Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 22, 2011
New state GOP chairman rips redistricting commission

The California Republican Party's new chairman accused the state's independent redistricting commission Tuesday of playing politics in its hiring of a technical consultant to draw legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.

Tom Del Beccaro blasted the decision by the commission last Saturday to hire Q2 Data and Research, an Oakland-based firm owned by Karin Mac Donald, director of the state's redistricting database at the University of California, Berkeley.

Q2 drew criticism prior to the commission's vote because Bruce Cain is a partner in the venture. Cain was chief adviser to Assembly Democrats in a highly controversial 1981 redrawing of political districts.

Q2 was selected 13-0 after the other finalist, Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, was disqualified for failure to disclose donors and potential staff conflicts in bid documents.

"The Redistricting Commission's decision to select Q2 Data and Research, a firm widely known for its close political connection to the Democrat Party, to draw district lines defeats the very purpose of the commission's existence," Del Beccaro said in a written statement.

The fledgling redistricting commission was created by voter passage of Proposition 11 in 2008. The measure was pitched as a balanced system for drawing district boundaries in contrast to partisan legislative efforts that created gerrymandered districts in decades past.

"Californians made the right decision to take redistricting power out of the hands of Sacramento politicians and they deserve a process that values openness and transparency," Del Beccaro said.

"The commission was asked by myself and others not to pick that underqualified firm. The decision to hire Q2 may very well undermine the trust of voters in the entire process."

Rose Institute had been accused of being overly partisan, too, but leaning Republican rather than Democratic. The consulting group refuted such allegations in bid documents, characterizing itself as nonpartisan.

Republican Vincent Barabba, a member of the redistricting commission, denied that politics played a role in the selectioin of Q2 and said the 14-member commission -- not Mac Donald or her firm -- ultimately will make the decisions on where political district boundaries will be drawn.

"We'll give very explicit, documented and published directions to the line drawer -- and then the line drawer has to follow those directions," Barabba said.

Democratic Commissioner Cynthia Dai said that Mac Donald was questioned about her ties to Cain and said that his connection to Q2 stemmed largely from a project years ago.

"It seems that the Republican Party and others have tried very hard to try to draw a connection between Q2 Data and Research and the Democratic Party, but as far as we've been able to tell, that simply is not the case," Dai said.

The redistricting commission consists of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independent or minor-party voters. Approval of district maps requires at least three votes from each group.

In a press release announcing Q2's selection, the redistricting commission touted the firm as a "small, non-partisan, woman-owned consulting firm" with "nationally known experts in building redistricting databases."

"The team also includes a Voting Rights Act expert with extensive experience ... and multiple line drawers with hundreds of hours of training and line drawing experience," the press release said.

In hiring Q2, the commission stipulated that Cain could play no role in drawing California's 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization district boundaries for 2012 elections.

Mac Donald and Q2's only other full-time professional staffer, Nicole Boyle, are registered as independent voters, bid documents said.

** Updated at 4:55 p.m. to add comments from redistricting commissioners Cynthia Dai and Vincent Barabba.

March 22, 2011
Jerry Brown considering ballot initiative on taxes

Gov. Jerry Brown is considering a November ballot initiative to extend tax increases and may announce it as early as this week, bypassing Republican opposition in the Legislature, a source said.

The source said Brown is continuing to negotiate with Republican lawmakers to put tax extensions on a June ballot through a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. That remains his preferred course, but he is considering two alternatives should talks fail. The Democratic governor is more likely to pursue an initiative than to try putting taxes on the ballot through a simple majority in the Legislature, the source said.

Brown believes business groups are more likely to support a ballot initiative than any maneuver for a majority vote in the Legislature, the source said, and thinks business groups fear a majority tax vote may set a precedent for other taxes.

The source said a ballot initiative would likely include some concessions to conservative interests. Among those being considered are regulatory reform and a spending cap.

Brown has been negotiating for weeks with Republican lawmakers to push through his bid to extend temporary taxes on income, vehicles and sales, a central part of his budget plan.

Reaching a two-thirds majority would require at least two Republican votes in each house, a measure of support Brown has failed to obtain.

Brown has repeatedly said he would seek bipartisan support for tax extensions. On Monday, however, he said in a speech to labor groups that a vote would occur "no matter what anybody says across the street."

Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said this afternoon that Brown is committed to negotiating with Republicans and believes he can reach agreement.

"He's convinced he can get the votes," she said.

March 22, 2011
Jerry Brown appoints Caballero secretary of consumer services

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed former Assemblywoman Anna Caballero secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency.

Caballero, 56, lost a state Senate bid last year to Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, despite running in a Democratic district.

Caballero, a Democrat, is a former mayor of Salinas and once worked as a lawyer for California Rural Legal Assistance. If confirmed by the Senate, she will be paid $175,000 a year.

Brown also made another appointment to the California Public Utilities Commission. Like Brown, Mark Ferron, a former Deutsche Bank executive, is a Democrat. If confirmed by the Senate, he will be paid $128,109 a year.

March 22, 2011
Vickery steps down as top court official amidst criticism

photo_William C  Vickrey.JPGWilliam Vickery, the long-time professional administrator of the California court system, has retired amid calls for his resignation due to severe problems with implementing a new computerized information system.

