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Politicians take different tones on BART strike

It’s always interesting to compare the tones that various politicians take when weighing in on labor issues.

In this case, of course, it’s the still-threatened Bay Area Rapid Transit strike. California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today wrote to BART management and union leaders to urge a resolution to the standoff:

“We write to strongly encourage all parties involved in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) contract negotiations to use the seven-day ‘cooling off period’ declared by Governor Brown to end the labor dispute.

“The Bay Area relies on a safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation system, and any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the four-day BART service disruption in July cost the Bay Area at least $73 million in lost productivity.

“We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

That seems pretty even-handed. But yesterday, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, D-Oakland; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, issued a statement after the inquiry board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to review the dispute held a public hearing in Oakland:

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system. The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day.

“Testimony revealed inconsistencies in information BART management made public. For example, the figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average. In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.

“These are the type of facts that need to be the focus at the bargaining table. We believe that BART riders deserve good faith negotiations to resume so that rail service can continue uninterrupted.”

No question where they stand, huh?

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Bill Quirk, Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Politicians react to same-sex marriage rulings

EVERYBODY has something to say about today’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. Here’s the latest from your Bay Area elected officials.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“As author of the bill to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, I am thrilled by today’s Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s ruling clearly establishes that the 14 senators who opposed DOMA in 1996 were correct. It also states that one class of legally married individuals cannot be denied rights under federal law accorded to all other married couples. Doing so denies ‘equal protection’ under the Constitution. This is an important and significant decision.

“Because of inequities in the administration of more than 1,100 federal laws affected by DOMA, it is still necessary to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA and strike this law once and for all. I will introduce that legislation today with 39 cosponsors in the Senate.

“As a Californian, I am thrilled by the Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8. The court’s ruling on technical grounds leaves in place former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

“I believe this decision means marriage equality will finally be restored in California.”

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

“Today my spirits are soaring because the Supreme Court reaffirmed the promise of America by rejecting two blatantly unconstitutional measures that discriminated against millions of our families.
“I was proud to have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and it is so heartening to see that the federal government will now treat all marriages equally.

“Because of the Court’s ruling on Proposition 8, millions of Californians will be able to marry the person they love – with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“Today, the Supreme Court bent the arc of history once again toward justice. The court placed itself on the right side of history by discarding Section 3 of the defenseless Defense of Marriage Act and by allowing marriage equality for all families in California. The highest court in the land reaffirmed the promise inscribed into its walls: ‘equal justice under law.’

“Soon, the federal government will no longer discriminate against any family legally married in the United States. California will join 12 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing the fundamental rights of all families. Our country will move one step closer to securing equal protection for all of our citizens.

“Nearly 44 years to the day after the Stonewall Riots turned the nation’s attention to discrimination against LGBT Americans, the fight for equal rights took a giant step forward. Yet even with today’s victory at the Supreme Court, the struggle for marriage equality is not over. Whether in the courts or in state legislatures, we will not rest until men and women in every state are granted equal rights. We will keep working to ensure that justice is done for every American, no matter who they love.”

Tons more, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, Dianne Feinstein, Ellen Corbett, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, John Garamendi, Leland Yee, Mark DeSaulnier, Mark Leno, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Skinner, Nora Campos, Paul Fong, Rich Gordon, Rob Bonta, Tom Ammiano, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 40 Comments »

Dianne Feinstein names new chief of staff

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has a new chief of staff.

Feinstein & Duck circa 2011Jennifer Duck, 42, will be based in Washington and will oversee a staff of 70 in Washington, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. She replaces Chris Thompson, who is returning to California after nearly a decade of working for DiFi in D.C.

Duck since August 2009 has served as vice president of government relations and corporate leadership for Pfizer, Inc., the international pharmaceutical and consumer products company.

Earlier, Duck was staff director and chief counsel to Feinstein, D-Calif., on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2005 to 2009. Duck has also worked as counsel to former Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; counsel to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and senior policy advisor for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

Duck also worked in the Clinton Administration at the Labor Department’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, managing outreach to state and local officials as well as Congress. In 2008, she worked on the Obama presidential transition with teams for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Management and Budget, the CIA and the Department of Labor. Duck holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and a law degree from Emory University.

