Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 10, 2014
Snafu emerges in Ron Calderon's complaint against government


A federal judge gave the federal government two months to respond after Sen. Ron Calderon filed charges in November alleging authorities leaked an FBI affidavit accusing him of bribery as retaliation for his refusal to wear a wire in a sting of two fellow state senators.

Those two months are up on Monday -- but don't expect any response from the government.

Turns out Calderon's lawyer, Mark Geragos, did not serve the complaint on the government back when he made the filing in federal court on Nov. 13. The court's 60-day timeline for the government to respond only kicks in once the complaint is officially served.

The Sacramento Bee left Geragos several messages this week to find out what was going on. He never returned the calls.

But he apparently did get around to serving the complaint that asks the court to hold prosecutors in contempt for leaking the 124-page affidavit, and says Sen. Kevin de Leon and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg are the subjects of the FBI's investigation.

"The complaint was not properly served on this office until this week," said an email from Thom Mrozek of the U.S. The US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

"Therefore, our response is not due until early March."

Jim Wedick, a former FBI agent who participated in a high-profile corruption sting in the Capitol in the 1980s, said the fact that Calderon's lawyer never served the complaint indicates it was an attempt to generate headlines more than a serious legal maneuver.

"It was a publicity stunt that blew up in their face," he said.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 10, 2014
VIDEO: Dan Schnur formally announces for Secretary of State

ha_schnur7656.JPGDan Schnur kicked off his campaign to become the state's chief elections officer Friday in Sacramento.

PHOTO: Dan Schnur, shown in September 2010 when he was chair of the FPPC. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 10, 2014
Hernandez's lawyer says FPPC 'engaging in unethical behavior'

Roger Hernandez.JPG

Assemblyman Roger Hernández's former lawyer accuses the Fair Political Practices Commission of trying to intimidate and harass him as the watchdog agency investigates whether money laundering occurred in the assemblyman's 2010 campaign, according to court filings The Sacramento Bee obtained Friday.

Aldo A. Flores, who has represented Hernández in earlier brushes with the law, sued the FPPC in September in an attempt to block subpoenas requesting his bank records.

"I tried to reason with them. I contacted them in several instances prior to the lawsuit. They blew me off," Flores said in an interview with The Bee.

"I specifically stated I was trying to avoid litigation. But I had no choice."

Flores made a $3,900 contribution to Hernandez's campaign in late 2009. The FPPC argues that its subpoenas may unveil evidence that someone reimbursed Flores for the donation. Hiding the identity of a donor by passing money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates the law.

The FPPC subpoenas — included in Flores's lawsuit — seek monthly statements, copies of checks worth $2,000 or more and various other transaction records from two of his bank accounts during late 2009 and early 2010.

"The subpoenas are overbroad and violative of Plaintiff's rights and lawful privileges," says Flores's suit against the FPPC.

"Defendant FPPC is engaging in frivolous and vexatious tactics, as well as engaging in unethical behavior hoping to intimidate Plaintiff into providing his private bank records."

A hearing to determine whether Flores must comply with the subpoenas is scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court on January 16.

Hernández issued a statement earlier this week saying "the FPPC has no information that the check was improper."

"Since the beginning of this investigation I have fully cooperated with the FPPC and as such provided all records that have been requested of me. In the 5 years since these allegations were raised, the FPPC has not prompted any official letter of accusation," the statement from Hernandez says.

Hernández has faced allegations of wrongdoing in recent years, but has never been found guilty.

Flores represented Hernández last year when a former girlfriend filed a civil suit alleging that Hernández had hit her with a belt and slammed her into a wall. The woman's lawyers eventually asked the court to dismiss the suit, and Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to charge Hernández with domestic violence.

Flores also represented Hernández in two lawsuits brought by employees of the City of West Covina, where Hernández served on the city council before being elected to the Assembly in 2010.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Hernández speaks during an Assembly session in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 10, 2014
California schools rank low - again - in Education Week report

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California's public education system — not for the first time — has been given a low grade in Education Week's annual state-by-state evaluation of school finances, teacher preparedness, academic achievement and other benchmarks.

