The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

November 30, 2008
Link Box: Local efforts to preserve open space and farm land
Today's editorial urges local governments and nonprofits to take advantage of the downturn in the economy to preserve land for parks, greenways, habitat and flood control projects. Hundreds of millions of dollars in state bond money are available for these purposes, but only if applicants get their act together.

Here are some links to local groups and agencies working to preserve open space and the farm economy:

Natomas Joint Vision

Placer Legacy

South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan

SACOG Rural Urban Connections Strategy

Sacramento Valley Conservancy


November 26, 2008
Thoughts on Kevin Johnson's gala night
Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson proved one thing Tuesday night: He and his team can pull off a star-spangled spectacle.

A huge American flag. Balloons. Massive digital projectors. Lisa Ling as emcee. A youthful dancing troupe. A soulful choir. A visit by the governor. A teleprompter for K.J. Lots of soaring platitudes, followed by confetti raining down. Sacramento has never seen anything like it.

Some scribbles from my notebook:

-- The new mayor passed on a chance to ding TV comedy host Stephen Colbert, who called Sacramento "unbelievably boring" when Johnson was on his show recently. Johnson's prepared remarks had the mayor-elect saying: "I was not going to let that  fool get away with saying that Sacramento was 'unbelievably boring.'" But when Johnson delivered his speech, he  inserted the word "jokester" for fool. )

-- The local music, dancing and singing on Tuesday night were inspired. I especially liked the 34th Street Dancers. Their performance -- "Obama Song/I have a dream" -- delivered an instant message of generational change. These young people are energized, they are talented and they are ready to mix it up.

November 25, 2008
Why we're in this economic mess ... and how to get out of it

If you want to make sense of the roots of the economic crisis and the giant, still unaddressed issue of housing, see the Nov. 13 testimony of Susan Wachter of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (she's at 65:47 minutes into the hearing). You can also read her testimony:

 

Early in the 1990 decade, nonprime lending was insignificant; by 2006 nonprime lending constituted 47 percent of mortgage originations.  The unprecedented expansion of poorly underwritten credit induced and supported a U.S. housing asset bubble beginning in 2003...

 

And, she continues,

 

This weakening of lending standards, coupled with increased production, resulted in mortgages which were structured to fail, even in the absence of intent or fraud.  However, fraudulent lending also did increase.  Eventually, this process became unsustainable, price increases halted, and the poorly underwritten loans could not be rescued by high and ever-increasing prices.  This led to today's system breakdown.

 

The roots of the economic downturn are in housing, so solutions need to be focused there:

 

Even with the efforts to solve our banking liquidity problems, we will not solve the prevailing problem if the housing downturn continues and the house market decline shows no sign of abating.  Moreover, despite bank recapitalization and rescue efforts, economically rational loan modifications that would help stabilize the market are not occurring.

 

So while housing prices need to fall to some real value level, the danger now is price declines that are too big:

 

Since their peak in 2006, housing values have fallen over 20 percent so far.  While another 10 percent fall brings the index to 2003 levels, price declines may far exceed this decline...

 

The solution is loan modifications.  Yet they are not happening

 

...at the scale necessary in order to assure a market turnaround at fundamental levels instead of a severe overcorrection.

 

She concludes that:

 

Voluntary efforts are not working.  The rules of the game need to change.

Are members of Congress and members of the California Legislature listening?

November 23, 2008
Where will Darrell Steinberg come down on Peripheral Canal?
Once he takes command of the California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg will have a live grenade thrown into his lap -- the Peripheral Canal.

And who Steinberg selects to chair key committees could determine the fate of this contentious water project.

Southern California water interests and some environmental groups are seeking the canal to reduce fish conflicts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They are urging Steinberg to select incoming Fran Pavley of Santa Monica to head the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which handles legislation related to water.

Pavley is a hero to environmentalists for co-authoring Assembly Bill 32, the 2006 legislation that commits California toward cutting greenhouse gases. But Pavley is a curious pick for Natural Resources. While in the Assembly, she didn't show a huge interest in water issues. In the Senate, her interests would seem to be better aligned with the Environmental Quality or Energy, Utilities and Communication committees.

So why are Southern California water interests pushing Pavley for Natural Resources? Because she is not Lois Wolk.

Wolk, from Davis, focused on water issues throughout her terms in the Assembly. But she is a Northern California politician, and it's hard to find many of this species who are publicly supportive off a peripheral canal. In addition, Wolk has also been a longtime ally of the Planning and Conservation League, a group that has fought efforts to fast-track the canal.

So where will Steinberg come down? If he picks Wolk, he'll anger his Southern California caucus, and if he picks Pavley, he'll anger his Northern California base. There's also a third possibility, reports Capitol Alert. Loni Hancock of Berkeley, who chaired Natural Resources in the Assembly, is also in the running for the Senate committee.

In the next few weeks, Steinberg will decide between these three. Who he selects will reveal much about his ability to juggle live grenades. 
November 23, 2008
Have a question for the new mayor?
Sacramento Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson is scheduled to meet with The Bee's editorial board tomorrow afternoon. We'll be asking him questions about his recent meetings with fellow council members and other elected leaders, and his plans for his first 50 days in office.

What are your thoughts? What questions would you like to see posed to Johnson about his immediate agenda? We'll try to get answers to as many as possible.
November 22, 2008
Now that K.J. has saved Santa Parade, he can...

...play Santa Claus in some other roles?

As you may have seen, Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson has stepped in with $20,000 in campaign cash to prevent the annual Santa Parade from becoming the victim of a down economy.

That leaves us wondering what other headlines we might see in the near future:

Mayor-elect saves Uncle Jers by buying two tons of cookies

Johnson goes on shopping spree, preserving "Black Friday" for malls

BREAKING NEWS: K.J. buys Isleton, saving it from bankruptcy

Johnson shows up at repo auction, buys 1,500 homes

Show goes on for boycotted Music Circus, after K.J. buys all tickets

Mayor-elect dishes deep, bails out Zelda's Pizza

Kings land Kobe Bryant, thanks to donation from Johnson

Any others?

November 21, 2008
Automaker woes and retiree health care

If you want to see why the Big Three face such a daunting financial picture, consider the following:

 

According to the United Auto Workers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in 2007 had 180,681 active workers that received salaries and benefits.  Yet the Big Three also paid health benefits for 640,344 retirees and surviving spouses.

 

Put another way, 75 percent of the people receiving health benefits are not active workers who are on the payroll producing cars. Ouch.

 

Continue reading to see the distribution of wages and benefits.

