Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 30, 2013
Jerry Brown pardons 65 convicted criminals on eve of Easter

jerrybrown.jpgOn the day before Easter, Gov. Jerry Brown today pardoned 65 people who served sentences years ago for various crimes.

The announcement was similar to one the Democratic governor made on Christmas Eve, when Brown issued the majority of the 128 pardons he granted last year.

The people pardoned today were released from custody more than a decade ago and have not committed any crimes since being released, according to the governor's office. Most of the pardons were for drug or property crimes, though the group includes one murderer and two people convicted in manslaughter cases.

Brown is far more forgiving than his predecessors. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted 10 sentences and pardoned just 16 people while in office. Schwarzenegger's Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, granted no pardons.

A pardon is of symbolic significance to recipients. It can also help in job applications and allows an ex-felon in most cases to own a gun.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown explains his budget proposal doing a news conference at the California State Capitol in Sacramento in January. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

March 29, 2013
Northern California House members slam Delta plan

LS SAVE DELTA 2.JPGSoon after Gov. Jerry Brown this week unveiled more details of his draft plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, members of Congress from Northern California reacted no differently than they had earlier this month when the first part of it became public - they threw cold water on it.

The lawmakers called Brown's $23 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan "flawed," "rushed," "reckless" and "expensive."

They questioned the science behind the proposal, as well as its environmental impact. But the lawmakers' core concern appeared to be that the plan diverts too much water from the Delta through twin 35-mile tunnels to supply Central and Southern California.

"To solve California's water situation, we must find an approach that doesn't take the problems of one half of the state and lay them at the feet of the other half," said. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

"This is simply an expensive plumbing system that doesn't add a single drop to the state's water supply," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

"Moving forward could cause permanent harm to wildlife and devastate farmers, fishers and small business owners who depend on the Delta for their livelihoods," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

"Continuing with this plan, without getting input from all stakeholders, without considering other alternatives, and without specifying how the project will be paid for is a bad idea," said Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

In contrast, the Southern California Water Committee, which represents businesses, agricultural interests and water districts from roughly Bakersfield south, have praised the plan.

"Businesses, farmers, local elected leaders and public water agencies are all stepping up to support the Bay Delta Conservation Plan," said Charles Wilson, the committee's chairman, earlier this month.

PHOTO CREDIT: Shannon Lewis of Clarksburg, sits on the west steps of the State Capitol during a July 2012 rally to oppose the governor's proposal to build water conveyance tunnels through the delta. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

March 29, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Bay Bridge chickens come home to roost

A report finding structural issues in the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge affirms warnings that the Brown administration tried to squelch, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 29, 2013
AM Alert: California agencies debate big infrastructure projects

HighSpeedRailsigning.jpgThe California High-Speed Rail Authority is convening in Sacramento today to weigh issuing up to $810 million in bonds for projects linking the speedy new trains to existing local and regional rail. Starting at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento City Hall Council Chambers.

The sprawling rail project has run into criticism about financing. Earlier this week, the High-Speed Rail Authority tried to forestall legal battles by suing everyone.

Water plan: Today is the second of a two-day meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, an oversight agency that was birthed by the 2009 Delta Reform Act. The council doesn't wield too much clout when it comes to shaping a massive planned water project for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta -- it mostly has an advisory role -- and at today's meeting officials will be outlining plans for environmental impact reports. The meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza, 300 J St.

VIDEO: A state auditor report finding issues with the new Bay Bridge project vindicates The Bee, which reported on weaknesses in the bridge construction plan despite official pushback, Dan Walters notes.

Human trafficking: Looking ahead to the weekend, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is going to be hosting an event about human trafficking in California (there are several bills before the Legislature that deal with the issue, including AB 156, AB 694 and AB 795). The event starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Natomas Unified School District's education center, 1901 Arena Blvd.

Celebrations: Happy birthday to Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who is 44 years old today.

And a preemptive happy birthday to Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who will turn 61 on Sunday.

Also, an anticipatory happy Cesar Chavez Day! The actual holiday falls on Sunday, but the state of California -- and the agencies that will be closed -- observes it next Monday, April 1.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation authorizing initial construction of California's $68 billion high-speed rail line. By Marcio Jose Sanchez for AP Photo on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.

March 28, 2013
State auditor: California's net worth at negative $127.2 billion

RB_Prison_Construction_2009.JPGWere California's state government a business, it would be a candidate for insolvency with a negative net worth of $127.2 billion, according to an annual financial report issued by State Auditor Elaine Howle and the Bureau of State Audits.

The report, which covers the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, says that the state's negative status -- all of its assets minus all of its liabilities -- increased that year, largely because it spent more than it received in revenue.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the state's general fund spent $1.7 billion more than it received in revenues and wound up with an accumulated deficit of just under $23 billion from several years of red ink. Gov. Jerry Brown has referred to that and other budget gaps, mostly money owed to schools, as a "wall of debt" totaling more than $30 billion.

March 28, 2013
Middle class to pay more for health insurance, state study shows

Overhaul-Price Hikes.jpgMiddle class Californians counting on federal health-care reform to lower their insurance premiums are in for a double-digit shock next year, a new state study shows.

People or families who buy insurance for themselves could see rate increases of up to 30 percent. Milliman consulting group performed the analysis, but scope was limited to the individual market, meaning about 5 million Californians who do not receive insurance through their employer.

Millions of low-income Californians will see their costs plummet while costs rise for households where incomes exceed about $46,000 for an individual or $94,000 for a family of four, the study concluded.

Comparisons are skewed somewhat by stiffer coverage requirements for next year's plans, but the bottom line is that the poor are likely to pay significantly less than they do now while middle-class families dig deeper into pocketbooks.

"Our top priority is to provide Californians with affordable health insurance options, and we are pleased that most individuals will pay lower rates and receive better coverage," said Peter V. Lee, director of the state's health-care exchange, which commissioned the study.

March 28, 2013
Jerry Brown convenes advisory panel on defense industry

brownnga.jpgGov. Jerry Brown announced today he has convened a panel on military matters to advise the state on efforts to expand California's defense industry and to protect against federal budget cuts.

The formation of the Governor's Military Council comes as $85 billion in across-the-board, federal spending reductions start taking effect under sequestration.

"California plays a crucial role in our nation's defense, and military bases and activities are vital to our state's economy," Brown said in a prepared statement. "As federal priorities shift to cyber security and new military technology, this council will work to expand defense-industry jobs and investment in California."

The Democratic governor appointed Ellen Tauscher, a former Democratic congresswoman and undersecretary in the State Department, to chair the panel. She said in a prepared statement that the panel "will send a unified message to Washington, D.C., that highlights the value" of military bases in California.

The Department of Defense employs more than 236,000 people in the state, according to the governor's office.

The council is scheduled to convene for one year, drafting recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

The 18-member panel includes Republican and Democratic lawmakers, retired military admirals and generals and the adjutant general of the California National Guard. Their positions on the panel are unpaid.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington on Feb. 24, 2013. AP Photo/ Manuel Balce Ceneta

March 28, 2013
California AG Kamala Harris reaping Prop. 8 PR bonanza

Harris.PNGCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris has been hitting for the cycle before, during and after the Supreme Court arguments on the Proposition 8 gay marriage case.

While not the only official from California to travel to the East Coast for the historic arguments Tuesday -- San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera was also in town, among others -- Harris proved particularly alluring to reporters.

Accompanied by her press secretary, Gil Duran, the Democratic AG has been making the rounds.

On Sunday, she appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," declaring that the case is a matter "of equal protection under the law."

On Monday, the eve of the oral arguments, Harris made media phone calls and met with some reporters in person, including a pair from the Bee and from the San Francisco Chronicle.

On Tuesday, Harris appeared on PBS's "Newshour" and on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show."

On Thursday, Harris appeared on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" to discuss both the Proposition 8 as well as the Defense of Marriage Act case.

Harris spent part of her time explaining her decision not to defend Proposition 8 in the long-running legal battle, a fact the court confronted when addressing whether the initiative's sponsors have legal standing to defend it in court.

PHOTO CREDIT: Attorney General Kamala Harris appearing on ABC news from Washington on Tuesday. ABC News

March 28, 2013
Lawsuit challenging Amador County casino moved to Sacramento

MAJ_ELEISHA_HAYES.JPGA lawsuit challenging a proposed tribal casino in Amador County has been shifted to federal court in Sacramento, and away from a Washington, D.C.-based court.

In an 11-page decision Thursday, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer sided with the Interior Department officials who wanted the lawsuit relocated to California.

The lawsuit, filed by Nicolas Villa, Jr., challenges the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire in trust land in Amador County for Indian gaming purposes.Villa alleges that Interior should not have acquired the land nor recognized the Ione Band of Miwok Indians as a "restored tribe" under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Villa, in essence, leads what he calls the true Ione Band of Miwok Indians of California.

Collyer concluded, among other things, that "The Eastern District of California is located much closer to Villa's home and is perfectly capable of deciding this case carefully and fairly."

PHOTO CREDIT: Slot machines at the San Pablo casino of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians in 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Michael A. Jones

March 28, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: CalPERS backs off clean tech

Dan's amused that CalPERS chief investment officer Joseph Dear thinks clean technology is a money loser, a clear break from the position many of California's leaders espouse.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 28, 2013
AM Alert: California officials wade into Delta plan

Delta_delta.JPGA trickle of details has widened into a river as officials formulate an ambitious new water plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Today the Delta Stewardship Council is meeting to discuss how to balance two interlocking goals: enhanced water delivery and environmental protection. (The Council can hear appeals and make recommendations but cannot alter the plan itself.)

That will include giving staff final instructions for preparing an environmental impact report. The daylong meeting convenes at 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza, 300 J St.

The council isn't the only public agency meeting in Sacramento today. The California Health Facilities Financing Authority is also convening to consider, among other things, issuing up to $450 million in revenue bonds to improve facilities at Sutter Health. That starts at 1:30 p.m. at 915 Capitol Mall, room 587.

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown has emphasized the economic potential of clean technology, but Dan Walters is amused that the CalPERS investment guru doesn't seem to agree.

March 27, 2013
Rhee's CA strategy will be shaped by former Speaker Núñez

FabianNunez3.JPG

Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has landed a new client for his Mercury Public Affairs firm: StudentsFirst, the education advocacy group headed by Michelle Rhee.

The contract with the former Democratic lawmaker is yet another sign that Rhee plans to push her brand of education policy in California, even though unions and many Democrats reject her ideas -- and her attempt last year to get a bill introduced in the Legislature failed.

Núñez will be advising Rhee's group on its political and legislative strategy for California.

"My role here is one of helping them provide strategy, and to the extent necessary, direction in helping to solve some of these issues and how to get the job done," Núñez said in a phone interview with The Bee.

"There are some things you will see in the next few weeks and months that will make it very clear that StudentsFirst is coming to the table."

Rhee advocates in favor of charter schools, publicly-funded vouchers for children to attend private school, linking teachers' job performance with their students' test scores and doing away with seniority as a criteria during lay-offs. She founded StudentsFirst as a lobbying organization aimed at curtailing the power of teachers unions in state and local politics. The group poured $250,000 into backing three school board candidates in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the area Núñez represented as a lawmaker.

"Fabian has a long record of fighting for our children, and his leadership and guidance will be critical to our efforts to ensure that all California students - regardless of their background, their zip code, or their parents' income - receive the great education they deserve," Rhee said in a statement.

Photo credit: Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, 2008. Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer

March 27, 2013
CA lawmakers spending spring break in Poland, Taiwan

Connie_Conway_SOTS.jpgAt least two groups of lawmakers are spending their spring recess from the Capitol on overseas trips underwritten by outside groups.

Six lawmakers and the president of the Public Utilities Commission are in Poland on an eight-day trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a nonprofit group bankrolled by dozens of donors, including labor, energy, environmental and telecommunications interests.

In a separate trip, a nine-member delegation of the Assembly, including GOP leader Connie Conway, is in Taiwan to promote bilateral exchanges in trade and culture.

Lawmakers took $329,000 in free trips last year, according to financial disclosure statements filed in March.

March 27, 2013
VIDEO: Jerry Brown meets fourth graders, talks mule meat

brownhistory.jpgGov. Jerry Brown's interest in history is expansive, but there are two things he appears to enjoy more than most.

The first is quizzing schoolchildren about California's earliest explorers, as he has done since before taking office in 2011. The second is mule meat.

Happening by a group of fourth graders on the Capitol steps this afternoon, Brown asked if anyone had heard of the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola, and if anyone knew what year he came to California.

The students and the Democratic governor settled on 1769, and Brown went on to recount a story he told in his State of the State address in January about the fortitude of explorers who were "forced to eat the flesh of emaciated pack mules."

Brown toned it down slightly for the students, saying "they ate mule meat, and the mules weren't very healthy."

Brown, who was returning to his office from having his portrait taken on the Capitol grounds, went on to discuss how long it took for settlements to take hold in California.

As he left, he said, "That's it. That's the history lesson for the day."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to students outside the Capitol Wednesday. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 27, 2013
Willie Washington, longtime manufacturers' lobbyist, dies

williewashington.jpegFuneral services for Willie Washington, a lobbyist for California manufacturers for more than a quarter century, will be held Friday.

Washington, who retired from the California Manufacturers and Technology Association in 2006, died March 19. He was 77.

Washington, a native of North Carolina, served 22 years in the Air Force , much of that time in Sacramento, before joining Lockheed Aircraft Service Co. in 1977, working for the company in Iran and experiencing the country's bloody revolution in 1979. He returned to the United States that year and moved back to Sacramento as a lobbyist for Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel.

Eight years later, he joined the manufacturers' association and represented its 400 members in the Capitol for the next 19 years. He once told an interviewer for the Sacramento Business Journal that his pet peeve was encountering "preconceived assumptions of my views on social issues" because he was black.

"People look at me and if they are blacks or liberals, assume that I have the same views on issues that they do," Washington told the Journal in 2001. "Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't."

March 27, 2013
Jerry Brown names Evan Westrup press secretary

RB_Jerry_Brown_Budget_4.JPGFollowing the resignations of his press secretary and chief deputy press secretary, Gov. Jerry Brown has promoted a spokesman from within his office to oversee the administration's Spartan communications effort.

