Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 6, 2011
Initiative to ban payroll deduction for political spending qualifies

The fight over unions using members' dues to fund political spending is headed back to the ballot next year.

A proposed initiative to block unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes has made the cut to go in front of voters next November, the secretary of state announced today.. The measure, backed by GOP groups, also bans labor unions, corporations and, in some cases, contractors doing business with state government, from making contributions to candidate-controlled committees.

Proponents of the measure reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect more than 900,000 voter signatures in support of the proposal. The office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen said today said that a validity check conducted by county election officials projected that at least 630,000 of those were valid -- well over the 504,760 voter signatures needed to secure a spot on the ballot.

Supporters say the changes will help curb the influence of special interest money in the political process. Labor unions, which are expected to mount a major and well-funded opposition campaign to the initiative, say it is nothing more than an effort to strip them of their political power.

The last time a so-called "paycheck protection" measure was on the ballot was in 2005, when voters rejected a proposal backed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Proponents had initially sought to qualify their initiative for the June primary. But that timing was affected by a new law that limits future initiatives and referendums to the November general election. The payroll deduction measure was the primary target of Senate Bill 202, the labor-backed measure introduced and approved by Democratic lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October.

Click here to read the full initiative text.

December 6, 2011
Hearing in Kinde Durkee fraud case delayed until next year

A preliminary hearing in the federal mail fraud case against California Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee has been delayed until January as prosecutors continue their investigation into the alleged embezzlement scheme.

A criminal complaint filed against Durkee claims that she stole more than $600,000 from a campaign account she managed for Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana. Since her September arrest, other high-profile clients from the political and nonprofit world, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have come forward with claims that the prominent treasurer had transferred large sums from their accounts. Feinstein's campaign has estimated that several million dollars are missing from her re-election committee account.

The preliminary hearing, which had been scheduled for Friday, has been postponed until Jan. 26 to give prosecutors more time to review and analyze additional material, including some documents that have yet to be received, according to a court filing.

"The parties stipulate that the arrest in this case occurred at a time before the investigation was completed, and that the case is complex given the number of clients of Ms. Durkee and the bank accounts involved," the court filing reads.

Complaint alleges Durkee stole six figures from campaign fund
Dianne Feinstein suing bank over Kinde Durkee scandal
Kinde Durkee's clients include nonprofits with political ties

December 6, 2011
Jerry Brown appoints Chester 'Chet' Widom as state architect

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a Los Angeles architect and former president of the American Institute of Architects to be state architect, the governor's office announced this afternoon.

Chester "Chet" Widom, 71, was a partner at the firm Widom Wein Cohen O'Leary Terasawa from 1964 to 2008 and advised the Los Angeles Community College District on construction projects from 2009 to 2011.

He is a former Los Angeles planning commissioner and was president of the American Institute of Architects in 1995. Widom will oversee the Division of the State Architect, part of the Department of General Services.

Like Brown, Widom is a Democrat.

"I look forward to working closely with my staff at the Division of the State Architect, the Department of General Services, the legislature and other local leaders to make our state even more innovative, sustainable and efficient, " Widom said in a prepared statement. "We face many challenges, but my immediate priority is to carefully scrutinize and streamline the State Architect's operations."

The position requires Senate confirmation and pays $142,964 a year.

December 6, 2011
Mother Jones magazine saying nice things about Darrell Issa

San Diego County Congressman Darrell Issa is one of those politicians that liberals love to hate -- especially since he took over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee from Democrat Henry Waxman and promised nonstop investigations of the Obama administration.

That's why it's a minor miracle that Mother Jones magazine, a bible of the political left, is saying nice things about Republican Issa on its political blog.

Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum ponders the "mystery of Darrell Issa's low profile" -- i.e., not being the nettlesome Obama critic that many thought he would be -- and concludes:

"It pains me to say anything nice about Issa, the man who bequeathed us Arnold Schwarzenegger, but maybe he takes this stuff more seriously than his critics ever gave him credit for. Obviously he's going to focus his attention on conservative causes and he's going to focus his oversight on the Obama administration -- both perfectly reasonable things to do -- but perhaps he was sincere about avoiding petty nonsense. Stranger things have happened."

December 6, 2011
California fiscal conservatives file spending-cap proposal

A day after Gov. Jerry Brown asked voters for $7 billion in additional taxes, a trio of fiscal conservatives said Tuesday they filed a ballot initiative to cap state spending.

The proposal would reconfigure the Gann Limit, a 1979 spending restriction established on the heels of tax-limiting Proposition 13. Voters later softened the limit, and the state is now $17 billion below the spending cap.

The California Taxpayers Association, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Small Business Action Committee want to reset the Gann Limit at the 2010-11 spending level. They would limit spending based on a formula driven generally by population and inflation growth.

In years where tax revenues are greater than the limit, the state would first have to pay down debt and then divide up to $2 billion between schools and a rainy-day fund. If money is left over, the state would return funds to taxpayers.

