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CA17: Honda-Khanna debate details not yet final

By Josh Richman
Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 12:56 pm in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign has accepted an invitation to debate his challenger, fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, but the details are still in flux, the campaigns and a debate organizer said Monday.

Honda & Khanna (photo by Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group)The Huffington Post and San Jose State University are working together to host the event – that much we know.

Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Monday that his team accepted a proposal that the hour-long debate would be held on Tuesday, Oct. 14 or Thursday, Oct. 16. The format, Kembaiyan said, is a single moderator plus a panel consisting of Bay Area journalists and SJSU faculty, with questions selected by the Huffington Post but not provided to either candidate ahead of time. After a coin-toss determines the order of speakers, there will be no opening statements; instead, they’ll get right to two-minute responses with 90-second rebuttals and, at the panelists’ discretion, one-minute discussion extensions. Each candidate will finish with a two-minute closing statement.

A leak of some of this information on Friday caught Khanna’s campaign unawares, drawing anger that the debate (singular, they note, after Honda agreed earlier this year to “debates,” plural) wouldn’t happen until well after vote-by-mail ballots go out on Oct. 6.

“The Honda campaign apparently felt it would be acceptable to hold a debate that a large portion of voters wouldn’t get to see before they cast their ballots,” campaign spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement issued Monday. “Why doesn’t Congressman Honda want his constituents to see a debate?”

Khanna had tweeted to HuffPo Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim on Friday that he’s “happy to participate. But be honest and have it before absentee drops instead of enabling Honda games.” Grim replied, “We can work with that. Will get back to you with a date before ballots drop;” he later tweeted that it’s “a reasonable request, to be sure.”

Kembaiyan wouldn’t say Monday whether Honda will accept an earlier date, reiterating that Oct. 14 or 16 “was the proposal we got and which we accepted. We hope that works out.”

But Grim said Monday that “it’s still being worked out, it’s very early in the process” and that Friday’s leak “left the impression that something was finalized” when in fact it’s not.

In other 17th Congressional District news, the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club – the only local Democratic club to have endorsed Khanna, back in February – voted 33-12 last Thursday to switch its endorsement to Honda. Club president Tim Orozco couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Club member John Comiskey, as quoted in a Honda campaign news release, said the club changed its endorsement because Khanna since the primary “has shown his true conservative colors” with endorsements from Republican former Rep. Ernie Konnyu and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The vote of the club reflects the knowledge that there is only one true progressive in this race, and he is Mike Honda.”

But club member and Khanna campaign volunteer Mary Morris blogged last Wednesday about the process, noting Khanna had attended the February endorsement meeting and Honda didn’t. Pushing for a re-vote, she said, was “the epitome of pettiness. … Do we really want a congressman whose staff, under his leadership, needs two chances to get something done?”

UPDATE @ 1:39 P.M.: “Congressman Honda skipped both of the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club forums, and every other Democratic club forum throughout this campaign,” Law said in an email. “His handlers can desperately spin Ro’s recent endorsements from Democratic Mayor Chuck Reed and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, but voters are much more concerned with the Congressman’s absenteeism and whether or not he is still up to the job.”

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Rick Perry hires California ‘master of disaster’

By Josh Richman
Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 10:15 am in Uncategorized

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, recently indicted but still in the hunt for 2016’s presidential race, has hired a California crisis-communications guru to run interference for him.

Mark FabianiMark Fabiani, 57, of La Jolla, joins Perry’s legal team, lead attorney Tony Buzbee announced Monday.

“I’m proud to join Gov. Perry’s outstanding team which has been assembled to fight back against this attack on the rule of law,” Mark Fabiani said. “As we move forward to protect the Texas Constitution and the First Amendment rights of any governor, I am confident this prosecution will be revealed to be contrary to the law and wholly meritless.”

Fabiani cut his teeth as a special counsel to President Bill Clinton, and later was deputy campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign; he also has served as deputy mayor of Los Angeles and chief of staff to LA Mayor Tom Bradley, as well as in senior posts in the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development.

Fabiani and Chris Lehane, a fellow Clinton White House “master of disaster,” run a prominent crisis communications firm. Their past clients have included Madonna, Goldman Sachs and Lance Armstrong, to name but a few.

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ALD newborn-testing advocates fear veto for cost

By Josh Richman
Thursday, August 21st, 2014 at 4:33 pm in Assembly, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown

Supporters of a bill that would require newborns to be tested for a deadly disease fear it may be headed for a veto because of its cost.

