Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 10, 2012
Perez: Corporations not people 'until Texas executes one'

SAN DIEGO -- Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez may be nowhere more popular than at a labor caucus meeting at a Democratic convention, and so it was that he received a standing ovation here this afternoon and tried out a one-liner on the crowd.

"This year you've seen Mitt Romney and others talk about the fact that corporations are people," the former labor organizer said. "I won't believe corporations are people until Texas executes one of them."

Labor interests are a major force in the California Democratic Party, and as party activists arrived in San Diego today for their annual convention, Pérez said defeating a so-called "paycheck protection" measure is more important than any candidate election this year.

The ballot initiative would block unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Supporters of the initiative say it will curb the influence of special interests in elections, while labor unions say it is a targeted effort to reduce their political clout. Labor unions spent millions of dollars helping Gov. Jerry Brown defeat billionaire Meg Whitman in the 2010 election.

"This ballot measure is a fraud, it's phony and it's a lie," said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. "Imagine, just for a moment, a California where your mouths were taped the next time a Meg Whitman ran for governor."

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said Democrats will "fight like hell" to defeat the measure.

"Thank you, brothers and sisters," he said. "It is good to be in the house of labor."

February 10, 2012
Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill restoring school-bus money

169902_Rural-Schools_SIK_Death Valley School Bus.JPGGov. Jerry Brown today signed legislation restoring $248 million for school buses after rural and urban districts complained that the midyear cut would sink their budgets.

Senate Bill 81 replaces the $248 million bus cut with an across-the-board reduction of roughly $42 per student that affects all K-12 districts. Under the previous plan, the isolated Death Valley Unified School District would have lost $1,734 per student, while Davis Joint Unified would have lost less than $8 per student, according to the California School Boards Association.

The state's coalition of education groups, including teachers, school boards and administrators, supported the change, as did lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The only opponents were charter schools and some suburban districts that stand to lose more under SB 81 than they did under the bus cut.

The bus reduction was triggered in December when fiscal forecasters determined California would fall $2.2 billion short of the optimistic revenue projections that Brown and lawmakers used last June.

Brown has proposed eliminating bus funding next school year and launching a new block grant for school districts that could pay for some of those costs. But lawmakers seem intent on trying to preserve earmarked school bus money next year.

PHOTO CREDIT: Marlee Redwolf-Rave, 14, left, and another student get off a school bus at Timbisha Shoshone Tribe Reservation in Death Valley on Jan. 10, 2012, after a long drive from Death Valley High school in Shoshone. (Irfan Khan/ Los Angeles Times.)

February 10, 2012
VIDEO: John Burton can't imagine 'hit squad' for Molly Munger

SAN DIEGO -- California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton agrees with Gov. Jerry Brown that Molly Munger's November tax initiative could hurt the governor's bid to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners.

Too many tax measures on one ballot, the thinking goes, and wide-eyed voters might look at all of them and say, "No."

But the powers of a party chairman are not without limits.

"What are you going to do, you know, go get a hit squad to tell Molly Munger, 'We'll burn down your house if you don't do it?' " Burton told reporters this afternoon in San Diego, where state Democrats arrived for their annual convention.

Munger, the daughter of a business partner of Warren Buffett, has contributed nearly $1 million to her campaign, an initiative to raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians.

Burton said he hasn't talked to her and wouldn't know her if he saw her. But if he called her about her initiative, he said, he thought the conversation might go something like this:

"You really want to do this?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"'Cause I wanna."

"OK."

Burton should know. He has proposed an initiative of his own, a tax on oil production, though even he said today that he is "of the opinion that more people would look favorably on the governor's proposals than the others."

A reporter asked Burton if he thought Munger's initiative, should it qualify, would doom Brown's.

"That's a good question," he said. "How in the hell would I know?"

February 10, 2012
Pelosi: Swing seats, strong candidates make California a 2012 'battleground' (VIDEO)

SAN DIEGO -- While California may not see much action from presidential hopefuls, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said today she believes a handful of competitive districts will make the state a "battleground" in Democrats' effort to win back control of Congress.

Democrats could pick up as many as five or six seats here next November under the state's new political maps, according to some political analysts. Victories in a handful of GOP-held districts could help Democrats win the 25 seats they need nationwide to reclaim the majority.