Evan Westrup, 31, was Brown's deputy press secretary in his 2010 campaign for governor and joined the administration in the same capacity when Brown took office in 2011.

Westrup's appointment, announced today, follows the resignations of press secretary Gil Duran and chief deputy press secretary Elizabeth Ashford. Duran has already left the administration. Ashford will leave next month. When she does, Westrup will oversee a shoestring office of three people, including himself.

Like Brown, Westrup is a Democrat. He will be paid $130,000 a year.

Westrup previously worked as a deputy press secretary for Brown when Brown was state attorney general, and as an associate communications director for Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Gov. Jerry Brown explains his budget proposal during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

March 27, 2013
Jerry Brown touts clean tech, but CalPERS sees it as a loser

Joe Dear.JPGGov. Jerry Brown and other California political figures, especially Democrats, have frequently touted "clean tech" as the key ingredient in the state's economic future.

However, the state's own big pension fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System, apparently sees it as a loser.

While running for governor in 2010, Brown promised to fast-track permits for solar energy projects and take other steps to move the state away from dependence on oil and other carbon-based energy sources, promising that it would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

A few months after becoming governor again, Brown flew to Blythe in the middle of summer to break ground on what would become, he and others said, the largest solar energy project in the world, saying, "This is really big."

"It's not for the faint of heart," Brown told a conference on renewable industry. "Scientific and technological progress moves by trial and error."

It's apparently mostly error, however, in the view of CalPERS. Joseph Dear, its chief investment officer, told a Wall Street Journal-sponsored conference on the environment and the economy last week that CalPERS is reducing its investment in such technology because it's a loser.

March 27, 2013
Special election set for Assembly District 80

Ben_Hueso_Special_Election.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has announced special election dates for the 80th Assembly District seat Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, vacated earlier this month.

The primary election will be held May 21. If no candidates attains the 50-percent-plus-one vote share needed to avoid a runoff, the top two finishers will square off in a July 30 general election.

The Legislature has been in flux somewhat since former state senators Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, ascended to Congress in November. Hueso took over Vargas' old Senate seat; Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, and Ontario Mayor Paul Leon will face off for McLeod's seat in a May runoff.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Ben Hueso, seen last year when he was serving in the Assembly. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 27, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Sweeping decision unlikely in Prop. 8 case

There's been a lot of fanfare as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs arguments for and against Proposition 8, but Dan says a sweeping ruling that settles the issue of same-sex marriage is unlikely.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 27, 2013
AM Alert: Jerry Brown adviser kicks off manufacturing summit

manufacturing.JPGRepresentatives from dozens of universities, economic development firms and manufacturing associations are descending on Sacramento today for a summit on revitalizing manufacturing that's being hosted by Gov. Jerry Brown's Office for Business and Economic Development.

Mike Rossi, Brown's senior jobs adviser, will kick off the all-day event in the Governor's Press Room. Brown's office has cast it as a response to President Barack Obama's call to spur more domestic manufacturing.

A few hundred miles south, California lawmakers will be taking on another of Obama's priority issues this term as Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, and state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, discuss immigration reform at an event hosted by the organization LA Voice. The event starts at 8:30 p.m. at Los Angeles City Hall.

VIDEO: There's a lot of excitement swirling around the U.S. Supreme Court taking on gay marriage, but Dan Walters says the issue will still be far from settled when the justices rule.

March 26, 2013
Ami Bera sequesters himself, pledges cut of pay to charity

bera.jpgRep. Ami Bera said today that he is donating to charity a percentage of his salary equal to the across-the-board, federal budget cuts that took effect this month.

Bera's pledge comes as the Elk Grove Democrat -- and other incumbent politicians of both parties -- continue to take criticism over the sequester's $85 billion in mandatory budget cuts.

Bera said he will donate 8.2 percent of his salary, or $1,189, to a different charity each month through September, the end of the fiscal year. His first contribution, this month, was to a Meals on Wheels program in Sacramento County. He said he decided to donate a percentage of his salary last week after reading a story about the Meals on Wheels program in The Bee.

Bera said sequestration is a "dumb way to do business" but that elected officials should share in the pain.

"The message to my colleagues in Congress is, if we're going to ask everyone else to tighten their belts, we have to tighten our belts first," Bera said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has put up online advertisements claiming Bera was among lawmakers culpable for allowing the sequester to take effect, a claim repeated by an NRCC spokeswoman in an email today.

Though Congress members' salaries are not affected by the sequester, the 8.2 percent figure is in line with what members of Congress have been told to reduce their office budgets.

The amount is slightly less than the 8.4 percent calculated by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Duckworth said before the sequester took effect that she would return 8.4 percent of her salary to the U.S. Treasury each month.

Bera said he opted to donate his money instead of returning it to help programs affected by federal budget cuts. He said he does not plan to claim the contributions as charitable donations for tax purposes.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ami Bera at a press conference in 2012. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee

March 26, 2013
Senate hopeful has same residency issue as ex-Sen. Rubio

LeticiaPerez.jpgSenate Democrats' pick to replace former state Sen. Michael Rubio in a Central Valley district is on the move -- literally.

Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, a Kern County Supervisor, learned this week that she will have to find a new home by Friday in order to run in the May special election for the seat Rubio gave up to take a job with Chevron Corp. earlier this year.

Perez apparently faces the same residency issue Rubio, her former boss, experienced when he first ran for the state Senate in 2010: her home is in a part of Bakersfield that election officials mistakenly included in the 16th Senate District for years

Rubio moved during his campaign and later had to short sell his original home. That sale, along with his later purchase of an El Dorado Hills house, involved an oil executive who gave to his campaign. Both transactions are the subject of a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which has yet to decide whether to open a formal investigation.

March 26, 2013
Rapid response: Reaction to Prop. 8 hearing at Supreme Court

RA_AD5_PUGNO (2).JPGHere are some of the statements issued by those commenting on today's hearings on Proposition 8 at the U.S. Supreme Court.

We'll add more as they come in.

Folsom attorney Andy Pugno, Proposition 8 author

Today we made legal history by presenting a bold, thoughtful and compelling case to the United States Supreme Court supporting the People's right to vote in favor of marriage being between a man and a woman. Every effort in the past four and a half years since voters passed Prop 8-- from choosing our distinguished legal team to filing numerous briefs with the California Supreme Court, the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, to participating in a week-long trial, and all points in between -- has led us to today's historic moment before our country's highest court. ...

March 26, 2013
The highs and lows of California's health care spending

RP EFFORT KUMAR.JPGHealth care has become, by most measures, the largest single piece of the California economy, well over 10 percent of its $2 trillion output of goods and services -- and destined to grow as the state extends medical insurance coverage to millions of Californians under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, a new nationwide study finds that as large as it may be, the health care spending in California has been relatively small, compared to other states.

The statistical compilation by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis found that as of 2009, the latest year for which complete data were available, California was sixth lowest among the states in public and private health care spending as a proportion of its economy. The state's relative spending, 12.5 percent of its economy, was just 84 percent of the national average.

March 26, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: More pension shenanigans

A former county supervisor whose pension will pay over $400,000 a year? No wonder so many California cities and counties are struggling financially, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 26, 2013
AM Alert: California rethinks chemicals and fire safety

FIREBROADWAY.JPG

The Legislature is still in recess, but the state bureaucracy churns on. You may not have heard of the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, but they're holding a hearing today on a pretty big public safety topic.

At issue are the regulations around fireproofing furniture. At Gov. Jerry Brown's prodding, the California Department of Consumer Affairs has released revised draft standards that would require furniture to withstand a "smoldering" fire source rather than open flame. The upshot is that furniture would no longer need to contain fire-resistant chemicals that advocates single out as a significant health hazard.

The meeting, which marks the end of the public comment period for the new rules, is at the Department of Consumer Affairs building in Sacramento, 1625 North Market Blvd, at 10 a.m. Advocates for the change are holding a presser outside ahead of the meeting.

VIDEO: Dan Walters wonders how it's possible, with so many cities and counties in woeful economic shape, for a former Alameda County official to receive pension benefits worth more than $400,000 a year.

This could be a momentous week for the gay rights movement. Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenging Proposition 8.'s outlawing same-sex marriage in California. You can click here for a handy primer on the implications, but it's possible that the Justices will issue a narrow ruling tailored to California, a nationally relevant endorsement of rights for same-sex couples, or something in between.

Plenty of California elected officials have urged the Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8. They include the mayors of Sacramento, Oakland and Los Angeles and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. The Obama administration is also on board.

There has been a lot of talk this session about reshaping California's educational system to better prepare youngsters for the working world, a topic the Public Policy Institute of California is addressing at a lunchtime hearing today. The talk on educating the future workforce will run from noon to 1:30 at the CSAC Conference Center (1020 11th Street, second floor) and will feature PPIC's Mark Baldassare, Sarah Bohn and Hans Johnson.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sacramento Fire Department line after a two-alarm fire broke out in April 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 25, 2013
Percentage of independent California voters inches upward

voterreg.jpgThe proportion of Californians eschewing party politics continued to gradually increase over the past two years, with nearly 21 percent of the electorate now registered to vote with no party preference, according to a report today by the California secretary of state.

The increase is less than half a percentage point over the last off-year registration report, in 2011.

Meanwhile, the proportion of voters registered to vote Democratic declined to 43.93 percent from 44.04 percent in February 2011, while Republican registration dropped to 28.94 percent from 30.88 percent two years ago, according to the report. In 2005, the GOP could claim 34.5 percent of registered voters.

The total number of registered voters now stands at about 18.1 million, down from 18.2 million in fall 2012. In the last off year report, two years ago, total registration was about 17.2 million.

PHOTO CREDIT: Elections officials in Sacramento County on Oct. 1, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/ Renée C. Byer

March 25, 2013
California mayors urge Supreme Court to overturn Prop. 8

gaymarriage.jpgAs the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on California's same-sex marriage ban Tuesday, mayors of 25 California cities are urging the court to find the measure, Proposition 8, unconstitutional.

"As mayors, we have a responsibility to unite our cities, not divide them," the mayors say in a statement circulated by the liberal Courage Campaign. "Key to that is building family integrity, including insuring all loving, committed couples in our cities have the same freedoms and rights."

Mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Oakland are among those who have signed the statement. The statement does not include the signature of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, an opponent of Proposition 8.

Lee ordered a rainbow flag to be flown at San Francisco City Hall through Wednesday, and he issued a statement of his own.

"Here in San Francisco, we stand ready to once again to begin marrying same sex couples," he said. "We remain as deeply committed to the fight for marriage equality today as we were nearly nine years ago when then Mayor Gavin Newsom led the charge on one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation to ensure equal protections and rights for all."

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday about the same-sex marriage ban California voters adopted in 2008. A federal appeals court previously ruled the ban unconstitutional.

Editor's note: Post updated at 2:35 p.m. to include remarks from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Skrebes of Washington reads on Saturday, while waiting in line with others outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin

March 25, 2013
Poll: Californians back gun control, immigration reform

GunControl.jpg

Clear majorities of Californians across the ideological spectrum support measures to reduce violence and overhaul the U.S. immigration system, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Congress has tackled immigration with a renewed sense of urgency this year, and California voters agree with the premise that the current laws are in need of overhaul: 67 percent of respondents to the poll said the current system is not working.

Nearly three-quarters of California voters backed President Barack Obama's framework, which includes tightened border security, tougher restrictions to ensure employers hire legal workers and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The poll found strong support when it broke those components into separate questions -- 75 percent of voters backed stricter employment verification, a figure that rose to over 80 percent for border security and a route to citizenship.

While registered Republicans were less likely to support those proposals, they were more receptive than in past surveys. A 45-percent plurality of Republicans backed the citizenship option, outstripping the third who favored deportation.

"You see the Republican party, at least in California moving away from a deportation mentality," David Kanevsky of the research firm American Viewpoint said in a conference call with reporters.

March 25, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Goodwill, California charities do battle

Dan tells the strange tale of a special-interest fight over who gets to accept charity donations.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 25, 2013
AM Alert: It's spring break for California legislators

emptysenate.JPGWhat's something California legislators and college students have in common? They get to take a hiatus from their responsibilities each spring. The Legislature will reconvene on Monday, April 1.

Just because legislators aren't conducting business doesn't mean there won't be any activity in the building. The final two rounds of the Poetry Out Loud state finals, in which high school students compete in reading famous poems from the likes of Shelley, Coleridge and Dickinson, get under way at 8 a.m. this morning in the Senate Chambers.

VIDEO: Sacramento politics are fundamentally about interests vying for a slice of the pie, Dan Walters says, and a tussle over charity donations provides a bizarre example.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll gauges how Californians view topics like immigration and gun control, finding strong support for the latter. Dan Schnur, director of USC's Unruh Institute of Politics, will be discussing the poll's findings on a conference call this morning.

Away from the vacated California Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear a potentially momentous case that originated in the state. Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which centers on whether the voter-passed Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional. A separate case about the constitutional status of the federal Defense of Marriage Act comes the day after.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Senate chambers won't be this empty all week, although they will be devoid of lawmakers. By Jeremy B. White for The Sacramento Bee on March 22, 2013.

March 24, 2013
California AG Harris: Gay marriage is a 'fundamental right'

PK_KHARRIS166.JPGCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris said Sunday that two gay marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this week were about a "fundamental right" in the U.S. Constitution.

The high court will hear a challenge to Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriages in California that voters approved in 2008, as well as part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress approved in 1996.

"This is a matter of equal protection under the law," Harris said on CNN. "Same-sex couples should be afforded equal status under the law."

Harris filed a friend of the court brief last month in support of overturning Proposition 8. She also argued that the sponsors of the ban lacked the standing to defend the law in court because they could not prove they were harmed by same-sex marriages.

Harris and her predecessor, current Gov. Jerry Brown, declined to defend the measure in a series of federal court challenges that led to the Supreme Court.

In the nearly five years since Proposition 8 passed by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, public opinion has shifted in the California and the nation. A Field Poll conducted last month found 61 percent favored gay marriage, while 32 percent opposed it.

Though opponents of gay marriage frequently say that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman in the interest of raising children, supporters say that's precisely why marriage should be extended to gay couples -- for the benefit of their children.

