The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

October 31, 2008
Democrat registration still soaring

Debra Bowen has just published the latest voter registration numbers for California, and they continue to reflect the Demcratic Party surge that has been ongoing for most of this year. As of Oct. 20, the Democrats are now back up to 44.4 percent of the electorate, and the Republicans have sunk to just 31.4 percent. Decline to states now make up 19.9 percent of the voters.

Since 2004, California has added a net of about 750,000 voters. During that time Democrats have added 563,000, or 8 percent, and decline to states have grown by 519,000, or 18 percent. Republican registration has declined by 317,000, or 5.5 percent.

October 31, 2008
Homage to Joe Bob Briggs

This morning's editorial on the state budget mess described the situation as "Ugly. Ugly. Ugly on a stick." The "Ugly on a stick" part was my contribution to the editorial. I rise now to give attribution where it is due.

As far as I know, the phrase"ugly on a stick" was coined by Joe Bob Briggs, the world's premier (if only) drive-in movie critic. Ugly was actually a recurring character in Joe Bob's work, which started out as newspaper columns and turned into TV shows (for cable channels in the high double digits, natch) and a one-man show.

If you are unfamiliar with Job Bob's, um, oeuvre, you can find samples at http://www.joebobbriggs.com/review.asp.

In the words of the master, Joe Bob says check it out.

October 31, 2008
California's budget crisis at a whole new level

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance is planning to explain its latest, dire forecast at some point this afternoon. But if there is really a shortfall of $8 billion to $10 billion in this fiscal year alone, I don't think people are grasping yet what that means.

We're not talking here about a shortfall in a hypothetical, projected budget. This is a shortfall in the budget that is already approved and nearly half spent.So if, by the time any cuts could take effect, $50 billion of the $100 billion general fund is already out the door, that would amount to a 20 percent shortfall over the remaining six months of the fiscal year.

We have been using the phrase "budget crisis" for so long in California that the words no longer have much meaning. But this takes the situation to an entirely new level that will require cuts, and presumably revenue, at a level far beyond what voters and interest groups can probably imagine....Stay tuned. We will monitor this afternoon's briefing and offer an update here.

UPDATE: The Department of Finance has scrubbed plans for a briefing. Word is that they will detail the problem and potential solutions next week.


 

October 31, 2008
Bzzzz: More foreclosure woes

To add to all the misfortunes stemming from foreclosures in California, now we've got another: mosquito invasions and the risk of urban epidemics of West Nile disease. Great.

An entomology professor at UC Davis, William K. Reisen, and his colleagues did a study, "Delinquent Mortgages, Neglected Swimming Pools, and West Nile Virus, California. They conclude in the November edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases:

The recent widespread downturn in the housing market and increase in adjustable rate mortgages have combined to force a dramatic increase in home foreclosures and abandoned homes and produced urban landscapes dotted with an expanded number of new mosquito habitats.

Empty swimming pools, hot tubs and ornamental ponds turning green and producing mosquitos.  Jeez.  What's next?

October 30, 2008
The case for Heather Fargo -- flood control
RCB LEVY_02.JPGSacramento Mayor Heather Fargo stands with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other members of Congress after touring local levees in 2002. Bee photo by Renee C. Byer.
It's hard to write a passionate defense of Mayor Heather Fargo, partly because she seems so incapable of making one for herself.

Until fairly recently, Sacramento's incumbent mayor couldn't seem to specify her personal accomplishments. She often used the term "we" instead of "I." This odd political defect is the arguably the main reason Fargo could lose Tuesday's election, even though she has some successes to brag about and faces a candidate, Kevin Johnson, who has never held public office and carries around some considerable political baggage.

Fargo's main accomplishment involves the single most serious threat to Sacramento - a devastating flood.

For nearly two decades, Fargo has made flood control one of her priorities, first as a council member, then as mayor. She's served on the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency and is currently its chair. She can rightly boast, as she does on her campaign web site, that she's been "a steadfast advocate for repairing our levees and has made countless trips to Washington, DC to lobby the Congress for additional funding..."

Fargo has a seasoned perspective on flood control. She's been through the fights over the never-built Auburn Dam. As late as 1996, she and the SAFCA board supported the "dry dam" concept. But after Congress twice rejected Auburn Dam in 1990s, she and other SAFCA commissioners determined they had to pursue alternatives. They have, and the result - following years of haggling with U.S. Rep. John Doolittle and others -- is the ongoing work to add a new spillway to Folsom Dam, while upgrading levees along the American and Sacramento Rivers.


October 30, 2008
Parents to Prop 8's Frank Schubert: Don't use our kids

Update: An attorney from the Yes on 8 campaign responded with a letter to the parents, dated Oct. 30.  It dismisses their concerns, takes no responsibility for the Yes on 8 use of footage of the children in its ads, places the blame on the parents for allowing their children to go on the field trip.  The letter refers to the field trip as a "staged publicity stunt...in support of gay marriage."  It concludes that "you as parents made the deliberate choice to use your own children as stage props in this debate" and, thus, it seems, anything goes.  Anybody can use your children for any purpose without your knowledge or permission.  End of story. Incredible.

Here's a follow up to my posting of Oct. 29: Proposition 8 is about rights, not field trips

The parents of two children featured most prominently in video footage in a Yes on 8 ad have repeatedly asked the campaign to stop using images of their children to promote changing the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage. They've written letters.  They've made phone calls. The Yes on 8 campaign has refused to pull the footage.

The parents are at their wits' end.  So two of them came to Sacramento on Thursday to appeal to legislators and to Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Schubert in person. I followed them on their journey. 

To legislators, their message was: "I don't want to see another parent have to go through this."   Assemblyman Mark Leno told the parents that under current law if the ads were for a commercial purpose, consent to use the images would be required.  But ads for a political purpose don't require consent.  Leno continued that the Yes on 8 use of children's images, however, reveals a tension between First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to privacy. This is a particularly sensitive issue because the campaign did not use images of adults, but of young children -- without the knowledge or consent of the parents. He made a commitment to explore solutions in the upcoming legislative session.  But that doesn't do anything now.

Then the parents went to Schubert's office at Schubert Flint Public Affairs at 14th and L. "I've heard he's a father," said one parent. "I want to ask him how he would feel if his children were manipulated like this."  She wanted to appeal to him as a moral human being.  "This is our last hope," she said.

Neither Schubert nor others in his office would speak to the two parents. Schubert's office called security and a guard escorted them out of the building. The parents left a letter saying, "We appeal to your sense of decency as a parent to take those ads off the air and off your website."


October 29, 2008
Brown up over McClintock?
The Daily Kos is reporting that Charlie Brown leads Tom McClintock, 48-42, in October poll results in the race for the 4th Congressional District. That up from 46-41 from a month earlier.

I'm not sure I'd be as cocky as Kos in assuming a Brown victory, but this race is way tighter than it appeared a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: An alert reader, Hektor, noted in the comments below that McClintock has his own poll for that October period that shows him up over Brown, 49-40. You can find info here.

I should also note that McClintock's pollster, Val Smith, has found fault with the Daily Kos poll of the 4th District. You can find his critique at the bottom of this page.

Who should you believe? We'll find out Tuesday night. The reputation of pollsters will be on the line, along with the political careers of Brown and McClintock.
October 29, 2008
Aaron Klein pulls another stunt in a Sierra College race
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The Save Sierra College Committee, which opposes incumbent Aaron Klein and supports his opponent John Vodonick, has run into what it calls "Klein's latest dirty trick." 

After the committee had sent out an email message to registered voters, Klein's attorney contacted the email service provider and demanded that it prevent the committee "from transmitting any additional messages, and confirm to us in writing that their account has either been terminated or suspended."  The letter alleged that the email message was illegal spam and not legitimate political communication.  Specifically, the letter charged that sending email messages to a "database of registered voters who did not opt-in to receive his spam broadcast" was a potential violation of "laws prohibiting electronic mail spam" -- without citing a single statute or the offending email.

