The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

About Stuart Leavenworth

leavenworth_200.jpg
Stuart Leavenworth was bitten by the journalism bug at an early age -- while attending Ernie Pyle Elementary School, named after a tenacious World War II reporter, in his hometown of Fresno. In more than two decades of reporting, he's worked for papers in Japan, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and California. He was hired at The Bee in 1999, joined the editorial board in 2005 and now writes about the Capitol, local affairs, the environment and water. Stuart thinks that editorial writers should be independent, open-minded, compassionate and unpredictable, and not take themselves too seriously.

July 2, 2013
Send us a Fourth of July letter!

benfrank2.JPGOn Thursday, we'll publish a selection of letters honoring our nation's freedoms. Would you like to be part of that?

If so, let us know what July 4 means to you, or which part of the Declaration of Independence resonates with your life, in a 150-word letter.

For your letter to be considered, we would need to receive it by noon Wednesday at this address.

Or, send it by email to topics@sacbee.com. Be sure to include your name, city of residence, which will be published, and daytime phone number, which will not be published.

July 2, 2013
California agrees to expand toxic waste landfill, reduce waste

Kettleman.JPGCalifornia's Department of Toxic Substances Control announced today a draft decision to let Chemical Waste Management Inc. expand its Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill in Kings County. At the same time, DTSC unveiled an effort to reduce the amounts of hazardous waste that California generates each year and sends to landfills in California and other states.

"We must start the discussion on how we can end or significantly reduce our dependence on landfills and develop sustainable solutions that protect this generation and generations to come," said DTSC Director Debbie Raphael in a statement.

Chemical Waste Management applied to DTSC for a permit to expand its landfill five years ago, and has curtailed truck shipments to the site because of lack of capacity. All the time, exports of hazardous wastes to other states have increased.

Some Kettleman City residents blame the landfill -- the largest of its kind in the West -- for tainting their drinking water and causing birth defects, claims the company disputes. A study by two state agencies was unable to document a link, saying that researchers could "not find a specific cause or environmental exposure among the mothers that would explain the increase in the number of children born with birth defects in Kettleman City."

Bradley Angel of the group Greenaction told the Associated Press that the expansion permit was based on "bogus studies" and "hiding the number of birth defects and infant deaths."

The Bee's Dan Morain's profiled the situation in Kettleman City in March. A Fresno Bee story on DTSC's draft decision can be found here.

Photo of the Kettleman Hills landfill by the Fresno Bee's John Walker.

April 9, 2013
Jerry Brown: 'Closing a $27 billion budget gap ain't bupkis'

Gov. Jerry Brown apparently wasn't so busy packing for China on Saturday that he couldn't fire off a response to a Washington Post column he found annoying.

The column, by Matt Miller, argued that Brown was getting too much credit for shoring up the state's finances. Wrote Miller:

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but all the talk that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has basically "fixed" California by balancing the budget through a tax hike on high earners seems laughably off-base, at least to this Los Angeles native.

In a letter published today in the Post, Brown says Miller knocked down a straw man argument but missed the point about Proposition 30, the tax measure voters approved last November.

After years of massive budget instability, Prop 30 -- when added to $20 billion in new budget cuts -- restored fiscal balance to California. Closing a $27 billion budget gap ain't bupkis, Mr. Miller.

According to the Wiktionary, the word "bupkis" is yiddish, deriving from bobkes, which means "large beans" and kozebopkes, which means "goat droppings."

So there, Mr. Miller. How do you like those beans?

April 3, 2013
Rise & Opine: Will they serve green beer at Sonics Arena?

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been playing the P.R. card hot and heavy in the walk up to Wednesday's meeting with NBA owners in New York. But Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, leaders of the Seattle investment team attempting to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family, haven't just been sitting on their emerald seat cushions.

Over the weekend, they produced drawings of their new arena. A very green arena!

3-29-13-3_Ring_House_Reduction.jpg

If the NBA owners like green -- and they do, in the financial sense -- maybe they will be attracted to what Seattle is offering. But at least one survey shows that green is not a popular color, seen as unsafe, at least by purchasers of new cars.

The survey, conducted by Cheskin, MSI-ITM, and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library, found that the most popular color was blue, followed by purple. That's right, purple. Kings colors.

We will soon find out if the NBA owners feel safe in a green car. To drive it, they will need to junk a purple one -- a model that has proven dependable over the long haul.

Renderings courtesy of www.sonicsarena.com

March 19, 2013
Rise & Opine: Is cap-and-trade working in California?

Kudos to Thomas Elias. He's one of the first columnists statewide to suggest that California's cap and trade system, despite all the naysayers, might actually be working.

He might be right. It will take several auctions to know for sure if the state is on the right track. Dana Hull of the San Jose Merc has answers to 13 big questions about the state's cap and trade.

But Elias makes a good point "The fact most businesses paid nothing for 90 percent of their pollution allowances is a real positive." That's true, and hardly the message of some pundits who trash California's attempts to lead on reducing impacts of climate change. At the least, they should acknowledge that the state's first two auctions have defied the naysayers, including the litigious -- and often critical of litigation -- California Chamber of Commerce.

March 12, 2013
If you don't know Jack (Ohman), come meet him March 20

Jack Ohman photo.JPGHe blogs. He tweets. He's on Facebook. His political cartoons appear five or six times a week in The Sacramento Bee, and are syndicated nationally to more than 200 newspapers. In the parlance of modern newspaper-speak, he's the ultimate multi-platform content provider.

He's also entertaining in person. Don't believe me? Find out for yourself on Wednesday, March 20. That's when The Bee is hosting a free public event -- "Meet Jack Ohman" -- here, at 2100 Q Street, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Ohman, as I noted when we hired him back in October, is one of the most talented and lauded cartoonists working today. He has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award, the national SPJ Award, the National Headliner Award and the Overseas Press Club Award. Last year, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This year, he was a finalist for the Herblock Prize, one of the nation's most prestigious contests for cartooning.

He's also written and illustrated ten books, many of them about his off-time obsession, fly fishing.

A native of Minnesota, Ohman previously worked at the Columbus Dispatch, the Detroit Free Press and The Oregonian in Portland before joining The Bee at the start of this year. He succeeds our friend and great colleague Rex Babin, who passed away in March last year after a 15-month struggle with cancer.

If you want to check out Ohman's cartoons, daily blog and a video of his first day at work, find them at www.sacbee.com/ohman.

If you want to meet him in person, and hear his take on the Sacramento scene and California politics, attend the March 20 event. You can register by clicking on the "Bee Events" tab at www.beebuzzpoints.com.

March 11, 2013
Rise & Opine: 1,620 words to brag about downsizing?

The most emailed story on the New York Times web site, as I write this, is Graham Hill's provocative piece about getting rid of most of his worldly possessions, which he compiled after launching an Internet start-up and then deciding to live the good life in a 420-word apartment.

My only question is: Why he couldn't detail this in a 420-word story, instead of one nearly four times that length?

Don't get me wrong: I embrace longer-form journalism, and Hill's piece, at 1,620 words, isn't really very long. But if you are arguing for economy you should embrace it in every form. Walk the walk, talk the walk, and write the write.

Hill's piece could have been much shorter to make the same points -- longer than a tweet, but shorter than 1,620 words.

Suppose it were a series of very honest tweets? Some possibilities:

OMG: Too much stuff. Need to downsize. Maybe I could do it and sell the NYT Mag on a story, recouping some costs?

Oh crap, I have to get rid of my fondue pot? I really wanted to use that thing!

No room for nephew who just popped in! Wish I had rented a bigger crib so I wouldn't have to live with this weenie.

Magazine article sold. So glad I downsized. Famous! Maybe now I can move into a mid-century modern and buy some stuff.

Next stop for Hill: Buy a mansion and write some novels.

March 5, 2013
Rise & Opine: Why is telecommuting even an issue?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions, on days the writer is properly caffeinated.

hXZfN.Xl.4.jpeg.jpgShould employers let their employees telecommute? Certainly. It shouldn't even be an issue. But it becomes one when employers are lax about the conditions set on employees who work from home, either on a regular basis or temporarily.

All that is being lost in the furor over Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer and her edict on telecommuting.

February 26, 2013
Rise & Opine: Rubio, Rubio, wherefore art thou, Michael Rubio?

romeo_juliet-xgt4hj.jpgRise & Opine offers opinions on opinions, with varying levels of caffeine, three days a week.

Blast off
CEQA reform supporters and Democrats must be feeling a bit like Juliet in a Shakespeare tragedy, ever since Sen. Michael Rubio announced he was leaving the Senate to become a lobbyist at Chevron.

The move leaves Senate Democrats without a supermajority and leaves CEQA reformers without a moderate Democrat capable of bridging both extremes in the debate over modifying (or "updating" or "modernizing" or "gutting") the California Environmental Quality Act.

You can imagine his suitors alone on the balcony, speaking into the night:

O Rubio, Rubio, wherefore art thou, Rubio?
Deny thy father Chevron and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, etc., etc.

Too late. Rubio has made his decision, as mysterious as it may be. Yet the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle can't quite figure out what to make of it in a Monday editorial.

A legislator leaving office certainly has a right to earn a living, though there is something unseemly about a politician instantly joining a company that was so closely affected by his public work.

Unseemly, yes, especially if Chevron uses Rubio to elect a Republican in his old seat. That would make it harder for Democrats to retain the supermajority in the Senate in 2014, depending on what happens in other races. That would give the company a boost in its agenda, which includes changes to the low carbon fuel standard, delay in AB 32 implementation, loose fracking rules, etc.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to pine for Rubio:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Rubio would, were he not Rubio call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Rubio, doff thy name,
and for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Yep. We could sell tickets to this little drama.

This post was updated from the original to clarify that Rubio's departure is unlikely to have a permanent impact on the Democrats' supermajority until 2014.

February 25, 2013
Rise & Opine: Did Michelle Obama flub at the Oscars?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions, with varying levels of caffeine, three times a week.

Blast off

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post questions why Michelle Obama chose to introduce the Best Picture category at last night's Academy Awards, with a certain omission to the military service personnel standing behind her.

Alas, none of the films nor her aides reminded her to mention the military, not those personnel behind her nor those serving overseas, an odd omission for the White House that nevertheless was pleased to have them arrayed behind her like, well, set decoration.

Yes, an omission, but probably not worthy of a court martial.

February 12, 2013
Rise & Opine: Pope resigns, Flash Report, Dr. Oz, poop, etc.

Columns
In the New York Times, Rev. James Martin says that "Benedict XVI's resignation might be the most unexpected papal decision since the convening of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s." He seems excited. Others less so.

John Patrick Shanley says good riddance. Of Benedict XVI, he says: "He was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He'd been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women."

Yow.

February 11, 2013
Rise & Opine: Rogue cop, bag ban scares, Texas poker, etc.

Rise & Opine offers opinions on California opinions, three days a week.

Rogue Cop
The fugative hunt for Christopher Dorner is far from over, as I write this. But pundits are getting impatient. Here is what some are saying:

-- Timothy Rutten, writing in the L.A. Daily News, argues for an assault weapons ban, quoting from one of Dorner's online rants: "All the firearms utilized in my activities are registered to me and were legally purchased at gun stores and private party transfers..."

-- George Skelton, writing in the L.A. Times, also questions why someone like Dorner could so easily arm himself. Writes Skelton: "Some law-abiders do become violent criminals. And their kill rate too often increases with their firepower."

