Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

July 7, 2014
Counties scramble to begin California controller recount


Election officials across California began preparing Monday for hand recounts in thousands of precincts in the tight race for state controller.

With July normally a slow time on the election calendar, counties were calling back employees from vacation, getting in touch with potential members of recount boards, and generally boning up on the state's complicated recount procedures after former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez filed papers Sunday seeking hand recounts in 15 counties where he defeated Board of Equalization member and fellow Democrat Betty Yee.

"We've been working on this all morning," said Mary Bedard, registrar of voters in Kern County, No. 1 on the list of counties where Pérez seeks recounts. Bedard said employees on vacation have been summoned back to the office.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office is scheduled to hold a conference call with election officials in the 15 counties at 4 p.m. today.

It was still unclear Monday how long the recount could take and if that will hamper preparations for the Nov. 4 election.

Pérez wants the first recounts to be in Kern and Imperial counties. Bedard did not have an estimate of how long it would take her county to do the requested recount, and Imperial County Registrar Debbie Porter said it would take her county an estimated week-and-a-half to finish the all-county recount sought by the Pérez campaign.

But the Yee campaign said state law prohibits such simultaneous recounts. For now, Yee consultant Parke Skelton said, the campaign is watching and waiting and will consider seeking a recount of its own if Pérez's recount gives him the lead.

Skelton left open the possibility of litigation, citing the legal fight after the 2000 presidential election when Vice President Al Gore sought recounts in just Democratic-leaning counties in Florida.

"We're just assessing what our options are," Skelton said.

PHOTO: Under the watchful eyes of observers for then-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken, election official Kay Schuch sorts through ballots during the 2008 recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race. Mankato Free Press/John Cross

July 7, 2014
Sentencing for California Sen. Rod Wright delayed a third time


The criminal sentencing hearing for suspended state Sen. Rod Wright has been delayed for a third time as his lawyers argue that the judge should throw out the jury's verdicts that found Wright guilty of eight felonies for lying about where he lived when he ran for office in 2008.

Wright's sentencing hearing -- originally scheduled for March, then delayed until May, then delayed until July 21 -- is now scheduled for Sept. 3.

"We filed a lengthy document and the prosecutor needs time to respond," said Wright's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson.

Wright's lawyers are asking the court for two things: to not enter, or ratify, the jury's guilty verdicts from January, and to grant Wright a new trial.

Los Angeles prosecutors charged Wright with perjury and voter fraud, arguing that he broke the law in running to represent the Inglewood area in the state Senate because he lived outside the district in the tonier neighborhood of Baldwin Hills. Wright's lawyers argued that he owned homes in both areas, and that the Inglewood home is his legal domicile, allowing him to run for office in that district.

Testimony at the trial noted that Wright rarely slept or prepared meals at the Inglewood home, which he rents to a family member, and prosecutors showed photos of Wright's clothing in the closets of the Baldwin Hills home with his cars parked outside.

Wright's attorneys maintain that state law concerning residency requirements for legislative candidates is vague. A core argument in their request for a new trial is that the prosecution misled by focusing on where where Wright lives.

"The statute doesn't require that you live in the district," McKesson said.

"It was a problem with the continued use of the word 'live' -- not only by the court but by the media as well."

The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has not yet responded to the motions asking for a new trial and a not-guilty verdict, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.

Many legislators own multiple homes or change their legal addresses as political opportunities arise. Political opponents have brought challenges in some instances, but Wright's case marks the rare criminal prosecution over the question of residency in a legislative race.

Wright continues to earn his $7,543 per month pay as a state senator even though the Senate voted to suspend him in March, taking away his ability to participate in the legislative process. Senate Democrats quashed Republican motions to expel Wright and take away his pay, with Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg arguing that permanently expelling him from the Senate was premature because the jury's guilty verdicts could be overturned by a judge. Steinberg also said the state Constitution doesn't allow the Senate to yank the pay of members who are temporarily suspended.

Facing an unprecedented spate of criminal charges for state senators -- including federal corruption indictments for suspended Democratic Sens. Leland Yee and Ron Calderon -- Steinberg this year wrote a constitutional amendment that, if approved by lawmakers and voters, would allow the Legislature to take away the pay of suspended legislators.

Steinberg issued a statement Monday urging the court evaluating the case against Wright to decide whether the jury's verdicts stand before the Legislature begins its next session on Dec. 1.

"This latest delay sought by the prosecution reflects the complexity of the case and ambiguities in existing law surrounding domicile and residency," Steinberg's statement says.

"However, these deferments weigh upon our institution and they cannot continue indefinitely. With just one month of this legislative session remaining and with Senator Wright's defense brief already prepared and completed in time for July's hearing, I urge the court to resolve this issue before the new legislative session begins."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:07 p.m. with response from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright in the Senate chambers on Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

July 7, 2014
In Florida, Mike Curb can still stir the gubernatorial pot

curb.jpgMike Curb, the former lieutenant governor who famously made trouble for Gov. Jerry Brown when Brown was governor before and traveled out of state, demonstrated over the weekend that he is still capable of stirring the gubernatorial pot.

The Sporting News reported Friday that a political ad for Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist was removed from a car competing in a race at Daytona International Speedway after state Republican officials and Curb, a music producer and sponsor of the car, complained.

"I did it out of respect to Mike Curb, who is a staunch Republican and he didn't feel comfortable and he's been a huge supporter and a partner to us from the very start," Phil Parsons, the car's owner, told the Sporting News. "In respect to Michael, we decided to take it off."

Curb, 69, was lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1983, when Brown, a Democrat, was governor before. Brown traveled out of state frequently in those days, and Curb, left behind as acting governor, made mischief. Among other things, Curb tried to elevate a Republican judge to the appellate court - an appointment Brown rescinded - and signed a bill permitting a temporary increase in the lead content of gasoline.

PHOTO: Acting Gov. Mike Curb with tax crusader Paul Gann on February 26, 1979. The Sacramento Bee/Harlin Smith

July 7, 2014
AM Alert: Community college board reappoints CCSF trustee

Good news for Android users! Capitol Alert's Insider Edition app is now available for your phone or tablet. Learn more at

AOC_CityCollege_052w.JPGIt's summer recess for legislators, most of whom have headed back to their districts, and for your humble AM Alert crew, it feels like all our friends went away to camp and left us with nothing to do.

On this quiet Monday, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors gathers for its bimonthly meeting, starting at noon in the chancellor's office on Q Street.

On the agenda is a resolution to reappoint the special trustee that has been working with City College of San Francisco to improve its management and finances since it was stripped of its accreditation last year. City College's accreditation woes have been highly controversial and were the subject of a scathing state audit last month.

VIDEO: Despite California's pressing drought crisis, lawmakers aren't showing much urgency on a new water bond, Dan Walters says.

DELTA FORCE: Can natural processes be used to guide restoration of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta? UC Merced professor Joshua Viers discusses lessons from three decades of restoration efforts on the Cosumnes River in a seminar hosted by the Delta Science Program, noon at the Park Tower Building on 9th Street.

GI-LY: Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, is beginning his vacation with a visit to the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, the largest veterans home in the country. Frazier will tour the facilities, which house more than 1,000 veterans, at 3 p.m.

READ MORE: Audit slams California community college accreditation process

PHOTO: A student looks over a textbook while waiting for class to begin on the first day of school at Sacramento City College on Aug. 24, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Payne.

July 7, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Time running out on water bond

AmericanRiver.jpgDespite California's pressing drought crisis, lawmakers aren't showing much urgency on a new water bond, 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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