Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 16, 2014
Senate investigations probe sergeant-at-arms shooting

The California Senate will spend more than $40,000 on private contractors to investigate security concerns raised by an in-house law enforcement officer who was found to have used cocaine and marijuana the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting.

In March, attorney Sue Ann Van Dermyden and threat assessment expert James Cawood completed their investigation of issues raised by the December 2012 shooting outside the Sacramento home of Gerardo Lopez, who was a sergeant-at-arms for the Senate until he was fired last month. The investigators billed the Senate $41,486 for the work, according to information provided by Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The results of their investigation fall under attorney-client privilege and will not be released by the Senate, Hedlund said.

"The Senate is now in the process of drafting new, updated operating procedures and codes of conduct for the Sergeant-at-Arms office," Hedlund said in a statement.

Steinberg fired Lopez after The Sacramento Bee raised questions about court testimony that showed Lopez had used illegal drugs the night he engaged in a gunfight outside his house that left three people injured and one man dead. The Senate's chief sergeant-at-arms, Tony Beard, stepped down from his position after it came out that he had withheld information from Steinberg about the toxicology report showing Lopez had used cocaine and marijuana that night. Prosecutors consider Lopez the victim of a home invasion and are charging three people with robbery in a case scheduled to go to trial this week.

The incident triggered fear among some Senate employees, as well as allegations that Lopez benefitted from nepotism in holding on to his job as long as he did. His mother, Dina Hidalgo, is the Senate's head of human resources.

The Legislature's lawyers, known as the Legislative Counsel Bureau, signed a contract with outside attorneys on May 28 to investigate the claims of nepotism, according to the information from Hedlund. That work went to Heather Irwin of the Gordon & Rees law firm. Her hourly rate is $325 but she has not yet billed the Legislature, Hedlund said.

"She was told the target date of completion was mid-June. However about one week ago, she asked for more time because she had not yet been able to complete her final interviews," Hedlund's statement says.

"We believe that will happen shortly and she will then be able to complete the report."


Editor's note: This post was updated at 9:45 p.m. to say three people were injured in the shooting outside Lopez's home.

June 16, 2014
California Senate passes fundraising ban it killed last week


The California Senate reversed course Monday by approving a fundraising ban it rejected last week.

Senate Bill 1101 would prohibit anyone running for the state Legislature from accepting or soliciting campaign donations during two one-month periods: when lawmakers deliberate over the state budget from mid-May to mid-June, and during the final month of session as they vote on scores of contentious bills.

The bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, is similar to a rule the Senate passed last week to ban campaign fundraising in the upper house during two blackout periods. But the rule would apply only to the Senate and need to be renewed each session, while SB 1101 would create a law that applies indefinitely to both houses of the Legislature. Because the bill amends California's Political Reform Act, it requires approval from two-thirds of state lawmakers.

It fell short of that margin last week when Senate Republicans argued that the bill didn't make clear that it covered all legislative candidates -- not just incumbents. Padilla got their votes when he brought it back today by saying he promised to make that amendment as the bill moves through the Assembly. It passed today with bipartisan support from 32 senators.
Republican Sen. Joel Anderson voted "no" and four senators withheld their votes: Democratic Sen. Bill Monning and Republican Sens. Tom Berryhill, Ted Gaines and Mimi Walters.

"With today's vote, we are one step closer to improving the public's confidence in state government," Padilla said in a statement. "A fundraising blackout will help reduce the unseemly overlap of public policy and campaign contributions."

PHOTO: Sen. Alex Padilla, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, listens to testimony on why the state Energy Commission has been unable to spend millions of federal stimulus dollars on August 1, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

June 16, 2014
Burton in spotlight as California Democratic Party headquarters open

PelosiCalifornia.jpgAdulation rained down on California Democratic Party chair John Burton during a Monday event launching a new party headquarters bearing Burton's name.

An impressive roster of statewide elected officials, members of the state Legislature and denizens of Congress converged on the corner of S and 9th street in Sacramento for the dedication. Formerly a Wishing Well party store, the building has since has transformed into a sparkling new LEED-certified structure boasting solar panels and electrical vehicle charging stations.

But the building itself took a backseat on Monday to Burton, a longtime figure in Democratic politics who most recently led the Democratic caucus in the state Senate before becoming head of the state party in 2009. Gov. Jerry Brown and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, were among those recounting Burton's accomplishments before a crowd stocked with elected officials.

"I've seen the Democratic party for all of my life, and never has it had such a following, a solidity of organization or a leader in John Burton," Brown said.

"He's mastered inner discord," Brown added of the notoriously foul-mouthed Burton, "and therefore can master the outer discord."

Among the donors helping to get the project off the ground was environmental activist and billionaire Tom Steyer, who contributed an undisclosed amount to the cause. The building was purchased for $830,000 and required just over $2 million worth of work, according to party spokesman Tenoch Flores.

"It took a lot of money to get it to where it is now," Flores said. "It was essentially a renovation project."

The party had formerly been paying $14,000 a month in rent for a space at 21st and N streets, Flores said. Speakers at the event suggested the project could pay for itself, touting it as a space to host party fundraisers.

PHOTO: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is greeted by California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton at dedication ceremonies of the new John L. Burton Democratic Headquarters in Sacramento, Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

June 16, 2014
Kevin de León formally voted in as the next Senate leader

DeLeonSteinberg.JPGThe California Senate unanimously voted in a new leader Monday, formally naming Sen. Kevin de León as its next president pro tem.

The Los Angeles Democrat is scheduled to take the reins of the Legislature's upper house from Sen. Darrell Steinberg on Oct. 15, Steinberg's 55th birthday.

Lawmakers lauded the vote for de León as an historic action, marking the first time in modern California history that a Latino has led the state Senate. The last Latino to have the position was Sen. Reginaldo del Valle, who led the Senate briefly in 1883, Steinberg said.

"While history unfortunately will not long remember Pro Tem Del Valle, I can guarantee you that history will remember Pro Tem Kevin de León," Steinberg said in a speech nominating his colleague for the post, with several Assembly members who are part of the Legislature's Latino caucus looking on.

Senators cast their vote after an hour and a half of accolades for de León, 47. Colleagues praised him for his determination in pursuing environmental and immigrant-rights policies, his devotion to his daughter and a personal story of growing up with a single mother who immigrated from Mexico.

"Kevin was raised in one of those households that was truly, truly very poor and disadvantaged," said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, as he recalled their shared childhood in San Diego.

"We saw a lot of horrible things. We saw our friends and family members get gunned down."

Republicans also voiced support for de León.

"When I think about the American Dream, I can't think of anybody who embodies it as much as Senator de León, growing up in the barrio of Logan Heights in San Diego and graduating from Pitzer College," Republican leader Sen. Bob Huff said.

De León thanked colleagues and said he looked forward to cooperating as they continue to work to "improve the human condition." He pointed out that his childhood of poverty is not unique.

"My story actually is the story of millions of other Californians. Many of them are your constituents, whether they are in South L.A., or Bell Gardens... or Richmond or Pomona," he said. "It's a story of so many of us."

In a meeting with reporters after the floor session ended, de León said he will work hard in Senate Democrat political campaigns this year to get more Democrats out to vote in November. He said he is hoping to help Democrats restore the two-thirds supermajority they lost this year when three senators were suspended while they fight criminal charges including bribery, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.


Kevin de León aims to move past Calderon scandal to lead Senate

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, congratulates Sen. Kevin De Leon after he was voted into the leadership position on Monday, June 16, 2014. De Leon, who will take over Oct. 15, will be the first Latino Pro Tem since Reginaldo Francisco Del Valle in 1883. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 16, 2014
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joan Didion named to California Hall of Fame

The eighth class of inductees to the California Hall of Fame includes a basketball legend, a literary icon, a celebrated filmmaker and a civil-rights heroine, officials announced Monday.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joan Didion, Francis Ford Coppola and Charlotta Bass are among the luminaries celebrated for exemplifying the Golden State's spirit of innovation.

The class also includes community organizer Fred Ross, Sr; environmental scientist Stephen Schneider; and social-activism innovator Mimi Silbert, according to the announcement from California Gov. Jerry Brown and Anne Gust Brown along with The California Museum.

"These talented pioneers represent the very best of California," Brown said in the statement. "Their determination, intelligence and creativity continue to inspire us."

"I am honored to be chosen for the California Hall of Fame," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It is a significant achievement to join the ranks of the other honorees. They have set an example of achievement that every Californian can admire and emulate."

Previous inductees include the actor Jack Nicholson, labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, photograpther Dorothea Lange and chef Alice Waters.

Inductees or their families will receive a Spirit of California medal from the Browns at an official ceremony planned for 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at The California Museum in Sacramento. A public viewing of the arrivals begins at 5 p.m. and a live webcast of the ceremony will be streamed on the Museum's website.

PHOTO: NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson embrace during a news conference outside City Hall in Los Angeles on April 29 after Johnson's comments on the decision by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from basketball for life. (AP Photo)

June 16, 2014
AM Alert: Senate votes on Steinberg replacement

steinberg_leon_blog.jpgWith the primary election season and budget drama (mostly) behind us, the state Senate is finally ready to pick a new leader. They'll vote to elect the next president pro tem during today's floor session, which begins at noon.

Don't expect any surprises: Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has been waiting in the wings for months. Current Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced his successor early in the session, with plans to hand over the reins on Oct. 15.

"I think he will be a great leader," Steinberg said of de León in January. "He's adept at both the policy and the political side."

Despite speculation that de León's ambitions to be pro tem could be thwarted by his connection to suspended Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who has been embroiled in a corruption scandal, no real challengers emerged.

A nascent campaign by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, was abandoned when he got a shot at Rep. George Miller's seat in Congress, and Democrats quickly settled the leadership debate during a caucus meeting the next day.

VIDEO: A court ruling striking down several teacher protection laws has shaken up the race for state superintendent of public instruction, Dan Walters says.

LET THE BATTLE BEGIN: How does the California Republican Party plan to increase GOP representation in the Legislature this November? What districts are they targeting to prevent another Democratic supermajority? The Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly, Bob Huff and Connie Conway, address the Lincoln Club of Placer County, 6:30 p.m. at the Timber Creek Ballroom in Roseville.

KEEPING BIZ-Y: The California Small Business Association sponsors California Small Business Day, starting at 9 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand hotel on J Street. Legislators including Steinberg, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Assemblymen John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, Dan Logue, R-Marysville, and Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, will present awards to small business owners from their districts and deliver remarks.

AT THE MOVIES: Over the past thirty years, college tuition has spiraled and student loan debt has soared past $1 trillion. The new documentary Ivory Tower explores some of the causes of the rising cost of higher education, and includes thoughts from Gov. Jerry Brown and others on possible solutions. Participant Media and the Michelson 20 Million Minds Foundation sponsor a free screening of the film, 6 p.m. at the Crest Theater on K Street, to be followed by a panel discussion including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton.

SCHOOLS RULES: In August 2013, seven California school districts representing about one million students -- including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and Long Beach -- were granted a federal exemption from No Child Left Behind achievement standards. Their alternate, self-designed accountability standards for improving student performance and school climate is overseen by the School Quality Improvement System Oversight Panel, which meets at 10 a.m. at WestEd on G Street for its biannual review of the districts' progress.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, who turns 50 today.

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin de León, talks with Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, during the California Senate session Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 16, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Vergara decision boosts state schools chief debate

rally_tom_torlakson_resize.JPGA court ruling striking down California's teacher protection laws shakes up this year's race for state superintendent of public instruction, 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 Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, urges legislators to support the tax extension proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown on March 14, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench


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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