"We have 50,000 children in California right now who are asking, 'why can't my parents be married, too?'" Harris said.

March 22, 2013
CA House races with same-party challenge also under way

BB DNC DAY 2 0626.JPGToday's Sacramento Bee takes a look at some of the very early campaign action in California congressional districts that are expected to be home to big fights between Democrats and Republicans in 2014.

Races unlikely to switch party hands are picking up as well.

California's new election laws, which allow two candidates from the same party to compete in the general election, mean tough primary challenges can extend into the fall. Two incumbents, Democratic Reps. Joe Baca and Pete Stark, lost to members of the same party as a result of the change in last year's election.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, is already trying to fend off a possible challenge from Ro Khanna, a 36-year-old attorney and former Obama appointee, in Silicon Valley's 17th Congressional District.

Khanna, who has more than $1 million in campaign funds in the bank, has yet to announce formal plans to run. But Honda is readying for a challenge by holding fundraising events to build a campaign war chest and trumpeting early endorsements from Obama, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel. This week, Honda's team released an internal poll that gives the congressman a 52-point lead over his potential challenger.

"Smart campaigns are hard working and prepared campaigns," Honda campaign spokesman Dan Cohen said. "The congressman and his team realize that if there is a race, they want to have the best possible team that's prepared and ready to win. And if there isn't, then they've done their homework."

RELATED STORIES:
Competition means an early start for California House campaigns
Ex GOP Rep. Doug Ose weighs challenge to Democrat Ami Bera
Elizabeth Emken eyes challenging Ami Bera in Sacramento seat

PHOTO CREDIT: Rep. Mike Honda speaks at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Brian Baer / Sacramento Bee file, 2008

March 22, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Little hope of pay hike for unpopular electeds

Dan muses on the fact that a commission is weighing whether to change how California lawmakers are paid just as a new poll shows slim public support for the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 22, 2013
AM Alert: Committee dominoes fall in California Legislature

HuesoRanchero.jpgAs of the end of business Thursday, the Legislature is on spring recess. So kick back and join us for AM Alert: Recess Edition.

Yesterday we brought you news that the legislator formerly known as Assemblyman Ben Hueso is now officially Sen. Ben Hueso. The San Diego Democrat's job move produced a small cascade of new committee assignments in the Legislature.

Hueso is no longer on the Assembly's Housing and Community Development Committee, the Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy Committee or the Local Government Committee.

Freshman Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, will take over Hueso's chairmanship of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. (Rendon has some experience with environmental issues, having formerly served as executive director for the California League of Conservation Voters.)

Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, will replace Rendon as assistant majority floor leader.

There are also some changes flowing from former senator Michael Rubio's resignation in February. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, took Rubio's spot atop the Committee on Environmental Quality, where he'll have an influential role in CEQA reform; as a result, Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, will take Hill's former spots on the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review and on Budget Subcommittee 4 on State Administration and General Government.

VIDEO: The Citizens Compensation Commission is considering public salaries at an inauspicious time for elected officials, Dan Walters notes: new polls suggest Californians don't think too highly of their representatives.

Today is the start of the California Correctional Crisis Conference at UC Hastings College of the Law, exploring prison overcrowding and realignment. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who has revived a bill that could reduce sentences for low-level drugs offenders, is the keynote speaker. Other attendees include corrections officials, academics and Benjamin Rice, general counsel for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Prisoner advocates plan to rally in front of the California State Building in San Francisco, where the conference is taking place.

Happy birthday to Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who turns 44 today, and to Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who is 40.

PHOTO CREDIT: A new job for Sen. Ben Hueso, seen here on May 29, 2012, means changes elsewhere in the Legislature. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

March 21, 2013
Speaker Pérez seeks future in education policy

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Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said he is looking for opportunities to work on education issues after he terms out of office in 2014.

"I would love to stay in the Legislature. That is what I would love to do. I'm just not allowed to do it under the law," Pérez said in a public conversation today with Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

He went on to say that enacting term limits is "one of the most negative decisions the voters have made."

"It has hurt us as a state," Pérez said.

Pérez said he "may very well not run for another office for a while" because he is termed out of the Assembly and the Senate seat representing his Los Angeles district is filled.

"There's nothing that's really out there," he said.

"I want to do something where I can still be engaged in public policy discussions. But I also want to do something where I still interact with other folks that I enjoy. The greatest enjoyment I get is working with students, whether K-12 students or university students. So I want to do something where I can interact with students."

March 21, 2013
Steinberg pushes privately funded career training program

steintotheb.jpgCiting a desire to get the business community involved in public education, Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is promoting a bill that would encourage industry to invest in what he's calling "social investment bonds."

Steinberg's SB 594 would authorize California to issue bonds aimed at curbing high school dropout rates by creating programs that train high school students for specific careers. Businesses would be encouraged to put money into those bonds with a promise of a high return on their investment if the program met certain measures of success like graduating more students.

"The principle behind it, which is unique and could be far-reaching in the state and the country, is to say to private industry 'you can do better financially by investing in high schools than you do investing in Wall Street,'" Steinberg said.

The bill would also establish regional trust funds that would be governed by district superintendents, community college leaders and business and industry leaders. Those funds would be used to pay for initiatives like developing new curricula tailored to certain careers and funding fellowship or apprenticeship programs.

March 21, 2013
Advocates celebrate Affordable Care Act's third anniversary

APTOPIX_Supreme_Court_Health_Care.jpgLove it or hate it, here it comes. Health-care advocates held a series of events throughout California on Thursday to celebrate the third anniversary of Congress' passage of the Affordable Care Act and to urge state officials to move quickly in preparing for its implementation in January.

"We think this is important to California's future, as transformative, as the building of the railroad or the establishment of the University of California," Anthony Wright, director of Health Access, said of Obamacare. "We need to embrace it fully and urgently."

Federal health-care reform cleared its final congressional hurdle and was sent to President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Hotly contested, the massive reform measure was designed to overhaul health insurance in a way that ensures that nearly all Americans purchase at least a basic level of medical coverage or pay a penalty.

Health Access, a nonprofit group supporting Obamacare, released a report Thursday that concluded millions of Californians already have benefited from consumer protections, subsidized care, business tax credits, or changes in insurance coverage sparked by the Affordable Care Act.

March 21, 2013
Pay panel boss says changes to CA lawmakers' pay unlikely

thomas.JPGThe chairman of the state panel that sets pay for California legislators and statewide officials said today he expects the salaries to remain the same next year, even if the state's finances are strong enough to justify raises.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission met for about an hour today in Sacramento, but decided to delay a decision until after the panel gets an updated report on the state's fiscal health from the Department of Finance. By law, the commission cannot raise officials' pay unless the state shows a surplus in May.

Commission Chairman Thomas Dalzell said he sees it as "very unlikely" that members decide to increase -- or reduce -- pay levels when they meet again on June 13. Giving raises in the first year of a projected surplus, he said, would "probably be unseemly."

"The economy's fairly volatile and things could flip around and I think there are priorities greater than the legislator and constitutional officer salaries," he said after the meeting. "What we do is largely symbolic because it has no significant effect on the budget, but I think it's important symbolically to not rush ahead and to restore the cuts on the first year out."

March 21, 2013
Ben Hueso takes Senate seat, restores Democratic supermajority

photo.JPGSen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was sworn in Thursday morning, restoring a two-thirds supermajority Senate Democrats had temporarily lost.

At his swearing in, Hueso spoke about his father's experience of emigrating from Mexico, obtaining an education at San Diego State University and eventually sending several children to college. Flanked by his wife and four sons, he talked about sustaining those types of opportunities.

"I want to dedicate my service here to ensure that, together," lawmakers can "offer [Californians] in the future opportunities they do not have today," Hueso said.

The homage to Hueso's Mexican heritage continued when he left the Senate chambers, where a traditional mariachi band greeted him.

Hueso formerly served in the Assembly. He won the 40th Senate district seat that U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, surrendered after his election to Congress in November.

PHOTO CREDIT: Newly sworn in Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, speaks at a reception on March 21, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White

March 21, 2013
Jerry Brown's communications office shrinks further

RB_Jerry_Brown_Budget_4.JPGGov. Jerry Brown's shoestring communications office is shrinking even further.

Elizabeth Ashford, Brown's chief deputy press secretary, will leave the administration in April.

Her resignation follows the resignation last month of Brown's press secretary, Gil Duran. That position has not been filled.

In an email, Ashford cited family concerns and said she plans to work as a communications and public affairs consultant.

"I'm indebted to the Governor and Anne (Gust Brown) for the opportunity to work here over these incredible two years," she wrote.

Ashford, 38, was chief deputy communications director and chief deputy Cabinet secretary in former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, and she later worked as a spokeswoman for BP.

Brown's communications office will be down to three people when Ashford leaves. That is the same number it had during the first month of Brown's term, before the administration staffed up.

"After more than fulfilling her two-year commitment to the administration earlier this year -- and recently tying the knot with her now LA-based husband -- we knew we'd lose Elizabeth soon," Evan Westrup, Brown's deputy press secretary, said in an email. "We're sad that day has come, but we're incredibly grateful for her service."

PHOTO CREDIT: California Gov. Jerry Brown explains his budget proposal during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

March 21, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: High-speed rail's declining popularity

Public support for high-speed rail is declining even as Gov. Jerry Brown and allies push forward on the project, Dan says.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 21, 2013
AM Alert: What will Affordable Care Act mean for California?

US NEWS SCOTUS-HEALTH.jpg

It's been just under three years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the gradual march toward implementation continues. Covered California, the state's ACA-mandated insurance exchange, is taking stock of California's progress with a meeting today.

Board members will cover such topics as eligibility, enrollment and proposed federal rules during a day-long meeting at the California Department of Health Care Services Building, 1500 Capitol St.

Also this morning, Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is joining a 10:30 a.m. conference call to discuss a new Health Access report on how California is adjusting to the health-care overhaul.

Meanwhile, a panel of experts will be talking about what it will all mean for California, from the millions of residents who stand to gain insurance to the businesses that will see new requirements for covering employees. The discussion will be moderated by Christopher Flavelle, a health care analyst for Bloomberg Government, and will feature Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation; Dr. Dylan Roby of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research; and Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand.

VIDEO: Dan Walters notes that public support for high-speed rail is shrinking as the project's price tag continues to rise.

The Senate gets a fresh face today: Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, gets sworn in this morning at 9 a.m. in the Senate chambers. Hueso is claiming the 40th Senate District seat that U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, abdicated after he won election to Congress in November. Fun party conversation starter: Hueso will be the 1,145th person to serve in the California state Senate.

March 20, 2013
Jerry Brown talks Warren Beatty and California's 'many personalities'

JV_032013_Warren_Beatty.JPGGov. Jerry Brown followed Warren Beatty onto the red carpet at the California Museum this evening, where Brown inducted the movie star and several other people into the California Hall of Fame.

Beatty, a longtime supporter of Brown, called the Democratic governor the "most astute governor in the nation," while Brown called Beatty "somebody I've been talking to and arguing with for decades."

Brown told reporters the annual Hall of Fame event is important to honor Californians who have made significant contributions to the state.

"Tonight is just letting California express itself and its many personalities," the third-term governor said.

Behind Beatty and Brown came Joe Montana, and a cheer went up.

The football star shrugged off a question about Brown.

"Everybody must like him," Montana said. "He's back again, right?"

March 20, 2013
PPIC poll shows division over high-speed rail, water bond

brownrail.jpgCalifornians remain sharply divided about California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, even as officials prepare to start construction in the Central Valley this year, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released tonight.

Forty-eight percent of adults favor the project, while 50 percent oppose it, according to the poll. Opposition is even greater among likely voters, 54 percent to 43 percent.

In addition to division over high-speed rail, a majority of likely voters -- 51 percent -- oppose an $11.1 billion water bond scheduled for the November 2014 ballot. The bond, tied politically to Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to build two water-diverting tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, includes funding for dams, wastewater treatment and other water infrastructure projects.

March 20, 2013
Jerry Brown says panel shouldn't cut elected officials' pay

browncarpet.jpgGov. Jerry Brown said this evening that the commission that sets pay packages for lawmakers and constitutional officers, including the governor, should not further reduce any officials' pay.

Brown, appearing at a California Hall of Fame event in Sacramento, declined to say if he thought any pay raises are warranted.

"I'm not going to get into that," Brown said ahead of a meeting Thursday of the Citizens Compensation Commission. "I certainly don't think they should be reducing anybody's."

Brown's remarks come just hours after his office was forced to backtrack on two appointments to the panel. The governor's office determined, after announcing the appointees, that under state statute they could not serve.

The Democratic governor said "people should read the statutes more closely," but he added, "There are accidents."

The commission has sharply reduced pay and benefits for elected officials in recent years.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters on the red carpet at a California Hall of Fame event in Sacramento on March 20, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

March 20, 2013
Appointments to California pay panel yanked before meeting

Jerry_Brown_Online_Education.jpgOne chair will be empty when an independent commission convenes Thursday to consider whether pay for California's elected officials is too high, too low or just right.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Wednesday that he was naming Democrats LeRoy Chatfield and Nora Vargas to vacancies on the seven-member Citizens Compensation Commission, which sets pay packages for constitutional officers, including the governor, and state legislators.

But the Democratic governor's office backtracked just hours later, saying the appointments "were announced prematurely."

"Under statute, prior employment with the state of California precludes these individuals from serving on the commission," that statement says. "When new appointments are made, they will be announced."

Chatfield, who publishes an online literary journal and Web publication related to the farmworker movement, served as an appointee on several boards and commissions when Brown was governor in the 1970s and 1980s. A 1976 Newsweek article also identified him as travelling secretary on the young Brown's presidential campaign.

Vargas, the vice president of community engagement at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, is ineligible because she spent one year as a legislative relations specialist at San Diego State University.

Filling the two vacant seats would give Brown a majority of appointees on the commission. Three of the five members now serving were named to the commission by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Later in the day, Brown named Nancy C. Miller, an attorney from Sacramento, to fill one of the vacancies.