-- Hector Villagra, meanwhile, addresses what I see as the more immediate and pressing question -- why L.A. police mistakenly shot Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez in Torrance. "The public has yet to be told, more fundamentally, how officers could open fire on a vehicle that didn't match the make, color or license plate of the vehicle driven by Christopher Dorner," he writes.

February 6, 2013
Rise & Opine: Investors BD says Cali should frak, frak, frak!

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions about California at least three days a week.

Investors Business Daily, one of many publications who championed the shady mortgage practices that led to the bursting of the real estate bubble in California, now is chastizing us for not embracing fracking!

Says IBD,

Extracting oil from the Monterey Shale will require companies to engage in more intensive fracking and deeper, horizontal drilling, which has caused groups in environmentally sensitive California to warn of poisoned groundwater and the latest fantasy, the spawning of earthquakes.

Yes, the extreme earthquake threat that California faces is unlikely to be significantly increased by fracking, but the groundwater threat is real, and IBD just brushes it off. That is just what you would expect from a media outift headed by William O'Neil, an Oklahoma City native raised in Texas.

Editorials
The San Jose Mercury News all but endorses a challenger to Mike Honda for Congress, although that editorial board says lots of nice stuff about Honda.

The San Francisco Chronicle reaffirms its endorsement of the Klamath Pact, even though some enviros and at least one tribe says it doesn't go far enough in restoring salmon runs and ensurig quick dam removal.

February 4, 2013
Rise & Opine: Lance Armstrong lied - should readers sue?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions about California three times a week.

Sacramento political consultant Rob Stutzman has received lots of attention for his class-action lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, alleging the disgraced cyclist and his publishers knew or should have known his inspiration books "were works of fiction."

Stutzman has received a healthy amount of ribbing from his cohorts in town, with one Democratic consultant tweeting that he plans to file suit against Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman (former clients of Stutzman) because their books were less than truthful. More recently, with the blackout at the Super Bowl last night, some are asking on Twitter if Stutzman plans to file a class action lawsuit against the Superdome.

Yet beyond the jokes are serious questions about how far readers should go in attempting to hold authors accountable for mistruths, especially when lots of money was made from alleged lies.

January 30, 2013
Who is Pelosi for? Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers?

Granted, there are more important issues than football facing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, such as immigration, the Amgen giveaway and why the feds are cracking down on Mendocino County for attempting to implement California's medical marijuana law.

But, we can't help but asking: As a native daughter of Baltimore, is she rooting for the Ravens or the 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday?

As it turns out, Carla Maranucci has already confronted Pelosi on this question. The minority leader's answer is here.

What ever happened to Charm City?

January 29, 2013
Rise & Opine: How the Seattle media is covering the Kings saga

Seattle, a diverse and sophisticated city, is reacting with a mix of opinions to news that the the city may revive the Supersonics by stealing the Sacramento Kings:

-- Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes how the Kings, throughout the team's history, have been the most transient team in the NBA. His lead?

"Here We Stay" goes the chant of Kings fans hoping the team remains in Sacramento. "There They Go," though, more accurately describes the history of the franchise that might soon call Seattle home.
.

-- The Editorial Board of the Seattle Times, meanwhile, is remarkably restrained, noting the potential challenges of developing a new arena for an NBA team. (Sound familiar?)

January 28, 2013
Rise & Opine: Does Sacramento have an inferiority complex?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions being offered across California, three days a week.

Opinions
Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times offers this declarative statement in a news story about the Kings: "The pending loss of Sacramento's only big-league sports franchise is a blow to a city with a long-standing inferiority complex."

Oh darn. The secret is out. I had really hoped the Times wouldn't reveal that we all feel like losers in Sacramento, every single one of us. If anything, Megerian didn't convey just how morose we really are here. Our persistent sense of inadequacy is palpable. Just walk down the street and ask anyone how they feel. "Inferior" is the answer. And if the Kings leave? That will be it for this city. We might as well just commit collective suicide because, as everyone knows, a pro team is really what defines a city, right?

I searched through Megerian's news story for the factual basis to back up his conclusion. Perhaps there has been an academic study on Sacramento's inferiority complex I had missed? Perhaps a poll or some other data to provide basis for his assertion?

Nadda -- just a blanket statement by a reporter who has been in Sacramento since January of last year.

January 23, 2013
Rise & Opine: If Obama targets weed, will he take our guns?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on the opinions being offered across California, at least three days a week.

Commentary
Deborah J. Saunders pulls a well-worn trick out of the pundit's bag -- the art of false equivalency.

In a blog post and column, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist recounts the story of Matthew Davies, a 34-year-old Stockton medical marijuana dispensary owner who is facing a minimum of seven years in prison for his pot-grow warehouses that supply medical-marijuana clinics. Davies, in interviews with the New York Times and other media, said he got into the business because he trusted the Obama administration on promises it would not prosecute such operations. Saunders takes that "trust" of Davies to question if gun owners should trust the president's claim he won't confiscate the guns of law-abiding citizens.

Saunders offers quotes from Obama in her blog post to back up her argument that the president can't be trusted. But I'd urge you to look at those quotes closely. On several occasionals, Obama has made clear the federal government should not be targeting recreational users. But he also made clear he won't give "carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana."

January 22, 2013
Rise & Opine: Obama's inaugural speech praised, panned

Rise & Opine offers a Swarm of opinion from California and beyond on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

The first speech of Obama's second term
It may have been a holiday for some, but editorial writers were watching President Barack Obama's inaugural speech and offering these takes:

January 21, 2013
Rise and Opine: Obama inauguration, MLK Day, Los Angeles mayor

Martin Luther King Jr. Day quote by MLK:. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Editorials
Lots of California advice for President Barack Obama as enters his second term. The San Bernadino Sun and Long Beach Press Telegram urge him to cut spending and focus on education reform. The Desert Sun urges him to compromise.

My bottom-line advice to Obama: Try to make sure your daughter can use this phrase at the end of your term, as she did Sunday: "Good job, Dad. You didn't mess up."

January 16, 2013
Rise and Opine: High-speed rail, Friedman, Obama

Rise and Opine is your morning source, Monday through Wednesday, for California opinion, push back from readers and news tips collected with a bit of attitude by The Bee's editorial board. Send tips and suggestions to sleavenworth@sacbee.com.

Editorials
Is high-speed rail off track? The Bakersfield Californian doesn't think so, even though a powerful congressman from Kern County thinks it is a "field of dreams." The Californian argues that local governments will only lose by being bystanders to a project that is steaming ahead. It notes that the Bay Area is increasingly concerned about transit options; that negotiations with property owners have started on the alignment and that the state is in a better position, financially, to pursue big projects. "The winds are changing, and Kern County would be wise to adjust its sails," says the editorial.

Opinions
I got a chance to spend some time with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman backstage last week, when I had the privilege of introducing him for the Sacramento Speakers series. He made it clear he is increasingly disillusioned with President Barack Obama, and that is reflected in his column published today.

Push back
A few readers were upset that our new cartoonist Jack Ohman would make fun of our couch potato GOP House. I would suggest they, like potatoes, should not be so thin skinned. Jack's toon also made fun of Obama as being ineffectual. Take a second look at it, and the rest of his cartoons.

January 15, 2013
Rise and Opine: Jerry Brown, High Speed Rail, Obamacare

Rise and Opine is your morning source, Monday through Wednesday, for California opinion, push back from readers and news tips collected with a bit of attitude by The Bee's editorial board. Send tips and suggestions to sleavenworth@sacbee.com.

Editorials
Yesterday
, I noted all the positive editorials about Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal. As if on cue, UT San Diego (which used to be known as the San Diego Union-Tribune) rips into the governor's plan to fund education. The paper notes that $1.3 billion of the $6 billion dedicated to schools will actually go to "sate employees." Sate employees? I think the UT meant "state employees," but whatever. The point is a reasonable one: How much of the Prop. 30 money will actually go to classrooms, as opposed to members of the teachers unions that helped pass the measure?

Opinion
David Lazeras of the Los Angeles Times writes about the cat bite that turned into a $55,000 hospital bill. He argues that Obamacare might take a bite, or a least a nibble, from these kinds of charges.

Deadline
Friday is the deadine for engineering teams to submit design and build plans to build the first stretch of high-speed rail through the Fresno area. The high-speed rail authority is pushing ahead with the project, even though valley Republicans Kevin McCarthy and Jeff Denham say the project is a "field of dreams."

Push back
Richard B., a reader who often frequents the messages left on my voice mail, disagrees there are few transit options to and from the Sacramento International Airport, the point of our editorial Monday.

Richard says he has been pleased with the service provided by Super Shuttle. So I have I -- except, that is, when I am returning from the airport. Super Shuttle almost always picks us up on time. But on the return? My wife and I have had to wait an hour or longer for a shuttle to take us home, even when we have made reservations. We are a big enough city to have more competitive options than this.

And no, I don't want to prevail on friends for airport shuttles, no matter how generous they might be.

Did you miss it?
Sen. Michael Rubio and environmental attorney Tom Adams debate whether the state should make major modifications to its landmark 1970 statute, the California Environmental Quality Act. This will be a hot topic in this year's Legislature -- an ongoing focus of our Sunday California Forum section.

January 14, 2013
Rise and Opine: Michelle Rhee, Tom McClintock, Silicon Valley

Newsmaker
Michelle Rhee, former DC schools chief and Sacramento-based head of Students First, is the focus of a lengthy article in Sunday's Washington Post. Her star power so annoys the American Federation of Teachers that the AFT maintains a "Where is Rhee?" map on this web site with an image of Rhee wearing a crown.
Our own Ginger Rutland last week offered her own take on Rhee, whose tenure in DC the focus of a recent "Frontline" show.

Push back
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock is apparently no longer answering questions from Bee senior editor and columnist Dan Morain. Morain recently asked McClintock's communications aide, Jennifer Cressy, if he could interview McClintock about the congressman's views on disputes between California and Nevada on Lake Tahoe.

Cressy's response: "Civility makes it possible to discuss even the sharpest differences of opinion. When you question the loyalty and motives of an individual, as you did on Sunday, you abandon the civility that is the foundation of public discourse."

Cressy was referring to Morain's Jan. 6 column, in which he opined that, McClintock's "political machine of one" is the trend as California's GOP delegation in Congress becomes smaller and more conservative. "That doesn't bode well for California as it tries to get back some of the money it sends to Washington, and certainly not for the Sierra district McClintock represents."

Editorials
There was an armada of editorials over the last week on Gov. Jerry Brown's budget, mostly positive, in the nautical sense. The San Bernardino Sun said the plan "points the way to fiscal sustainability" but could be messed by Democrats in the Legislature, tempted to go on "a drunken sailor spending binge."

On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle opined on Gov. Jerry Brown's prison plan, partly agreeing with the governor that the state had made much progress on overcrowding, but also offering some guarded reservations, saying: "There is the great danger that California will retreat from pursuing more reforms and better treatment once the judges withdraw." By contrast, The Bee said clearly that the mission wasn't accomplished, whereas the Stockton Record said, "Enough."

Columns
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, who was in Sacramento last week, reflects on Silicon Valley's cutthroat competition and yet its ability to collaborate. By contrast, if Congress were a start-up, he writes, "the early stage investors would have long ago been wiped out and the firm shuttered."

Toonland
In case you missed it: Our own Jack Ohman offered another large-format cartoon on Jerry Brown, this one focusing on the governor's love of charts.

January 1, 2013
GOP House painted itself into corner on fiscal cliff

It now appears that the U.S House, controlled by Republicans, will approve a Senate bill to avert the fiscal cliff that includes a tax hike that House leaders said they would never endorse, even with corresponding spending cuts.