The magazine gives California a "D" with a cumulative score of 72.4 on a 100-point scale, 10th lowest among the states. Subpar financing — the lowest in the nation — and poor academic achievement weighed heavily on the state's evaluation.

But the data are not up-to-date, especially the financial data, and a $10 billion boost in state aid to schools proposed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown could improve its standing.

The Education Week finance information, published Friday, is three years old. It pegs per-pupil spending from state and local sources on California's six million students at $8,341 in 2011, a few hundred dollars less than what the state calculated because Education Week adjusts the number downward for California's relatively high cost of living.

That number is the lowest among the 50 states, about $3,500 under the national average of $11,864.

Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget would, he says, raise per-pupil spending to $9,194, but whether it would increase California's standing vis-à-vis other states depends on what they do this year as well.

Clearly, however, it would still leave California well below the national average, whatever it might be. Reaching the national average, California authorities have calculated, would cost at least $18 billion more a year.

California students' performance on achievement tests also drags down the state's standing vis-à-vis other states. It consistently ranks near the bottom in elementary and middle-school reading and mathematics tests and mediocre in high school graduation rates.

Brown, citing the particularly low achievement of poor and "English-learner" students, persuaded the Legislature last year to direct more state aid to districts with large numbers of those kids.

Massachusetts scored the highest in the Education Week evaluation with 91.4 while Nevada was lowest at 65.7.

PHOTO: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 10, 2014
California lawmaker files initiative to scrap high-speed rail

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Assemblyman Jeff Gorell has filed paperwork to qualify a ballot measure that would put the brakes on California's high-speed rail project.

The measure would prohibit the sale of voter-approved bonds for the project. Any unspent money from previously sold bonds would have to be used to pay off the debt.

"California cannot afford to pay for a high-speed train system that will cost most than $100 billion at a time when prisoners are being released from prisons and taxpayers are being asked to dig deeper into their own pockets to pay for basic services," the proposed initiative reads.

Gorell, R-Camarillo, is running for Congress this year against freshman Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Oak Park, in the 26th Congressional District, one of the most competitive House seats in the state.

In November 2008, voters narrowly approved $9 billion in borrowing to help pay for a bullet-train system, which at the time had an estimated cost of $45 billion. Since then, the project's estimated cost has grown to an estimated $68 billion and legal challenges have put the bond money in limbo.

A Field Poll in July 2012 found that 56 percent of likely voters would oppose the rail project if it were up for another public vote, with 39 percent supportive.

The main challenge for Gorell and other opponents, though, will be to raise the money to gather the 504,760 valid voter signatures needed to qualify Friday's measure for the ballot.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown, an ardent bullet-train supporter, unveiled a budget this week that would direct $300 million toward the project.

"The high-speed rail is a reducer of greenhouse gases, an enhancement of the quality of California life and a bringing together of our various" communities around the state, Brown told reporters.

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, during session in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 10, 2014
California lawmaker seeks health care for undocumented immigrants


Immigrants who are in California illegally would qualify for health insurance under a bill Sen. Ricardo Lara plans to introduce.

Details of the plan have yet to be worked out. But Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who chairs the Legislature's Latino Caucus, issued a statement today saying he intends to introduce a measure this year.

"We've made enormous strides to reduce California's uninsured population with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but we won't have a truly healthy state until everyone has access to quality, affordable coverage," Lara's statement says.

"Immigration status shouldn't bar individuals from health coverage, especially since their taxes contribute to the growth of our economy."

The federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, excludes undocumented immigrants from being able to purchase health care through the new marketplaces states created for selling insurance. After the federal health care program is completely rolled out, experts predict that 3 million to 4 million people in California -- many of them undocumented immigrants -- will not have health care.

Some California counties offer health care to undocumented immigrants, but access varies around the state. Lara aims to make health insurance available statewide, but has not yet announced exactly how the goal would be achieved. Neither a bill number nor a cost estimate were available Friday.

Health advocacy groups have been pushing the message for the last year that undocumented immigrants should be able to participate in the federal health care plans. In last year's budget fight, they advocated unsuccessfully for funding for county-level insurance for the undocumented.

