Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 7, 2014
In sign of affirmative-action backlash, Democrats help stall Al Muratsuchi bill


Weeks after some Asian-American lawmakers killed a measure to restore affirmative action in California's public colleges by withdrawing their support, backlash from Democrats who supported the effort is surfacing in the Capitol and on the campaign trail.

Repercussions of the Legislature's decision last month to shelve Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 appear to be pitting some African American and Latino Democrats against their Asian American colleagues. Asian American Democrats were the subject of an intense advocacy campaign by opponents of affirmative action, and their decision not to support the measure caused it to fail last month.

Today, several members of the Legislature's black and Latino caucuses withheld their votes on a non-controversial bill, killing the measure by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi. Last week, six black and Latino Democrats sent Sen. Ted Lieu a letter withdrawing their endorsement in his race for Congress. Muratsuchi and Lieu are both Asian Americans and Democrats from Torrance.

Muratsuchi's Assembly bill 2013, a measure to expand the number of electric vehicles entitled to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, had sailed through two committees with little opposition before falling eleven votes short when it reached the Assembly floor on Monday. As an immediately effective, urgency measure, it required two-thirds approval.

Six lawmakers who had supported the bill in committee reversed and withheld votes, effectively helping to doom the bill. Three are members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and three are part of the California Legislative Black Caucus, two blocs that issued a joint statement vowing to push ahead with a recently shelved bill that would allow voters to weigh in on the state's affirmative action ban.

In total, 15 members of the black or Latino caucuses abstained from voting - more than enough to push the legislation over the finish line.

Muratsuchi declined to talk to reporters after the vote.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, the Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Legislature's black caucus, said she was not surprised to hear that so many lawmakers withheld their votes on Muratsuchi's bill. Does she expect black and Latino Democrats to continue withholding votes from colleagues they feel do not support a return to affirmative action?

"Perhaps," Mitchell said, adding that lawmakers who believe in restoring affirmative action are concerned "that there is a lack of commitment to a core Democratic party priority."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the public debate over restoring affirmative action has grown too harsh.

"The way that this debate and discussion has been had so far shows the danger in deliberately trying to divide people along racial and ethnic lines," Steinberg said.

"That's not the way we should be having a very important discussion."

He said he plans to convene a public forum in the coming weeks where supporters of affirmative action - including from several Asian American groups - will talk about how to revive a new effort to bring race-conscious decision-making back to California colleges.

PHOTO: A University of California Davis student, listens in the crowd as professors, students, and others speak in defense of affirmative action practices during a rally at UC Davis on October 21, 1998. The Sacramento Bee/Dick Schmidt.

April 7, 2014
Kamala Harris engaged to wed Los Angeles lawyer

20120416_HA_mortgage0207.JPGCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris is engaged to marry a Los Angeles lawyer, her spokesman said Monday.

Harris' fiancé, Douglas Emhoff, is partner in charge of the law firm Venable LLP's Los Angeles office. The two were engaged March 27, said David Beltran, Harris' communications director.

Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and is widely considered a potential future candidate for governor or U.S. Senate. She and Emhoff are both 49.

The engagement was first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. Harris told the newspaper Sunday that no wedding date has been set but that it will probably be within six months. She said she and Emhoff had been dating for about a year, according to the newspaper.

Harris has never been married. Emhoff is divorced.

PHOTO: Attorney General Kamala Harris prepares to talk before a hearing in Sacramento on April 22, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 7, 2014
California still holds 4th place in state-local tax burdens


Californians carried the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden in 2011, the Tax Foundation says in a new report, largely because its personal incomes are markedly lower than those of other high-tax states.

The Washington-based Tax Foundation annually calculates state and local tax burdens as a percentage of personal incomes and California has traditionally been in the top tier. But the data are always several years old and 2011 was the last year before a temporary, voter-approved increase in sales and personal income taxes went into effect. Therefore, the 2012 rankings a year from now could push California higher.

For 2011, the Tax Foundation calculated that California's tax burden was 11.4 percent of its average per capita income of $45,354, or $5,136. New York was the highest at 12.6 percent, followed by New Jersey at 12.3 percent and Connecticut at 11.9 percent. Wyoming residents had the lowest tax burden, 6.9 percent, and the national average was 9.8 percent.

One reason for California's high rank was that while its per capita tax burden was, indeed, relatively high, its per capita personal income was only slightly above the national average of $42,473, while other high-tax states also had markedly higher incomes.

Connecticut had the highest per capita income at $60,287 while California's was 15th highest. Texas, with which California is often compared, had the nation's fourth lowest tax burden of 7.5 percent of personal income which, at $41,269 per capita, was 23rd highest.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have occupied the top three places for a number of years. California was fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2009.

