Honda comms director Lauren Smith has died

Lauren Suzanne Smith, communications director to Rep. Mike Honda and a veteran of two other Northern California House offices, died Saturday, Dec. 26, in Washington, D.C. She was 37.

Lauren Smith“Lauren served on my staff with passion, dedication, talent and integrity,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a statement issued Monday. “In addition to working in my office, Lauren was employed by many fine Democrats and institutions over the years, dedicating her communication talents to make the world a better place. She was a gracious person, loved by our team and will be deeply missed. May you rest in peace Lauren.”

Honda also penned an homage to Smith that was published Dec. 22 in The Hill, hinting at but not describing the dire nature of her illness.

“Lauren’s generous nature and dedication to her work means she is always ready to respond to the latest development in any issue area immediately, even late into the night or when she isn’t feeling her best. I can always count on Lauren to not only get the job done but to do it with class, perfection, and most of all, heart,” Honda wrote in that piece.

“A time-honored Team Honda tradition at celebratory times is for staff to share favorite moments involving me. I have heard from staff that Lauren’s favorite ‘Honda Moment’ is when I accidentally left her a voicemail of my full rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,’” Honda added. “She tells me that when she’s down, this voicemail always makes her smile. Lauren, perhaps that voicemail was no accident – over the last year, Team Honda and I have without a doubt fallen in love with you, your work, and your laughter.”

Smith worked with the All America PAC in Indiana during the 2006 midterm elections and then worked her way up to serve as the Democratic National Committee’s Indiana communications director during the 2008 presidential election. She served stints as a press secretary for Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; communications director for Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; and communications director and deputy chief of staff for Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton. And after serving as a communications consultant for John Walsh’s Montana Senate campaign, she was Sen. Walsh’s deputy communications director before going to work for Honda early this year.

“She brought a real spark to my office… She was always enthusiastic,” McNerney said Monday, praising her as a confident, quick study. “There was something about Lauren that made you accept her right away.”

I spoke often with Lauren during her time in McNerney’s office, from 2011 through 2013, and again this year in Honda’s office; she was never anything less than a consummate professional as well as a good and pleasant person – a rare combination. I’ll miss her very much.

According to the tribute page her family has created, Lauren’s wish was that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in her name to the Joyful Heart Foundation.


How Bay Area members voted on taxes/spending

Congress on Friday cleared a year-end spending and tax deal with a strong bipartisan support, despite grumbling from both parties over what was included in the agreement and what got left out, the Washington Post reports.

The House passed the $1.1 trillion spending portion of the deal on a 316-113 vote early Friday morning, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting the measure, after passing the $622 billion tax section of the agreement Thursday on a 318-109 vote.

The Senate soon after passed both parts of the agreement on a 65-33 vote, with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in support and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., not voting. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.

From the Bay Area, representatives Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, all opposed the tax section of the deal Thursday, while Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, voted for it.

DeSaulnier said the tax-extender section isn’t paid for and will increase the deficit. “This package largely benefits corporations at the expense of working families and undermines programs like Pell grants, Headstart, job training and health research,” he said. “I could not support a package that mortgages our children’s future, reduces our payments on the nation’s debt and robs from the Social Security Trust Fund.”

All Bay Area House members except Lofgren supported the omnibus spending deal Friday morning.

“I was unable to vote for the Omnibus spending bill today because it included an extraneous provision purported to facilitate cybersecurity information sharing that – in effect – will function as a surveillance tool,” Lofgren said, noting Congress has debated cybersecurity for the past year and she voted for an earlier bill that would address concerns while protecting Americans’ private digital information.

“Information sharing requires measures to protect Americans’ privacy. It should also be debated in regular order. But this so-called ‘cybersecurity legislation’ was inserted into a must-pass Omnibus at the 11th hour, without debate,” she said. “The protective measures that such a bill should have – including those I believe the Constitution requires – were removed. While the Omnibus had both pros and cons, my obligation to protect constitutional rights isn’t negotiable. I made clear to House Leadership and the White House that I could not support the Omnibus with this cyber surveillance measure included. I have enclosed several letters crafted in the last two days outlining my concerns related to the bill.”


Former House candidate lied to feds about threats

A Republican who ran against Rep. Jerry McNerney in the 9th Congressional District last year has been charged with lying to the FBI about death threats she said she received during the campaign – threats she now admits she made up herself.

Karen DavisKaren Davis – who served as the Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder from 1990 to 2001 and as the Manteca City Clerk from 1981 to 1984 – is charged with making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations to federal law enforcement officers during their investigation into the mailing of threatening letters.

Davis, 67, was arrested at her Lodi home and then released after posting $50,000 bond Thursday, court documents show. She’s scheduled to return to federal court in Sacramento on Nov. 19.