Kent Pollock, whose firm handled the message for the Save Sierra College Committee, says the e-mail  service provider shut off service for 24 hours (from about 1 p.m. Tuesday until 1 p.m. Wednesday).

This is outrageous. This was not an unsolicited commercial email, otherwise known as spam.  This was pure political speech protected by the First Amendment. The names of registered voters came from publicly available rolls and were used for a non-economic, political purpose, as specifically allowed under state law. And it happened one week before the election, a sensitive time. 


October 29, 2008
Late development in Sierra College race

UPDATE:  Since this entry was posted 21 hours ago, Elaine Rowen's campaign has changed her website to accurately reflect what The Bee editorial said.

In the race for an open seat for the Sierra Community College District board, The Bee's editorial board endorsed Dennis Cota over Elaine Rowen.  Our editorial noted that the race had drawn "two appealing candidates" and said nice things about both. 

But now Rowen has sent out an email to voters and posted on her website a version that changes our words and misrepresents our view. 

Our endorsement concluded: "Both candidates would bring fresh perspective, but Cota gets the edge. He has the energy and temperament to be a strong voice for the college in the community."  Rowen's campaign changed that to say: "She would bring fresh perspective (to the board)." (Emphasis added.)

It's not uncommon for candidates to extract a brief passage from an editorial and use it in campaign communications. That's what happens when you say something nice about a politician!

But here the candidate's campaign is attributing to the editorial board words we did not use and doing so in a way that implies we endorsed her when we actually endorsed her opponent.

I called Rowen to ask her about the changes and she said she would make sure that the quote gets corrected.  We'll be checking her website to see how quickly that happens.

 

October 29, 2008
Proposition 8 is about rights, not field trips

In the waning days of the campaign, Proponents of Proposition 8 -- which would change California's Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage -- have seized on an incident from a public charter school in San Francisco.  Parents of 18 first-graders organized a 90-minute field trip to City Hall to surprise their children's teacher, a lesbian who was getting married that day.  As is the case for all field trips, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, parents had to sign permission slips and could opt out of the trip.  Two did and those children spent the 90 minutes with another first-grade class back at school.

So now Prop 8 advocates have produced an ad, using video footage of the children from that event.  The parents are outraged, saying that no one asked their permission to flash images of their children in a statewide advertising campaign.  They are most bothered that Prop 8 advocates are using the images to turn what was a joyful event into what they see as propaganda for a hateful purpose.

The fact is, Prop 8 will not make gay people disappear. Kids will continue to have gay teachers.  Nor will Prop 8 render gay couples invisible.  They'll still be part of our communities.  Finally, Prop 8 will not change the fact that local school districts decide how to teach about marriage -- or not to teach about marriage at all.

But Prop 8, if it passes, would for the first time introduce language into the California Constitution making gay people second-class citizens.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein understands that and has cut an ad that makes that purpose clear.  She urges Californians to vote "No", saying that Prop 8 "eliminates fundamental rights" and "treats people differently under the law." Watch her very effective ad here.   

October 29, 2008
Prop. 10: Will voters let a Texas oil man buy a bond measure?
In an editorial today, The Bee renews its opposition to Proposition 10, the Nov. 4 ballot initiative that would have California borrow $5 billion to subsidize natural gas-powered vehicles and other forms of transportation. States the editorial:

"In one fell swoop, this deceptively named 'Renewable Energy and Clean Alternative Fuel Act' would worsen the state's budget situation, undermine its fight against global warming and enrich a Texas billionaire - T. Boone Pickens."

As the editorial notes, Prop. 10 could well pass, because Pickens has poured nearly $19 million into this measure. On the other hand, groups and individuals as diverse as Bill Leonard, of the Board of Equalization, and Mary Nichols, chair of the Air Resources board, oppose the measure.

Keep reading to see statements by Leonard and Nichols in opposition to Prop. 10.

October 28, 2008
Advice for next mayor?

Would you like to tell the next Sacramento mayor where to go, and what to do? I am planning a Sunday Conversation for the Bee's Forum section for the weekend after the election. The theme will be advice for the next mayor, whether that's Heather Fargo or Kevin Johnson.

I'd like to hear from you with your suggestions for the winner on everything from crime to economic development, the K-Street Mall to auto malls, transportation, education, the homeless and anything else that's on your mind.

Please email me at dweintraub@sacbee.com and, if you are willing to have your thoughts published, include your real name and the town or neighborhood in which you live.

Thanks!

Daniel Weintraub

October 28, 2008
Teen bluster or more?

Some days on Sacramento's light rail system, I see interactions that restore my faith in human nature.  Other days, I see incidents that make me wonder about the fate of civilization.  On Monday, just before dusk at a light rail station near my office, it was the latter.

Some teenagers had found a six-pack of empty beer bottles.  One of the young women proceeded to lob three of the bottles at another young woman nearby.  These landed in bushes, so they didn't break.  Okay, nothing major.  Another teen crossed the tracks, and not speaking a word, took a bottle and returned to his side of the platform.  What was he up to?  He put the bottle in the pocket of his baggy pants and sat.  A few minutes later, he walked to the center of the tracks and tossed the bottle high in the air.  It shattered about 50 feet away.  

Two bottles were still left in the six-pack. Three more teens arrived at the station, and as they passed the young woman flung a bottle at their feet.  It shattered; nobody reacted.  One bottle left.  The young woman rolled it under her foot until it broke.

The train came, we all got on and the broken glass was left behind. 

What's this about?  It's not about littering.  It's not about being playful or funny.  It's about showing in a very public way that you don't care, that you want to leave people guessing about whether they should feel threatened.  It's about swagger.

I can just see people shaking their heads and saying, "See, this is why people won't ride light rail."  But it's more than that.  Something's wrong when young people show such little respect for their surroundings and each other.  How do you turn that around? 

October 28, 2008
Investigating Hood Corps

At Monday's mayoral debate, incumbent Heather Fargo charged challenger Kevin Johnson with three items related to an ongoing federal investigation of Hood Corps, which received national AmeriCorps funding for tutoring and improvements in Oak Park.  She accused Johnson of improperly requiring Hood Corps volunteers to go to church, run marathons and campaign for a slate of Sacramento City Unified school board candidates.  Yet the Inspector General's report dropped the allegations about church and marathons.  Fargo should, too.

The political activities allegation remains under investigation. And legitimate questions on that still remain: Did Hood Corps volunteers engage in political activities during regular work hours (funded by federal AmeriCorps grant money) or on their own time?  Were the volunteers required or pressured to participate in political activities or did they voluntarily offer their services?  If they were required to participate, who ordered that?

It would have been better all around if the feds cleared this up long before the election.  As things stand, it's all speculation.  It seems that voters will have to make their judgments based on other things. 

October 28, 2008
A preview sneak peek?

What was the security guard thinking who gave Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson an after-hours "tour" of City Hall on Saturday, including city council offices that normally require a sign-in and security badge?  And what was Johnson himself thinking? 

At Monday night's debate he brushed off incident as similar to an after-hours tour he did of the Vatican.  Why not do a tour during public hours like any other resident of Sacramento?

What do you think?  Is the mayor "making a mountain out of a molehill," as Johnson claims?  Or is Johnson showing, yet again, that he thinks rules don't apply to him, as his critics charge?  My view: He had no business being there. No excuses.   

October 27, 2008
The final mayor's debate -- no game changer

The second half of the Sacramento mayor's debate was more meaty than the first. There was real discussion -- although not much -- of what the city could do to deal with people losing their homes. There was some talk about transportation priorities and auto malls -- the latter a non-issue, in today's economy.