 

November 21, 2008
Radio commentary: Cut state holidays

Much sacrifice will be required to close the state's $11 billion plus budget gap. Here's one easy  fix the governor has recommended: Cut the excessive number of state holidays. Click on my radio commentary here to hear about all the holidays state workers enjoy and what it all costs.

November 21, 2008
Cali Unemployment at 8.2 percent

Economist Steve Levy has a quick analysis of today's California unemployment figures. He points out a puzzling set of numbers that show the labor force growing and the number of unemployed growing far faster than the number of jobs lost. Read his report after the jump:

November 20, 2008
You make the call on challenged ballots
arrow.jpg

Here's a great exercise.  In the Minnesota U.S. Senate race, the two candidates came out of the election separated only by 215 votes out of more than 3 million cast. The state is now doing a required recount.


Minnesota Public Radio has a great exercise up on its Web site, showing 11 challenged ballots and asking readers to make their call if they were the election judge on how each ballot should go.


November 20, 2008
The ubiquitous Kevin Johnson
Stuart's item yesterday reminded me of something I've been pondering for a while now.  It seems that Kevin Johnson's best single asset is that there are no less than seven of him, maybe eight, running around these days.  The guy is everywhere.  He's on The Colbert Report.  He's on NPR.  He's in Rancho.  He's getting his "official" tour of City Hall.

This factor, I believe, contributed to his getting elected as mayor earlier this month and, if harnessed properly, can help the new mayor provide energetic leadership in the days to come.

Now if we can only find the person responsible for cloning these multiple copies of Kevin Johnson...
November 20, 2008
Another perspective on race and same-sex marriage

Speaker Karen Bass has weighed in on the Proposition 8 controversy regarding the CNN exit poll showing that 70 percent of African-Americans voted "yes." (See the article in The Bee: Assembly Speaker Bass assails anger directed at blacks after Prop. 8 vote David Mixner, a gay political strategist who writes from upstate New York, has an interesting perspective questioning the exit poll and the potential to build a coalition:

 

Dr. Fernando Guerra of Loyola's Levy Center for the Study of Los Angeles did a far more extensive poll than CNN and found that the 70 percent figure was way too high. The figure is closer to 57 percent (still not acceptable) but a long way from the 70 percent. Other models that I have been running in an attempt to get the facts and not the emotions show the latter a more likely figure.

 

The other data that appears to be emerging (BUT yet to be totally verified) is that African-Americans who early voted (which was a huge number) voted YES while those on election day voted NO. Remember we did not do extensive campaigning in many of the African-American precincts until the final week or so which was long after tens of thousands had already voted. Our campaign was slow to use Obama's opposition to Proposition 8 which he gave the day after the initiative qualified five months before the election.

 

Now historically, the African-American community has been our strongest ally. I have been working in LGBT rights since 1976 and no other community has consistently supported us like the African-American community. In two huge past initiative battles that we won statewide in California, No on 6 and No on 64, the African-American community gave us some of our largest margins. Leaders like Mayor Willie Brown, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, deceased Congressman Julian Dixon and others too numerous to mention often were the first to speak up if our oppressors were coming after us. We have a long valuable historical and powerful coalition with the African-American community and I would hate to see us do damage to it in our passion.

 

Hat tip to Calitics.com.

November 19, 2008
Not yet mayor, Kevin Johnson wants to play on the regional stage
JV JOHNSON TEAM 02.JPGHe won't be sworn in until Dec. 2, but Kevin Johnson is already showing signs he wants to be more than just Sacramento's mayor.

Since his election on Nov. 4, Johnson and his aides have been reaching out to elected leaders outside of Sacramento. Two weeks ago, he attended a state-of-the-city address in Rancho Cordova, where Mayor Linda Budge presented him with the key to the city. Some in attendance remarked they had never before seen a Sacramento mayor attend such an event.

Today, Johnson announced he will meet Thursday with several of the region's mayors, including Budge, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, Roseville Mayor Gina Garbolino, Marysville Mayor Bill Harris, Live Oak Mayor Diane Hodges, Loomis Mayor Russ Kelley, Winters Mayor Michael Martin, Yuba City Mayor-Elect Leslie McBride, Citrus Heights Mayor Steve Miller, Auburn Mayor Keith Nesbitt, Lincoln Mayor-Elect Spencer Short and Rocklin Mayor Brett Storey.

To be sure, this regional love fest will not last beyond the point that Johnson is forced to spar with his counterparts for development projects, state grants and other funding. But for now, Sacramento's new mayor seems interested in developing some regional relationships. That could prove fruitful for the region.
November 19, 2008
Troubled future for futuristic tram at CSUS?
Plans for a tram to link California State University, Sacramento with the light rail station at 65th Street have been pushed back for at least a year, according to a report this week in The State Hornet, the campus newspaper.

Funding for the project has come in spurts, and project leaders have yet to decide if the tram will run on a new fixed guideway that would be built through the campus, or on existing roadways.

Sounds like this project could use some assistance from a local elected leader. Given that the tram would help reduce congestion and air pollution on the Highway 50 corridor, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui and state legislators should make it a priority as they work to fast-track infrastructure projects. What do you think?

UPDATE: Matsui's office informs me that the congresswoman wrote a letter last year in support of grants for the CSUS tram. This year, however, neither CSUS or Regional Transit requested federal funds for the project. Too bad. If the campus had this project designed and ready to go, they'd be in a position to secure some of the public works spending Congress is likely to approve this year in a stimulus package.
November 18, 2008
It's not dead yet, but state water board is set to kill Auburn Dam

The State Water Resources Control Board will decide at its Dec. 2 meeting whether to revoke state water permits for the languishing Auburn Dam Project. The public has until noon on Thursday, Nov. 20 to make comments (commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov).


Here's how the Water Resources Control Board in an Oct. 21 draft order justified revoking the permits:

 

It has been more than 30 years since the Board issued the Auburn Dam Project permits to (the U.S. Bureau of) Reclamation, but the project has not been constructed, no water has been applied to beneficial use, and Reclamation has no plans to move forward with project development...It would be contrary to long-standing precedent and against the public interest to allow Reclamation to continue to reserve water under its permits without the ability to apply the water to beneficial use or any plan to do so in the immediate future.  Accordingly, the permits should be revoked.

 

In a Sunday story, the Los Angeles Times quotes retiring Congressman John Doolittle as saying, "You'll never get the water rights back" once they are revoked.

 

What do you think?  Is the Auburn Dam dead? Should it be?