The panel has slashed pay and benefits for elected officials over the last several years, most recently instituting a 5 percent salary cut and axing a program that provided on-the-job cars for state legislators. Annual pay for governor dropped from $212,179 to $165,288 between 2005 and December 2012, while starting salaries for members of the state Legislature went from $116,208 to $90,526 in that period. State legislators are also eligible for roughly $30,000 in per diem payments.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m.Thursday at Sacramento City Hall for their annual review of elected officials' pay.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/ Jeff Chiu)

Editor's Note: This post was updated to reflect Miller's appointment. Updated at 6:37 p.m. on March 20, 2013.

March 20, 2013
Former Oakland state Sen. Nicholas Petris dies

NicholasPetris.jpgNicholas Petris, who served in the California Legislature for 37 years, representing Oakland and other East Bay communities, died Wednesday morning. He was 90.

Petris died at Piedmont Gardens, an Oakland retirement and nursing facility, after a years-long struggle with dementia.

Democrat Petris was regarded as a leading liberal voice during his long career in the Assembly and the Senate before being compelled to retire in 1996 by term limits. He was a major advocate of tax reform, farmworker rights, mental health services (the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act) and environmental protection. He penned laws banning smoking on airplanes, trains and buses, and required redevelopment agencies to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

Petris, who was of Greek ancestry, often peppered his floor speeches with references to ancient Greek scholars.

Services are scheduled for the Greek Orthodox Church in Oakland, 4700 Lincoln Ave., at 11 a.m. Tuesday. A viewing will take place Monday night at 7 p.m. at the church.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Nicholas Petris, D-Oakland, is honored on his last day in the Legislature in 1996. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 20, 2013
Assembly Republican leadership team takes shape

connie.jpgAssembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, has named nine members to the lower house's GOP leadership team for the 2013-2014 legislative session. Here is a list of the appointments:

Assistant Republican Floor Leader: Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills

Deputy Republican Floor Leader: Donald Wagner, R-Irvine

Assembly Republican Caucus Chair: Brian Jones, R-Santee

Assembly Rules Committee Vice Chair: Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita

Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair: Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo

Assembly Appropriations Committee Vice Chair: Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point

Chief Republican Whip: Dan Logue, R-Marysville

Republican Whips: Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego; Marie Waldron, R-Escondido

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, seen here after Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address on Jan. 23, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 20, 2013
California was No. 4 in tax burden before Proposition 30 passed

RP GOVERNOR PROP 30 SIGN.JPGCalifornians carried the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden as a proportion of their personal incomes in 2010 - and that was before voters increased sales and income taxes last year - according to the latest national tax survey by the Tax Foundation.

California's state and local tax burden in 2010 was 11.2 percent of personal income, putting the state behind only No. 1 New York (12.8 percent), New Jersey (12.4 percent) and Connecticut (12.3 percent).

On a per capita basis, California's state-local tax burden in 2010 was sixth highest at $4,934.

Last year, voters passed Proposition 30, which raises the state's sales tax rate by a half-cent and imposes additional income taxes on the highest-income Californians. It is supposed to raise about $6 billion a year to close the state budget deficit, and that would add less than a half-percent to the tax burden, leaving it still below Connecticut's proportion.

Proposition 30 did, however, give California the nation's highest marginal income tax rate at 13.3 percent for those with taxable incomes of $1 million and above, jumping over Hawaii's 11 percent, the Tax Foundation reported.

March 20, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: The amazing shrinking California?

A confluence of demographic changes could halt California's population growth, which for decades has seemed unstoppable. Dan talks about the potential consequences.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 20, 2013
AM Alert: Agriculture Day comes to the California Capitol

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The smell of livestock wafting down L Street can mean only one thing: It's Agriculture Day at the state Capitol. Festivities get under way at 10:30 a.m., when lawmakers and their staff are invited to explore the booths (and tractors) around the Capitol grounds near the west steps. The public gets to meander through from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There will also be a lunchtime presentation of something called the World's Largest School Lunch Tray, which is precisely what it sounds like. An oversized recreation of the lunch trays familiar to California schoolchildren will be used to feed hundreds of elementary school students. The massive meal is being put together with some help from the people at the PBS program "Bringing It Home with Laura McIntosh," as she emcees the event.

Ag day also gives lawmakers with agricultural backgrounds a chance to display their bona fides. Freshman Assemblyman and rancher Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, easily identifiable around the building thanks to his trademark white rancher's hat, is going to speaking throughout the day, including at a steak and eggs breakfast for the California Cattlemen at the Sutter Club.

VIDEO: California's longstanding pattern of constant population growth could be changing, and Dan Walters says that could bring a wide array of changes.

March 19, 2013
CA lawmakers hear benefits of drone competition

DomesticDroneBill.jpgPlans to boost California's burgeoning drone industry could generate billions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the state, industry representatives told Assembly members on Tuesday.

Much of the public debate about unmanned aircraft has focused on armed drones that patrol the skies in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, hunting for militants. In a recent Senate filibuster, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul crystallized anxiety about the lethal technology being turned on Americans on U.S. soil.

But there is also growing interest in the potential domestic applications of unarmed drones. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the Federal Aviation Administration to start creating a system for regulating and licensing unmanned aircraft, a process that will entail launching six special test sites. At a Tuesday hearing, lawmakers talked about how to ensure one of those sites is in California.

"Simply put, unmanned aircraft systems are the next big thing in the aerospace industry," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. "We need to make sure that California continues to be a national and global leader in aerospace," he added. He said groups in 37 states have been working on applications.

March 19, 2013
Settlement reached in fight over In-Home Supportive Services

JD_IHSS_HEARING.JPGRecipients of in-home care services for low-income disabled and elderly California residents can breathe a little easier today, after a tentative settlement was announced in a court fight over proposed cuts to the program.

The pact will end three class-action lawsuits challenging proposals to cut hours, services and state reimbursement rates in an effort to help California survive years of budget crisis, from 2009 to 2012.

Service hours for In-Home Supportive Services will be cut by an additional 4.4 percent under the agreement beginning July 1, reflecting a nearly 8 percent cut since 2011. The state is expected to save an estimated $160 million in 2013-14. But the reduction is a far cry from the 20 percent cut that was ordered by the state in late 2011 but suspended by a federal judge.

Both sides expect the outlook to brighten in years ahead: 1 percent of the 8 percent cut will be restored in spring 2014, and the pact includes a strategy for rescinding the remaining cuts, perhaps in 2015.

Unionized in-home support services compensate caregivers, often relatives, for providing services such as cooking, bathing and driving to medical appointments. Without such help, many recipients would be forced into more costly nursing homes, advocates say.

Service Employees International Union and a nonprofit group, Disability Rights California, led the court fight against the state's proposed cuts. The agreement is tentative because its terms require legislative action.

PHOTO CREDIT: Supporters of In-Home Supportive Services watch then-Sen. Wesley Chesbro on a TV during a Senate subcommittee hearing in the Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, May 20, 2004. John Decker / Sacramento Bee file, 2004

March 19, 2013
Assembly committee rejects adult education program shift

adulted.JPGAn Assembly budget subcommittee voted Tuesday to reject Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to shift adult education responsibilities from K-12 school districts to the California Community Colleges system.

Brown's proposal would shift $300 million in Proposition 98 funding to community colleges to provide adult education programs. Another $15.7 million was slated for apprenticeship programs at community colleges. In turn, the proposal would have eliminated the requirement that K-12 school districts provide adult education programs.

The shift was part of Brown's proposal to change how schools are financed through his "Local Control Funding Formula," which provides more money to at-risk children and gives school districts greater control over their money by eliminating most categorical funds earmarked for specific programs.

March 19, 2013
Darrell Steinberg endorses Leticia Perez to replace Michael Rubio

Darrell_Steinberg.jpgThe field is taking shape to replace Shafter Democrat Michael Rubio in the state Senate, and President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has endorsed Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez for the job.

As The Fresno Bee's John Ellis explains in this post, the race is now likely a three-way affair between Perez, fellow Democrat Fran Florez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

"Leticia Perez is well known and respected for being a fiscal conservative and a proven advocate for equal rights, good paying jobs, public education, and safe neighborhoods," Steinberg said in a prepared release. "I am very happy she will be adding her voice to the State Senate to strongly advocate for the people of the Central Valley."

PHOTO CREDIT: Darrell Steinberg speaks on the Senate floor in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 19, 2013
Republican lawmakers push bills challenging realignment

realignmentpress.jpgRepublican lawmakers, citing a number of high-profile crimes and presenting a victim in a wheelchair to reporters at a news conference, called this morning for adoption of a package of legislation to modify or roll back provisions of California's historic prison realignment.

In more than a dozen bills, the Republican lawmakers are seeking to return certain parole violators to prison, to increase penalties for offenders who disable court-ordered GPS devices and to increase funding for counties, among other measures.

The first of those bills, a measure by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, was rejected by the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week. Democrats opposing the measure, which would send sex offenders who violate parole back to state prisons instead of county jail, said the bill runs counter to the state's effort to reduce its prison population under a court order.

Republicans expect many of the other bills to fail in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, as well.

The Republicans brought to their news conference a woman they said was attacked last year by a former boyfriend who had been arrested the previous month on a parole violation for failing to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to 100 days in jail but served just two days due to overcrowding at the jail, according to the Republican lawmakers.

"This is beyond statistics," State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said, motioning to the 21-year-old woman, Brandy Arreola. "There, ask Brandy if crime is going up."

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, flanked by Republican lawmakers and supporters, addresses reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

March 19, 2013
Cal Lutheran economist sees California's population declining

Declining birth and migration rates have slowed California's population growth to a crawl and "it's only a matter of time before California's population declines," California Lutheran University economist Bill Watkins declares in a new report on the state's demographic and economic prospects.

Such a decline, Watkins says, would mean that "all of California's problems will be much harder to solve than they are today."

Although California appears to be adding jobs slowly as it recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, Watkins continues, the state's economic future is cloudy. Despite recent real estate price increases, he doubts whether they imply that a new real estate boom is coming, particularly with much-slower population growth.

Watkins, the least optimistic of the economists who chart California's finances, released his new report today during a meeting of the California Taxpayers Association in Sacramento today.

March 19, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Are California's social tiers separating?

Dan says testimony at the Capitol about troubled water systems illustrated the gap between rich and poor in California.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


March 19, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers talk drones

drone.jpgOn a day filled with meetings about the budget, education and other more routine matters, drones are getting a shot at a committee hearing at the Capitol.

The Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace is scheduled at 3 p.m. to hear testimony on the Federal Aviation Administration's search for six test sites for drones - and a bid to make Ventura County one of them.

The presentation, "Manufacturing for Global Aviation: California's strategy to win a federal designation as an unmanned aerial vehicle test site," comes as interest in drones expands from the military to local law enforcement and civilian applications, with related privacy concerns.

Earlier in the day, a budget subcommittee on education finance will consider Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposals regarding adult education and online learning, while a budget subcommittee on state administration will get an overview of the state's failed MyCalPays payroll system upgrade, a quarter-billion-dollar project Controller John Chiang halted last month.

VIDEO: Is the gap between rich and poor widening in California? Dan Walters says the signs are there.

Senate and Assembly Republicans will roll out a package of bills seeking to change California's historic prison realignment.

March 18, 2013
More students, faculty raises part of CSU proposed budget

onlineclass.JPGThe California State University system hopes to add 6,000 students, provide raises to faculty and staff and address rate increases for employee health care benefits using an additional $125.1 million in funding allocated in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed state budget.

CSU officials previewed their proposed spending plan for 2013-2014 in a media teleconference Monday in advance of presenting their plan to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

Fee hikes that have become routine in recent years to address budget cuts to the 23-campus system are not included in the proposal, said Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget.

"I think everyone understands what our students have been through the last few years," Turnage said. "It's very clear that we need a break."

Turnage said the addition of $125.1 million from the Proposition 30 tax increase is divided into three main categories dealing mandatory cost increases, a compensation pool and student success.

March 18, 2013
California bullet train board OKs sale of $8.6 billion in bonds

High Speed Rail.JPGThe California High-Speed Rail Authority, brushing aside questions about their legality, Monday approved two major steps toward construction of a north-south bullet train system.

By unanimous votes, the five-member governing board approved a "memorandum of understanding" to "blend" the bullet train with local commuter rail service on the San Francisco Peninsula and ask state officials to sell up to $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds to begin construction on an inititial segment in the San Joaquin Valley.

The CHSRA hopes to break ground later this year on the 130-mile segment from near Merced to north of Bakersfield, using about $3 billion in state bond money and another $3 billion from the federal government. The state bonds will actually be sold only as needed for construction, officials said.


March 18, 2013
Steve Maviglio returns to Capitol as Pérez spokesman

maviglio.JPGPolitical consultant Steve Maviglio is serving as spokesman for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez on a three-month contract to fill a vacancy left by Robin Swanson's departure earlier this month.

Maviglio, 54, returns to the Capitol, where he was formerly a spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis and the deputy chief of staff to Assembly speakers Fabian Núñez and Karen Bass. He is earning $9,500 a month.

"I've spent most of my career under a dome," said Maviglio, who worked in politics in Washington, D.C. and New Hampshire prior to arriving in Sacramento in 2000.

Maviglio left the Assembly in 2008 with a state pension after Assembly leaders approved a controversial program to encourage early retirements by offering additional service credit to enhance retirement pay. The current contract does not affect that arrangement.

Maviglio's private consulting work includes clients such as Californians for Retirement Security, a public employee union coalition that opposed pension reforms adopted last year. He also ran Mayor Kevin Johnson's two successful campaigns.

Maviglio said he doesn't have any clients involved in Assembly matters at the moment. He said the opportunity to work with Pérez comes at an interesting time in California politics.

"Having the opportunity to work with the supermajority and get big things done, that's a rare opportunity in politics," Maviglio said. Pérez will leave the Assembly after next year due to term limits.

PHOTO CREDIT: Political consultant Steve Maviglio in a 2004 file photo. The Sacramento Bee/John Decker.

March 18, 2013
Supreme Court to hear Sierra Nevada forest challenge

RP LAKE TAHOE KAYAK.JPGA long-running Sierra Nevada forest controversy has now captured the U.S. Supreme Court's attention.

