Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 17, 2012
Jerry Brown: California to reopen foreign trade offices in China

Nine years after California disbanded its foreign trade offices amid controversy, Gov. Jerry Brown announced today that the state will open two offices in China.

California shut down 12 taxpayer-funded trade offices in 2003, after the Legislative Analyst's Office, among other observers, questioned their effectiveness and cost. Brown's office said in a statement that new trade offices in Shanghai and Beijing will be financed by "partners in the private sector."

"The Pacific Rim has become the center of the world economy, presenting California with countless opportunities to grow alongside our neighbors across the ocean," Brown said in a prepared statement. "The office will encourage direct investment and further strengthen the existing ties between the world's second- and ninth-largest economies."

The announcement coincides with a visit to Los Angeles by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. The Democratic governor is in Los Angeles today hosting him.

The idea of reestablishing a presence in China came up last year, when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would seek to reopen California's foreign trade offices, first in China.

February 17, 2012
Cook says 13 California congressional seats may be competitive

A fourth of California's 53 congressional seats could be competitive in this year's elections, thanks to extensive district boundary changes by the state's independent redistricting commission, says a new analysis by the Cook Political Report.

The Cook report is considered to be an objective analysis of national political trends and its list of California districts that loom as potentially competitive is contained in a nationwide rundown.

Many of the 13 California districts on the list are either held by incumbents or have incumbents running after changing addresses, while others are open seats without incumbents.

The incumbent seats are those held by Democrats Jim Costa, Lois Capps, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney and Republicans Dan Lungren, Gary Miller, Brian Bilbray, Jeff Denham and Mary Bono.

The most threatened incumbents are in the "tossup" districts and Cook sees them as Republicans Lungren, Miller and Bilbray. Others are in districts that are more likely to go to one party or the other.

February 17, 2012
Second 'per diem session' of year protects lawmakers' incomes

The California Legislature conducted its second "per diem session" of the year Friday, with both legislative houses meeting briefly, thereby allowing their members to leave town for a three-day holiday weekend without losing their $141.86 per day, tax-free expense payments.

Had the Legislature not met Friday and observed Monday's Presidents' Day holiday, lawmakers would have lost the payments for four days, totaling nearly $70,000.

The Senate met for about 20 minutes, doing little more than ceremonial events. The Assembly devoted its session, about 45 minutes, mostly to a resolution marking the 70th anniversary of the 1942 presidential order, issued in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, that citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry, many of them in California, be rounded up and placed in internment camps.

The per diem payments, averaging more than $25,000 per year per legislator on top of their salaries, are supposed to compensate legislators for housing and meals in Sacramento. The state constitution says that the payments continue seven days a week, as long as the Legislature is not out of session for more than three consecutive days.

The Legislature's long-standing practice is to meet from Monday to Thursday - the latter having been dubbed "getaway day" -- unless there's a crunch of business, but when there's a Monday holiday, it routinely has brief sessions on Fridays to avoid violating the three-day rule.

In effect, it's a four-day weekend because members are off duty from Friday morning until Tuesday. A few members, however, don't accept the per diem payments.

February 17, 2012
Kristin Olsen seeks online posting of CA legislators' office budgets

California legislators would be required to post their office budgets and monthly office expenditures online under legislation proposed this week by a Republican assemblywoman.

Modesto Republican Kristin Olsen said her bill is needed because the Legislature often does not hold itself to the same standards of openness and transparency that it requires of other government agencies.

The Assembly lost a court fight last year after withholding office budgets as confidential documents. A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled that member-by-member budgets are public records and ordered them released.

Olsen's Assembly Bill 1730 would require the office budgets posted online to include all allocations and expenditures, including caucus supplements, travel expenses, office rent and staff salaries.

AB 1730 does not mention committee budgets, which often are used by Assembly members to help pay salaries of personal aides. Olsen plans to amend the bill to include committee expenditures, spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons said.

February 17, 2012
AM Alert: Jerry Brown continues diplomatic role with Xi Jinping

Gov. Jerry Brown is still in Southern California hanging out with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, while legislators are gearing up in Sacramento for the long weekend by attending per diem sessions.

Brown continues his diplomatic role with China's likely next leader, speaking this morning at the China/U.S. economic trade forum being held at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live, then meeting privately with Xi at noon.

The governor will also deliver welcoming remarks at a luncheon honoring Xi that Vice President Joe Biden and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are also expected to attend. This afternoon, Brown hosts a round-table for other governors and Chinese officials. Xi leaves LAX tonight, and Brown and Villaraigosa will see him off.

"China has trillions of dollars in reserves, and they're going to be investing that increasingly throughout the world," Brown told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "I would like to see some of that money come into California for productive investment."

Xi's visit to Los Angeles has not been protest-free, with pro-Tibet supporters and others demonstrating outside China Mart's offices Thursday.

While Brown meets with Xi, Assemblyman Jerry Hill will be meeting with the guy who burglarized his garage back in 2001. The San Mateo Democrat, then a county supervisor, heard banging and found Mark Harvin, then 18, high on meth and alcohol, according to Hill's office.

Hill, a black belt in karate, "held on to him until police could come and take him away. ... In fact, he even sat the guy down and held him in place until the police arrived a few minutes later," the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time.

Harvin now works at San Mateo's Project Ninety, a substance abuse program he says saved his life. Harvin recently wrote Hill to request a meeting as part of his rehabilitation. They'll sit down today at 10 a.m. for the first time since they met in Hill's garage.

As for the Legislature's per diem sessions, those are the floor sessions scheduled to make sure legislators' per diem checks keep flowing over long weekends, since the rules are such that they don't get paid unless there's at least one session every three days. Both the Senate and the Assembly convene at 9 a.m. The next sessions are set for Tuesday after the Presidents Day holiday.

Next Friday is another red-letter day: It's the last day for legislators to introduce bills this year. Expect many trees to die.

LINCOLN DAY: Board of Equalization member George Runner will be speaking next Monday at the Sutter County Republican Central Committee's annual Lincoln Dinner starting at 6 p.m. He's titled his topic, "Will California ever be business-friendly again?" Listed guests include GOP Rep. Wally Herger; Sen. Doug LaMalfa, who's running for Herger's seat with Herger's endorsement; and Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, who has said he'll run for LaMalfa's Senate seat if LaMalfa winds up in Congress. The dinner starts at 6 p.m. at Ruthy's Bar & Oven Starlight Room, 229 Clark Ave., in Yuba City.

CAKE AND CANDLES: It's a big weekend for birthdays. Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, turns 42 today. On Saturday, Assemblymen Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, will celebrate, with Wieckowski turning 57 and Huffman turning 48. Then on Sunday, it's Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal's day. The Long Beach Democrat can put 72 candles on her cake.


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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