Jerry Brown touts growing diversity among judges

Gov. Jerry Brown is touting the increased diversity he’s bringing to state courts.

Brown’s office announced today that he has made 90 judicial appointments since taking office, drawing from a pool of 1,168 applicants. Women accounted for about a third of the applicant pool and more than 34 percent of Brown’s appointments; about 34 percent of the applicants identified themselves as ethnic minorities, and 37 percent of Brown’s appointments came from among these.

Brown’s 2012 appointments included Halim Dhanidina, the first American-Muslim judge ever appointed in California; Jim Humes, the first openly gay justice to serve on the California Court of Appeal; Miguel Marquez, the first Latino justice to serve on the Sixth District Court of Appeal; Rosendo Peña, the first Latino justice to serve on the Fifth District Court of Appeal; Chris Doehle, the first female judge to serve on the Del Norte County Superior Court; Kimberly Colwell, the first openly lesbian judge to be appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court; and Mark Andrew Talamantes, the first Latino judge to serve on the Marin County Superior Court.

Brown’s office also noted this is the first time in the state’s history that a Latino or Latina is serving on all six state Courts of Appeal.

The state’s Administrative Office of the Courts reported that overall diversity on the California bench has been increasing gradually since 2006.

State laws require the governor to disclose judicial applicants’ demographic data every year by March 1.


Ellen Corbett won’t run for House in 2012

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, has decided not to run against Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, in the newly drawn 15th Congressional District this year. Here’s the statement she issued moments ago:

Ellen Corbett“I thank all my wonderful supporters for their encouragement to run for Congress, but before I do that, I want to finish the job I started in the state Legislature, where I’m fighting to support schools, protect consumers, create jobs and improve the lives of all Californians. I plan to continue my work as Senate Majority Leader and complete my term in the state Senate, and I look forward to continuing to serve my East Bay constituents in the future.”

Corbett had said months ago that she was committed to finishing her state Senate term and respected Stark, but later acknowledged she was exploring the possibility of a 2012 run.

Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, another Democrat, is challenging Stark this year, and completed his nomination filing earlier this week. We’re still waiting to see whether conservative independent Chris Pareja of Hayward completes his filing.

And Silicon Valley attorney and former Obama administration official Ro Khanna of Fremont hasn’t taken out any papers to run this year, despite having shattered fundraising records in 2011’s final quarter.


Emken self-funded in 2010, but won’t vs. DiFi

Elizabeth Emken, the Danville Republican who yesterday announced her bid to challenge U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein next year, must be hoping this campaign will be a better financial bet than her last one.

Emken, 48, ran in the June 2010 GOP primary for what was then the 11th Congressional District seat. She came in fourth in a field of four; the nominee was David Harmer, who then lost the general election to incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

Campaign finance reports show Emken had loaned her primary campaign $300,000 – 54 percent of her campaign’s $556,000 in total receipts – but only ever got back $100,000 of that. Another $408,000 went to operating expenses, and the final $48,000 – which had been contributed for use in the general election – was refunded to those who gave it. That campaign committee shut down in September 2010.

Feinstein, 78, is worth about $69 million, making her the 12th-richest member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Though her $9.2 million campaign nest egg might’ve been decimated by the embezzlement of now-disgraced campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee, there’s little doubt that she can both afford to ante up a lot from her own pocket and raise a great deal from others at the drop of a hat.

“Elizabeth is not planning to self-finance this campaign. We’re focused on building a broad foundation of support,” Tim Clark, Emken’s campaign spokesman, said this afternoon.

“Elizabeth has tremendous appeal among California voters, particularly among those who want a more efficient, more effective government, and a thriving job market,” he said. “Feinstein has had 20 years to show Californians what she can do. Her votes have contributed to the inexcusable government debt and the excessive regulatory climate that is now a drag on our economy. Californians are ready for change. I have no doubt that Elizabeth will have the resources necessary to get her message out.”