Assemblyman Richard Pan’s AB 1559, requiring newborns to be screened for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), is now headed for a Senate floor vote, having been approved last week by the Appropriations Committee on a 5-0 vote. In fact, no lawmaker has voted against the bill so far; the Assembly approved it 79-0 in May.

But the only entity on record as opposing the bill is a big one: The California Department of Finance. Its analysis found adding a new disease to the current screening panel would require raising the $111.70 fee by another $11 – and that means an added $2.75 million per year in cost to Medi-Cal, which covers testing for about half the state’s births.

The Finance Department noted the federal government is reviewing whether ALD should be added to the list of recommended screenings for all newborns, but that review will take about two years and the state typically waits for that final approval before adding new diseases to its screening panel.

Gov. Jerry Brown typically doesn’t comment on bills before they reach his desk.

ALD – spotlighted in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” – is a degenerative brain disease mostly affecting young boys. The disease affects the myelin sheaths that insulate brain cells, essentially preventing the brain from communicating with the body.

It’s a rare disease – estimated at one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 births – and those who have it often have normal early childhoods. Early symptoms often seem to be behavioral and are misdiagnosed, but once the degeneration begins, it’s very rapid and usually leads to a vegetative state and then death. Advocates say cord-blood and bone-marrow transplants in the disease’s earliest stages can treat and even heal patients – if anyone knows the patient has the disease.

“Every year that California delays testing, we can expect that 30 families won’t get the early diagnoses that could save their vibrant and seemingly healthy child from this cruel disease,” said Pan, D-Sacramento, who is a physician. “For the parents who have lost their child to ALD, it is particularly tragic and painful knowing that a simple and effective test at birth could have saved their child’s life.”

Shane Louisell, 53, of San Leandro, lost two brothers to the disease – Bobby, at age 5, and Richard, at age 44 – the latter having suffered the less-common, adult-onset version of the disease. Now his nephew, in his 30s, has it too.

“The bill is so important – getting newborns screened, at least they have a chance to do something about it before it’s too late,” said Louisell, an artist and retired teacher. “It would save a lot of families grief.”

And supporters say the bill actually would save California millions because the difference in treating an early diagnosed patient and a late-diagnosed patient is roughly $1 million per year.

New York just began testing newborn babies for ALD at the end of last year; so far, six boys and one girl were found to have the disease, and so have been given a chance at life; testing of those babies’ families found a four-year-old who also was diagnosed.

You could’ve heard a pin drop as ALD victims’ mothers told their stories at the Senate Health Committee hearing in June:

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Kashkari offers $25k scholarship in ad contest

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 at 11:49 am in 2014 general

Gubernatorial candidates often talk about the affordability of higher education, but not quite like this.

NEEL KASHKARIRepublican Neel Kashkari is offering a $25,000 scholarship to the California college student who can create the best 30-second ad for his campaign.

“College students are extremely creative and today my campaign is offering them the opportunity to help change the direction of California,” Kashkari said in a news release Wednesday. “We need to harness the creativity and vision of college students and encourage them to participate in the political process. I’m thrilled to announce this contest to achieve both important goals.”

The deadline to submit a 30-second or shorter ad, which will be used by the campaign potentially online or on broadcast or cable television, is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 24; the $25,000 scholarship will be awarded to the winning entrant or team. Full rules, including sizing, timing and how to submit an ad, are posted on Kashkari’s website.

“I encourage parents, friends and students to spread the word about this contest,” Kashkari said. “We can change California if we harness the energy and creativity of our students.”

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Blue Shield criticized for Levi’s Stadium skybox

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 at 5:20 pm in 2014 general, ballot measures

The campaign for a ballot measure to let the state insurance commissioner veto health insurance rate hikes is pointing to Blue Shield of California’s pricey luxury skybox at the new Levis’s Stadium as a sign that insurers’ spending is out of control.

Levi's Stadium luxury suiteConsumer Watchdog and the Yes on 45 campaign sent a letter Tuesday to California Attorney General Kamala Harris urging her to investigate “Blue Shield’s abuse of its non-profit status” and crack down on its spending.

The letter cites a San Francisco Chronicle article which said suites of the type that Blue Shield got at the San Francisco 49ers’ new home are “priced at between $250,000 and $400,000 a year and require a 10- or 20-year commitment. That puts the price at anywhere from $2.5 million to $8 million.”

