BART strike bill is dead, but another is coming

Assembly Democrats on Wednesday killed an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that would’ve essentially banned strikes by BART workers, like the ones that threw Bay Area commutes into chaos in 2013 – but another lawmaker is preparing to take another stab at it.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, introduced AB 528 last February, delivering on a campaign promise that had helped her become the Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker.

Catharine Baker“In June 2017, the current BART contract expires. We should never be subject to BART strikes again,” Baker said in a news release issued Wednesday after the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee killed the bill on a party-line vote. “This is just the first step in the fight to protect us from BART strikes and I will keep pursuing solutions that will prevent the entire Bay Area from coming to a grinding halt in the face of another strike.”

Many didn’t think the bill would last even this long in the Democrat-dominated Legislature. The committee first heard it in May, and rather than voting it down, agreed to make it a two-year bill; then-chairman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, said that would give more time for legislators and other interested parties to discuss the issues. Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, now chairs the committee.

Baker’s AB 528 instead would have barred BART workers from striking as long as they continue to get wages and benefits – in other words, if an existing contract has a no-strike clause and management keeps honoring the pact’s financial terms after it expires, unions couldn’t strike. Baker campaigned on pursuing a bill like this after two 2013 strikes brought BART to grinding halts, snarling Bay Area traffic and costing the local economy $73 million per day by one business group’s estimate.

Democrat Steve Glazer made a similar campaign promise when competing with Baker in 2014’s 16th Assembly District primary, and again in his successful campaign in last year’s 7th State Senate District special election. Glazer intends to introduce a BART-strike bill sometime in the next few weeks, spokesman Steve Harmon said Wednesday.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.