On Monday, the court agreed to hear a case pitting environmentalists with the Portland-based Pacific Rivers Council against the U.S. Forest Service. The case, which will be heard sometime during the 2013 Term that begins in October, involves the ability of the environmentalists to sue the federal agency as well as questions about Forest Service planning on 11 Sierra Nevada forests.

In a decision last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the environmentalists in ruling that the Forest Service failed in 2004 to adequately study the effects of forest policy on individual fish species. The Obama administration, in appealing that court loss to the Supreme Court, said the question is whether the Forest Service must "analyze every type of environmental effect that any project ultimately authorized" on the 11 California forests "might have."

PHOTO CREDIT: A kayaker paddles along the south shore of Lake Tahoe under the watchful eye of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 18, 2013
AM Alert: California legislators weighing water, housing

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A few days after officials began releasing draft details on Gov. Jerry Brown's multibillion dollar water plan, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, is holding a hearing to scrutinize the state's record on delivering clean drinking water. It starts at 10 a.m. in room 437 of the state Capitol.

While there are some signs that the housing market in California may be fitfully emerging from its long downturn, there are still concerns about a lack of affordable housing. A joint hearing of the Assembly Committee on Housing and the Community Development and Committee on Revenue and Taxation is taking a look at how state government is spending money on housing. Starting at 1:30 p.m. in room 126.

Look for the Assembly to vote today to send $2 million ASAP to Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office for extra help to work down a six-week backlog of business filings. Then look for Assembly Democrats to stand with statewide business representatives to praise the quick action after the Bee's Jon Ortiz reported the backlog.

March 15, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Battle lines being drawn over CEQA

With a big battle looming over the California Environmental Quality Act, Dan says labor unions and environmentalists could thwart Gov. Jerry Brown's ambition to overhaul the law.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 15, 2013
AM Alert: Golfing with the California Senate president pro tem

Darrell_Steinberg.jpgHave you got tens of thousands of dollars and an interest in Democratic politics? Then get yourself to La Jolla and follow the thwack of golf balls to the 2013 Pro Tem Cup. Tickets range from $15,000 for a single day of golf to the $65,000 two-day platinum package, which gets you two days of golf for four and dinner with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Those prices have gone up a bit since last year, when the minimum contribution to the annual California Democratic Party fundraiser was $10,000 for a one-day pass. Jason Kinney, a consultant for Senate Democrats, told Capitol Alert that "aggressive fundraising" is par for the course (sorry, we couldn't resist).

"As long as there are billionaires out there determined to spend money to defeat our candidates and oppose our causes, we're going to keep doing it," Kinney said.

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown has gotten behind CEQA reform, but Dan Walters says two major Democratic allies -- labor unions and environmentalists -- stand in the way.

March 14, 2013
Ravel talks about FPPC's plans for tracking political money

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California Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman Ann Ravel spoke to The Bee's editorial board Thursday about how she plans to use the remainder of her tenure tracking money in California politics.

The FPPC has its eye on a few bills that could bolster the 1974 Political Reform Act, which lays out the contours of the FPPC's authority. Ravel said it is focused in particular on bills by Assemblyman Roger Dicksinon, D-Sacramento, Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, that would tighten disclosure requirements.

The language in those bills is still developing, but Ravel said she is interested in measures that could require more information about "independent expenditures," the third-party dollars that have flooded into elections in the last few years, and more clearly define what it means to say those independent organizations are prohibited from "coordinating" with campaigns.

March 14, 2013
VIDEO: Sens. Feinstein, Cruz duel over assault weapon legislation

The U.S. Senate Judiciary committee today advanced Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill to ban assault weapons, but not until the California Democrat mixed it up with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. See the exchange below. You can also see it at this link.

March 14, 2013
California Republicans invite Democrat to assess state of GOP

Jim_Brulte_Rich_Pedroncelli_AP_030313.JPGIn a bit of cognitive behavioral therapy -- or masochism -- leaders of the California Republican Party have invited a Democratic strategist to a retreat this weekend to tell them, more or less, how bad they are.

The strategist, Garry South, has been highly critical of the Republican Party's inability to adapt to California's changing demographics, among other failures. Republicans hold no statewide office, and party registration has fallen below 30 percent statewide.

"It's a pretty depressing presentation if you're a Republican," South said. "So I may have a doctor on hand to issue Prozac prescriptions."

South and former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, the new chairman of the state Republican Party, are colleagues at the government affairs firm California Strategies, and for several years they have made joint presentations to various groups about politics in California.

"For years, I've read and listened to Garry South's diatribes against Republicans, sometimes when he was sitting at my elbow on panels," Brulte said in an emailed statement. "I thought I would put him to the test and see if he would be willing to say the same things in a room full of Republicans, to their faces. To my surprise, he agreed."

South said his presentation to CRP board members in Ontario on Saturday will include no advice about a potential recovery, only an account of how low the state Republican Party has fallen.

"I don't think it's helping them," South said. "It's the same presentation I've given to everybody from the dentists to the insurance agents."

South chuckled, said he's looking forward to it and added, "I'm wearing my bulletproof vest."

PHOTO CREDIT: Former state Sen. Jim Brulte talks with reporters after being elected as California Republican Party chairman during the CRP convention held in Sacramento on Sunday, March 3, 2013. San Francisco County Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon, left, was elected as the party's vice chairperson, the first woman to hold the position. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)

March 14, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Proposed legislation could worsen local debt

Even though California's state and local governments face billions of dollars in debt, the Legislature is considering whether to let local governments issue bonds that would exacerbate the problem, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 14, 2013
AM Alert: Audits approved for Salton Sea fund, gun tracking

SALTONTREE.JPGWe mentioned yesterday that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee was considering a bushel of new audit proposals.

Several of them got the green light, including an audit of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund, requested by Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella.

Here are others that were approved:

• State tracking of information on mentally ill people and guns. (The Senate voted recently to allocate millions of dollars more to that cause.) The audit was requested by Assemblymen Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, and Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa.

March 13, 2013
Steinberg, others 'hangout' to promote online college class bill

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 11.43.20 AM.pngWhen it came to unveiling a new push to create a series of online courses for California college and university students, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg thought it was fitting to deliver the news in a decidedly digital fashion.

So instead of holding a traditional press conference, the Sacramento Democrat and other supporters of the effort logged into Google to stage a "Hangout" video conference.

"(Technology) is overwhelmingly I think a positive force in our lives we want to use it to try to help as many young people, as many students, as possible be able to keep their dreams and compete in the modern economy," he said. "And so it felt like it was the right thing to do and consistent with that mission to hold this first-of-a-kind press conference using the very technology that we think can be part of the answer to the challenges our young people are facing today."

Reporters for several organizations, including The Bee, joined in via video chat as Steinberg, Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and several other backers of the online course proposal touted Senate Bill 520 as a way of improving access to higher education in the state. Other members of the press watched a live or via Web stream and submitted questions via email.

The bill would create what has been billed as the nation's first statewide offering of online college courses for credit. Under the proposal, a panel of college faculty would choose online options to offer for 50 heavily trafficked lower division courses in the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems. The classes would be open to students who needed the credits to advance in their degrees but were unable to enroll in traditional, in-person coursework due to full classes or other limitations. Key details, such as what classes would be offered, how much the courses would cost students and the state and how teachers will conduct quizzes and exams still need to be ironed out.

As for the "hangout," Steinberg's office says 124 viewers tuned in at the most-watched point in the conference. Aside from the camera shot giving several speakers a hair (and head) cut during the live video feed, the technology performed just fine.

RELATED STORIES:

Online instruction destined to increase in California colleges


PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, speaks via Google Hangout during a press conference on Senate Bill 520. Sacramento Bee/Torey Van Oot.

March 13, 2013
Jerry Brown: Glad Pope Francis is Jesuit but 'what ... do I know'

brownsanfrancisco.JPGSAN FRANCISCO -- Gov. Jerry Brown was answering a question at a news conference this afternoon about California's historic prison realignment when his thoughts turned to Rome.

"I'm certainly not saying we have a perfect situation," said Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian. "We don't have that prerogative that they have over there in Rome, of infallibility. We have impeccability, no peccability, I guess, that's the correct word. Yeah, we make mistakes, but we correct them as we go."

The answer prompted a follow-up question about the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit from Argentina who has taken the name Pope Francis. Brown, like everyone else with a smartphone, had learned about the selection about an hour before.

"I'm glad he's a Jesuit," Brown said. "He's from Argentina, so that might give him a broader perspective. He sees the world from the Southern Hemisphere."

However, the third-term governor said, "What the hell do I know? I thought Jesuits were not allowed to consider higher office -- at least they weren't in my day."

Brown was in San Francisco for a meeting of the University of California's governing board, and for a news conference with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown takes a pause outside a meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

March 13, 2013
Ed Hernandez's health care bills set stage for fight with doctors

Ed_Hernandez.jpgCiting a need for more medical professionals to be able to treat patients who will soon have health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ed Hernandez today introduced a package of bills allowing optometrists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners to expand the services they can offer patients.

The so-called "scope of practice" bills set the stage for a massive fight with the state's doctors, who will likely fight to protect their role as gatekeepers to medical care.

In a news conference at a Sacramento health clinic, Hernandez argued that because of a shortage of doctors in California, other kinds of medical professionals should be permitted to offer patients more care.

"Here in the state of California, we have a capacity issue. We have a work-force shortage," Hernandez said, adding that the problem is most severe in rural and inner-city areas.

With the federal health care overhaul kicking in, he said, nearly 5 million Californians who don't now have health insurance will be required to be insured as of next year.

"How is it that we're going to be requiring somebody to purchase health insurance, but yet they won't have access to a doctor?" Hernandez said. "This is what we need to address."

Hernandez's proposals will soon be spelled out in Senate Bills 491, 492 and 493. Sen. Fran Pavley is also working on Senate Bill 352, which would expand the scope of practice for physician's assistants.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, urges lawmakers to approve a Medi-Cal-related measure on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

March 13, 2013
Report: Unsealed document details threat against CA senator

RB Leland Yee 4 (1).JPGNew unsealed court documents detail the explicit threats a Santa Clara man upset about efforts to tighten gun laws made against Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.

Everett Fred Basham was arrested last month after law enforcement officials identified him as the alleged author of a death threat received by Yee and searched his Santa Clara home. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including some related to the possession of explosive materials and a gun found at his residence.

In an email sent to Yee's office in January, Basham wrote that he had "39 confirmed kills in afganistan (sic)...Don't make me get to 40."

The Mercury News story, posted in full at this link, has more on the threat:

The message proceeds with a nine-point list in which the author claims, among other things, to be a trained Marine sniper with "over 200 rounds of ammunition" and a high-powered rifle that "can hit a spinal cord at 1.5 miles making a head become red mist."

The numbered points grow increasingly specific: "I know where your office and where the state capital (sic) building is in Sacramento. I have hiding spots around both with clean view," followed by "I can wait hidden for you to walk past my mil dot scope," the latter part referring to a specific type of rifle targeting scope.

Yee's office has declined to provide further comment on the unsealed documents. His office referred to an earlier statement in which the senator said "these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence."

"This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic," the statement reads.

RELATED STORIES:

VIDEO: Yee details threat, says it won't stop gun control effort

Sen. Leland Yee receives threat after objecting to Limbaugh

PHOTO CREDIT: Sate Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco speaks to members of the press in his office at the Capitol in Sacramento on Thursday, February 14, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

March 13, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Odd job math

As lawmakers tout the job-generating potential of high speed rail and new water infrastructure, Dan says to be careful of the slippery way politicians count jobs.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 13, 2013
AM Alert: California Gov. Jerry Brown visits UC regents again

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VIDEO: Dan Walters explains why he's wary of the job numbers lawmakers trumpet when they're trying to sell voters on big new construction projects.

Gov. Jerry Brown has shown an unusually keen interest in meetings of the University of California regents so far this year, stopping by to push his proposal for expanding online education. He'll be at it again today, dropping in to a meeting at the conference center on the University of California, San Francisco's Mission Bay campus.

Speaking of online education, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg will be introducing a proposal today that would allow students to take courses online for credit. Appropriately, Steinberg will be unveiling the plan during an 11:30 a.m. Google+ hangout.

March 13, 2013
Senate Democrats get back supermajority with Hueso win

Ben_Hueso_Special_Election.jpgCalifornia Democrats have recaptured a supermajority in the state Senate as Democrat Ben Hueso sailed to victory in a special election for a vacant San Diego-area Senate seat Tuesday night.

Hueso, a state assemblyman from San Diego, had 52.3 percent of the vote in unofficial results in the race to replace former Sen. Juan Vargas in the 40th Senate District. Vargas resigned to assume a House seat he won in the November election. Because Hueso tallied above 50 percent, he won the seat outright, avoiding a later runoff election. He is scheduled to be sworn in on March 21.

The Senate briefly lost its supermajority status last month, when Sen. Michael Rubio, D-East Bakersfield, resigned unexpectedly to take a job with Chevron Corp.

The Assembly will hold on to its supermajority status when Hueso departs for the upper house, but not for long. At least one other Assembly Democrat, Bob Blumenfield, is expected to resign this summer to take a Los Angeles City Council seat he won in a recent primary. Successors to both Blumenfield and Hueso will be selected in later special elections.

The results of runoff elections for other Los Angeles seats being sought by current legislators and another vacant Senate district up for a vote Tuesday could also shift the balance of power in both houses.

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, tallied 43.6 percent of the vote Tuesday night in a contest for the Inland Empire's 32nd Senate District, which was left open when former state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, joined Congress in January.

Torres will face Republican Paul Leon, who had 26.4 percent of the vote, in a May 14 runoff.

The supermajority status could allow legislative Democrats to pass new taxes, place measures on the ballot and override a gubernatorial veto without any GOP votes. Most of the seats that are expected to open up as a result of the upcoming election dominoes are considered safe Democratic districts, leaving leaders with little cause for concern about the temporary shifts in their majority power.

PHOTO CREDIT: In this May 29, 2012 file photo, Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, talks with Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Hueso won Tuesday's special election for the 40 District Senate seat vacated by Juan Vargas, who was elected to the House of Representatives last November. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli, file)

March 12, 2013
California environmental review law backers rally at Capitol

The battle over the future of California's environmental review law waged on Tuesday, as a coalition of environmental groups, tribal organizations and labor unions rallied against the prospect of changes.