“We urge you to investigate Blue Shield’s abuse of its non-profit status and use your authority to impose a ‘charitable trust’ on Blue Shield’s assets and block any additional wasteful spending that robs taxpayers and average California patients of their financial health,” Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court wrote to Harris.

Proposition 45 “will ensure that companies like Blue Shield are not increasing premium charges to patients to fund excessive executive compensation, lavish entertainment and excessive reserves,” Court wrote. “Under current law, the California Department of Insurance does not yet have the authority to block excessive rate increases that funded Blue Shield’s skybox. Before November, only you have the power to protect California taxpayers.”

Neither the No on Prop 45 campaign, known as Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, nor Blue Shield of California answered e-mails seeking comment Tuesday. Blue Shield spokesman Sean Barry told the Chronicle over the weekend that the luxury box’s primary purpose “is to interact social with some of our larger membership groups,” and it won’t be available to executives for “their personal use.”

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CA17: Khanna disavows Ernie Konnyu’s words

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 at 12:42 pm in Mike Honda, U.S. House

Apropos of my “please don’t help me” story in Monday’s editions, Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna on Tuesday repudiated the words of one of his most vocal Republican supporters.

Ernie KonnyuGOP former congressman Ernie Konnyu already had complicated Khanna’s life a bit by trying to rally tea party support for his bid to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose. More recently, Konnyu drew unwanted attention by getting into a Facebook argument with Republican former Assemblyman Jim Cunneen – who has endorsed Honda – over the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce PAC’s support of Assembly candidate and Campbell councilman Evan Low. Low has led the fight on lifting the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blood donation by gay men.

“How sick is it that a business group endorses a liberal so left that he wants to change the law to allow blood donations by gays,” Konnyu wrote on Friday, Aug. 8. “This, even though the current law forbids it since such blood has a risk of transferring the deadly AIDS virus. Yes! Gay pride is worth more with Evan Low than our citizens’ lives.”

Konnyu has accused Honda’s staff and supporters of waging a “war of hate,” using “demonizing tweets” against him for his comments; last Thursday, he tweeted a challenge to Honda to introduce a bill to overturn the FDA policy.

Low and others issued a statement Tuesday urging Khanna to disavow Konnyu’s remarks.

“His continued silence on this issue raises concerns that he may share Konnyu’s views, and I urge him to join me, Congressman Honda, and the thousands of Americans nationwide who would like to see the FDA change its views,” Low wrote.

James Gonzales, president of the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee – a Silicon Valley LGBT political group – said “this kind of homophobic rhetoric has no place in our politics, from any politician of any party. We hope that Ro Khanna will quickly condemn these comments by Konnyu and denounce his support.”

Khanna issued a statement later Tuesday saying his positions and record “on defending marriage equality and the rights for all people is unequivocal.

Ro Khanna“I believe that any laws discriminating against LGBT individuals are unconstitutional. Full stop. While I am proud of all the support this campaign has received, I find any discriminatory statements from my supporters – whether they be homophobic, racist, or sexist – to be completely unacceptable and not reflective of my or my campaign,” he said.

Khanna said he has always respected Low’s public service, but Low now “has marginalized what could have been legitimate advocacy by recklessly saying that I could possibly agree with discrimination. This striking example of hypocrisy represents the worst of politics.”

Honda and Low remained silent when a union-backed national super PAC sent out a mailer just before June’s primary election that said Khanna’s policies would send jobs overseas and “outsource our jobs,” Khanna noted – a mailer Khanna calls “racially coded and xenophobic.”

“Unlike Congressman Honda, I will always speak up when those who support me use language that is not in line with my values,” Khanna said.

The FDA’s policy dates back to 1983 and has been in place in its current form since 1992 but is opposed by the American Medical Association and the American Red Cross, which say the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted. Honda in 2008 supported San Jose State University’s effort to bring attention to the issue by suspending campus blood drives; started a petition against the ban last year that has been signed by more than 51,000 people; and has joined with several dozen other members of Congress in urging the FDA to lift the ban.

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Eric Swalwell gets second bill signed into law

By Josh Richman
Monday, August 18th, 2014 at 2:37 pm in Eric Swalwell, U.S. House

President Obama’s signature this month of a second bill by Rep. Eric Swalwell – naming a Dublin post office for a late veteran and community activist – means the East Bay congressman now has had more bills enacted than the 69 other House freshmen.

