0

Supreme Court to rule Friday on redistricting suit

The California Supreme Court will issue its written opinion at 10 a.m. tomorrow on a challenge to last year’s state Senate redistricting, it announced minutes ago.

That challenge, filed in early December, asks the court to decide whether the old or new state Senate district map should be used for this year’s elections if a proposed referendum seeking to overturn that map qualifies for the ballot.

The court is grappling with what legal standard or test it should apply in determining whether a referendum is “likely to qualify” under a state constitution section dealing with when plaintiffs can seek relief from the judiciary. It also must decide whether it has the authority to hear such a petition before the referendum has qualified for the ballot, or even before anyone can deem it likely to qualify.

The parties made their oral arguments at a 75-minute hearing Jan. 10.

A Republican-backed group called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting has gathered signatures to place the challenge referendum on the ballot, but those signatures won’t be tallied until late February – halfway through the nominating period for state Senate races.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission contends the new map it drew should be used immediately because that’s was the will of the voters and because it meets federal standards. FAIR contends using the new map wouldn’t be fair to voters who are exercising their legal right to challenge it.

ADDITION FROM LISA V:

For folks who want to watch the count tally of the GOP’s ballot initiative that challenges the state Senate maps, click here.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see a number in red. That’s how many valid signatures have been counted so far. They need to reach 504,760 to make it onto the November ballot.

9

Jane Harman may be out, but who’ll be in?

This morning’s big California political news is that Rep. Jane Harman, D-Los Angeles, might be resigning from Congress to take over as head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a renowned foreign policy think tank. And this morning’s big California political speculation is about who might run in a special election to succeed her – the first Congressional vote under the state’s new top-two primary scheme, and the last before district lines are redrawn by the independent Citizens Redistricing Commission for the first time.

Several potential candidates’ names have already emerged from the hubbub:

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who’d looked like a lock for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor last year until Gavin Newsom jumped into the race, will run, Politico reports.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen Tweeted this morning that she is giving it “very serious thought.”

Marcy Winograd, president of the Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles who got 38 percent 40.9 percent of the vote when she ran against Harman in last year’s Democratic primary, is getting some social media buzz, but has not Tweeted today herself.

I’ve also seen some insinuations that former Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, already fully embroiled in a special election for the 28th State Senate District left vacant by Jenny Oropeza’s death, may now be having buyers’ remorse.

Harman’s 36th Congressional District seat is registered 45.3 percent Democrat to 27.6 percent Republican with 22.2 percent of voters declining to state a party affiliation – in other words, a pretty safe Democratic seat.

UPDATE @ 2:40 P.M.: Janice Hahn is indeed in the race, and her campaign website from last year apparently is being revamped for it right now. Meanwhile, some progressives have launched an online petition urging Bowen to run.

UPDATE @ 7:25 A.M. TUESDAY: Winograd Tweeted thricely this morning:

With Harman resigning, I am considering a run — though interested in speaking with Bowen about forging a new economy for the 36th.

Hahn called me to say she was running for Harman’s seat, assured me she was anti-war, also a “friend of Israel.”

We need a progressive voice in DC, someone to challenge expanded wars, be they sponsored by the GOP or Dems. Harman resigns; Free the 36th.

13

Highest turnout in past 5 gubernatorial votes

The results are now certified, and California’s Nov. 2 election saw the greatest voter turnout – 59.6 percent of the state’s registered voters – in the past five gubernatorial votes, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported this evening.

“I applaud the work of each county elections official and the more than 100,000 elections workers and volunteers who helped to make voting as easy as possible for every eligible Californian,” Bowen said in a news release.

Looking back, 56.2 percent of registered voters participated in the 2006 gubernatorial election; voter turnout for the 2002 gubernatorial election was 50.6 percent; and 57.6 percent of registered voters turned out in 1998. So last month’s was the highest gubernatorial election turnout since 60.5 percent of voters cast ballots when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson topped Democrat State Treasurer Kathleen Brown in 1994.

