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Common Cause chief visits CCT

Bob EdgarFormer U.S. Congressman Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania, the national president and CEO of Common Cause, an open government advocacy group, stopped by the offices of the Contra Costa Times this afternoon to promote his group’s involvement in yet another California redistricting initiative.

The “Voters First Act” would strip state legislators of their power to draw political boundaries for the California Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization. (It does not include the boundaries for California congressional district.) It would turn the job of drawing the lines over to a 14-member commission selected, in part, by the top four leaders in the California Legislature and a random pool administered by the California State Auditor and drawn from volunteer applicants. (Click here for a link to California Common Cause and all the details of the proposal.)

Common Cause has joined with the League of Women Voters, American Association of Retired People and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to advance the initiative, which they hope to gather an adequate number of signatures and place on the November 2008 ballot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also endorsed this measure, a high-profile name that proponents hope will finally push this reform effort into the victory column.

There have been many prior attempts to revise the redistricting process, none of which have prevailed.

Redistricting reform has a couple of inherent problems at the ballot box.

One, it’s complicated and complex stuff rarely translates into an easily digested ballot initiative for voters.

Two, there’s nothing in it for the Democrats who control the California Legislature. Top Democrats had promised to package redistricting and term limit reforms but when the dust settled, only term limits made it onto the February ballot. (Proposition 93 would alter the way the state factors term limits.)

Why the foot-dragging? In part, several academic studies of redistricting reform suggested that a handful of Assembly and Senate seats would potentially become competitive for Republicans if the boundaries were drawn with something other than partisan political advantage in mind. Democrats had hoped to trade support for redistricting reform with a change in term limit law, a deal that was never quite struck.

But Edgar said this afternoon that he hopes the new four-member coalition, coupled with the governor’s support and Common Cause’s new national election and campaign reform effort, will finally reach voters. It may seem like a long shot but Edgar described himself as optimistic.

“There is a lot to be done to restore the public’s confidence in their public officials, that elected leaders are responding to the voters and not special interests,” Edgar said.

UPDATE: We had a question at the Times about the political independence of the California State Auditor, whose office is proposed under the initiative as the administrator of the application process for appointment to the 14-member redistricting commission.

As it turns out, the auditor is not entirely free of political involvement but the selection and management of the office is bipartisan. Here’s a brief explanation of how it works as explained by a spokeswoman at the auditor’s office:

A joint legislative audit committee comprised of seven state senators and seven assemblymembers interviews and selects three candidates for state auditor. The governor makes the four-year appointment from among the three names and only these three names. The auditor can only be removed prior to the end of his or her term by the Legislature, and the office receives its assignments only from the joint panel or by law. (For a link to State Auditor Elaine Howle’s web site and a full explanation, click here.)

Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2007
Under: Election reform, State politics | No Comments »

Independent voters on the rise in California

On the eve of the 2008 presidential election, a growing number of Californians are registering as “decline to state” voters at the expense of both major political parties.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen reports that the percentage of decline to state voters is 19 percent compared to 16 percent in September 2003, the fall tall prior to the 2004 election between GOP President George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. (Download press release here.)

Democrats’ percentage fell from 43.6 percent to 42.5, while the GOP’s share dropped from 35.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

Theories abound as to why voters are increasingly disinterested in affiliating with traditional political parties.

And no one seems to agree on the best means by which to reverse the trend, either. Leaders of both parties engage in a near constant tug-of-war over their platforms and strategies between the ends of their internal political spectrums.

Some view the shift as a signal that voters are ready for a comparable third party but so far, there’s been little indication that this group of independent-minded people is interested in banding together.

There’s an even bigger problem on the political dance floor than the party shuffle, though.

New registrations since 2003 have not kept pace with population growth in California, resulting in a drop from 71 percent to 68 percent in the rate of eligible residents who register to vote. That means fewer people are making decisions at the ballot box that impact everyone.

Posted on Friday, October 19th, 2007
Under: State politics | 1 Comment »

Ex-assemblyman warns of Peripheral Canal bonds

State senate candidate and former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg has just sent out an e-mail bulletin to the 1,000 people who signed up at his web site, www.StopTheCanal.Org warning of closed-door Sacramento negotiations over a water bond that could fund a Peripheral Canal.

