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SD9: Robert Reich endorses Nancy Skinner

A state Senate battle between two like-minded progressives rolls on in the East Bay, with some new heat from a prominent liberal’s endorsement.

Nancy SkinnerFormer U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, now a UC-Berkeley professor, endorsed former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner this week in next year’s 9th State Senate District race. Skinner, D-Berkeley, is vying with former Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, in this race – two labor-backed liberals with no daylight between them on most notable issues.

“Nancy Skinner is a proud progressive leader who is not afraid to take on powerful corporate interests and fight for our families,” Reich said in Skinner’s news release. “We need a fighter like Nancy Skinner in the State Senate.”

Skinner, who was term- limited out of the Assembly late last year and now is an energy and transportation senior fellow at UC-Davis, said she’s honored to have Reich’s support. “Not only is he a personal hero, he is one of the most thoughtful, compelling and effective progressive leaders in America. Reich has dedicated his career to combating injustice and making a real difference in the world.”

Skinner less than two weeks ago announced her endorsement by 12 current state Senate Democrats. But Swanson began rolling out his own endorsements at the start of this past summer, which have included nods from both the assemblymen now representing the district; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Teamsters Joint Council 7; and 9th District incumbent Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who’ll be term-limited out next year.

Skinner had about $922,000 ($925,176, less $2,878 in outstanding debt) banked for this race as of June 30, while Swanson had about $50,000 ($80,387, less $30,443 in outstanding debt).

Republican Richard Kinney, San Pablo’s vice mayor, also is running for the seat; he had about $750 banked as of June 30. But in a district that’s 63 percent Democrat to 8 percent Republican, it’s hard to imagine him making it into the June primary’s top two in order to advance to November.

A third prominent Democrat, former Assembly Majority Leader and current Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, dropped out of this race late last month.

“Over the past six months, I am proud to say that we had successfully begun to build a campaign based on local support, community action and alliances with like-minded groups in Sacramento, Chan wrote in message to supporters. “Unfortunately, political races are increasingly dependent on money and less on grassroots support and action. It has become clear that the window of time I have to raise the necessary funds will be difficult given my responsibilities to my constituents. It has also become clear that the needs of my family must come first.”

Chan noted that although she can use some of the money she had raised for this race for her supervisorial campaign committee and the rest for like-minded candidates and causes, she will honor individual contributors’ requests for refunds.

The 9th District is a swath of Contra Costa and Alameda counties from Rodeo in the north to San Leandro in the south, including Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Emeryville, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Hercules, Kensington and other communities.

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, Nancy Skinner, Sandre Swanson | 4 Comments »

Honda & Lee bring home bacon for BART, cops

‘Tis the season when members of Congress proudly trumpet the bacon they’re bringing home for local programs and institutions.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, announced Friday that the Department of Transportation has awarded $150 million to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to fully fund the next year of construction on the BART Silicon Valley Berryessa extension. He said he used his Appropriations Committee seat to ensure the funding was included in the budget.

“Since coming to Congress, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the BART Silicon Valley Extension receives federal funding,” he said in his news release. “In Silicon Valley, the capital of innovation and manufacturing, we lead in many industries, including progressive transportation projects that will reduce traffic on our roadways and protect our environment.”

He said he has previously worked with VTA and the Secretary of Transportation to secure the $900 million federal full-funding grant agreement needed for the BART extension, $700 million of which has now been brought home.

And Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, announced Monday that the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is awarding $1.875 million to create or preserve jobs for 15 officers in Oakland; $250,000 for two officers in Alameda County; and $125,000 for one officer in Berkeley.

“At a time when departments face high resource constraints, these federal grants will help address public safety and promote community-oriented policing,” Lee, also an Appropriations Committee member, said in her news release. “As we work to build greater trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color, the COPS program has proven track record of re-focusing law enforcement efforts on the needs of the communities and promoting greater community trust. We must ensure this vital federal program has the resources it needs to support our communities and ensure public safety.”

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Obama honors Cal labor scholar at White House

A Berkeley labor scholar and consultant was among those honored by President Obama at the White House on Thursday as “Champions of Change” for working families.

Netsy FiresteinNetsy Firestein, 62, is a senior fellow at UC-Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a consultant on work and family, child care, women and labor issues.

As founder and director of the Labor Project for Working Families, Firestein led a coalition that passed paid family leave in California, which covers almost every worker in the state. She also co-founded Family Values @ Work, a network of 21 states working to build a movement for family-friendly workplace policies such as family leave insurance and paid sick days.

Obama’s Champions of Change program lets the White House honor people who do extraordinary things to empower and inspire their communities. Thursday’s batch of 11 honorees were selected for having worked within their companies, communities or organizations for commonsense paid sick and paid leave policies, equal pay and an end to pregnancy discrimination to support families, businesses, and the economy.

The president singled out Firestein’s case as an example, citing her lead role in enacting California’s first-in-the-nation paid family leave law in 2002.

“People said it was a long shot,” Obama said. “And 13 years later, only two other states have done the same. But Netsy has proved that it’s possible – California is growing, businesses are being created. Not only is it possible, it’s the right thing to do. It’s patriotic. We should learn from her example and get those numbers up. We need more states to join in.”

Also speaking at Thursday’s ceremony were senior advisor Valerie Jarrett – chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls – and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. The honorees took part in two panel discussions on working families moderated by Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Roy Austin, deputy assistant to the president for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity.

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Labor politics, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Political transparency protests set for Thursday

Activists are planning 50 events in cities coast to coast – including Berkeley and Walnut Creek – on Thursday urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.