How did this happen?

They were completely out-maneuvered.

Remember, it was just 12 days ago when House Speaker John Boehner proposed his "Plan B" proposal, which would have included a tax hike, but only on the super rich -- those making more than $1 million yearly. But Boehner did not bring that tax plan up for a vote because, he said, "it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass."

Had House GOP members gone along with their leader, they would have sent the Democrat-controlled Senate a bill that Harry Reid would have hated, and that the Senate might well have rejected. If that had happened, then Republicans would now be in the position of blaming Democrats for potentially sending the nation over the fiscal cliff. Instead, it is Republicans worrying about saddling the blame, which is why they are about to blink in a dangerous, reckless, stupid game of fiscal chicken.

True, as I write this, the House has not yet voted. The whole thing could still blow up. But in all likelihood, the GOP-led House will vote to support a tax hike on families making more than $450,000 yearly, instead of a $1 million threshold, as Boehner had proposed. And they will do so close to midnight, or else risk the wrath of Asian stock markets, which will render a verdict as the clock approaches 12 pm EST.

Those on the left are angry at the Senate and Obama for agreeing to this deal. According to White House figures, Obama only gets to extract about $600 billion from the wealthy, instead of $1.6 trillion he originally sought. That means more hard decisions ahead to reduce the deficit -- quite likely, spending cuts that liberals oppose.

But in the world of Realpolitik, , Obama and his V.P., Joe Biden, totally kicked ass. They live to fight another day, whereas the GOP House, from its perspective, is forced to chose between really bad and assuredly worse.

This blog item was modified from the original to correct cost figures on what the Obama administration originally sought in a fiscal cliff deal.

May 25, 2012
U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine is coming to Sacramento

PHILLEVINE.jpgLast August, I had the privilege of interviewing and profiling Philip Levine, named by the Library of Congress to be the U.S. poet laureate.

Levine, winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, has long lived in the Central Valley but has made a career of writing about the gritty industrial heartland of places like Detroit, where he was born and grew up. I've known him since childhood in Fresno, where he and my father worked in the English Department of what was then known as Fresno State University.

Levine will soon be making an appearance in Sacramento. He is scheduled to speak on Saturday, June 2 at 7 p.m. as part of the "Summerwords" program at American River College. The event is sponsored by the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation and the American River College Foundation.

A few days later, I will be interviewing Levine in Fresno, in a June 5 public event sponsored by Zocalo Public Square. Entitled "Is social isolation a threat to democracy?," my interview with Levine will attempt to draw him out on how he sees the future of U.S. society in an era when people can easily tune out or retreat to their favorite political echo chambers.

It will be interesting to see how Levine addresses this question. As a poet, he has purposefully isolated himself for much of his career in Fresno, where he could focus on his writing. Sometimes, you could argue, an artist has to separate himself or herself to seek a greater truth.

Yet even in isolation, the best artists must stay connected with society and the audiences that will appreciate (and perhaps purchase) their work. Much of America is separating itself for far different reasons.

I am sure Levine won't be shy in laying those out.

Photo courtesy of Kurt Hegre of the Fresno Bee.

April 15, 2012
Gov. Jerry Brown declares April 15 to be 'Rex Babin Day'

Rex-Crowe.jpgYes, we know that governors issue gazillions of proclamations each year. But we thought that fans of our late editorial cartoonist would be cheered to know that Gov. Jerry Brown declared today to be "Rex Babin Day" in the state of California.

Here's a link to the governor's proclamation followed by the full text:

PROCLAMATION BY THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

"It is difficult not to write satire," observed the Roman poet Juvenal at the close of the 1st Century A.D. Few understand this basic truth better than political cartoonists who, 2000 years later, wield the power of caricature, parody, farce and lampoon in the pages of our newspapers.

Paul Conrad said that political cartooning "is a peculiar art form...but a necessary art form...and a noble art form." Rex Babin found his calling during a junior high field trip to the Los Angeles Times. After studying Conrad's Pulitzer Prize-winning work for the Times, young Rex dreamed that one day he, too, might join the pantheon of great political cartoonists. For Rex - a native of Walnut Creek who grew up in Pacific Palisades and Encinitas - that dream came true.

Over the past twelve years in Sacramento, Rex chronicled the pitfalls and foibles of politics in the Golden State and beyond. His pen rendered verdicts on every issue and individual of importance. He had the unique ability to make biting comments in a way that still managed to put a smile on your face. Those lucky enough to escape his scathing critique should feel slighted to have been overlooked.

Rex left us too soon, and life will never be the same for the family, friends and colleagues who knew the man behind the pen. But his wife, Kathleen, and his son, Sebastian, can hopefully find some solace in the fact that the State of California mourns this native son today.

A powerful voice is gone, but a legacy remains. Rex is best remembered - not with words - but with cartoons. For these were his life's work, shedding light and laughter amidst turbulent times, and becoming an indelible part of our history.

http://www.sacbee.com/babin

NOW THEREFORE I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim Sunday, April 15th, 2012 as "Rex Babin Day."

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 15th day of April 2012.

___________________________________
EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Governor of California

Well said.

Rex Babin cartoon by J.D. Crowe. Thank you J.D.

April 9, 2012
Rex Babin fans invited to public celebration of his life, work

Rex peace.JPGTo honor our dear friend and colleague, Rex Babin, The Sacramento Bee and Publisher Cheryl Dell are inviting his many fans to join family, friends and colleagues for a celebration of his life and work. The free public event will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at the Constitutional Wall Courtyard between the California Museum and the secretary of state's office at 1020 O St.

The event will feature an exhibition of Rex's cartoons and a multimedia program that will include a short film, "Breezer," that Rex and a friend produced to express their affection for Sacramento. His cartoons will be honored, dissected and possibly mocked by speakers, including friends and fellow cartoonists Joel Pett of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and Jack Ohman of the (Portland) Oregonian.

The Bee is producing a special commemorative magazine of Rex's cartoons that will be available, and there will be a silent auction of some of his best-known cartoons. Proceeds will go to a scholarship fund that The Bee and Rex's wife, Kathleen, have created for the couple's 10-year-old son, Sebastian.

If you'd like to contribute to the fund, donations can be made directly to the "Sebastian Babin Educational Fund" at any Bank of America branch.

To see a selection of Rex cartoons, and read tributes and an obituary of the late cartoonist, please go here.

February 28, 2012
Fish and Game Commission head says defiantly he won't resign

ZUMA_Fish And Game Chief.JPGDan Richards' critics want him ousted from the California Fish and Game Commission for killing a mountain lion in Idaho, where such hunting is legal. Those critics include Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and at least 39 other members of the Assembly.

But in a letter to Hueso today, Richards was adamant in refusing to step down. (Go here for Richards-Letter.pdf)

I will continue to hunt and fish wherever I please, as I have always done, ethically, licensed and proudly associating with true conservationists who daily fund, enjoy and enhance our bountiful resources while not trying to limit others enjoyment of same.There is ZERO chance I would consider resigning my position as President of the California Fish and Game Commission and it is my sincere hope that you and your colleagues reassess your request and instead work positively with our Commission...

Richards' letter was cc'ed to Gov. Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, which suggests he may be nervous about keeping his post. Groups that support California's ban on mountain lion hunting are gunning for -- ooops, strike that, wrong term -- seeking his removal.

Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society didn't think much of Richards's letter and its defiant tone. "The bad judgment train just keeps on rolling," she tweeted.

Photo credit: Whitehotpix/ZUMA24.com

February 6, 2012
What Alice Waters eats for breakfast, and why

Food Slow Food Nation.jpgLast week, I had the opportunity to interview Alice Waters for my Sunday column on plans by the famous Chez Panisse chef to bring the Edible Schoolyard Project to Sacramento.

At the end of the interview, I couldn't resist asking her what she had for breakfast that morning. Over the years, it has become a standing joke among Waters and her staff that journalists always ask that question, and so I did.

Her answer?

"There is a little whole wheat flat bread I make. I put it on the fire and spread it with hummus. And I have it with some Chinese tea."

Wait, I said, isn't that what you always have for breakfast?

"Well, you would think I would get tired of it, but I don't," she replied. "I always eat whole grains now because I had a high cholesterol level. Drinking the tea and eating the grains changed the whole thing in a year. So now I am a born again health food nut. But the good news is, it tastes really fantastic."

So there you have it. The chef who brought all kinds of rich French cookery to Northern California is now on a health kick.

Along with Paula Deen.

2008 photo of Alice Waters by Paul Sakuma / AP

January 18, 2012
Did Jerry Brown invent the word "declinist?"

California Governor.JPEG-03.JPGIn his State of the State address today, Gov. Jerry Brown twice used the word "declinist" in reference to "dystopian journalists" and others in California who bemoan "the impending decline of our economy, our culture and our politics."

Declinists? My immediate reaction was: Is the governor now inventing words?

The answer, as it turns out, is "no."

According to the handy Word Spy website, declinist was first used by writer Samuel P. Huntington in Foreign Affairs magazine in 1988, in reference to writers who claim the United States is declining on the world stage, either because of economic stagnation or excessive spending on military ventures. As Huntington wrote:

Although predominantly of a liberal-leftist hue, declinist writings reflect varying political philosophies and make many different claims.

More recently, other writers have used the terms "declinist" and "declinism," but as far as I am aware, the governor is the first (or one of the first) to use it to rebut the doomsayers of California.

And just who was Brown referring to as part of the "declinist" faction? If I get a chance, I plan to ask him.

No doubt, Joel Kotkin would be on the list, and perhaps Peter Schrag.

But was he also referring to The Bee's Dan Walters?

If so, I'd be shocked. Shocked.

November 8, 2011
Celebs and jokesters have fun with Herman Cain tweets

MIDLER THEATER REVIEW.JPGSteve Martin.jpgThe sexual harassment claims against Herman Cain are no fun for the women making the claims. They are not much fun for Cain, either. But they've given comedians plenty of, er...raw material.

Here is what actor Steve Martin tweeted last night:

Just realized that Herman Cain is an anagram for Reachin' man.

And here is what actress Bette Midler offered on Twitter.

Herman Cain was never vetted
About the women he had petted
Will all accusers form a line?
We have to stop at 999.

Undoubtedly, there are other smarty pants tweets out there. If you know of any (on any of the candidates) send 'em our way.

September 21, 2011
Jerry Brown irked by Jon Coupal, John and Ken, Flash Report

20110914_ha_brown_bills31891.JPGIn today's New York Times story on Jerry Brown being "tripped up" by the shift in politics in California, the governor expresses irritation at the power exercised by a quartet of GOP players:

"Four people control the Republican Party. Jon Coupal, who works for Howard Jarvis; Grover Norquist; the Ken and John talk show; the guy who does the Flash Report. Any two of those can stop any bill in the Legislature where Republicans are needed. They basically work for them. They are like, when I was growing up, the Catholic Church had something called the Legion of Decency. The Legion of Decency rated the films. And if you got it condemned you couldn't go to the movie, or it was a moral sin.
"Well, these four people form a Legion of Acceptability. If they give you a condemnation there's no way to get them to vote."

I have to say, Jerry is showing his age a bit with this analogy. Few Californians, I would guess, have heard of the Legion of Decency, partly because is was renamed in 1966 as the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures and generally has waned in influence. (And just for the record, it is the "John and Ken Show," not Ken and John, and the "guy who does the Flash Report" is Jon Fleischman).