Pelosi said strong candidates and registration edges in some of California's new districts will work to Democrats' advantage in 2012.

"We have many opportunites here because we were able to out-recruit the Republicans to run candidates who are real problem-solvers," she said during a news conference at the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

The party has identified nine seats that are potential pick-ups. Pelosi focused on three swing seats that have attracted only one high-profile Democratic candidate, including the newly drawn 7th Congressional District in the Sacramento region.

That race will be a rematch between GOP Rep. Dan Lungren and Democrat Ami Bera, a doctor and public health official from Elk Grove.

Bera attracted headlines for strong fundraising in his 2010 bid, but lost by seven percentage points in the swing district. Pelosi said she believes the now "battle-tested" candidate will be able to win under the new district lines, which give Democrats a one-point voter registration advantage.

"He has a personality and an agenda that really invigorates the grassroots and one of the most positive, enthusiastic grassroots operaitons in the country," she said. "He will have that again, even more so, more Democrats and (this year's) president at the top of the ticket." 

CDP Chairman John Burton said high turnout in a presidential year and voters' disappointment with the GOP majority in the House will benefit Bera and other Democrats running in the state.

"It's just going to be a whole different chemistry this election," Burton said. "In fact, there are some pollsters that say ... this could be an absolute flip of 2010, that the people voted Republican, and they saw what they got, and they're suffering from what they call the buyers' remorse." 

Lungren strategist Rob Stutzman said later that while the new district is more favorable to Democrats than the 2010 lines, he's "very confident still that Lungren is a vote-getter."

"It's going to be a very expensive race, but we're confident in prevailing," he said.

Stutzman said Democrats' pick-up prospects could be dimmed by their need to defend incumbents who are vulnerable under the new lines, such as Reps. John Garamendi and Lois Capps.

Democrats' optimism about the election outcome might not translate to big spending by House Democrats in California's targeted seats. Pelosi said while she expects candidates here to be well-funded, focus and resources will also be concentrated in other states with pick-up opportunities, such as New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas.

Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP strategist who now tracks California congressional and legislative races, said it's too early to tell whether Democrats will pick up many House seats here next November. Much of the outcome, he said, will depend on which Republican is on the top of the ticket.

"Right now, I (think) it could go either way, depending how strong the Republican candidate for president is," Hoffenblum said. "There is going to be significant turnover, but I don't want to place bets yet on is it going to be plus 'D' or plus 'R.'" 

EDITOR'S NOTE, 4:02 p.m.: This post was updated to add comment from Rob Stutzman.

February 10, 2012
Judge dismisses last lawsuit challenging California districts

A federal judge has dismissed the last remaining lawsuit challenging California political districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson concluded Thursday that he had no jurisdiction because the California Supreme Court previously rejected arguments made in the suit by a former Republican congressman and four others.

Mariposa Republican George Radanovich, who left Congress last year, was challenging the state's newly drawn congressional maps.

Radanovich contends that the redistricting commission violated federal voting rights law and the U.S. Constitution by seeking to protect three African American incumbents in the drawing of three congressional districts.

The state Supreme Court rejected similar arguments in October, without comment.

Jeanne Raya, current chairwoman of the redistricting commission, said that Wilson's action protects the panel's work against "baseless partisan attacks" and demonstrates that its districts were fair and complied with state law.

The 14-member redistricting commission consists of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independent or minor-party members. Map approvals required support from at least three members of each bloc.

Dismissal of the federal suit ensures that the redistricting commission's legislative and congressional districts will be used in this year's elections. Signatures have been filed in a referendum drive aimed at overturning the Senate maps for future state elections.

February 10, 2012
Controller John Chiang: January revenues 'disappointing'

California revenues last month lagged 5.5 percent behind what Gov. Jerry Brown expected in his just-proposed January budget, a development that Controller John Chiang termed "disappointing."

Though the big spring revenue months and Facebook's public stock offering are still to come, the latest report may provide a cautionary signal for Democratic lawmakers who think Brown's forecast is too pessimistic.

According to Chiang's office, the state fell $528.4 million behind the governor's latest projection for January, including a $525 million (6.3 percent) shortage in income tax collections. After the first seven months of the fiscal year, the state is $694 million in general fund revenues, or 1.1 percent, behind Brown's latest plan to solve a $9.2 billion deficit through June 2013.