November 18, 2008
Lungren weighs in on auto industry bailout and leadership fight

Newly re-elected Congressman Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, was on MSNBC today talking about his challenge to unseat Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as House Minority Leader.  The vote in the Republican caucus takes place tomorrow. 

 

The clip begins with an exchange on Republican opposition to a bailout of the auto industry.


I would describe it as a situation that is made for the laws that already exist. The bankruptcy laws in the United States, some of which I helped write over the years, provide exactly for this type of situation where reorganization is in the offing and where you attempt to try and reorganize so the company has the best chance of surviving in the new environment. That means that everything's on the table. Including the collective bargaining agreements that would not be on the table if Congress came in with a taxpayer bailout. That is a prescription for disaster. It will leave us with more jobs lost in the long run and frankly, will make us less competitive. 

Then moves on to the race for House Minority Leader:

November 17, 2008
CHP: "Noise is a good thing"
Like some other citizens who cherish their eardrums, I was baffled today to read the response of a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman, Kelly Baraga, when asked about the noise blaring from souped-up motorcycles on the street.

"Sometimes that noise is a good thing," Baraga responded when asked by The Bee's Tony Bizjak about motorcycles with loud aftermarket exhaust systems. "Motorcycles are not as easily seen (as cars), so noise is a way they can notify people they are on the road."

Hmm. By that logic, whenever I ride my bicycle through town, I should yell into a bullhorn.

Perhaps Baraga has not read the California Safety and Health Code, which the CHP is sworn to uphold. The code states that "excessive noise is a serious hazard to the public health and welfare" and it goes on from there... 
November 14, 2008
Lungren to challenge Boehner for top House GOP leadership job

Update: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sends along the following message on Lungren, signalling that this will be a battle among gentlemen: "Dan Lungren is a respected member of our conference and a man deeply committed to the principles that have defined our party since the beginning."

Re-elected U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, has officially announced that he will mount a challenge to displace Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the aftermath of two straight election losses for Republicans.  The Republicans lost 28 seats last Tuesday and no incumbent Democratic House member was defeated anywhere.


November 14, 2008
Prison health care: Have questions for Clark Kelso?

            J. Clark Kelso, the California Prison Health Care Receiver appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, will be visiting with The Bee's editorial board on Monday.

 

            What questions do you think we should ask him?

 

Some background: With increasingly long prison sentences, California prisons are overcrowded and housing more and more prisoners who are old, sick or dying.

 

Yet the California prison system has no long-term care beds for prisoners with chronic medical conditions or ongoing physical needs. These inmates (visualize a 63-year-old with a walker or wheelchair taking Alzheimer's medication) are taking up scarce prison beds needed for other prisoners. Currently the prison system has only 800 short-term care medical beds.

 

The state has known for some time that it needs to build 5,000 prison medical beds and 5,000 prison mental health beds within 10 years for chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

 

Kelso proposed building seven freestanding, independently managed facilities of roughly 1,500 beds each at existing prisons or on state-owned land. To build these, the Legislature considered a $6.9 billion bond package, but it was killed by Senate Republicans.

 

The federal courts have been waiting 13 years for California to bring its prison health-care system up to constitutional standards. So when the bond package failed, Kelso asked Judge Henderson to force the state to turn over the money to carry out his duties. The amount is $8 billion from 2008 to 2013.

 

 

November 13, 2008
Where the bailout money goes

For those following the $700 billion rescue package and disbursements of the first $350 billion, ProPublica.org has a preliminary tally of the U.S. Treasury's purchases of bank stocks.

 

The bulk of the cash has gone to nine of the largest U.S. financial institutions that account for about 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets:

Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo each get $25 billion.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman get $10 billion.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. gets about $3 billion.

State Street Corp. gets about $2 billion.

The U.S. Treasury itself has not released a bank-by-bank tally, only total numbers, something that has to change.  Congress should insist on a public tally by individual bank.

November 12, 2008
California power

John Bresnahan at Politico.com has a nice profile on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

 

As Pelosi enters her third year as speaker, by any measure, she has become the most powerful woman in U.S. political history and is now preparing to wield her gavel in a way that few, if any, recent speakers could match. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution, pales in comparison. Pelosi is being mentioned by observers in the same breath as the legendary Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill, although she has yet to assemble a legislative record to match theirs.

 

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), no fan of Pelosi, said during a recent MSNBC appearance that she is "the most powerful speaker in a generation -- she will be able to do anything she wants."

 

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee and Pelosi's closest friend in the House, likens her to a top athlete, one who has "downfield vision, who can see everything on the field at once."

Coming out of the gate with a new Democratic president and a larger Democratic majority in the Senate, she's been around long enough and is savvy enough to avoid small issues and narrow partisan agendas.  She's seen the pitfalls of overweaning majorities and been in the political wilderness. She's got to quickly tackle big issues that will build a sense of common purpose among Americans across partisan lines.

November 12, 2008
Monster fish found in Sacramento Valley creek
giant-salmon-battle-creek-1.jpgNo this is not a doctored photo. State Department of Fish and Game biologists found this whopper of a chinook salmon while conducting a survey last month of Battle Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River.

Unfortunately, the 51-inch-long fish was dead when found. If alive, it probably would have surpassed the state record of 88 pounds live weight.

It's been a tough set of years for salmon in California, so this big fish has biologists understandably excited.

"Hopefully this fish was entirely successful in passing on its superior genetic potential," said Dave Killam, a DFG biologist, pictured in the photo. "This is one of the few bright spots this year for one of California's great sport fish, the Chinook salmon."
November 12, 2008
A little problem for Schwarzenegger's budget plan

In Article 4 of the state Constitution:

The Legislature may not present any bill to the Governor after
November 15 of the second calendar year of the biennium of the
legislative session.

Has anyone figured out how they could act on the governor's proposals given that deadline?

UPDATE: The governor's office says they have a legislative counsel opinion that the deadline does not apply to the special session.. So they are all good.

And from the governor himself, this message:

"Don't be so negative. You will be shocked and smiling at what comes out of this special session."


November 12, 2008
Cut spending or increase taxes?

Here's something everybody should be able to agree on regarding California's current budget crisis in the midst of a major economic downturn:  Any option will hurt.

 

State spending reductions will hurt.

 

Tax increases will hurt.

 

Everybody also ought to be able to agree that the need right now is for spending in the economy. 

 

For lawmakers during the special session, decisions must boil down to: Which of the two options - spending cuts or tax increases - does the least to curtail spending by families?

 

Put another way, the question is: How to balance the state budget with the least possible harm to the already weakened economy?

