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Boxer, DiFi urge Obama to act on Port Chicago 50

California’s U.S. senators asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday to take executive action to exonerate 50 African American sailors wrongly convicted of mutiny after the worst home-front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Base in Concord.

“Port Chicago serves as a stark reminder of both the sacrifice of the brave service members who served there and of the painful legacy of a segregated military,” Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote in their letter to the president. “We urge you to take executive action to restore justice to these 50 sailors who signed up to serve our country in World War II but were instead victims of racism and unjust convictions.”

Port Chicago disaster aftermath (NPS photo)On July 17, 1944, a group of young African-American sailors was assigned to load bombs and ammunition onto naval ships at the segregated naval base at Port Chicago. Insufficient training and hectic loading schedules led to an explosion of nearly 5,000 tons of ammunition, killing 320 servicemembers including 202 African-American sailors who were loading the munitions.

After the blast, white officers who ran the base ordered African-American sailors immediately back to work loading munitions, but many refused, citing unsafe conditions. The Navy arrested hundreds on various charges, and 50 – known as the “Port Chicago 50” – were charged with mutiny. All were convicted.

Thurgood Marshall – later a U.S. Supreme Court justice – took up the case and, although Marshall was unable to have the convictions overturned, President Truman gave the 50 clemency after the war ended. A later review of the trial confirmed that race played a significant factor in the harsh sentences handed down, and in 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of the surviving members of the Port Chicago 50. But the records for the 49 other sailors remain unchanged.

That’s a “grave injustice,” the Senators wrote, and exonerating all 50 sailors “would demonstrate our commitment to a just and equal society for all Americans.”

President Obama in 2009 signed into law legislation introduced by Boxer, Feinstein and former Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, to designate the Port Chicago Memorial site as part of the National Park Service.

Read the full text of the senators’ letter, after the jump…
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Go talk to your congressman

With only two weeks left in Congress’ summer recess, there are still a few chances to see and be heard by your lawmaker.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has several events coming up. First, I’ll moderate a Commonwealth Club of California discussion with him at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students, and are available online.

DeSaulnier also is continuing his series of free, public town-hall meetings as well. The remaining three are scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26 in the Harding Elementary School auditorium, 7230 Fairmount Avenue in El Cerrito; Wednesday, Sept. 2 in the Orinda Library Auditorium, 26 Orinda Way; and Thursday, Sept. 3 in the Clayton Library’s Hoyer Hall, 6125 Clayton Road. All three will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, will host a town hall forum on Social Security at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Florence Douglas Senior Center, 333 Amador St. in Vallejo. Special guests will include Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Sandy Goodman, District Manager of the Vallejo Social Security Administration field office.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, will host a California drought solutions forum from 10 to noon Tuesday, Aug. 25, in the San Joaquin County Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave. in Stockton. Open to the public, the forum will feature experts and voices that include farmers, water technology innovators, policy makers, federal and state government, academia, and others.

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Miller administers DeSaulnier’s ceremonial oath

Sometimes it’s not just the oath you take, but who administers it.

Mark DeSaulnierFreshman Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, officially was sworn into office Jan. 6 by Speaker John Boehner. But he was administered a ceremonial oath Tuesday night by his predecessor, former Rep. George Miller, in the Concord City Council chambers in front of constituents and local officials.

“It means the world to me to have a special ceremony in Concord where I raised my two sons, opened a small business, and served as a local elected official and as mayor,” DeSaulnier said in a statement issued afterward. “To be here surrounded by constituents and colleagues, and for my mentor George Miller to administer the oath of office, is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Miller, who retired after 40 years in Congress, said it was an honor to administer the oath, just as it was a privilege serving the district for so long.

“This is a great district marked with both beauty and diversity. I now have the honor of passing the torch to an accomplished public servant, a leader, and a longtime friend,” Miller said in DeSaulnier’s release.

Former Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder and voter registrar Steve Weir served as master of ceremonies at Tuesday night’s event, and Concord Mayor Tim Grayson offered opening remarks. Concord Boy Scout Troop 465, led by Mike Roark, served as color guard and Jason Warrenburg, a Los Medanos Community College student, sang the National Anthem.

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SD7: The money and endorsements update

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla has more money banked for the 7th State Senate District special election than any of her competitors, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.

Susan BonillaBonilla, D-Concord, reported $239,317.45 cash on hand with $1,323.41 in debts yet to be paid
as of Jan. 31; most of her money was transferred over either from her 2014 Assembly campaign committee, or from the committee she’d launched to seek this seat in 2016 (before this special election was called). Among the bigger new contributors to this latest campaign are the Peace Officers Research Association of California PAC ($8,500); New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc. ($4,200); Florida-based Southern Wine and Spirits of America Inc. ($4,200); and Assemblymen Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa ($4,200 each).

