Steve Cooley swipes at Jerry Brown, CARB chair

I spoke today with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee for California attorney general, for an article on the AG’s race that we’ll run in the next few weeks. During that chat, he took a dual shot at current Attorney General Jerry Brown – also the Democratic gubernatorial nominee – and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols.

Steve CooleyCooley was speaking about the role he believes the attorney general should take in setting and enforcing policies that don’t hinder job creation and economic development; he said businesses too often get negativity from state agencies and end up delaying their development or settling in other states as a result.

I asked him if he was saying the attorney general shouldn’t enforce the law of the land, including environmental protections and business code laws, especially as he’d just asserted to me the importance of the attorney general enforcing existing law as it pertains to same-sex marriage. He acknowledged the AG must enforce the law, but said those laws must be examined to make sure they’re applied in a fair, unbiased manner without conflicting messages between state agencies.

I noted that the AG’s office doesn’t necessarily have dominion over how all state agencies enforce the regulations they promulgate; as an example I cited the various bodies enforcing air-quality regulations. He seized upon that, and called out Brown for failing to dig into what he says could’ve been malfeasance at CARB.

In a nutshell, CARB staffer Hien Tran – who authored a statistical study on diesel soot effects on which the board was basing stringent, controversial new regulations – lied about where he’d obtained his Ph.D. Per the San Francisco Chronicle last December:

State researchers must redo a report that concluded 3,500 people prematurely die each year due to diesel pollution – a finding that was used to justify imposing the nation’s strictest regulations on diesel engines.

The California Air Resources Board ordered a new report after the employee who wrote it was found to have lied about his academic credentials. That decision was made Wednesday after an air board hearing on the rules, which critics want to delay because of concerns over the cost of retrofitting and replacing the polluting engines.

The head of the air board, Mary Nichols, apologized for not telling all board members about the problem with the report’s author, Hien Tran, who claimed he had a doctorate in statistics from UC Davis, when he actually had obtained the degree from an unaccredited distance learning school. Nichols knew about the problem before the board voted on the regulation.

Tran has since been demoted. One air board member asked that the regulations be suspended, but that idea was turned down.

Cooley today said Brown should’ve jumped in.

“This is a person who falsified his credentials and Mary Nichols concealed that from the Air Resources Board … a major bureaucratic failing on her part, not to notify people who had to make policy decisions based on her report,” he said. “Jerry Brown just looked the other way, I’d have been knocking at her door asking questions.”

Brown’s office at first said he was unavailable until 5 p.m. today, so I told them I wait until 6 p.m. before posting this; they then said a few minutes ago that they still couldn’t reach him, so they’d decline to comment.

An e-mail sent to CARB earlier this afternoon wasn’t answered.


AG candidates spar over abortion rights

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for state Attorney General, held a news conference this morning to call upon her Republican opponent – Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley – to clarify his position on abortion rights.

Cooley “has consistently refused” to state his position, Harris’ campaign said in a news release, citing his refusal to answer NARAL Pro-Choice California’s questionnaire.

“NARAL Pro-Choice California is proud to endorse Kamala Harris for Attorney General. She will continue her long record of leadership to protect the right of women and their families to make personal, private decisions,” NARAL director Amy Everitt said in Harris’ news release. “California needs an Attorney General who is not afraid to lead, and who can take the time to return a phone call or fill out a questionnaire about one of the most important and fundamental rights that the A.G. has jurisdiction over. And California needs an A.G. who understands that choice is not a partisan issue. Steve Cooley has been silent on where he stands on a woman’s right to chose despite numerous phone calls, emails and letters.”

Harris’ camp says the state attorney general has statutory duties dealing with abortion rights, including implementation of new regulations surrounding federal health-care reform, enforcement of the California Freedom of Access to Clinic and Church Entrances (FACE) Act, enforcement of California’s laws ensuring timely access to emergency contraception, and more.

Steve CooleyBut Cooley’s campaign says her accusations are a load of balderdash: “The only problem with the latest Harris attack is that Steve Cooley is pro-choice. He’s always been pro-choice. Even worse, Kamala Harris knows it.”

