The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

September 29, 2010
The Bee's Head-to-Head team rates the Brown-Whitman debate
September 28, 2010
Whopper watch: Tracking half-truths, embellishments in debate

Whoa, that didn't take long for the first truth-stretcher.

Jerry Brown said that Meg Whitman wants to suspend the state's landmark climate change law.

She does, for one year. But that's not the entire story.

After some hemming and hawing, she came out last week against Proposition 23, the ballot measure which would all but kill Assembly Bill 32 because it would suspend it until the state's unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.

Brown was also right in saying that eliminating the capital gains tax, as Whitman proposes, would mostly benefit the well-off. People with adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 or more do pay about 82 percent of the total state capital gains tax in California. The state's annual take  has ranged from $3 billion to nearly $12 billion over the past decade, averaging about $7 billion a year.

But when he said that money would come straight out of schools, that's not in Whitman's platform. That could be the result, given that school spending makes up so much of the general fund budget. But it's not what Whitman is proposing.

Whitman isn't immune to leaving out context and putting the worst possible spin on Brown's record.

She criticized what Brown did as mayor of Oakland on schools, but she didn't mention that he had little direct control since an elected school board was in charge.

While as Whitman says, Oakland was labeled in one rating as the fourth most dangerous city in the nation when Brown left office, overall crime actually dropped substantially over his term.

And though she's correct that California's unemployment rate was 11 percent when Brown ended his time as governor, the national rate was 10.8 percent at the same time. The state's current rate, 12.4 percent, is substantially higher than the national average of 9.6 percent.

Later during the debate, Brown bragged about how he vetoed state employee pay raises twice. He neglected to mention, however, that after the Legislature overrode his vetoes, he agreed to smaller salary hikes in those instances.

Brown also went after the California Chamber of Commerce for ads critical of him, saying that it should be forced to disclose how much it spent on Whitman's behalf. He didn't acknowledge, however, that the chamber pulled the ads in April after the Democratic Party and others complained.

For her part, Whitman was asked about criticisms of some of her TV ads. She stood by them categorically, even though The Bee and nonpartisan groups such as have found them misleading.

But given all the claims and counterclaims lobbed back and forth during the hour-long debate, their first, Brown and Whitman managed to stick mostly to the straight and narrow, avoiding big lies or completely outrageous whoppers.

September 28, 2010
The Bee presents California governor's debate 2010: Jerry Brown vs. Meg Whitman
September 28, 2010
See what local city council candidates had to say

The races for governor and U.S. Senate and the statewide ballot propositions may be getting the lion's share of attention.


But local city council races can have more impact since municipal officials make decisions that can change your daily life - whether to widen a street or put in a sidewalk, how often garbage gets picked up or a police car patrols your street, whether to allow a big box retailer to open.


To give voters more information leading up to the Nov. 2 election, The Bee's editorial board sent questionnaires to city council candidates in eight cities in the Sacramento region: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Rancho Cordova, Rocklin, Roseville and West Sacramento. A questionnaire also went out to the candidates running for the Arden Arcade council, which would only come into being if voters approve cityhood.


The results are available in a searchable database where you can look up candidates, or sort the answers by issue to see how each candidate answered.              

September 24, 2010
Jerry Brown is not sure how to reduce death row population

If he becomes governor again, Attorney General Jerry Brown said he would have no ready prescription for reducing California's ever-growing population of condemned inmates.

There are 700-plus inmates on death row.

Asked whether the population will continue to grow, Brown said today:

"Unless we can up with some proposals. Do you have ideas? These cases are very difficult. Courts are very careful. I haven't seen too many proposals other than to hire more lawyers and give more money for investigators."

Meg Whitman, Brown's Republican opponent, didn't have much of a solution either, as we noted in this item.

In an appearance before The Bee's editorial board, Brown seemed unaware that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to build a new death row at San Quentin for $500 million.

Brown is a lifelong death penalty opponent who as governor in 1977 vetoed legislation carried by a Long Beach legislator, George Deukmejian, to reinstate capital punishment after courts had struck down California's death penalty laws.

The Legislature overrode Brown's veto, and voters approved a death penalty initiative in 1978.