The gist of the Times' piece is that Gov. Brown now "appears bewildered and stunned by how much Sacramento has changed since he first served."

Really? I can't help but wonder if the Brown machine is floating this line as part of a carefully crafted effort to make the governor appear to be a Capitol outsider, independent of Democratic and Republican lawmakers that, based on recent polls, are so despised by voters.

What do you think?

Bee photo/ Hector Amezcua
Sutter lays low as Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown go over a bill with staff on Friday, Sept. 16.

July 26, 2011
Make your voice heard on debt ceiling showdown

President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders say they want to hear from the American people on the debt ceiling crisis. Take them up on their offer. We've made it easy to contact them on The Swarm.

You can reach the White House, Senate and House of Representatives by telephone or by email.* Here's how:

White House
By email, click here.

By phone: White House comment line: 202-456-1111
White House switchboard: 202-456-1414

U.S. Senate

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

U.S. House of Representatives

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

*Be advised that, due to the volume of calls and emails, switchboards and email servers may be overloaded.

Editorial: Boehner, Obama need to end this manufactured debt crisis
July 20, 2011
Letter writing campaign on behalf of CTA backfires
Meyer713.JPGWe knew we'd get some strong reaction to Tom Meyer's recent cartoon slamming the deal that lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown snuck through the end of the session on behalf of the influential California Teachers Association.

Did we expect a letter writing campaign?

No, but it's further proof the cartoons are among the most effective forms of commentary. And another good reason to run the cartoon again.

As you might recall, the CTA managed to get teacher protection provisions included in a last-minute budget trailer bill, as The Bee's Kevin Yamamura reported late last month.

No one blames the CTA for fighting hard for its members. But many (including The Bee's editorial board) have wondered why lawmakers would approve such a measure, given all their rhetoric about "realignment" and letting "locals" handle local decisions.

If school districts face further cuts this year and yet teachers are protected, what will the districts do? Reduce the length of the school year?

Meyer posed that question in his cartoon, and within days, we had received hundreds of letters likely ginned up by the CTA or its supporters. We published a few on our letters pages that, based on our judgment, reflected the writer's own thoughts, as opposed to those on a form letter.

One of the instigators appears to be Dean Ramser, a teacher in Bellflower. He sent this message out and, for some reason, cc'd us:

This offensive cartoon ran today in the Sac Bee and SF Chron. Let's flood them with letters! 

As usual, such campaigns tend to backfire. Today, we ran a letter from a writer who received an email from the CTA saying she express her outrage. Instead of doing so, she wrote this to us:

I am outraged that every time the overpaid, self-serving, self-important CTA union bureaucrats get attacked, they try to turn it into an attack on teachers. CTA does not represent students, period. For that matter, it does not even truly represent teachers.

In my view, CTA does represent teachers. It is unfortunate, however, that so many of them would reflexively engage in a campaign aimed at stifling a particular point of view.
 
July 8, 2011
Could Sacramento become a 'modern-day Atlantis'?

SNN2005JJatlantisNE_737370a.jpgHaving advanced my career by writing about the perils of floods and other natural disasters, I understand the desire of a journalist to grab readers by the collar and scream at them: Be scared. Be very scared!

Even so, I winced reading Alex Prud'homme's piece Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, with its alarming headline: 'California's Next Nightmare: How a failing levee system could turn Sacramento into a modern-day Atlantis.'

Atlantis? Really?

To begin with, Atlantis was an island, and it sank into the sea - a large body of saltwater - in a single day, according to Plato's account.

Secondly, scholars are unsure if this mythical island ever existed.

So could Sacramento become a modern-day Atlantis? Sure, and we could also become a modern-day Elysian Fields, final resting place of the heroic and virtuous.

Beyond that, there's the problem of how Prud'homme - and whoever edited his piece - handles the science of Sacramento's flood risk. In a paragraph that describes Sacramento as "the most flood-prone city in the nation," we see these sentences: "Experts warn that there are two events that could destroy the levees and set off a megaflood. One is an earthquake; the second is a violent Pacific superstorm."

This is about half right. Sacramento's big threat is a Pineapple Express that dumps massive volumes of precipitation simultaneously into the watersheds of the American and Feather rivers, the latter of which flows into the Sacramento River upstream of the city.

But earthquakes?

That is a serious threat only to levees far downstream of Sacramento, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Quake-punctured levees could inundate hundreds of square miles of Delta farmland and disrupt the water system of much of California. But Sacramento is too far upstream to be affected.

Along those same lines, the article suggests a megaflood in the Delta could shut down water exports. "Saltwater would be sucked from the (San Francisco) Bay (in what is known as a big gulp) and impelled into the delta, contaminating drinking supplies for 25 million people."

Again, the science is a bit off. An earthquake in dry times could indeed destroy Delta levees and flood the land they protect, resulting in saltwater being sucked from the Bay. But a megaflood? It would break levees but also bring behind it a continuous and large flow of freshwater, keeping saltwater at bay.

The basic point of Prud'homme's piece - that a megaflood in Delta may be inevitable - can't be disputed.

But why no mention of the mega-levee being built in Natomas? Or the new spillway on Folsom Dam? Is Sacramento really doing nothing to avoid becoming "a modern-day Atlantis?"

Given that Prud'homme just came out with a highly praised book on water - "The Ripple Effect" - and previously collaborated with Julia Child on her best-selling autobiography, "My Life in France," I had expected more.

But enough of this rant.

Given that the New York Times has now declared that Sacramento has no future, I need to go home and tie my canoe to a second-floor window.

May 8, 2011
Maloofs are back, but what about Rex Babin? Not yet
3ED4BABIN.standalone.prod_affiliate.4.jpgRex Babin sent us a well-timed cartoon last week on the Maloofs, the sheepish owners of the Kings. That prompted many of his fans to cheer, "Rex is back!"

Not yet. Rex is still on leave for health reasons, but from time to time, he hopes to send us a cartoon or two. The more, the merrier. Like you, we miss Rex - both his work and his contribution to the editorial board.

Sacramento is a better place when his cartoons are in The Bee.
March 24, 2011
Orange County Register: No special bonds for Anaheim arena
The Orange County Register today fired a shot across the bow of attempts to lure the Maloofs to Anaheim in an editorial headlined, "Welcome Kings with open arms, not open wallets."

"The owners of the Sacramento Kings reportedly have been in talks about moving their NBA franchise from the state capital to Orange County," the paper's editorial board wrote. "We welcome the idea of a Kings' proposal to move to Orange County. If the owners were to do so, they would be welcomed by a vibrant fan base very fond of our sports teams."

"We support the move, however, with one caveat:" 

No taxpayer subsidies to get the team here. No taxpayer-financed sports arenas. No special bonds to pay for renovations to the Honda Center, where the team presumably would play.
No special bonds? Does that mean the Register would oppose use of public bonds to spruce up the Honda Center, even if those bonds were paid back with private money?

Maybe. Maybe not. The editorial quotes Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait as saying that "a financing structure is being proposed that would allow for private investment to fund improvements at Honda Center."

This also sounds promising, though, the devil usually tends to be in the details.
Yes, those details. One of them involves what would happen if billionaire Henry Samueli and his ownership group were to default on paying back the bonds. Taxpayers would then be on the hook.

Is that too much of a hurdle for taxpayer activists in Orange County, including The Register? We will wait and see.

Update: In the above post, I may have been presumptuous in stating that "taxpayers would then be on the hook" if Samueli ever defaulted. As a reader has noted, the original bonds that were used to build the Honda Center included a letter of credit from Credit Suisse pledging to make good in case of a default. In all likelihood, the city would try to get Credit Suisse (or some other bank) to do a similar co-sign on the loan for any arena-upgrade bonds.

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.

August 4, 2010
Coming Thursday: Dueling op-eds from Dems and Reeps on state budget proposal

Our Viewpoints page on Thursday will feature dueling op-eds from Democrats and Republicans on the budget proposal floated Tuesday by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

Here's an excerpt from Steinberg and Perez's piece:

Sadly, the Governor and legislative Republicans have not stepped up with realistic solutions; instead they irresponsibly refuse to compromise and insist on an exclusively ideological approach that will wipe out hundreds of thousands of jobs for teachers, cops, firefighters, and the employees and owners of small businesses throughout California. That is not a future Californians want.

And here is an excerpt from the op-ed by Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth and Assembly Republican Leader Martin Garrick:

The Democrats claim these huge tax increases will have a negligible impact on most Californians because they can be written off as a tax deduction on federal income taxes. The problem is that only 38 percent of California taxpayers itemize their deductions, typically higher-income earners. Those who don't - the poor, seniors, renters and working families - will be hit the hardest.

Check back here after midnight tonight for both opinion articles. You can read The Bee's take on the proposal here.

July 20, 2010
Cyclists wonder: Will Mark Williams' career swerve into a ditch?

2W20WILLIAMS_embedded_prod_affiliate_4.jpgIf Mark Williams' latest foot-in-mouth episode ends up costing him jobs and income - and that remains to be seen - the NAACP will declare victory.

And so will another group - bicyclists.

Long before Williams became the disgraced mouthpiece of the national tea party movement, and long before he mocked the NAACP and suggested that African Americans would rather be enslaved than work for their own betterment, the former Sacramento radio shock-mock got in trouble by suggesting that motorists should swerve at bicyclists.

Williams, a host for KFBK, made the comment on Feb. 24, 2005 during a guest appearance on KSTE in Sacramento with co-host Jamie Coffee. The comment stirred up cycling groups nationwide, partly because Clear Channel radio personalities had previously made comments that suggested that motorists should endanger cyclists. Those comments prompted a settlement with the League of American Bicyclists and an apology from Clear Channel's CEO.

After Williams and Coffee gave Clear Channel another black eye, prompting complaints from the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, KSTE suspended Williams and Coffee, issued another apology and started airing public service announcements on bicycle safety.

"Both station management and the talent understand the importance of automobile and bicycle safety. In fact, Regional Vice President/Market Manager Jeff Holden is an avid cyclist," wrote Omar Thompson, Clear Channel's VP of Marketing & Communications, in a letter to SABA.

Quoted today in a story in The Bee, Tea Party fundraiser Sal Russo came to Williams' defense, saying "he doesn't have a racist bone in his body."

"Mark is the quintessential talk-show host of the 20th century who thrives on controversy and contentiousness," Russo said. "That's what drives his ratings."

Sorry Sal, but Williams isn't just about controversy. He has a pattern of repeatedly making reckless and offensive comments, which prompts him to self-destruct, apologize or lash out. Because of apologists like Russo, he can easily rebrand himself and find another forum for his bile.

I'm surprised Russo would even attempt to defend him. But then again, perhaps Russo hasn't ever been run off the road by a motorist with malice.

June 8, 2010
Curve balls and slam dunks on election day
sticker.JPGThis is a tough day to be both a sports junkie and a political junkie.

In the sporting world, we Stephen Strasburg making his first start as a major league pitcher, amid overwhelming hype.

Then we have pivotal Game 3 of the NBA finals, featuring the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers.

My guess is that turnout will be particularly low in Southern California after 6 p.m. But from what I can tell, it ain't too hot in Sacramento at the moment.

I voted at my midtown precinct at 10:30 a.m., and was only the 47th voter to do so.

Excuse the sports metaphor, but in terms of voter engagement, the June 7 primary is looking like an air ball.

May 28, 2010
Scorecard on endorsements for ballot propositions
logo.pngA non-profit called CaliforniaChoices.org has put together a handy compendium of endorsements for the June 8 ballot propositions by various organizations and newspapers. You can find it here.

