The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 29, 2010
Visa-backed bill advances, with 'consumer' advocates' help

An Assembly committee today approved legislation backed by Visa and consumer groups that would bar retailers from imposing "swipe" fees when customers use debit cards--even though few retailers actually charge such fees.

The bill was the focus of this column last Thursday. Sen. Jenny Oropeza, a Long Beach Democrat, defended her bill here.

Visa is backing similar measures in 10 other states across the country.

The Judiciary Committee voted 7-1 to approve the bill, SB 933. It will head to the Assembly floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Debit card companies such as Visa generally charge merchants about 35 cents to process debit card transactions. The bill would bar retailers from passing along the costs to customers.

BP-ARCO gas stations pass along debit card charges to customers. But Visa's contracts with other merchants generally bar them from charging fees. Those contracts are a focus of an antitrust lawsuit by retailers pending in federal court in New York.

If the bill becomes law, Visa could hope that it would be insulated from liability in the case.

Although Visa backed Oropeza's measure, a lobbyist for the bill's "sponsor," Consumers' Union, took the lead testifying for it. Others including a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation-AFL-CIO also spoke on behalf of the bill.

June 24, 2010
Proposition 8 author Andy Pugno makes good use of The Bee

You're welcome, Andy Pugno.

We at The Bee are always happy to help young, idealistic and struggling political newcomers.

While we're not sure that Pugno perfectly fits that bill, the Republican nominee for the Sacramento area assembly seat being vacated by term-limited Assemblyman Roger Niello is using this column in his latest fund-raising pitch, sent earlier this week.

Pugno is a Folsom attorney, father of three, Eagle Scout, member of the Knights of Columbus, and author of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that bans same-sex marriage.

Given that last point, Pugno, 37, has attracted no small amount of attention, as the Stonewall Democratic Club of Sacramento's website shows. And he is telling his supporters all about it:

The June primary election is only two weeks behind us, yet already the political left is firing up their attack machine to defeat me in the General Election for the 5th Assembly District.

Pugno has said that he is not running a single-issue campaign based on his support of Proposition 8. But his fund-raising appeal made clear that he is appealing to backers of the 2008 initiative to bar same-sex marriage.

As reported on Sunday in this Sacramento Bee column, "Prop. 8 role defines local Assembly hopeful," our opponents are pulling out all the stops to defeat me.

This race is critical to their goals of undermining the people's vote for Proposition 8 and expanding the Democrat's hold on the Legislature to a two-thirds majority... enabling them to increase both taxes and spending in the state budget.

As the Sacramento Bee said, winning this all-out fight in the General Election will cost at us least $1 million... and probably more. Undoubtedly, we will be up against a flood of special interest money that will pour in to this district from all around the state and nation.

Pugno's Democratic foe is Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who opposed the initiative.

June 21, 2010
Darrell Steinberg is sounding a little like Pete Wilson

Who would have thought that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be taking  pages from the books of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, and Gov. Pete Wilson?

The Sacramento Democrat today proposed to devolve state duties to counties, not unlike Republicans who sought to shrink the size of federal and state governments, and turn over duties to the states and locals.

If Steinberg succeeds, state government might get somewhat smaller, and counties would grow. The state also might find a way to reduce its deficit.

The Editorial Board is formulating its view. We'd like to know what you think. Steinberg's proposal can be found here. Bee news pages previously described the concept. A report on today's announcement can be found on Capitol Alert.

Wilson was particularly aggressive, giving locals increased control over mental health care and other programs back in the early 1990s when the state last faced deep annual deficits. The reviews were mixed.

Essentially, in an effort to help solve the state's $19.1 billion budget, Steinberg is proposing to turn over specific duties to the counties, and shift money to pay for it.

"We are all tired of propping us this structure, which doesn't work for the people of California," he said at a press conference today, attended by other Democratic senators, Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan.

As a first step, Steinberg would give counties take more authority over parole and corrections. In time, he would shift more welfare responsibilities to counties, and give them direct responsibilities for caring for the elderly.

The concept would not eliminate the state deficit. But it probably would lead to the elimination of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and the Department of Aging.

Steinberg would pay for it in a variety of ways including raising oil taxes and shifting contends vehicle license fees, and by delaying business tax breaks approved as part of last year's budget deal.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't slamming the door on the idea, said his press secretary, Aaron McLear:

"We're open to restructuring government and will have a serious debate about the proposal but increasing taxes and discouraging private sector growth would be a mistake. We're also encouraged that Senator Steinberg agrees that we need to consider long-term fixes, which is why budget, tax, and pension reform must be part of any solution."