Since capital punishment was reinstated, 13 inmates have been executed in California. Many more have died of suicide, drug overdose and natural causes. The longest serving death row inmate arrived at San Quentin at the end of Brown's first term as governor in 1978.

Brown noted that despite his personal views, he is committed to carrying out the death penalty law.

He made his comments in response to questions by The Bee's editorial board, while his deputies were appearing in federal court in an effort to carry out the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown.

Albert Brown is scheduled to be put to death at San Quentin State Prison a minute past midnight on Wednesday, as this article details

Albert Brown has been on death row since Jerry Brown's second term, March 1982.  He was convicted of murdering and raping a 15-year-old gir in Riverside. The 30-year anniversary of the murder will arrive this Oct. 28. His execution would be the first in almost five years in California.

September 20, 2010
Whitman continues to claim welfare savings that don't add up

ha_mwhitman_still12605.JPGGOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman gave a polished performance before The Bee's editorial board this morning, answering questions about her plans to cut $15 billion from the state budget, convert state workers to 401k retirement plans, reduce prison health care costs, bring jobs back to California and put a freeze on state regulations.

She didn't leave me convinced she had the wherewithal to carry out such reforms, and she dodged questions about whether or not she will support Prop. 23, the proposition to suspend California's global warming law. But overall, Whitman was thoughtful and concise in her answers. She didn't grandstand and she acknowledged the challenges she'd face trying to implement her agenda in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. She answered some questions I posed about her in a column Sunday.

Yet Whitman continues to cling to the fiction she can grab $1 billion out of the $2.9 billion the state spends on welfare each year, transfer it to higher education and not harm children receiving welfare. The Bee's Capitol Bureau looked at this claim this month and found it didn't add up. As The Bee noted, Whitman's plan would only affect 22 percent of the state's welfare recipients in lowering the lifetime welfare limit from five to two years. The remainder of welfare recipients are children.

"It's unlikely the state would save $1 billion in its welfare budget even if cut every adult recipient from the program," The Bee said in its Ad Watch, noting the state might also lose federal aid if it attempted such cuts.

I pressed Whitman about the fact that economic experts interview by The Bee say her proposal doesn't add up. Her answer:

"I don't know what to tell you. I have an economic team. We are looking into this. I think we can do it....It is obviously not the only savings we have to go after...But I feel very confident that it can be done."

That's not good enough. The Whitman team needs to provide some basic math of how they'd get to $1 billion through these welfare cuts, and not harm children. I gave Whitman the opportunity to explain it Monday. She passed up that chance.

You can watch clips of Whitman's performance here. On Friday, we interview Jerry Brown.

Bee photo by Hector Amezcua.

September 20, 2010
Meg Whitman would put brakes on a new death row, maybe

Meg Whitman is a death penalty supporter, like Ronald Reagan and most other politicians who have come before her.

Like the others, she is at a loss for how to deal with the issue, specifically what to do about the California death row and its 700-plus condemned inmates.

Appearing before The Bee's editorial board today, Whitman did say she would "like" to find an alternative to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to construct a new death row, at a cost of up to $500 million, although she repeated that California likely will need to build new prisons to relieve overcrowding.

"If we're going to abide by three strikes, if we are going to abide by the death penalty, if we're going to maintain a tough law and order climate here, the truth is over time, we are probably going to have to build more prisons. I would like to not build a death row prison."

The state is seeking bids for the new death row. Bid opening is set for mid-October. Here's a Bee editorial on the proposed new death row.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, scheduled to appear before our editorial board later this week, was the last California governor who opposed the death penalty. Every governor since Brown has vowed to enforce capital punishment.

The result: 13 inmates executed, and 75 others who died of suicide, drug overdoses or natural causes. One who was sentenced here and Missouri was put to death in the Show Me state. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation compiled this list of death row deaths.

Whitman lamented the process by which inmates have "appeal after appeal after appeal after appeal." Here's a video clip of her talking about the issue.

"We have to enforce the death penalty. Specifically, I don't actually know the answer to this. Basically, we have got to sort of say, 'You can't appeal and appeal and appeal and appeal.'