Was it Meg Whitman’s deep pockets, either directly or in backlash, that accounted for this surge to the polls? Was it the question of marijuana legalization? Was it part of the national political furor? All of those things, or none? Have at it, commenters.

Ballots cast by mail accounted for 48.4 percent of the votes cast in last month’s election; that’s up from 41.6 percent in 2006. The counties with the highest vote-by-mail voters as a percentage of total turnout were Mendocino (79.4 percent), Nevada (73.9 percent) and El Dorado (70.5 percent), though all voters in Alpine and Sierra counties cast ballots by mail.

“Vote-by-mail voting has steadily increased in popularity over the last 32 years since the law was changed to allow any registered voter to vote by mail,” Bowen said.

Overall, the counties with the highest turnout of registered voters were Sierra (81.9 percent), Nevada (80.8 percent) and Amador (77.6 percent), while turnout was the lowest in Imperial (49.8 percent), Merced (50.9 percent) and Fresno (52.2 percent) counties.

A new total number of gubernatorial ballots cast means a new threshold to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot: For the next four years, proponents will have to gather signatures from at least 504,775 registered voters – five percent of the total votes cast for governor last month – in order to put their measures to a vote. Proponents for a constitutional amendment will need 807,639 signatures, or eight percent of last month’s gubernatorial votes.

1

Israel divestiture measure cleared to circulate

Secretary of State Debra Bowen today cleared a Sacramento man to take a second crack at putting before California voters an initiative that would bar the state’s gigantic public employee pension funds from investing in companies engaged in certain business activities in Israel.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

PROHIBITS STATE RETIREMENT FUNDS FROM INVESTING IN COMPANIES ENGAGED IN CERTAIN BUSINESS ACTIVITIES IN ISRAEL. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires the Public Employees’ Retirement System and State Teachers’ Retirement System to identify investments in companies that do business related to the construction or maintenance of Israeli settlements, including those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or that provide military supplies and services to Israel. Requires retirement funds to urge these companies to stop these business activities, and, subject to fund fiduciary responsibilities, to divest from companies still engaged in these activities. Prohibits retirement funds from making new investments in these companies. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Potential increase in state and local government pension contributions, the amount of which would vary from negligible to more significant based on how this measure’s divestiture requirements are interpreted and implemented. (10-0020.)

Proponent Chris Yatooma has until Jan. 31 to collect 433,971 valid petition signatures from registered voters in order to place the divestiture measure on the 2012 presidential primary ballot.

According to this Examiner article from earlier this year, Yatooma had tried earlier this year to gather enough signatures to put the measure on this November’s ballot, apparently to no avail.

“We believe the ballot measure is needed so Californians may express their displeasure with Israel’s illegal settlements and Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” says Yatooma’s Israel Divestiture Campaign website. “We hope California will be the first state to apply a comprehensive divestment strategy that other states will follow. This divestment approach looks to mirror the divestment strategy embodied by the worldwide anti-apartheid movement that toppled white rule in South Africa.”

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families; its investment portfolio’s market value was $200 billion as of June 30. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) had 847,833 total members and beneficiaries and investments with a market value of about $118.9 billion as of mid-2009.

5

Sup’t of Public Instr. ballot fight in court today

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge is likely to rule later today, after a 3:30 p.m. hearing, on a lawsuit challenging state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Larry Aceves’ ballot designation as a “Retired School Superintendent.”

Larry AcevesAceves, 66, a Fremont Democrat, is competing with Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, for the nonpartisan office in November’s general election.

This lawsuit was filed last Wednesday against Secretary of State Debra Bowen (who approved the designation) not by Torlakson’s campaign, but by Torlakson campaign donor Betty Sue Cleveland of Livermore, a life member of and political organizer for the California School Employees Association – which supports Torlakson’s campaign. (Here’s someone’s Flickr shot of Torlakson and Cleveland together at a CSEA event earlier this month.)

