SD7: Would they extend Prop. 30 taxes?

Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer says Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla flip-flopped on extending Proposition 30’s tax hikes to fund California’s schools, but Bonilla’s campaign said she has been consistent all along: She doesn’t support extending those taxes, but would support imposing new ones in their place.

The two Democrats are facing off in the 7th State Senate District’s special election, scheduled for May 19.

A new Bonilla campaign mailer that attacks Glazer for distorting her positions says she opposes extending the Prop. 30 taxes: “Glazer and his billionaire mega donor Bill Bloomfield are lying about Bonilla because they want to hide the fact that Steve Glazer was the ‘mastermind’ behind Prop 30, the $13.1 billion tax increase.”

The mailer follows that with a direct quote from Bonilla: “Steve Glazer and I both oppose extending Prop. 30.”


Josh Pulliam, Bonilla’s campaign consultant, said late Thursday afternoon that Bonilla has never supported an extension – whether by legislative action or another ballot measure – of Proposition 30’s taxes, and on several occasions has publicly corrected those who said otherwise.

She does, however, support a new, different, voter-approved tax hike measure to fund education in place of Prop. 30, he said.

Many apparently have been confused by this – perhaps including me.

In January, I reported on a TriValley Democratic Club forum at which Bonilla and then-candidate Joan Buchanan (who was eliminated in March’s special primary election) made their pitches.

Unsurprisingly, both said they would work to extend the Prop. 30 sales taxes and income taxes on the rich – due to expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively – in order to keep bankrolling education.

“The governor has made it very clear that the word ‘temporary’ means temporary, but … we need to go out to the people, I believe we can make the case,” Bonilla said. “There’s no way that you can get education on the cheap, it just doesn’t work.”

Contra Costa Times columnist Tom Barnridge wrote this after asking questions at a televised candidates’ forum in February:

What to do when Proposition 30 expires, ending temporary increases in sales and income taxes? Buchanan, Bonilla and Kremin would put an extension before voters. Glazer would let it expire because a temporary tax, he said, is meant to be temporary.

And the Lamorinda Democratic Club’s March newsletter recounted a Feb. 4 candidates’ forum thusly:

Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan favored extending Proposition 30 taxes, and a oil severance tax to continue to improve California schools—especially for the less fortunate. Steve Glazer, meanwhile, was against any new taxes and instead believed the government would have to live with the revenues it already receives.

Glazer campaign spokesman Jason Bezis said “there are more flips and flops in the Bonilla tax position than an amusement park roller coaster.

“She blindly supported a Prop. 30 tax extension in the primary, even though the promise to voters in 2012 was that it would be temporary. Now, in the general election, she flops away from it because that broken promise hurts her,” he claimed. “After this duplicity is uncovered, she flips yet again and says she wants to raise billions in new taxes, but just not ‘Prop 30’ taxes. You can see why voters are dizzy with Sacramento politicians like Bonilla. They have had enough of the political doublespeak.”

Incidentally, the Lamorinda Democratic Club – Glazer’s home turf – was scheduled to take an endorsement vote last week, president Katie Ricklefs said Thursday. But the vote was scrapped when a Glazer campaign operative cited a club bylaw – not updated since before the top-two primary system took effect – that essentially precludes the club from picking one Democrat over another in a general election. “We did a straw poll that showed 100 percent support for Susan, though,” Ricklefs said.


SD7: Bonilla and Buchanan face off in Dublin

The first faceoff between Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan since the launch of their campaigns for the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District special election was rather amicable, and showed barely a sliver of sunlight between their policy stances.

Bonilla & Buchanan 1-19-15 (photo by Josh Richman)Bonilla, D-Concord, and Buchanan, D-Alamo, sought the TriValley Democratic Club’s endorsement Monday night in Dublin. The result was not really in doubt – that’s Buchanan’s home turf, and sure enough, she won the endorsement vote 29-2 with four club members voting to remain neutral.

But it wasn’t really about the numbers – Bonilla knew she probably couldn’t win this club’s nod. Rather, it was about sounding out loyal Democrats for what’s going to be a fast, intense race – the special primary will be held March 17, and the special general on May 19. They’re running to succeed Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, who has just succeeded Rep. George Miller in the House.

“You’ve got two good Democrats, and sometimes we don’t have that, do we?” Bonilla told the club.

“Susan and I have worked closely in the Legislature… and it’s too bad that term limits force good people to run against each other,” Buchanan agreed.