There are some striking difference between how interest groups and the media are approaching these ballot props. Almost all newspapers, including The Bee, have come out against Proposition 16, the constitutional amendment by PG&E that would allow it to more easily block competition from public power agencies. Most newspapers also favor Proposition 14, the open primary measure.

Yet among the interest groups, there are stark divisions between labor and business, liberal and conservative groups, on these two measures, as you would expect.
May 26, 2010
Obama: Oil spill 'heartbreaking' but life (and fundraising) goes on
image6412968x.jpgToday's editorial in The Bee hits the Obama administration's slow response to the Gulf oil spill and urges the president to get behind efforts to restore the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and Mississippi, which have shrunk by a third the last 80 years.

The Obamans say they are on top of the crisis, but that didn't prevent the president from flying to San Francisco last night to host a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer that netted more than $2 million, according to the Washington Post.

During his speech, Obama called the oil spill "heartbreaking" but added that "the reason that folks are going to have to go down a mile deep into the ocean (to drill for oil)...is because the easy oil fields and oil wells are gone, and they're starting to diminish."

Since when did the oil industry become "folks"?

The president makes it sound like the Beverly Hillbillies are leading the exploration efforts in the Gulf.

Of course, given the way BP has handled the crisis, perhaps that comparison is appropriate.
May 19, 2010
More Prop. 16 propaganda from our friends at PG&E
photo.jpgTo the right is the latest Proposition 16 mailer that Pacific Gas & Electric is sending to households in conservative areas through its front group, "Californians to Protect Our Right to Vote."

Prop. 16 would make it harder for public power agencies to expand and serve areas that don't want to pay PG&E's rates. To block such expansions, PG&E is trying to mislead voters into thinking that public power expansion hurts taxpayers when, actually, the opposite is true.

Consumers and businesses served by agencies such as SMUD enjoy cheaper electricity than their PG&E counterparts. If Prop. 16 passes, PG&E would arguably be in a better position to seek excessive rate hikes since there'd be less threat of public power agencies trying to move in on its territory.

The flier above is particularly obnoxious. It suggests that state deficits and debt would increase if Prop. 16 did not pass. That's completely bogus. PG&E execs would be laughed off the stage if they tried to make such a claim in a public forum, but by sending their fliers through a stealth group, they don't have to face such accountability.
May 7, 2010
So who will The Bee endorse in the GOP race for governor: Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner?
In Sunday's paper, we will offer our endorsements in the two contests that have caused us the most heartburn in the run-up to the June 8 primary -- Sacramento Sheriff and the GOP nomination for governor.

We could have taken a pass on both these races. On Friday, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times took a pass on both the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial primary and devoted a considerable amount of ink to explaining that decision.

In the GOP primary, we endorsed Tom Campbell for U.S. Senate on April 18. And as I explained in a column Sunday, California voters don't deserve the choices of Steve Poizner, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown for governor. But as I wrote, abstaining is not an option.

All of us get angry when lawmakers take a pass and abstain from crucial votes that might come back to haunt them. We can't follow their example. As voters, our only choice is to drill down on the candidates, press them to address the important issues and make an informed call at the end of the day.
So stay tuned to Sunday's opinion page when we offer endorsements in two tough races.
April 22, 2010
Just in time for Earth Day - endangered species condoms
BiolDiv_CB_Rock-Frog.jpgThe Center for Biological Diversity is a controversial and litigious bunch, but they deserve a tip of the act for the most inventive Earth Day souvenirs -- endangered species condoms.

The environmental group is distributing 250,000 of these free condoms at Earth Day events today to highlight the threat overpopulation poses to flora and fauna.

To help people understand the impact of overpopulation on other species, and to give them a chance to take action in their own lives, the Center is distributing free packets of Endangered Species Condoms depicting six separate species: the polar bear, snail darter, spotted owl, American burying beetle, jaguar, and coquí guajón rock frog.

It should be noted that not all analysts see overpopulation as a leading environmental threat. Author Fred Pearce, for instance, notes in this essay that overconsumption by the developed world, not growing population in the Third World,  "has been driving humanity's impacts on the planet's vital life-support systems during at least the past century."

Even so, we imagine that Pearce would get a chuckle out of Endangered Species Condoms. They won't put a stopper on the population debate, but they will certainly give it more attention.
April 8, 2010
Will attack ad - and its demise - help or hurt Allan Zaremberg?
bio_azaremberg.jpgThe California Chamber of Commerce pulled its attack ad on Jerry Brown today, giving new meaning to the cliche about a celebrity's 15 minutes of fame.

The television ad had barely aired before it came under criticism from several quarters, ranging from Jerry Brown's campaign to this editorial page to Mark Yudof, the UC President who serves on the Chamber's board.

Frankly, I am disappointed that Cal-Chamber President Allan Zaremberg pulled it so quickly, since it was highly entertaining and we had barely gotten started dissecting its distortions and political miscalculations.

 But it's likely that Joel Fox is more disappointed. He mounted a spirited defense of the ad minutes before Zaremberg pulled it. Oh well.

None of this will likely matter next week, much less in November, but one has to wonder: Will it help or hurt Zaremberg?

On one hand, he angered part of his board and wasted his members' money on ads that now will be a collector's item on YouTube. Yet he also fired a shot across the brow of the quixotic Brown campaign, which is already facing a expensive runoff with presumptive nominee Meg Whitman and her bottomless pit of wealth.

Following June, can Jerry fight a war on two fronts? Meg and the Chamber, kissing in a tree? 

Stay tuned. Small is beautiful, except when you are trying to run for California governor.
 
April 5, 2010
Should California open its waters to further oil extraction?
oil_rig_california_offshore_calm_sea1.jpgIn yesterday's New York Times, energy consultant Michael Lynch argues that Obama's oil drilling plan is a "bold political move" but won't do much to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil, unless...

We go for oil off the California coast...

Lynch, the former director of the Asian energy and security working group at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes:

We know from earlier operations that it (California) has significantly more resources than the all the newly opened areas combined. Yet most extraction there came to an abrupt halt in January 1969, after a Union Oil platform off Santa Barbara spilled more than 80,000 barrels into the ocean. There are still 40 or so active leases there that now produce some 40 million barrels a year safely. They have given us a good understanding of the geology, thus exploration would be quicker and less costly than in unknown areas, and the return more certain.

This area, especially off Southern California, has an estimated 7.5 billion to 14 billion barrels of oil and 13 trillion to 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It could probably generate as much revenue as the other newly released areas combined; the oil, not having to be piped from northern Alaska, would be cheaper to harvest. While California drilling is one of the third rails of American politics, the federal government forgoing at least $20 billion a year in taxes seems unwise.

What do you think? While I'm no fan of increased consumption of fossil fuels, California's imports of oil have increased 25 percent since 1995, with much of that oil coming from far-flung places such as Ecuador. Is it time to at least consider additional oil extraction off the state's coast? If it were coupled with retiring old oil platforms and pumping tax revenues into California's depleted coffers, would you support it? Where do you stand?


March 15, 2010
Suggest campaign slogans for Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner
California Governor2.jpgHundreds of readers responded two weeks ago when The Swarm solicited less-than-serious campaign slogans for Jerry Brown upon his official entry into the governor's race.

But why should Jerry get all that free advice?

Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are in desperate need of slogans. (Meg's is "A New California." To which we say, "zzzzz.")

So before this campaign goes further, let's harness our collective brainpower on behalf of these two candidates.

Here's some offerings from this corner:

Whitman: Money that experience can't buy

Poizner: Because only a nerd can save California

Whitman: Untainted by politics or the ballot box

Poizner: You'll flip for this flop


Surely you can do better. Using the format above and the comments box below, offer us your campaign slogans for each candidate. We'll run the best in Sunday's Forum Section.
March 2, 2010
Suggest your own Jerry Brown campaign slogan
cv_pic_74.jpgJerry Brown is slated to announce his candidacy for governor in three hours, which gives you and me a little time to suggest possible campaign slogans for the 71-year-old former governor who wants to be governor again.

Jerry's current Web site includes the slogan "standing-up for Californians," but that is unlikely to last. The slogan is problematic on at least two fronts.

For one, there is no need for the hyphen between 'standing' and 'up.' (Jerry needs an editor, as do we all.)

Secondly, it suggests a subtle bias against people who can't stand up. What does Jerry have against people who are immobile?

There are endless possibilities for a truly original Jerry Brown campaign slogan. Here are a few. Feel free to suggest others.

"Fighting for California even before Cheap Trick was a band"

"Still Zen after all these years"

"Why Gerrymander when you can Jerrymander?"

"A retread we can believe in"

"Back to the future with Brown"

Surely you can improve on this batch. Post your suggestions below.
February 12, 2010
Does The Bee endorse Kevin Johnson's 'strong mayor' lite?
Mayor Kevin Johnson and his supporters declared in an email blast today that The Bee's editorial board has endorsed the mayor's "new consensus plan" on a strong mayor.

Nice try, mayor.

As we stated in an editorial Thursday, the mayor is "getting closer to getting it right on his strong-mayor plan." But we are not in favor of a rush to the ballot.

We think that Sacramento would be well served by mayor that has more authority to improve the city than past and current mayors have enjoyed. But we don't support the mayor's timetable on when the council should put together a consensus plan. That was clear in our editorial.

Perhaps the mayor and his supporters missed this section and other sections of the editorial:

He is urging the council to fast-track his plan on to the June 8 ballot, which would force a vote by Feb. 23 - too ambitious a timetable for such momentous changes. Johnson has not made a convincing case why the package can't wait until November.

Oh, what the heck. Politicians of every stripe misrepresent what our editorials on a daily basis. Why should KJ and his folks be any different?

At least he and others are paying attention. They should keep doing so.
January 20, 2010
Letter from the Devil to Pat Robertson
Haiti Pat Robertson.jpgFor pundits and commentators, Pat Robertson is the gift that keeps on giving.

His bone-headed comment that Haiti's earthquake was the result of a "pact to the devil" continues to spark inspired retorts.

Here's a mock "Letter from the Devil to Pat Robertson" that the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently published from a reader.

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake.

Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat....

To read the rest of this letter, go here. 
January 19, 2010
BOE ('Building of Evil') is more spooky than column suggested
My column on Sunday jested that the state hire an exorcist to rid the defective Board of Equalization building of its demons. That brought this response from one former BOE employee, who managed to survive years of leaks, mold, falling windows, etc.

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. Plus before BOE had better security, an irate taxpayer managed to get into the building and make his way to the 14th floor with a gun and terrify people...Some people never got over that and never came back to work.
Further evidence the building is haunted.

In my column, I noted that it's not unprecedented for exorcists to work on buildings, sometimes providing pro bono services. An example is the Hampton Lillibridge house in Savannah, where a bishop was called into rid the old mansion of ghosts. That brought this response from another faithful reader:

There could be a problem with exorcists doing "pro bono" work.  It may be the reason that the exorcism at the Hampton Lillibridge house was a failure.  It was done by an Episcopalian bishop "pro bono" (no charge). That's what happens when you don't pay the exorcist: You get re-possessed.

January 12, 2010
Good news, bad news and toxic news at the ports
Good news: Cargo moving through the state's two big ports in Southern California was higher in December than the same month a year ago. That's the first such jump in 28 months, the Los Angeles Times reports today, and it suggests an economic recovery is underway.

Bad news: It's a hardly cause for celebration if California's recovery hinges on massive shipments of cheap goods from China to U.S. retailers. During the boom, the state's dependence on port commerce required huge infusions of public dollars for transportation and new regulations to protect nearby communities from polluting trucks and port equipment. 