“As a former state assemblyman, and former chairman of the (Assembly) Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, I have witnessed how public policy gets made, in the late night, out of public sight and scrutiny,” Canciamilla said in his message. “I am concerned that this might happen with the water bond.”

Canciamilla is running for Senate District 7 against Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, who took the seat after Canciamilla termed out. The incumbent senator, Tom Torlakson, will term out in 2008.

Here’s a portion of his email: (all emphasis added by Canciamilla)

“It has been called to my attention TODAY that last minute, CLOSED-DOOR negotiations are now underway at the State Capitol to approve a new $5 billion water bond to be placed on the ballot sometime next year. One version advanced by Senator Don Perata, President pro Tem of the Senate, would prohibit a Delta bypass or a canal. The other version, advanced by the Governor’s administration, contains NO PROHIBITION on Delta transfers, a Delta conveyance, or a peripheral canal.

“IF THE ADMINISTRATION’S VERSION OF THE WATER BOND IS APPROVED IN LATE NIGHT SESSIONS OF THE LEGISLATURE, IT WILL MEAN THAT A MEASURE GOES TO THE BALLOT ALLOWING OUR TAX DOLLARS TO GO TOWARD BUILDING A NEW PERIPHERAL CANAL WHICH WILL LIKELY SEND OUR WATER SOUTH.”

Canciamilla asks residents to email their legislators and voice opposition to the canal.

Posted on Wednesday, September 5th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Term limit heat turned on

Secretary of State Deborah Bowen certified today a term limits ballot measure in plenty of time to place it on the Feb. 5 ballot and generate ample controversy.

If voters adopt the measure, called Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act, legislators will be able to spend up to 12 years in either the Senate or Assembly. Today, lawmakers are permitted to serve a maximum of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

But before the state could even send out a press release announcing Bowen’s decision, critics from the CA Term Limits Defense Fund shipped out an e-mail calling the certification into question.

Defense Fund spokesman Kevin Spillane contends that the measure’s chief proponents — state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles — exerted political pressure on counties to drive up the results of the random counting process.

The organization is exploring its legal options, Spillane wrote.

“The surprising, suspicious and we have been told, unprecedented, upward revision of the random sample signature count re-submitted by several counties regarding qualification of the initiative to weaken term limits raises serious questions about the integrity of the California elections process,” Spillane wrote.

Here’s what Spillane is referring to: If the random count in each California county failed to produce an adequate percentage of valid signatures, the state would require a full count of the more than 1 million signatures. This time consuming step might not have been completed to meet the deadline to place the measure on the Feb. 5 ballot. (The Legislature isn’t technically restricted to those deadlines but late entries onto the ballot create havoc in local election offices which must follow the election timetable.)

If the measure had been pushed to June, it would hurt incumbents such as Perata and Nunez who had hoped that a positive February decision by voters would allow them to run for re-election to their seats in the June primary.

Spillane also wrote:

“Political pressure has clearly been applied – and succeeded in obtaining the result desired by the two most powerful members of the Legislature. Several meetings and phone calls with local election officials initiated by representatives of the petition gathering firm and the Speaker’s team have been reported by several sources …

“It does not seem coincidental that one of the counties – Alameda – is the home base of Senate President Perata or that another, Contra Costa County, is part of his sphere of political influence. This latest manipulation of the process by the state’s most powerful legislators and their allies taints the qualification of the initiative to weaken term limits. ”

Gale Kaufman, chief strategist for the proponents’ campaign, www.termlimitsreform.com, called Spillane’s allegations unfounded in an e-mail statement of her own.

“As we have seen over the past few days, the signature counts and complexity of the process generated a fair amount of inaccurate information and speculation. Talking about each up-tick or downturn of numbers would only serve to be futile.

“It’s disappointing that opponents to this reform have tried in vain from day one to tar our effort with unfounded allegations. We hope observers will finally begin to see through these cheap stunts as the campaign moves ahead.”

UPDATE: Here’s what Contra Costa County Registar of Voters Steve Weir said happened in his county:

Speaking only for Contra Costa, we made a mistake.

