George Miller to serve as lecturer at Cal

Well, he did say he wanted to stay involved in education and education policy.

George MillerFormer Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who retired this year after 40 years in the House, will join the University of California, Berkeley as the Fall 2015 Matsui Lecturer at the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service.

That means Miller will spend a week in residency at the Matsui Center during October, speaking to classes, meeting with students, delivering a public lecture and taking part in campus culture. His public lecture – focusing on Congress, labor, and income inequality – is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19th in Cal’s Banatao Auditorium; registration for this free event is available online.

Matsui Center Director Ethan Rarick said Miller “was an extraordinary national leader with a long and distinguished record of service in Congress, but he is also deeply rooted in the politics and policy challenges of California.”

Miller, 70, called this “a wonderful honor,” especially given that the center’s namesake – the late Rep. Bob Matsui, D-Sacramento – “was not only a great friend but a passionate thinker and fighter for economic and social justice.”

“He fully understood the obligation, power, and the duty that the United States Congress has to assure that those less fortunate and in need of assistance are able to fully participate in the American society and economy,” Miller said. “Bob Matsui never stopped fighting for justice. He was a great role model for me and many other members of Congress who served with him. I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me by the Matsui Center to engage Berkeley Campus students in the discussion of the critical issues of our time.”

Miller also currently serves as senior education advisor for the Boston-based education tech services company Cengage Learning, helping executives on issues ranging from public policy to business strategy. And he’s a member of a “Right Start Commission” launched in May by Common Sense Kids Action to explore ways to modernize California’s early-childhood services.

The Matsui Center, founded in 2008, is part of Cal’s Institute of Governmental Studies, California’s oldest public policy research center.


Tools you can use for the Nov. 4 election

As the election advertising reaches fever pitch, burning up your TV and clogging your mailbox, here are a few resources for cutting through the smoke:

Voters Edge, set up by MAPLight.org and the League of Women Voters California Education Fund, takes your home address and presents you with a virtual version of your ballot with click-throughs that not only informs you about the measures and candidates, but also provides a run-down of those measures’ and candidates’ biggest campaign donors.

California Choices, a collaborative effort by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Next 10 and UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, has updated its website to include guides to the six statewide ballot measures, as well as a page where you can compare endorsements from unions, nonprofits, parties and news organizations.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit California Voter Foundation’s guide is pretty easy to navigate. And, though you should’ve received it in the mail already, the state’s Official Voter Information Guide is available online as well.

Don’t forget: Next Monday, Oct. 20 is the last day to register to vote in this election. You can do so online, or pick up a paper voter registration application at your county elections office, library, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, or U.S. post office.


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 AtlasShrugs.com/PamGeller.com; 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.


Tauscher to speak at Cal on U.S.-Russia relations

Ellen Tauscher started the summer optimistic that the improving U.S.-Russia relationship would provide fertile ground for new arms-control agreements – but it’s been a tough couple of months since then.

“This is like batting-cage practice when the machine goes wild and is throwing balls at you left and right,” she said in a telephone interview Monday. “Events can overtake you.”

negotiating aloneTauscher, a former East Bay congresswoman who served for three years as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, will be back in the Bay Area on Oct. 30 to deliver a speech entitled “Negotiating Alone? The United States, Russia and the Prospect of Arms Control.”

Sponsored by the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Tauscher’s address will assess the prospects for future arms control agreements between two nations that still retain vast nuclear arsenals.

Tauscher in June had co-authored an article in Foreign Policy magazine with Igor Ivanov – a president of the Russian International Affairs Council and former Russian Federation foreign minister – in which they wrote the U.S.-Russian political dialogue was finally gaining momentum toward mutually assured stability.

But things turned sour this summer. Russia in June enacted new laws limiting civil liberties for gays and lesbians; in August gave asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden; and throughout maintained its support for its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar Assad during that nation’s brutal civil war. President Obama cancelled a September summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Can this marriage be saved?” Tauscher quipped Monday, before adding that it must be.

“It is a fundamentally important relationship for many, many reasons, and we are not at our best right now – that is for sure – but I think that everybody who has been part of this for a long time knows that relationships ebb and wane,” she said, adding efforts are afoot to “try to get back to a better footing” and “find a way to remember that we do some of the best works in the world together.”

Ellen TauscherThe Syria situation – in which Russia for years has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s government, and then last month brokered a deal for destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons – has been particularly trying, Tauscher said.

“This is when it’s very difficult to keep a sense of equilibrium in the relationship because it’s not just the obvious bilateral and international roles that we play,” she said. “It’s very complicated when third, fourth and fifth parties are involved, and that’s part of the situation we find ourselves in now.”