Prosecutor, councilman to take on Pete Stark

An East Bay prosecutor and city councilman is announcing today that he’ll challenge Rep. Pete Stark in next June’s primary for the newly drawn 15th Congressional District.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Eric Swalwell, 30, was elected last year to the Dublin City Council with a term expiring in Nov. 2014; earlier, he’d served on the city’s planning commission since 2008.

Stark’s current 13th District includes all of Alameda, Union City, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro and Fremont, as well as small parts of Oakland and Pleasanton. The new 15th District cuts out much of Fremont and all of Alameda, and adds in the unincorporated areas of Castro Valley, Ashland and Fairview as well as all of Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon.

“When I looked at the shift, where the district went, I thought it needed someone who could fit the district with new energy and new ideas, someone who could work together with Republicans, Democrats and independents to solve the problems,” he said Tuesday. “People want to start working again and want to know who’s going to work for them. I’m ready to pull up my sleeves and go to work for this new district.”

Stark, 79, first was elected to Congress in 1972; he’s the fifth-most-senior Representative and the sixth-most-senior member of Congress overall. He announced his candidacy for a 21st term Aug. 2, saying he looks forward “to continuing to serve the people I represent today and gaining new constituents to the east. I’m committed to representing my new district with the same level of service, responsiveness and representation my constituents have come to rely on during my tenure in Congress.”

Swalwell made it clear he’s not running against Stark in particular: “It’s a new district,” he said, and in tough economic times, a fresh candidate with a job-creation agenda has a blank slate on which to write his campaign.

A Democrat, Swalwell is well aware that the June primary will be the first regular election (see comment #5, below) using the “top two” system, in which candidates of all parties compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.

He said serving on the Dublin City Council so far “has been great, it’s given me an opportunity to work closely with the business community to see what they need… to see what policies attract businesses to town.” That ranges from attracting new businesses to trying to tie Dublin into the Livermore winery boom, he said, and so he’s holding his candidacy announcement today in a business park with many vacancies near the I-580/I-680 interchange.

Swalwell graduated from Dublin High School in 1999; he holds a bachelor’s degree in government and politics and a law degree, both from the University of Maryland. While at Maryland, he served on the City of College Park City Council as its student representative, and from 2001-2002, he interned in the office of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, assisting with legislative research and constituent outreach and services.

UPDATE @ 6:47 P.M.: More details, including Pete Stark’s comments and whether Ellen Corbett is a contender, in the article here.


Mercury Insurance chair puts $8 mil into initiative

Ready for a redux of last year’s narrowly unsuccessful Proposition 17, Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph has just dumped almost $8.1 million into a nascent ballot measure campaign.

The Secretary of State’s campaign finance database shows a $8,077,126.97 contribution from Joseph to the 2012 Auto Insurance Discount Act was made with an Aug. 26 transaction date and a Sept. 9 filing date. That’s atop $150,000 Joseph had given earlier.

That means this proposed ballot measure already has half the funding that was raised in total to support Prop. 17. Joseph appears to be the only donor to the committee so far.

Like Prop. 17, this measure would repeal state law’s prohibition – enacted under Proposition 103 of 1988 – on insurance companies from considering a driver’s coverage history when a motorist applies for insurance. Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary:

CHANGES LAW TO ALLOW AUTO INSURANCE COMPANIES TO SET PRICES BASED ON A DRIVER’S HISTORY OF INSURANCE COVERAGE. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Changes current law to permit insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver previously carried auto insurance with any insurance company. Allows insurance companies to give proportional discounts to drivers with some prior insurance coverage. Will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who have not maintained continuous coverage. Treats drivers with lapse as continuously covered if lapse is due to military service or loss of employment, or if lapse is less than 90 days. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Probably no significant fiscal effect on state insurance premium tax revenues. (11-0013.)

Mercury Insurance, which bankrolled Prop. 17, has said such a measure would let insurers give “persistency discounts” to new customers who have had continuous or nearly continuous auto insurance coverage in the past. Current law lets insurers offer such discounts to its own customers but not to new customers who had continuous coverage for some period of time but from a different auto insurance company.