“I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Duck back to my team,” Feinstein said in a statement issued this morning. “Jennifer is a seasoned Capitol Hill aide with deep experience in both the public and private sectors, familiarity with the executive and legislative branches of government, and significant policy expertise. I will rely on her counsel and good judgment as we advance a busy legislative agenda and work for the people of California.”

“I want to thank Chris Thompson for his dedication and service,” Feinstein added. “For nearly a decade Chris has been a trusted advisor and a friend. He has been an instrumental part of the team, and I’m sorry to lose him.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

California politicos on the Voting Rights Act ruling

Here’s how some California politicos are reacting to today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that voids key provisions of the Voting Rights Act:

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision today to limit the Voting Rights Act. The law successfully countered a century of aggressive limitations on minority voting rights, a fact that today’s majority decision acknowledged: ‘The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.’

“After more than 20 hearings in the House and Senate, Congress in 2006 reauthorized key provisions in the Voting Rights Act for 25 years, a bill I was proud to cosponsor. By invalidating a key piece of the law, the Supreme Court departed from settled precedent and dealt a real setback for voting rights in this country.

“I believe Congress should move quickly to introduce new legislation to preserve voting rights for all Americans.”

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

Barbara Boxer“The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of the clear evidence we continue to see of efforts to suppress the vote in minority communities across the country. It is devastating that the Court’s conservative majority would strike down a central provision of the law that has protected the voting rights of all Americans for nearly a half century, and was reauthorized by Congress almost unanimously just seven years ago. I’ll be working with my Senate colleagues to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American can participate fully in our democracy.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Today, the Supreme Court took a step backward on voting rights, on civil rights, on liberty and justice for all. This decision weakens the cause of voting rights in our time, disregards the challenges of discrimination still facing our country, and undermines our nation’s ongoing effort to protect the promise of equality in our laws.

“Even with this setback, the court did place the power to reinforce the heart of the Voting Rights Act in the hands of Congress. As Members of Congress, we know that changes in election laws can have discriminatory effects. That’s why Congress made the determination that advance review of changes in election procedures is required for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. In 2006, Democrats and Republicans came together to reauthorize the law, garnering overwhelming bipartisan support in a Republican-led Congress – passing the House by a vote 390-33 and the Senate by a vote of 98-0, then signed into law by President George W. Bush. This year, we must follow in that same tradition, taking the court’s decision as our cue for further action to strengthen this legislation.

“Voting rights are essential to who we are as Americans, to the cause of equality, to the strength of our democracy. It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to remove obstacles to voting, to ensure every citizen has the right to vote and every vote is counted as cast. We must secure the most basic privilege of American citizenship: the right to vote.”

More, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, Debra Bowen, Dianne Feinstein, Leland Yee, Mike Honda, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, voter registration, Zoe Lofgren | 10 Comments »

Senators target tobacco crop insurance subsidy

Taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance for tobacco production would be eliminated under a farm-bill amendment introduced Monday by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John McCain.

Tobacco fieldThe senators say their amendment would save $333 million over the next decade, and direct all savings to be used to reduce the federal budget deficit. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has indicated the amendment will get a vote.

“It’s time for the American taxpayer to get out of the business of subsidizing tobacco—once and for all,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release. “Tobacco costs our economy $200 billion in health care costs and lost productivity each year. In this challenging budget environment, we simply can’t afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollar to incentivize farmers to grow this crop.”

The Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act of 2004 ended most direct taxpayer support programs for tobacco production. But despite this $10 billion buyout pact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still offers heavily subsidized crop insurance policies to tobacco farmers. Last year, USDA offered eight separate tobacco insurance products costing $34.7 million in taxpayer subsidies; records show more than $276 million in such subsidies have been spent since 2004.