There was Mayor Fargo dropping the bomb that some economic development staff with the city may not have jobs, depending on the outcome of the budget. (I sure hope this wasn't the first time they had heard of this possibility.)

Then a viewer asked about Fargo's trips to Paris and other parts of the world. Her answer was convoluted. She said that Paris was interested in Sacramento's experience with water conservation and combinated stormwater-sewer and so they paid her way to fly across the world. Really? Our water-gushing city is known as an international leader in water conservation?

Then, at the end, Fargo made a pitch, straight into the camera, on why she should be reelected. She talked about a real accomplishment  -- expanding the medical centers here in Sacramento, despite neighborhood and union opposition.

Sadly, that was too little, too late.

The Bee's poll shows K.J. up by eight points. Fargo tried to downplay that outcome by noting that the newspaper's poll had her up in the primary that Kevin ended up winning.

But let's face reality: Incumbents who lose in the primary rarely win in the final election, even if the polls are wrong. Tonight's debate did little to change the dynamic. Game over.

October 27, 2008
Mayor's debate -- where's the beef? Or even the tofu?

The first half hour of Sacramento's last mayoral debate between Heather Fargo and Kevin Johnson was almost void of substantive discussion on real issues.

First we heard an odd dust-up on Kevin Johnson's Saturday visit to city hall, in which a security guard allowed him to get up to the 5th floor. According to Fargo, Councilman Rob Fong confronted K.J. when he entered the council chambers and then the security guard was out of a job. What happened there? Do we have videotape?

Then we heard extended debate on Sacramento spending $200,000 on surveying its trees, which have been known to fall on people (including some of Heather's supporters at a primary election night party earlier this year.) K.J. says it's a waste of money, Fargo says no, because trees shade our horrendously hot city and can kill people, as they have.

Finally, at minute 36, a question was posed about the mortgage meltdown....Finally.

October 27, 2008
Mayoral debate drinking game
We all know that bloggers everywhere play drinking games during the national debates. I propose we try one for tonight's Sacramento mayoral debate between incumbent Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson. 

Pick a word or phrase you'd expect each candidate to use frequently and take a sip of your favorite beverage whenever that candidate utters it.  Whoopee!  Judging by the way the campaign has gone, I wouldn't be surprised if each candidate chooses to "go negative" than lay out his or her plans for the city. 

So whenever Fargo or Johnson refers to "my opponent" or something to that effect I'm taking a swig.  Who's joining me?
October 27, 2008
US Attorney should resolve St. Hope and Johnson questions

Some labor unions  that want to re-elect Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and defeat challenger Kevin Johnson are airing a bunch of misleading  ads that say federal funds for school lunch  and reading programs have been cut off at two charter schools run by Johnson's St. Hope organization . The ads appear to be flat out lies. According to the principal of St. Hope's Public Schools, federal funds continue to flow to both schools. A spokesperson for the Sacramento Unified School District says the district has received no confirmation of any cut off of federal funds to either. 

Rumors of a cutoff began flying after Inspector General Gerald Walpin sent out a press release last month  announcing the government was suspending all federal grants to Johnson's St. Hope organization because Johnson may have committed "potential criminal violations," But that investigation targeted only St. Hope Academy's Hood Corps (a domestic urban Peace Corps-type program), not its charter schools. The folks who put out the false ad must know that.

Walpin's report was refered to the U.S. Attorney's office for possible federal prosecution. When I asked him about the report last month, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott  told me that "he was"sensitive to the bigger picture," and promised to move "as expeditiously as we can in a professional manner to make the decisions required of us in a timely manner. " By timely, I had hoped Scott meant before the election. That's just nine days away now.  It's been almost a month since IG Walpin made his highly sensational allegations public. Johnson says the charges are bogus. Nonetheless, Fargo supporters are exaggerating them to try to defeat Johnson. Parents and students are being alarmed needlessly

 The U.S. Attorney could resolve this issue once and for all. In fairness to Johnson, Fargo, and the voters he should.

October 27, 2008
Monday memo: Beyond endorsements
The Bee's editorial board is -- whew! -- nearing the end of its endorsements for the Nov. 4 election. Having held scores of meetings and made our picks in 55 separate races and ballot measures, we are now thankfully moving onto some new topics:

PENSION OBLIGATIONS: The collapse of the stock market means that state and local taxpayers could be on the hook for pension obligations handled by CalPERS. Ginger Rutland is examining the long-term consequences. Email her here.

REGIONAL TRANSIT: Ginger is also writing about the workshops that Regional Transit is holding to map its future operations. Have you been to one? If so, email Ginger with your impressions.

We are also examining new twists on old topics:

PROPOSITION 8: If the ballot measure to ban gay marriage fails, will it result in teaching of gay marriage in public schools? Contact Pia Lopez with your thoughts.

PROPOSITION 11: Opponents of the redistricting reform measure suggest it will result in "taxation without representation." They call it a "power grab" by Republicans. But they also call it a "power grab" by Democrats. This has left us in a state of confusement. Should we comment? Email me if you have a dog in this fight.
October 22, 2008
California's reservoirs at lowest levels in 14 years
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RP FLOSOM LAKE CROWS.JPG
Folsom Lake was brimming with water in July 2002, as shown above. By July of this year, as seen to the right, it was at 25 percent of capacity and steadily dropping. (Photos by Brian Baer and Randy Pench.)

As of Friday, there was only 15.8 million acre feet of water in California's reservoirs -- the lowest amount since 1994, according to Steve Nemeth of the state Department of Water Resources.

15.8 million acre feet isn't much of a savings account. Imagine Folsom Lake near Sacramento at full capacity. That's one million acre feet. Now imagine 15 of those reservoirs for a huge state with 37 million people and millions of acres of farm land.

The DWR says on its Web site that "California is facing the most significant water crisis in its history." That may be stretching it. In 1977, the state just had 7.6 million acre feet of water in storage following the driest year on record. And let's not forget the drought of 1928-34. Things got so dry that no fresh water from the Sacramento River reached the San Francisco Bay in 1931, according to Sue McClurg's book, "Water and the Making of California."

Of course, California has millions of more people now - and more valuable crops at stake - than it did in 1977 or 1931. So we can't afford another dry winter. Unless we plan on eating crow.
October 21, 2008
Tuesday memo

Today, The Bee's editorial board is looking ahead to some upcoming political endorsements. Stuart Leavenworth will be writing about the Roseville city council races later this week. Pia Lopez will be writing about the Sierra Community College board election races. If you have input for us on either these contests, now is the time to e-mail the writers.

October 20, 2008
Are newspaper endorsements "dinosaurs"? Or a heritage worth keeping?
CC_DINOSAUR_WIDE.JPGThe Swarm last week blogged on how congressional candidate Tom McClintock was balking at meeting with The Bee's editorial board for an endorsement interview. The item drew a number of comments, including this one from "csicathy," who wrote:

Newspaper "endorsements" are so irrelevant today, so predictible, so utterly lacking in credibility, why would McClintock waste his time? Time to pull the plug on this dinosaur called "editorial board."
As it turned out, after we published our blog item, McClintock's campaign quickly arranged an interview with our editorial board dinosaur. That made us feel more relevant. Even so, csicathy's item touched a nerve. At a time when newspapers are struggling and voters have so many options for information on candidates, do newspaper editorials really matter?


October 20, 2008
Daily memo

Two topics are at the top of the editorial board's minds this morning:

One is the race for Placer County Fifth District county supervisor between Bruce Kranz and Jennifer Montgomery. If you have input on this, e-mail Stuart Leavenworth with your thoughts.

The second topic is the cutbacks by Sacramento city police and their implication for public safety and the city budget overall. Have some thoughts on the subject? E-mail Ginger Rutland.

October 18, 2008
Fargo, Johnson differ on weak mayor and current city manager
I just watched the televised debate between Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson. Although fatigued by this contest and the choices that voters face, I was intrigued by the candidates' answers to a question about the current weak mayor system in Sacramento.