That’s right, folks: Two bills signed into law is the best any freshman has done in this 113th Congress.

Eric SwalwellSwalwell’s H.R. 1671 renames the post office at 6937 Village Parkway in Dublin for Dr. Jim Kohnen, who died in May 2012 at age 69. The U.S. Postal Service will schedule a formal naming ceremony.

Kohnen retired from the U.S. Army Reserve as a colonel after over 30 years of service in the Corps of Engineers; during his service, he had graduated from the U.S. Army War College, the Air War College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, earning his doctorate in education. Later in life, he was a teacher at San Leandro High School, an elected or appointed official on five local boards, and a volunteer with organizations including the Boy Scouts and the Dublin Historical Preservation Association.

“Through this Post Office, Jim will always continue to be part of his beloved community,” Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in a news release Monday.

Swalwell’s earlier successful bill was H.R. 3771, which President Obama signed into law in March. That one encouraged Americans to donate to Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts by letting them deduct contributions to Philippines recovery efforts made before April 14 from their 2013 taxes; otherwise, a person would have had to wait until he or she filed their taxes next year to claim the deduction.

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Lawmakers OK bill to boost grease-theft penalties

By Josh Richman
Monday, August 18th, 2014 at 2:12 pm in Assembly, California State Senate

A bill to boost penalties for stealing used cooking oil is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yes, you read that correctly – used cooking oil. Apparently oil from restaurants’ deep fryers has become a hot commodity worth a lot of money, with thieves draining it in the dead of night and selling it for conversion into clean-burning biofuel. Ah, California.

There's gold in that there fryer“As the alternative fuels market keeps growing, the demand for inedible kitchen grease based biofuels will grow as well,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, the bill’s author, said in a news release.

“The price increases stemming from this new demand will make grease theft a more lucrative crime in the coming years,” he said. “AB 1566 provides law enforcement with the tools to combat grease theft and protect the burgeoning biofuels market by beefing up requirements for licensed haulers, increasing the penalties for stealing grease and allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 15 days.”

The penalties have been so minor that many law enforcement agencies don’t even respond when owners report the theft, Holden contends. But according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a typical fast-food restaurant produces 150-250 pounds of grease a week and a fully loaded pumper truck could bring in as much as $900 at a recycling center.

The Assembly voted 70-0 Monday to send the bill to Brown’s desk. The state Senate had approved it 35-0 one week ago.

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Supporters rally for ‘gun restraining order’ bill

By Josh Richman
Monday, August 18th, 2014 at 11:19 am in Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Nancy Skinner

Advocates of a bill that would create a “gun violence restraining order” system are stepping up their efforts in advance of a state Senate floor vote later this month.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several Bay Area police chiefs and gun control advocates, rallied Monday morning outside the Emeryville Police Department in support of AB 1014. Skinner and Santa Barbara Democrats Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced the bill soon after a May rampage at UC-Santa Barbara left six students dead.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get guns out of the hands of someone in crisis,” Skinner said in a news release Monday. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool to help prevent these tragedies.”

Modeled on domestic violence laws, AB 1014 creates a process to intervene and potentially prohibit the purchase of firearms and/or remove firearms already in possession by a person who shows warning signs of a risk of violence. Law enforcement or family members would have the right to ask a judge to grant an order prohibiting firearms purchase or possession. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas have similar laws, Skinner’s office said.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed, or the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“AB 1014 fills an important gap in the law that prevents law enforcement from acting to prevent violence before it happens,” Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a longtime gun-control advocate, said in Skinner’s news release. “This need has been obvious to law enforcement for years. But the time to act is now. The tragedy in Santa Barbara makes that obvious.”

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 5-2 vote June 24, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it Friday on a 5-0 vote with two Republicans not voting.

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CA17: Khanna issues Honda ice-bucket challenge

By Josh Richman
Saturday, August 16th, 2014 at 2:24 pm in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

As ugly as the 17th Congressional District battle is getting, at least there’s still a little humor and perhaps some charitable good.

Democratic candidate Ro Khanna on Saturday issued the now-ubiquitous challenge – to either donate $100 to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or make a video of dumping a bucket of ice water over one’s own head – to Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

Anyone want to lay bets on whether Honda makes the donation or takes the dousing – or both?

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