McGowan said counties aren't opposed, at least not yet, so long as they receive money to pay for their new responsibilities.

June 14, 2010
Carly Fiorina disses Barbara Boxer: No news on `News 10'

Before California Senate GOP candidate Carly Fiorina's hair flub is forgotten entirely, it's worth noting local journalism's connection to it.

Fiorina made her catty remarks about Sen. Barbara Boxer's hair being "soooo yesterday" as she was sitting in a television studio in Los Angeles waiting to be interviewed by KXTV News 10, the ABC affiliate in Sacramento.

Her remarks about Boxer's hair and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's questionable judgment in deciding to do her first post primary interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, came as the satellite feed started flowing to News 10 which had the opportunity to air it or not.

KXTV was maybe the only television station on the planet that decided not to air the candidate's flub.

When interviewed by the New York Times, News 10's vice president and news director Tim Geraghty said "We had a vigorous editorial debate. ...To put on a clip of an interview with someone talking about someone else's hair did not fit with that brand we are trying to establish for News 10 in Northern California." The full story is here.

And what brand would that be? Bland? Staid? Boring? Predictable?

I couldn't find the interview that News 10 eventually aired with Fiorina on its website, but I've been watching canned TV interviews with political candidates - yes, I've even conducted a few - long enough to imagine what it was like - some mind numbingly boring recital of her stump speech - the same 50 words she gives to every new organization, re-arranged slightly for each.

In that two minutes of unscripted drivel about Boxer's hair and Whitman's judgment, the public learned more about the real Fiorina than anything that came out of any formal interview that eventually aired on Channel 10 or anywhere else - I can guarantee it.

June 5, 2010
Same-sex marriage foes embrace John Eastman, Andy Pugno

From its base in New Jersey, the National Organization for Marriage is stepping back into California politics, promoting a Republican running for California Attorney General and four legislative candidates.

The organization was one of the main promoters of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage that is the focus of a federal court fight in San Francisco.

To sway voters on the weekend before the Tuesday primary, the organization disclosed in a filing today that it is spending $200,000 on phone banks in California.

John Easman, a Republican seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general, is the most prominent beneficiary. The National Organization for Marriage reported that it is spending $44,000 on Eastman's behalf. Eastman was the focus of this column, this profile and this news story in The Bee.

The organization also is phoning voters to help Andy Pugno, who hope to win the Republican nomination for the Sacramento-area assembly seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblyman Roger Niello.

Pugno is one of the attorneys defending Proposition 8 in the federal court trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, but said he would not focus on the single issue of same-sex marriage if he were to win the seat. Here is The Bee's profile of the race and our endorsement editorial

In addition to helping Eastman and Pugno, the organization is calling voters on behalf of Assemblyman Joel Anderson, seeking a San Diego County senate seat, Sunder Ramni, seeking an assembly seat in Los Angeles, and Chris Lancaster, running for an Orange County assembly seat.

The organization, meanwhile, is crowing about its effort to derail former Rep. Tom Campbell's candidacy for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. The organization targeted Campbell, a socially moderate Republican supports same-sex marriage, in television ads and in mailers, as The Swarm noted here.

June 1, 2010
Tom McClintock placed Meg Whitman on hold, indefinitely

Not many people fail to return the phone calls of billionaires. Tom McClintock is one.

McClintock dropped by The Bee to talk policy and politics today, and recalled that billionaire Meg Whitman called him last year as she was gearing up to run full-bore for governor.

"I didn't think there would be anything productive that would come from the conversation," the flinty Republican congressman from Elk Grove said, explaining why he didn't call her back.

McClintock has been exhorting conservatives to nominate Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in Tuesday's Republican primary, saying on a recent ad that it's time California had a governor from the "Republican wing of the Republican Party."

If Poizner loses on Tuesday, and Whitman is the Republican nominee, McClintock is not sure what he would do.

"I wouldn't be an automatic endorsement," McClintock said. A campaign between Whitman and Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown would present a "Hobson's choice" between "Arnold Schwarzenegger's third term and Jerry Brown's third term."

"I don't see any vision for the future," McClintock said of Whitman. "I don't see any political involvement or vision that predates her turning a longing eye on the governor's office."

Then there is the matter of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer. McClintock has endorsed Orange County Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore over Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell.

What does he think about Fiorina? Not much. During her tenure as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard, the company politics "very definitely tilted left."

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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