Bonilla said three years as chair of the education budget subcommittee gave her intimate knowledge of the state budget’s largest sector, and she’s proud that Proposition 30’s tax hikes and a resurgent economy have let the state start backfilling the education funding it shorted in recent years.

She said she’s also proud of the Local Control Funding Formula on which lawmakers compromised with Gov. Jerry Brown, and of authoring a bill to move the state away from its standardized STAR testing and toward assessments that better fit the new Common Core curriculum. “We went toe-to-toe with the federal government and we won. We didn’t lose a dime and we didn’t double-test our children last year.”

She recounted her work as a Concord councilwoman to help ensure the former Concord Naval Weapons Station was converted into open space, and her work as a Contra Costa County Supervisor to develop a plan to pay down a $2.1 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. And she touted her endorsements from DeSaulnier; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; many other electeds; and an array of police and firefighter groups.

Buchanan said she’s proud to have authored a new law that protects students’ privacy from data mining when school districts contract with private companies for data management services, or for online programs and mobile apps used for instruction. She also cited her 2012 law to restore the historic beacon atop Mt. Diablo, which has been used in Pearl Harbor Day commemorations in recent decades – “What a difference it made in the lives of some of our brave servicemen” – and her efforts to update and streamline the state’s information technology procurement.

But her passion, she said, is public education

California’s once-great system is “at a critical point now” with too many children struggling in K-12 – “What happens if we leave half our children behind?” – and not enough capacity in the University of California system: “There’s got to be room at the inn.” And quality preschool is needed to ensure children have the proper tools with which to learn, she said.

“We can and we should do better,” she said. “When I go to the senate, I want to be one of the strongest advocates for public education. Public education is every bit a part of our infrastructure as twin tunnels and high-speed rail.”

During a Q&A session, both candidates talked about walking back the state-imposed limit on the size of school districts’ budget reserves; discussed the importance of continuing to reform the state’s costly prison system; touted their efforts in developing more effective job-training programs; and expounded on the importance of maintaining strong services for veterans.

Unsurprisingly, both said they would work to extend the Prop. 30 sales taxes and income taxes on the rich – due to expire in 2016 and 2018, respectively – in order to keep bankrolling education.

“The governor has made it very clear that the word ‘temporary’ means temporary, but … we need to go out to the people, I believe we can make the case,” Bonilla said. “There’s no way that you can get education on the cheap, it just doesn’t work.”

They also were questioned about Community Choice Aggregation, a state policy letting local governments choose greener electricity supply contracts. Bonilla seemed stronger in her support of local governments’ right to pursue this, though both emphasized that communities must do intensive research to ensure the energy they buy really is coming from green sources.

As this race heats up, remember that the 16th Assembly District which Buchanan represented for six years covers substantially more of this senate district than the 14th Assembly District in which Bonilla has just started her third two-year term, so Buchanan might have a name-recognition advantage. But Bonilla has an edge in endorsements (at least, so far) and has good connections that might help her raise more support – for example, her district director, Satinder Malhi of Martinez, also is president of the Contra Costa Young Democrats.

Walnut Creek Republican Mark Meuser and Concord Democrat Terry Kremin also are in the race; Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, also a Democrat, said Wednesday morning he’s still considering whether to run.

The TriValley Democratic Club is where Rep. Pete Stark and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell had their first face-off in early 2012 –also was a surprisingly calm, respectful affair, considering how ugly that race later became. Here’s hoping this race doesn’t get as spiteful as that one did.


Pete Stark & Eric Swalwell face off in Dublin

Rhetorical sparks flew tonight as Rep. Pete Stark crossed paths for the first time on the campaign trail with his Democratic challenger, Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell.

The Tri Valley Democratic Club’s candidates’ night drew a capacity crowd of about 200 people to the IBEW hall in Dublin, with most there to see the 15th Congressional District faceoff between Stark, 80, and Swalwell, 31. Though the two candidates have a lot in common on the issues, there were elbows thrown aplenty.

Swalwell won the straw poll at the end of the evening, 32-19 – unsurprising given that this is his home club, in which he’s been active for years. The outcome was foretold by the much louder applause and cheering he got compared to Stark’s earlier in the evening.

Stark, D-Fremont, had won the coin toss, but chose to have Swalwell go first. Swalwell led off by touting his local roots and said he has worked on behalf of working families and small businesses as a Dublin city councilman, but quickly turned the lens toward his opponent.