We reported one duplicate in the some 1100 signatures we checked.

Our systen DFM, has a flaw. It has been corrected, but, we did not do that upgrade.

Here’s what happened. We found a name of someone who’s position was generated to be checked. We found that he was NOT registered at the time he signed the petition. However, when we noted that fact on his petition, the system credited it as good. We were not to count it as good. So, the same guy registered and signed the petition later. This space was also idetified as a signature to check.

When we credited it as good, the previous signature showed up as a dupliacate. Actually, the first .sig was not good and a no count. The second one (after which he registered) should have been counted as good.

We know of this problem in our election infornation management system and such duplicates are supposed to be hand checked.

Our vendor has issued a correction and we had not installed it.

I was called and was asked to check. When we did Candy determined that the dup had been reported incorrectly.

No monkey business, we made a mistake and when we looked and found it, we corrected it.

Because of the random nature of petitions, there’s a penalty for duplicates, our mistake may make for political hay, but it was an honest mistake and we needed to correct it.

Posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Marathon man: Sen. Tom Torlakson

Sen. Tom Torlakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, is a very busy man this week.

Now that the deadlock on the state budget has been resolved, Torlakson’s committee has only a few weeks to hear more than 300 appropriations bills before the Legislature adjourns next month.

The legislator from Antioch has been so busy running the committee that staff is bringing him his meals at the dais and he takes very few breaks.

Of course, that might also have something to do with the fact that Torlakson probably doesn’t want to hand over the gavel to the committee’s vice chairman, the conservative GOP Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks.

Who know what the committee might vote on while Torlakson is in the bathroom?

Posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Bill naming bridge after Miller goes to governor

The state Senate has passed ACR 62, which names the new Benicia-Martinez span after Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. The old span is named after Miller’s late father.

The bill has already passed the Assembly, which means it’s now headed for the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger where it will await his signature.

Let’s hope Schwarzenegger doesn’t dilly-dally.

The bridge officially opens to traffic this weekend and the ceremony might sound funny if the emcee has to keep calling it “The Bridge We Think Will Be Named The George Miller Bridge Unless Gov. Schwarzenegger Thumbs His Nose At the Idea.”

UPDATE:
Here are details about Saturday’s opening ceremonies provided by Caltrans’ public affairs office.

Opening ceremony, drive-through procession and community celebration marking the completion of the new span of the $1.2 billion Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Includes unveiling of a plaque dedicating the bridge in honor of Congressman George Miller (Martinez), who will speak at ceremonies in both Martinez and Benicia, and will lead the inaugural drive across the bridge. We are expecting this to be a festive, colorful event with a number of classic vehicles participating. This is also a chance to see FasTrak® open-road electronic tolling in action (though no tolls will be collected during the inaugural drive). Due to safety and security concerns, participation in the inaugural drive-through is limited to dignitaries, the media and members of the public who registered in advance and received a special placard.

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 25, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Schedule of Events:
9:30 a.m. Public/dignitaries gather at Martinez Waterfront Park
10 a.m. Congressman George Miller delivers keynote at opening ceremony
10:15 a.m. Begin procession to the new bridge for first drive
11:15 a.m. Concluding remarks at the Benicia Overlook by
Congressman George Miller and others
12 p.m. Festivities continue on Benicia side with refreshments

Note: The new northbound span is scheduled to be partially open for regular traffic beginning in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 27.

WHERE: The new bridge will carry northbound traffic across the Carquinez Strait along Interstate 680, and sits just east of the original Benicia-Martinez Bridge, which will now carry southbound traffic. The second span effectively doubles bridge capacity in this corridor. The event begins on the Martinez side of the bridge, and wraps up at the Benicia Overlook, which offers views of the new span (see directions provided on next page).

