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.


House passes ‘clean’ homeland security funding

About a third House Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to pass legislation fully funding the Department of Homeland Security through this year’s end.

Some more conservative Republicans opposed the move, refusing to vote for a bill that doesn’t defund or otherwise roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But the GOP leadership – speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Bakersfield; and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. – all voted for it. The vote was 257-167.

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“For the past three months, House Republicans have been playing a dangerous game in which the American people are on the losing end. Today, reason prevailed and the games are finally over. The people charged with protecting our national security deserve more than uncertainty. It is outrageous that Homeland Security funding was held hostage to a partisan debate. This is not how we should govern.

“Americans are rightly sick of the politically manufactured crises they’ve come to expect from this Tea-Party-led Congress. I am grateful to finally move past this brinkmanship and address real challenges. It’s time to get to work doing what the American people sent us here to do, creating economy-boosting jobs that pay enough for hard-working families to get ahead.”

From Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock:

“The top priority of Congress is to ensure the safety of the American people. Today’s vote ensures that our homeland security agents and personnel have the certainty and long term funding necessary to do their critical work of keeping us all safe. I do not support the President’s unilateral executive action on immigration as it flies in the face of the United States Constitution and ignores the will of the people. However, we cannot hold hostage funding for our national security and I will continue to push for a full debate on every aspect of immigration reform.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“Once again, Leader Pelosi has led the House out of a dire situation by providing the Democratic votes necessary to avert a dangerous partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency will be fully funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, and the American people can be assured that key national security operations will not be interrupted.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

“Our national security will not be shut down. Thankfully enough Republicans put their country before their party and joined with the Democrats to pass a clean DHS bill. Funding for our national security should never be held hostage in a political debate. Those upset by the President’s immigration plan should instead work with us to fix our broken system.”


House votes to delay Dodd-Frank ‘Volcker Rule’

The House voted 271-154 Wednesday for a bill to delay a controversial part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law enacted in the wake of the financial meltdown that brought on the Great Recession.

From The Hill:

The bill, which the White House is threatening to veto, would delay implementation of Dodd-Frank’s “Volcker rule” until 2019, rather than 2017 as originally planned.

The Volcker Rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, requires big banks to sell-off financial investments known as collateralized loan obligations (CLOs).

Supporters of H.R. 37, the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act, say CLOs are an important way for businesses to get financing.

“Excess regulations hurt jobs and put added costs on our economy. The number of regulations that have piled up over the past six years are compounding and holding back Main Street businesses,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

McCarthy thanked Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-PA, for carrying a bill that will “reduce red tape and makes it easier for small businesses to access the capital they need to grow and create good-paying jobs.”

“These provisions have enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in the past, so I am disappointed that a fracture in the Democratic Caucus is causing so many Democrats to switch their votes in a zealous defense of Dodd-Frank regulations,” McCarthy added.

But the bill’s opponents, including the entire Bay Area delegation, say the Volcker Rule keeps large banks from risky gambling with taxpayer-backed funds.

“The American people expect – and deserve – a government that works for them,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, yet Republicans so far haven’t offered any bills to advance the middle class’ interests. “Instead, day after day, Republicans have rushed through giveaways to big banks and to their special interest friends.”

The Volcker Rule “protects Americans against the risky practices of some on Wall Street that just a few years ago brought our country to the brink of economic collapse,” Pelosi said. “Enough is enough: the interests of big banks should not trump those of American families that still struggle to make ends meet.”


Will the rich buy California’s 2016 Senate race?

Campaign finance reform is needed to keep California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race from being bought by a small number of deep-pocketed donors, a consumer advocacy group said Wednesday.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is pushing for a federal program that would match small contributions with limited public funds, so that grassroots candidates relying on small donors can compete with big-money candidates.

“California is no exception to the rule of big donor domination of politics,” CALPIRG campaign organizer Zach Weinstein said in a news release. “Any candidate who wants to run a viable campaign for Senate in 2016 will need to raise millions and millions of dollars to do so, and our current system makes that level of fundraising nearly impossible if you rely on small donors. Unless you’re connected to a network of big donors, you’re out of the running before you even start. The reforms we’re proposing could fundamentally change that system.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced last week that she won’t seek a fifth six-year term in 2016. California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy Tuesday, and although Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has opted out, several other well-known names are considering whether to run.