Toxic news: Some of the Chinese goods shipped through California ports last year included jewelry and other toys laced with cadmium, a toxic metal. The Associated Press recently published an investigation of cadmium in certain Chinese goods. That report has prompted federal authorities to act and Wal-Mart to pull the toxic jewelry and toys off its shelves.

November 28, 2009
Poetry in response to 'Don't be a Blofeld with a leaf blower'
As a noted in a notebook today, my Nov. 12 column on leaf blowing has stirred up a pile of response.

One reader, Rich Borgquist, captured this sequence of photos while a neighbor was leaf blowing near the corner of 21st and F.

mail.google.com.jpg
DSC06127.jpgDSC06128.jpg

Another reader, Kathy Les, sent me this poem she had written about leaf blowers.

 

The gardener tugs at the motor's throat,

the machine growls like a wild animal

as if enraged at trees.

 

The unnecessary noise of a machine

Doing what a human's arms might otherwise do.

 

The way the man does so without concern

For his health or mine,

The way he mindlessly blows on and on,

Even though the wind always

Returns the righteous chaos of the earth

And scatters the leaves in beautiful indignation.

 

Kathy Les

October 19, 2009

November 24, 2009
Governor's office, adept at puns, still has some 'splainin' to do
Who ever knew that the Schwarzenegger administration retained an office that spends its days writing witty puns? (And how did that office survive the last round of budget cuts?)

In a letter today, the director of the Governor's Recovery Task Force, Cynthia Bryant, takes issue with a recent editorial we ran on state attempts to secure federal stimulus dollars for rail projects. The editorial criticized the governor for seeking federal monies only for the high-speed bullet train in the latest round of funding, which excluded safety improvements sought by commuter rail operators in Southern California.

The first lines of Bryant's response:

The Bee's editorial on funding for rail projects left the station with no conductor. The Bee simply ignored the fact that the state applied for more than a $1 billion in stimulus funds for commuter rail projects earlier this year...

and then later

I implore The Bee to get a ticket and get on board because Californians are anxious to get to work on a visionary project for the 21st century.

Great punditry, but unfortunately, the letter sidesteps one of the main points of the editorial. Up until the state's filed its application, Caltrans officials had been working with commuter rail operators to put together a "unified proposal" that would include safety improvements not funded by earlier rounds of funding. At the last minute, the governor decided only to seek funding for high-speed rail.

In other words, the governor pulled the rug out from under Southern California transit officials, who will be sure not to trust the governor's office again, any time soon.

Interestingly, when I contacted the governor's offices for comment while researching our editorial, I got a return call from a public relations firm that is on contract with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

That says much about who has the governor's ear on this issue.
October 22, 2009
Do you have a compelling story to tell, in 800 words?

ACW_DR__NATHAN_FAIRMAN_2.JPGSeveral weeks ago, an emergency room doctor named Nathan Fairman made contact with our pages. He inquired if we might publish his essay about how cuts in county mental health programs were filling his ER with people in desperate need of psychiatric treatment.

His essay required some slight editing, but it was packed with a powerful descriptions.

Patients with severe mental illnesses, wrote Fairman, were waiting on gurneys at the UC David Medical Center for days before being treated.

"One woman with schizophrenia was discharged with her doctors fully aware that there was some danger she might hurt herself or deteriorate further," he wrote. "The doctors' only other option, though, was to keep her on a gurney in the hallway."

We published Fairman's article, "ERs bear brunt of cuts to mental health," on the Viewpoints page on Oct. 10. I mention it because it represents a type of commentary, and a standard of writing, that we want to bring to these pages more frequently.

A doctor at UC Davis Medical Center, Fairman had not written for The Bee before. He wasn't a professional journalist. But he was angered by what he believed was an injustice that was overlooked in our community. As an ER doctor, he was in a unique position to chronicle what was happening.

As an editorial page editor, I wish I could find more Nathan Fairmans. No, I am not looking for doctors to fill our pages. I'm looking for unexpected voices. I'm looking for people of various occupations and backgrounds who can write with passion and personal knowledge of what they know best.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

October 3, 2009
The return of The Swarm
bee_hive_spl470_470x303.jpgThere's hasn't been much buzz around The Swarm lately, but that is about to change.

In coming weeks and months, we'll be using this blog to keep you posted on plans for our opinion pages and Forum section.

New national columnists, new local voices, a new look for our print pages and an overhaul of our online opinion pages - all in the works.

As I noted in a column last week, these changes won't happen in a vacuum and they won't happen overnight. I'm working to solicit your input, and give it the consideration it deserves.

The first step starts tonight. We've put together an on-line survey so you can tell us your favorite, and least favorite, syndicated columnists we publish. You can also suggest outside columnists that we should add to our roster.

I'm looking forward to the results -- especially your suggestions on outside pundits who can have some fresh ideas and a unique style.

You can find the survey on our opinion page tonight, after midnight and perhaps earlier. It will stay there through Saturday, Oct. 10. 
March 22, 2009
Full Q&A: Should Sacramento legalize a tent city for the homeless?
Thumbnail image for ACW HOMELESS SKYLINE.JPGIn my column today, I examine proposals for a sanctioned tent city in Sacramento as an alternative for the homeless who are camping illegally near the American River.

The proposal has not only divided the community, it has divided homeless advocates. Two of these are lawyer Mark Merin and Robert Tobin, president of Cottage Housing.

On the jump are short biographies of Merin and Tobin and a full, unedited transcript of an online dialogue I conducted with them in recent weeks.
March 2, 2009
Audio: Jesse Jackson on Obama and knocking down walls
RP JESSE JACKSKON MAYOR.JPGThe Rev. Jesse Jackson stopped by the Sacramento Bee's editorial board today, where he touted the potential for volunteerism, the message of the day for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. I was more interested in Jackson's take on President Barack Obama and how Jackson felt while hearing Obama's speech to Congress last week.

In his lyrical, rambling, entertaining way, Jackson expounded on the subject, recounting the history of the civil rights movement and adding that Obama's election "was like the last lap of a 60 year race."

"Strong runner, smart runner, but we have gone from walls to bridges....The demolition crew paid a big price knocking down walls."

Here where Jackson talks about the substance of Obama's speech:
jesse1.mp3

Here's where he talks about his emotions of recent weeks.
jesse2.mp3

Here's he sums up what it was like to be in Grant Park in Chicago, watching Obama's victory speech on election night.
jesse3.mp3 
February 20, 2009
Niello and Steinberg defend the budget they helped enact
On Sunday, The Bee's Forum section will include separate op-eds from Assemblyman Roger Niello and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on the budget the governor signed today.

Niello discusses the reforms he and other Republicans sought as a condition for their votes, and explains why a resolution was imperative. An excerpt:

The consequences of not agreeing to a budget now were too severe and simply not an option. As California continued to face a severe cash shortage, having more bills to pay than money to pay them, the bus that is California's state government would have continued to go over the cliff and had a resulting negative impact on everyone.

The most disastrous scenario would have required IOUs to be issued for payroll and tax refunds, and small counties would have gone bankrupt, resulting in the complete stoppage of many services. There would likely have been health clinic and hospital closures statewide. Unemployment would skyrocket. At some point, the state's ability to issue bonds would completely stop and road construction and public works projects would grind to a halt.

Steinberg, by contrast, focuses on the agenda he hopes to pursue now that the budget nightmare is behind us, or at least put off for a few months. One item on his list is water:

California indisputably has a water-supply crisis. Drought conditions threaten the economic viability of its agriculture industry and could lead to shortages for communities all over the state. For too long, this has been a partisan issue. It's well past time to recognize that water shortages know no party. We must look for ways to stabilize our water supply using a variety of methods, and do so on a bipartisan basis.

To read the full versions of these op-eds, check back with The Bee's opinion pages on Sunday.
February 19, 2009
Chiang takes issue with "grandstanding" by Maldonado
Controller John Chiang has been a persistent target of Sen. Abel Maldonado during the budget negotiations, as noted in an earlier entry. Chiang isn't really happy about that. Without mentioning Maldonado by name, Chiang says the senator is "grandstanding" and is mispresenting a $1 million expenditure by the controller to renovate and consolidate his offices.

Chiang recently sent a letter to Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg laying out his version of the matter, and you can find it here.STEINBERG letter 2-13-09 CW1.pdf
February 19, 2009
Arnold pulls an open primary rabbit out of his hat
All the attention this morning is on Sen. Abel Maldonado, the Santa Maria Republican who cast the critical vote for California's budget package just hours ago.

But no matter how much you blame him for the state's budget mess, you have to hand it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He helped engineer the final deal, and got something he wanted in the process -- a 2010 ballot measure for an open primary.

It's hard to overstate what a radical change this could be for congressional and legislative races in California. If it passed, candidates for all parties would run against each other in the primary, with the top-two vote getters moving on to a runoff. That would open up chances for the Green Party to win in the Bay Area and Libertarians to win in conservative districts. It could rewrite the political map in our wacky state in ways we can't even imagine.

Moderates like Maldonado hope it will open political doors that would otherwise be closed to them. In 2006, Maldonado lost to conservative GOP lawmaker Tony Strickland in the primary for state controller, which Strickland then lost to Democrat John Chiang in the runoff. Maldonado is still seething about that, partly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to endorse him in the primary.

Now Maldo has double revenge. The governor has been treating him like a king for days, and agreed to a budget provision that prevents Chiang from spending $1 million on furniture for his controller's office. Maldo also got the open primary measure, which gives him a thin chance of landing a state office after 2010. He'll need that chance. His party is sure to ostracize him and other five other GOP lawmakers for voting for a $12 billion tax increase, even though Maldo was successful in removing a gas tax from the package.

Here's where political reality set in. Members of Congress and the major parties are sure to attack the open primary proposal with everything they've got. It will be epic. Schwarzenegger and good government groups will rally behind it, but they'll need major bucks to counter the money spent against it. In all likelihood, they'll kill the measure and Maldo will be left out in the cold, a man without a party.

But that's a battle for another day. For now, Maldo can claim victory, as can Schwarzenegger.

Errata: An earlier version of this item had $1 billion for Chiang's office furniture instead of $1 million. My apologies. Lack of sleep.
February 17, 2009
What does Dave Cox fear most? A falling sky? Or a broken camel?
chicken_little_dvd.jpgState Sen. Dave Cox of Sacramento remains a possible vote for a budget breakthrough, but his floor statements of the last two days leave us mystified.

This afternoon, Cox got up and took issue with the floor speech of Sen. Ron Calderon, who used the fable of "Chicken Little" to describe the current budget situation. In Calderon's version of the fable, Republicans were not taking seriously the warnings that "the sky is falling" and were recklessly risking disaster.

Cox went on to describe an alternate version of the fable, one in which Chicken Little eventually learns it was only an acorn that hit him on the head, a problem fixed by a simple umbrella.

Thus Cox provided a lesson to his younger peers: There are many versions of ancient fables. All of them provide wisdom, but few offer clear answers to the problems of modern California.

After providing this lesson, Cox decided to offer us an old Arab proverb -- the straw that broke the camel's back.

February 16, 2009
Senate recesses, back tomorrow at 10 a.m.
If you missed the debate on the Senate floor tonight (Channel 2 on Comcast), you missed some fine theater.

Republicans came out in force to remind Democrats that they have dissed the GOP for years, and are now paying the price for it. Lots of whining, etc. etc.