"January revenues were disappointing on almost every front," Chiang said in a statement.

February 10, 2012
Read chief justice's list of false claims from Assembly debate

Our story this morning on California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye's complaints about the Assembly's process in approving Assembly Bill 1208 referenced a list of 16 statements from the floor debate she said were "meritless, false claims."

Cantil-Sakauye sent the list to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, and the Administrative Office of the Courts has published the list on its website. Read them here.

Click here to download video of Cantil-Sakauye's speech to presiding judges. Requires a Windows Media file player.

February 10, 2012
GOP lawmaker takes aim at Democrats' state budget power

A Republican assemblyman announced Thursday that he will propose a constitutional amendment to require a supermajority vote by the Legislature to pass budget bills and to require the state controller to withhold lawmakers' pay if an approved budget is not balanced.

The measure by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, responds to a provision in voter-approved Proposition 25 that allows Democrats to pass a majority-vote budget needing no Republican support.

Proposition 25 also called for docking legislative pay when a budget is not passed by the June 15th deadline. But state Controller John Chiang sparked controversy last year when he withheld pay after concluding that the spending plan initially passed by lawmakers was not balanced.

Democratic legislative leaders, who contend that Chiang illegally intervened in legislative matters, filed suit last month asking a judge to decide whether the controller can punish lawmakers again this summer and in the future for budgets he deems unconstitutional.

Mansoor's constitutional amendment, if placed on the ballot by lawmakers and approved by voters, would settle the matter by requiring the controller to dock pay until the Legislative Analyst's Office certifies that a budget is balanced.

The ballot measure also would make Republicans more relevant in budget negotiations by requiring a two-thirds supermajority in each legislative house to pass a spending plan. Currently, that would require two GOP votes apiece in the Senate and Assembly.

Because Republicans are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, Mansoor's proposal will be dead on arrival unless he can win support from Democratic colleagues whose party powers would be reduced if the constitutional amendment were to become law.

February 10, 2012
AM Alert: California Democrats to pick their primary colors

Let the endorsements begin: The California Democratic Party votes this weekend on its official candidate picks for the June 5 primary.

The party's convention runs today through Sunday, with party Chairman John Burton and former White House aide Van Jones kicking things off tonight in San Diego. Come back to Capitol Alert during the weekend for full coverage.

Political junkies will be paying close watch to Saturday afternoon's endorsing caucuses for districts in which no candidate got enough votes at the pre-endorsement conference to get recommended outright. That would include the 31st Congressional District, where incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are slugging it out.

The rules are such that if two incumbents are running in the same district, a candidate will need a 60 percent vote in caucus to land an endorsement recommendation. Berman and Sherman are the only two incumbents running in the same district who will be considered by an endorsing caucus.

But wait, there's more. Incumbents who aren't facing another incumbent have a lower threshold to meet: 50 percent of the votes, plus one. That would include Assemblymen Richard Pan of Sacramento, who's running in the 9th Assembly District, and V. Manuel Pérez of Coachella, who's running in the 56th, neither of whom face caucus challengers.

Non-incumbents, meanwhile, need 60 percent to get a recommendation. That makes it a different story for the 50th Assembly District race, which is pitting incumbent Betsy Butler, who moved into the district, against challengers Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom.

You'll find the list of candidates eligible to participate in the endorsing caucuses here. Party officials have posted a memo explaining caucus details at this link.

This link will open up the official pre-endorsement list, which includes six legislative districts for which no endorsement recommendation was made. One of the orphans is the 8th Assembly District, an East Sacramento swing seat where Democrats Ken Cooley, Chris Parker and Larry Miles now face Republican contenders Barbara Ortega and Peter Tateishi.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is speaking at Saturday's luncheon, as we've reported before, and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota is talking to the Saturday dinner crowd. Gov. Jerry Brown and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are among those speaking Saturday morning. Find more information at the party's website.

PET GROOMING: Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, is holding a presser at 11 a.m. at Nate's Point Dog Park in Balboa Park with pet groomers and pet owners to draw attention to his Senate Bill 969 (also called Lucy's Law, named for a dog) to regulate the pet grooming industry and to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors decision to oppose it.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, turns 52 on Saturday.



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Capitol Alert Staff


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

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

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert. mmassimino@sacbee.com

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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