PHOTO: California Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks with Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in the Senate chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 10, 2014
Doug Haaland to take on Assemblyman Ken Cooley in 8th district

Haaland.jpgCiting the need to restore fiscal responsibility to the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Republican Doug Haaland said Friday he plans to challenge Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, in the 8th Assembly District.

Haaland said his priorities include focusing on job creation in the district and helping tamp down the Legislature's urge to spend an influx of revenue. The 61-year-old recently retired after spending nearly three decades working as an aide at the Capitol.

"After 27 years of working in the building, I know legislators get excited when they see the word 'surplus,'" Haaland said in an interview.

The Democratic supermajorities in both houses have not been productive, he added.

The 8th Assembly district stretches from Citrus Heights to south of Wilton, taking in Rancho Cordova, Rancho Murieta and Rosemont.

While it favors Democrats in voter registration, 41 percent to 36.5 percent, fewer than 15,000 votes separated Cooley from Republican Peter Tateishi with President Barack Obama running at the top of the ticket in 2012.

Haaland contemplated jumping into that race but ultimately decided against it. He held a number of jobs in state government including serving as the chief of staff to Assemblyman Phil Wyman and Assemblywoman Shirley Horton. He later spent several years as the director of member services for the Assembly Republican Caucus.

A resident of Arden Park, Haaland spent nearly a dozen years as president of the Rosemont Community Association.

Cooley also spent years as a legislative aide and has become well known for his guided tours of the Capitol.

"There is no doubt that it's going to be a bit of a mountain," Haaland said. "I will give Ken all the credit in the world for being good at the retail (politics) part of things."

PHOTO: Doug Haaland. Courtesy Haaland for Assembly.

January 10, 2014
AM Alert: Schnur launches Secretary of State campaign a day late

Thumbnail image for ha_schnur7656.JPGA good newsmaker knows that when the governor's budget proposal leaks two days early, you move your event out of the way or risk getting buried in the ensuing media scrum.

So after teasing his run for Secretary of State in December, former Fair Political Practices Commission chair Dan Schnur formally launches his campaign today at 11 a.m. in the Hyatt Regency on L Street -- a day after originally scheduled.

Schnur, who now teaches politics at the University of Southern California, has focused his platform on banning fundraising by legislators and statewide officeholders while the Legislature is in session. Schnur argues that there is too much potential for donors to exert inappropriate influence on their votes.

The Secretary of State race could shape up to be one of the year's most interesting. Among Schnur's potential opponents are state Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, as well as Democrat Derek Cressman, a government watchdog, and Republican Pete Peterson, who heads an academic public policy institute

Though he has previously served as an adviser to major Republican figures like former Gov. Pete Wilson and U.S. Sen. John McCain, Schnur is registered with no party preference.

VIDEO: The budget leak is a political game between politicians and journalists, Dan Walters says.

WHO'S THE BOSS?: The president of California State University-Long Beach, the second largest of CSU's 23 campuses, left last summer to head up Louisiana State University, and the search continues for a replacement. The CSU Board of Trustees selection committee, which includes Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, will meet today from 7 a.m. to 6 determine which candidates move on to the next level of consideration.

MOVIN' ON UP: It seems that six-foot state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, doesn't do small. In September, the former assemblywoman jumped legislative houses after winning a special election, and she'll celebrate again this weekend with a swearing-in ceremony in her home district where Attorney General Kamala Harris will administer the oath. The festivities are scheduled for Saturday at noon in Culver City.

VROOM VROOM: Things may get noisy over the weekend as motorcyclists from across the state gather in Sacramento to voice support for their legislative agenda, including opposition to measures to ban "lane splitting." The Motorcycle Rider Unification Rally, hosted by motorcycle rights organization ABATE of California, takes place from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday outside the State Capitol.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, who turns 50 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Dan Schnur, shown in September 2010 when he was chair of the FPPC. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 10, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Budget leak is a political game

budget2.JPGPoliticians try to keep secrets and journalists try to figure out what they are, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: California Governor Jerry Brown addresses members of the press about the State Budget for 2014-2015 at the Capitol in Sacramento on January 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton


Capitol Alert Staff

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

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

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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