A push to rewrite the California Environmental Quality Act appears to have gained some traction in the Legislature this year, with Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg saying the law is in need of an update. Steinberg, who has introduced a framework bill on the topic, has held a series of meetings with advocates on both sides of the fight.

The law's defenders, coming together under the flag of "Common Ground California," doubled down on their efforts at Tuesday's press conference on the Capitol steps. California Labor Federation Executive Secretary Treasurer Art Pulaski blasted the calls for changes Tuesday, saying the law is "under attack by corporations and large-scale developers."

"An attack on CEQA is an attack on our workers, is an attack on our families and is an attack on our communities," he said.

March 12, 2013
Assembly panel kills bill to shift sex offender parole violators to prison

prison.JPGThe first in a series of bills challenging the state's prison realignment received a cold reception today in the Assembly Public Safety Committee as members rejected legislation that would send sex offenders who violate their parole back to state prisons instead of county jails.

The 4-2 vote fell along party lines on Assembly Bill 2, which was authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga. Democrats voting against AB 2 cited the negative impact on the state's efforts to satisfy a court-ordered mandate to drastically reduce the prison population.

The Assembly committee's analysis of the bill said "returning perhaps thousands of violators to state custody would erode realignment and not advance the goal of reducing the prison population to required levels."

March 12, 2013
$10,000 college degree just a 'sound bite,' says CSU chancellor

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During a visit with The Bee's editorial board today, the new chancellor of the California State University system shot down an idea Assemblyman Dan Logue has proposed to create a bachelor's degree that would cost students $10,000.

"A $10,000 degree is a good sound bite. But to be honest, it's flawed public policy because it's misleading," said Timothy P. White, who took the reins of the 23-campus system in December after spending four years leading UC Riverside.

Logue's Assembly Bill 51 calls for closer coordination between high schools, community colleges and California State University campuses, allowing students to earn some college credit in high school through Advanced Placement classes and greater access to community college courses.

White and other CSU leaders are in Sacramento for their annual day of advocacy and meetings with lawmakers. Building relationships with the large number of new legislators is a high priority, he said.

"If California cares about African American students being successful, we are a big part of the success story. Same for the Latino population. We graduate 17,000 Latinos every year. They are all going to vote, for these folks," White said, gesturing toward the Capitol.

"So I just want to remind them of the connection between our success and their success."

March 12, 2013
Stray animals 'killed'? Strike that

animalshelter040.JPGNo more killing of stray animals.

No more destroying them, either.

New legislation would strike those words from state law, requiring instead that animals be "humanely euthanized" if they are sick, stray or abandoned and an owner can't be found.

Assembly Bill 1045 would not alter the animals' fate, but it would change how the state describes it. Though it revises only a handful of words, the bill is 23 pages long because the words appear in multiple laws.

The purpose of the bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, is to "establish a more enlightened and humane law to guide animal control," said Anthony Matthews, Blumenfield's spokesman.

Among other things, the measure would replace the notion of "unwanted" animals with "surrendered" ones, housed in public facilities.

But don't call them "pounds."

AB 1045 would replace that, too.

With "animal shelters."

PHOTO CREDIT: Adult cats at the at the Sacramento County Animal Care Facility in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Andy Alfaro

March 12, 2013
California campaign pushes health care for undocumented immigrants

A television advertising campaign was launched in Sacramento, Los Angeles and the Bay Area this week to include undocumented immigrants in California's coming health-care reform.

The 60-second ad is the first in a yearlong, multimillion-dollar campaign by the California Endowment, a statewide health-care foundation, to push for preventive care and a strong safety net for undocumented immigrants or other residents who cannot afford private health insurance.

The TV ad is running in Sacramento on six broadcast stations and four cable stations, said Daniel Zingale, California Endowment senior vice president.

The ad features young, undocumented immigrants who note that the purpose of Obamacare is to ensure that Americans of all income levels have access to health care.

"Doesn't it make more sense to keep us all healthy instead of treating us after we get sick?" one immigrant asks in the ad.

March 12, 2013
California Legislature gets 'D' in online open records report

RB Leland Yee 1.JPGA new report sheds light on one place California's sun doesn't always shine: the state Capitol.

Golden State lawmakers' efforts to make public information accessible on the Web got a "D" grade in a report card released by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation this week.

The scores in the "Open Legislative Data Report Card" were based on assessments in six categories, including the completeness and timeliness of information available online and whether the formatting allows computer programs to "scrape" the data and put it in an easy-to-analyze form.

California was one of six states to receive a "D" rating. Eight states won the highest grade of "A," while six flunked.

March 12, 2013
Jerry Brown dines with Republicans, calls them 'good friends'

browndinner.jpgEver since Gov. Jerry Brown failed in budget talks two years ago to soften Republican lawmakers' resistance to higher taxes - a shortcoming Brown overcame with a ballot initiative in November - the Democratic governor has occasionally lamented the ineffectiveness of his social graces

"I poured a lot of good wine," Brown said last year. "I had them over to the loft ... but it didn't make any difference."

On Monday night, Brown dined once again with members of California's minority party - this time at the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento. The meeting is part of a series of dinners Brown is hosting for lawmakers this year, as the Legislature convenes its largest freshman class since 1966.

Brown is seeking legislative support for his budget plan and a variety of policy initiatives, including overhauling California's K-12 funding system and the state's signature environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Brown first met with a group of Democrats at the mansion in January. For the Republicans' turn on Monday, Brown posted a photograph on Facebook and a message that belied any lingering hard feelings: "In the Governor's mansion, breaking bread with good friends!"

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican lawmakers sit down for dinner at the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento on Monday, March 11. Posted on Facebook by Brown.

March 12, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Profligate pension personnel

Local public employee pension fund officials are going to be discussing how to handle spiraling costs at an upcoming conference in Hawaii; Dan wonders how they don't appreciate the irony.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 12, 2013
AM Alert: Special Senate elections in California's 32nd, 40th

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VIDEO: Another example of spending by public pension funds facing huge budget liabilities has Dan Walters scratching his head.

It's that magical time of year: the special Senate election primary day is today, with two races to fill the seats left vacant after former senators Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas moved on to Congress. In the 40th district, Vargas' old stomping grounds, Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, is the odds-on favorite; considering the dearth of strong opponents, Hueso looks like a decent bet to win the 50-percent-plus-one margin needed to avoid a runoff.

March 11, 2013
California chief justice says state is 'on the wrong side of history'

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California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye implored the Legislature on Monday to better fund the court system, tying the issue to a basic guarantee of justice.

In her second State of the Judiciary speech, Cantil-Sakauye spoke repeatedly of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, in which the United States Supreme Court established the right to counsel for defendants who couldn't afford a lawyer. Ongoing cuts imperil the Gideon precedent that all Americans get a fair chance in court, Cantil-Sakauye said.

"To have your day in court, you need a court room," Cantil-Sakauye said. "And I must say that what we once counted on, that courts would be open and ready and available to deliver prompt justice, is no longer true in California."

As yawning budget deficits became commonplace over the last few years, the court system was repeatedly asked to absorb deep cuts. Cantil-Sakauye has spoken often about the consequences for an overburdened justice system, a central theme of her State of the Judiciary speech last year.

Cantil-Sakauye's speech on Tuesday contained similar warnings. She invoked a list of slated courthouse closures and pointed to reduced staffing, buildings fallen into disrepair, heightened court fees and longer delays for cases. The Judicial Council, which sets policy for the court system, has voted to delay more than a dozen construction projects in recent months.

But the ground has shifted since 2012. Now that the voters have ratified Proposition 30, a ballot initiative that increases the California sale tax and raises income taxes for the state's wealthiest residents, an expected surge of new revenue appears to put California on firmer fiscal footing.

Given that sunnier budget outlook, Cantil-Sakauye has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to restore some funding to the judicial system. Brown's 2013-2014 budget proposes a $200 million reduction and asks the courts to offset it by dipping into judicial reserves.

"I worry that California is on the wrong side of history in funding justice, and I believe that if we do not reinvest in justice, you will see or will continue to see services to the public from the courts are cut or eliminated or deeply restricted," she said.

Some judges have assailed the court system's centralized authority, the Administrative Office of the Courts, for acting with a heavy hand and spending inefficiently. A May 2012 report commissioned by Cantil-Sakauye echoed those calls for reform, saying the AOC has "become dysfunctional in many ways" and strayed from its primary role of administering California's trial courts.

Cantil-Sakauye pointed to some of the progress the AOC has made, citing a costly computer system project officials decided to scrap, a series of open meetings and a review of trial court funding. But she said that tightening up practices can only go so far.

"No amount of efficiencies that we implement will ever make up for a billion dollar cut," she said, referring to the cumulative cuts of the last few years.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif. Lezlie Sterling for the Sacramento Bee.

March 11, 2013
Grieving parents criticize doctors who over-prescribe addictive drugs

By Cynthia Craft
ccraft@sacbee.com

Dozens of bereaved parents who lost children to opiate overdoses told state legislators Monday that the California Medical Board is failing to protect the public from "dirty doctors" who over-prescribe addictive drugs, especially to young adults.

The reports of a growing epidemic in California mirror nationwide statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which revealed new data recently showing the number of deaths due to pain medicine overdoses have increased for the 11th year in a row.

Testimony from California parents, each displaying a framed photograph of their lost loved one, came during a routine review of the California Medical Board in a Joint Oversight Hearing of the state Legislature. Every 10 years, the Legislature's business and professions committees in the Senate and Assembly must review the performance of the board and approve its continued existence.

March 11, 2013
Longtime Democratic political aide appointed to FPPC

Tricia Wynne Photo.jpgA longtime aide to Democratic politicians has been added to the state panel tasked with enforcing California's campaign and political conflict-of-interest laws.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced today that she is appointing Patricia Wynne to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Wynne, who currently serves as deputy state treasurer at the California State Treasurer's Office, has also worked for the attorney general's office and the state Senate in her 30-year career in state government.

"It's hard to overstate the importance of having an aggressive, proactive, independent political watchdog, which is why I am so pleased Tricia has accepted this appointment to the FPPC," Bowen said in a statement. "Tricia has a keen understanding of the fair and practical application of complex laws and regulations, and her devotion to integrity, transparency and independence will serve all Californians well."

Wynne, who will start her new job in April, replaces Elizabeth Garret, a University of Southern California provost who was previously appointed by Bowen to a four-year term. She is one of three new members filling vacancies on the commission this spring. All the posts were open because of term limits.

RELATED POSTS:

Oakland attorney Eric Casher named to state watchdog panel

Attorney Gavin Wasserman named to political watchdog panel

PHOTO: FPPC Commissioner Patricia Wynne. California Department of Justice.

March 11, 2013
State revenue keeps pace in February, controller reports

chiang.jpgState tax revenue kept pace with budget estimates last month, with strong sales and corporate tax receipts offsetting a shortfall in personal income taxes, according to a report today by the State Controller's Office.

Total revenue of $5.3 billion in February was more than 20 percent higher than the same month last year, according to the report.

"Healthy revenues, along with recovering home prices, a steep drop in foreclosures, and increased car sales are harbingers of a California economy that is starting to warm up," Controller John Chiang said in a prepared statement.

Though sales, income and corporate tax revenues were all up over last year, income tax revenue was nowhere near as robust as expected. The controller's office attributed the category's weak showing - nearly 19 percent less than anticipated - to a large number of tax refunds being issued in February.

March 11, 2013
Want a California House seat? Price tag is more than $1 million

BB RNC DAY 1 0919.JPGWhat's the price of a California congressional seat? Well over $1 million, if campaign contributions are any indication.

California's 53-member congressional delegation raised a combined $85 million for their successful 2012 races, with the average member accepting $1,611,767.30 in contributions, according to data collected by MapLight.org.

That figure, which doesn't count the millions poured into the state's races by outside groups, is slightly lower than the national average of $1.68 million raised by winning House candidates cited in MapLight's report. In both cases, members were taking in more than $2,000 a day on average.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, took in the most cash of all California members, reporting more than $4.5 million in contributions. While McCarthy didn't face a serious challenge last year, his leadership position as House majority whip makes him a magnet for campaign money.

March 11, 2013
Oakland attorney Eric Casher named to state watchdog panel

Eric Casher 5x7.jpgCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris has named Oakland attorney Eric Casher to a vacant spot on the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Casher is an associate in the Oakland office of Meyer Nave, where he has represented "public and private developers, design professionals, general contractors, subcontractors, as well as, government agencies and municipalities," according to his online biography. He was named one of the National Bar Association's 40 best advocates under 40 in 2011.

"Eric's commitment to justice, fairness and the rule of law will make him a strong asset on the Fair Political Practices Commission," Harris said in a statement. "The people of California will be well-served by his diligence and his judgment."

March 11, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Debra Bowen's office stuck in 19th century

Dan says a business bureaucracy snafu shows Secretary of State Debra Bowen has fallen short in her campaign promise to incorporate technology into her office.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 11, 2013
AM Alert: California's Chief Justice addresses the Legislature

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VIDEO: Secretary of State Debra Bowen has not delivered on her promise of using technology to streamline business operations, Dan Walters says.

We've already had Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's State of the City speech; today the judiciary branch gets its shot at recapitulation. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is delivering her State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers today, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can also watch on CalChannel (livestream here).

While Brown's budget has generally drawn praise for restoring some fiscal balance and potentially averting a bruising legislative battle, Cantil-Sakauye has emerged as one of the more vociferous critics. She has said Brown must go further in restoring funding the court system has lost through years of budget cuts. It will be interesting to see how much of the chief justice's speech is devoted to budgetary casualties like slimmer judiciary staffing, longer waits and shuttered courthouses.

March 8, 2013
Legislators challenge prison realignment with new wave of bills

prison.JPGLegislators are proposing several bills that add lengthy prison terms for people who violate their parole, which could challenge the state's realignment plan to address overcrowding.

California has been under pressure for years to address chronic overcrowding inside 33 adult prisons. In 2011, federal courts required the state to make drastic reductions in its prison inmate population. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature launched a prison "realignment" that shifted responsibility for thousands of lower-level offenders and parole violators from state prisons to county jails.

Three bills challenge that arrangement.

  • Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced Assembly Bill 601 to allow parole violators to be returned to state prison for up to one year.
  • AB 2, authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would return sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison "to sever any sentence ordered for that violation."
  • Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, earlier proposed Senate Bill 57, which would make removal of a GPS monitoring device an additional crime requiring a prison sentence of 16 months, two years or three years
March 8, 2013
Latino Republican group touts California election wins

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California Republicans spent a big chunk of their party convention last weekend discussing how to make inroads with Latinos, and a group devoted to nurturing candidates said this week it has made progress.

GROW Elect, an organization that seeks to identify and help promising Hispanic conservatives running for public office, touted its role in three local elections: Ray Marquez, who won a seat on the Chino Hills City Council; Art Vasquez, who became Asuza's new city treasurer; and Jack Guerrero, who won a city council seat in the city of Cudahy.

Vazquez and Marquez got $1,000 apiece in addition to general campaign coaching, while GROW Elect donated $5,000 to Guerrero's effort, GROW Elect consultant Luis Alvarado said. In a press release, GROW Elect president president Ruben Barrales said the organization is particularly proud of Guerrero's victory.

March 8, 2013
Jerry Brown calls special election to fill Michael Rubio's seat

Rubio_daughter.jpgThe primary special election to fill former Sen. Michael Rubio's seat will occur on May 21, Gov. Jerry Brown's office announced on Friday.

If none of the candidates win an outright majority, the two top vote getters will face off July 23, Brown's proclamation said.

Rubio's resignation two weeks ago to work at Chevron Corp. caught Sacramento by surprise and muddied the legislative waters in the State Senate. Democrats will be delayed in acting on their recently enshrined supermajority: Rubio's resignation, coupled with vacancies from former senators Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas winning election to Congress, leave Democrats with 26 seats, one below the two-thirds threshold.

Based on voter registration statistics, Democrats are expected to hold the seat, though it remains unclear who will run.

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, who was widely considered a contender for Rubio's old seat, has already said he does not intend to run, leaving several other Democratic possibilities from local government, including Shafter City Councilwoman Fran Florez, mother of the senator Rubio succeeded in 2010, Dean Florez.

March 8, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California government's tech snafus continue

The news that State Controller John Chiang has jettisoned a project to computerize the state's payroll system fits a familiar pattern, Dan Walters says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 8, 2013
AM Alert: Sacramento, San Francisco rally against gun violence

California_Statehouse.jpgVIDEO: The demise of a project to computerize California's state payroll system is just the latest in a chain of failed technology projects, Dan Walters says.

Happy Friday, everyone. The approaching weekend means lawmakers are abandoning the state Capitol for their districts, so we start by turning to Sacramento City Hall.

Sacramento Area Congregations Together is leading a vigil there to demand solutions to gun violence in Sacramento, an issue that has gained resonance as the gun-control debate simmers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. The rally starts at 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, will be joining Bay Area elected officials for a 10:30 a.m. press conference at San Francisco's Cow Palace. Leno will be stumping for Senate Bill 475, which would close a loophole allowing people to purchase guns and ammunition at Cow Palace gun shows without typical regulations applying.

The rally comes a day after Leno's Senate Bill 140, which would give the California Justice Department an additional $24 million for a program intended to confiscate guns from people prohibited from owning them, sailed through the Senate on a unanimous vote. Leno's bill is one of many gun-control proposals that Democratic lawmakers have introduced this session.

Back in Sacramento, 22-year-old Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs, the youngest city councilman in California, will be speaking at the Black Youth Leadership Project's annual legislative open house. Tubbs is speaking at a noon luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento.

Keeping it local, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, is holding a "Congress on your Corner" event in Elk Grove on Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Franklin Community Library.

Happy birthday to former state senator and U.S. Rep Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who turns 72 today.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, second from left, gestures at a pair of semi-automatic rifles as he discusses proposed gun control legislation at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento on Feb. 7, 2013. Rich Pedroncelli/ Associated Press.

March 7, 2013
Medi-Cal expansion bills sail through CA Legislature

medi-cal.JPGThe Legislature approved two bills today to expand Medi-Cal coverage to more than 1 million low-income California residents under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Assembly Bill 1x 1 now heads to the Senate, after passing the Assembly 53-22. Shortly after the Assembly vote, the Senate sent the Assembly a similar Medi-Cal expansion bill 24-7. Senate Bill 1x 1 is authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina.

"Expanding health coverage to low-income adults will ensure Californians have access to care, which will help ensure a more healthy workforce and implementing the expansion will bring billions of federal dollars to the California economy," Hernandez said.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, authored AB 1x 1 and said it is an important step to ensuring people living significantly below the poverty line have access to quality care. In addition to expanding eligibility, Pérez's bill aims to streamline enrollment to reduce the time it takes to receive coverage.

Under the health care law pushed by President Barack Obama, most Americans will be required to buy health insurance by January 2014 or pay a penalty. The tab for the California Medi-Cal expansion will be picked up by the federal government for the first three years. In subsequent years, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost.

March 7, 2013
CA Senate approves $24 million for enforcement of no-gun list

RB Gunshops 5.JPGThe California Senate Thursday approved sending the state Department of Justice $24 million to beef up a program designed to get guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from having them.

"This is a serious and immediate threat to our public safety," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, one of several authors of the legislation appropriating the funds.

Senate Bill 140 is part of a sweeping package of gun control proposals California Democrats introduced in the wake of December's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. It won broad bipartisan support despite opposition from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun interests, passing the Senate on a 31-0 vote. It now goes to the Assembly.

March 7, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Los Angeles election doldrums

Dan says the dismal turnout in Tuesday's Los Angeles primary reflects the city's woeful circumstances.

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March 7, 2013
AM Alert: California Senate breaks down the budget

VIDEO: Tuesday's Los Angeles elections had minuscule turnout, but Dan Walters says he wonders why anyone wants to be mayor.

Senators are back from their two-day education retreat and diving into budgetary business. The Budget and Fiscal Review subcommittee on Education is taking a look at Proposition 98 and K-12 funding in this year's proposed budget (room 3191 at 9:30 a.m. or after session); the Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy And Transportation subcommittee is convening in room 2040 at the same time; and the subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety, and the Judiciary is meeting in room 113, where they'll be taking on topics that include a double-dipping practices reported on by The State Worker earlier this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown will be attending a funeral service for two Santa Cruz police officers, Sergeant Loran "Butch" Baker and Officer Elizabeth Butler, who were slain while investigating an alleged sexual assault last week. The service begins at noon at HP Pavilion in San Jose, and police officials have said they are expecting potentially thousands of people to attend.

March 6, 2013
State, counties joust over Medi-Cal expansion in California

RCB_20110915_MEDI_CAL_0069.JPGThe perennially contentious relationship between the state and county governments over money has a new flash point -- the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to more than a million low-income Californians under the new Affordable Care Act.

The conflict -- aired Wednesday in an Assembly budget subcommittee hearing -- has two prongs:

• Whether the state or counties will manage the expansion.
• Whether the state should "claw back" some of the money it now pays to counties to pay for indigent medical care -- on the theory that many of the half-million poor beneficiaries will become Medi-Cal patients next year, raising state costs.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is still undecided whether to opt for county or state management, but the larger counties have said they don't want it, the Legislature's own budget analyst recommends state management, and the major pending implementation bill also opts for state operation.

March 6, 2013
Ex GOP Rep. Doug Ose weighs challenge to Democrat Ami Bera

BB OSE 165.JPGFormer Republican Rep. Doug Ose might make another run at returning to Congress by challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in a competitive Sacramento County seat.

The Sacramento Republican, who left Congress in 2005 and lost a primary bid for another seat in 2008, told The Bee that he and his wife are "deliberating on it but have not made a final decision" on seeking the 7th Congressional District seat

"It's very easy to say 'I'm going to run for Congress,' but having done it four times now, it's not a simple task," he said. "There's a lot that goes into it."

Bera unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Dan Lungren last year in one of the state's closest and most expensive House races. The 2014 race for the seat is expected to be a top priority for both Democrats and Republicans, given the narrow registration gap in the east Sacramento County district. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been on the offensive for weeks already, blasting the Elk Grove Democrat on everything from gas prices to the sequestration in emails and new Web ads.

March 6, 2013
Lawmakers scold California PUC for erroneous budget forecasts

20121203_HA_Richard_Bloom_2012.JPGThe director of the California Public Utilities Commission was scolded by lawmakers today after conceding that his agency had committed errors in forecasting and other budget-related issues involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

A state Department of Finance audit found serious management, training and procedural problems in PUC accounting and forecasting procedures for special funds tied to programs ranging from low-income customer subsidies to telephone services for deaf and disabled individuals. The money stems from surcharges on Californians' gas, electric and telephone bills.

"I find it deeply troubling that an agency would have such dismal accounting of large amounts of public funds in apparent disregard of basic principles of good management," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Santa Monica Democrat who chaired today's Assembly budget subcommittee meeting, which examined the audit findings and the PUC's response to them.

March 6, 2013
Mixed bag for Michelle Rhee in Tuesday's school board races

MichelleRhee1.jpgMichelle Rhee's biggest foray yet into local politics in California yielded mixed results yesterday as voters in West Sacramento rejected the school board candidate backed by her education advocacy group while voters in Los Angeles handed a victory to one of the three candidates StudentsFirst supported.

Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, created StudentsFirst to counter the power of teachers unions in state and local politics.

The group formed a campaign committee that supported Francisco Castillo for school board in Washington Unified, the West Sacramento school district. Castillo works as a spokesman for StudentsFirst. Voters in West Sac elected Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, who was backed by the local teachers union.

March 6, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California's skewed transportation priorities

The mounting cost of repairing California's existing roads should give lawmakers pause as they consider spending heavily on high-speed rail, Dan says.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 6, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers look at immigrant labor abuses

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VIDEO: Dan Walters says lawmakers should be worrying about the state's deteriorating roads before spending billions on high-speed rail.

Responding to a National Employment Law Project report on workplace abuses of undocumented immigrants, Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, is holding a hearing on the treatment of undocumented workers in California. Joining Hernández will be Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer for the California Labor Federation; Eunice Cho of the National Employment Law Project; Gabriela Villareal of the California Immigrant Policy Center; and Marta Medina of Warehouse Workers United. In room 317 of the State Capitol building, starting at 10:30 A.M.

March 6, 2013
Greuel, Garcetti head to runoff; Blumenfield wins in LA city races

Downtown_Los_Angeles_Freeway_AP_2005.JPGEric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are headed into a runoff for Los Angeles mayor, as state Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield won his city council race outright in Tuesday's balloting.

Sen. Curren Price, the other current lawmaker seeking Los Angeles city office, will face Ana Cubas in a runoff for council in District 9.

Unofficial results from the Los Angeles City Clerk's Office this morning showed Blumenfield won 51.6 percent of the vote in District 3, advancing over six opponents. Price won 27 percent to Cubas' 24 percent. Former Assemblyman Paul Koretz easily won re-election in District 5, and former lawmaker Felipe Fuentes won outright in District 7 with 51 percent of the vote. Former lawmakers Gil Cedillo (District 1, 49 percent) and Mike Feuer (City attorney, 44 percent) face runoffs.

The results in Los Angeles could alter the political calculus in Sacramento, potentially endangering -- or at least interrupting -- the two-thirds supermajority that allows Democrats to raise new taxes and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without Republican support.

March 5, 2013
Local CA officials say $82 billion needed for road repairs

RP STREET WORK JACKHAMMER.JPGCalifornia's network of local streets and roads "is in crisis" and needs $82 billion in repairs and reconstruction to be restored, a coalition of local government groups declared Tuesday.

The California Statewide Needs Assessment Project report closely parallels recent appraisals by the California Transportation Commission that the state highway network also needs hundreds of billions of dollars in work.

Cities and counties are responsible for 81 percent of the state's roadway mileage, and the report by the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and other groups say that while $2.5 billion is being spent annually on their upkeep, they need another $1.9 billion to keep the roadways from deteriorating further and $82 billion over the next 10 years "to bring the system up-to-date."

Localities receive shares of gasoline taxes and supplement those funds with local sales and property taxes to maintain and expand local streets and roads.

"It costs far less to repair and maintain roads than to replace them," Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, said in a statement accompanying the report, adding, "We can either spend money now and make the repairs, or expect to pay a lot more in the future."

The report does not suggest a way to pay for the work it advocates, but notes that $82 billion would translate into an extra 56 cents per gallon of fuel in taxes.

PHOTO CREDIT: A Sacramento City street division road crew uses jackhammers to remove cracked asphalt on Land Park Drive near 2nd Avenue on April 24, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 5, 2013
Jerry Hill chosen to lead environmental committee

Jerry Hill - 1MB version (1).JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has tapped Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to fill former senator Michael Rubio's place atop a key environmental committee.

Steinberg announced in a statement that he was nominating Hill to chair the Committee on Environmental Quality. It will be an influential post as the Legislature weighs overhauling the California Environmental Quality Act.

"[Hill] is well-positioned to appreciate the complexities of this challenge, and well-versed in the false dichotomy that pitches business against the environment," Steinberg said in a statement. "California has led, and will continue to lead the nation in smart, environmentally sustainable economic growth."

Critics, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have said CEQA is in need of reform, saying cumbersome environmental requirements unnecessarily stall development. Environmental groups have begun mobilizing to protect the law. Rubio was expected to be a leader in the process until his abrupt resignation two weeks ago.

The Senate Rules Committee, which Steinberg chairs, is expected to confirm the appointment on Thursday.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Sen. Jerry Hill's office. .

March 5, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California's perpetual election cycle

You might think an odd-numbered year means a lull in electoral activity, but Dan Walters says that's not the case in California between Los Angeles city contests and special Senate elections.

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March 5, 2013
AM Alert: Los Angeles votes

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VIDEO: You might expect a reprieve from elections in an odd-numbered year, but Dan Walters says special Senate contests and elections in Los Angeles are ensuring otherwise.