The state's 2011 tax burden of 11.4 percent was slightly lower than 2010's percentage but has been fairly consistent for decades, ranging from a high of 12 percent in 1977 to a low of 10.4 percent in 2005.

In 2012, voters approved a fractional increase in the state sales tax and a sharp boost income taxes on the state's highest-income families, raising about $6 billion more a year temporarily to balance the state's budget.

With Californians' personal income totaling about $1.7 trillion a year and state and local taxes approximating $200 billion, that would add perhaps a third of a percentage point to the overall burden. And it means California could challenge Connecticut for third place — especially if a spate of recent local sales tax increases continues.

PHOTO: Yolanda Odell of Sacramento dances to get the attention of last minute tax filers on the corner of Truxel Road and W. El Camino Ave. for Liberty Tax Service in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

April 7, 2014
Sean Noble talks about $1 million FPPC fine, ties to Kochs


Sean Noble, the man who operated an Arizona nonprofit group that channeled millions of dollars in anonymous donations to two California ballot measures in 2012, said in a television interview Sunday that the investigation he faced by California's political watchdog was "a complete over-reach."

In October, Noble's group, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and another Arizona nonprofit agreed to pay California's Fair Political Practices Commission a $1 million fine for not properly reporting the source of their contributions to groups that were working to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30. Those measures sought, respectively, to weaken union influence and raise taxes.

The fine set the record as the stiffest penalty the state has ever levied for a violation of campaign finance laws, and made national news as a rare case of regulators successfully shining more light on the practices that allow donors to shield their identities while giving big money to political campaigns.

"It was an example where government has a tremendous amount of authority to do things that violate the rights of individuals. And the investigation that led them to levy this fine was a complete over-reach," Noble said in an interview with News 12, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona.

Noble also talked about his relationship with the Koch brothers and his new political nonprofit group called American Encore, which you can watch here. The discussion about California's FPPC investigation starts around the 5:35 minute mark.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, responded to Noble's comments with this prepared statement:

"Sean Noble agreed to and paid a record fine on behalf of the Koch network for a reason. It was the largest amount of undisclosed dark money in the history of California. His vain attempts to try to minimize the case should not serve to give comfort to anyone who tries to hide money in California, because we are prepared to confront them at every turn."

PHOTO: Ann Ravel, then-chairwoman of the California FPPC, announces October 24, 2013, a $1 million fine against Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:23 p.m. to include a comment from the FPPC's Gary Winuk.

April 7, 2014
AM Alert: Lobby day for ACLU, University of California students


Drug sentencing, school discipline, and student debt.

We're now entering the meat of the legislative calendar, as evidenced by the increasingly bill-packed hearings on the Daily File, which means it's prime time for groups to head to Sacramento and make their voices heard. Today we have some relatively less-moneyed interests: the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of California Student Association.

At the forefront for the ACLU are bills that would allow moms on welfare to receive extra money if they become pregnant, scale back so-called "willful defiance" school punishments and eliminate crack sentencing disparities. The students are focused on the mounting burden of student debt, a message they'll amplify at a morning rally alongside Assemblyman Das Williams, D- Santa Barbara, and Senators Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

VIDEO: Name recognition is a good thing in an election year, right? Not always, Dan Walters says.

SEAFOOD CHICANERY: How's that sushi? Or more accurately, what's that sushi? A startling recent study showed widespread seafood mislabeling, with customers often buying a cheaper substitute for the cod or salmon they thought they were getting. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, will be at Taylor's Market on Freeport Boulevard this morning to stump for his legislation slapping criminal penalties on people who misrepresent the seafood they're selling.

ORCA-NIZED PROTEST With a closely watched bill to ban orca shows making its first committee appearance on Tuesday, bill proponents will be presenting an online petition with over a million signatures to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, chair of the committee weighing the bill's fate. This evening, the bill's author (Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica) and its sponsor (the Animal Welfare Institute) will host a screening of the inciting documentary "Blackfish" at the Crest Theater.

BEAD IT: Speaking of Bloom ban bills, the former Santa Monica mayor's legislation to nix the waterway-polluting microbeads embedded in many cosmetic products goes before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee today.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to the nation's oldest governor, our grizzled Gov. Jerry Brown. The third-term guv turns an august 76 today.

PHOTO: Students rallying during the University of California students annual lobbying day at the State Capitol, Monday, March 3, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

April 7, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Name game backfires for unlucky candidates


Pity state controller candidate Betty Yee, Dan says, who has the misfortune of sharing a last name with another lately-in-the-news politician.

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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