who don’t really have a voice in Sacramento,” she said. “Money and power and lobbyists have a voice, and kids don’t.”

Welch is working with Democratic political strategist Lisa Tucker of Pleasant Hill, who has worked for figures including former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin. Though she tweeted her intent to run on Sept. 23, she and about 100 of her supporters will kick off her campaign at 11 a.m. this Saturday, Oct. 24 in Crocker Park, 81 King Ave. in Piedmont.

Welch served on the board of Gateway Public Schools, a pair of public charter schools in San Francisco, from 2008 to 2014; she currently serves on the board of Head Royce School, an exclusive and very expensive private school in the Oakland Hills. She worked as an analyst for Goldman Sachs for a few years in the 1980s, then as an operations manager for a film and video service, and then as associate director of the Breakthrough Collaborative, a San Francisco nonprofit that helps high-potential, low-income middle school students reach college and inspires high school and college students to pursue careers in education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy studies from Duke University and an MBA from Harvard University.

The 9th District – from which state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, will be term-limited out next year – is a swath of Contra Costa and Alameda counties from Rodeo in the north to San Leandro in the south, including Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Hercules, Kensington and other communities. The district’s voter registration is 63 percent Democrat, 8 percent Republican and 21 percent independent.

Posted on Friday, October 23rd, 2015
Under: California State Senate | 2 Comments »

SD7: Bonilla won’t run against Glazer in 2016

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla won’t run next year against fellow Democrat state Sen. Steve Glazer, who defeated her in the 7th State Senate District’s special election earlier this year.

In a Facebook post Monday morning, Bonilla, D-Concord, indicated she doesn’t want a do-over of that ugly race.

Susan Bonilla“I believe our efforts are best spent in uniting our collective voices to help achieve a better quality of life for our entire community,” she wrote. “Having our community experience a negative and divisive election based on lies, personal attacks, and defamation of character is harmful and damaging for our community. Running for public office should always be focused on a debate of ideas and values that will help our community and not tear us apart.”

“Therefore, in order to ensure that all of our collective efforts remain focused on building a stronger foundation for the next generation of families, I am announcing that I will not run for State Senate in 2016,” she wrote. “I hope we can continue to work together for the betterment of our state, community, and our families as I complete my term in the Assembly in December 2016. Together, we can ensure the next generation of Californians will achieve their dreams by having high quality schools, good paying jobs, and safe communities in which to raise their families.”

Glazer, D-Orinda, beat Bonilla by 9 percentage points in the May special election to fill the vacancy left by Mark DeSaulnier’s election to Congress last year. The contest between the centrist Glazer and union-backed liberal Bonilla saw tremendous independent spending and a corresponding avalanche of negative advertising that soured many of the district’s voters.

Posted on Monday, October 12th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, steve glazer, Susan Bonilla | 3 Comments »

SD9: Robert Reich endorses Nancy Skinner

A state Senate battle between two like-minded progressives rolls on in the East Bay, with some new heat from a prominent liberal’s endorsement.

Nancy SkinnerFormer U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now a UC-Berkeley professor, endorsed former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner this week in next year’s 9th State Senate District race. Skinner, D-Berkeley, is vying with former Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, in this race – two labor-backed liberals with no daylight between them on most notable issues.

“Nancy Skinner is a proud progressive leader who is not afraid to take on powerful corporate interests and fight for our families,” Reich said in Skinner’s news release. “We need a fighter like Nancy Skinner in the State Senate.”

Skinner, who was term- limited out of the Assembly late last year and now is an energy and transportation senior fellow at UC-Davis, said she’s honored to have Reich’s support. “Not only is he a personal hero, he is one of the most thoughtful, compelling and effective progressive leaders in America. Reich has dedicated his career to combating injustice and making a real difference in the world.”

Skinner less than two weeks ago announced her endorsement by 12 current state Senate Democrats. But Swanson began rolling out his own endorsements at the start of this past summer, which have included nods from both the assemblymen now representing the district; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Teamsters Joint Council 7; and 9th District incumbent Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who’ll be term-limited out next year.

Skinner had about $922,000 ($925,176, less $2,878 in outstanding debt) banked for this race as of June 30, while Swanson had about $50,000 ($80,387, less $30,443 in outstanding debt).