Cleveland is represented by the Los Angeles-based Kaufman Legal Group, whose client list is a who’s who of Southern California labor and Democratic politics; there’s no requirement that Cleveland or her attorneys disclose who’s bankrolling the lawsuit, and neither have done so.

California Election Code Section 13107(a)(3) says a candidate is entitled to a ballot designation of “(n)o more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”

The lawsuit claims Aceves has done something else as his principal vocation since working as a school superintendent from 1991 to 2006; he was a partner in Leadership Associates – an employment search and placement firm focusing on school district managers – from 2006 through 2009.

Bowen contends she has no way to independently verify what Aceves has done since retiring as a superintendent. And Aceves contends he worked no more than 210 hours for Leadership Associates during the three years he was a partner there, and was drawing retirement benefits all through that time, so his designation is sound.

The deadline for a ruling draws nigh; tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 26) is the day Bowen is supposed to send county registrars a certified list of candidates with ballot designations.

Torlakson’s ballot designation, by the way, is “Teacher/California Legislator.” Torlakson, 61, holds a secondary teaching credential and a Master’s degree in education from the University of California, Berkeley, but has held elected office for a loooong time – as an Antioch councilman from 1978 to 1981; a Contra Costa County supervisor from 1980 to 1996; an Assemblyman from 1996 to 1999; a state Senator from 2000 to 2008; and an Assemblyman again since 2009.

The League of Women Voters’ SmartVoter.org site says he hasn’t worked at the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in 30 years. He says he’s on the faculty at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, but I don’t see his name in the faculty directory. I do, however, see that he’s teaching a one-credit “short course” this fall – six lectures of about three hours each – on California politics and governance.

UPDATE @ 10:48 A.M. THURSDAY: Aceves won.

2

Bowen: Contractor messed up voter guide mailing

A contractor’s error was responsible for some Bay Area households never receiving their official state voters’ guides before the June 8 primary, Secretary of State Debra Bowen reports.

In a letter sent yesterday to Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who’d contacted Bowen’s office after taking complaints from San Mateo County residents, Bowen said managers at Admail West, the Sacramento firm contracted to mail the guides, admitted “their company is responsible for duplicate or triplicate mailings of state voter guides to voter households in some counties, while at the same time failing to mail a single state voter guide to other households.”

“No one at Admail West has ever been able to fully explain the extent of the mailing problem, or why the company did not have better quality-assurance procedures in place for such an important statewide project,” Bowen wrote. “Moreover, Admail West managers reported that the one employee who handled the mailing data and caused the San Mateo County mailing errors passed away in June, and many key details are not known by anyone else at the company.”

Regardless of who screwed up at Admail West, she wrote, “there is no excuse for the sloppy tracking and lack of quality control by any vendor when the Secretary of State’s office provides extremely clear mailing specifications and voter address data.”

Checking around online, I see that Admail West’s president is Kathleen Pescetti. Her husband is Anthony Pescetti, the Republican former Assemblyman from Gold River; their son, also named Anthony, is Admail West’s business development manager.

Hill, D-San Mateo, issued a news release today noting there are still unanswered questions that must be resolved to ensure this doesn’t happen again: “I will be working with the Secretary of State to identify corrective actions that may include legislation or a state audit.”

Hill on June 16 introduced AB 814, which would require that for a statewide election, officials include a notification with the sample ballot informing voters they can obtain a voter information guide on the Secretary of State’s website. The notice also would include the telephone number, designated by the county elections official, at which a voter could request that a ballot pamphlet be mailed to him or her; ballot pamphlets also would be made available at polling places. The bill passed the state Senate Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote Monday, and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Hill also this year authored AB 1717, authorizing county and city elections officials to create procedures letting a voter opt out of receiving their sample ballot, voter pamphlet and polling-place notice by mail and instead get them electronically by e-mail or on the county’s or city’s Web site. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed that bill into law last month.