The most interesting and statesmanlike speeches came from Republicans Abel Maldonado and Dave Cox. They continue to say they are no votes for the budget package, even though they acknowledge considerable pressure to vote otherwise.

Maldonado took aim at Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's early promise of a "Budget of 40" -- meaning, 40 senators all working together to devise a budget. Instead, he and other legislators were frozen out of the Big Five meetings that were held behind closed doors.

"Maldo" -- as he is being called -- went public with his demand for an end to pay raises for legislators during budget impasses, and an end to pet spending projects for certain legislators. He didn't mention Lou Correa by name, but everyone knew who he was taking about.

For his part, Dave Cox accidentally sparked the floor debate by doing a procedural maneuver that allowed Dennis Hollingsworth to talk. That led to a fascinating outpour by several senators, ranging from Rod Wright (a Demo) to George Runner (a Rep.).

Cox, in his comments, didn't hold out much hope he would vote for the budget package, but he effectively dinged Steinberg for quietly pushing through SB 1, which would expand eligibility for kids in Medi-Cal.

In normal times, such a push by a Democratic senate leader would go unnoticed, but with the state facing budget crisis, Cox made his point very clear.

Steinberg was the last to speak. He acknowledged the points that Maldonado and Cox were making, and on the latter point, said that the SB 1 stuff had been shelved.

So Cox and Maldo seem to be in the driver's seat. We wait until 10 a.m tomorrow to see if they are driving the state in the right direction, or ,,,,right off the cliff.
February 16, 2009
State prepares to shut down highway, flood-control projects
Update: Turn to the California Channel (Channel 2 on Comcast) to watch lawmakers debate this issue right now. (7:58 pm).

Schwarzenegger officials told lawmakers today that, without a budget resolution by tomorrow, they will be forced to suspend 276 public works projects statewide with an estimated value of $3.8 billion.

Finance Director Mike Genest and Caltrans Director Will Kempton told a senate subcommittee that the state is running out of cash to pay contractors.

Several projects in the Sacramento area could be suspended -- including HOV lanes on I-80 in Solano County and on U.S. 50 in El Dorado County, worth tens of billions of dollars. Also at risk, say officials, are levee improvements in Sutter County. You can find the full list here at PMIB Project Shut down - suspend list.pdf

Republicans at the hearing seemed unimpressed by projections that the shutdowns could affect roughly 90,000 jobs in California. One GOP Senator, Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta, said a sales tax increase proposed to close the $40 billion budget gap could cost 50,000 jobs, an estimate from a Board of Equalization economist.

Shutting down the projects will not be cheap. Kempton said it would cost about $190 million for contractors to "button up" projects they have already started -- securing equipment, filling holes, etc.
February 15, 2009
Shame on the Flash Report
Flash Report publisher Jon Fleischman today ran a "Shame on the Sac Bee" item after the editorial board used The Bee's Breaking News Alert to tout an editorial urging state Sen. Dave Cox to seek a resolution of the state budget impasse.

As Fleischman may or may not know, The Bee has published breaking news editorials before. In previous late-night budget sessions, our online editorials have warned readers about the prison guards union and its last-minute attempts to strong-arm pay raises from lawmakers, adding to the kind of unsustainable payroll obligations that Fleischman supposedly opposes. 

Now Fleischman is using his blog to suggest that esteemed reporters in the  Sacramento Bee's newsroom are having their credibility undermined because the editorial page is publishing opinions, and is using emails to let readers know about those opinions. That is shameful, especially for someone who drapes himself in the cloak of the First Amendment.

Ever since the first newspapers were published, they have run opinions, just as Fleischman is now doing on his Web site.

We've disagreed with the Flash Report over the years, but we've never denigrated Fleischman's right to say what he thinks nor personally attacked writers that he is associated with. We also find it hilarious that a guy whose blog is constantly targeting individual lawmakers -- Recall Maldonado Web Site in the Works -- would take issue with an editorial that focuses on a single lawmaker and makes a reasoned argument for him to act in the state's interest.

Shame on the Bee? Shame on the Flash Report.  

February 15, 2009
Will Maldonado's hurt feelings sink chance for budget deal?
873-BB_BUDGET_0835.embedded.prod_affiliate.4.JPGThe Bee's editorial page just posted an editorial urging constituents of Sen. Dave Cox of Fair Oaks to call the senator and urge him to support a budget resolution. (The number of Cox's office is (916) 651-4001).

Yet there's another Republican senator whose vote could make a difference as the all-night marathon session draws closer to 24 hours. Overnight, the governor and other legislative leaders were in closed talks with Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from Santa Maria. But Maldonado, seen to the right, has stuck to his "thumbs down" position.

Why?

One possible reason is that Maldonado is still resentful that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't support him in his campaign for state controller in 2006. ""Where was he when I needed him?," Maldonado is quoted as saying in a report today in the San Jose Mercury News.

Another complication is Maldonado's sour relationship with Senate minority leader Dave Cogdill of Fresno. "There's a difference between managing a caucus and leading a caucus," Maldonado said.

Cox, according to my sources, is also less than inspired by Cogdill's leadership. All politics is personal, as the saying goes, and in the Senate, the backbiting among Republicans has gotten very personal.

FYI, unlike the governor, The Bee's editorial board enthusiastically endorsed Maldonado in his primary bid for controller, which he lost to Tony Strickland in 2006. At the time, we said that Maldonado "could be a strong candidate for governor one day."

"Could" is the operative word there. Political leadership is judged over time, and Maldonado's book is still being written. 

February 13, 2009
Friday the 13th -- lucky or unlucky for a budget deal?
heads on stick.jpgThe deal to close California's $40 billion budget hole will either live or die today, depending on what happens this afternoon and tonight. And, of course, it is purely coincidence that it all comes down to Friday the 13th.

Now that details of the plan have leaked out, the special interests on all sides are flailing their knives and trying to gut the package. Apparently they are willing to let California run out of money.

On the right are the Flash Report, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' League and the John & Ken Show. The latter has an entertaining web site that shows various state leaders with their heads on sticks, shown above.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has joined in this dubious spear chucking with this op-ed.

On the left, the California Teachers Association is urging its thousands of members to call legislators to scuttle parts of the deal giving school administrators more flexibility over spending. Transit groups and others are also raising hell about potential cuts.

It will all come down to three and three. That is, three Republican votes in the Assembly and three in the Senate.

But those trios will only stick their necks out (with heads to be hung on John & Ken's poles) if Democrats put up all their votes for a tax increase. That's a big if.

Meanwhile, the expected legislative votes tomorrow will coincide with the opening prologue of the Tour of California, which will bring tens of thousands to the Capitol, closing streets and surrounding lawmakers with hordes of cycling fans. If bicycle advocates had their acts together, they could storm the Capitol and demand more spending for bike lanes.

To make it even more interesting, the day's convergence of events could be interrupted by lightning, thunder, high winds and dousing rain. In other words, a perfect storm could follow a dangerous day for the superstitious. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies in Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

Photo courtesy of KFI-a.m. 640. 
February 10, 2009
Should it be illegal to scavenge from garbage cans?
As I write this, the Sacramento City Council is hearing from residents on whether the council should approve a proposed ordinance to make it illegal to scavenge from dumpsters and garbage cans in the city.

Sacamento already has a law -- lightly enforced -- that bans people from taking items out of recycling bins. The proposed ordinance would make it illegal to scavenge from "any type of solid waste receptacle."

Just a few minutes ago, the council heard from homeless people and their advocates. They argued that scavenging from dumpsters is a "time-honored" form of recycling and that many people depend on it for income.

What do you think? Should scavenging be made illegal? And could the city possibly enforce such a ban, given that pilfering from recycling bins is rampant all over the city?
February 10, 2009
A message to Speaker Karen Bass from a letter writer

Some of our sharpest op-ed writing comes from local letter writers, who are quick to spot contradictions and hypocrisy on the part of elected leaders.

Here's a letter we ran today from Steven Swan of Sacramento. He was commenting on Speaker Karen Bass' response to a threat by Republican activists to censure any GOP lawmaker who votes for a tax increase:

Bass is quick to call out Republicans for their party's resolution to censure any dissenting opinion for their platform that new taxes should not be part of the state budget deal.

I would like to remind the speaker that she employed a similar tactic when she banished Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, from the State Assembly building to a small legislative office in a building across the street for withholding her vote toward the Democratic proposed budget in August 2008.

All lawmakers are voted into office to represent the best interests of their constituents. These elected officials should be able to do so with impunity, and any method engaged by party leaders to force a party-line vote is shameful as well as contrary to the democratic process. I expect my representation to reflect my district's interests, not those of the party to which they are affiliated. If my community's representation is only an extension of their party, we might as well elect a single lawmaker from each party to represent the entire state.

If you'd like to submit your own letter to the editor, go here.

February 9, 2009
Budget deal could hinge on changes to meal breaks, overtime
As the budget impasse hits 96 days, things are remarkably quiet at the Capitol. No one is saying much -- at least on the record. There are few salvos being launched by either side -- with one notable exception.

Labor groups are alarmed that the Big Five budget deal may soften a state requirement that employees be given meal breaks and overtime after eight hours of work. Republicans are seeking repeal of those labor laws, arguing that businesses are failing all over the place and  federal law is less demanding of employers. Unions fear that Democrats might accept some changes as the price for getting GOP votes for tax increases.

Labor groups have targeted one vulnerable freshman lawmaker, Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford, hoping it will scare off other GOP lawmakers. Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from the East Bay, is running a television ad (seen below) that hits Republicans who "are holding the budget hostage" until Democrats agree to the labor law changes.

Although Skinner's ad is aimed at Republicans, it is also sends a message to the Democratic leadership that her vote, and possibly others, may not be there when the budget deal is brought up for a vote. That's why the entire deal could implode at any moment, despite reports that an announcement is imminent.
 
February 4, 2009
Will K.J. provide refunds to supporters of his strong-mayor bid?
As of Jan. 31, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had raised $131,500 for his bid to create a strong-mayor form of government in Sacramento. But after collecting 37,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, Johnson recently backtracked amid protests from the city council and said he'd hold off on the measure.

Contributors to his campaign may have been surprised to read in today's Bee that the mayor's supporters may not place the proposal on on the ballot until 2010.

One wonders: What happens to their money? Will they get refunds?
February 2, 2009
Are environmental regs a drag on stimulus, or a red herring?
The debate over environmental regulations and infrastructure in California is getting lots of attention on the pages of East Coast newspapers today.

Former California governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis have an op-ed in the Washington Times. It urges President Obama to waive federal environmental regulations for certain transportation projects, including "breakthrough" projects that would speed up goods movement.

"As former California governors who faced emergencies during our administrations, we know that the smart use of emergency powers to enable rapid response can make the difference in ending a crisis. Our advice to President Obama and Congress is to recognize the urgency by granting and encouraging the use of streamlined public procedures for our nation's governors to use as your field commanders."
Meanwhile, a possible rollback of California's environmental regulations is highlighted in this New York Times blog item. It quotes environmentalists fearful that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will agree to concessions that Republican lawmakers are demanding as the price of a budget deal. The GOP demands were first detailed here last week in an item in The Swarm.
January 30, 2009
L.A. court hires lobbyist to restore perks for judges
Today's editorial takes aim at a self-serving bill to enhance benefits for judges statewide that the state Judicial Council hopes will be part of a state budget deal. The proposed legislation, which you can find here, would add tens of millions of dollars in annual compensation obligations that would either have to be paid out of the judiciary's existing budget, or through additional appropriations.

