Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 27, 2012
Union membership dips slightly in California, still 7th highest

Union membership among California's workers declined fractionally in the last year, according to an annual survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, but remains seventh highest among the states.

The BLS report says that 17.1 percent of California's private and public employees are union members, down from 17.5 percent the previous year. That translates into 2.4 million union members, down more than 50,000 from a year earlier, in a total employed workforce of 13.9 million.

The numbers and percentages of workers represented by unions, including non-members, are slightly higher at 2.5 million and 18.2 percent. California is tied for the seventh highest rate with Oregon. New York is highest at 24.1 percent and South Carolina the lowest at 3.4 percent. The national rate is 11.8 percent, down from 11.9 percent the previous year.

The survey report does not break down state membership by private and public sectors. Nationally, 37 percent of public workers are unionized, while just 6.9 percent of those in private employment belong to unions.

EDITOR'S NOTE, 1:27 p.m.: This post has been corrected to show that California's rate is tied with Oregon's for seventh place, not fifth.

January 27, 2012
Read the California Supreme Court redistricting decision


January 27, 2012
California Supreme Court denies challenge of Senate maps

The California Supreme Court ruled today that state Senate maps drawn by a citizens commission will be used in this year's elections, despite a pending referendum to overturn them.

In a 73-page decision, justices evaluated several proposed alternative maps and concluded that the Senate lines drawn by the 14-member commission were the most appropriate and least disruptive to this year's elections.

Republican State Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel, a leader of the referendum drive, blasted the ruling as "shortsighted and disrespectful" of California voters who signed petitions and are awaiting the opportunity to vote on the commission's Senate maps. She characterized the decision as a throwback to a flawed, politically based precedent established by former Chief Justice Rose Bird.

"They kind of gutted the whole idea behind the referendum process," said Dave Gilliard, another leader of the drive to kill the Senate maps.

Peter Yao, current chairman of the commission, countered that use of the commission maps is important to maintain electoral stability and that the challenge is based on "partisan self interest" that has "cost precious taxpayer dollars to defend."

The issue came before the high court after a Republican-backed group, Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting, filed more than 711,000 signatures with county elections offices in a referendum to overturn Senate maps drawn by a 14-member citizens commission.

Californians will decide the fate of the newly drawn Senate districts in November if 504,760 of the signatures are from valid voters. Legislative candidates must file and run their campaigns before then, however, so justices needed to identify district maps to be in effect immediately.

County elections offices face a Feb. 24 deadline for certifying FAIR's referendum signatures. Thus far, they have verified 57,761 of 80,127 signatures checked. If the percentage of valid signatures holds steady, 72 percent, the referendum would qualify for the ballot.

Twenty Senate seats are up for grabs this year - and the results carry high-stakes politically.

GOP officials contend that the new, commission drawn lines would give Democrats a strong chance of gaining two additional seats in the Senate, enough to gain the two-thirds supermajority needed to raise taxes or fees.

"If the current redistricting lines hold with regard to the Senate, the Republicans are going to have an enormously difficult time staying above the one-third threshold," California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro told The Bee this week.

"We're going to fight like the dickens to do it," he said, "which is in part why, of course, we went ahead with the referendum process. But it will be enormously difficult."

The Supreme Court noted that the commission met its constitutional duty in drawing the new Senate districts and that submittal of referendum petitions signed by perhaps 5 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election does not necessarily disqualify them pending a statewide vote.

Justices previously had rejected a FAIR lawsuit that contended the commission's Senate maps illegallydilute Latino voting clout in parts of the state and violate criteria established by voters in a 2008 ballot measure.

The Supreme Court, in today's decision to use the newly drawn Senate maps, considered alternatives that included using former districts in effect from 2002-2010; combining two commission-drawn Assembly districts to form new Senate districts; or amending the commission's approved Senate maps. Its ruling cited timing, constitutional, minority voting rights or other reasons to reject each one.

In selecting the new but contested Senate districts, the high court ruling said that boundary lines seem to comply with voter-approved criteria and are "a product of what generally appears to have been an open, transparent and nonpartisan redistricting process ... We believe these features may properly be viewed as an element favoring use of the commission-certified map."

* Amended at 11:41 a.m. to add reaction from the commission chairman and from leaders of FAIR.

January 27, 2012
AM Alert: Which Senate maps will state Supreme Court pick?

The California Supreme Court, as promised, has fast-tracked a decision on what state Senate maps will be used in this year's elections if voters get to vote on the districts that the citizens commission drew last year.

The high court is also considering the issues of what standard to apply in determining whether a referendum is "likely to qualify" and whether it has the authority to step in "even if it cannot yet be determined whether such a referendum is 'likely to qualify' for placement on the ballot."

The court is expected to post its decision at 10 a.m. Come back to Capitol Alert later this morning for details as well as reactions to the ruling.

The Bee's Jim Sanders reported in this post earlier this month about the hearing on the case that the justices focused on technical issues, including whether they could rule only if the referendum is "likely to qualify" for the November ballot.

The odd-numbered Senate seats come up for election this year, with candidates starting to file on Feb. 13.

NEW GIG: Fiona Hutton & Associates has hired Jennifer Wonnacott, most recently of Assemblywoman Betsy Butler's district office, as a senior account executive in Los Angeles.

POLL: Sonja Petek of the Public Policy Institute of California will talk about the January statewide survey of what Californians think of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal and other matters. The luncheon runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the CSAC Conference Center, 1020 11th St., in Sacramento. Click here to read more about the event. Find the survey itself at this link.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, celebrates his 51st birthday on Sunday.


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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