The state auditor's office and other critics have cited delays and cost overruns in the system, judges in several counties have been in open rebellion over the project and state legislators have laid the problems at the door of Vickery, who has directed the Administrative Office of the Courts for nearly two decades.

"Bill informed me last August of his planned retirement," Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement."He agreed to remain until the end of the current legislative session. I appreciate his willingness to continue to serve through my transition as chief justice. I am grateful to Bill for his tireless dedication, innovation, and perseverance in helping to reform California's courts and making the judiciary a true third branch of government in this state. He will be sorely missed and difficult to replace."

Both Canti-Sakauye and her predecessor, Ron George, defended Vickery against the criticism on the computer project and what many judges have seen as high-handed direction from the AOC, which the chief justice heads as chair of the State Judicial Council.

Seemingly in response to the critics, the AOC's announcement Tuesday of Vickery's retirement included numerous quotations of praise from various judicial and legal leaders.

Vickery became chief court administrator in 1992 after serving in a similar capacity in Utah and oversaw major changes in the state's judicial system, including a state takeover of what had previously been a decentralized structure, the computer project and a massive, bond-financed construction program of new courthouses, which had also engineered criticism and opposition.

March 22, 2011
Elk Grove's push to attract state buildings clears first hurdle

Legislation pushed by Elk Grove to attract state agencies to build or lease in the city cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 324 passed the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee without a dissenting vote, said Michelle Henry, chief of staff to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, an Alamo Democrat whose district stretches into Elk Grove.

The measure, sponsored by Elk Grove, would require the state Department of General Services to consider the community to be served and the workforce population to be housed by the construction, lease or purchase of a new state building of 10,000 square feet or larger.

Elk Grove, pushing to bolster its economy, contends that the bill would help ease greenhouse gas emissions by locating new state buildings closer to where employees work, not necessarily downtown Sacramento.

Of Elk Grove's population of about 140,000, more than 12,500 are state government workers - and more than three out of every four of those employees drive to work alone, according to Elk Grove officials.

"AB 324 will empower the state of California to lead by example by locating state office buildings close to where the state workforce lives," city officials said in a legislative committee analysis of the bill.

The measure now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Henry said.

March 22, 2011
Public Safety Committee OKs prison cellphone smuggling bill

Legislation that would impose penalties of up to six months in jail for smuggling cellphones into prisons, aimed at what prison officials say is a flood of illicit devices, cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.

The Senate Public Safety Committee, on a 6-0 vote, approved Senate Bill 26 after its author, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, agreed to some amendments that the committee's chair, Berkeley Democrat Loni Hancock, demanded. Her amendments reduced the penalties on inmates who use cellphones to commit other crimes.

Padilla said he didn't want to take the amendments, but acceded after Hancock told him the bill otherwise would be held in committee. Padilla did, however, propose his own amendments to equalize penalties for prison employees and non-employees who are caught smuggling phones. As written, his bill was somewhat tougher on non-employees.

Last year, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed another Padilla anti-smuggling bill, saying that supply phones to inmates should be a felony. Prior to Tuesday's hearing, Padilla, flanked by law enforcement officials, staged a news conference on the Capitol steps, including a display of hundreds of phones confiscated from inmates.

Prison officials testified that last year nearly 11,000 illicit phones were confiscated from inmates.

March 22, 2011
AM Alert: Field Poll looks at Jerry Brown and the Legislature

Right track, wrong track?

Two in three California voters believe the state's heading in the wrong direction, but that's fewer than last September, according to the latest Field Poll.

David Siders has a rundown in today's Bee on the poll, which also found that one in three voters have yet to make up their minds how Gov. Jerry Brown is doing so far.

But the Legislature isn't so lucky. Most voters have an opinion of how it's doing, and it isn't good. Still, legislators' favorable rating has gone up in the past six months -- all the way to 16 percent.

Read the poll and the tabulations, exclusive to Capitol Alert, at this link.

Speaking of the Legislature, Sen. Alex Padilla holds a news conference with law enforcement officials and others on the Capitol's west steps at 9:15 a.m. to highlight his prison cell phone measure, which the Senate Public Safety Committee will take up at its meeting in Room 3191 starting at 9:30 a.m.

Padilla announced Senate Bill 26 last month right after it was revealed that prison authorities had found a second phone in the possession of mass murderer Charles Manson.

Meanwhile, the Senate Natural Resources Committee considers several bills and holds an informational hearing on options, other than bonds, for funding water projects. That meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 112.

Click here for a full list of meetings on the Senate side. Click here for the Assembly.

PARKS: The California State Parks Foundation is advocating to keep the state's 178 parks open. Find its information booths and displays on the Capitol's north steps starting at 8:30 a.m.

TOWN HALLS: Republican Reps. Tom McClintock and Dan Lungren are both holding town halls tonight. McClintock will be at the Colfax High School theater, 24995 Ben Taylor Road, starting at 6 p.m., and Lungren will be at the Citrus Heights Community Center, 6300 Fountain Square Drive, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

SOCAL LOBBY: The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is in town for the first of a two-day visit to the Capitol, with a dinner scheduled at 7 p.m. with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and other lawmakers at the Sheraton Grand.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, is turning 38 and Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, is turning 42 today.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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