She said she hopes the “Track II” nonofficial talks that she’s a part of will be fruitful as a “back channel way for conversations to keep going when the public face of the relationship is not the prettiest.”

Tauscher is now senior public policy adviser to the Baker Donelson law firm in Washington, D.C. Registration for her Matsui Lecture is available online.


Voters support reform but which ones?

New Field Poll figures released this morning at a constitutional change conference in Sacramento show voters like the idea of reforming the way they govern themselves.

But they are reluctant to make the kinds of reforms that have been discussed such as reducing the two-thirds voting threshold to pass a state budget or raise taxes, modifying or eliminating term limits and altering the California tax system.

“The rub is, what are we going to reform?” said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “It’s going to be a tall order to put a package before voters that they will support.”

Kimberly Nalder with Cal-State University compared it to the person who hires a trainer but says he will not exercise or east less.  Then six months later, he complains about his trainer.

“That’s California voters,” she said. “They are confused.”

The poll was commissioned for today’s “Getting to Reform: Avenues to Constitutional Change in California,” sponsored by UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West and California Stat’s Center for California Studies. Pollsters surveyed 1,005 registered voters between Sept. 18-Oct. 5. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent for the full sample and plus or minus 4.5 percent for subsets.

The daylong conference is being held at the Sacramento Convention Center, and I’m here all day.

The poll’s key findings:

51 percent believe the state needs to make fundamental changes to its constitution.

48 percent prefer to see a single package of reforms on the ballot rather than a piecemeal manner like the initiative process. 40 percent like the individual measure process.

51 percent support a reform process that uses a constitutional convention rather than a commission appointed by legislators and the governor.

63 percent support the appointment of a broad range of people to rewrite the constitution, including average voters, elected officials and experts.

60 percent would be willing to consider serving on a constitutional reform delegation.

If California is going to reform its constitution, 59 percent prefer limiting its scope to issues of governance and exclude social issues.

52 percent oppose a recent state tax commission proposal to flatten the personal income tax.

65 percent oppose a replacement of the corporate income and sales taxes for a broader tax.

52 percent oppose the elimination of the two-thirds voting threshold in the Legislature to adopt a budget.  That figure goes even higher among Republicans — 69 percent.

69 percent reject the elimination of the Prop. 13 mandate that new taxes require a two-thirds vote. Among Republicans, that figure is 86 percent.

52 percent oppose splitting the tax roll, which would allow the state to increase taxes on commercial properties at a rate higher than that imposed on residential properties.

66 percent support the imposition of a requirement that ballot initiatives identify the source of funds for new programs.

56 percent would support requiring a two-thirds vote on all ballot initiatives that change the state constitution.

57 percent believe the state could continue to provide current levels of service without new taxes if it would strip waste, fraud and abuse from government.

49 percent disapprove of the idea of merging the Assembly and Senate into a single legislative body. 35 percent like the idea.


Upcoming East Bay political events

Here are a few upcoming political events in the East Bay that might interest you:


Organizing for America’s California Political Director Peggy Moore is the keynote speaker at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Lamorinda Democratic Club.

Moore will offers details about operations of the group, which is the successor organization to Obama for America and a project of the Democratic National Committee.

The organization advocates for progressive policies in the areas of health care, energy and education.

Before joining Organizing for America, Moore was the Northern California field director for Health Access and the outreach coordinator with Lavender Seniors of the East Bay.

The meeting is open to the public. The club’s general meeting begins at 7:30 p.m., followed by the speaker at 8 p.m.

It will be held at the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way, Orinda. The cost is $5 per person and students are free.

For more information, call 925-210-7337 or visit lamorindademoclub.org.


The Contra Costa Democratic Party will host on Oct. 24 an opportunity to participate in the California Budget Challenge.

Sponsored by the nonpartisan Next 10 policy think tank, participants will make choices about how to pay for state schools, prisons and other state programs. (There’s also an online version.)

Audience members will register their selections via an instant electronic response system, and the results are tallied and presented on a large screen.

Next 10 budget experts will guide participants through the process, which will help residents see how legislators make decisions and the trade-offs required to balance the budget.

The free event will be held from 2-4 p.m. at the party’s offices at 2737 Clayton Road in Concord.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg


California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg will speak at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Commonwealth Club on legislative gridlock.

Jerry Lubenow, managing editor of the California Journal of Politics and Policy at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, will moderate the event.

Check-in starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the program at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at the Veterans Memorial Hall, 3780 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette.

The cost is $12 for Commonwealth Club members, $18 for nonmembers and $7 for students.

For tickets, contact the Commonwealth Club at 415-597-6705 or register at www.commonwealthclub.org.