Fargo said the system works well with a "strong personality as mayor" and a strong personality as city manager. But then she added that "there have been some problems with past city managers and with the one we have now."

Problems with current manager Ray Kerridge? What are they? Fargo didn't say and the moderator didn't ask.

Johnson, by contrast, praised Kerridge by name, and said he would be able to work with the current structure by "using the bully pulpit." He then went on to say: " I do think the city needs to have a discussion to move from a weak mayor structure to an executive mayor structure." In other words, he'd like to change the city charter in a pretty dramatic way.

I'd love to know what Ray Kerridge thought of these two responses. One candidate dissed him without elaboration. The other suggested a change that would make the mayor the city manager. No matter who wins, it could be a tough four years for Mr. Kerridge.
October 18, 2008
The myth of media intimidation
Ever since the United States came up empty-handed in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the American media have been beating themselves up for their failure to more aggressively challenge President Bush on that issue and others in the run-up to the war in early 2003. That's fine, but this self-flagellation has now also taken to including the idea that the media stood down because Bush was a very popular war president and the hyper-patriotic American public was jonesing to invade Iraq. That was apparently the conclusion at this recent media confab on "The lessons of our failure."

The media may well have failed, but it is a stretch to say that fear of reprisals was behind that performance. As these polls in the LA Times archive show, Bush's national approval rating in February 2003 (57 percent) was declining, and was the lowest it had been since he took office. Here is what the Times Poll said about Bush and Iraq after the president tried to rally the nation behind his policies in his State of the Union address:

Iraq and Saddam Hussein: Nearly three out of five Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, while 38% disapprove. Virtually all Republicans are solidly behind Bush on this (74% approve strongly), while 59% of Democrats and 63% of self-described liberals disapprove. More men than women also approve (65%, 50% respectively). A majority of Americans (55%) trust that George W. Bush will make the right decision about Iraq. Women are not entirely convinced of that--49% trust him to do the right thing, while 43% don't.
That's support, but not overwhelming, certainly not enough to justify a media clampdown out of fear of retribution from the government or the public.

And while those numbers went up, at least briefly, once the war began, that was after the media had supposedly been cowed into submission. So if reporters missed the story, they are going to have to come up with another reason.

The Times Poll from that era, by the way, has some other interesting numbers. After the war began, four out of five respondents said they would consider the invasion a success even if WMD were never found, and 85 percent said the war would be worth it as long as Saddam Hussein were killed or captured.
October 17, 2008
Plumbers create new committees: More attack ads in the mayor's race?
The presidential race isn't the only contest that features mysterious plumbers. The latest filings on the City of Sacramento Web site shows that four plumbers unions have created new "qualified large political committees" in the last month.

These new committees could foreshadow another series of attack ads on mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson. He is trying to unseat incumbent Heather Fargo, who is supported by local and statewide plumbers unions.

Earlier this year, the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 447 launched an independent expenditure campaign that smeared Johnson with glossy mailers and a Web site. "Never before have Sacramento voters seen such a despicable independent expenditure campaign," The Bee said in an editorial at the time. 

The new new committees that have filed are the Southern California Pipe Trades District Council #16; the United Association of the Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, Local #343; the Pipe Trades District Council #36 and the Plumbers and Pipefitters U.A. Local #246.
October 17, 2008
Update: McClintock to meet with board
State Sen. Tom McClintock, running for the open Congressional District 4 seat, will meet with The Bee's editorial board early next week.
October 16, 2008
Desperately seeking Tom McClintock -- where is he?
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The Editorial Board of The Bee opines on issues every day and, during the election season, we endorse candidates for office. Meeting with candidates face-to-face is an integral part of the process. 

Well, for two hotly contested congressional races in our region, we've met with the candidates -- or at least most of them. In Congressional District 3, we met incumbent Dan Lungren, a Republican, and challenger Bill Durston, a Democrat, in one-hour interviews. Our endorsement runs tomorrow.

Congressional District 4, an open seat with the retirement of incumbent John Doolittle, is another story. That race features Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Charlie Brown. 

We met with Brown today. But for weeks, we've made phone calls and sent e-mails trying to schedule Republican Tom McClintock for a one-hour interview. We originally scheduled an endorsement for Congressional District 4 to run this Saturday, but told McClintock's campaign that we'd move it to accommodate his schedule. Today, his campaign told us that he was "not going to participate."

McClintock met with the Editorial Board for the primary election.  We endorsed his opponent in that race, but we start with a clean slate for the general election. 

Speaking with his campaign spokesman, I explained that the purpose of the interview is not just to win endorsement from the Editorial Board.  Some candidates get our endorsement, others don't.  Regardless, the interview gives a candidate a chance to explain himself or herself and to make arguments for his or her views.  It's part of building respectful relationships.  And if a candidate wins, it's part of establishing a long-term dialogue. 

Moreover, if a candidate wins, he or she doesn't just represent the like-minded people in his or her district. He or she has obligations to the larger public. An important part of running for and serving in office is putting one's record and persuasive skills under scrutiny. That's been a role of the press since before the Founding.  

We'd still like to meet with McClintock for the general election. And there's still time. The question is: If McClintock won't meet with editorial boards, does that bode ill if he's elected? Does it indicate a lack of willingness to engage with the larger public? What do you think?

October 16, 2008
Ballot propositions: Videos and a tally of support and opposition
Fox & Hounds has produced this handy grid showing where leading interest groups, newspapers and political parties stand on the 12 ballot propositions on the ballot. It is quite a divergence of views.

To get more information on the propositions themselves, check out the Center for Governmental Studies, a non-profit headed by good-government guru Bob Stern. The CGS has put together one-minute, non-partisan videos on each ballot measure, like the one below. Further evidence of how the YouTube generation is influencing politics.




October 16, 2008
Sam's Club CEO: With sustainability, `You sell more'

Sam's Club CEO Doug McMillon talks to Fortune Magazine about how the company benefits from its sustainability push:

Your boss, Lee Scott, has made sustainability a big theme for Wal-Mart. Is it actually helping your business?

Yes. It's been an interesting journey. I remember the first conversation that Lee had with a group of us, and I didn't really understand what he was talking about. "Sustainability" was defined in a financial sense for me. As he started to broaden the conversation into the environment and then social issues, it sounded like potentially a big distraction. But in fact it fits within our overall mission - to save people money so that they can live better.

We underestimated how much financial benefit we could get from it. We found items that if you simply reduce the amount of packaging involved, save cost, and pass that on to the customer, you sell more. You're just eliminating waste. We thought we were efficient before, but we really weren't. It was as if somebody handed us a different pair of glasses, and the whole world looked different.

Any benefits beyond cost?

Yes, we got a secondary benefit that I also don't think we understood. Many of our associates have an emotional connection to this subject. When we started declaring goals, some of them very aggressive, the path to achieving them not clear, they responded in a way that was surprising. They said, Count me in, let me have a piece of that responsibility, and I'll help figure it out. Now it's moving with two million associates behind it, not just a small group of leaders.

 

 

October 15, 2008
California air board, after delay, releases plan to cut CO2 emissions

The California Air Resources Board has just released its proposed scoping plan for cutting greenhouse gases nearly 30 percent by 2020. The plan, likely to be controversial for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, originally was to be unveiled on Oct. 3. It was delayed for reasons I examined in an earlier post.

UPDATE: Reaction from environmental groups is all over the map. Read their statements, and one from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the jump.