"There has to be some change in the process by which death row inmates live on for 20, 30 odd years on death row. I think we have to take that up."

Whether they support capital punishment or not, governors long have found there is not much they can do about the appellate process. Indeed, Gov. Reagan appointed California Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Wright who wrote the 1972 opinion striking down capital punishment, as this obituary recounted.

As Reagan and many other chief executives learned, judges handle cases as they see fit. That's especially true for federal judges in whose courts many death row appeals currently languish.


September 8, 2010
Sacramento chamber bucks trend, opposes Prop. 23

For the second election in a row, the Sacramento Metro Chamber is bucking the trend among its peers.

In June, the chamber's board of directors came out against Proposition 16, the ploy by Pacific Gas & Electric to protect its market by making it very difficult for public utilities to form or expand. The chamber stood up for members who benefit from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's low electricity rates -- and stood apart from the California Chamber and most local chambers of commerce in the state. Prop. 16 failed.

This afternoon, the Metro Chamber announced that it is opposing Proposition 23, the November ballot measure that would suspend California's landmark AB 32 climate change legislation until the unemployment rate -- now north of 12 percent -- falls to 5.5 percent and stays there for a full year. Critics of the proposition say that basically guts AB 32 because it would never be implemented, and that will delay California's transition to a clean energy economy.

Proponents say that AB 32 is a job killer and California can't afford that right now. Supporters include business groups and many local chambers of commerce, including those in Fresno, Bakersfield and Santa Clara County. The statewide chamber has stayed neutral so far.

Sacramento is a center for clean energy jobs. In declaring its opposition, the Metro Chamber said it has been "on the record, for the past three years, supporting the general concepts represented in AB 32."

"Additionally, our continued advocacy for a balanced approach and implementation of AB 32 is more in line with our stated Capitol-to-Capitol Program polices in the areas of air quality and climate change," the chamber said.

Its other stands on statewide ballot propositions are not surprising, though it is taking no position on Proposition 21, which would fund state parks through an $18 surcharge on vehicle license fees. "There's not a legitimate nexus between the VLF fee and funding of parks and wildlife conservation," the chamber said. "The state parks and wildlife conservation programs should continue to be funded through existing state and local funding sources."

September 8, 2010
Deal finally done between city and Local 39

After all the hullabaloo and teeth-gnashing, the deal between City Hall and the city's largest employee union is finally done.

Without fanfare, the Sacramento City Council approved the pact with Local 39 as part of its consent agenda Tuesday evening.

As The Bee's editorial board has said, it's not an ideal agreement. But it will save the city about $3.8 million in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, helping the council balance the budget with fewer cuts to services.

Under the contract, which goes through June 29, 2012, the 1,600 members of Local 39 will take one unpaid furlough day a month and step salary increases will be frozen for two years.

The city, in turn, promises no layoffs until at least next June; 90 jobs that would have been cut this month were saved. There's one potential out: a fiscal emergency in the utilities department, including the passage of a ballot measure in November that would roll back utility rate increases.

Because the negotiations with Local 39 took so long, the council had to use another $1.2 million in proceeds from the sale of the Sheraton Hotel to avoid layoffs during the talks.

There's one more to go. The council received an update in closed session Tuesday about the negotiations with Local 447 of the Plumbers & Pipefitters, and officials say an agreement is near.

September 7, 2010
Sacramento City Council does a 180 on public comments

 The Sacramento City Council did the right thing this evening, and it had to reverse itself to do so.

Last month, it had agreed to move the time for public comments not on agenda items to the end of the meeting from the beginning. Some council members complained that it slowed down meetings and that special interests, including advocates for a safe ground campground for the homeless, had monopolized the period.

But opponents pointed out that with Regional Transit service cuts, buses and trains don't start after 9 p.m. The League of Women Voters and the ACLU subsequently weighed in, saying the change was bad for public access. So did the Bee's editorial board.

This evening, the council voted unanimously to return the comment period to the beginning, with the proviso that if it went past 30 minutes, the rest of the comments would be moved to the end. Of the last 34 meetings, only four comment periods exceeded that half-hour limit.

"I think this is a good day for democracy," said Mayor Kevin Johnson, who opposed the original move.

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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