Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 21, 2014
California lawmaker lobbies against 'jab at my husband'


It's not often you see a lawmaker lobbying her colleagues to kill a bill because she thinks it insults her husband. But that's what happened Tuesday as Sen. Carol Liu made the rounds on the Senate floor asking fellow senators to withhold their votes when Senate Bill 434 came up.

Liu, a Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge, is married to Michael Peevey, chair of the powerful Public Utilities Commission. The bill she was trying to kill would bar future PUC chairmen from sitting on the boards of nonprofit organizations created by the commission that regulates utility companies in California.

"I don't think the bill has anything to do with public policy," Liu said after the vote. "I think it's a jab at my husband, period."

Peevey sits on the boards of two nonprofits, which the PUC created as part of PG&E's 2004 bankruptcy deal and the mergers in 2005 of four major telecom companies. Chairing the commission that regulates the industry while sitting on the boards of the nonprofits the commission created is a conflict of interest, says Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

"You're taking public money that has transparency in public, it has full oversight, it has full accountability, and turning it over to a nonprofit where their actions, and future fundraising, is all behind closed doors," said Hill, who carried the bill Liu tried to kill Tuesday.

"To me, it's a clear conflict of interest that should not be allowed to continue into the future."

January 21, 2014
Toni Atkins poised to become next Assembly speaker


The contest to become California's next Assembly speaker could be over, with multiple lawmakers and staffers telling The Bee that Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, has secured enough votes to lead Assembly Democrats.

The race turned decisively in Atkins's favor this weekend, sources said, when key lawmakers decided to lend their support to Atkins. Currently the majority floor leader, Atkins would become the first openly gay woman to serve as speaker.

A San Francisco-based organization that just last week backed Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, sent out a release praising Atkins.

"The Bay Area Council congratulates Assemblymember Toni Atkins of San Diego, whom we understand has secured the votes to become the next Speaker of the California Assembly," Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, said in the statement.

The Bay Area Council's endorsement of Atkins marked a swift reversal from the group's decision last week to promote Gordon in an effort to ensure the next speaker hailed from Northern California. That came right after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, anointed Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, as his successor.

There had been speculation that de León's elevation would come at the expense of Assembly speaker candidates from Southern California. But former and current lawmakers discounted the notion that the Legislature must have one leader from Northern California and one from Southern California.

Both the Senate and the Assembly need to elect new leaders this year, with Steinberg and his Assembly counterpart, Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles, forced out by term limits.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego speaks with Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles as the Assembly members wait for bills from the Senate side at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Friday, June 14, 2013.

January 21, 2014
Bill would require California employers to give paid sick days

Lorenaswearingin.jpgHourly workers in California would be able to accrue paid sick days under a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

Gonzalez cast Assembly Bill 1522 both as a financial security net for workers and as a public health measure. She noted that many workers who do not receive paid sick days work in the food industry, where sick workers risk infecting consumers, or with more vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly.

"If you're an hourly worker and you're sick you have to choose if you're going to pay the bills or take a day off," Gonzalez said, noting that single mothers face a challenge caring for sick children if they cannot take a day off.

The measure would require California employers to give paid sick leave to employees who have worked at the job for at least 90 days. Employers could cap each worker's total sick days at three per year.

Gonzalez said guaranteeing sick days would also diminish health care costs, both by preventing diseases from spreading for lack of treatment and by not requiring workers to resort to emergency care, Gonzalez argued.

"We know that it's about four times more expensive when a mother takes her child to the emergency room after hours rather than being able to take time to take them to a doctor to prevent further sickness or address sickness," Gonzales said.

While the California Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position on the bill, they and other business interests have opposed similar efforts in the past. A series of paid sick day bills by former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma could not attract enough votes to overcome pro-business arguments.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives applause from lawmakers as she walks down the center isle of the Assembly to take the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

January 21, 2014
Neel Kashkari announces he will run for California governor

kashkarisits.jpgNeel Kashkari, the former U.S. Treasury Department official who has been preparing to run for governor for a year, formally entered the contest Tuesday, pledging to improve public education and the jobs climate in California.

"That's my platform: Jobs and education," Kashkari said at a business luncheon at Sacramento State. "Jobs and education. That's it."

In declaring his candidacy, Kashkari, 40, joins Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, as the only Republicans actively campaigning to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado abandoned his campaign last week.

"Millions of Californians are struggling," Kashkari said. "The status quo is unacceptable."

Kashkari's entrance into the race was widely expected. He left his job at Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co. a year ago, hired political advisers and spent recent months meeting with potential donors and giving newspaper interviews.

His viability as a candidate remains an open question, as he will only now begin to raise money and test his moderate social views with GOP donors and the party's base. Kashkari has never run for elected office and has said he cannot self-finance the effort.

Unseating Brown in this heavily Democratic state would be a tough task for a Republican, analysts believe, and raising money against him has proven to be exceedingly difficult. Donnelly has reported raising just more than $200,000, while Brown has raised more than $17 million.

Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs executive, ran the $700 billion bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program during former President George W. Bush's administration. He has said he will make poverty and education the focus of his campaign.

Announcing his candidacy at a luncheon at Sacramento State, Kashkari said the state's public education system is failing its students and leaving millions of residents in poverty.

"We have to grow the economy and create jobs," he said, "and give kids a good education at the same time."

Kashkari joins a long list of Republicans complaining about California's high poverty rate. Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a poverty rate in California of 23.8 percent, using an alternative calculation that includes cost of living, and the large number of Californians who are unemployed or marginally employed and looking for work.

Kashkari also criticized California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, garnering applause when he called the controversial project a "crazy train."

Democrats have painted Kashkari as a wealthy product of the private sector who had little interest in California politics before deciding to run for governor.

Kashkari, of Orange County, spent much of last year traveling the state, promoting his appearances at food banks and community centers on Twitter.

Kashkari's appearance Tuesday was his first speech since leaving his job at Pacific Investment Management Co. He had fueled speculation he would make his announcement there when, in an interview last week, he billed the appearance as a "major speech."

Kashkari supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights and voted for Barack Obama in 2008. He has opposed tax increases and supported efforts to limit the political influence of labor unions.

Brown, a third-term Democrat, has not yet said if he will seek re-election, but in addition to his fundraising he has hinted he will, and he is widely expected to run.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli

January 21, 2014
Former California Sierra Club lobbyist John Zierold dies at 88


John Zierold, who ran legislative strategy in Sacramento for the Sierra Club during the 1970s and 1980s, as environmentalism became a powerful social and political movement, has died.

Former colleagues in Sacramento learned over the weekend that Zierold, who had retired to Kentucky, had died on Dec. 26 in Louisville at age 88. He had been preceded in death by his wife, Mary.

Zierold, who had worked in Europe as a U.S. intelligence operative during the immediate post-World War II era, began representing the Sierra Club at the Capitol in 1969, during the infancy of the environmental movement.

Zierold played pivotal roles in legislative battles for almost two decades over such issues as coastal protection, the California Environmental Quality Act, creation of the state Energy Commission, regulation of logging, and legislation designating "wild and scenic rivers" on which dams would be prohibited.

He also clashed with Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor over Brown's advocacy of a liquefied natural has terminal near Santa Barbara and a "peripheral canal" to carry Sacramento River water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — battles that Brown lost.

"He saved the Coastal Commission from defeat," Norbert Dall, a Sacramento environmental consultant who worked for Zierold during the period, said Tuesday, recounting Zierold's skills at working the legislative system. Dall also said that Zierold played a major role in rounding up key votes to elect Leo McCarthy as speaker of the state Assembly in 1974.

Zierold's survivors include a stepson, Marc Allaman, in Folsom.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs during a July 19, 2012 rally sponsored by the Sierra Club to make their point regarding limits on levels of deadly soot pollution. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

January 21, 2014
AM Alert: Neel Kashkari prepares for "major speech"

Neel_Kashkari.JPGIs Neel Kashkari finally ready to declare his candidacy for governor of California?

The former U.S. Treasury Department official under President George W. Bush has been circling a campaign for months, and recently he's been making the rounds in Sacramento. Last Tuesday, he met with the Legislature's Republican caucuses.

He'll be at Sacramento State's Union Ballroom at 12:10 p.m. today to deliver the keynote address during the release of the 2014 Sacramento Business Review. Last week, he told The Bee that it would be a "major speech," adding, "You should come for that."

Sounds like something is brewing.

VIDEO: How Gov. Jerry Brown handles this drought could define his governship, Dan Walters says.

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS: Friday is the deadline for bills introduced in 2013 to make it through committee in their house of origin. With that cutoff looming, the Senate Appropriations Committee, the final stop before the floor, has a packed agenda for its meeting today: the panel is scheduled to hear 34 bills, including SB 637 from Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, which would require election officials in California to make early voting opportunities available, and SB 583 from Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, which would create a new 12-month fishing license. The committee hearing will take place at 11 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

LINKED IN: As he enters his final year in the Legislature, a major policy goal of state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been the implementation of "linked learning," a program that connects high school education to career training. He plans to discuss the next step for the $250 million competitive grant fund during a 10 a.m. conference call with state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, and Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Investment Board.

CANNA-BIZ: As marijuana once again becomes a hot topic, the California Cannabis Industry Association hosts a welcome back reception for legislators tonight at 5 p.m. at Chops on 11th Street. The event, which includes manufacturers and distributors of cannabis products, aims to educate attendees on the best practices of the medical marijuana industry and push for its increasing professionalization. The association says it would like to see a bill pass this year that regulates medical marijuana under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari, who is exploring a possible run for governor in 2014, on Dec. 4, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 21, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Crises define a leader's legacy

AmericanRiver.jpgNow that Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency in California, he will be held responsible for how it turns out in the long run, 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: A pair of fishermen stand near the shallow water of the American River below Watt Ave on January 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton


Capitol Alert Staff

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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

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

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

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

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