Republican Richard Kinney, San Pablo’s vice mayor, also is running for the seat; he had about $750 banked as of June 30. But in a district that’s 63 percent Democrat to 8 percent Republican, it’s hard to imagine him making it into the June primary’s top two in order to advance to November.

A third prominent Democrat, former Assembly Majority Leader and current Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, dropped out of this race late last month.

“Over the past six months, I am proud to say that we had successfully begun to build a campaign based on local support, community action and alliances with like-minded groups in Sacramento, Chan wrote in message to supporters. “Unfortunately, political races are increasingly dependent on money and less on grassroots support and action. It has become clear that the window of time I have to raise the necessary funds will be difficult given my responsibilities to my constituents. It has also become clear that the needs of my family must come first.”

Chan noted that although she can use some of the money she had raised for this race for her supervisorial campaign committee and the rest for like-minded candidates and causes, she will honor individual contributors’ requests for refunds.

The 9th District is a swath of Contra Costa and Alameda counties from Rodeo in the north to San Leandro in the south, including Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Hercules, Kensington and other communities.

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, Nancy Skinner, Sandre Swanson | 4 Comments »

State Sen. Steve Glazer hires Antioch’s mayor

Antioch Mayor Wade Harper has joined state Sen. Steve Glazer’s staff as a senior field representative in the district office.

Wade HarperHarper, 51, has been a councilman since 2010 and mayor since 2012. He was a law enforcement officer from 1998 to 2013, rising through the ranks as an officer, detective and sergeant in the Emeryville Police Department before finishing as lieutenant for the Tracy Police Department.

He joins two other local elected officials on Glazer’s staff. Lafayette School District Governing Board member Teresa Gerringer is Glazer’s district director, and Pittsburg Vice Mayor Ben Johnson is a senior field representative.

“The elected officials on my staff are actively in touch with the issues of the communities they represent, so they are excellent resources for me and my team,” Glazer, D-Orinda, said in a news release.

Glazer also announced he has hired Elizabeth Patton of Oakland as his constituent services coordinator; she was an intern on Glazer’s campaign earlier this year.

Glazer’s 7th State Senate District includes the Lamorinda area, Walnut Creek, Concord, Alamo, Danville, San Ramon, Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood in Contra Costa County, as well as Alameda County’s tri-valley area including Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore and Sunol.

Posted on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, steve glazer | No Comments »

DeSaulnier bill would lower student loan rates

Student loan borrowers would be able to refinance their interest rates at the rate offered to banks by the Federal Reserve, under a bill announced Monday by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, held an event at the University of California, Berkeley to roll out H.R. 3675, the Student Borrower Fairness Act, which would offset its costs by increasing corporate tax rates on companies that pay their CEOs or highest paid employees more than 100 times the median compensation of all employees.

Mark DeSaulnier“It is patently unfair that the same big banks that toppled our economy borrow from the federal government at extremely low interest rates while student borrowers are struggling to pay back their loans,” DeSaulnier said in a news release. “Meanwhile, people of all ages are buried in student loan debt which holds them back from being able to buy a car, purchase a home, save for retirement, or start a family. This bill is a first step toward making sure our students can emerge from under their piles of crippling debt and enter tomorrow’s highly-trained workforce.”

Congress acted on student loan rates in 2013, but the changes only applied to new borrowers.

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks applauded the bill. “College students and their families depend on student loans to access higher education,” Dirks said in the congressman’s release. “At Berkeley, we are proud that 61 percent of our undergraduates graduate without debt and the average debt of students who do borrow is only $17,584, much lower than the national average. This legislation would benefit all borrowers because it will help them manage their debt and repayment.”

James Donahue, president of St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said his college “is built on the idea that education has the power to transform lives. The Student Borrower Fairness Act will provide opportunities for all students to pursue their dreams of a higher education, and ultimately highly successful lives. Student loan debt is a national issue and reducing it must be a national priority.”

DeSaulnier’s office said outstanding student loans now total more than $1.3 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt. More than 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, with an average outstanding balance of $29,400 for those who borrowed to get a bachelor’s degree. From 2004 to 2012, student loan debt rose an average of 14 percent per year.

Posted on Monday, October 5th, 2015
Under: education, Mark DeSaulnier, U.S. House | 4 Comments »