WHO: Confirmed speakers include:

· Congressman George Miller· Former State Senator and FormerU.S. Representative John Burton· State Senator Tom Torlakson · State Senator Patricia Wiggins· Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier· Assemblywoman Lois Wolk· Solano County Supervisor & MTC Commissioner Jim Spering · Benicia Mayor Steve Messina· Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder· James Ghielmetti, Chair, California Transportation Commission· Will Kempton, Director, Caltrans· Michael Phelps, Senior Vice President and Division Manager, Kiewit Corporation

DIRECTIONS:
Martinez Waterfront Park Site
(7 North Court Street, Martinez)

Directions from Sacramento: Take Interstate 680 South. Exit Marina Vista Avenue. Turn left onto Marina Vista Avenue. Continue approximately 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Ferry Street. Cross train tracks. Turn right onto Joe DiMaggio Drive. Turn left onto North Court Street to end of road. Follow event signs.

Directions from Walnut Creek: Take Interstate 680 North. Exit Marina Vista Avenue. Turn left onto Marina Vista Avenue. Continue approximately 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Ferry Street. Cross train tracks. Turn right onto Joe DiMaggio Drive. Turn left onto North Court Street to end of road. Follow event signs.

For those arriving after 10 a.m., go directly on the old bridge to the concluding ceremonies at Benicia Overlook site.
Benicia Overlook Site
(2055 Park Road, Benicia)

Directions from Sacramento: Take Interstate 680 South. Exit at Industrial Park. Turn right onto Industrial Way. Turn left onto Park Road. Continue approximately 1.1 miles. Follow event signs.
Directions from Walnut Creek or Vallejo: Take Interstate 680 North. Exit at Bayshore Road. Turn left onto Bayshore Road. Turn left onto Park Road. Continue approximately 0.8 miles. Follow event signs.

Directions from Martinez: (The Marina Vista Boulevard onramp to Interstate 680 North will be closed.) Take Interstate 680 North from Arthur Road. Exit at Bayshore Road. Turn left onto Bayshore Road. Turn left onto Park Road. Continue approximately 0.8 miles. Follow event signs.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Is AG Jerry Brown running for governor?

Contra Costa County Supervisor Gayle Uilkema thinks so.

Uilkema, who also sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, recently met with Attorney General Jerry Brown to hash out the state leader’s concerns about two refinery expansion proposals in Contra Costa County. (Brown is appealing the county’s approval of a Rodeo expansion and registering criticial comments about a Richmond project as part of his statewide push to require consideration of global warming impacts in business, housing and transportation projects.)

“He commented that if he’s going to be governor in a couple years, this (effort to contain refinery emissions) is important,” Uilkema recalled. “That caught my attention, to say the the least, although it was the only mention of it at the time.”

Some folks mistakenly believe that term limits would keep Brown out of the governor’s seat. But voters adopted term limits in 1990; Brown served two terms as governor from 1974-1982.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

DeSaulnier blasts budget impasse, calls for reform

After being locked onto the floor of the Assembly until the wee hours one morning last week to force a vote on a state budget, Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, told Contra Costa business leaders today he will seek reforms of the state’s budget approval process.

Elected in November 2006, it was DeSaulnier’s first front-row seat to the state budget process and his first vote on the matter.

It’s ludicrous, DeSaulnier says, to hold the state budget hostage under a super-majority rule that only two other states use — Rhode Island and Arkansas. He says he was further exasperated to hear that the state Senate had one Republican willing to vote for the budget — Sen. Abel Maldonado — but couldn’t round up a second one.

“A state with a population of 38 million and a budget of $140 billion has been held up for lack of one vote in the Senate,” said an incredulous DeSaulnier to a lunch meeting of several hundred members of the Contra Costa Council.

DeSaulnier agrees the state needs a balanced budget but says it should be done in a thoughtful and deliberative manner with an eye on the longterm impacts rather than a late-night arm-twisting session where the public won’t learn of the consequences until it’s far too late.

To end the annual impasse where a handful of dissenters stall the entire state, DeSaulnier says he wants to create a small commission charged with recommending a new budget adoption process, perhaps a hybrid of successful systems in other states.

He said he will introduce a bill later this year or early next year.

Watch DeSaulnier’s speech on CCTV and Comcast public access station Channel 27 on Aug. 7 at 9 p.m. or Aug. 8 at 2 p.m.

Posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Term limit measure gathers 1.1 million signatures

The business and labor coalition formed to promote a ballot measure that would alter California’s term limit law has submitted more than 1.1 million signatures to the Secretary of State, a substantially higher number than mandated under state law.

