Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 14, 2014
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom: Spend high-speed rail money elsewhere


Now leaving the station: Gavin Newsom's support for high-speed rail.

The Democratic lieutenant governor doesn't typically align with Republicans. But during an appearance on a conservative radio program, Newsom embraced a position that Republicans have championed in Sacramento: Reallocating voter-approved high-speed rail bond money toward other projects.

"I would take the dollars and redirect it to other, more pressing infrastructure needs," Newsom said during an appearance on the Seattle-based Ben Shapiro Show on AM 770 KTTH.

That puts Newsom at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown, who has substantially lashed his legacy to the embattled project. The Brown administration recently asked the California Supreme Court to intervene in a legal dispute over the train's funding plan, and a lower court is poised to reconsider the issue.

But Newsom reflected public skepticism about the high-speed rail. A 2011 Field Poll found nearly two-thirds of voters advocated another vote on a $9 billion bond issue for the project, with a clear majority saying they would vote down the funding measure voters had passed in 2008.

"I am not the only Democrat that feels this way," Newsom said during his radio appearance. "I gotta tell you, I am one of the few that just said it publicly. Most are now saying it privately."

Over the last few years, Newsom's public position on the state-spanning bullet train has gradually shifted. In 2011, he pronounced himself "extraordinarily excited" about the undertaking.

"I personally have been supportive of the high-speed rail project since my time as mayor of the city and county of San Francisco," Newsom said, going on to tout the project's job-generating capacity and its role in moving goods and people around the state.

By 2013 he appeared distinctly less enthusiastic. During a talk at the Milken Institute Global Conference last May, Newsom said that "more and more legitimate questions are being raised" about the rail project.

"I think we have to be sober about this," he added.

PHOTO: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks before Gov. Jerry Brown delivers the 2014 State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the State Capitol. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

February 14, 2014
San Francisco 49ers drop Kevin Sloat as team lobbyist


By Laurel Rosenhall and Christopher Cadelago

Embattled lobbyist Kevin Sloat has lost one of his most high-profile clients: the San Francisco 49ers.

Team spokesman Bob Lange confirmed to The Sacramento Bee on Friday that the NFL team has severed ties with Sloat, who agreed on Monday to pay a record-setting fine -- $133,500 -- to the state's political watchdog for violating lobbying laws. Sloat acknowledged hosting elaborate fundraising parties for nearly 40 politicians, providing liquor, cigars and other hospitality that amounted to prohibited campaign contributions.

Part of the fine levied by the California Fair Political Practices Commission was for Sloat improperly arranging 49ers tickets for two public officials.

His firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates, brought in $105,000 from the 49ers last year.

The 49ers are now being represented by Sacramento lobbying firm Governmental Advocates.

Also on Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg acknowledged that he is the so-called "Senator A" who attended a 49ers playoff game referenced in a lawsuit against Sloat brought by his former bookkeeper Rhonda Smira.

Smira alleges that Sloat directed her to attend a 49ers playoff game against the New York Giants in January 2012 to make sure "'Senator A' was 'completely taken care of,'" the lawsuit says. Sloat asked Smira to make arrangements with the 49ers to get "'Senator A' onto the field and into the owner's suite," the suit says.

Steinberg did not use his connection to the lobbying firm to enter the playing surface or owner's box, said his spokesman Rhys Williams. Steinberg paid for his ticket to the game, Williams said.

The FPPC fine against Sloat did not include the Steinberg incident outlined in the lawsuit.

"We reviewed all the relevant facts and there was no violation," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement at the FPPC.

PHOTO: Virgil Salgado of San Jose cheers on his team after he drove 12 hours to see the 49ers during the NFC championship game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

February 14, 2014
San Bernardino DA 'looking into' Tim Donnelly's handling of guns

donnellygunstore.jpgOne of the conditions of Tim Donnelly's probation after a loaded firearm was discovered in his carry-on bag at an airport in 2012 is that the Twin Peaks assemblyman - and now-candidate for governor -- could not "personally use, own or possess any firearm that is not registered to him."