 

Read on for possible solutions...

 

November 12, 2008
Michael Lewis strikes again: explaining the crash
Michael Lewis, who first chronicled Wall Street abuses in "Liar's Poker" (and later wrote "Money Ball" among other books), has written a masterful explanation of the end of the boom for Portfolio Magazine. The piece profiles Steve Eisman, a trader who saw the crash coming and profited handsomely from his wisdom:

Lenders were making loans to people who, based on their credit ratings, were less creditworthy than 71 percent of the population. Eisman knew some of these people. One day, his housekeeper, a South American woman, told him that she was planning to buy a townhouse in Queens. "The price was absurd, and they were giving her a low-down-payment option-ARM," says Eisman, who talked her into taking out a conventional fixed-rate mortgage. Next, the baby nurse he'd hired back in 1997 to take care of his newborn twin daughters phoned him. "She was this lovely woman from Jamaica," he says. "One day she calls me and says she and her sister own five townhouses in Queens. I said, 'How did that happen?' " It happened because after they bought the first one and its value rose, the lenders came and suggested they refinance and take out $250,000, which they used to buy another one. Then the price of that one rose too, and they repeated the experiment. "By the time they were done," Eisman says, "they owned five of them, the market was falling, and they couldn't make any of the payments."

The piece is not perfect; he does not quite describe some of the more arcane practices in layman's terms (at least for this layman). But if you can get past that, the gist of the story is crystal clear, and the anecdotes are chilling.
November 11, 2008
K.J. gets his moment of fake news fame on the Colbert Report
Let's give thanks that Sacramento still has the Raisin Capital to serve as the butt of its jokes.

In introducing one of his guests tonight, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert laid down this line for Sacramento Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson.

"He better do a good job or they trade his ass to Fresno."

So did Johnson do a good job on Colbert? So-so.

November 11, 2008
Cheaper cars and auto industry woes

Comerica Bank's Auto Affordability Index shows the cost of a car in terms of how many weeks of income it takes to pay for it:

 

The purchase of an average-priced new vehicle took 24.1 weeks of median family income in the third quarter, according to the Auto Affordability Index compiled by Comerica Bank.

However, Mark J. Perry of the University of Michigan points out in his Carpe Diem: Economics and Finance blog:

 

Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, new vehicles are about 17% more affordable today and can be purchased with about 5 fewer weeks of income; and compared to the peak in 1995, new cars are almost 26% more affordable and can be purchased with almost 8 fewer weeks of income.

Perry suggests that this may be part of the current problem of the auto industry. As cars have become more affordable relative to income, "In an increasingly competitive industry, the inefficiencies of the Big Three and the UAW have become increasingly exposed, and the inefficiencies have become greater and greater liabilities."

Plausible?  What do you think?

November 11, 2008
California's cap-and-trade stalls, amid rumors on Nichols' future
Bloomberg News reports that California's cap-and-trade system -- the centerpiece of Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020 -- has hit a major snag.

The story says Cal-EPA Secretary Mary Nichols will convene a panel of outside experts to reach consensus on a market trading system for emissions that has divided business groups, environmental justice advocates and other environmentalists.

That assumes Nichols will still be in California to oversee such a panel. She has been mentioned in a few blogs as a candidate to serve as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secretary in the Obama administration. See stories here and here and here. 
November 11, 2008
If you thought California's finances couldn't get worse...

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the editorial board of The Bee on Monday that California is set to run out of cash as early as February, and is having difficulty selling bonds to raise cash.  He told us that the state has only sold part of the bonds needed and has $2 billion to go.

 

So now we learn from ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times that "Goldman Sachs Urged Bets Against California Bonds It Helped Sell," which could cost California taxpayers.

 

The investment firm collected millions of dollars in fees for bringing California bonds to market and finding buyers. At the same time it was marketing a financial instrument known as a "credit default swap," where investors bet on a price decline for California bonds.



November 11, 2008
State legislatures make history, too

Stateline.org has a roundup of interesting landmarks in the states.  Here are two:

 

New Hampshire became the first state in U.S. history to give women the majority in a legislative chamber.

 

Colorado is poised to become the first state to have black lawmakers leading both legislative chambers.

 

This country continues to make progress on the self-evident truth stated in the Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal."

 

November 11, 2008
Kevin Johnson education ally in D.C. spotlight
The Wall Street Journal has a profile today of friend-of-KJ Michelle Rhee, a former St.HOPE board member and chancellor of the troubled Washington, D.C. public school system. Rhee has made waves by seeking to fire teachers whose students are performing poorly while offering big raises to instructors whose students excel. In the article, she says it is "complete crap" that students from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot master basic skills of reading, writing and math.

"It's easy to blame external factors as the reason why poor minority kids aren't achieving at the same level. It's a false premise. You have to put supports and mechanisms in place around those kids, but I refuse to allow the adults in the system to use that as an excuse."
Read the whole thing here.
November 10, 2008
Transcript: Schwarzenegger on budget crisis, furloughs and other topics
BB GOV BOARD 010.JPGBelow are some excerpts from our interview today with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the state's $11.2 billion revenue shortfall, state worker furloughs, the car tax, the initiative process and other topics.

To listen to audio of the interview, click the link on this page.

Furloughs

On why he proposed one-day-a month furloughs for state workers:

Schwarzenegger: It comes under the auspices of, everyone gets a little hair cut. If everyone sacrifices a little bit, I think we can make it through here. It is the same question as...why do you make cuts from law enforcement. Why do you make cuts from prisons? Why do you make cuts from education. Why do you make cuts from health care?
You have got to look at the whole inventory of things that are available. I thought by closing some of these holidays and also having people, you know, take off one day a month it could save the state some money, and it does. Mike, what are those numbers?

Finance Director Mike Genest: The furlough itself we have at $263 (million) this year and $451 (million) next year. And that is just the general fund.


November 10, 2008
The pressure of profits

It wasn't borrowers or government that were pushing lenders into making higher-cost, exotic, risky mortgages.  It was the lure of profit.

Anyone who doubts that should read a recent column by Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times.

She tells the tale of a senior mortgage underwriter at Washington Mutual (WaMu) who, like many others at WaMu, was put under tremendous pressure to approve higher-cost, exotic loans because brokers and the lender would make more money that way. Questionable loans were pushed through because they were more profitable to the company:

"At WaMu it wasn't about the quality of the loans; it was about the numbers," Ms. Cooper says. "They didn't care if we were giving loans to people that didn't qualify.  Instead, it was how many loans did you guys close and fund?"

How much would they get?