Cooley’s news release says he didn’t answer NARAL’s questionnaire because it’s not a neutral organization “whatever claims they’ll make,” and “could be counted on to attack Cooley regardless of what our campaign did or didn’t say. Today’s presser proves it.”

“The bottom line: the trailing Harris is desperately trying to change the topic from her poor record on public safety and lack of support from law enforcement to something else. Anything else. So she is trying to manufacture phony issues with remarkably lame attacks,” Cooley’s camp claimed.


Harris campaign blasts Cooley for campaign cash

The race for state Attorney General got hotter yet today with a report that the Republican nominee, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, never noticed that one of his donors was using straw men to bypass campaign contribution limits, even as he prosecuted others for doing the same thing.

Steve CooleyThe LA Weekly reported that Gladwin Gill, a twice-convicted felon who is about to enter federal prison for campaign-finance fraud, had employees and associates donate to Cooley’s re-election campaign in 2003 and 2004 and then reimbursed them – exactly the kind of scheme for which Cooley prosecuted a billionaire real estate developer’s associates in 2003.

“The bottom line is that all the things that Steve Cooley has been shouting from the mountaintops at and persecuting and prosecuting and hounding people on for years, it seems that when the same thing happens under his own roof, nobody notices,” Ace Smith, campaign manager for Democratic Attorney General nominee and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “This (Gill) is a man who had gotten in trouble with the very same DA’s office, this is a man who was involved in a well-publicized case, and it didn’t dawn on anyone? My goodness, this is unbelievable.”

Smith said Cooley should bring in criminal investigators from outside his office to do an independent probe of what Cooley and his staff knew and when they knew it. Cooley also should return all contributions and gifts to Gill and his associates, and release all records of any contacts between Gill, his associates and his business entities and Cooley’s office, Smith said – all to be accomplished “quickly, rapidly and transparently.”

Told Cooley’s office has said the statute of limitations for any possible offenses expired in 2008, Smith fumed that’s “one of the most disgraceful answers I’ve ever heard from a law enforcement person.” For someone who claims to have built a career on corruption-busting to reject an investigation on such grounds is “pathetic,” he said.

“The only thing pathetic is Ace Smith’s hollow outrage and the story they’ve contrived,” responded Cooley campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane, who accused Smith of having planted the story with the LA Weekly in the first place.

Unlike Cooley, Harris has no real record of prosecuting public corruption cases, and so this is a “pathetic, lame attempt by the Harris campaign to distract from her vulnerabilities,” Spillane added, saying law enforcement groups are overwhelmingly endorsing Cooley.

As for repaying the contributions, Smith said, “If he needs to, he should write a personal check. Maybe he should cash in some of those gifts he took.”

“We’re talking about something that was three campaigns ago,” Spillane replied, noting Los Angeles County requires that campaign accounts be closed after the races are run. “The bottom line is that the money has long since been spent.”

Cooley – who as a popular Republican already holding public office in a Democratic stronghold seems to be one of the strongest members of the GOP statewide slate this November – leads Harris slightly in the polls. Harris’ campaign has made much of the San Francisco Chronicle’s report earlier this month that Cooley accepted gifts from prominent Southern Californians; all of the gifts were reported and none exceeded any legal limits.


The candidates’ positions on the Prop. 8 ruling

So the rhetoric was flying hot and heavy yesterday in the wake of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s invalidation of Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional; statements were coming in at all hours (they still are, actually), and we got most of the salient ones online.

But now that most quarters have been heard from, I thought it might be interesting to juxtapose the statements from the major-party candidates seeking the offices of state attorney general, governor and U.S. Senator. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee for attorney general, was last to send his statement yesterday and we never got it online until now, so let’s start with him:

“Barring a law that is unconstitutional on its face, the proper role of an Attorney General is to enforce and defend the will of the People as manifested through the initiative or legislative process. The will of the People should be respected and not overturned easily or lightly. Today’s decision by a federal judge overturning Proposition 8 should be appealed and tested at a higher level of our legal system. The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 by a 6 to 1 vote and declared it to be constitutional. Likewise, if the voters had approved an initiative legalizing same-sex marriage and a federal judge had ruled against it, I would also support an appeal of that decision.”