It's primary day in Los Angeles, an opportunity for voters in several different races to winnow down the options ahead of the May 21 runoffs. In the mayoral race, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti are the front-runners and look likely to advance. And the results of some city council races could ripple north to Sacramento, potentially disrupting a Democratic supermajority.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, is running in the 3rd district and Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, is seeking a seat in District 9. The prospect of Price leaving the Senate, combined with the recent surprise departure of former Sen. Michael Rubio, leaves things in flux.

There are several former Sacramento denizens running: former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes is aiming at a City Council seat in District 7, former Assemblyman and state Sen. Gil Cedillo is running in District 1, and former assemblyman and incumbent L.A. Councilman Paul Koretz looks to fend off a challenge in the 5th district. Former Assemblyman Mike Feuer is running for city attorney, while former Assemblyman Mike Eng is running for a seat on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees.

State senators will be at an education policy conference in Long Beach for the next two days. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's office estimates that a majority of senators will be there (including Steinberg). The focus is on "linked learning," or education that prepares students for specific career paths.

Attendees will be dropping in on classrooms and discussing policy topics like the implementation of new Common Core standards and Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed school funding overhaul. Since they'll be talking about school funding formulas, here's some data on funding for the trip: Steinberg's office pegs the cost at $17,800 for members and $9,380 for staff.

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance will be probing similar topics today during a 9 a.m. hearing on Brown's school funding proposals in room 444.

Rolling along: immigration advocates will continue to travel across the state advocating for reform today. On the agenda are visits to the Visalia district office of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, the Hanford district office of Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, the Brea district office of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, and the Irvine District office of Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine.

PHOTO CREDIT: Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Kevin James, left, and Eric Garcetti, right, listen to Wendy Greuel speak during a city of Los Angeles mayoral candidate debate in September. Allen J. Schaben/ Los Angeles Times/ MCT.

March 4, 2013
Fewer California school districts in financial distress

RP RALLY TORLAKSON.JPGThe number of California school districts in financial jeopardy has dropped by a third in the last year, state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said Monday.

Last May, 188 school districts, including several of the state's largest, were either in "negative certification" or "qualified certification," denoting levels of financial distress, but the number has since dropped to 124 - in part because the state is pumping more money into local school coffers from the sales and income tax increase approved by voters last November.

The new list has seven districts with "negative" status, meaning they cannot meet their financial obligations now, the largest of which is Inglewood Unified in Los Angeles County.

Another 117 districts have "qualified" status, meaning they may not be able to meet their obligations. They include the state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, and a number of other large districts, such as Oakland Unified, Antelope Valley Joint Union High School, Compton Unified, Pomona Unified, Capistrano Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified, Folsom-Cordova Unified and San Diego Unified.

Overall, Torlakson said, 500,000 fewer of California's 6 million K-12 students are being schooled in financially distressed districts, but 2.1 million remain in those districts.

PHOTO CREDIT: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, urges legislators to support the tax extension proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. on March 14, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 4, 2013
California lawmakers treated to Hawaii conferences

stevepeace.jpgNumerous California lawmakers fly to Maui in an annual Capitol tradition that allows elected officials to talk public policy and schmooze on the dime of Capitol interests without having to disclose their participation until months later - a deadline reached Friday.

Seventeen legislators attended one of two Maui public policy conferences last November, each of which was bankrolled by a nonprofit group, according to newly filed financial disclosure statements. The groups do not identify their donors and have strong ties to former legislators.

The most popular Hawaii conference was the one that offered legislators the most expensive accommodation package as a gift.

The California Independent Voter Project provided up to $2,800 per legislator to attend the event for three or four days at the Kea Lani resort, which describes itself as a "luxurious haven in one of the most scenic places on Earth." The nonprofit group, which is led in part by former Democratic legislator Steve Peace, is backed by various business, labor and other interest groups whose identities are not reported

March 4, 2013
CA Republican wants to create a 'Neighborhood Legislature'

JohnCox.JPG Looking for your state legislator? Check the house next door.

That's the promise one Republican who attended the GOP's state party convention in Sacramento was touting over the weekend as he promoted a proposed ballot initiative to create what he's calling a "Neighborhood Legislature."

Under the measure, each of the state's 120 state legislative districts would be broken into 100 precinct-level mini districts. The change would mean that each legislator is elected by several thousand voters instead of several hundred thousand. The number of lawmakers serving in the Legislature wouldn't go up under the measure. Instead, the 100 candidates elected within the mini-districts would caucus to select one person to serve and vote in Sacramento.

John H. Cox, a businessman and investor backing the change, acknowledges that the idea is unconventional and, perhaps "counter intuitive," but he said breaking down state representation would break "the connection between money and being elected" and make lawmakers more accountable.

March 4, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California Republicans face long road ahead

The Republicans who gathered at the state party convention over the weekend have a lot of work to do if they want to revive their fortunes in California, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

March 4, 2013
AM Alert: Immigration bus tour starts rolling through California

US_NEWS_IMMIGRATION_7_LOS_ANGELES.JPGVIDEO: Dan Walters talks about the long road back for California Republicans who convened in Sacramento this weekend.

As a bipartisan U.S. Senate group looks at comprehensive immigration reform, advocates in the Golden State are mobilizing.

Sunday marked the start of the California portion of what's being called the Keeping Families Together Bus Tour, a rolling demonstration urging elected officials to open a path to citizenship for the undocumented.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is organizing the tour in the state.

March 3, 2013
Jim Brulte elected California Republican Party chairman

photo (13).JPGCalifornia Republicans elected former GOP legislative leader Jim Brulte as the party's new leader this morning.

Brulte, who served in the Legislature until 2004, faced no serious opposition in his bid to become California Republican Party chairman. He replaces Tom Del Beccaro, who decided not to run for a second term after a rocky run as chair.

Brulte is taking over at a low point for Republicans in California. Republicans currently hold no statewide office and account for less than 30 percent of the state's registered voters. They lost key congressional races and ceded supermajority control of the state Legislature to Democrats in the 2012 election.

Brulte says he wants to focus on "blocking and tackling" - seeking to revive the party's fundraising, voter registration and turnout programs. Supporters passed out buttons with a picture of nuts and bolts before the vote at the general session of the party's spring convention.

He plans to continue his day job as a principal of governmental and public affairs firm California Strategies as he assumes the volunteer chairman post.

Republicans also elected San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon as vice chair.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Brulte talks to California Republican Party convention attendees before heading into the general session where he was elected chairman. Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee.

March 2, 2013
Republican leaders emphasize Latino recruitment

Recruiting more Latino candidates is critical to the future of the California Republican Party, prominent Hispanic Republicans said during an afternoon forum at the party's convention in Sacramento.

The event was hosted by GROW Elect, an organization devoted to cultivating Republican Latino candidates for elected office, and participants spoke to a growing recognition that the Republican party's fortunes will be increasingly tied to how well they appeal to Hispanic voters.

Noting that California's Latino population is on pace to become the state's largest ethnic group by the end of the year, GROW Elect CEO Ruben Barrales called Latino outreach "the greatest challenge for the Republican Party today." His organization's goal is to build a "farm team" of potential officeholders, he said, in an effort to "start changing the brand of the Republican party with Latino voters."

March 2, 2013
Abel Maldonado: 'I'm not going to give up on California'

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For a man who said he has not made any decisions about running for public office, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado had some strong words Saturday about California's outlook.

March 2, 2013
Karl Rove tells California Republicans to step up communication

California GOP Rove.jpgGOP strategist Karl Rove today urged California Republicans to take a more broad-based approach to messaging in their effort to rebuild the party in the Golden State.

"Losing has one great benefit to it," Rove told a gathering of delegates at the party's spring convention in Sacramento. "It gives you the chance to start fresh to look everything anew and start rebuilding from the ground up in innovative and thoughtful ways that will expand our reach and expand our members."

California GOP officials invited the former aide and adviser to former President George W. Bush to address attendees as they seek to recoup from a bruising 2012 election. The party, which holds no statewide office, ceded supermajority control to legislative Democrats, lost key congressional races and dipped below 30 percent in statewide voter registration.

Rove echoed earlier remarks on the need to elect Latino and other minority candidates to local and state offices, telling state Republicans they need to go beyond talking to their traditional base. He praised Republicans in his home state of Texas for recruiting diverse candidates for statewide office, saying it's important to have Republican messengers who "look like and sound like the people they're asking for the vote from."

"If our values are universal then we have obligation to argue on behalf of values in every corner, in every crevice, in every community of our great country," he said.

Rove also urged Republicans to modernize their message, applying "timeless principles" of conservatism to new circumstances.

"It's not just the tactical stuff," Rove said. "(We've) got a strategic issue. We have great principles, but we sometimes talk about those princples in a way that makes it sound like it's in 1968 or 1980 or 2000 and it's not. It's 2012 on its way to 2014."

Rove met with county GOP chairs, Republican legislators and posed for photos with delegates at a $300-a-head reception ahead of his lunchtime speech. Lawmakers said he stressed the need to improve campaign technology and messaging efforts.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Republican strategist Karl Rove speaks to the California Republican Party convention in Sacramento on Saturday AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli

March 2, 2013
Jerry Brown got gifts for first dog, Sutter

White House cufflinks, a hands-free phone and goodies for his his dog, Sutter, were among gifts reported by Gov. Jerry Brown in financial disclosure statements released Saturday.

Brown reported receiving 25 gifts last year, valued at more than $2,500. The most expensive totaled $259 by Samsung for Brown to attend a dinner event, and $250 by Newsweek for a ticket to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave Brown a $150 ticket for a Los Angeles Lakers game. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave him an $84 box of candy, and BlueAnt provided the hands-free phone valued at $100, records show.

March 2, 2013
Karl Rove addresses CA GOP county chairs

Ahead of his lunchtime address to the convention at large, top Republican strategist Karl Rove spoke to county chairs about burnishing the party's message and revitalizing its local mobilization effort.


Rove emerged from a closed-door gathering of Republican county chairs about half an hour after the meeting began. His talk touched on coordinating the party's pitch to voters, Mariposa County chair Richard Westfall said.

"He talked about being cohesive and keeping the party together," Westfall said. "Just basically that we have to try to get together and get the message out there."

Part of that process involves rehabilitating the party's image in the eyes of voters. Donald S. Preston, chair of Solano County, said the party's central tenets of self-reliance and family values have " been distorted so badly" by critics.

"[Rove] says we have to work on image, on our branding," Preston said.

Monterey County chair Nan Lesnick said Rove talked about rebuilding the party's grassroots organization, paraphrasing the central thrust as "the conservative victory will happen when we're on every corner and every crevasse in every community."

March 2, 2013
Outgoing CA GOP chair: Gay marriage is 'difficult issue' for GOP

photo (11).JPGAs the legal debate over Proposition 8 comes to a head in the nation's high court, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro predicted today that gay marriage will continue to be a "difficult issue for a lot of Republicans" for years to come.

Dozens of prominent Republicans, including former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, recently signed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Whitman, who supported Proposition 8 in her 2010 campaign, said in a statement that the "facts and arguments presented during the legal process since then have had a profound impact on my thinking" on the issue.

Del Beccaro, who supports Proposition 8, acknowledged that public opinion on gay marriage is shifting -- a Field Poll released this week showed support in California inching over 60 percent -- but said he expects GOP candidates to continue to hold different views on the issue. He said, however, he doesn't "think that issue alone defines the party by any stretch."

"I think the reality is you're going to find that the Republican Party is going to have members on all sides of this issue for years to come and I think across this country for years to come it's going to be debated," he said.

Del Beccaro is leaving his position at a tough time for the party - Republicans hold no statewide offices, now account for less than 30 percent of registered voters and have significant campaign fund debt.

The outgoing chair said the party must focus on building better relationships with voters as it rebuilds, increasing communication and providing "voters with a clear alternative." He said he hopes his expected successor, former GOP legislative leader Jim Brulte, will be more successful in fundraising and managing the party's finances.

"It needs to have a greater relationship with all California voters," he said. "We are in the business of asking people (for) their vote, which means you have to have a relationship with more voters, especially when you are the minority party."

PHOTO AND VIDEO CREDIT: Outgoing California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro speaks at his final press conference during the CRP's spring convention in Sacramento, March, 2, 2013. Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee.

March 2, 2013
Rubio was business partner to oil exec who lent money for home

Rubio_house.JPGWhile serving as a state senator, Michael Rubio also was a business partner with a Kern County oil executive who contributed to his campaign and loaned him money to buy a home in El Dorado Hills, newly released state records show.

Rubio, a Shafter Democrat who resigned weeks ago to work for Chevron, was a partner with Majid Mojibi in a Bakersfield-based real estate investment firm, M&R Investment Group, the records show.

The partnership participated in two real estate deals in 2012 - one involving ownership and operation of a Bakersfield office building, the other involving agricultural land.

Rubio said he received no income from the venture. The partnership apparently received loans of six-figure sums from Mojibi, however. On the FPPC disclosure form Rubio listed an "over $100,000 loan" for each of the two real estate ventures.

March 1, 2013
California Democrats sign brief in DOMA case, but not Prop. 8

A group of 212 Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives signed a brief Friday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but the same lawmakers, including most from California, did not formally weigh in on a separate case involving Proposition 8.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama urged the court to overturn Proposition 8 and extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in California and several other states.

Earlier this week, a group of more than 100 prominent Republicans also lined up against Proposition 8, including former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, former Rep. Mary Bono Mack and actor Clint Eastwood.

California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, submitted a brief opposing Proposition 8, as did California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

March 1, 2013
Assemblyman Perea says he won't run for open Senate seat

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY1252.JPGAssemblyman Henry Perea has decided not to run for the Central Valley Senate seat that fellow Democrat Michael Rubio resigned last week.

The Fresno Democrat said in a statement that while the opportunity to run in the 16th Senate District is "appealing," he wants to serve out his most recent term in the Assembly and honor a commitment he made to his wife and family to "create a balance between my home life and work."

"We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our second child in July, and I want to uphold my commitment to my family and the 31st Assembly District," he said.

Rubio, a freshman Democrat from Shafter, resigned his 16th Senate District seat last week to take a job heading California governmental affairs for Chevron Corp.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet set a special election date, but there is no shortage of candidates interested in seeking the seat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Two-year-old Ava Perea looks at the gallery as she is carried by her father, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, after he is sworn in during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 3, 2012. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2012.