Hidden fees meant brokers could easily make between $20,000 and $40,000 on a $500,000 loan.

This is what happens when neither brokers nor lenders have an incentive to see that a borrower can actually afford a loan.  In the current Wild West climate, brokers get their fee no matter what -- and a higher fee if they steer borrowers to a higher-cost loan.  Lenders sold their loans to Wall Street firms, who then packaged them to sell to investors. 

WaMu, of course, is one the banks that failed and was seized by federal regulators.  It was sold to JPMorgan Chase, which is now trying to clean up the mess by modifying many adjustable rate loans to more stable fixed rate loans -- instead of incurring the cost of foreclosure.

November 10, 2008
2010 race begins in CD3

Bill Durston a Democrat who has now run twice against Republican Dan Lungren for the seat in Congressional District 3, has announced he's running again in 2010.

After losing by 5 percentage points last Tuesday, writes Durston, "We have decided, though, that with your support, I will run for Congress again in 2010.  I will update you on plans for the 2010 campaign in the near future." 

Durston's early move could prevent other Democrats from jumping into the race in a district where the Republican incumbent would be vulnerable with a strong challenge.

November 10, 2008
Questions for Schwarzenegger as he visits Bee ed board today?
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet with The Bee's editorial board this afternoon, to pitch his plan for responding to an $11.2 billion revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year.

We offered our response to his plan Sunday. What are your thoughts? What questions would you want posed to the governor?
November 9, 2008
Will Pelosi, Obama stay neutral as Waxman and Dingell battle it out?
Even as they savor their victories from Tuesday, Democrats are embroiled in a power struggle over what kind of legislation Congress will enact to reduce greenhouse gases and shape the nation's energy future.

In the House, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California is challenging John Dingell of Michigan to chair the powerful Energy and Commerce committee. Dingell, allied with Detroit's auto industry and Democrats who hail from coal states, is pushing a bill that would cut greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050.

Waxman is pushing for faster reductions, with more controls on coal power plants and stronger fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, than Dingell supports.

Neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor President-elect Barack Obama have publicly taken sides. But you'd have to think that Pelosi would prefer Waxman, from her home state, to take the lead in crafting climate legislation, whereas Obama wouldn't want to anger Michigan and his midwestern base by tossing Dingell out of that post.

The outcome of this fight could reveal much about how Obama and Pelosi will work together in the coming few years.  
November 7, 2008
A Brit's take on Prop 9: Victim's rights and parole

With all the attention on Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, it's refreshing to see that someone has noticed the passage of Proposition 9.

 

Leave it to a Brit to clearly express its insidious effect.

 

Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement writes:

 

Even worse in my view, was the passing of Proposition 9, a Victims Rights Initiative (paradoxically bank-rolled by a rich Californian currently indicted on fraud and drugs charges).  It reduces the possibilities for prisoners' parole, adds to the vast Californian prison population and gives victims of a crime a greater voice in the judicial and punitive process.  There's something truly dreadful about this.  Sure, we should support the victims.  But one of the whole purposes of a state legal system is to break the link beween culprit and victim -- to stop punishment from being vendetta.

 

And a reader responded to her in the comment section:

 

Couldn't agree more about Prop 9.  People seem increasingly to believe that the civil and criminal court system has some role to play in their individual emotional sense of grievance.  It doesn't.  Which is not to imply that victims don't deserve sympathy, or that criminals do.  But it's precisely NOT what courts are for.  One of the great projects of civilization is, as you suggest, containing revenge.

 

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

November 7, 2008
How the sports media and others covered Kevin Johnson's victory
If you thought the media could resist sports metaphors in covering Kevin Johnson's mayoral victory Tuesday, you'd be wrong.

The Sporting News reported that the former NBA star scored "a double digit victory in Sacramento's mayoral race" by beating incumbent Heather Fargo. The blog  Ballhype proclaimed that "KJ dunked baseline on the hearts of the people of Sacramento..."

The Detroit News reported Johnson's victory in a roundup of 14 other sports figures who either won or lost for public office national on Tuesday. The National Post of Canada has a long recitation of Johnson's basketball career, including the fact that he averaged 32.5 points per game as a senior at Sacramento High School.

Meanwhile, the New York Times Caucus political blog noted that Johnson was an early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama and that, although the two have met, they have not yet played a game of one-on-one hoops.

"I wasn't doing that, I had to keep his confidence up," Mr. Johnson told The Times.
November 7, 2008
Interesting tidbit from CD4: McClintock v Brown

This race remains undecided as county registrars are still processing vote-by-mail ballots that came in on election day and provisional ballots.

But here's an interesting fact: In every county in this race, Tom McClintock (R) got fewer votes than Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Charlie Brown (D) got more votes than Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. That's why this race remains too close to call in this normally heavily Republican district.

Examples, based on latest counts from Secretary of State's office: 

In El Dorado County, McClintock got 36,693 votes; McCain got 40,512.  In Nevada County, McClintock got 18,589 votes; McCain got 20,899.  In Placer County, McClintock got 72,365 votes; McCain got 80,209.

In El Dorado County, Brown got 36,192 votes; Obama got 33,010.  In Nevada County, Brown got 25,125; Obama got 23,035.  In Placer County, Brown got 70,322; Obama got 64,460.

 

November 7, 2008
Why is CA in fiscal ruin? Start with GOP and state worker unions
California faces at least a $11.2 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year. Let's examine that in real numbers:

$11,200,000,000.

This has never happened before. The fiscal year is 4 months over, and yet lawmakers must somehow cut spending or raise revenues by $11.2 billion, enact those savings and cuts now and realize them in a mere 8 months.

Yet forces on both sides continue to live in a fairytale world. Republican leaders, like Mike Villines of the Assembly, insist they can find $11 billion in savings, in programs like health and welfare, even though they couldn't find them during the last session, with a much smaller shortfall to cover.

Meanwhile, state employee unions are saying "Hell No" to the governor's plan to furlough them one day a month and drop two paid holidays from their calendar.

This is incredible. Businesses are laying off hundreds of workers. Some cities and counties are also reducing their ranks. But the state employee unions think they can escape a haircut with California facing an $11 billion hole? What kind of Alice in Wonderland world are they living in?
November 6, 2008
Congressman Tom McClintock? Or Charlie Brown? Suspense lingers
For political junkies, the 4th Congressional District race is the gift that keeps on giving.

BB B4TH DEBATE 0331.JPGSince we last updated this contest, the Secretary of State's web site has posted some new numbers. Republican Tom McClintock leads Democrat Charlie Brown by 709 votes, with 156,516 for McClintock and 155,807 for Brown.