Candidates in California’s last four Senate elections raised an average of $8.76 million, according to a memo issued Wednesday by CALPIRG; the highest amount, $23.17 million, was raised by Boxer for her 2010 re-election battle against Republican Carly Fiorina, who raised $11.63 million.

Current rules say individual donors can give up to $2,600 to a candidate for a primary election and another $2,600 for the general election for a total of $5,200 per campaign cycle; the Federal Election Commission will to revise this limit upward in the next few weeks after receiving new Consumer Price Index figures from the Labor Department.

But based on the current limit, a Senate candidate would have to raise more than $13,000 from individuals every day from now until Election Day in order to hit the average $8.76 million mark, CALPIRG notes. For a candidate relying on donors who “max out,” that’s five donors per day; for a candidate relying on small donors giving an average of $150, that’s 88 donors per day.

“When campaigns are paid for by big donors, those are the voices candidates hear the loudest,” Weinstein said. “In a democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote, small donors should be at the center of campaign finance – not an afterthought.”


Kevin Mullin mulls election recount reform bill

The politically ugly recount now under way in the race for state controller has inspired a Bay Area Assemblyman to start working on a bill to reform the election recount process.

Kevin MullinAssemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, announced Wednesday he’s researching ways to ensure the recount process in future statewide elections is fair to all candidates, and he plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature returns from its summer recess.

Mullin said options might include setting a threshold that automatically triggers the recount process for very close races, the development of a recount standard across counties, and a state-funded recount process.

“California is in uncharted territory with the Controller’s race recount,” Mullin said in a news release. “It’s imperative to our system of governance that the election process is fair and transparent for all voters and candidates. We are actively researching a variety of options and engaging in discussions with the Secretary of State’s office so we can craft comprehensive legislation on this issue.”

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, clearly finished first in the primary election for controller, but Board of Equalization member Betty Yee edged out fellow Democrat and Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez by 481 votes in their race to finish second. Perez has demanded a recount, specifying 15 counties in which he did better than Yee.

Current law lets a candidate demanding a recount specify not only which counties but even specific precincts and the order in which they’re recounted; the candidate must pay for the recount on a daily basis but can stop the process whenever a desired result is achieved. (Clarification: All of the ballots in each county included in a recount request must be recounted in order to change the result, though Perez could halt the recount between any of the 15 counties he specified if he gets a number he wants.) The other candidate can then choose whether or not to demand a recount too. Critics note this gives an advantage to whoever can better afford a recount – in this case, Perez.

“When the recount process is necessary, it should be easily implemented and every vote valued and counted equally,” Mullin said.

Mullin said he also plans to pursue legislation to standardize county-by-county vote counting and reporting procedures for vote-by-mail ballots that are dropped off at polling places on Election Day. His goal is to avoid the kinds of delays experienced in this year’s controller’s race as county vote tallies were aggregated and reported on the Secretary of State’s website.


Boehner prepares resolution to sue Obama

House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday released a draft of a resolution he’ll introduce authorizing the House to sue President Obama over his 2013 decision to unilaterally delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement issued with the draft. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

The resolution reads as follows:

Providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.

Resolved, that the Speaker may initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court of competent jurisdiction to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code, and to seek appropriate ancillary relief, including injunctive relief, regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the United States, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.

SEC. 2. The Speaker shall notify the House of Representatives of a decision to initiate or intervene in any civil action pursuant to this resolution.

SEC. 3. The Office of the General Counsel of the House of Representatives, at the direction of the Speaker shall represent the House in any civil action initiated, or in which the House intervenes, pursuant to this resolution and may employ the services of outside counsel and other experts for this purpose.

The House Rules Committee will consider the draft resolution next Wednesday, July 16.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement later Thursday:

“Instead of working to create jobs, instead of working to strengthen the middle class or addressing any of the urgent issues facing our nation, Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars on another toxic partisan stunt.

“Time and again, House Republicans’ total abdication of responsibility has forced the President to act. They’ve wasted billions of taxpayer dollars forcing a downgrade of the U.S. economy and a shutdown of the federal government, and now, after wasting millions defending discrimination in the federal courts, the resolution unveiled tonight would authorize hiring more partisan lawyers for yet another legal boondoggle doomed to fail.

“This lawsuit is just another distraction from House Republicans desperate to distract the American people from their own spectacular obstruction and dysfunction. Congress should be creating jobs, raising new ladders of opportunity, and focusing on the challenges facing hard working American families.”