So it raised some eyebrows when Donnelly, campaigning in recent days, held well-publicized events at a gun store and a gun range, holding firearms and shooting them.

Christopher Lee, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, said in an email Friday that the office is "looking into this matter" but had no more information.

Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights advocate, pleaded no contest in 2012 to two misdemeanor gun charges related to the discovery of a firearm in his carry-on bag at Ontario International Airport. The Republican said he forgot the gun was in his bag.

Barry Krisberg, former president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and a lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, said "it's not clear to me" that Donnelly's handling of a gun at a store or a range constitutes possession. If it does, he said, it is "in the most marginal sense" of the law.

"It's hard to say," he said. "My initial reaction is whatever this misdemeanor probation is, the notion that he went to a gun range and used the gun at a gun range is not what those original regs were designed to control."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly visits the Outdoor Sportsman store in Stockton on Feb. 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

February 14, 2014
California senator unveils bill to give health care to undocumented immigrants


A plan to provide undocumented immigrants in California access to subsidized health care has been spelled out in Senate Bill 1005 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens.

Undocumented immigrants are excluded from the federal Affordable Care Act that is now offering legal residents the ability to purchase health insurance through government-run marketplaces.

Lara's bill would create two avenues for Californians who are in the country illegally to seek health care. The state would expand Medi-Cal to include undocumented immigrants whose incomes are under 138 percent of the poverty level -- about $32,000 a year for a family of four. And for undocumented immigrants who make more than that, the state would create a marketplace to sell insurance products.

The marketplace would be similar to Covered California -- the state's exchange that was created to sell insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The bill does not spell out a cost for California to extend health insurance to undocumented immigrants.

"We are doing the number crunching now," said Anthony Wright, executive director of the Health Access advocacy group that is supporting Lara's bill.

He said the goal is to provide health insurance for roughly 3 million Californians who don't have health insurance and cannot get it under the federal health program because of their immigration status.

"The idea under this bill is to extend the same level of help that the Affordable Care Act provides but to all Californians," Wright said. "It's about fairness and inclusion for all Californians."

Currently some California counties provide health care to undocumented immigrants but the offerings vary greatly among counties.

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

February 14, 2014
Neel Kashkari at ease among financial tickers on morning TV

Financial Stability Neel Kashkari.JPGNeel Kashkari got to know the financial media during his time at the U.S. Treasury Department, so when he went on CNBC's Squawk Box on Friday, it was just like old times.

"Great to see you, Becky," the Republican candidate for governor told co-anchor Becky Quick. "It's been a long time."

Kashkari and Quick talked for a few minutes about his political ambitions, and then the caption on screen switched from "Kashkari's Run for Governor," to "Kashkari's Economic Outlook."

"Let's talk about the country on a broader scale," Quick said. "Where do you think we stand right now? Because we have seen some pretty lousy economic numbers."

Kashkari, wearing a white shirt and red tie and with financial updates running beneath him, said he hasn't been "paying a lot of attention closely to the day-to-day stock market." But the former Goldman Sachs executive suggested he still could keep up with Quick.

"It does feel to be much more of a stock pickers market," he said, "than any kind of broad-scale rally over the next six to 12 months."

From CNBC, Kashkari jumped to Fox News, for a segment on Fox & Friends. While at Treasury, Kashkari managed the bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and Tucker Carlson asked if he had any regrets.

The program became a political liability for many Republicans who supported it, but Kashkari said it was a necessary intervention in an economic crisis.

"So you don't regret what you did at all?" Carlson asked.

"No," Kashkari said. "Absolutely."

February 14, 2014
Obama arriving in California with drought aid

OBAMA.jpgPresident Barack Obama is bringing additional drought aid with him Friday, as he arrives in California's stricken San Joaquin Valley.

