Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 11, 2012
Al Franken ribs California Democratic Party chair John Burton

SAN DIEGO - California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton isn't cursing much this weekend.

But two months after Burton's interview on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" prompted correspondent John Oliver to remark, "You curse more than a West Coast rapper," U.S. Sen. Al Franken suggested tonight that Burton's reputation is intact.

"I used to be in the entertainment business, where you can pretty much say anything you want," the Minnesota Democrat and former comedian told a dinner crowd at the California Democratic Party's annual convention in San Diego. "I have to keep reminding myself that in politics it's very different, and I've just got to keep reminding myself not to say certain things, and I want to thank John for reminding me so dramatically when he was on the 'Daily Show.'"

Franken offered an appreciative audience perhaps more red meat than at any other event so far this weekend.

Praising the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for ruling California's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, Franken said, "At one point the majority wrote that the only effect of Prop. 8 was to 'lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians.'

"To which proponents of Prop. 8 replied, 'Yeah, and?'"

Franken cast Republicans as obstructionists only interested in defeating President Barack Obama in November.

"The question is, what are we going to do about it? The answer is simple: It's time for some negative reinforcement."

He said, "If the only thing they care about is winning, the only thing we can do to change their behavior is to beat them."

February 11, 2012
Kamala Harris pledges to double down on lender abuse cases

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said today she is "doubling down" on prosecutions of predatory lending and other cases of lender misconduct in the wake of the $26 billion mortgage settlement announced last week.

"We're just now starting to lace 'em up," the state's top law enforcement official told delegates during the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

Harris said she is expanding her mortage fraud task force to continue fighting for relief in what she called "a crime perpetrated against the middle class."

"California wasn't just the epicenter of the crash," she said of the housing crisis. "Let's call it what it is, the scene of the crime."

Harris said the settlement reached between banks, the Obama administration and 49 state attorneys general will provide Golden State home owners with $18 billion in relief, which she hailed as " 900 percent more than the crumbs they were putting on the table when we first entered the door."

"After more than a year of standing tough against the banks and standing alone when necessary, we have won a California commitment," she said.

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton praised Harris' role in the settlement, saying "without this one person that deal wouldn't have happened because that deal would have been done in a back boardroom."  

Harris, who was first elected to statewide office in 2010, received some of the loudest cheers and applause of the day and a standing ovation from delegates as she argued that California's ideas and dreams are "too big to fail."

February 11, 2012
Feinstein: Obama contraception compromise 'can be lived with'

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SAN DIEGO -- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed disappointment
Saturday in the compromise the Obama administration announced this week on its birth control coverage mandate, but said the decision "can be lived with."

"I regret the fact that the president felt he had to do it, but he had to do it," she told reporters after speaking at the California Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

The Obama administration announced Friday that it would not force certain religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals to comply with a health regulation requiring employers to provide employees with access to free contraceptives. While the faith-based employers will be able to opt out of the rule, insurance companies will be required to provide such coverage at no cost to the employer.

The Feinstein's comment put her in contrast with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who defended the administration's move yesterday. Pelosi told reporters that the move demonstrated Obama's unifying leadership abilities and an ongoing commitment to women's health.

The remark came after the 78-year-old Democrat, who is up for re-election this year, told Democrats attending the convention's Saturday luncheon that re-electing Obama must be their "first order of business" in 2012.

"We must re-elect a man who restored America's image abroad, who saved the American auto industry and who has worked tirelessly to bring this county back from an economic catastrophe he actually inherited," she said. "We have to come together like we have never come together before to re-elect Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States."

Feinstein, who is not expected to face a top-tier challenger this year, urged attendees to get involved in issues she has been championing in Washington, D.C., and California, including legislation to ban the military from detaining American citizens on U.S. soil indefinitely and to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

She called 1996 federal law restricting rights for same-sex couples, which the Obama administration says it will no longer defend, "diabolical."

"It was wrong when it was introduced, it is wrong today and we must change it," she said. 

Feinstein also made a pitch for a proposed health insurance rate regulation initiative backed by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Consumer Watchdog. She urged attendees to sign the petition to help qualfify the initiative, which would give the insurance commissioner the power to block proposed increases in the cost of coverage.

"Please become part in this movement," she said, directing attendees to signature-gatherers waiting outside. "It is important and you could actually be directly affected by it." 


Obama compromises on contraception mandate, but reservations remain

February 11, 2012
Jerry Brown sidesteps taxes, says 'marching orders' coming

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Gov. Jerry Brown speaks Saturday at the state Democratic Party convention.
AP photo/Gregory Bull

SAN DIEGO - While supporters of a competing "millionaire's tax" waved banners outside, Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged today having a "few issues" with his own bid to raise taxes.

But in a speech to California Democrats at their annual convention, Brown said almost nothing more about an issue central to his agenda and to a growing rift between Democrats in this election year.

"Look, we've got some issues. We've got a tax measure, we have a little, few issues there, and we'll be talking about that from time to time," he said. "You'll get your marching orders soon enough."

Backstage, Brown told reporters, "I think you guys have to take each speech one at a time ... We have a good plan. We've laid it out, and now we have our work to do, and we're going to do it."

February 11, 2012
Van Jones: 'Millionaire tax' will energize young voters

SAN DIEGO -- Backers of a "millionaire's tax" proposed for the November ballot got a boost from activist and former Obama adviser Van Jones last night.

Jones, the guest speaker at the Friday night kick-off of the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego, told attendees that a tax on top earners would motivate young voters facing large student loan debt and dismal job prospects in a down economy.

"That will get their attention," he said. "The idea that the people who have already climbed that ladder have to give back to them, that's the pathway forward I think to electrify that generation."

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Nurses Association are trying to qualify an income tax hike on Californians earning more than $1 million for the November ballot to fund schools and other services. Jones did not specify whether he was referencing that proposal or the general idea of a millioniare's tax, but the remarks drew applause from the crowd gathered at the Friday night reception. Supporters of the initiative have been out in full force during the annual party gathering, distributing signs and campaign literature promoting the plan.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has filed his own tax initiative to help balance the state budget, is scheduled to address the convention delegates later this morning. He has argued that a ballot with multiple tax initiatives will increase the chances of failure for all measures aimed at budget relief. His proposal would temporarily raise income tax rates for California's top earners and enact a half-cent sales tax increase.


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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