The Secretary of State requires 694,354 signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative for the February ballot.

The measure would shorten the amount of time a legislator may serve from 14 years to 12 years but it would allow a lawmaker to hold office in either the Senate or the Assembly for the full time period. The current law limits lawmakers to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

If passes, the initiative would also allow incumbents that would otherwise term out in 2008 to seek re-election to their seats, including the leaders of both houses, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles.

It would also benefit state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch and Assemblymembers Guy Houston of San Ramon and Loni Hancock of Berkeley.

Here’s a portion of the press release sent out a few minute ago from the initiative’s proponents:

“Putting term limits reform on the February ballot will set the stage for the Legislature to approve a companion ballot measure for a fair reapportionment of California’s political districts, and bring some needed stability to our legislative process,” said Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of CalChamber. “Solutions to California’s numerous issues will be easier when legislators aren’t in a constant campaign cycle and are more accountable to the voters in competitive districts.”

“Reforming term limits is a key part of the comprehensive change we need to restore the confidence of citizens in their government,” Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said. “Californians also want government to be more responsive to their needs and more accountable for results. It’s not just about how long we serve, but how well we serve.”

“Representing the people of California is honorable work. This initiative with its bipartisan coalition of supporters can bring more stability and greater expertise to our system,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) said.

“California is really an entire country. We all want the smartest, most experienced people leading us at the federal level; we must have it at the state level, too,” said Rick Jacobs, founder of the progressive Courage Campaign. “We need real reform so that our elected leaders can learn how the complex state runs and then lead. A revolving door benefits the lobbyists, not the people. That’s why I’m for this initiative.”

Early polls and overwhelming response to signature gathering shows strong support among voters for the initiative.

“With over 400,000 more signatures collected than needed, our campaign is coming out of the gate strong,” said Matt Dowd, campaign strategist for the initiative. “Polls show already strong numbers, with support gaining over time. The latest San Jose State Survey and Policy Research Institute poll clocks in with an overwhelming 56 percent of likely voters supporting the initiative.”

Click here to see the poll.

“While the Secretary of State still needs to certify our signatures, we’re looking forward to running a vigorous campaign through the fall and winter,” said Gale Kaufman, chief campaign strategist for the initiative. “We’ll reach out to voters and educate them about our current system and why we need these reforms.”

U.C. Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain and U.C San Diego Professor Thad Kousser have written extensive reports on the impact of term limits, including one for the Public Policy Institute of California: http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=347, which was also published in a series of studies by the National Conference of State Legislators: http://www.ncsl.org/jptl/CaseStudies/CaseContents.htm.

“The current budget impasse highlights several major flaws with the current system of term limits. Legislators need be able to develop better working relationships with their colleagues to lessen partisan rancor and intransigency on key budget issues. The current system stymies those vital relationships and impedes productive compromise,” Prof. Kousser said. “Also, Legislative leadership that turns over quickly because of term limits begs for reform. Allowing legislators to serve twelve years in either house will help create a more effective Legislature.”

In addition to enhancing the effectiveness of the Legislature with term limits reform, there currently are several redistricting proposals being examined in the State Senate and State Assembly.

“I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to place meaningful and fair reapportionment on the ballot, as well,” continued Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of CalChamber.

Posted on Monday, July 23rd, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Labor leader wins post on state fire board

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just can’t seem to hold a grudge, can he?

Today, he appointed California Professional Firefighters President, Democrat and Walnut Creek resident Lou Paulson to the State Board of Fire Services.

Paulson was a serious thorn in the governor’s side during the 2005 special election, where unions statewide fought Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures with unprecedented ferocity and huge success. And the California Professional Firefighters spent big bucks helping Schwarzenegger’s opponent, Phil Angelides, in the 2006 governor’s race, although with far less success.

What’s next? California Nurses Association chief Rose Ann DeMoro appointed to the state nursing board?

For those who need a reminder, DeMoro’s organization sent uniformed nurses to protest outside the governor’s numerous appearances, a move that significantly diminished Schwarzenegger’s public shine and helped lead to the defeat of his 2005 ballot measures.

The Fire Services board position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no salary.

Posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »