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California lawmakers’ State of the Union guests

Here’s a sampling of guests invited by California lawmakers to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

FloresRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose: Honda is bringing Claudia Flores, an immigration rights activist who was allowed to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Flores and her family moved to San Jose from Honduras when she was a teenager; she became a leader at San Jose High School and in her community, eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to Santa Clara University. She was an intern in Honda’s office two summers ago and is now a public policy fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “This hard-working, bright woman, who has done so much in her young career, would have been deported if not for President Obama’s action in 2012,” Honda said. “She is exactly the type of person this policy was meant to encourage to stay in the United States.”

UsafiRep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: Swalwell is bringing Mohammad Usafi, an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Marines and after waiting nearly four years received a special immigrant visa to move to the Bay Area one year ago. The Taliban kidnapped Usafi’s young brother for ransom and killed his father because of the aid he had worked for American troops; after Swalwell and other House members helped friends and advocates petition the State Department, Usafi’s mother and seven siblings were granted humanitarian parole to join him here in December. “It’s a great relief that today Mohammad and his family live in the Bay Area, but more must be done and can be done in a bipartisan fashion to help interpreters like Mohammad,” Swalwell said.

ChristensenRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo: Speier is bringing retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Christensen, that branch’s longest-serving chief prosecutor and a leading advocate of military sexual assault reform. Christensen is president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that’s leading efforts to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. “I invited Colonel Christensen with the hope that he could witness President Obama announce his support of fundamental reform of the military justice system,” Speier said. “A year after requesting a report from the Pentagon, the president now has the results on his desk. He has all the information he needs. Tonight would be a perfect time for him to lead on this issue by supporting taking sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.”

MartinezRep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara: Capps is bringing Richard Martinez, whose son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, was among those slain in last May’s rampage near UC-Santa Barbara. Martinez, of Los Osos, became a face of the tragedy as he urged lawmakers to pursue stricter gun-control measures; he since has joined the staff of Everytown for Gun Safety. “As the 114th Congress begins their tenure, it is time they put the public safety of their constituents first, and that means making gun safety a priority to help reduce gun violence in America,” Martinez said.

OliverRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove: Bera is bringing Susan Oliver, widow of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who was shot to death in the line of duty in October by a gunman who also killed a Placer County deputy. Their lives “remind us that our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day for our safety,” Bera said. “They were true heroes and we are forever indebted to them and their loved ones. Let’s honor their memory by building understanding and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, just like Deputy Oliver did.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: Feinstein is bringing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He’s been mayor since 2013 and earlier was a councilman; Feinstein said they’ve worked together on issues such as funding for the Metro’s Purple Line extension and efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans.

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The exclusive Q&A with Chuck Quackenbush

In writing today’s story about disgraced former California politicians, I reached out to former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned in 2000 amid talk of impeachment – and he answered.

Chuck QuackenbushFor any who don’t recall, Quackenbush was a rising Republican star, in his second term as Insurance Commissioner after eight years in the Assembly. But eyebrows climbed when he transferred $565,000 — much of which came from insurers he regulated — from his campaign into his wife’s failed state Senate run, so she could use some of the money to repay herself cash she had loaned her campaign. Then the Legislature began probing his practice of dropping investigations against insurers who’d mishandled claims from 1994’s Northridge quake if they paid into “educational foundations” he created; he was accused of using foundation funds for political self-promotion. Forsaken by fellow Republicans, he resigned in June 2000, a day before he was to testify to the Assembly.

Click here for the account of his resignation by the Los Angeles Times, which had done the stories that sparked the investigations; click here for a chronology of events provided by the Insurance Journal.

A sheriff’s deputy in Lee County, Fla., since June 2005, Quackenbush responded to several questions via e-mail last week.

1.) What made you choose to resign? Do you regret having done so?
“The Republicans in the Legislature were afraid and caved to the media frenzy. The Leadership would not stand with me and give me the support I needed to get the time to change the template of the story with the facts. It is the enduring weakness of the Republican party that they will allow themselves to be picked off at will like this and not stand together. When your political allies desert you under fire, even firing on you in order to gain transitory media favor, you have nowhere to go. I regret I had no other choice at the time. My experience is in marked contrast to what happens when allegations are raised about a Democrat. Everybody circles the wagons and gives the person the benefit of the doubt letting things sort themselves out. The Kevin Shelly controversy is a case in point.”

2.) In retrospect, do you believe there were any problems with the establishment and operation of the education foundations that were at the center of the accusations against you? Are there things you’d have done differently?
“The foundations were designed to be an innovative and efficient way to address two priorities of my second term: reaching out to underserved communities along with educating and informing the public about insurance. The one thing I would change would have been to monitor and direct disbursement of funds more closely. My style was to delegate significant responsibilities to subordinates. That practice had always served me well and I had been persuaded (wrongly) there would be trouble if it was perceived I was directing independent foundations. It set up an opportunity for a trusted subordinate to grossly mismanage the operations and steal. I would advise any elected official to very closely monitor the flow of any funds associated with their name. You cannot disassociate your self from it when things go awry.”

Chuck Quackenbush in happier times, with Newt Gingrich (from chuckquackenbush.org)

3.)How do you feel about the way in which the Legislature treated you? The media?
“The print media was almost universally hostile toward me from my primary election victory in 1994. Their near hysterical obsession with my political contributions from many industry sources never abated and there was little positive coverage over the years with all the successes I had promised during the campaign as a result of implementing free market principles. Ignored was the positive effect of the California Earthquake Authority, falling insurance rates, or the record enforcement actions we took against several carriers. Obviously, the media was on a vendetta in 2000 when they learned of the irregularities in the Foundation operations. They quickly began to harmonize and basically kept reprinting the same stories. On cue, they would also jump to a new twist such as eroding Republican support or speculation on criminal investigations. The Democrats in the Legislature saw an irresistible opportunity: They had a chance to eliminate the strongest Republican officeholder in the state and make Republican officeholders look weak. They worked hand in glove with the media to accomplish both these political goals. After that, except for the previously mentioned Deputy, no investigation could find anybody in my Administration had committed an illegal act and all civil lawsuits against me were dismissed with prejudice by the courts.”

4.) You’ve started a career in law enforcement, another form of public service. Do you ever see yourself trying to return to elected office?
“Law enforcement is a calling I had long admired. It shares the same selfless principles of the military where I grew up and later served as an officer. Putting on the uniform and heading out into the streets to serve and protect is an honor for which I am very thankful. My experience in politics has helped me in the job. I believe little of what I am first told and always look for corroborating evidence. I am beyond even the old Reagan saying, “Trust but verify.” I am still involved in Republican politics here in Florida supporting candidates and speaking on the issues, but have no immediate plans to run for any office. However, the spark for politics has never gone out…”