October 15, 2008
Finance: Revenues down in September
The Department of Finance just posted its latest revenues numbers, for September, and they are bleak. Revenues were down about $900 million below the forecast for the month, and more than $1 billion for the first quarter of the fiscal year. Finance says that's consistent with its projection that revenues could be short $3 billion for the full fiscal year. At this point, though, even that admission looks optimistic. I would think it could still get worse than that...Not going too far out on a limb here, but I think 2009 might go down as the ugliest on record for California finances, including local government. It's going to be a real bloodbath. Here is the link.
October 14, 2008
City treasurer to council: Get ready for "painful reality"

City Treasurer Russ Fehr will deliver a bleak report to the city council on Sacramento's finances tonight. You can find his report here 105_2265.JPGon the council's web site.

In the report, Fehr notes that property values in the city  "have declined by more than $10 billion" in the last three years.

He says that rating agencies have lowered the rating on several of the city's bond issues because of problems with insurers. He warns against additional borrowing, because it would lower the city's AA rating further. At the same time, the city will need to increase contributions to its employee retirement system because earnings in the stock market will be "significantly below actuarial targets."

The bottom line, says Fehr: "Spending must fall below income and the difference applied to debt reduction and increasing savings...Adapting to these constraints is critical and will continue to be a painful reality...for years to come."

UPDATE: The ever-active Steve Maviglio, campaign manager for Kevin Johnson, just released a memo putting his spin on the city's financial troubles. Read it on the jump. 

October 14, 2008
Johnson on his pledge: 'irrelevant'

 Following up on Ginger's post below, here is an edited transcript from the Bee editorial board's most recent meeting with Kevin Johnson, when the mayoral candidate discussed the pledge he signed to support a firefighters' union inititiative to lock current contract terms into the city charter. In the conversation, Johnson says he saw signing the pledge as only "agreeing in concept" to support the firefighters' campaign, even though, if you look at the document, it clearly goes further than that. Also of note, Johnson, when pressed, said the pledge was "irrelevant," in part because the firefighters had already agreed to endorse him.

October 14, 2008
Kevin Johnson's troubling pledge to union firefighters

Back in early September, we asked mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson for a copy of the pledge he signed at the behest of  Local 522, the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Union, which had endorsed him. He wouldn't give it to us. So we asked the union for it. They refused as well.

Two weeks ago when Johnson came to the editorial board for an endorsement interview, we again asked for the paper he'd signed.. He refused to give it to us and told us to get if from the union. We tried. They refused as well. So we appealed to Johnson's campaign manager, Steve Maviglio. After several days he persuaded union officials to send us a copy. Here it is. Read it and you'll understand why Johnson and the union wanted to keep it under wraps.

In it Johnson promises to support an as yet unwritten union initiative. "I support the Neighborhood Firehouse Protection Act which guarantees Sacramento City spend necessary resources to keep every fire company in the city open, fully equipped and staffed at a minimum of four firefighters." The promise to maintain four-person staffing is the most troubling part of Johnson's pledge. Many urban fire departments, including the Sacramento Metro Fire Department, use three-person crews. Because the city of Sacramento's contract with city fire fighters requires four crew members, the city has had to shut down fire engines because they cannot all be staffed to that level. If the city had three-person crews it could afford to keep those engines running. It also could afford to open a badly needed new fire station in Natomas. Johnson's pledge, if enacted via an initiative, would lock the city's current, expensive staffing policy in place so that no future city council could change it.

 Johnson is apparently willing to jettison other city budget priorities to give union firefighters what they demand. The pledge he signed goes on to say, "This measure does not include a funding source and I understand possible cuts could be incurred by parks and recreation, youth programs, libraries and other city departments."

Firefighter union leaders sent a cover letter along with Johnson's pledge that obviously seeks to soften its full meaning. They point out that the initiative has not yet been written and that the union has "not decided to go forward with this effort." They also say that Johnson "made it clear to us that every department of city govenment, including the fire department, would be reviewed in light of budgetary constraints."

But if the initiative Johnson has pledged to support does go forward, it would tie the hands of all future mayors and city councils. It would prevent the city from making sensible fire staffing changes  to protect other vital city services -- police, for example.

Because of budget problems, the city council has cut the police budget 8 percent. They cut the fire department only 4 percent. To save money police have been forced to double up in patrol cars. Fire fighters still get to maintain four person crews. Where does Johnson stand on police versus fire? The pledge he signed suggests that fire takes precedence over police. Does it? It's a question that needs answering as the campaign enters the home stretch.

October 13, 2008
Prison guards should drop bungled recall of Schwarzenegger

The era of an overweening, overbearing prison guards union in California may be coming to an end. They've become the Keystone Cops.

Nothing symbolizes this more than the union's bumbling Sept. 29 recall petition of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a stunt to begin with and they botched it.

Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen rejected the petition saying it failed to meet requirements. It listed signers' addresses incorrectly. It failed to include Schwarzenegger's response -- a deliberate move, apparently, because the union didn't like the governor's response (saying it was "extremely misleading").

The union can submit a corrected petition within 10 days. Better just to hang it up.

October 13, 2008
Monday memo
Thumbnail image for DAVID HOLWERK 01[2].JPGLike everytbody else, we have our eyes on the financial situation, but not for anything immediate. On tomorrow's editorial page, we'll be endorsing in El Dorado County's Measure Y and in races for county supervisor there.
October 13, 2008
SoCal wildfires
I am in Burbank in route to Malibu to talk to students about California government and the Schwarzenegger years. As we landed, we flew through thick smoke from nearby fires. It looks as if hundreds of people are being evacuated from neighborhoods north of here, near Sylmar. Two major freeways are closed. The winds are howling. Hope they can get the flames under control
October 13, 2008
Levy on the California economy
Economist Stephen Levy offered this summary of his views on the condition of the economy over the weekend. A Democrat, Levy has steadfastly maintained that the state's economy remains fundamentally sound and should experience a relatively brief recession, not one as bad as the early 1990s. He continues to hold that view.

October 10, 2008
What's delaying Schwarzenegger's plan to cut greenhouse emissions?

NEWSWEEK_COVER.jpgThe Schwarzenegger administration was scheduled last Friday to release its long-awaited "scoping plan" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as required by a 2006 state law to fight global warming.

But a week has come and gone and still no final scoping plan. What gives?

Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, told me earlier this week that officials were just "crossing t's and dotting i's" in pulling together the voluminous report.

That may be so, but the collapse of the financial markets is surely adding to the delay.

For one, the governor's staff has been busy trying to deal with the state's cash-flow crunch. Thus, they probably haven't had time to vet a plan that is sure to be controversial.

Beyond that, one has to wonder if the governor is reluctant to release a plan that will lay out new fees, regulations and market mechanisms to achieve a 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. All will surely increase the cost of doing business in California.

 The scoping plan is big -- sure -- but it may have too large a scope for Schwarzenegger to feel comfortable in these hard economic times.

 

October 9, 2008
Bride is back
Listen up folks. Every Friday I do a commentary on something important or not so important. This week it's about bride and groom - words recently deleted from California's marriage license. The words are being restored,  thanks in part to a Roseville couple who refused to be called Party A and Party B. I say good for them.  You can hear me say it right here
October 9, 2008
Lockyer is trying to sell $4B in notes, Schwarzenegger tells Paulson

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just sent another letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson regarding the possibility that California might need a $7B loan to get it through the month.

In the letter, the governor says State Treasurer Bill Locker is in the process of trying to sell the first $4 billion in "bond anticipation notes." If that happens -- Massachusetts was able to get a loan yesterday -- it could make it easier for California to get all the credit it needs to the market to make it through the month.

But Lockyer hasn't yet sold the notes, so Schwarzenegger's letter leaves the door open on California seeking a federal loan if the credit market remains in a semi-panic.

Gov's letter is on the jump.

October 9, 2008
Should Obama and McCain go negative or positive in closing weeks?

That's the question in any campaign.  And the answer is in for the presidential race: McCain, negative; Obama, positive.  The latest tracking by the Wisconsin Advertising Project shows that of the $28 million the two candidates spent on TV ads from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, nearly 100 percent of McCain's ads were negative. In contrast, 34 percent of Obama's were negative.