She was one of three Republicans who challenged McNerney, D-Stockton, as he sought a fifth term last year. She finished fourth out of four in the June 2014 top-two primary, with only 6 percent of the vote.

In an affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint, Treasury Agent John Hartman wrote that Davis contacted authorities in December 2013 to report she had received an anonymous letter that read in part, “You will be stopped by those who believe in the soverign [sic] rights. A close up shot to your head or to your husband will be final. You make the decision now not to run for congress.” Federal agents and Lodi police began investigating.

Davis reported receiving a second letter in March 2014, Hartman wrote. That letter said in part, “If you don’t quit very soon, you won’t be warned. YOU WON’T SEE IT COMING! Your family will have to plan a funeral.”

Davis mentioned the threats in several news stories about her candidacy, including articles in the Manteca Bulletin, Lodi News-Sentinel and IVN.us.

“It’s been scary and it’s like throwing a bucket of ice water on democracy,” she told the Bulletin in May 2014. “Nobody should be threatened because they’re running for office, but I’m not somebody that runs from threats. It has changed the way that I can do things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get the word out and talk about the sorts of things that matter.

The investigation continued, and in February, Davis went to the FBI office in Stockton to be interviewed. She agreed to take a polygraph test but failed it, and then admitted she had written both letters and sent them to herself, Hartman wrote. In a signed statement, Davis wrote that she sent herself the first letter after Lodi police told her she probably wouldn’t be granted a permit to carry a concealed handgun.


CA17: Honda endorsed by prominent Democrats

A big chunk of Northern California’s Democratic establishment endorsed Rep. Mike Honda on Wednesday for re-election to a ninth term, shoring up his 17th Congressional District campaign against the second consecutive challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna.

honda.jpgThe list released by Honda’s campaign includes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

“Mike Honda is a tireless champion for his constituents and for hard-working families across the country,” Pelosi said in the release. “His background in education has made him a strong voice for underserved students and for reforming our broken immigration system to reunite families. Mike’s unwavering dedication to public service has made him a strong and respected leader.”

Lofgren praised Honda’s work in “securing funds for Silicon Valley” and “fighting for fairness in immigration.” McNerney called Honda one of the party’s strongest voices ““when it comes to building a strong middle class, reversing income inequality, and expanding opportunities for women and underrepresented communities,” as well as for boosting STEM education. And Panetta called him “an honest and hardworking public servant who gives his all to his constituents.

The endorsements come despite the cloud of a pending House Ethics Committee investigation into whether Honda’s office and campaign blurred or crossed their lines in violation of House rules or federal law.

Khanna’s campaign respects these leaders who have been Honda’s longstanding friends and colleagues, spokesman Hari Sevugan said in an email Wednesday. “At the same time, we are humbled by the support of many Democratic leaders who like Ro’s background as an educator and his vision of making college more affordable, of universal preschool education, and fighting for equal pay for women for equal work.”

Ro KhannaRecent endorsements of Khanna – a former Obama administration official who lives in Fremont and lost to Honda by 3.6 percentage points last year – have included state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone; and two local officials who had endorsed Honda in 2014.

“Congressman Honda may be in denial that his campaign is in a downward spiral, but when you’re under federal investigation for using your taxpayer-funded office for personal political gain and you’re spending donor money on an expensive legal defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that you’re losing support,” Sevugan said.


Bay Area lawmakers offer tix for Pope’s visit

A few Bay Area House members are holding lotteries in which their constituents can win tickets to see Pope Francis during his U.S. visit later this month.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, is offering tickets for the pontiff’s address to a joint session of Congress on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 24, to residents of her 18th Congressional District; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is doing the same for her 14th District constituents; and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is doing it in his 9th District. Ticket holders will be able to view the address from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol via televised broadcast.

“I’m excited to be able to extend an opportunity to my constituents to take part in this historic event,” Eshoo said in a news release. “While not all who wish to attend will be awarded a ticket, my office is working to ensure the lottery is conducted fairly and make the process a good one.”

Speier said Pope Francis “has become a focal point across the world for prioritizing peace over war, care of the planet over consumption, forgiveness over accusation, and neighbor over self. I’m excited that 50 of my constituents have the opportunity to be on the West Lawn of the Capitol to watch the broadcast of the Pope’s address to members of Congress. My only regret is that I can’t make these tickets available to everyone.”

McNerney said it’s “sure to be a momentous occasion. This is the first time that the Pope will deliver an address to Congress, and I look forward to hearing his message for the American people.”

The deadline to enter McNerney’s lottery is tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 4; the deadline to enter Eshoo’s lottery is noon Pacific Time next Tuesday, Sept. 8; and the deadline to enter Speier’s lottery is midnight next Thursday, Sept. 10. Only constituents of those districts may enter, only one entry is allowed per person, and each winner will receive two tickets.


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.