From San Francisco District Attorney and Democratic Attorney General nominee Kamala Harris:

“Today’s historic decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger was a monumental step forward in the fight for equality.

“From the moment Attorney General Jerry Brown issued his analysis that Prop 8 violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, I have proudly concurred with him. That position has been confirmed by Federal Judge Walker’s opinion today and stands in a proud line of jurisprudence reflected so boldly in 1948 when California’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on interracial marriage violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a conclusion finally reached in 1967 by the United States Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.

“Attorney General Brown, Judge Walker, and I have all sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. So, if I am given the privilege to serve as California’s next Attorney General, I will not defend the anti-gay Proposition 8 in Federal court. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my opponent in the California Attorney General’s race, who promises to put the full weight of the state of California behind a defense of this discriminatory amendment.

“I pledge my support as this fight continues to another court and if necessary, the Supreme Court. I will continue to advocate for the defeat of Prop 8, whether we win that battle in the courts or at the ballot box. We may well face a lengthy battle on this issue but, as Dr. King said in 1967, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’”

From Darrel Ng, spokesman for Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman:

“Meg supported Proposition 8 and believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Meg also strongly supports California’s civil union laws. Today’s ruling is the first step in a process that will continue.”

From California Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown:

“In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it: Proposition 8 violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry, without a sufficient governmental interest.”

From Republican senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina:

“The people of California spoke clearly on this issue at the ballot box in 2008. That decision is being challenged through our court system and while I don’t agree with the judge’s ruling today, this is one in what will be a multi-step legal process.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“This historic decision is a step forward in the march toward equal rights and reflects a growing legal consensus that marriage equality is protected by the U.S. Constitution.”


AG candidates team up to oppose marijuana

You won’t see San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for state Attorney General, and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee for state Attorney General, holding hands and singing “Kum-Ba-Yah” on much this year, but they did it today to oppose Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure on November’s ballot.

Harris and Cooley, along with California State Firefighters’ Association President Kevin Nida, co-authored the rebuttal arguments against the measure, submitted today for inclusion in the state voters’ guide. Here’s what they had to say:

“As California public safety leaders, we agree that Proposition 19 is flawed public policy and would compromise the safety of our roadways, workplaces, and communities. Before voting on this proposition, please take a few minutes to read it.

“Proponents claim, ‘Proposition 19 maintains strict criminal penalties for driving under the influence.’ That statement is false. In fact, Proposition 19 gives drivers the ‘right’ to use marijuana right up to the point when they climb behind the wheel, but unlike as with drunk driving, Proposition 19 fails to provide the Highway Patrol with any tests or objective standards for determining what constitutes ‘driving under the influence.’ That’s why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) strongly opposes Proposition 19.

Steve Cooley“Proponents claim Proposition 19 is ‘preserving the right of employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.’ This is also false. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, the facts are that Proposition 19 creates special rights for employees to possess marijuana on the job, and that means no company in California can meet federal drug-free workplace standards, or qualify for federal contracts. The California State Firefighters’ Association warns this one drafting mistake alone could cost thousands of Californians to lose their jobs.

“Again, contrary to what proponents say, the statewide organizations representing police, sheriffs and drug court judges are all urging you to vote ‘No’ on Proposition 19. Passage of Proposition 19 seriously compromises the safety of our communities, roadways, and workplaces.”

The Tax Cannabis 2010 committee supporting Prop. 19 yesterday announced the measure had won the endorsement of the 200,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers, Western States Council. The endorsement came during a meeting in San Diego of the California Labor Federation, which chose to remain neutral on the measure.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, came out against the measure earlier this week setting the stage for a showdown before the California Democratic Party’s Executive Board at its meeting this weekend in San Jose; progressives are trying to rally support for the measure ahead of Sunday’s vote.