But there are still thousands of provisional ballots and mail ballots dropped off at the polls that have to be counted. That could take several weeks.

Given that Brown seemed to have momentum at the end, you could speculate that those last-minute ballots would favor him. But I wouldn't place any wagers on this race.

As McClintock himself once wrote about gambling, " I don't enjoy it, I'm not very good at it, and I think it's a lousy investment."

UPDATE: It appears the 4th District will be subject to a new state mandate requiring handcounts in 10 percent of selected precincts. Details on Kim Alexander's blog
November 6, 2008
Too much democracy!!!
Tired of crawling through a ballot that's too long? Me too. I have an idea for making the next few elections go faster and smoother - a moratorium on initiatives. You can hear my  Capitol Public Radio rant on democracy gone amok here.
November 6, 2008
Inside the Republican legislative mind

The Legislature's Republican leaders, as expected, have condemned the governor's call for a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to bring the state's budget back into balance. I understand their ideological position in favor of smaller government and more individual, rather than collective, action. In fact I share it. But I have never understood the refusal of virtually every California Republican legislator to ever even consider raising taxes. It seems to me like a position of weakness that allows one's decisions to be dictated by the actions of long-dead legislators who established today's mix of tax types and tax rates.

November 6, 2008
California voters still passing local bonds, tax hikes
City government analyst Michael Coleman is out with his first quick look at how local revenue ballot measures fared Tuesday. You can download the whole thing here. His summary:

         In the November 4, 2008 presidential election, California voters decided the fate of over 380 local measures including 239 concerning taxes, fees or bonds for cities, counties, special districts and schools.[1] There were 95 school bond measures seeking approval of a total of nearly $22.5 billion in elementary, high school and community college bonds.   There were also 21 school parcel tax measures requiring two-thirds voter approval.



November 5, 2008
Why the GOP will no longer dismiss "community organizers"
One of Sarah Palin's sadder moments came early in the campaign, at the Republican National Convention, when she dismissed Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer.

As it turned out, Obama won the White House because of that experience. The ground team he put together -- voter registration, neighborhood groups, church groups, students, get-out-the vote groups -- won him the day.

None other than Karl Rove made that point today in the Wall Street Journal:


November 5, 2008
Brown versus McClintock: Much too close to call

As of 10:45 a.m., this race remains virtually tied (451 votes separate the candidates). And at least 30,000 absentee ballots that were dropped off at polling places on election day remain to be counted. The margin has been shrinking as the count continues.  It may come down to which candidate had the better get-out-the-vote operation in the waning hours of voting.  In any case, we may not know the final outcome of this race for some time.

Here's the count so far:

Charlie Brown (D): 155,320 (49.9 percent)

Tom McClintock (R): 155,771 (50.1 percent)

November 5, 2008
CA ballot propositions: What is the message?
Californians sent mixed messages on ballot propositions yesterday. They supported rights for chickens, but not for same sex couples. They approved about $11 billion in new borrowing for hospitals and high-speed rail, but were more stingy on other spending, including for drug treatment and alternative fuel vehicles.

Much of it came down to campaigning. The Yes-on-8 organizations, opposed to gay marriage, ran a pretty savvy campaign compared to the no-on-8 groups. Proposition 11, the redistricting reform measure, had more money than the opposition, so it seems to have won a narrow victory.

Is there a message here? The Los Angeles Times has an up-to-date chart here.
November 5, 2008
Odd coalition keeps Prop 11 in narrow lead
Prop. 11 was still leading narrowly this morning, by 95,000 votes with many more still to count.

If you look at the map here you will see what looks to me like a strange geographic split. In general, the measure is doing better in Republican counties than in Democratic counties. But it is winning in some Democratic counties (Santa Clara, San Mateo, Sacramento) and it is losing in some Republican counties (Kern among others). It almost looks as if the map paints a picture of more moderate counties in support and more heavily tilted counties in either direction opposed, with the possibility that the location of state prisons and CCPOA members even played a role. At any rate, it is still too close to call. If the measure passes, though, it will be a big win for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who began pushing for an independent redistricting during his first campaign for governor in 2003 and has not really let up since. It would also be a signal that the voters want to fix the dysfunction in Sacramento and are willing to ignore the misleading campaigns of party leaders to do it.
November 5, 2008
Democrats pick up seats in the Legislature

The Democrats appear to have picked up a net of two seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate. This would give them a 50-30 majority in the Assembly, four votes shy of two-thirds, and a 26-14 edge in the Senate, just one vote short of a veto-proof majority.

Several of these races were very close, but it looks like the Dems picked up AD 15, 78 and 80 while losing Nicole Parra's 30th AD. The Republicans narrowly held the seats of termed-out members Aghazarian (26th) and Nakashini (10th).

In the Senate, Hannah Beth Jackson stands 108 votes ahead in the 19th. That would be a huge ideological shift in the seat now held by Tom McClintock.

November 5, 2008
K.J. cruises to victory
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Kevin Johnson has easily won the Sacramento mayor's race, leading 57 to 43. That will probably will tighten with returns left to be counted, but his margin is way beyond previous polls suggested. It appears to be an overwhelming vote in support of change in city hall.

So what do you think? Is this a mandate? A referendum on Heather Fargo? A gamble on K.J.?

My take: He has some real political capital at this point. But, with the economy as it is, he faces the same question as many people these days: Where does he invest it?
November 4, 2008
After sitting in chair before elected, K.J. claims victory before Fargo concedes
Kevin Johnson sure likes to buck tradition. After taking an unauthorized "tour" of the city council chambers recently, he is now claiming victory in the mayor's race, even though Mayor Heather Fargo has not conceded.

Update: And just to rub it in, Kevin has invited the security guard who let him into the council chair to join him on stage. "Luis" has just gotten his five seconds of fame.

 
November 4, 2008
Even in slow economy, some slow-growth pols up in early returns
In my column today, I wrote about several local contests that pitted slow-growth candidates against incumbents.

Here's how they stand in early and incomplete returns, with slow-growth candidates in bold:


November 4, 2008
SOS: Crashing and burning at Bowen's house

A few days ago Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she was confident that California could handle its crush of new voters without a hitch. Well, the election might have gone off pretty well, but the counting has been dreadful. And Bowen's computer system is the worst of the worst. While individual counties are reporting some results, the Secretary of State's web site appears to have been overwhelmed by people seeking to get the numbers. Bowen came into office boasting of her knowledge of technology. Looks like she has failed her first major test.