The rallies will include a news conference outside the White House, at which hundreds of thousands of petitions will be delivered.

For now, companies bidding for public contracts need not disclose their campaign spending; activists say this creates a corrupt pay-to-play system in which money from government contracts can secretly be used to re-elect those who award the deals. With an executive order, Obama could force contractors to disclose their spending so citizens can see which elected officials get the most contributions from them.

Thursday was picked for the national event because it’s the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which increased the flow of money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into politics.
Activists will gather at from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at South Main Street and Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek with signs, music, petitions and information sheets.

In Berkeley, activists will have a table on the University of California’s Sproul Plaza near Sather Gate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with en masse photos – featuring a large prop flashlight to “shine the light on political corruption – at noon and 2 p.m.

Posted on Monday, March 30th, 2015
Under: campaign finance | 3 Comments »

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, campaign finance, Immigration, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Nora Campos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

Posted on Monday, February 9th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Bill Quirk, California State Senate, Civil liberties, Loni Hancock, Public safety | 2 Comments »

Citizens United anniversary brings protests

Activists are taking to the streets Wednesday in the Bay Area and across the nation to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has let an unprecedented flood of money wash across the face of American politics.

money in politicsIn Berkeley, the California Public Interest Research Group, local officials, students and residents gathered Wednesday morning on Cal’s Sproul Plaza. “Five years ago today, the Supreme Court went way off track, and gave mega-donors and corporate interests free rein to drown out the voices of the majority,” said Zach Weinstein of CALPIRG. “But we’re here today because the decision also sparked a movement of Americans working to take back our democracy, city-by-city and state-by-state.”

“We must stop the influx of big money in our democracy by passing an amendment to our constitution to stop corporations from being defined as people and money as speech; enacting disclosure laws, campaign finance contribution limits and publicly funded campaigns,” said Helen Grieco of Common Cause.

In San Francisco, activists are organizing a “Mourning in America” march starting at 3:30 p.m. from Market and Montgomery streets to the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave. for a 4:30 p.m. rally. The march, to “call for a reversal of corrupt campaign finance system that favors wealthy special interests over the public interest,” will be led by hip-hop artist Khafre Jay, effigies of the five Supreme Court Justices who were in the majority on Citizens United, a live band, and a coffin containing Uncle Sam; marchers are encouraged to wear black, and black armbands will be handed out.

Those scheduled to speak at the rally include former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin; good-government expert and former Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman; and others. Endorsers and organizers include the Money Out! People In! Coalition, 99Rise, CA Nurses Association, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, California Clean Money Campaign, Free Speech for People, Money Out Voters In (MOVI), MoveOn Councils, Move to Amend, Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Public Citizen,, San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, Solar Justice, and the Sunflower Alliance.

99RiseIn Washington, D.C., seven 99Riseactivists disrupted Wednesday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court session. Each stood up and demanded that the court overturn Citizens United, before raising his or her index finger in the air – a gesture meant to represent the “one person, one vote” principle that they say the ruling undermined.

“We have seen the consequences of the free flow of private money rushing into our public political system,” activist Curt Ries said. “Nearly $4 billion was spent in the 2014 midterm elections, and almost all of it came from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. The kind of influence that money buys fundamentally corrupts our electoral process by giving undue representation to wealthy donors and corporations. That’s not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Under: campaign finance | 3 Comments »

Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Under: campaign finance, Civil liberties, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Brown names Bay Area lawyer as Cal/OSHA chief

Gov. Jerry Brown has named a Bay Area attorney with a background in organized labor as the permanent chief at Cal/OSHA, the Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Juliann SumJuliann Sum, 58, of Berkeley, has served as acting chief since September 2013 at the agency tasked with watchdogging California workers’ health and safety through its research and standards, enforcement, and consultation programs.

Sum was special advisor to the director at the California Department of Industrial Relations from 2012 to 2013 and held several positions at the University of California, Berkeley from 1994 to 2012, including project director at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and attorney and industrial hygienist at the Labor Occupational Health Program.

She was an associate attorney at the Environmental Law Foundation from 1994 to 1995; a litigation associate at Carroll, Burdick and McDonough LLP from 1991 to 1994; and an industrial hygienist and business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 from 1979 to 1986.

Sum holds a law degree from the UC-Hastings College of the Law and a Master of Science degree in environmental health sciences from the Harvard University School of Public Health.

This position requires Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $139,092. Sum is a Democrat.

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

A few upcoming political events

Political junkies have some great opportunities coming up.

On Monday, Oct. 6, Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez, D-Los Angeles, will speak on “changes in the California electorate and the road to a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature” in the Institute of Governmental Studies Library, 109 Moses Hall on the UC-Berkeley campus. The event starts at 4 p.m.

On Tuesday, Oct. 7, activist, blogger and author Pamela Geller will address the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley in the IFES Portuguese Hall, at 432 Stierlin Road in Mountain View. Geller is founder, editor and publisher of; president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America; and author, with Robert Spencer, of “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.” Tickets for the 7 p.m. event cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door for forum members, and $20 in advance or $25 at the door for non-members, and are available online.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., will be in conversation with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg for a 3 p.m. program and 4 p.m. book-signing at the Commonwealth Club of California, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Gillibrand will discuss “why it’s critical for women’s voices to be heard to make issues like affordable daycare, paid family leave and equal pay political priorities.” Tickets cost $10 for club members, $15 for non-members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online or by calling 415-597-6705.

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Under: Calendar | 3 Comments »