Since filing that report, Bonilla on Tuesday collected $4,200 from the California Society of Anesthesiologists’ PAC and $4,200 from the California Ambulatory Surgery Association PAC.

Former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, had $147,548.35 cash on hand but $45,110.45 in debts yet to be paid as of Jan. 31; most of her money was transferred over from her 2012 Assembly campaign committee. But since filing that report, Buchanan received $8,200 on Monday from the California Teachers Association’s Association for Better Citizenship political fund.

Michelle Henry, Buchanan’s campaign manager, said Buchanan’s campaign kickoff on Thursday night was well-attended, the money is flowing in, and the polling looks good.

“We are confident that we will have the resources to successfully communicate with voters about our positive campaign through Election Day,” Henry said. “We will not be responding to other campaigns’ self-serving comparisons, and Joan has said repeatedly that she is running a positive-only campaign”

Steve GlazerOrinda Mayor Steve Glazer, also a Democrat, reported $20,863.96 cash on hand with no debts as of Jan. 31. That includes $10,000 over from his 2014 Assembly campaign committee. The single biggest new contribution he received was $4,200 from Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, a political action supporting centrist Democrats; the PAC’s biggest donors in 2014 were Chevron, PG&E, the California Credit Union League, and AT&T.

UPDATE @ 1:13 P.M. MONDAY: Apparently Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy is hedging its bets – it also gave $4,200 to Bonilla and $4,200 to Buchanan.

Since filing the report, Glazer this week collected $8,400 from David and Carla Crane of San Francisco; David Crane – formerly an economic adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a UC regent – is cofounder of Govern for California, a group that supports “courageous state legislators who put the interests of their fellow citizens ahead of personal, party or special interests.” Other big contributions to Glazer this week included $4,200 from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Thomas Layton of Palo Alto and $4,200 from Maryett Thompson of Orinda.

Glazer noted Friday that he entered the race later, and so had less time to raise funds, than Bonilla or Buchanan.

“I am surprised that Bonilla thinks that all of this fundraising from Sacramento special interests is worth touting,” he added. “I urge her to release her answers to the secret questionnaires that many of these groups require before they will contribute. I would also encourage her to back my plan to ban all fundraising during the final 60 days of each legislative session.”

Democrat Terry Kremin, a two-time Concord City Council candidate, reported no fundraising.

The special primary will be held March 17; if nobody gets more than 50 percent of the primary vote, the special general election will be held May 19.

Follow after the jump for a rundown of the endorsements made in this race in the past week…
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SD7: Bonilla and Buchanan face off in Dublin

The first faceoff between Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan since the launch of their campaigns for the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District special election was rather amicable, and showed barely a sliver of sunlight between their policy stances.

Bonilla & Buchanan 1-19-15 (photo by Josh Richman)Bonilla, D-Concord, and Buchanan, D-Alamo, sought the TriValley Democratic Club’s endorsement Monday night in Dublin. The result was not really in doubt – that’s Buchanan’s home turf, and sure enough, she won the endorsement vote 29-2 with four club members voting to remain neutral.

But it wasn’t really about the numbers – Bonilla knew she probably couldn’t win this club’s nod. Rather, it was about sounding out loyal Democrats for what’s going to be a fast, intense race – the special primary will be held March 17, and the special general on May 19. They’re running to succeed Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, who has just succeeded Rep. George Miller in the House.

“You’ve got two good Democrats, and sometimes we don’t have that, do we?” Bonilla told the club.

“Susan and I have worked closely in the Legislature… and it’s too bad that term limits force good people to run against each other,” Buchanan agreed.

Bonilla said three years as chair of the education budget subcommittee gave her intimate knowledge of the state budget’s largest sector, and she’s proud that Proposition 30’s tax hikes and a resurgent economy have let the state start backfilling the education funding it shorted in recent years.

She said she’s also proud of the Local Control Funding Formula on which lawmakers compromised with Gov. Jerry Brown, and of authoring a bill to move the state away from its standardized STAR testing and toward assessments that better fit the new Common Core curriculum. “We went toe-to-toe with the federal government and we won. We didn’t lose a dime and we didn’t double-test our children last year.”

She recounted her work as a Concord councilwoman to help ensure the former Concord Naval Weapons Station was converted into open space, and her work as a Contra Costa County Supervisor to develop a plan to pay down a $2.1 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. And she touted her endorsements from DeSaulnier; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; many other electeds; and an array of police and firefighter groups.

Buchanan said she’s proud to have authored a new law that protects students’ privacy from data mining when school districts contract with private companies for data management services, or for online programs and mobile apps used for instruction. She also cited her 2012 law to restore the historic beacon atop Mt. Diablo, which has been used in Pearl Harbor Day commemorations in recent decades – “What a difference it made in the lives of some of our brave servicemen” – and her efforts to update and streamline the state’s information technology procurement.

But her passion, she said, is public education

California’s once-great system is “at a critical point now” with too many children struggling in K-12 – “What happens if we leave half our children behind?” – and not enough capacity in the University of California system: “There’s got to be room at the inn.” And quality preschool is needed to ensure children have the proper tools with which to learn, she said.

“We can and we should do better,” she said. “When I go to the senate, I want to be one of the strongest advocates for public education. Public education is every bit a part of our infrastructure as twin tunnels and high-speed rail.”

During a Q&A session, both candidates talked about walking back the state-imposed limit on the size of school districts’ budget reserves; discussed the importance of continuing to reform the state’s costly prison system; touted their efforts in developing more effective job-training programs; and expounded on the importance of maintaining strong services for veterans.

Unsurprisingly, both said they would work to extend the Prop. 30 sales taxes and income taxes on the rich – due to expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively – in order to keep bankrolling education.

“The governor has made it very clear that the word ‘temporary’ means temporary, but … we need to go out to the people, I believe we can make the case,” Bonilla said. “There’s no way that you can get education on the cheap, it just doesn’t work.”

They also were questioned about Community Choice Aggregation, a state policy letting local governments choose greener electricity supply contracts. Bonilla seemed stronger in her support of local governments’ right to pursue this, though both emphasized that communities must do intensive research to ensure the energy they buy really is coming from green sources.

As this race heats up, remember that the 16th Assembly District which Buchanan represented for six years covers substantially more of this senate district than the 14th Assembly District in which Bonilla has just started her third two-year term, so Buchanan might have a name-recognition advantage. But Bonilla has an edge in endorsements (at least, so far) and has good connections that might help her raise more support – for example, her district director, Satinder Malhi of Martinez, also is president of the Contra Costa Young Democrats.

Walnut Creek Republican Mark Meuser and Concord Democrat Terry Kremin also are in the race; Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, also a Democrat, said Wednesday morning he’s still considering whether to run.

The TriValley Democratic Club is where Rep. Pete Stark and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell had their first face-off in early 2012 –also was a surprisingly calm, respectful affair, considering how ugly that race later became. Here’s hoping this race doesn’t get as spiteful as that one did.

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Buchanan calls poll ‘definitive,’ foe says it’s ‘BS’

Former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan is touting a poll she commissioned that shows she’s better-known and likelier to win the 7th State Senate District special election than the three other declared candidates.

Buchanan, 62, of Alamo, has twice the name recognition of Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, 54, D-Concord, among 7th District likely voters – 65 percent to Bonilla’s 33 percent – according to the poll from GarinHartYang Research Group. Only 17 percent know Walnut Creek Republican Mark Meuser, 40, and only 8 percent know Concord Democrat Terry Kremin, 50.

The poll found 31 percent of likely voters feel positively toward Buchanan while 14 percent feel so about Bonilla, 5 percent about Meuser and 2 percent about Kremin. For context, the poll found 60 percent feel positively about Gov. Jerry Brown; 34 percent feel positively about Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who just vacated the seat this special election will fill; 26 percent feel positively about Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, who just succeeded Buchanan in the 16th Assembly District; and 16 percent feel positively about Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, a Democrat who unsuccessfully sought the Assembly seat and has said he’s mulling this senate contest.

In a four-way contest, 29 percent of likely voters preferred Buchanan, 12 percent preferred Bonilla, 26 percent preferred Meuser and 3 percent preferred Kremin, while 26 percent said they’re undecided and 4 percent said they supported someone else or nobody.

And presented with a hypothetical head-to-head, 38 percent said they would support Buchanan and 17 percent said they would support Bonilla, with 35 percent undecided and 10 percent say supported neither or somebody else. Buchanan’s poll surveyed 401 likely voters this past Monday, Jan. 12, and has a 4.9-percentage-point margin of error.

Buchanan blasted out an email to supporters Friday morning linking to the poll memo and calling the results “definitive… I am in an excellent place to win in this special election.”

Susan BonillaBut Bonilla campaign consultant Josh Pulliam said Buchanan is pulling a page from a losing playbook. When she ran in the 2009 special primary election to succeed Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Buchanan touted an early poll’s results as evidence that she was in first place and best-positioned to win; she finished fourth, despite spending $1.2 million.

“Considering Buchanan entered the race touting her slogan of running a ‘positively’ positive campaign, it’s sad that just a few weeks later Buchanan has already broken that campaign promise by attacking the viability of her opponents,” Pulliam said Friday. “But as we have seen from Buchanan’s past tactics, her polling memo is positively BS.”

The special election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 19, with the special primary on Tuesday, March 17. Bonilla and Buchanan will go head-to-head at a candidates’ forum next Monday, Jan. 19 hosted by the TriValley Democratic Club. Doors open for the event, at the IBEW 595 union hall at 6250 Village Parkway in Dublin, at 7 p.m.; the club’s business meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.; and the candidates’ forum should start by 8 p.m.