In the past, negative advertising worked.  We'll see what happens in this cycle.  Are people tired of that stuff?

October 9, 2008
Why bail out people who paid nothing down?
The Bee's Jim Wasserman reports some grumbling from the local real estate community that McCain's mortgage relief proposal wouldn't help people who put no money down to "buy" their houses and now find themselves underwater on the mortgage. But why should the taxpayers help such people, anyway? If they borrowed 100 percent of the home's purchase price, they are essentially the same as renters, except that they get a tax deduction on the interest they pay, unlike tenants who get nothing back from the government for their rent. These buyers had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the transaction. If they lose their home now, they go back to renting. Which is really what they were doing all along. It would be crazy to force people who stayed in a rental and didn't take out a risky loan to bail out people who borrowed 100 percent.
October 9, 2008
The Bee: Say "no" to all but one of the Nov. 4 propositions
The entire editorial page of The Bee today is devoted to an argument on why, in the current economic and political climate, voters should reject 11 of the 12 propositions on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"Say "no" to all measures that could worsen the state's budget situation or push agendas unrelated to the state's broken governance," the editorial states.

Proposition 11, an initiative to reform how legislative districts are mapped every decade, is the only measure The Bee supports. An endorsement on that measure will appear Friday.
October 8, 2008
Wednesday morning memo

Today the minds of The Bee's editorial board are green -- not from environmental concerns but from thoughts of money. In particular, the money that is not in the state's coffers, the money that John McCain or Barack Obama won't have to work with, the money that is rushing out of people's retirement accounts, the money that has been lost in declining housing values,  the money that various ballot propositions would claim from the state budget -- well, you get the idea.

If you would like to help shape our thoughts on this all-consuming topic, e-mail David Holwerk (dholwerk@sacbee.com).     

October 7, 2008
They'll be baaackkkk....
Just when you thought the financial crisis couldn't get more scary, the Associated Press reports that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday will call lawmakers back for a special session.

Their mission? To deal with an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion gap lawmakers didn't close with the budget the governor signed a few weeks ago. The Bee has an additional story here.
October 7, 2008
Johnson has raised $1.5 million, three times more than Fargo

The latest campaign finance filings show that Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson has raised $1.5 million in his bid to unseat incumbent Heather Fargo, three times more than she has raised.

Johnson is getting big contributions from Realtors, the building industry, the building trades and law enforcement unions.

Fargo received big contribs from the plumbers and pipefitters unions (which financed a nasty independent expenditure campaign against Johnson in the primary.) She is also getting four-figure contributions from the Sacramento Teachers Association, several city council incumbents and the Stonewall Democratic Club.

With less than a month to go before the election, Johnson had an ending cash balance of $139,040 and Fargo had $116,257. Johnson has outstanding debts of $538,704 -- most of which is a half million dollar loan from himself to his campaign -- while Fargo has a debt so far of nearly $38,800.

Interestingly, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos has given $2,150 to Fargo so far, even though he held a September fundraiser for Johnson. Hedging his bets, perhaps?

 

October 7, 2008
How the meltdown affects you
If you're confused about the financial mess, here's a handy, easy-to-read, 8-page report from Congress, "From Wall Street to Main Street: Understanding How the Credit Crisis Affects You,"  by the Joint Economic Committee. 
October 7, 2008
Financial crisis hits your retirement

Poof! If you've looked at your 401(k) retirement account lately, you know how the financial crisis has directly hit your pocketbook.  In the last year, 401(k) plans have lost half a trillion dollars.

To explain what's happening and explore long-term strategies, California Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, held a hearing today "The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers' Retirement Security."  As people testified, with a 401(k), compared to a defined-benefit pension plan, participants "bear all the investment risk."

And what have the presidential candidates said so far about retirement security? Very little.

October 7, 2008
Tuesday morning memo

Thumbnail image for DAVID HOLWERK 01[2].JPGThe Bee's editorial board is thinking this morning about debates -- last night's between Sacramento's mayoral candidates and tonight's between John McCain and Barack Obama. We'll be writing an editorial for tomorrow's editions on deadline tonight about the latter. If you have suggestions as to what we should be watching for in tonight's debate, e-mail Pia Lopez.

We spent much of this morning's editorial board meeting discussing the terrible bus crash that claimed the lives of eight people headed for a Colusa County casino. Among the questions we talked about: Is state regulation of charter buses too lax? The driver of the bus did not have a license to drive a passenger bus, but should he have had a commercial license at all given his criminal record? Does locating casinos in rural areas with poor roads make such tragedies more likely? If you have input on these or other points, e-mail Ginger Rutland.

   

October 7, 2008
Did SacBee declare Johnson the winner last night? No.

The Swarm doesn't take kindly to campaign operatives mischaracterizing its postings or The Sacramento Bee's editorial positions. Late last night, Steve Maviglio, the campaign manager for Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson, sent out an email to reporters entitled "Sac Bee -- Johnson wins."

The email included a Swarm posting below from my colleague, Ginger Rutland, who wrote that "Kevin wins on points." But Maviglio's email didn't make clear that the item came from a  single Swarm writer. He made it seem like it was the view of The Bee.

Just for the record, The Bee's editorial board did not collectively call last night's debate, and it has not yet issued an endorsement in the mayor's race. One of the factors we will be weighing is the truthfulness of the two candidates and their campaign operatives.

October 6, 2008
How the blogs rated the debate between Fargo, Johnson

Here's a roundup of local blogs on the mayoral debate tonight:

Joe Sacramento found "Fargo's snarky grin and huffy body language to be insulting... How many comments did she make under her breath?"

 

Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio (a co-sponsor of the event) thought this debate was the best yet. "Here, both candidates came out aggressively.  Johnson continued to press the mayor on her shortfalls, but this time, Fargo has more than returned the favor."

 

The mysterious author of Uneasy Rhetoric also liked the debate, but wasn't so hot on Fargo's performance, nor KJ's. "Fargo's answers are unconvincing and her attitude toward Johnson is blatantly condescending.  Johnson's answers are unrealistic. He is full of energy but overestimates the ability of the mayor to get things done."

 

Ben van der Meer also didn't help voters much in making a decision by Nov. 4. "Fargo is a bureaucrat who is out of touch and out off ideas to improve the city. Challenger Kevin Johnson talks a bigger game than he can back up, with no real plan or identified way to pay for his ideas."

 

UPDATE: Jason Daniel of Capital Elector offers a different take than the bloggers above. He opines that "Fargo wallops K.J. before and after the debate" and that Johnson "looked like he was going into hyperventilation to get all of his talking points out."

 

October 6, 2008
Mayor's debate: Did it change any votes?

My choices tonight at 6:30 p.m. were to watch Monday Night Football, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (zzzz), Jeopardy, Entertainment Tonight, Judge Judy, Friends or, over on the E! channel, the 25 Most Memorable Swimsuit Moments.

For some reason, I decided to watch the mayoral debate. Was that the right choice?

If nothing else, the Sac State debate further defined the differences between Mayor Heather Fargo and her rival, Kevin Johnson. Fargo thinks the city "is just fine." Johnson cites statistics that Sac is the second most dangerous place in California. Fargo touts what "we" have done for the city. Johnson touts what he's done, except when it comes to matters involving the ongoing investigation of his St. HOPE operation. 

Fargo made the claim that the Sacramento Teachers Association "has chosen to support me because of my support for education." Johnson noted that she got STA support "because of the status quo." In other words, Johnson is willing to take on the STA over school reform and charter schools. Fargo? Not so much.

October 6, 2008
Getting a little testy...

In the beginning, the mayoral candidates stuck to the script.  They were positive. They showed in style and substance how they'd be different as mayors. 

