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Daniel Weintraub

California Insider

A Weblog by
Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weintraub

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« June 23, 2003 | | June 25, 2003 »
June 24, 2003

Welcome to my Garden Party


I took the junior Insiders downtown this afternoon, ostensibly to get haircuts but really to see the protesters and cops squaring off over globalization and biotech. The US is hosting a world conference of agricultural ministers here this week and the anti-WTO crowd was threatening to “shutdown Sacramento.” Turns out they didn’t need to. The police did it for them.

This afternoon’s big event was the protestors’ move toward a former community garden that was closed after the city discovered it was contaminated with toxic waste. Forget for a moment the irony of environmental activists trying to squat in a toxic garden and “take it back” for the people. If they’d gone in there and hung out for a time nobody would have noticed, or cared. After a while they would have grown tired, hungry, bored (or sick) and gone home. But that’s not the way it works in the modern state. Hundreds of police, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrol officers, many in riot gear, descended on the garden. Their mates, meanwhile, diverted traffic for several blocks in every direction, creating rush-hour gridlock around the Capitol. They brought out the horses (with plastic face shields), the Humvee-like vehicles, the vans, the black SUVs with running boards filled with officers waving guns. They barked orders at each other and marched to and fro. It was all very ridiculous—and expensive. They outnumbered the protesters at least two-to-one, maybe more. Watching them, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that they have all this gear and training and they just need to use it every so often to stay in shape.

“Aren’t they embarrassed?” someone asked.

Seeing the highway patrol and assuming this was a state-government operation, one of my sons wondered if the same drill would have taken place if Arnold were governor. “He probably would have just come down here by himself with one of those big machine guns and cleared them all out,” he said.

NOTE: The Sacramento Bee photo above was from yesterday's protest but it captures the mood of the event I've described here...

Posted by dweintraub at 7:54 PM

Shelley reports 376,008 signatures

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley says the counties have informed him they had 376,008 signatures on hand as of June 16 calling for the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. That’s far more than the 10 percent threshold needed to trigger the verification of those signatures, and Shelley says he’s instructed the counties to begin that process. They must report back to him again no later than July 23 with updated counts of raw and verified signatures.

The number reported by Shelley is less than the cumulative total the counties gave the Associated Press in a survey conducted Monday. And it’s significantly less than the 429,000 that recall proponents said they’d submitted to the counties by June 16.

Much of the discrepancy comes from the fact that Los Angeles County did not report the 31,000 signatures recall supporters say they submitted June 16. The governor’s supporters pounced on the gap to suggest that the recall campaign is falling far short, and clearly won’t make its goal of forcing a November special election. A Davis committee spokesman called the recall campaign’s claims “a lot of hype, hooey and hot air.”

I think this is wishful thinking. Clearly the signature pipeline is clogged at several points: at the unofficial verification done by the recall proponents, and at the registrar of voters in each county. Shelley, for example, announced that Sacramento County had 24,978 signatures. But Ernie Hawkins, the county’s registrar of voters, tells me that the county now has more than 42,000 on hand. And that’s exactly what the recall committee has told me they submitted. So I don’t think they are inflating their numbers.

Meanwhile, David Gilliard, the consultant for Rep. Issa’s Rescue California committee, said the paid signature gathering operation collected 125,000 last week, a new high, and activity surged over the weekend after the governor’s finance director announced that he had, by bureaucratic remote control, triggered a tripling of the state’s car tax. Returns are also now arriving from the second set of 1 million mail pieces sent to Republican households, and Gilliard says those are coming in at a higher rate than the first mailing.

Gilliard, in fact, is already laying plans for wrapping up this phase of the campaign. He says the paid signature gatherers will work through the July 4 weekend and quit on July 7. The firm coordinating the circulators will gather up the last of the petitions and submit them to Gilliard’s operation by July 10. The second group of mail-in signatures will also be counted by then. That would give the operation about six days to get the last of the signatures into the counties before the next monthly deadline on July 16.

The counties will now be taking 3 percent samples of the signatures and checking to see how many are valid. They will apply that ratio to the rest of the signatures in each batch and keep a running tally. They will report the total number to the secretary of state on July 23.

Hawkins, the Sacramento registrar, said he expects it to take only about two days for his staff to verify the 42,000 signatures they now have on hand. The county’s voter registration database is digitalized, and it’s simply a matter of taking the 1,200 or so cards in the 3 percent sample, typing in the name of the voter and comparing the signature on the petition to the one in the computer. Hawkins said most if not all of the state’s large counties use the same system.

I still think the campaign has an excellent chance of qualifying by July 23. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the counties haven’t finished verifying all their signatures by then. But if that happens it should just be a few thousand stray petitions. If it’s enough to keep them short of qualifying, the next pressure point will come in the weeks after July 23, when the recall committee leans on the counties to verify the last of the signatures and report the number promptly to Shelley.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:27 PM

Arts Council staff defies governor

I hate to keep picking on the California Arts Council, but it keeps popping up as an example of why it’s so difficult to control government spending. While others are warning that old people will go hungry, the sick will go without health care, and children will be left with substandard schools, the arts community is mounting a campaign to save the Arts Council from deep spending reductions. At issue is whether non-profit arts groups can survive without taxpayer funding. I think they can, and should. Further, I’d bet many of them might find deep private support if private donors knew the programs couldn’t simply turn to the government for help. One source of that support might even be actor Tim Robbins, who joined the crusade Monday, staging a press conference urging legislators to restore funding for the council. More telling was a quote in the LA Times from Council spokeswoman Kristin Margolis, who noted that there is still “time for change” because the Legislature has not yet voted on the budget. Here we have a paid employee of the state, supposedly answerable to Gov. Gray Davis, campaigning in public against the governor’s budget proposal. Again, I know we are talking here about a tiny portion of the state budget. But it’s emblematic of a much deeper problem. We can’t afford to do everything for everybody. We’ve got to set priorities. And those things that don’t make the cut are going to have to compete on their merits for voluntary funding. Is that so bad?

Here is a link to the LA Times story. Free registration required, but you can use mine: CaliforniaInsider/insider

Posted by dweintraub at 10:40 AM



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Daniel Weintraub


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