“It turns out Joe Camel’s nose has been under the tent all this time,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in the news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that cigarette smoking adds $96 billion to domestic healthcare expenses and costs the American economy $97 billion in lost productivity every year; secondhand smoke adds another estimated $10 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Tobacco farmers will still be able to buy policies from existing insurance providers at market rate under the Feinstein-McCain amendment, which is supported by the Environmental Working Group, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the American Cancer Society.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Agriculture, Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Senate rejects Feinstein’s assault-weapons ban

In addition to rejecting the Manchin-Toomey gun background check amendment today, the U.S. Senate also soundly rejected Dianne Feinstein’s effort to re-instate and expand the federal ban on assault weapons.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., last month had announced that he wouldn’t let Feinstein’s legislation proceed as part of a bigger gun-control bill, but that she would be given a chance to offer it as an amendment. That amendment was defeated Wednesday on a 40-60 vote.

“I’m disappointed by today’s vote, but I always knew this was an uphill battle. I believe the American people are far ahead of their elected officials on this issue, and I will continue to fight for a renewed ban on assault weapons,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement issued a few minutes ago.

A federal assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994 but expired in 2004.

“The very fact that we’re debating gun violence on the Senate floor is a step in the right direction, and I hope my colleagues vote their conscience and approve the underlying bill. But I’m certain that in the coming months and years, we will be forced to confront by other incidents like Newtown, where innocents are murdered with one of these weapons of war,” Feinstein said. “I will carry on this fight against military-style assault weapons, and I ask of the American people that they continue to pressure their elected officials to take action. It’s long overdue that we take serious steps to remove these dangerous firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines from society.”

Feinstein’s amendment would’ve banned the future sale, manufacture, possession and importation of 157 of the most commonly-owned firearms it deems military-style assault weapons, plus any other semi-automatic firearm that can take a detachable ammunition magazine and has one or more military characteristics and any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds – much like California’s ban. Her amendment would’ve exempted weapons that were legally-owned at the time of enactment and excluded 2,258 hunting and specific makes and models of sporting weapons.

Posted on Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, gun control, U.S. Senate | 32 Comments »

Feinstein, Boxer endorse Mike Honda for 2014

Add California’s U.S. Senators to the cavalcade of Democratic stars giving early endorsements to Rep. Mike Honda as he tries to neutralize a potential challenge from a fellow Democrat.

“I’m proud to endorse Congressman Mike Honda,” U.S. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release issued today by Honda’s campaign. “He works tirelessly for the people he represents and is an important leader on issues such as helping to create jobs and improving our schools. He is a champion for Silicon Valley and I’m glad to offer him my support.”

“The people of the 17th Congressional District need Mike Honda’s strong voice now more than ever,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in the same release. “I am proud to endorse such an effective leader for education, innovation, and families throughout the region and country.”

Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official with $1.26 million in his campaign coffers, is rumored to be announcing a 2014 campaign against Honda soon. He declined to comment on the senators’ endorsements Monday, just as he had when Honda rolled out endorsements this year from President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the chairs of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and others.

Honda thanked the senators for their support. “We all agree that the formula for growth in Silicon Valley jobs is straightforward. It requires smart and targeted incentives to help companies locate and grow here while accessing our unique and diverse workforce, and providing our students with the education they’ll need to compete.”

Honda issued poll results last week showing he had a 52-point lead over Khanna – not surprising, considering Honda, 71, has served in Congress since 2000 and Khanna, 36, hasn’t even declared his candidacy yet.

Posted on Monday, March 25th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Mike Honda, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 14 Comments »

Feinstein won’t give up on assault weapons ban

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sounded pretty ticked off when she spoke on CNN a few moments ago about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pronouncing dead her effort to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said Reid, D-Nev., told her she would have an opportunity for a vote and “I take him at his word.”

More specifically, Feinstein said she left her meeting with Reid under the impression that she’d get a vote both on her overall bill and on a broken-out section that would only ban large-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

“This is very important to me and I’m not going to lay down and play dead,” she told CNN, noting polls show public support for an assault-weapons ban and her bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday on a 10-8 vote. “Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust, as I would see it.”

The Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a strict party-line vote, and Reid told reporters Tuesday that the proposed assault weapons ban isn’t holding up against Senate rules requiring at least 60 votes to end debate and move to final passage. It’s been known all along that Reid and several other Democratic senators from relatively conservative states probably wouldn’t support such a bill.

The White House replied that the assault-weapons ban can still be brought up as an amendment, and the votes can be found to pass it.

Polls have shown majority support for an assault weapons ban, though far weaker than that for universal background checks or a large-capacity magazine ban. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll pegged support for an assault-weapons ban at 57 percent; Quinnipiac University put it at 54 percent; and the Pew Research Center/USA Today put it at 56 percent.

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, gun control, Harry Reid, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Dianne Feinstein & Bill Nelson get tough on Big Oil

Federal subsidies would be reduced for oil companies that conduct spill-prone, deep-water drilling under a pair of bills introduced Monday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Feinstein’s Deepwater Drilling Royalty Relief Prohibition Act ends federal incentives for deep-sea oil and natural gas drilling, barring the Interior Department from waiving royalty payments that oil companies would otherwise pay when drilling in waters deeper than 400 meters.

“The BP spill illustrated just how devastating oil spills in deep water can be. But even though we understand the great risks and lack the technology to drill safely, unwise incentives that push oil companies to drill deeper and deeper remain in place,” Feinstein said in a news release.

“While oil companies continue to collect record profits, the government should not lose out on royalties that could fund clean energy deployment,” she said. “This is especially egregious at a time when federal budgets continue to contract — it’s time to end this practice and collect reasonable royalty payments from large oil companies for exploitation of public resources.”

Feinstein noted five of the largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell — made a combined $118 billion in profits in 2012, but the big three American oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) paid effective federal tax rates in 2011 of only 13 percent, 19 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Nelson’s Oil Spill Tax Fairness Act changes the tax code to deny tax deductions for oil spill-related expenses including legal, clean-up and other costs. Current law lets a company responsible for causing an oil spill is also responsible for the cost associated with cleaning that spill up, and Nelson’s bill would keep such a company from them turning around and writing those costs off as a tax deduction.

This bill was spurred by BP’s efforts to write off its clean-up expenses after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico created one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history. The legislation would apply to those responsible for an oil spill in U.S. territorial waters, but not to expenses caused by a natural disaster or an act of war.

“Given the record profits of the big oil companies, I don’t think they need any more help from taxpayers,” Nelson said in a news release.

Posted on Monday, March 18th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Gun controllers push their message, momentum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 today to pass a bill that would require all gun sales be subject to background checks, and congressional Democrats and their allies are looking to maximize their gun-control momentum and messaging.

Today, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new advertisement featuring religious leaders demanding that Congress act to pass gun law reforms.

The ad concides with the start of the Papal Conclave in Vatican City, and comes just ahead of this weekend’s Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend – organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Cathedral and PICO – in which congregations across the nation will gather to reflect and act on preventing gun violence including requiring background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francsico; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and other women in Congress will join Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, for a Capitol Hill news conference “to highlight the urgency for common-sense gun violence prevention legislation to protect our communities, families, and schools.”

On Thursday – the three-month anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. – members of MomsRising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Million Mom March (part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), Reston-Herndon Alliance to End Gun Violence, and other concerned citizens will deliver a petition with more than 150,000 signatures on it to National Rifle Association President David Keene at his Fairfax, Va. office. The petition urges the NRA to support common-sense gun safety laws.

On Friday, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, will chair the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force’s hearing on “The Need for Background Checks: Preventing Criminals and the Dangerously Mentally Ill from Getting Guns” at the Capitol. Panelists are expected to include Carol Gaxiola of Arizona, the mother of gun violence victim; Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Joseph Bielevicz, a detective with the Pittsburgh Police Firearms Tracking Unit; Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo; Joe Deaser, owner of the Capital Gun Club in Roseville, Calif.; and Jesse Ogas of Colorado, a hunter, sportsman, gun owner and former NRA Member.

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, gun control, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »