Part of the Bay Area News Group

Lofgren proposes citizen redistricting in all states

A Bay Area congresswoman is helping to lead a charge to require all states to adopt the kind of independent redistricting commission that California has, as a means of halting partisan gerrymandering.

It’s a bold move, consider the U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not such commissions are constitutional – an Arizona case that could doom California’s commission too. At the same time, it’s a largely symbolic move, as there’s no way that the Republicans who run Congress will let this happen; it’s an existential threat to their House majority.

But a pack of Democrats led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks; Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Donna Edwards, D-Md., say their Redistricting Reform Act of 2015 will reform the nation’s patchwork redistricting system.

The bill would require states to establish independent, multi-party citizen redistricting commissions to draw open, transparent statewide district maps after each U.S. Census. Most states still let state lawmakers draw the lines, as California did until voters approved Prop. 11 of 2008 and Prop. 20 of 2010 to give state and federal redistricting authority to the new, independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

“The issue of redistricting reform is one that is central to our democracy, and now that the matter is before the U.S. Supreme Court, it has never been more important,” Lofgren said in a news release. “What we see now is too often a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials. The Redistricting Reform Act fixes this by creating a more transparent electoral process to hold politicians accountable to the people they represent.”

The bill’s original cosponsors include Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. Supporters include Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2015
Under: redistricting, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Speier touts 15 amendments to Pentagon budget

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is touting 15 amendments she successfully attached to the Pentagon’s budget during an Armed Services Committee markup session Wednesday, 11 of which deal with sexual assaults in the military.

Jackie SpeierSpeier’s amendments would make it easier to track military sex offenders after they leave the service; make more records public from courts-martial; require that military sex-offense victims be advised a special counsel is available to them before they’re interviewed by investigators; make those special counsels available to former dependents of current and former servicemembers; and ensure those special counsels can represent the victims if they face retaliation for reporting crimes.

Other amendments would give military sexual assault victims access to hearing officers’ case analyses at the same time they’re delivered to the alleged offenders; require the Defense Department to prepare a complete trial record for all courts-martial, regardless of the verdict or sentence; require retention of investigators’ case notes for at least 50 years; and require the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office‘s annual report to include statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assaults related to domestic violence, and retaliations against those reporting sexual assaults.

Still others would let victims take part in proceedings where their attackers are non-judicial punishment or administrative separation, with access to those proceedings’ records; and would direct the Defense Department Inspector General to review cases in which those who’ve reported sexual assaults leave military service.

“This collection of reforms will make the Uniform Code of Military Justice more fair and responsive to victims of military sexual assault,” Speier said in a news release. “We are nowhere near eliminating this epidemic, but today we have made concrete progress toward adopting a modern military code that treats victims with the respect they deserve.”

Speier also successfully amended the military spending bill to let veterans who change their gender identity after leaving the service update their discharge papers to reflect their new name, so the documents are easier to use for official purposes such as job, college and loan applications. Other amendments would guarantee that servicewomen deployed for long periods of time are dispensed enough of whatever contraception their doctor prescribes to cover their full deployment; and would make reduce the burden of proof for whistleblowers to show that they suffered retaliation for their actions, bringing it in line with civilian court standards.

Speier didn’t win on everything, however. The committee killed her amendment to shift $589 million (out of a proposed $1 billion) away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.

Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Rep. Ted Lieu on GOP, climate change, LGBT rights

Rep. Ted Lieu, in Silicon Valley on Monday and Tuesday to tour tech companies and pay homage to his alma mater, says the key to Democratic victories in 2016 lies on the other side of the aisle.

Ted Lieu“We want to see lots of Ted Cruz on television,” Lieu, D-Torrance, said Monday during an interview at a Starbucks in San Jose. “I want him to win the nomination on the Republican side.”

Even if that doesn’t happen, having such sharply conservative voices on the other side makes it easier for Democrats to underscore how large segments of the GOP are increasingly out of step with a changing national electorate, Lieu said.

“The rest of America, with every passing day, looks more and more like California” in its demographics and policies, he said. “The current path of the GOP is not sustainable.”

Already the shifting demographics in key Electoral College states make it hard to see how Republicans can win the White House, Lieu said, and while Republicans might control Congress for a few more cycles, “you can only redistrict so much” before the sheer weight of a changing electorate catches up.

Lieu – who in January succeeded 40-year incumbent Democrat Henry Waxman in a coastal district that runs from San Pedro up past Malibu – is in the Bay Area this week to meet with tech leaders, including a dinner Monday night with Silicon Valley Leadership Group members, and visits to companies including Oracle, SunPower and Intuitive Surgical. A self-described “recovering computer science major,” he’ll also speak at Tuesday’s event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stanford’s computer science program, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1991.

Lieu said he sees the tech sector as “one of America’s and California’s competitive advantages,” but sees a need to build diversity in its boardrooms and workspaces just as in the rest of corporate America and government. “Government operates better if it looks like the people it represents, and I think that’s also true for the private sector.”

Lots more from Lieu, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, April 27th, 2015
Under: Ted Lieu, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Thompson co-authors ‘Crude-by-Rail Safety Act’

A Bay Area congressman is helping to lead the charge for new safety and security standards for transporting crude oil by rail.

Mike ThompsonRep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, co-authored and helped introduce Wednesday the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act, along with Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Ron Kind, D-Wisc.; and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

“Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said in a news release. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

The recent, large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the United States and Canada in less than a month earlier this year underscored the need to review and improve safety rules, the lawmakers say.

Their bill sets a maximum volatility standard for crude oil and certain other potentially flammable and explosive substances moved by rail; prohibits use of DOT-111 tank cars, which would involve removing 37,700 from the rail network; sets strong new tank-car standards; requires comprehensive oil-spill response planning and studies; increases fines for violating standards; requires disclosure of train movement through communities; and requires railroads to create confidential close-call reporting systems.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Under: Mike Thompson, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Bartender, a round of Cuba Libres for the House.

Bay Area House members are thrilled by President Obama’s decision today to remove Cuba from the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism; Republicans, predictably less so.

From Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Today, the President has taken an important step forward toward restored relations with Cuba. Taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terror list removes an outdated designation that no longer serves the security interests of the United States, nor the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people.

“This move continues the historic normalization of relations between our countries. It will facilitate the opening of new markets for American banks and businesses, and new opportunities for the people of Cuba.

“I hope we can continue to take our relations in a positive and constructive direction, and build on the historic progress we have made thus far.”

From Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“I am disappointed that the White House seems determined to reward the Castro regime, which has a clear record of repression at home and exporting violence throughout the region. Not even a week has passed since the brutal attacks on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City during the Summit for the Americas. Those attacks – and the Castros’ long history of human rights violations – demonstrate the folly of revisiting diplomatic relations with this communist dictatorship and removing it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror.

“Cozying up to the oppressive regime in Cuba is a blow to all who long for liberty and dignity. And it’s just one more example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies. The United States has a responsibility to stand strong for all those who struggle for freedom, and the House of Representatives is committed to doing its part.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I am pleased that President Obama will be removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. This action is long overdue and is an important step toward fully normalizing relations with Cuba.

“Along with many of my colleagues, I have long called for Cuba to be removed from this list. In December of 2013, I wrote a letter calling for de-list Cuba. I have reiterated that call in subsequent letters, including a December 2014 letter signed by 37 of my colleagues, which called for moves toward normalization ahead of the Summit of the Americas.

“The letter stated: ‘Over the years, reports by the State Department on the state sponsors of terrorism, have found no evidence or indication that Cuba provides weapons or training to terrorists. In fact, Cuba now meets global standards for fighting money-laundering and preventing terrorist finance, in addition to playing an active role in bringing Colombia’s civil war to an end.’

“By removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, President Obama is signaling his strong commitment to building a more productive relationship with Cuba. As we continue to move forward, renewed ties will bring great benefits to the Cuban and American people. Given Cuba’s close proximity to the U.S., improved relations will open new trade opportunities that will allow U.S. businesses to expand and create jobs here at home. This will also expand existing education and cultural exchanges.

“Congress also has a critical role to play. It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the restrictive travel ban and formally normalize relations. I am glad to be co-leading The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 664) and Free Trade with Cuba Act (H.R. 403) to forge a new path between our two countries.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

Sam Farr“As Cuba moves to reintegrate itself into the international community, we must be willing to modernize our relations with them. This decision by the President moves us closer to normalized relations between our two countries. Decades of isolation have not worked so I am glad we are finally talking with our neighbor to push for new path forward in Cuba.

“I have been engaged in Latin American affairs since serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia. At the 2012 Summit in Cartagena, it was clear our position towards Cuba alienated us from the rest of the hemisphere. We must join the rest of the world by engaging with the island to help build a more open and democratic Cuba.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Rep. Jackie Speier rips federal pipeline watchdog

Rep. Jackie Speier went medieval on the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety during a House hearing Tuesday, calling it “not only a toothless tiger, but one that has overdosed on Quaaludes and is passed out on the job.”

Speier, D-San Mateo, whose district includes the San Bruno neighborhood where eight people died and 38 homes were leveled in a 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric natural-gas pipeline explosion, uncorked her ire at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. She wants more accountability from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“It is clear to me that PHMSA does not have the teeth—or the will—to enforce pipeline safety in this country,” said Speier. “As we’ve seen in California, it is often powerless over state regulators. Even when it has crystal-clear authority, it still refuses to act.”

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 eliminated the “grandfather clause” that had given operators a pass on gas transmission pipelines installed before adequate testing was required. This law required PHMSA to close the loophole within 18 months, but instead the agency basically has disregarded the statute, Speier said.

Speier demanded that PHMSA increase its oversight over state pipeline inspection agencies – in our case, the California Public Utilities Commission – and enact the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations to overhaul its policies. She plans to introduce a bill to further tighten pipeline safety requirements and increase PHMSA’s ability to ensure that state pipeline safety agencies are held accountable for enforcing safety rules.

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | No Comments »

Speier to offer ‘gay conversion therapy’ ban effort

A Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a resolution next week urging states to ban “gay conversion therapy,” as President Obama called for in recent days.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier plans to introduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution next Tuesday morning. The resolution calls on states to ban licensed mental health professionals from engaging in therapy to try to change minors’ sexual orientations.

“Conversion therapy is quackery — you can’t ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “I applaud the president for his strong stance against it. I look forward to working with the White House when I reintroduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) Resolution. What LGBT youth need is love and support, not discredited pseudoscience.”

Speier first introduced the SHOK resolution in late 2012, soon after California enacted such a ban. California’s law took effect in 2014 after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear challenges to it.

Reacting to a public petition, the White House this week announced the Obama administration’s support of efforts to ban the practice.

The American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have rejected gay conversion therapy as a scientifically invalid practice, finding it can cause serious harm.

Posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Rep. Eric Swalwell visited troops, officials in Iraq

Rep. Eric Swalwell returned Wednesday from a bipartisan congressional trip to Iraq.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, is a House Intelligence Committee member and was briefed in Iraq by senior military officials involved with Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, and he attended Easter Sunday service and brunch with enlisted troops.

Swalwell Easter brunch with troops in Iraq

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see up close the damage the Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported coalition is having on ISIL,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Because of the enduring work of our troops and intelligence community, we have ISIL on the ropes and are well-positioned to deliver a knockout blow. The real challenge, however, is what does Iraq look like post-ISIL? The United States can provide limited, short-term military aid to Iraq, but a longstanding peaceful future requires Iraqi leadership that puts an end to sectarian violence.”

“It was an honor to spend Easter Sunday in Iraq with my heroes, the brave men and women of our Armed Services and intelligence community,” he added. “I was moved by the commitment of our troops, who were spending Easter away from their loved ones, to serve our country.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Under: Eric Swalwell, Iraq, U.S. House | No Comments »

Speier raises alarm on spoofed ‘constituent’ emails

A Bay Area congresswoman raised an alarm this week that emails that were intended to look like they came from district constituents might instead have come from big-money special interest groups.

POLITICO reported that some “constituent” messages to lawmakers urging opposition to the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules had identical wording as those organized by American Commitment, a group led by a former top aide at the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Jackie SpeierAnd Rep. Jackie Speier’s staff determined some of the messages came from constituents who didn’t recall sending them. Her staff produced a memo sent out by Lockheed Martin, which runs the technology powering some House members’ contact web pages, which said “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.” The Lockheed memo also questioned whether the email addresses on the messages were even legitimate at all.

Speier posted a statement on Facebook on Thursday saying she’s “deeply concerned by this suspicious activity, and rest assured I will never, ever tolerate an attempt to subvert the democratic rights of my constituents.”

“This is identity theft, pure and simple,” she wrote. “But instead of impersonating for financial gain, the originators of this theft are striking at the heart of our representative democracy. The idea that an outside group could use consumer data to impersonate constituents suggests an attempt to hijack the important feedback members of Congress need to truly represent their districts. You can’t buy or steal hearts and minds.”

She said she’s pressing for a full investigation and developing a bill to criminalize this activity.

Phil Kerpen, who runs American Commitment, told POLITICO his group didn’t impersonate anyone, but other groups mounting similar campaigns had borrowed the text from his web site.

Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 1 Comment »