The new assistance includes sped-up livestock disaster assistance for California producers, provided under a newly signed farm bill, as well as targeted conservation assistance, watershed protection funds, additional summer feeding programs and emergency community water grants.

"Our goal here is to provide growers help and assistance," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters.

By directing Agriculture Department staff to make the livestock assistance a "top priority," officials say they expect to provide California producers an estimated $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for losses in previous years.

The conservation assistance includes an estimated $5 million in new aid for California, and an additional $5 million in emergency watershed protection grants and $3 million in water grants for rural communities.

Interior Department officials are also being directed to operate federal water projects with "flexibility" to maximize water deliveries, and federal agencies are being directed to conserve more aggressively.

Much of the aid comes from existing federal programs, but is being provided with what administration officials describe as extra dispatch. This includes the intention to establish 600 additional summer feeding sites in the drought-affected region, under the Agriculture Department.

"The president definitely recognizes that the drought not only affects farmers, but also families," Vilsack said.

Accompanied by cabinet officials and top Democratic lawmakers, Obama is set to land in Fresno before being whisked off to a Valley farm for a first-hand look at the effects of drought. He will be announcing the aid as well as tying the severe drought to the consequences of man-made global climate change.

The president's visit comes on the heels of the Republican-controlled House passing, on a largely party line vote, a California water package that includes authorizing new dams and repealing a San Joaquin River restoration program. The Obama administration opposes the House bill.

"The problem in California is not that we don't have enough reservoirs," said Dr. John Holdren, White House science adviser. "It's that we don't have enough water in them. It wouldn't help to build any more (reservoirs.)"

A competing Senate bill has been introduced by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Feinstein has already met with the chief author of the House bill, freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., with both lawmakers voicing positive sentiments about the session.

Obama is scheduled to be accompanied at the Fresno-area event by Vilsack, Gov. Jerry Brown, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, Feinstein, Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

No Republican lawmakers were included on the White House list of attendees.

February 14, 2014
AM Alert: Obama arrives in Fresno to discuss drought

Air_Force_One.JPGAll eyes are on Fresno today, as President Barack Obama makes his first-ever visit to the region to discuss California's severe drought. He will be joined by Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

In addition to meeting with local farmers, Obama is expected to announce about $200 million in aid programs for Californians, including livestock disaster assistance, additional funds for food banks, and grants for rural communities experiencing water shortages.

Obama will then head down to Rancho Mirage for the weekend to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II and golf at the famed Sunnylands estate.

VIDEO: Brown needs to show us the money for the high-speed rail and Delta water tunnels projects, Dan Walters says.

HOW TO DEAL: Back in Sacramento, the Association of California Water Agencies is sponsoring a half-day briefing on the drought, starting at 9 a.m. at the Crest Theatre on K Street. State officials and local water districts will provide an overview of California's drought conditions, impacts across the state and strategies for managing the crisis.

LUNCHTIME TALK: For the past two years, researchers from Stanford University have partnered with San Francisco Unified School District to study the effectiveness of different instructional programs for teaching English language learners. Sean Reardon of Stanford and Ritu Khanna of SFUSD discuss the results during a seminar at 11:30 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street, sponsored by Policy Analysis for California Education.

GOING ONCE...: Happy Valentine's Day to all! If you forgot to buy a gift for that special someone, perhaps you can make it up by stopping by Saturday's state auction, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Surplus Property and Reutilization Warehouse. Featuring surplus state property and items confiscated by the California Highway Patrol and Transportation Security Administration, there are plenty of potential Valentine's goodies on the docket, including gold jewelry, watches and "his & hers" drinking glasses.

CELEBRATIONS: There will be no AM Alert on President's Day, so an early happy birthday to Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, who turns 46 on Monday.

February 14, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown needs to show us the money

anti_rail.JPGNo one has come up with the tens of billions of dollars needed to build the high-speed rail or the Delta water tunnels, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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