But by the end of the hour-and-a-half forum at the Sacramento State campus, both were a tad irritable and ill-humored.  Challenger Kevin Johnson spit out the phrase "status quo" as if it were an offensive state of being.  Incumbent Heather Fargo treated Johnson's efforts in the Oak Park neighborhood and at the charter school at Sacramento High as if they were a blight on the community. She threw in her lot with the "Where's My High School?" anti-Sac High crowd. 

 This is a sign that this is where the campaign may be headed in the last month. All the worse for Sacramento.  When these candidates are good, they're very good.  When they're bad, they're horrid.    

October 6, 2008
No knock outs but Kevin wins on points.

You can't win a debate when you're playing defense at all times.

 Mayor Heather Fargo played defense with challenger Kevin Johnson all night tonight. He was aggressive and he was passionate, especially about education. He offered some new ideas. For example: He suggested that Sac State open a satellite campus downtown. Interesting. He pointed to some real achievements in Oak Park, his attempt to revitalize a forgotten corner of the city.

 Fargo's best moment came when she asked Johnson how he was going to pay for all the new police he wants to hire. What will you cut to pay for them, Kevin, she wanted to know. Good question. He bobbed and weaved - an audit to feret out "waste, fraud and abuse" was the best he could come up with.

In terms of substance - Sac State students asked very good questions. So did the moderators. As for atmospherics - I found the electronic stars and stripes waving behind the two candidates distracting. I also saw very little levity. You get the impression these two really don't like each other. 

  

October 6, 2008
Oh-oh, it's getting ugly

In my pre-date post on "things to watch," I postulated the question of which candidate would go negative first. Mayor Heather Fargo answered when she jumped on a question from a student about the federal investigation of Kevin Johnson's St. HOPE operation. Johnson provided his stock answer, and then Fargo leaped on it, asking where did the money go?

Johnson tried to turn it back on her, rehashing the city's budget trouble. Fargo snapped back that the city's problems were negligible "compared to what you are up against, Kevin."

Yikes. The gloves are off.

 

October 6, 2008
City's top priority? Public safety? Really?

Both incumbent Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson say public safety is the No. 1 issue for the city.  And both agree that the city needs to devote more resources to public safety.

That's where the agreement ends. 

Fargo supports getting more resources by putting a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot.  That originally was a county proposal, but was rejected by the county board of supervisors. So Fargo supported a city go-it-alone tax.

Johnson notes that the city currently spends 53 percent of its General Fund on public safety where comparable cities spend 60 percent.  He rejects the quarter-cent tax idea and would get the resources, he says, by auditing every department and "reprioritizing."  He expects to get $21 million from that for public safety.  Believable?

So voters face a tax-only or cuts-only approach to getting more resources for public safety. Voters need better answers from the candidates on what cuts they'd make to get more resources.  They need better answers from the candidates on how the city can increase revenues by improving the economy, not just increasing tax rates.

October 6, 2008
Fargo continues to score on specifics

Heather Fargo has limitations as a politician. She keeps talking about what "we" have done in the city, instead of what she has done.

Yet when it comes down to specifics, Fargo offers much more substance than Johnson in the current debate. Transportation is a good example. Johnson took his time talking about infill and the Portland Trolley, as if he had just discovered both yesterday. Fargo went into detail about she had done through SACOG and RT to improve light rail and bicycle access.

On the other hand, I thought Johnson scored higher on an earlier question about the American River Parkway. Fargo did one of her usual moves -- blaming someone else, in this case, the county. Johnson jumped in and talked about public safety and the parkway -- a point that resonates with anyone who uses our beloved and, in places, blighted parkway.

 

October 6, 2008
What students want to hear from mayor candidates

Questions by Sacramento State students to the Sacramento mayoral candidates clearly reflect anxiety about jobs and their future in the community.  They want to know specifically what the city can do to help college students get jobs.  They also want to know what would make the city a "destination" city, not a "halfway point" between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.

Mayor Heather Fargo believes Sacramento has done a good job of diversifying its economy.  She points to Sacramento as a regional health care hub and education hub.  She sees Sacramento as having a more stable economy in a downturn than most cities because of state government employment. She sees the issue for students as letting them know their options.

Challenger Kevin Johnson isn't buying.  He sees missed opportunities on J and K Streets.  He thinks the Railyard and Cal Expo projects have moved too slowly.  He believes the city hasn't taken advantage of its two rivers as a destination. He wants to do a whole lot more to attract jobs.

The choice, it seems, is keep doing what we're doing (it's working) or do something different (it's not working as well as it should). More of the same or change.

October 6, 2008
First question for mayoral candidates? It's the economy, stupid

The Sac State debate has started between Mayor Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson.  You can go to KCRA-TV or KXJZ-FM to tune in. The first question to the candidates: What would you change in Sacramento to deal with the slumping economy?

Neither candidate scored an "A" with their answer. Johnson repeated his stump speech about economic development and recruiting new businesses. Fargo talked about she'd done to secure $13 million so the city can buy up foreclosed homes and get people into them.

But what about the city budget? What will need to be cut -- or added -- to deal with a future of reduced revenues and people out of work?

 

October 6, 2008
What to watch for in the mayoral debate tonight

HA2_3877.JPGMayor Heather Fargo will face off against former NBA hoopster Kevin Johnson at 6:30 p.m. tonight in their first debate since the primary.

The Swarm will be offering commentary after, and possibly during, the mayoral debate. While it probably won't draw the viewership of the Palin-Biden smackdown, we'll be interested in your reaction.

Here are five things I'll be watching for as the two-term mayor debates Johnson, an Oak Park businessman and community activist making his first run for office.

1. Will either candidate articulate, in detail, how they will guide the city through what could be an extended recession, with increased crime and a downturn in tax revenue?

2. Which candidate will be the first to "go negative" on the other? Both have run a relatively clean campaign since the primary. Will that end tonight?

 

October 6, 2008
Monday Morning Memo

The editorial board this morning is moving ahead with candidate meetings leading up to our endorsements, which begin Wednesday.  At 11 a.m. we met with Sacramento Mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson.  We met with incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo last week.  We're looking forward to tonight's debate -- and we'll be blogging.

For tomorrow, we're working on the roots of the mortgage housing mess and looking at California's settlement with mortgage giant Countrywide.  We're also looking at renewable energy tax credits at the federal level.  Let us know what you think on those issues.

October 3, 2008
How California House members voted on the bailout bill

On a vote of 263-171, the House today approved a $700 billion government bailout bill for the financial industry that President George Bush quickly signed.  

Nationwide, some 58 House representatives moved from voting "no" earlier in the week to voting "yes" today for a slightly revised package.

In California, these consisted of six Democrats, including Joe Baca, Barbara Lee, Hilda Solis, Mike Thompson, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, according to The Associated Press.

Thompson, whose Northern California district includes Yolo County, issued this statement tonight on his vote.

On the jump is the total vote breakdown for the Golden State delegation.

October 3, 2008
Welcome to The Swarm
Thumbnail image for DAVID HOLWERK 01[2].JPGWelcome to The Swarm, a weblog from the people who write The Sacramento Bee's editorials. The Swarm will give you a view of the discussions that go on among editorial page staffers every day and provide an opportunity for readers to join in. We will also use the blog to provide readers with a heads-up on what The Bee's editorial board is thinking about from day to day and to solicit opinions and advice for sources of information.

We had originally planned to bring The Swarm online during the week of Oct. 6, but the vice presidential debate was just too good an opportunity to pass up. So last night we started blogging live and are now onto other topics. Please join in the discussion. It's time to get this swarm buzzing.

David Holwerk dholwerk@sacbee.com

Editorial page editor, The Sacramento Bee

 

 
October 3, 2008
Morning memo

In our meeting this morning, members of the editorial board ruminated over the economy, the fishy business with homicide detectives at the Sacramento Sheriff's Department and the latest distressing report from The Bee about the county's Child Protective Services and actions of a particular case worker.