 UPDATE: Bowen posted this on her Facebook page nearly two hours ago:

Debra has officially declared the polls in California to be closed. Let the reporting begin!

November 4, 2008
San Benito -- bellwether results?

Readers of my former blog know that I am a fan of tiny San Benito county as a bellwether for California election results. The county has an uncanny knack for getting statewide election results right on the mark....With a third of its vote counted, here is how SBC is voting on the props:

 

November 4, 2008
The president-elect speaks

Watching Barack Obama's speech to his supporters in Chicago, I was struck by what a welcome change it will be to have an eloquent person as president. After eight years of mispronunciations, malapropisms, and embarrassing rhetorical stumbles from the White House, it may take a while to get used to having a president who doesn't mangle the English language.

I have to admit, though, that I'll sort of miss hearing the leader of the Free World utter "nucular" as if it were actually a word ....   

November 4, 2008
Sierra Community College District

9:20 p.m.

Area 4: Elaine Rowen v Dennis Cota

Placer County (mail ballots only): Rowen 34,886; Cota 25,719

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Rowen 619; Cota 517

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Rowen 1,185; Cota 744

Area 7: Aaron Klein v John Vodonick

Placer County (mail ballots only): Klein 32,259; Vodonick 28,493

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Klein 553; Vodonick 563

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Klein 1,068; Vodonick 771

November 4, 2008
Obama: "I was never the likeliest candidate for this office..."
83564691.jpgAs I watch Barack Obama deliver his acceptance speech, I feel a sense of pride in this country I haven't felt in some time.

It's not that voters defied the so-called "Bradley effect" and elected an African American as president.

It's not that Obama has inspired millions of young people to come out and vote like they have never voted before.

It's not that Obama has a policy agenda that is close to my own.

What awes me about Obama is that he defied the odds. He was not the annointed candidate of the Democratic Party machine. In an era of such deep cynicism about politics, it's inspiring to know that a once-unknown candidate could rise up, take some chances, run a phenomenal campaign and win.

Photo by Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images
November 4, 2008
CD4: McClintock v Brown

9:09 p.m. Nothing yet from Butte, Lassen, Modoc and Nevada counties. 

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Brown 18,892; McClintock 19,656

Placer County (mail ballots only): Brown 39,519; McClintock 40,166

Plumas County (mail ballots only): Brown 3,333; McClintock 3,161

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Brown 1,479; McClintock 1,748

Sierra County (100 percent in): Brown 884; McClintock 849

Total at this hour: Brown 64,107; McClintock 65,580

November 4, 2008
McCain's speech

John McCain gave a statesmanlike, gracious concession speech, one of the best speeches he's ever delivered.

"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it.  Sen. Obama believes that, too.  But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.  A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.  America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time.  There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States."

"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to fine ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences..."

But the crowd did not like it, booing during spots.

It's clear that the Republican Party can go in two directions -- continue to fight tooth and nail or, as McCain urged, to try and work together with the new president to meet the nation's great challenges.

November 4, 2008
Kevin Johnson up 54-46 in Sacramento mayor's race
Former NBA star Kevin Johnson leads incumbent Heather Fargo 54-46 in the Sacramento mayor's race, with more than half of the precincts reporting. Find results here
November 4, 2008
Women helped put Obama over the top
Voters didn't elect a woman to the White House this year, but women effectively decided the presidential race.

According to the Associated Press, interviews with voters suggested that almost six in 10 women were backing Obama nationwide, with men leaning his way by a narrow
margin.  The results were based on a preliminary partial sample of nearly 10,000 voters in Election Day polls and in telephone interviews over the past week for early
voters.

As I write this, Fox News is calling Virginia for Obama. That's more than enough for me to feel confident that Obama has this in the bag.
November 4, 2008
Will Obama's apparent victory cost K.J. some votes?
Barack Obama appears headed toward victory, with CNN calling Ohio for him.

Will this affect voting in California and Sacramento? Possibly.

Imagine you are a John McCain supporter who is leaning to vote for Kevin Johnson for Sacramento mayor. You learn that Obama has it the bag. So, instead of stopping at the polls on your commute from work, you go straight home and enjoy dinner. Imagine a bunch of voters doing this.

Probably it will have little affect on the mayor's race, but if K.J. goes down in a nail-biter against Mayor Heather Fargo, he will have to wonder.

 
November 4, 2008
For those watching the U.S. Senate...

5:45 p.m. Democrats need nine pick ups in the U.S. Senate to have a filibuster-proof majority. The networks so far have called three Dem pick ups: Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

6:05 p.m. Another Dem pick up: Mark Udall of New Mexico.

9:30 p.m. Another Dem pick up: Tom Udall of Colorado.

Still waiting to hear on Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon and Georgia.

November 4, 2008
Reminder: California polls stay open till 8 p.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is worried that the TV networks may call the presidential race before polls close in California. "This would be a disservice to the tens of millions of voters in the West," she said in a statement, "and I strongly urge the networks to delay any precipitous announcements until voters have had their full opportunity to vote."

She's worried that many Californians might not vote if the presidential race is called, which could affect important measures such as Proposition 8 (which would change the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage), plus local and congressional races. "It's critical that all California voters have a say in all of these contests, including the ballot measures and contests for down-ballot offices," she said.

Californians can't do anything about the voting trend line in the eastern and Midwestern states or the TV networks, but they can make the commitment to stay in line and vote until 8 p.m.
November 4, 2008
Obama up in Florida, behind in Virginia
CNN.com is reporting that, with 34 percent of the precincts reporting, Obama is up over McCain in Florida, 53-37. But McCain is up in Virginia, 55-44, with 38 percent of precincts. So this may not be over before the polls close in California.

UPDATE: I was wrong. This thing is over.
November 4, 2008
In a Galaxy Far Away
CNN has just unveiled its much anticipated hologram gimmick with reporter Jessica Yellin doing her best Princess Leia impersonation.
November 4, 2008
An election turnout that can only bode well for America
ACW VOTING4612.JPGNo matter what happens tonight in the presidential race, the turnout at the polls today was inspiring.

I voted near my home in midtown Sacramento. At 7:30 a.m., there was a line of 60 people and the lines continued throughout the morning. About half of the people I voted with, at 11 a.m, were under 30. I've never seen that before -- not four years ago, nor previously.

Here are some stories about the turnout locally and nationally from The Bee, The New York Times and Fox News.

Photo by The Bee's Anne Chadwick Williams, at a Folsom polling place today.
November 4, 2008
Obama in the Red Zone

If you watched Monday Night Football last night, you saw opportunistic brilliance on display.