But there’s a flip side, consumer advocates opposing such measures warn: higher rates for customers without a history of continuous insurance. They say Mercury Insurance already levies surcharges on customers in other states who have had a lapse in their coverage – perhaps including students who went away to college, mass-transit commuters and the long-term unemployed – and so can be expected to do the same in California if such a measure passes.

Prop. 17 was defeated in June 2010, 51.9 percent “yes” to 48.1 percent “no.”

“Mercury Chairman George Joseph does not care that voters already rejected his deceptive campaign in 2010. He is determined to destroy consumer protections that have saved California drivers over $62 billion,” Brian Stedge of Consumer Watchdog said in a news release. “The question is simple, would an insurance chairman spend over $8 million to give drivers a discount? The truth is that Mercury will spend tens of millions of dollars in order to raise prices, not lower them.”

The new ballot measure is sponsored “by the American Agents Alliance with support from California Insurance Providers for Competitive Prices and Consumer Discounts,” according to the Secretary of State’s office. Consumer Watchdog says the alliance is run by the person who served as spokesman for Prop. 17 last year, and most members of its board of directors are Mercury agents.

Supporters have until Jan. 9 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put the measure on next year’s ballot.

UPDATE @ 4:26 P.M.: I got a call this afternoon from Rachel Pitts of Sacramento-based Marketplace Communications, representing the committee behind this ballot measure. She said she wanted to make it clear that Joseph’s contribution was out of his personal fortune, and that Mercury Insurance itself isn’t funding the measure; she went on to give me a thumbnail profile of Joseph as a spry 90-year-old California native and World War II combat veteran who still walks to work every day, “a true California success story.”

Pitts knocked Consumer Watchdog as a special-interest group that has gotten rich from the insurance intervenor fees it created under Prop. 103, and she said it’s dirty politics for such a group to go after someone like Joseph who has done so much for California.

Perhaps more relevantly, she said this measure is significantly different than Prop. 17. For one thing, it deems continuous coverage to have existed if there was a lapse due to a person’s active military service – a change that brought servicemembers’ and veterans’ insurer USAA, which had opposed Prop. 17, into the fold for this one.

Pitts said the new measure also deems continuous coverage to have existed even if there was a lapse in coverage of up to 18 months in the last five years due to loss of employment resulting from a layoff or furlough. Young, new drivers get the same rate as their parents, she said, and drivers get a discount proportional to the amount of full years they have had insurance in the previous five years.


California’s online poker bills are dead until 2012

A contentious effort to legalize and regulate online poker in California was pronounced dead for this year by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to stakeholders saying that although the Legislature has held several hearings with hours of testimony, “significant, unresolved issues remain, including tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereign immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, who would be eligible to apply for gaming site licenses and potential federal constitutional questions.”

The problems aren’t insurmountable, he wrote, “but not before the end of this legislative year on September 9th, when Interim Study Recess is scheduled to begin. Rushing to meet a legislative deadline on an issue of such significance for our state and our people would be unwise.”

Steinberg said he expects a better proposal will be developed during the recess for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in 2012, and the state Senate Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing in January to move that bill along. “There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so.”

A million Californians per week already play online poker on sites that are operated overseas or may be run illegally, says state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The sites operate despite a 2006 federal law that bars gambling businesses from taking and paying out money online, unless the bets are made and paid within a state that has laws regulating it. No state currently does.

A pending, bipartisan House bill would end that federal ban and set up an interstate licensing program giving states authority to run online sites; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged cooperation.

And Reid’s home state of Nevada, where gaming is king, is straining at the bit to see the ban overturned: Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law in June requiring his state to adopt its own online poker regulations by January.

California could be left behind if it doesn’t do the same, Correa has said, as Nevada and other states stand to cut into approximately $7.5 billion in annual revenues now earned by California’s brick-and-mortar card rooms and tribal casinos. He said his SB 40 instead would bring California 1,300 new jobs and — with a 10 percent take from all online poker fees — $1.4 billion in revenue for state coffers in the next decade.

But while a coalition of card rooms and Indian tribes backed Correa’s bill, some gaming tribes opposed it, claiming a $50 million “buy-in” for online poker licenses would create an unfair advantage for certain gaming interests.