Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 31, 2014
Jerry Brown calls himself 'missionary' to oil executives in climate change fight

JERRYBROWN.jpgSAUSALITO - Gov. Jerry Brown, whose permissiveness of hydraulic fracturing has alienated many environmentalists, said Monday he is a "missionary" to oil executives in the fight against climate change.

The Democratic governor, who has made climate change a focus of his administration, told a meeting of The Environmental Council of the States, an association of state agency leaders, that reducing the use of fossil fuels requires broad support, including from within the oil industry.

"I'm kind of a missionary here," Brown said.

Brown, who has taken contributions from oil companies for his re-election campaign and other political causes, said he has spent hours meeting with oil executives he did not identify, adding that he keeps "going back." He reiterated dire warnings he has made for years about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment.

"We're setting in motion the presence of greenhouse gases that will be around for hundreds of years," he said. "And worse than that, it's not a slow walk to destruction."

Brown has come under criticism from environmentalists opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, including a vocal demonstration during his speech to the California Democratic Party's annual convention this month.

Brown signed legislation last year establishing a permitting system for fracking and requiring an environmental review of the practice in which water and chemicals are injected underground to break up rock formations.

Brown told reporters Monday that the environmental impacts "are being very carefully examined."

Brown championed environmental causes when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, and he has set California out as a leader on climate change in his third term.

"We've got to reduce, systematically, increasingly, the use of fossil fuel," Brown said Monday. "That's oil, that's coal and, ultimately, that's natural gas."

Brown appeared resistant to a gas tax proposed last month by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, in what Steinberg called a more stable alternative to gas price increases likely to result from a requirement that oil companies buy carbon credits for fuel they sell starting next year.

Brown told reporters he has not seen the proposal, which many environmentalists oppose. However, Brown said, "I don't think there are going to be any new taxes this year."

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown looks at protesters opposing fracking after his speech at the California Democratic Party's convention on March 8, 2014, in Los Angeles. Associated Press/ Jae C. Hong

March 31, 2014
California senator suggests an ethics ombudsman

State Sen. Richard Roth went on Los Angeles radio Monday morning to float an idea for a Senate ethics ombudsman who could take tips of wrongdoing from staff members, lawmakers, and others.

Roth, D-Riverside, chairs the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee. Monday's proposal, which Roth emphasized is a personal idea that he has yet to run past colleagues, follows last Wednesday's arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, on federal corruption and weapons trafficking charges.

Last month, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on corruption charges. And in January, a Los Angeles County jury convicted state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, of lying about his residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Friday that the Senate will cancel one day of floor session and committee hearings and instead have an intensive, mandatory office-by-office review of Senate ethics policies.

Roth said his idea would build on that, and reflects concerns that some people with knowledge of wrongdoing may be intimidated by the existing process of voicing concerns. Under Senate rules, people can make allegations of suspected violations of Senate standards of conduct. But the complaints must be in writing and be signed under penalty of perjury.

"It's not as open a process, as free a process, as I would like to see," Roth said. "We need to create a different system, where staff or other individuals, and legislators, are free to contact someone like an ombudsman."

Roth, elected in 2012, said his office is just starting to survey ethics procedures in other states. His goal, he said, is to make sure "we have the best ethics program in the nation, period."

PHOTO: State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, during session in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

March 31, 2014
VIDEO: Jerry Brown calls Leland Yee case 'tragedy' for democratic process

brownmics.jpgSAUSALITO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday called the Leland Yee corruption case a "tragedy" for the state Senate and "our democratic process," and he reiterated his call for Yee and two other senators accused of crimes to resign.

The Democratic governor, speaking to reporters at an environmental conference here, said "there's nothing that seems normal or understandable" about the case.
Yee was charged in federal court last week with corruption and conspiring to illegally import weapons.

"I just think that this is a tragedy for the Senate, for politics in general, for our democratic process, and the quicker we can move forward and have these cases resolved, the better it will be for everybody."