No, I am not talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense. I'm referring to Barack Obama's answer when Chris Berman asked him what single change he would like to see in sports. Obama's answer: "I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football. I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams -- the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion."

Here, for those of you who are not fans of college and pro football or who have not followed the ins and outs of the presidential campaign closely, is why the answer was so brilliant.

November 4, 2008
The difference that face-to-face politics makes

Here's the story of a banker who's never done door-to-door politics who found himself knocking on doors in a North Carolina housing project -- and the difference it has made in his life and on his political outlook.

November 4, 2008
Election night at The Swarm
As the polls close tonight, The Swarm team will be live blogging the results, with an emphasis on several races that are hot locally and in California:

-- Pia Lopez will be watching the congressional contests, particularly the 4th District race between Democrat Charlie Brown and Republican Tom McClintock. Polls have shown this could go either way. The reputation of pollsters will be on the line.

-- I'll be focusing on city council and supervisor races that could affect growth and development issues across the region, as I noted in my column today.
November 4, 2008
The Bee's endorsements for today's election
Here are The Sacramento Bee's endorsements, with links to the full editorials:
November 4, 2008
Most vote by mail voters are white

A number of voter rights groups who represent minority and poor voters have been skeptical about vote-by-mail balloting. A look at the Field Poll projections on the demographics of vote--by-mail-voters shows why their skepticism is justified.

According to the Field Poll, 70 per cent of all early voter/mail-in ballots were cast by white, non-Hispanic voters. Only 6 percent of mail-in voters were black;  9 percent were Asian and  15 percent Latino. The Field Poll shows that minority voters overwhelmingly vote at their precincts on election day.

Low income voters are also less likely to vote by mail. Only 12 percent of early mail-in-voters had household incomes of $20,000 a year or less. By comparison, the highest percentage of early/mail-in voters, 34 percent, had household incomes of $100,000 or more.

Many have suggested that California should go the way of Oregon and allow for mail voting exclusively. The low mail-in voter participation by minorities and the poor shows why that's not a good idea. So, see you at the polls.

November 3, 2008
Bill Stall, 1937-2008, wrote the Rx for reforming California
bill stall2.JPGAnyone who cares about California's broken governance is undoubtedly saddened to hear about the passing of William R. Stall on Sunday.

Stall, an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a Pulitzer-prize winning series in 2004 called "Reinventing California." It explored how term limits, ballot-box budgeting, gerrymandered electoral districts and other dysfunctions had led to the state's fiscal crisis, culminating in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

Stall laid out a road map for reforming California and urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to seize the moment:

Schwarzenegger has a choice. He can submit, Gulliver-like, to being tied by a thousand special-interest strings. Or he can exercise the boldness needed to revive a California of opportunity, beauty and rational growth.

Sadly, we know how this story turned out.


November 3, 2008
Looking ahead to governing

David Gergen, who advised Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, isn't just looking for which candidate gets to the magic 270 electoral votes for a win on Tuesday.  He's looking beyond the campaign to governing.

So, in a column for CNN, he says what he's looking for:


November 3, 2008
Lesson: Make voter registration easier

With all the hassles we've seen in trying to get new voters registered properly, it's time (again) to consider a better system: automatic voter registration.  Other countries do it.  We can, too.

This would fix all kinds of problems: having third party non-profits or others out there collecting registration forms, incomplete voter rolls, inaccurate voter rolls or county offices being overwhelmed during election years.

The virtue of automatic voter registration is, as the New America Foundation has written:

"It's the best way to bring together conservatives concerned about fraud in elections and liberals concerned about low voter registration. We need a coherent system that ensures all of us can vote, but none of us can vote more than once."

Some have suggested automatic registration for anybody with a driver's license or tax record, but that still leaves some folks out.  Others have suggested automatic registration of all high school students, but that, too, leaves some people out.

A better solution is creating a unique number for each voter and maintaining a national database so each voter only has to be registered once in their lifetime, and can move from state-to-state or county-to-county without having to re-register.


November 3, 2008
Unique perspective on ACORN and vote suppression

Julian Bond, currently chairman of the NAACP and the first African-American to be nominated by a major party as a candidate for vice president, has a long history with voting rights.

He dismisses the recent attack on ACORN for its voter registration efforts and supposed vote fraud as an "enormous myth."  Here's why:

"Well, of course ACORN doesn't register anybody; the election officials register people.  If I go through this crowd and pick up forms, I haven't registered anybody here.  It's not until that form gets in the hands of the registration officials that it's registered.  And if they can't tell the difference between Mickey Mouse and John Smith, then you need new election officials."

He explained that what happens is that folks go into a neighborhood to register people and collect voter registration forms.  They see that Mickey Mouse has signed a form.  But the law requires that they turn the form in.  They can't just throw it away.  But ACORN does flag the form for registration officials.  For that, they get accused of turning in fraudulent forms.

 You can hear Bond's full remarks on Minnesota Public Radio.  He was speaking on the topic, "Reflections on the Lessons of 1968" at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University in Minnesota. At the end of the talk he took questions and was asked to comment on "vote suppression in its current form." That section begins 39 minutes into the audio and goes for nearly four minutes.

Bond noted that vote suppression used to be the province of Democrats, but is now almost exclusively the province of Republicans. 

November 1, 2008
T. Boone Pickens - the P.T. Barnum of ballot props - moves to victory
It looks increasingly likely that Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens will fool California voters into approving $5 billion in taxpayer financed bonds for Proposition 10 on Tuesday.

The latest Field Poll shows Prop. 10 up 49-39 amid a blitz of television ads paid for by Pickens' Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which has poured roughly $20 million into passing the measure.

The Prop. 10 campaign is also trying to con voters into thinking their initiative has something to do with Barack Obama's energy plan. See this email from Prop. 10's campaign team.  Yes on 10 Obama email.pdf

Its hard to remember another proposition in which voters have been so fooled into lining the pockets of a billionaire. Among other things, Proposition 10 would give consumers rebates for purchasing vehicles powered by natural gas. That would benefit Pickens' company, which markets natural gas fueling stations.

Would there be some environmental benefit from Prop. 10? Sure. It would subsidize purchases of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. But consumers are already moving to hybrids, partly because of tax incentives. There's little argument for a new subsidy, especially one that would add hundreds of million of dollars to California's yearly debt payments, taking money from schools and other programs.

Are California voters so easily manipulated they'd approve this proposition, based a few feel-good television ads? Sadly, it looks that way. We'll find out Tuesday.


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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