“We need new energy and new ideas, we need someone who is going to step up and lead,” he said, noting Stark has been in the House for nearly 40 years. “I respect that, but 40 years is a long time and if you do not stay sharp, you can become out of step, out of touch and out of sight.”

That’s the case with Stark, he said, who lives in Maryland and doesn’t visit often; he also said Stark blocked all media from one of his town hall meetings last weekend. (Actually, Stark holds a series of three such town-hall meetings just about every month, and barred a television camera from last weekend’s event, not all reporters.)

Asked by an audience member how he intends to stay in touch with this community if elected and sent to Washington, Swalwell replied, “I’m not going to live there.”

Stark’s fiery and sometimes controversial rhetoric has rendered him ineffective, Swalwell accused, as evidenced a few years ago when the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee came open and Stark was the most senior Democrat. “Our party’s leaders had to step in when Congressman Stark was slated to become the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress.”

And Stark missed more than one in five votes in the last session, he said. “If Congressman Stark does not live here and he is not voting in Washington, D.C., it begs the question where is he, what is he doing and how can he help us in these tough economic times?”

“I imagine that Congressman Stark and I will agree on many issues,” Swalwell said, both of them being Democrats. It’s not about who moves the district to the left or the right, he said, but about who can move it forward.

Stark, in rebuttal, said “the Stark family has been here well over 40 years doing things for this community,” and he has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Democratic party and the often-needy people it’s supposed to represent.

In response to Swalwell’s barb about his residency, he said, “It would be just about impossible until we have some kind of rockets… to represent you in Congress and not live in the Washington, D.C. area.” He said that he’s here in the district every other weekend, and that he missed some votes due to his hospitalization for pneumonia, but also needs to consider the needs of his 16-year-old son and 10-year-old twins.

Stark likened the situation to deciding whom you’d choose to do your heart surgery: a student fresh out of medical school or a seasoned surgeon with many operations under his belt. “Only in politics have I heard that having no experience is better than having some experience.”

During the Q&A, Sergio Santos – a United Auto Workers local president from the former NUMMI plant in Fremont – said Stark has been anything but out of touch with auto workers, to whom he gave great support following the plant’s closing. They will support him now, he said.

Alameda County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Robin Torello noted Stark has the party’s endorsement as well, and that Stark has been a champion of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Stark said Republicans are putting those programs at risk, and trying to undo President Obama’s health care reforms.

“Their policy is to not see the president succeed at anything,” Stark said. “It’s pure politics.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are concerned with helping those unable to help themselves, he said.

Swalwell went to the front of the room to shake Stark’s hand when both were done.

Club President Ellis Goldberg said it was the most crowded meeting he could recall. Amid that sea of Democrats was indepdendent 15th District candidate Chris Pareja, 39, of Hayward, a Tea Party conservative.

“Eric came off as much more aggressive than the typical Pete,” Pareja obersved afterward, adding he thinks district voters want to hear less about age and residence and more debate on issues such as fiscal policy and overencroachment of government on private rights. He said both Stark and Swalwell appeared willing to engage in a three-way debate with him sometime soon.

The evening’s undercard included speeches from Democratic incumbents without Democratic challengers this primary season: state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo; and Alameda County Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley. County supervisorial seats are nonpartisan, but Miley is a lifelong Democrat while Haggerty switched from Republican to Democrat in 2009.


The great Stark-Swalwell smackdown, this Monday

They oughta sell programs and popcorn at this one: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and his Democratic upstart challenger Eric Swalwell will both be at the TriValley Democratic Club’s candidates night this coming Monday, and I’ll be surprised if some sparks don’t fly.

Pete StarkThe event begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20 in the IBEW Local 595 hall at 6250 Village Parkway in Dublin; it’s open to the public. Each candidate will have a few minutes for an opening statement and then answer questions from the audience; a straw poll will be taken after all the candidates have spoken.

Stark’s office recently confirmed to me that he’ll be there; Swalwell says he will, too. I’m not aware of the two of them having crossed paths since Swalwell – an Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin councilman – declared his candidacy in September.

Eric SwalwellStark, 80, is known for his plain-spoken and occasionally… [ahem] colorful dialogue; Swalwell, 31, has been pounding the pavement trying to portray Stark as having been in office so long that he’s far out of touch with voters. Each says he’s best qualified to serve the newly drawn 15th Congressional District, but this club is Swalwell’s home turf. I’ll be curious to see what they say when they’re face-to-face.

Invited candidates for offices not contested by other Democrats include Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo; state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and Alameda County Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty.