Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 20, 2014
Grover Norquist calls John Burton's Reagan support 'childish'

Perry_Norquist.JPGAnti-tax activist Grover Norquist's plan to name 3,000 items after former President Ronald Reagan - including a mountain overlooking Las Vegas - drew a tongue-in-cheek endorsement from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

Burton, a former state legislator, said in the open letter Monday that he remembers "fondly" when then-Gov. Reagan signed the largest tax increase in more than a century and approved a bill that "liberalized abortion," the Therapeutic Abortion Act.

"I think it's wonderful that you're willing to honor somebody who has such a liberal progressive record," Burton wrote to Norquist.

The president of Americans for Tax Reform wasn't amused, calling the letter "childish" and pointing to Reagan's role in ending the Cold War.

"How does he look Polish Americans in the eye and say that the legacy of Ronald Reagan was a tax increase in California or a vote on therapeutic abortions in California?" Norquist said.

In an interview with The Bee, he compared Burton's argument to "attacking Eisenhower for something he did when he was 40 and missing the Second World War."

He said Republicans were far more accepting of naming things after John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and suggested Democrats should be more open.

"It's a petty partisan jab at naming things after the greatest Californian in American history and one of the greatest presidents we've had who turned the economy around from a failure created by a House, Senate and president all from Mr. Burton's party," Norquist said.

This isn't the first time the two have sparred, with one notable exchange centering on Gov. Jerry Brown's successful push to raise taxes. Norquist said golf and cocaine would be "more constructive" ways to spend time than negotiating with Democrats.

"I have always considered golf a good walk spoiled," Burton responded. "As a recovering cocaine addict, I am surprised that anyone would think that it is at all constructive to spend one's free time using that drug."

"One would think that Mr. Norquist made this comment with a straw in his hand bending over a mirror full of white (powder)."

Norquist at the time shot back at California Democrats for their attention to him.

"Focus on cutting the spending, guys," he said.

PHOTO: Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, right, talks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, before a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md. The Associated Press/Susan Walsh

March 14, 2014
Democrats meet Republican convention with a digital prod

fightfortheright.jpgCalifornia Republicans open their biannual convention in Burlingame on Friday, and the state Democratic Party is lobbing over a digital stink bomb., a website posted Friday, features images of the two main Republican candidates for governor standing nose to nose in a boxing ring under the headline, "The Confrontation for the Nomination."

On the left is "'Wall Street'" Neel Kashkari. On the right, "Tim 'Tea Party' Donnelly," a Twin Peaks assemblyman.

The site criticizes Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, for his role overseeing the federal bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, though many Democrats supported the measure.

It calls Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights and anti-illegal immigration advocate, the "designated flag-bearer for 'true conservatives' in Golden State."
The site pokes both candidates for missing voting in several previous elections.

Tenoch Flores, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party, called the site a "voter education tool."

Donnelly and Kashkari are expected to have major presences at the convention. They and a third Republican candidate, Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount, are all expected to address delegates Sunday.

PHOTO: Image from , a website posted by the California Democratic Party on Friday, March 13, 2014.

March 9, 2014
Betty Yee criticizes, John A. Pérez cheers state party in controller race

perezconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - Betty Yee, the state Board of Equalization member competing against Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez in the Democratic race for state controller, issued a vague but stinging indictment of the state party Sunday, suggesting its leadership has become too heavy-handed and is disconnected from grassroots activists.

Her remarks, on the final day of the California Democratic Party's annual convention here, highlighted the intensity of a fight for the party's endorsement in the race, one of the most competitive statewide contests.

In delegate voting following two days of lobbying, neither Yee nor Pérez received sufficient support to win the endorsement. The speaker, with nearly 48 percent of the vote, finished ahead of Yee by just more than 3 percentage points.

In his convention speech, Pérez, a former labor organizer, recounted legislative achievements and electoral pick-ups made by Democrats in the Legislature during his tenure.

"We're expanding the map everywhere," he said. "In California, red to blue is not a slogan. It's a reality."

Without offering specific examples, Yee accused some members of the party of bullying activists "so power may remain in the hands of a few political leaders." She said "grassroots activists often are relegated to ridicule."

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez addresses the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 9, 2014
California Democrats add marijuana legalization, fracking moratorium to platform

conventionoverview.jpgLOS ANGELES - The California Democratic Party added planks to its platform Sunday calling for the legalization of marijuana and a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The platform's adoption, on a unanimous or near-unanimous voice vote, reflected the influence of the party's more liberal wing at its annual convention. Both positions are at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democratic governor has expressed reservations about legalizing marijuana and faced protests when he spoke here Saturday over his permissiveness of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of oil extraction.

The platform calls for the party to "support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

On hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the party calls for "an immediate moratorium on fracking, acidizing, and other forms of oil/gas well stimulation" until more restrictive regulations are enacted.

The platform change comes a week after Brown made headlines with remarks critical of marijuana legalization.

"Well, we have medical marijuana, which gets very close to what they have in Colorado and Washington," Brown said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'd really like those two states to show us how it's going to work."

Brown feared advertising and the legitimization of marijuana use could lead to a lack of alertness by the citizenry.

"The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive," Brown said. "I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together."

In a speech to delegates on Saturday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a supporter of legalization, said "it's time to legalize, it's time to tax, it's time to regulate marijuana."

He said, "This is a serious debate for serious people ... This is not a debate about stoners."

PHOTO: The California Democratic Party convenes during its annual convention in Los Angeles on March 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 9, 2014
VIDEO: Gavin Newsom, Wilson Phillips celebrate 'winter of love'

newsomparty.jpgLOS ANGELES - Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Twitter handle and photographs of gay weddings he oversaw while mayor of San Francisco lit up the side of The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites on Saturday night, and for a few hours at the California Democratic Party's annual convention no politician was in higher demand.

At a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the "winter of love" - the precursor to years of debate over same-sex marriage and, eventually, the overturning of California's gay marriage ban - hundreds of supporters drank cocktails on a poolside patio and crowded around Newsom to heap praise on the lieutenant governor.

"If you were any cuter, I might throw up right now," said Carnie Wilson, a member of Wilson Phillips, which played at the event. "Gavin, you are one awesome human being."

For gay rights advocates, the event highlighted how far their movement has come in the years since gay marriage was outlawed here.


For political watchers, it was a reminder that Newsom has not always occupied the least influential of statewide offices, and that he maintains a base of support that will benefit him if he runs for higher office in four years.

"I'm grateful for the folks behind me, for their courage, for standing on their principle," Newsom told the crowd. "They didn't have to show up in 2004 when we opened up the doors. They didn't have to show up and say, 'I do,' and continue with the sense of faith and love and devotion and constancy as they have for the last ... 10 years."

A decade ago, he said, "We started a conversation ... It was millions of those conversations that were won that ultimately has led to where we are today."

PHOTO: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses supporters at a party at the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles, while an image of his Twitter handle is projected on a wall on March 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 8, 2014
Democrats make no endorsement in heated statewide primaries

yeeconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - Following two days of intense campaigning by candidates in the two most competitive statewide primary contests, delegates at the California Democratic Party convention reached no consensus Saturday on either race, issuing no endorsement for controller or secretary of state.

The campaigns had been at the center of delegate activity in Los Angeles, with a dispute about whether delegates should make any endorsement and, if so, who. The party chairman, John Burton, had recommended that candidates not seek an endorsement. His advice was ignored.

After balloting concluded Saturday, the party announced no endorsement had been reached.

"At the end of the day, we stand united as a party, dedicated to making our elections more inclusive and our democracy stronger," state Sen. Leland Yee, one of three Democrats running for secretary of state, said on Twitter.

He is competing in the race against former California Common Cause official Derek Cressman and state Sen. Alex Padilla.

The race for controller features Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee works the crowd at the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated to expand on John Burton's position.

March 8, 2014
Darrell Steinberg pushes Jerry Brown on pre-kindergarten expansion

steinbergconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Saturday that Senate Democrats will make pre-kindergarten a priority in budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown this spring, calling last year's school funding overhaul inadequate to address shortcomings in public education.

"No funding formula will prevent a 16-year-old from dropping out of high school because she fell behind years earlier," Steinberg told delegates at the California Democratic Party's annual convention. "And no funding formula addresses the reality that the achievement gap is formed well before, well before children arrive in kindergarten."

Steinberg's remarks constituted a glancing response to Gov. Jerry Brown's continued focus on a school funding overhaul that shifts more money to low-income and English language learners. Brown has said he will consider any proposals by legislative Democrats to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program, but he did not propose funding for any such measure in his January budget plan.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and other legislative Democrats have proposed allowing every 4-year-old in the state to attend pre-kindergarten classes, at a potential cost of about $1 billion to the state general fund.

The pre-kindergarten proposal is one of several points of contention Brown is likely to have with members of his own party in the Legislature this year, with social service advocates and their liberal allies pushing him to approve increased spending.

Steinberg, who is terming out, said "there is plenty of unfinished business to take care of" at the Capitol this year.

He said, "This is our time."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, addresses the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 8, 2014
For Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the crowd's already at the bar

newsomconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - Oh, the indignity of a minor speaking spot - and the self awareness of its holder.

Only a smattering of Democratic activists remained when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the final speaker of the afternoon, took to the podium to address the state party's annual convention Saturday.

"Thank you very much," he said. "It's good to see all four of you."

The crowd applauded, thin though it was after a day of convention activities.

"I'm getting to finally live out a lifelong dream of achieving a profound and highly sought after honor of being the last speaker of the day," Newsom said. "The question I've been asking myself in the back is what did I do to deserve this spot? So I think I've come up with a few explanations. No. 1, Gov. Brown chose the speaking order."

Newsom and Brown have a distant relationship, and there were some howls in the convention hall. Newsom said, "I could have said (first lady) Anne Gust, or Sutter," the governor's dog.

Newsom offered two other possible explanations for his spot in the speaking order, then left the subject with one more.

"No. 4, and this may actually be the real reason," he said. "The party makes a lot of money if people leave early and head to the bar, which clearly I think folks have."

PHOTO: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 8, 2014
Tom Hayden finds an 'unusually sober oasis' at Democratic convention

haydenconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES — While the California Democratic Party's most fervent members opened the party's annual convention Friday with an "evening of Cumbia and cocktails" and a "funkfest" billed as "the convention's hottest hospitality dance party," the disillusioned assembled over coffee and desserts at a café on Flower Street.

The host was the Progressive Democrats of America, the featured speaker Tom Hayden.

"I wouldn't say this is like an AA meeting, but this is an unusually sober oasis in the middle of a Democratic convention," the former California lawmaker and legendary activist said. "People actually speaking and thinking. I don't know how long this can last."

Hayden's audience consisted of about 150 activists, most of them liberal Democrats frustrated with a party they complain has become too moderate on issues including the environment and healthcare.

"Let me start by really sharing what I'm depressed about, so that you can start drinking afterwards," Hayden told them. "What I'm really concerned about in the long run is the lack of real understanding of the crisis that our youngsters are facing. First of all, the evidence is that they will live shorter lives than their parents. Secondly, they will have more medical afflictions and health problems than their parents. Third, they will be the first generation that anyone can remember to experience downward economic mobility - downward. And when they listen to us, and they listen to scientists, the message that comes across is that the world as we know it is going to be fundamentally altered if not destroyed by climate change. So the world will end while you're getting sicker and living shorter."

It was not all so sour. Hayden, who was involved in protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, urged the activists to continue working to push the Democratic Party to the left, and he said progressive traditions of social justice can be kept alive.

"I have confidence that this generation will rise to the occasion in ways that I can't predict," he said. "But it is going to be a bad time."

PHOTO: Tom Hayden, the former California lawmaker and legendary activist, speaks at an event in Los Angeles on March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 7, 2014
VIDEO: John Burton says supermajority not a priority

burton.jpgLOS ANGELES - Two years after the California Democratic Party gained supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than 100 years, California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said Friday that maintaining the position is not a priority, in part because Democratic lawmakers have been unwilling to use the power to raise taxes.

"They haven't done anything with it, because the only thing it allows them to do is raise taxes, and I don't see them raising taxes," Burton told reporters as the party opened its annual convention here this weekend.

Burton said the "main goal is really to try to pick up two or three more congressional seats." In the state Legislature, he said, a "supermajority is not as important as it used to be" since voters in 2010 lowered the threshold for budget passage to a simple majority.

The California Republican Party believes it has a chance to undo the Democrats' two-third majority this year, and it has made pick-ups in the Legislature a priority. If Burton was seeking to lower expectations in his remarks to reporters, he told delegates on a patio at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites that the party will work to keep two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly "just to prove we can keep them and two years ago wasn't a fluke."

The Legislature's Democratic leadership comes into the convention with fresh controversies over two senators, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon, who are on paid leave of absence while dealing with legal problems. Wright, of Baldwin Hills, was convicted of eight felonies related to lying about where he lived, while Calderon, of Montebello, has been indicted on corruption charges.

Burton said Republicans hammering Democrats on the subject "have to jump on something, because they've got nothing" else. While acknowledging the seriousness of the charges against Calderon, Burton suggested Wright's crime was less than heinous.
"As a Catholic," he said, "I think that would be more a venial sin than a mortal sin."

PHOTO: California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton addresses delegates at the party's annual convention in Los Angeles on March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 7, 2014
Primary fights between Democrats take center stage at state convention

padillaconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - As the California Democratic Party opened its annual convention here Friday, candidates in the two most competitive statewide primary contests - controller and secretary of state - set up satellite offices and flooded the convention hotel with volunteers.

But as they circled each other at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, it was not the candidates' own credentials that filled the air, but a question about whether the party should endorse any Democrat in these races at all.

"Party unity is the way to go," Stephanie Ng, a volunteer for state Sen. Leland Yee, told passers-by she stopped in the hall. "So, no endorsement."

Yee is one of three Democrats running for secretary of state. The others are former California Common Cause official Derek Cressman and state Sen. Alex Padilla, whose name was emblazoned on room keys at the hotel.

Padilla is pushing for an endorsement.

"We're Democrats," he said, "and this is a Democratic process."

yeeconvention.jpgJohn Burton, the party's chairman, asked the candidates for secretary of state and controller not to seek the party's endorsement, but Padilla and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who is running for controller, pushed ahead.

The other Democrat running for controller, Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, said she can "see it both ways." She expects some activists in Los Angeles this weekend will be "very uncomfortable" with the competition between members of the same party.

On the other hand, she said, endorsing candidates is a "primary responsibility of delegates."

PHOTO: State Sens. Alex Padilla (top) and Leland Yee (bottom) work the crowd at the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 7, 2014
AM Alert: Cyber-bullying, sexual assault are focus of Sen. Beall bill


Now that merciless teenage taunting has migrated from locker rooms and high school hallways to the Internet, policymakers are paying more attention to the types of harassment and bullying that happens on Facebook and other social media venues.

Citing the role online viciousness seems to have played in the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, will unveil today a bill he is calling "Audrie's Law." The legislation would criminalize maliciously distributing sexual images and would toughen penalties for sexual assault committed against unconscious or developmentally disabled victims.

Beall will introduce the bill alongside Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office drafted the bill, at the Saratoga Library from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO: A Democratic bill package meant to address gift-giving and money reporting doesn't inspire much confidence, Dan Walters says.

DEMS CONVENTION: Break out the business cards and the buttons, because today the California Democratic Party launches its spring 2014 convention in Los Angeles.

We'll bring you more on the confab as it unfolds, but speakers will include Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Sacramento legislative leaders current (Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez) and future (Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and Sen. Kevin de León). And because who can resist a trip to California, prominent out-of-state attendees will include Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

CAREERISM: Before he gets into convention mode, Steinberg will be promoting a policy that's dear to his heart: career-tailored education. He'll be joined by Los Angeles education officials and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to discuss the state's new $250 million career-linked learning fund.

THEY SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY: Happy birthday to Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, who turns 53 today.

PHOTO: A student learns how to type on a laptop computer at River Oaks Elementary School on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Galt, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

February 10, 2014
Dan Wolk nabs Democratic endorsement for Assembly seat

wolk.jpgCalifornia Democrats running for state and congressional offices moved closer to securing coveted state party endorsements at meetings of grassroots officials this weekend.

In the Sacramento area, Democratic Assembly candidate Dan Wolk exceeded the threshold to receive a pro-forma endorsement vote at the state party convention next month. Wolk, a Davis city councilman and the son of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is running to succeed Democrat Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

Wolk received the recommendation over a trio of Democrats.

"As a lifelong Democrat, I have always been dedicated to our party's ideals of justice, equality and opportunity," he said in an email. "These are the values that I work for every day - and the values I will take with me to Sacramento. The endorsement also means a lot for our campaign in terms of local support, grassroots activism and resources."

Others running in the 4th Assembly District are Napa Supervisor Bill Dodd, Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza and Napa Planning Commissioner Matt Pope. All are Democrats.

While there was no immediate recommendation in the 7th Assembly District, Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty remains a contender for the endorsement at the state convention. Also in the race are Democratic Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn and West Sacramento Councilman Mark Johannessen, the son of former GOP Sen. Maurice Johannessen.

In the 6th Senate District being vacated by Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, neither Assemblyman Roger Dickinson nor Assemblyman Richard Pan, as predicted, were able to gather enough party unity to manage a primary endorsement recommendation. The fight moves to the convention.

In other notable actions from across California:

State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, was recommended for the party's endorsement in the closely-watched contest to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Henry Waxman of Beverly Hills. A representatives for former Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel, said the delegate vote was motivated by a network at the state Capitol.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, will get the party's endorsement. DeSaulnier is running to fill the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. George Miller of Martinez.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett , D-Hayward, mustered enough support to block an endorsement recommendation for freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell. Swalwell, formerly of the Dublin City Council, did get enough votes to possibly gain the party's backing at the state convention. (Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who is challenging for Corbett's Senate seat, easily picked up the votes for an endorsement.)

Despite repeatedly being outraised, Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, seems to have nabbed the party's support over intraparty challenger Ro Khanna. Khanna, a former Obama administration official, is looking to extend the 17th district race to November under the state's new top-two primary system.

PHOTO: Davis City Councilman Dan Wolk. Wolk for Assembly

October 8, 2013
Poll: Californians like ballot initiatives but want process altered

ACW_MAYOR_PETITION_(1).JPGCalifornians value the ballot initiative and want it to remain as a check on a political system they mistrust, but voters support major reforms in the process, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that voters support several changes, including giving the Legislature an opportunity to respond to proposed initiatives and reach agreement with their sponsors, beefing up financial disclosure requirements for those engaged in ballot measure campaigns, increasing the role of volunteers in collecting initiative petition signatures, and placing time limits on ballot measures so that they can be revisited.

"These reforms are likely to have an impact beyond the initiative process," Mark Baldassare, PPIC's president, said in a statement as he released the report. "They hold considerable promise for increasing citizen engagement, encouraging voter participation, and building trust in state government."

The number of ballot measures has exploded in the past three decades, ever since Proposition 13 placed tight limits on property taxes and raised barriers to other tax increases. In the last decade alone, 68 measures have appeared on the statewide ballot, the PPIC report noted, but fewer than a third of them were approved even as proponents and opponents spent $1.8 billion on campaigns.

The Legislature's majority Democrats have pushed bills to change the initiative process, including one this year that would limit the role of paid signature-gatherers. Gov. Jerry Brown is now deciding whether to sign or veto it.

PHOTO: A man signs a ballot measure petition in Sacramento on Jan. 9, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/ Anne Chadwick Williams.

August 29, 2013
Whites a minority in California, but still majority of voters

ELECTION02.jpgAlthough whites have dropped to well under 50 percent of California's population, they are still a strong majority of the state's voters, according to new studies by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The PPIC reports also confirm the state's shift to dominance by the Democratic Party, even though its share of registered voters has declined to well under 50 percent - largely because the increasing numbers of independents lean Democratic.

The statistical studies of the partisan leanings of the state's registered voters, as well as likely voters, were generated from both official statistics and PPIC's polling.

PPIC's research found that while whites are now just 44 percent of California's adult population, they are 62 percent of the state's likely voters. In contrast, Latinos are 33 percent of adult population and just 17 percent of likely voters. With all ages counted, the white and Latino populations are virtually equal at about 38 percent each.

As past studies have shown, likely voters are "older, more educated, more affluent; they are homeowners, and born in the U.S."

Another finding: 45 percent of likely voters are Democrats, 32 percent are Republicans, 19 percent are independents and 5 percent identify with other parties. But 41 percent of independents lean toward Democratic Party candidates, while 29 percent lean toward Republicans.

PHOTO: Caption: Naomi Johnson, 93, never thought she would see the day that a black president might win as she left the voting booth where she cast her vote for Obama on Nov. 4, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

June 4, 2013
John Burton, Jim Brulte spar over crime, campaigns and fate of GOP

photo.JPGIndependent campaign expenditures are corrupting politics and young voters are reshaping California's electorate by eschewing parties.

Those were points of agreement in a talk between practiced adversaries John Burton, chair of the California Democratic Party, and California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte during a Tuesday morning panel at an American Association of Political Consultants conference.

The talk began with a discussion of whether California has become a one-party state, given Democrats' legislative supermajority and control of every statewide elected office. Brulte, a former state senator who readily acknowledged his party's woes as he campaigned to lead California Republicans earlier this year, pointed to "failure to recognize changing demographics" and said Republicans have been too reluctant to venture into communities outside of their traditional power base.

"If we want to be successful we have to get outside of our comfort zone," Brulte said. "Too many Republican party leaders or Republican elected officials spend all their time talking to the choir."

April 14, 2013
CA Democrats take aim at efforts to overhaul education, CEQA

RP RALLY TORLAKSON.JPGCalifornia Democrats took aim at efforts to overhaul the state's education system and environmental review laws, issuing sharp words and resolutions on both topics during the final day of the state party's convention in Sacramento.

Much of the fiery rhetoric during Sunday's general session was focused on StudentsFirst, the education policy advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, and Democrats for Education Reform, which has backing from former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero.

"They sound like good names, but let's be perfectly clear. These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights," California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel told delegates Sunday. "And we're not going to stand for that."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the same groups by name, saying they do not "lift a finger to prevent the cuts to education."

"In my book, you're not a reformer, you're not helping education and you're sure not much of a Democrat," he said.

April 13, 2013
Environmentalist Tom Steyer calls for new oil tax in California

photo (38).JPGA wealthy environmentalist who has become an increasingly prominent force in California politics called on Democratic lawmakers today to use their supermajority powers to enact a new tax on oil pumped in the state.

Tom Steyer, the San Francisco billionaire who recently left his job as a hedge fund firm to focus on political and environmental activism, called the oil severance tax the one area of energy policy where California lags other states in the nation in a speech at the California Democratic Party convention Saturday.

"This isn't just a question of our taking a fair share from huge, hugely profitable oil companies," Steyer told delegates. "This is about doing the simple task - the walk and chew gum of government - to showing us that we can do the right thing for the citizens of California in opposition of some very, very big companies."

Previous attempts to set a tax on oil extracted in the state has failed to attract enough votes to win approval in the state Legislature. Steyer said the legislative supermajorities, which could allow Democrats to pass new taxes without GOP votes, and the potential that hydraulic fracking will lead to more oil production in the state make now the right time to act.

"We've missed a couple to chances over the last 150 years, but let's not miss another if we can afford it," he said.

Steyer has waged major battles over environmental policy on the ballot in recent years, spending $32 million in the November election on a successful attempt to change a corporate tax formula to raise revenue for green energy and conservation projects.

He declined to directly address whether he'll go to the ballot himself if the Legislature fails to act, saying he believes lawmakers will take action. He did, however, offer to provide any financial or other support needed to make the proposal a reality. That support could be key if lawmakers chose to put the issue in front of Californians to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown's pledge to put any new taxes up or a vote of the people.

April 13, 2013
Pelosi says immigration farmworker deal reached

pelosi.jpgA House of Representatives working group has reached a deal on agricultural workers in the immigration bill it is crafting, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said on Saturday morning.

Immigration has emerged as a key focus for Congress after the November elections, and much of the attention has focused on a Senate overhaul bill. But Pelosi, speaking at a press conference during the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, noted that a House group has also been at work on the issue. She said she received an early morning phone call on Saturday from Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, saying an agreement had been reached on the part of the legislation dealing with farm workers.

The Senate immigration group reportedly reached a tentative pact on farm workers earlier this week. When asked whether the provision in the House bill was aligned with the Senate piece, Pelosi said only that "it satisfies Arturo." She added that she would like to see Congress pass an immigration bill by the August recess.

April 13, 2013
VIDEO: Democrats get hands dirty in support of child care

IMG_3476.jpgThe second day of the California Democratic Party's spring convention was barely underway when state Sen. Curren Price got his hands dirty in the name of politics.

"Oooh squishy," the Los Angeles Democrat quipped as green paint was rolled over his palm.

Price was one of at least half a dozen Democratic officials who made handprint signs today to show their support for efforts to provide increased access to affordable child care and universal preschool Saturday morning. The art booth was sponsored by a coalition that includes Service Employees International Union, which is reviving a push to allow child care providers to unionize.

Previous attempts to unionize child care workers in California have fallen short, including a 2011 bill vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Sen. Kevin de León, who authored similar legislation that was vetoed by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he thinks this year's effort could have a chance to make it through.

"I think it's a strong possibility," he said. "If we can invest in our children then we can reap the benefits later on and create a quality workforce in California."

And as for the paint?

"It's fun to get messy," de León joked as he made a purple handprint.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Curren Price gets his hand painted at The California Democratic Party convention in support of child care workers. The Sacramento Bee/Torey Van Oot

April 12, 2013
California Democratic chairman's still brooding over broccoli

RP BURTON HAND.JPGCalifornia Democratic Party Chairman John Burton doesn't seem too concerned about the possibility that Republican Abel Maldonado will challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014.

"I bet Jerry Brown's wetting his pants," Burton quipped at a reception to kick off the party's annual convention in Sacramento.

Maldonado, a former state legislator and farmer from Santa Maria who was appointed lieutenant governor by GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, recently filed paperwork to start raising money for a gubernatorial run. Some GOP strategists think Maldonado's candidacy could be key in helping the embattled California Republican Party woo Latino voters.

Burton's thoughts about the potential challenger, however, were limited to an incident involving some bad smelling broccoli.

February 1, 2013
State senator gets free Super Bowl ticket for fundraising duties

Super Bowl Football.jpgState Sen. Kevin de León is heading to New Orleans to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens face off in the Super Bowl -- on the California Democratic Party's dime.

The Los Angeles Democrat is getting a free ticket to Sunday's game as part of a fundraiser to boost his party's bank account. The pass isn't subject to the $420 limit on gifts to lawmakers because the rules provide an exemption for admission to political and nonprofit fundraisers. Face value Super Bowl tickets start at $850.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats' political efforts, said de León, who serves as chair of the Democratic Caucus and the powerful Appropriations Committee, was asked to represent the caucus at the event when Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg could not attend.

Kinney declined to provide additional information about attendees or the itinerary, but said the state Democratic Party paid for all overhead costs and will report those expenditures as well as the contributions received as part of the fundraiser in its campaign filings.

"Personally, I think it demonstrates impressive generosity of spirit that Los Angeles's own Kevin de León is willing to show up and pretend to root for a San Francisco team for three whole hours," Kinney said in a prepared statement.

PHOTO CREDIT: San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52), practice squad member Kenny Wiggins (69), and tackle Anthony Davis (76) warm up during practice on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. (AP Photo/ Mark Humphrey)

December 17, 2012
Could Howard Berman finally become Assembly speaker?

Could Howard Berman finally become the speaker of the state Assembly three decades after he lost a bruising intraparty battle for the position?

Douglas Jeffe, a veteran Los Angeles political advisor and commentator, raises the intriguing possibility in a posting on the Fox & Hounds political website.

Berman lost his San Fernando Valley congressional seat this year in an expensive battle with fellow Democrat Brad Sherman, but as it happens, the local assemblyman, Bob Blumenfield, is seeking a seat on the Los Angeles City Council next spring, and if he gets it, a special election would fill his Assembly seat. Blumenfield is a former Berman aide.

Berman, Jeffe expostulates, could run for the Assembly and if elected, could succeed John A. Pérez because Pérez will be forced out of the Assembly in two years.

There's no word on whether Berman would be interested in returning to the Assembly, where he served in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving for Congress in 1982. His departure followed a year-long battle with the late Leo McCarthy for the speakership culminated in the election of Willie Brown, who went on to become the longest serving speaker in state history.

Were Berman to run for the Assembly, he'd have the support of fellow septuagenarian Jerry Brown. Berman was one of Brown's closest allies in the Legislature during the governor's first stint, and Brown endorsed him during the duel with Sherman this year.

December 12, 2012
L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa taking heat from Democratic left

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's seeking a political platform after his mayoral term ends next year, attached himself to a bipartisan organization that seeks to close the federal budget deficit - but that's bringing heat from the activist left wing of his Democratic Party.

A coalition of liberal groups this week delivered petitions with more than 21,000 names to Villaraigosa's office, demanding that he resign from the Campaign to Fix the Debt, which those on the left consider to be a right-wing plot to slash Social Security, Medicare and other social service and support programs, and protect the wealthy against tax increases.

September 4, 2012
Latinos, Asian-Americans still lag in California voter registration

Latinos and Asian-Americans together are now more than half of California's 38 million residents but make up less than 30 percent of the state's voters, who remain overwhelmingly white, according to a new statistical study by a think tank at the University of California, Davis.

The report is a maiden effort for the Center for Regional Change's California Civic Engagement Project, which is delving into issues and trends in California's political landscape.

"During the past decade, Latino and Asian voter registration has increased by nearly 40 percent, dramatically outpacing growth in general registration, yet there remains a significant gap between Latino and Asian registration and their proportion of California's overall population," Mindy Romero, the author of the report, said in a statement. "Addressing these continuing gaps in Latino and Asian registration is a critical step in expanding engagement in California's political landscape."

September 4, 2012
Hotel is close but filled with issues for California DNC delegates

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- California's delegation to the Democratic National Convention is housed much closer to the action than their Republican counterparts were for the GOP convention in Tampa last week, but that doesn't mean they're happy with their accommodations.

The delegation is staying at The Blake Hotel, a luxury spot in uptown Charlotte that touts itself as the "new standard in Charlotte Accommodations." At just eight blocks from the Time Warner Cable Arena, delegates here have a much quicker commute to convention activities than the 25-mile haul GOP delegates staying in St. Pete Beach faced.

But loose ends and unfinished business from an apparent recent renovation and staff overhaul have caused some hiccups during the delegation's stay in the hotel, where rooms run more than $300 a night.

Wind damage caused stucco to be removed from one side of the structure, affecting some rooms but not those occupied by the delegation. Gripes from delegates include the the quality of food at the on-site restaurant, a stalled elevator and damaged or unfinished rooms. One longtime Democratic consultant said the plaster on her room ceiling was still wet when she arrived.

"I was just expecting a little more," said Horfa Aguilera, a delegate from Roseville.

Rick Gunther, a delegate and president of the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley, had to ask to be moved to a different room twice. His first room was flooded. The second was missing a shower head.

"I lost my view, but I'm still happy," he said of the room change. "I took pictures before I left the other one."

September 4, 2012
John Burton leaves DNC -- heads home for root canal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Reporters hanging around here this morning for another John Burton moment went away disappointed: The chairman of the California Democratic Party, who likened Republicans on Monday to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, went back to California the same day for a previously scheduled root canal, the state party said.

Burton had suggested as much in a conversation with reporters Monday morning - well before his remarks about Goebbels aired. Told to enjoy his week at the Democratic National Convention, Burton said he would not enjoy it. It wasn't entirely clear at the time that he was being literal when he mentioned going to get a root canal.

Burton, who has a tendency to make outrageous remarks, caused a stir ahead of the convention when he brought up Goebbels in his criticism of inaccurate statements made by Republicans in the presidential campaign. Burton's remark was criticized by the campaigns of both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Burton is not expected to return to Charlotte before the convention concludes Thursday.

September 3, 2012
VIDEO: Pelosi calls California 'central' to Democrats' House win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said today the path to victory for Democrats this fall still depends on California, telling Golden State delegates to the Democratic National Convention that races in their home state are "central" to the party's efforts to winning back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"This is really important to the country," the San Francisco Democrat said at a breakfast at the Blake Hotel. "California's success in electing Democrats here is really critical to our success."

Pelosi told reporters after the appearance that she is counting on California to deliver at least four of the 25 seats Democrats need to take back the majority. Pelosi and national Democrats had been more optimistic in the wake of redistricting and incumbent retirements earlier this year, outlining plans to target as many as nine seats. Some of those opportunities were lost based on the results of the June primary.

Pelosi railed on Republican positions on immigration, women's health, Social Security and Medicare, calling morally and economically wrong the changes to the federal health care program for seniors contained in vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's House budget proposal.

September 3, 2012
Rep. John Lewis urges California to take campaign outside state

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rep. John Lewis urged California delegates today to take their campaign message outside their home state to help send President Barack Obama back to the White House this November.

"You know when to get involved. We need you," the Georgia Democrat said at a breakfast at the Blake Hotel housing the California delegation. "California's going to be all right. But we need you to travel to other parts of America and re-elect Barack Obama."

California, a blue state, isn't expected to be play in the presidential race this November. While Obama's approval ratings have dipped, the Democratic president led Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney 55 percent to 37 percent in a Field Poll of California voters released in July.

September 2, 2012
One California Democrat hospitalized, another causes disturbance after night of drinking

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A California delegate to the Democratic National Convention was hospitalized early this morning, after apparently falling unconscious in a hotel lobby following a night of drinking, while another delegate became confrontational with hotel staff and has since left the delegation, a party official said.

The hospitalized man has since been released from the hospital, California Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores said.

Flores said two men were involved in an incident early this morning in the lobby of the Blake Hotel, where the California delegation is staying. He declined to identify either man or to say where they are from.

"Oftentimes at conventions, people who have not seen each other for a long time gather and sometimes people have too much to drink," Flores said. "That appears to have been the case here, and we're gathering more information."

Later, in a statement, Flores said the delegate who was not hospitalized became disruptive with hotel staff and emergency responders, prompting hotel staff to call police. He said the delegate was not arrested but was asked by the state party to leave the hotel and to not partake in convention activities. The statement said the delegate apologized to hotel staff and agreed to "forgo official delegation activities."

July 29, 2012
California Democratic Party endorses Jerry Brown tax initiative

The California Democratic Party has made its support of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative official.

The party's executive board voted to endorse Proposition 30 at a weekend meeting in Anaheim. The measure would generate an estimated $8.5 billion in revenues assumed in the current state budget by temporarily raising income taxes on high earners and enacting a quarter percent hike in the state sales tax.

The board voted to oppose a rival tax initiative backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and the California State PTA. Proposition 38 would raise income taxes on a sliding scale for most Californians, sending the bulk of the revenues to schools and early childhood development programs.

It took no position on Proposition 39, a third tax measure that would raise about $1 billion annually by changing the state's corporate tax formula. The initiative, proposed by hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, would use revenues to fund clean energy projects and provide state budget relief. Speaker John A. Perez has introduced legislation that would make the same change and use the revenues to help California families pay for college.

See the full list of endorsements after the jump.

February 12, 2012
Top Democratic recruit for California congressional race drops out

A top Democratic recruit for the swing 26th Congressional District shocked supporters Saturday by dropping out of the race, one day after party leaders touted his race as a top pick-up opportunity.

Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who was the top candidate for a pre-primary endorsement recommendation, announced during the state Democratic Party Convention in San Diego that he will drop his congressional candidacy to run for re-election to the Board of Supervisors.

February 12, 2012
Endorsement wars heat up at California Democratic Party confab

Signs waved, insults flew and upsets occurred as rival Democratic campaigns went head-to-head for coveted endorsement recommendations at the state party's annual convention in San Diego.

The battle royale of the Saturday night balloting was the vote for the 30th Congressional District, which pits Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman against one another.

The two exchanged verbal blows in front of a crowd of several hundred delegates assigned to the district gathered to make a recommendation for Sunday's full floor vote.

February 11, 2012
Kamala Harris pledges to double down on lender abuse cases

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said today she is "doubling down" on prosecutions of predatory lending and other cases of lender misconduct in the wake of the $26 billion mortgage settlement announced last week.

"We're just now starting to lace 'em up," the state's top law enforcement official told delegates during the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

Harris said she is expanding her mortage fraud task force to continue fighting for relief in what she called "a crime perpetrated against the middle class."

"California wasn't just the epicenter of the crash," she said of the housing crisis. "Let's call it what it is, the scene of the crime."

Harris said the settlement reached between banks, the Obama administration and 49 state attorneys general will provide Golden State home owners with $18 billion in relief, which she hailed as " 900 percent more than the crumbs they were putting on the table when we first entered the door."

"After more than a year of standing tough against the banks and standing alone when necessary, we have won a California commitment," she said.

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton praised Harris' role in the settlement, saying "without this one person that deal wouldn't have happened because that deal would have been done in a back boardroom."  

Harris, who was first elected to statewide office in 2010, received some of the loudest cheers and applause of the day and a standing ovation from delegates as she argued that California's ideas and dreams are "too big to fail."

February 11, 2012
Van Jones: 'Millionaire tax' will energize young voters

SAN DIEGO -- Backers of a "millionaire's tax" proposed for the November ballot got a boost from activist and former Obama adviser Van Jones last night.

Jones, the guest speaker at the Friday night kick-off of the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego, told attendees that a tax on top earners would motivate young voters facing large student loan debt and dismal job prospects in a down economy.

"That will get their attention," he said. "The idea that the people who have already climbed that ladder have to give back to them, that's the pathway forward I think to electrify that generation."

The California Federation of Teachers and the California Nurses Association are trying to qualify an income tax hike on Californians earning more than $1 million for the November ballot to fund schools and other services. Jones did not specify whether he was referencing that proposal or the general idea of a millioniare's tax, but the remarks drew applause from the crowd gathered at the Friday night reception. Supporters of the initiative have been out in full force during the annual party gathering, distributing signs and campaign literature promoting the plan.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has filed his own tax initiative to help balance the state budget, is scheduled to address the convention delegates later this morning. He has argued that a ballot with multiple tax initiatives will increase the chances of failure for all measures aimed at budget relief. His proposal would temporarily raise income tax rates for California's top earners and enact a half-cent sales tax increase.

February 10, 2012
Perez: Corporations not people 'until Texas executes one'

SAN DIEGO -- Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez may be nowhere more popular than at a labor caucus meeting at a Democratic convention, and so it was that he received a standing ovation here this afternoon and tried out a one-liner on the crowd.

"This year you've seen Mitt Romney and others talk about the fact that corporations are people," the former labor organizer said. "I won't believe corporations are people until Texas executes one of them."

Labor interests are a major force in the California Democratic Party, and as party activists arrived in San Diego today for their annual convention, Pérez said defeating a so-called "paycheck protection" measure is more important than any candidate election this year.

The ballot initiative would block unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Supporters of the initiative say it will curb the influence of special interests in elections, while labor unions say it is a targeted effort to reduce their political clout. Labor unions spent millions of dollars helping Gov. Jerry Brown defeat billionaire Meg Whitman in the 2010 election.

"This ballot measure is a fraud, it's phony and it's a lie," said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. "Imagine, just for a moment, a California where your mouths were taped the next time a Meg Whitman ran for governor."

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said Democrats will "fight like hell" to defeat the measure.

"Thank you, brothers and sisters," he said. "It is good to be in the house of labor."

February 10, 2012
VIDEO: John Burton can't imagine 'hit squad' for Molly Munger

SAN DIEGO -- California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton agrees with Gov. Jerry Brown that Molly Munger's November tax initiative could hurt the governor's bid to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners.

Too many tax measures on one ballot, the thinking goes, and wide-eyed voters might look at all of them and say, "No."

But the powers of a party chairman are not without limits.

"What are you going to do, you know, go get a hit squad to tell Molly Munger, 'We'll burn down your house if you don't do it?' " Burton told reporters this afternoon in San Diego, where state Democrats arrived for their annual convention.

Munger, the daughter of a business partner of Warren Buffett, has contributed nearly $1 million to her campaign, an initiative to raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians.

Burton said he hasn't talked to her and wouldn't know her if he saw her. But if he called her about her initiative, he said, he thought the conversation might go something like this:

"You really want to do this?"



"'Cause I wanna."


Burton should know. He has proposed an initiative of his own, a tax on oil production, though even he said today that he is "of the opinion that more people would look favorably on the governor's proposals than the others."

A reporter asked Burton if he thought Munger's initiative, should it qualify, would doom Brown's.

"That's a good question," he said. "How in the hell would I know?"

February 10, 2012
Pelosi: Swing seats, strong candidates make California a 2012 'battleground' (VIDEO)

SAN DIEGO -- While California may not see much action from presidential hopefuls, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said today she believes a handful of competitive districts will make the state a "battleground" in Democrats' effort to win back control of Congress.

Democrats could pick up as many as five or six seats here next November under the state's new political maps, according to some political analysts. Victories in a handful of GOP-held districts could help Democrats win the 25 seats they need nationwide to reclaim the majority.

Pelosi said strong candidates and registration edges in some of California's new districts will work to Democrats' advantage in 2012.

"We have many opportunites here because we were able to out-recruit the Republicans to run candidates who are real problem-solvers," she said during a news conference at the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

The party has identified nine seats that are potential pick-ups. Pelosi focused on three swing seats that have attracted only one high-profile Democratic candidate, including the newly drawn 7th Congressional District in the Sacramento region.

That race will be a rematch between GOP Rep. Dan Lungren and Democrat Ami Bera, a doctor and public health official from Elk Grove.

Bera attracted headlines for strong fundraising in his 2010 bid, but lost by seven percentage points in the swing district. Pelosi said she believes the now "battle-tested" candidate will be able to win under the new district lines, which give Democrats a one-point voter registration advantage.

"He has a personality and an agenda that really invigorates the grassroots and one of the most positive, enthusiastic grassroots operaitons in the country," she said. "He will have that again, even more so, more Democrats and (this year's) president at the top of the ticket." 

CDP Chairman John Burton said high turnout in a presidential year and voters' disappointment with the GOP majority in the House will benefit Bera and other Democrats running in the state.

"It's just going to be a whole different chemistry this election," Burton said. "In fact, there are some pollsters that say ... this could be an absolute flip of 2010, that the people voted Republican, and they saw what they got, and they're suffering from what they call the buyers' remorse." 

Lungren strategist Rob Stutzman said later that while the new district is more favorable to Democrats than the 2010 lines, he's "very confident still that Lungren is a vote-getter."

"It's going to be a very expensive race, but we're confident in prevailing," he said.

Stutzman said Democrats' pick-up prospects could be dimmed by their need to defend incumbents who are vulnerable under the new lines, such as Reps. John Garamendi and Lois Capps.

Democrats' optimism about the election outcome might not translate to big spending by House Democrats in California's targeted seats. Pelosi said while she expects candidates here to be well-funded, focus and resources will also be concentrated in other states with pick-up opportunities, such as New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas.

Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP strategist who now tracks California congressional and legislative races, said it's too early to tell whether Democrats will pick up many House seats here next November. Much of the outcome, he said, will depend on which Republican is on the top of the ticket.

"Right now, I (think) it could go either way, depending how strong the Republican candidate for president is," Hoffenblum said. "There is going to be significant turnover, but I don't want to place bets yet on is it going to be plus 'D' or plus 'R.'" 

EDITOR'S NOTE, 4:02 p.m.: This post was updated to add comment from Rob Stutzman.

January 31, 2012
California Democrats post fundraising, voter registration edge

California Democrats are starting 2012 with an $8.7 million fundraising advantage and 13-point voter registration edge over their rivals in the Republican Party.

The cash edge was reported in year-end campaign finance filings released Tuesday. The California Democratic State Central Committee ended 2011 with $9.3 million in the bank, after raising $2.77 million in contributions in the final three months of the year. The California Republican Party came close to matching Democrats in contributions, raising nearly $2.34 million, but reported having just shy of $439,000 cash on hand due to heavy spending on an effort to repeal the new state Senate maps via a referendum drive.

The campaign cash numbers were reported on the same day as Secretary of State Debra Bowen released updated voter registration figures showing that Democrats continue to hold a 13-point lead statewide, 43.63 percent to 30.36 percent. Both parties saw slight declines in registration in the last year, while the percentage of voters registered as decline-to-state rose to an all-time high of 21.24 percent.

CRP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro downplayed the registration numbers in a statement issued by the party, saying that Californians continue to show their support for the party by voting for fiscally conservative measures on the ballot. He said that he expects the party to make gains in closing the registration gap ahead of the 2012 election.

Democrats didn't seem too worried about that prospect.

"With these kind of numbers, I think California Democrats can really start to get used to the Del Beccaro era," CDP spokesman Tenoch Flores quipped.

January 24, 2012
Sen. Al Franken to speak at California Democratic Party confab

US NEWS MINN-SENATE 1 MS.jpgU.S. Sen. Al Franken will speak live from San Diego next month as California Democrats gather for the state party's spring convention.

The Minnesota Democrat and former comedian will keynote a dinner event during the three-day confab, party spokesman Tenoch Flores said today. The $120-a-plate dinner will be followed by a separate event featuring a performance by Eli "Paperboy" Reed.

Flores said Franken's work on health care and financial regulation since winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2008 made him a good fit for the convention, which will be held Feb. 10-12 at the San Diego Convention Center.

January 23, 2012
California Democrats make early picks for 2012 primary

Democrats across the state gathered over the weekend to make early picks for candidates the party should support on the June primary ballot.

The pre-endorsement votes, held each election year ahead of the state Democratic Party convention, garnered extra interest this year due to the number of competitive races and the unknowns of running under the top-two primary system, which will send the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to a November runoff.

A candidate must receive 70 percent of the vote from participants in the pre-endorsement process, which includes Democratic State Central Committee members, county central committee members and representatives of chartered clubs and organizations, to snag a recommendation and a spot on the consent calendar at next month's state party convention in San Diego. Recommendations for districts where one candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote but failed to hit the 70 percent mark will be decided during caucuses at the convention, including the 30th Congressional District showdown between Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman

In seats where no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote, such as the Sacramento-area's crowded Assembly District 8 race, no recommendation has been made.

The preliminary results are posted below. A final tally will be released once party officials receive and certify results from the regional meetings.

Preliminary Pre-Endorsement Conference Results

January 19, 2012
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino will not seek office this year

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, perhaps best known for pushing the Assembly to release member budgets after leaders threatened to furlough his staff last year, has decided not to run for state or federal office this year.

"I hope you understand that this decision in no way ends my political career," Portantino said in a written announcement Wednesday night.

"Placing it on 'hold' allows me to focus on my family while they need me. I will continue to work to put trust and accountability back into public service, now and in the future."

The D-La Cañada-Flintridge Democrat, who is termed out of the Assembly in December, has about $46,000 in a campaign finance committee named "Portantino For Senate 2016."

December 14, 2011
California Democratic Party's John Burton files tax proposal

John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, is adding his own tax proposal, on oil production, to an already crowded field.

Burton filed paperwork with the state Tuesday that proposes a ballot measure for the oil severance tax. It comes as Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to place his own tax measure -- temporarily increasing the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners -- on the November 2012 ballot.

A few other groups have filed other proposals to raise revenue.

Burton, who is proposing the oil severance tax to fund higher education and the state's sagging general fund, said in an interview this evening that his proposal would not interfere with the Democratic governor's.

"It's two separate deals," he said. "Two ain't too many."

June 13, 2011
Video: Gov. Jerry Brown, education official ask for budget deal

Gov. Jerry Brown, surrounded by business and government leaders, talks about his efforts to reach agreement on a state budget this week.

Martha Fluor, a member of the of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board and president of the California School Boards Association, pleads with Republican legislators to make a deal.

May 2, 2011
VIDEO: May Day marchers protest Democratic Party

A typically low-key event on the last day of the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento became hostile Sunday when May Day march organizers turned on Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers after they gave her the microphone.

Speaking in Spanish, Huerta told the protesters that their anger should be focused on the Republican Party, whose members voted for Arizona's SB1070, an anti-illegal immigration measure approved a year ago.

She asked Sacramento delegate Paramo Hernandez to let her speak as he shouted in Spanish: "We're fed up. The Democrats voted as well." Huerta got off the chair on which she was standing and walked away."Stop lying to people," Huerta yelled at Hernandez. Huerta also asked Al Rojas, a march organizer, to stop using Cesar Chavez' name. "She's trying to bait us," Rojas said in Spanish. He said he would debate her any time.

May 1, 2011
Democrats call for O.C. Republican to be removed from office

California Democrats adopted a series of predictable positions as their convention this afternoon - supporting Planned Parenthood, healthy oceans and the California Dream Act, for example - but a shot at one Orange County Republican caused a minor stir within the ranks.

A resolution condemning Marilyn Davenport for an e-mail depicting President Obama as an ape was the only item whose approval was not at least near-unanimous. Some delegates raised concerns about free speech and suggested it is not the party's place to call, as the resolution does, for Republicans to remove Davenport from her position on a local GOP board.

The item was approved after brief debate on the convention's final day. Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP, said the resolution was not about free speech, but a response to "racism, hatred."

The three-day convention, at the Sacramento Convention Center, ended without an appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown, who was scheduled to speak today, had a cancerous growth removed from his nose on Friday and is skipping public events until his stitches are removed, his office said.

Brown was not replaced on the agenda. But his case for tax extensions was made by California schools chief Tom Torlakson. He said California's education system is at a "tipping point," threatened by further spending cuts and already with one of the shortest school years in the modern world.

"I'm a proud Democrat, but funding our schools is not a partisan issue," he said. "It should simply be our top priority."

Delegates trickled out as the day wore on. A small group of protesters demonstrated outside the convention center. They demanded better protections for immigrant workers, among other things.

April 30, 2011
Burton: Obama must motivate Democrats for wins in 2012

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton has an offer for the protesters who paid five-figures to interrupt a recent San Francisco fundraiser for President Barack Obama .

"They pay $78-grand, they can come back and insult me... they can take a dump in my salad for $78-grand," the famously foul-mouthed former Democratic legislator and congressman quipped to a group of reporters on the opening night of the state party convention.

On a more serious note, Burton laid out the challenge Obama faces in firing up his base and winning over critics within his own party as he gears up to seek a second term.

"I think a lot of our people are very concerned about the three wars. They're concerned about the spending, too," he said. "They're concerned that that we're spending all this money on three wars and cutting funds for education and poor people and those are cases that have to be made by the president and his campaign."

Burton said he believed the president would win California 53 percent to 47 percent without any added effort -- compared to the 61 percent share he took in 2008.

Whether Obama can generate a high level of enthusiasm for his second bid could matter for California Democrats. Burton said spillover from a successful presidential campaign could help sweep down-ticket Democrats to victory in 2012, a boost that could matter more if the congressional and state legislative district maps drawn by the independent Citizens Redistricting Commission produce more competitive races.

"The president's the guy on the ballot and the motivation's got to come from Washington," he said.

But Burton also said he expects Democrats to turn out to fight back against policies being pushed by Republicans controlling the U.S. House and statehouses across the country, saying proposals to cut Medicare and Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan should be "enough to scare the bejeezus out of anybody."

Just as important as hitting the GOP platform, Burton said, will be highlighting success of the health care law and other political victories in Obama's first term.

"The challenge for us in the Democratic Party is to tell people what the deal is in a positive way," he said.

March 18, 2011
John Burton slams Grover Norquist for golf & cocaine comment

John BurtonCalifornia Democratic Party Chairman John Burton unleashed his famously colorful rhetoric this morning against conservative activist Grover Norquist, who's repeatedly criticized Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators for seeking to ask voters to extend tax increases to balance the budget.

In a news release, Burton honed in on a statement by Norquist made to The Washington Post, in which he said about the budget battles in Washington, "I think golf and cocaine would be more constructive ways to spend one's free time than negotiating with Democrats on spending restraint."

Burton's response: "I have always considered golf a good walk spoiled. As a recovering cocaine addict, I am surprised that anyone would think that it is at all constructive to spend one's free time using that drug.

"One would think that Mr. Norquist made this comment with a straw in his hand bending over a mirror full of white power." The state Democratic Party confirmed Burton meant to say "powder" in the news release.

Norquist's Washington, D.C.-based group Americans for Tax Reform has not yet responded to a request for comment from The Bee about Burton's statement.

Americans for Tax Reform has warned California Republican legislators who have signed its anti-tax pledge that approving any move to put tax extensions on the ballot would be considered a violation of the pledge. That position has drawn heavy criticism from Democrats and Brown himself, who called Norquist's stands "pathetic" earlier this month.

Burton echoed some of that criticism this morning as the state GOP gathers for its three-day convention.

"Californians must be trusted to exercise their right to vote - that's how things work in a democracy. What remains of the sensible part of the Republican Party needs to speak loudly against out of touch, and out-to-lunch Republicans like Grover Norquist."

Photo: Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee

June 29, 2010
Money, voting records blow in the wind as party leaders clash

The top bosses at California's major political parties squared off today at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on which party will wake up Nov. 3 as the winner.

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring pointed to national and state trends that he said show political winds in the GOP's sails, including leads in polling on generic congressional ballots, President Barack Obama's declining approval rating, gubernatorial elections in West Virginia and New Jersey and the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

"The political jet streams will be in our favor," he said, pointing to GOP victories in 1994 as an example of how the national political environment can affect California races.

But state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton wasn't so sure.

"Changes of winds and winds of change, who the hell knows where the wind goes. It tends to change," Burton said. "Do you ever watch the weather report? The wind's coming here, but they go there?"

June 29, 2010
Two California party chairmen are verbally challenged

There was little agreement today when John Burton, the state Democratic Party chairman, and Ron Nehring, his Republican counterpart, made a joint appearance at the Sacramento Press Club.

One of those disagreements was on how to pronounce the name of Carly Fiorina, the GOP challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. While Nehring pronounced it correctly, Burton repeatedly pronounced it as if it were spelled "Fiorino."

But Nehring may have compensated for that verbal faux pas by repeatedly referring to Burton's side as the "Democrat Party," using the standard GOP nomenclature that irritates members of the Democratic Party to no end.


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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