December 6, 2011
Yolo County's Mike McGowan to head California counties' lobby

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan.JPGYolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan has been elected to a one-year term as president of the California State Association of Counties, moving up the ladder from first vice president.

CSAC, based in Sacramento, is the chief lobbying arm for the state's 58 counties, and has been deeply involved in the realignment of some state services to counties, particularly incarceration and parole for low-level felons who had previously been sent to state prison.

Counties are receiving several billion dollars from the state this year to pay for the realaigned functions, which also include some health and welfare programs, but they are demanding that financing be guaranteed by a constitutional amendment.

Separately, the California School Boards Association announced that Jill Wynns, a member of the San Francisco Unified School District board, has been elected president of that organization, which is based in West Sacramento and is a major component of the Education Coalition that lobbies the Capitol on school finance issues.

Schools are targeted for major cuts if the triggers in the current state budget are pulled because revenues fall short of the budget's estimates. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a tax increase for next November's ballot that would restore some funding to the schools.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Mike McGowan, Bee file 2009.

December 6, 2011
California's population still growing, but much more slowly

California is still growing, adding just over a quarter-million people during the year that ended June 30, according to the state's annual population survey, but is not attracting immigrants from other states and nations as it once did.

In fact, the state Department of Finance's demographers concluded, the state had a net outmigration of 22,000 persons during the year - 132,000 immigrants from other countries minus 154,000 Californians who moved out. Or to put it another way, births (511,000) and deaths (228,000) accounted for all of the state's net population growth of 260,000.

In numerical terms, that's less than half of what the state experienced during the 1980s, but it still means that California, with an estimated 37.6 million people as of July 1, is likely to approach 40 million by 2020.

Previous state estimates put California's population about one million higher, but demographers have adjusted the number downward to comport with the 2010 census.

Riverside was easily the fastest growing California county during the 2010-11 period, both in numbers (34,752) and percentage (1.59 percent), while 18 rural California counties lost population. Los Angeles, with 9.9 million residents, remains California's largest by a wide margin, with more than a quarter of the state's population, but its growth, just 30,497 during the period, was less than a third of the state's growth rate.

December 6, 2011
California's direct democracy system spoofed by 'The Daily Show'

California's direct democracy system got "The Daily Show" treatment last night, as the satirical news show aired a segment sparked by the now-fizzled ballot battle over the so-called "Amazon Tax."

The segment on the initiative and referendum process includes interviews on two of the most colorful characters on today's state political scene -- GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

Viewers of the Comedy Central show certainly got a taste of Burton's signature sailor mouth. By our count, the former congressman and state senator dropped no fewer than six f-bombs during the several minutes he appears on the screen.

"You curse more than a West Coast rapper," correspondent John Oliver remarked.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
California's Direct Democracy Troubles
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

December 6, 2011
High-speed rail blames 'uncertain economy' for voter opposition

In response to a new poll finding widespread opposition to the state's high-speed rail project, the California High-Speed Rail Authority issued a statement late Monday blaming the "uncertain economy" for voters' mood.

"To back pedal on this project means we reject billions in stimulus funds, lose 100,000 new jobs and, ultimately, pay tens of billions more for congested highways in the long run," the statement said. "The uncertain economy may give some voters pause, but this kind of infrastructure investment and job creation is exactly what we need at this time and we will be making that case to Californians across the state who voted to start this project in 2008."

According to a new Field Poll, nearly two-thirds of voters want to re-vote on the project Californians authorized in 2008, and 59 percent of voters say they would reject the measure if such an election were held.

The poll comes after the rail authority revised the project's estimated cost this fall to almost $100 billion over 20 years, more than twice what was originally thought.

December 6, 2011
AM Alert: Jerry Brown meets Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Grab your wand and a Gryffindor robe. Gov. Jerry Brown will be at Universal Studios Hollywood this morning for what his office calls "a special announcement that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into California's economy, help create jobs and support our tourism industry."

He'll be on hand as NBCUniversal announces that Southern California will be home to a new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Maybe Brown can learn some wizardry to help pass his tax plan.

When it comes to another project Brown touts as a job-creator, California voters are having buyers' remorse.

David Siders reports
that "nearly two-thirds of voters, or 64 percent, want the Legislature to call for a re-vote," according to the latest Field Poll.

Find the new poll results here and the tabulations, exclusive to Capitol Alert, here.

How is California growing? The state Department of Finance will release its annual population report this morning, with data to show how all 58 counties' population changed between July 2010 and July 2011.

PLANNING AHEAD: On Wednesday night Brown, First Lady Anne Gust and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to light the Capitol Christmas tree. Festivities begin on the west steps at 4:30 p.m. Bring non-perishable food items for the California Emergency Foodlink. You can also watch it via webcast.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will not be with Brown at the tree lighting. The Governor's Office incorrectly listed Newsom as an attendee. Updated 1 p.m., Jan. 6, 2011.


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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