We're looking forward to the Monday debate between Mayor Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson, their first since the primary. And we are curious to see how the markets will react to the House approval of the $700 million bailout package, which occured just over an hour ago and about what should come next in the effort to right the struggling economy.

And gosh darn it, we still are buzzing over last night's debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. They both did a heckova job. A big shout-out from The Swarm to all the third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School!

 

October 3, 2008
Homeless Good Samaritan

When a homeless woman, apparently mentally ill, shot a disabled man and seriously wounded him at a Sacramento bus stop on Sept. 22, it sparked new discussions about the homeless and public safety. She had been panhandling and he had refused to give her money.

So as all the problems of homelessness come to the fore with that incident -- panhandling, loitering, inappropriate behavior -- I'd like to relate a heartwarming incident. Stereotyping of the homeless doesn't pay. 

 

October 3, 2008
Some loose ends from the debate
Here is a good round up of Biden's errors last night from the conservative National Review Online. He mangled what the Constitution says about the VP, and where it says it, misstated how much we're spending in Afghanistan, and wrongly claimed that the US had kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, among other goofs. And for good measure, we could take him up on that offer to test his middle-class cred by walking with him to Katie's restaurant on Union Street in Wilmington, if the place had ever been on Union Street, and if it hadn't closed 20 years ago...
October 3, 2008
Cash crunch

Gov. Schwarzenegger is saying that, because of the credit crunch, the state is having trouble borrowing $7 billion it needs to smooth out its cash flow. Unless the bailout bill passes, he says, California is going to have to go begging at the Federal Reserve window. Not sure whether this helps or hurts the chances for the bill. A lot of folks in Congress probably wouldn't mind seeing California finally declared insolvent.

See the governor's letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson here.

October 2, 2008
Polls apart? Not on Biden's performance

Two snap polls following tonight's debate give the edge to Joe Biden in his debate smackdown with Sarah Palin. (A smackdown, I might add, that was pretty cordial and responsive to what Americans say they want in their civic engagement.)

CNN reports that 51 percent of those polled thought Biden did the best job, while 36 percent thought Palin did better. Palin, however, won on being "likeable," scoring 54 percent to Biden's 36 percent.

Meanwhile, CBS conducted a poll of 473 uncommitted voters and reports that 46 percent of the uncommitted voters surveyed say Biden triumphed in the debate, compared to 21 percent for Palin. One third declared it was a tie.

 

October 2, 2008
Where are the Palestinians?

In the vice presidential debate, did you notice that neither Sen. Biden nor Gov. Palin mentioned the Palestinians as part of a Mideast solution?

Moderator Gwen Ifill asked: "What has this administration done right or wrong -- this is the great, lingering, unresolved issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- what have they done?  And is a two-state solution the solution?"

Both candidates talked a lot about Israel.

Palin: "A two-state solution is the solution...Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust...We will support Israel...And I can promise you, in a McCain-Palin administration, that commitment is there to work with our friends in Israel."

Biden: "Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden."  He talked about the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Hamas, Hezbollah.

But no Palestinians.  How do you get a two state solution without acknowledging the existence of the Palestinian people?  Something is terribly wrong with this picture, a major failure of both candidates.

October 2, 2008
Second thoughts on Palin and Biden
When compared to McCain and Obama, both Biden and Palin won the "Who would you like to have a beer with after work?" contest . They looked at each other during the debate. They smiled and even laughed occassionally.  After the debate they were relaxed and seemed genuinely friendly in their exchange.  Their families seemed to enjoy meeting. What's up with McCain? He seems to have a hard time even looking at Obama.    
October 2, 2008
What's with the Reaction Meter?

If you watched the vice presidential debate on CNN, you got exposed to the "CNN Reaction Meter."  A focus group of undecided Ohio voters at every single moment of the debate had their fingers on a slide to register their positive and negative reactions to what the candidates were saying. The lines of male and female visceral reactions scrolled across the bottom of the screen during the whole debate.  Does anyone find this worthwhile?  Why not just hook people up to electrodes and eliminate the middleman?  And what does this do besides distract the viewer?  I'd like to know what our readers think.

October 2, 2008
Bottom line: Palin did damage control, Biden did real damage to McCain
Sarah Palin didn't wilt. She had no major gaffes. She tried to endear herself to viewers with lines like, "Say it ain't so, Joe." And at times, she showed some command of issues she fumbled in her recent TV interviews with Katie Couric.

Biden, on the other hand, went straight after McCain, especially at the end, when he declared, "McCain is not a maverick." He hit the GOP nominee on health care, McCain's support of Bush tax policies and other domestic issues. He looked presidential and I bet that many viewers wondered, "Why didn't I notice this guy during the primaries?"

I'll be waiting for the polls to see how independents reacted. The big question: Which one of these candidates would you want replacing the president in a moment of crisis? What is your take?
October 2, 2008
Ginger's take on the Palin-Biden throw down

Palin proved she could string together coherent sentences, an attribute many Americans had come to doubt in recent weeks. She re-assured her base, and thus did what she needed to do. Biden was great, better than Obama last week, intelligent, articulate and passionate. He treated Palin with respect. He didn't patronize her but he didn't let her get away with distorting McCain's record or Obama's. At one point when he talked about his first wife who died in a car crash and his sons who nearly died he reminded me that sometimes fathers can be mothers too. That was powerful.  I think both Palin and Biden exceeded expectations.

October 2, 2008
Biden wins the debate even if Palin exceeded low expectations

I  listened to the entire debate on the radio in my car, so I don't know if I have a different impression than those who watched it on television. My sense is that from a debate scorekeeper's point of view, Biden definitely won it. He took the offensive, stated his points clearly, offered evidence for his claims and used language and repetition effectively to drive home his arguments. I say this even though on many points I disagreed with him, and on a few I think he was exaggerating or even misleading. But he did communicate effectively what he was trying to say.

Palin might have lost the debate, but she did more than just survive, and she definitely did not embarrass herself. She was not as smooth as Biden. But Palin did offer some cogent, clear answers (though too many times those answers were to questions that hadn't been asked) and she did not sound nearly as nervous as she has in her television interviews. She played defense all night, but she played it well enough. Probably too well for some Republicans, with her frequent attacks on Wall Street and her calls for more regulation.

October 2, 2008
Sarah Palin: Well prepped and winning points
Some supporters of Barack Obama thought the campaign would be over tonight, with Sarah Palin melting down in a debate before a national audience. But one hour in this verbal throw-down, Palin is poised, well-prepared and gaining confidence.

Her spirited attack on Obama and his comment about meeting with enemy leaders was very effective. Instead of being on the defensive, she is pushing her points, while throwing in some collegial comments to Joe Biden.

What's interesting is Biden's restraint in going after Palin and her past positions and lack of experience. Biden's attacks are on McCain, not her, but she is going after both Obama and Biden. Still 20 minutes left for fumbles, but if she hangs on, she'll do some real damage control on the harm caused by the Katie Couric interviews.
October 2, 2008
Darn right! The debate is off and running
Some 30 minutes into the debate, neither Sen. Joe Biden nor Gov. Sarah Palin have delivered knock-out punches nor made crushing blunders. Biden scores points for his "ultimate bridge to nowhere" line about McCain's health care plan. Palin is playing the folksy card to the hilt with her use of phases like "Darn right" and "heckova" and her claim that she is going to stop Wall Street greed.

I wish Gwen Ifill were more aggressive. Did either V.P. candidate really answer the question of whether the bailout debate in the House was the worst or best of Washington? Does Palin really believe she and McCain can stop greed?
October 2, 2008
What to watch for in the Palin-Biden debate tonight
While it doesn't compare with weighty world matters such as the collapse of financial markets, the vice presidential debate holds plenty of intrigue tonight. Here are five things I'll be watching for as we start blogging at 6 p.m..


About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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