Brown said he had not read the extensive FBI affidavit outlining the charges against Yee, D-San Francisco.

Brown's remarks came after California lawmakers on Friday suspended three state senators accused in separate cases of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons. Brown issued a prepared statement Friday calling for the resignation of the Yee and two others senators, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills.

Calderon was indicted last month on 24 counts of corruption for allegedly taking bribes, while Wright was found guilty of eight felonies in January for lying about living in the district he ran for in 2008.

Calderon has pleaded not guilty. Yee has not yet entered a plea.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to members of the press after speaking at a rally for crime victims in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

March 31, 2014
Neel Kashkari likens Jerry Brown to Gargamel, says he has to be 'tallest Smurf'

kashkaridam.jpgNeel Kashkari has tried to manage fundraising expectations around his run for governor by suggesting that, in a primary contest between two underfunded Republicans, he only needs to be the "strongest weakling" to succeed.

On the East Coast meeting with potential donors and media outlets, Kashkari on Monday offered a more vivid variation on that theme.

"Well, step one is to get through the primary," the former U.S. Treasury Department official said when asked about campaign money on CNBC's Squawk Box. "And I like to joke that I need to be the tallest Smurf to get through the primary. And then the tallest Smurf gets to go take on Gargamel in the November general election. So getting through the primary, we probably need to raise a few million dollars more."

Kashkari's remarks come after filings last week showed his fundraising effort tapering off after a fast start. He has more than $900,000 in cash on hand, far more than Republican rival Tim Donnelly, who has less than $11,000, but a fraction of the nearly $20 million Brown holds.

The "Smurf" reference appeared to work for Squawk Box.

"Tallest Smurf" one of Kashkari's hosts repeated later in the interview. "No one can get mad at that, because they're not real, are they?"

Said Kashkari: "Well, there may be little blue people somewhere."

PHOTO: Republican Neel Kashkari speaks with reporters at Oroville Dam on March 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 31, 2014
California health insurance enrollment spikes as deadline nears

covered_california_event.jpgMore than 150,000 people have signed up for Covered California health insurance in the past week, bringing total state enrollment to roughly 1.2 million and slowing the online portal to a crawl as residents rush to beat a midnight deadline.

Meanwhile, Medi-Cal has enrolled approximately 1.5 million new members though mid-March.

Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said the number of household accounts opened since last week totaled about 390,000, including 123,787 on Saturday and Sunday.

"We are seeing more accounts open than any day ever. And we are seeing that today with a huge amount of interest on the site, and it is causing the website to be quite slow," Lee said.

The exchange is working on several ways to accommodate the spike. With about 12 hours left in the first open-enrollment period, the state exchange is placing a high priority on allowing people to begin their applications and then return to complete them by April 15.

Some customers will get a "congratulations" note telling them they have started the application process but because of the high demand they will not be able to finish the process Monday, Lee said. Officials have switched off the "preview plan" tool because of lagging performance but will retain the "shop and compare" function.

Despite hiring on 250 additional people, wait times at customer service call centers averaged 42 minutes in the last week and about 70 minutes over the weekend. A number of enrollment events are taking place across the state, including in Sacramento, Oakland and Los Angeles.

The SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union is hosting two "enroll-a-thons" Monday at its Sacramento office, 1911 F St., from 7 a.m. to midnight. For details, call ( 888) 920-4517. See video below.

Affordable Care Act sign-ups: Where to get help before March 31 deadline

Covered California's website and call centers also will have extended hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In addition, consumers can call a licensed insurance agent or go to health care websites, such as, which is extending its call center hours through midnight Monday (800) 977-8860.

What You'll Need: Whether enrolling by phone, online or in person, every individual family member should have: proof of identity (photo ID, driver's license, passport); proof of address (utility bill or postmarked mail); income information (two paystubs or recent tax return); proof of citizenship (birth certificate, permanent resident card, or naturalization certificate). Each person enrolling also must provide date of birth, Social Security number and ZIP code.

PHOTO: Karla Sanchez, 31, of North Highlands holds her son, Luis Marcial, 4, who naps in her arms while she makes her choice for insurance coverage at the SEIU union hall on Monday. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 31, 2014
In California, ballot labels vary for congressional delegation


California voters unfamiliar with congressional candidates often rely on a brief description - generally limited to three words - as they scan down the ballot.

While many incumbents select a customary designation such as "United States Representative," others take the opportunity to get considerably more creative.

Northern California Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, nod to their rural roots with "U.S. Representative/Farmer," and "Congressman/Rancher," respectively.

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, draws attention to his medical and education backgrounds before revealing his congressional affiliation with "Doctor/Teacher/Congressman," while Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock offers a pair of general occupations ahead of his day job with "Businessman/Farmer/Representative."

Fellow Central Valley Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, distances himself entirely from the post, stating simply "Farmer/Small Businessman."

Candidates can choose their own titles, and it's their responsibility to justify their proposed designation if it is challenged. The Secretary of State's list is available here.

Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, keep it simple with "Congresswoman," whereas Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, goes all geographical with "Ventura County Congresswoman." The former longtime Los Angeles County resident, it seems, is still working to establish her bona fides.

Designations are unlikely to help bring business to moonlighting members, but if Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, needs a few extra bucks around tax time, his title, "United States Congressman/CPA," is unlikely to hurt.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:15 p.m. to clarify Brownley's place of residence.

PHOTO: Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials, listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 in Washington, D.C. MCT/Pete Marovich

March 31, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee Edition


Forget House of Cards and Scandal.

The hottest political soap opera of 2014 is the California Senate, and its latest plot twist is a doozy: Last Wednesday, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

With the Capitol on holiday for Cesar Chavez Day, let's review what you may have missed during last week's crazy episode. Warning: spoilers ahead.

VIDEO: The state Senate's latest scandal is more ammunition for an election year battle over the Democrats' supermajority, Dan Walters says.

WEDNESDAY: The FBI arrested Yee at his San Francisco home Wednesday morning and raided his Capitol office as part of a sweeping sting of more than two dozen Bay Area figures suspected of selling drugs, smuggling guns and arranging murder for hire.

Among those connected to the case was Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a Chinatown gangster who had been honored in the past by elected officials for turning his life around.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was "extremely disappointed and upset" by the news, which follows the January conviction of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, on felony charges related to living outside his district and the February indictment of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on corruption charges. Steinberg later called upon Yee to resign or he would be suspended.

The affidavit was unsealed in the afternoon, and it reads like a conspiracy thriller: illegal arms dealing, Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines, deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the nickname "Uncle Leland" all make appearances. The tangled web of San Francisco politicians, organized crime and undercover agents takes a map to keep track of.

THURSDAY: Pressure mounted on Yee to leave the Senate, with calls coming all the way from Washington, D.C. Though he ignored those requests, Yee did drop out of the race for California secretary of state. His name, however, will remain on the ballot.

FRIDAY: In what should have been a quiet per diem session before the long weekend, the Senate took an unprecedented step, suspending not just Yee but all three of its members facing legal troubles. The resolution says they can't resume office "until all criminal proceedings currently pending against them have been dismissed," but Yee, Wright and Calderon will continue to be paid.

Wright and Calderon had previously been allowed to take paid leaves of absence, but Steinberg said developments with Yee had changed his mind about how to deal with them. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, was the sole dissenting vote. He argued that the measure did not go far enough and the disgraced members should be expelled.

That's a lot of plot development for one week, but the drama is not over yet. Stay tuned.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who turns 62 today.

March 31, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Election year politicizes Leland Yee scandal

YeeCalderon.jpgThe state Senate's latest scandal is more ammunition for an election year battle over the Democrats' supermajority, 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: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk at the Capitol on March 26, 2014. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli


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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