Since publishing the editorial, we learned that the Los Angeles County courts has hired a high-priced lobbyist and former legislator to push for the legislation. That juicy tidbit was part a story by Cheryl Miller that ran this week in Cal Law, an online journal whose premium articles can only be accessed through a subscription.

As Miller notes, L.A. County lost a lawsuit last year filed by the group Judicial Watch that challenged the supplemental benefits the county was paying to its state judges.

Court Executive Officer John Clarke said two judges have said publicly that they will quit if the local benefits stop. When the county lost the Judicial Watch lawsuit, leaders of the Los Angeles County Superior Court dipped into the court's operating budget to retain a former state assemblyman to lobby the Legislature to re-establish the county's authority to offer judicial benefits. The court is paying Burt Margolin $10,000 a month through April for consulting and lobbying services, Clarke said.
This is a pretty fine kettle of fish. L.A. County and the state are both in fiscal crises, and yet the county is paying a lobbyist $10,000 a month to lobby for enhanced benefits that will have to be borne by our cash-strapped state.

One has to ask: Where is the justice?
January 26, 2009
GOP gambit? Legislation surfaces to roll back environmental rules
Bill language has surfaced in the Legislature to roll back various state environmental rules, and environmental groups are claiming that Republican lawmakers are circulating the legislation as a condition for any budget deal.

The legislation, which you can find here at budget language.pdf, would change the compliance dates for regulations on off-road diesel equipment recently passed by the California Air Resources Board. It would affect regulations on pesticides, and limit which highway and development projects would need to be reviewed for their potential greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans are declining to comment on the document. "Legislative leaders have agreed to keep the details of negotiations confidential," said Sabrina Lockhart, press secretary for the Senate Republican caucus, when asked about the document and whether it was part of budget talks.

Environmental groups are livid that lawmakers could be secretly negotiating major changes to environmental laws to reach a budget deal. Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council have called a press conference for Tuesday.

"Republican legislative leadership is exploiting the crisis to repeal laws that protect the health and safety of Californians, yet have nothing to do with the budget," the two groups said in a joint statement today.

UPDATE: The Bee's Kevin Yamamura has a fuller story on the Republican budget demands here.

January 22, 2009
Shared sacrifice: What would you give up for a budget deal?
973-shared.highlight.prod_affiliate.4.gifLast week, The Bee's editorial page ran an eight-day series of editorials examining the big interest groups whose demands are contributing to the state's $40 billion budget impasse. You can find the lead editorial here along with links to others in the series.

As part of "Shared Sacrifice," we set up an on-line forum and urged readers to tell us what they would give up -- as a member of an interest group -- to help bridge the state's budget gap.

Many of the responses were of the predictable "blame someone else" mode. But a few were thoughtful and to the point. Here's one from a reader with a persona named "WilburHaynes."

I am a non-union state employee. Because we are all in serious trouble, I am resigned to accepting a temporary pay cut but am highly skeptical that other more powerful constituencies will contribute their share. I am prepared to pay a much higher gasoline tax to help us move away from imported oil. I am willing to pay the old vehicle license tax which Arnold imprudently cut, taking on a new burden of billions on the general fund to replace the counties' lost VLF revenue. I am willing to pay higher income taxes because it is another distasteful necessity.

But I am not willing to take a 10% hit it salary while other sacred cow groups escape pitching in their share because of their political muscle, and while the electeds continue to avoid the need to implement recommendations by CPR, Little Hoover, State Auditor et al to eliminate all the bureaucratic waste, stupid procurement practices, pointless boards and commissions, etc. Yet I am, sadly, quite sure that is precisely what will occur. The politically powerless will take serious hits, the sacred cows will remain untouchable, and the electeds will continue to fail to address the real problems.

Wilbur makes a good point. It's a delicate dance, this budget deal. If everyone fears they might be dropped onto the floor, no one will want to tango.

January 10, 2009
Don't defy Di-Fi
Part calculation, part circumstance, U.S. Dianne Feinstein is all over the news in the early days of 2009.

One day she's questioning Barack Obama's choice to head the C.I.A., the next day she's getting an apology from the president elect. One day she's defying Majority Leader Harry Reid and saying that Roland Burris should be seated in the Senate, the next day Reid and other Democrats are playing buddy-buddy with Burris.

Meanwhile, she's heading the inaugural ceremonies for the guy who just apologized to her. You can also see historical footage of Feinstein in the opening scenes of "Milk," the critically acclaimed film by Sean Penn about the slain San Francisco supervisor.

All this attention can't hurt but help Feinstein as she decides whether to run for governor or stay in Congress, where she will be the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's a tough choice -- as the Associated Press's Erica Werner notes in a feature about Feinstein that has just hit the wires.

Feinstein said she hasn't yet decided, but she's always wanted the (governor's) job, which she came close to winning in 1990. She passed up the chance to run in the 2003 gubernatorial recall, when she was viewed as the only Democrat who could have beaten Schwarzenegger. Now, her new chairmanship provides powerful incentive to stay in Washington -- even as the prospect of being in a position to tame her unruly home state tugs her in the opposite direction, according to advisers.

This is terrific political theater. Nearly every major politician in California -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leon Panetta, Gavin Newsom, John Garamendi and other possible gubernatorial candidates -- is waiting to see what Feinstein will decide. And Di-Fi seems to be in no hurry to provide them with further clarity. This is her moment. She's relishing it.

January 7, 2009
Why did the budget deal blow up?
BB GOV 21ST 0350.JPGThere are two competing versions on why budget negotiations blew up Tuesday between Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Democrats' version, laid out in this op-ed by Senate and Assembly leaders Darrell Steinberg and Karen Bass, contends that the governor kept changing the goal posts. They say the governor got cold feet about the Democrats' plan to bypass Republicans with a scheme to raise taxes by a majority vote.

Top aides in the governor's office, however, offer a different version. They say Democrats kept wanting to defer decisions on cuts to welfare programs and state payroll that will be needed to close a $40 billion gap. And they say the governor was clear, in agreeing to consider the Democrats' tax approach a month ago, that they would have to agree to his list for public works projects to be relieved of CEQA reviews. Democrats, they say, kept changing the goal posts on CEQA after that initial handshake.

The real truth is probably a mixture of these two versions. Now we will see what happens next. In their op-ed, Steinberg and Bass say that next week, they will vote on additional bills "that are even closer to the governor's requests." That sounds like a deal is not entirely dead. But that op-ed was written before the governor quickly vetoed their package, and both sides went into acrimonious spin mode.

It was ugly yesterday, and when things get ugly, politicians stop talking to each other.

Sacramento Bee Photo from 12/11/08 -- By Brian Baer
January 6, 2009
Steinberg: Schwarzenegger has "cold feet" about budget deal
In a conference call with The Bee's editorial board this afternoon, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg explained why a promising budget deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blew up today.

Steinberg said that he and governor were close to resolving differences over the governor's economic stimulus proposals and budget cuts. That wasn't the big holdup, Steinberg said. Instead, he suggested, the governor was getting "cold feet" on a plan by Democrats to raise taxes and fees without a two-thirds vote by lawmakers. Here's his full comment:

Between Sunday night and Monday, something else occurred unrelated to the specifics of the issues. It is cold feet, you know. He met with Republican leaders on Monday morning. I think he is back in that place where he believes he can get Republican votes for revenue and therefore doesn't have to do this unorthodox majority vote thing. We have been sort of going down that road for five or six years. It hasn't resulted in a single vote.

Jake Suski, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on whether the governor has changed his position on the Democrats' revenue plan or is making progress with Republicans. But Suski said it was telling that Democrats now plan to send the governor a budget package that is unchanged from three weeks ago, despite his veto threat. He said the governor would have something to say about that tomorrow.

Update: Suski, an an email, says the Governor's position has not changed on the Democrats' budget package. "The reasons to veto this proposal that the Governor laid out in his press conference on December 18th remain the same," he writes.

January 6, 2009
What should GOP lawmakers seek in a budget bargain?
Over on the Flash Report, GOP strategist Dan Schnur has posed an important question, one that few Republicans have wanted to publicly float: What reforms should they seek as price of supporting some form of tax increase?

Schnur notes how difficult it will be to close a $40 billion hole without some form of new revenues in the next 18 months. He also notes that Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines may be more flexible on new revenues than his public statements would indicate.

Villines has hinted that a package of tax and regulatory incentives that could improve the state's business climate could be part of a tradeoff for some revenue increasesBecause he was careful not to promise such an exchange, Villines was roasted by the state's mainstream media for intransigence. But while he was not willing to negotiate against himself by offering up absolute assurances of Republican support before any serious discussions had occurred, he was effectively sending a message to Schwarzenegger and the Democrats that he and his allies would be open to the conversation if significant job-creation measures were part of the discussion as well.

Schnur's essay is well timed. I hope he'll soon follow it up with another one that analyzes what type of temporary tax increase would be least harmful to the economy. Lawmakers need to have that conversation. Here at The Swarm, we think a broad-based increase in personal income taxes is preferable to a sales tax increase. Much of it would be deductible.

But kudos to Schnur and the Flash Report for at least going this far.
January 5, 2009
With Panetta's pick, maybe the CIA could reform California?
The Swarm is abuzz at the news that President-elect Barack Obama has tapped former California congressman Leon Panetta to head the CIA.

Over the last year, Panetta has been heading the California Forward effort to reform California's governance and its chronic budget troubles. We ran an essay of his on Sunday about the state's future.

Now, all of a sudden, we learn that Panetta is heading to Virginia to be the nation's top spook.

One can't help but wonder: Did the former congressman see better prospects in reforming the CIA than in trying to fix California?

And what will happen to California Forward? Will it still have the juice to push for broad reforms without someone of Panetta's stature? Or will it become....California Stalled?
January 4, 2009
Sunday morning scrimmage and...reading
One benefit of watching NFL football is it gives you plenty of time to read the morning papers.

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, Willie Brown continues his defense of Ron Blagojevich, saying his attempted appointment of Roland Burris was "worthy of Joe Montana." (I'm doubtful the former 49ers quarterback would agree.) 

The Los Angeles Times has an important story about a court decision involving Latino representation in Madera that "has already begun to reshape school boards, city councils and special districts throughout California."

In The Bee, Dale Kasler's piece on CalPERS and its real estate investments is a must read, and it cries out for further investigation. Any connection between former CalPERS board members and the recipients of these dubious investments?

Slavery is on the mind of prominent columnists. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof writes about brothel girls in Cambodia and in The Bee, Dan Walters notes that such forced servitude is a reality here in California.

Meanwhile, in our Forum section, eight thoughtful Californians reflect on the state's prospects. Leon Panetta's essay is particularly forceful. "California's future depends on whether we will become part of a constituency for change - a strong and persistent voice for better government that cannot be ignored," he writes.
December 31, 2008
Governor to eliminate waste board his aides recently defended
Earlier this month, The Bee's editorial board repeated its call for the state to eliminate the Integrated Waste Management Board, calling it a "patronage plum" for termed out legislators, such as former State Sen. Carole Migden.

The editorial triggered a sharp response from the Schwarzenegger administration. The governor's Cal-EPA secretary, Linda Adams, wrote on Dec. 7 that The Bee had "done a disservice to the people of California" by calling for the board's elimination. She also had this to say:

I applaud the board's leadership, legislative and gubernatorial appointees alike, who have worked together and brought bipartisan solutions to our environmental challenges. The work of the board and its staff is an admirable reflection of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to protect our environment and the people of California.

Apparently the governor's commitment isn't all that strong, at least to the Integrated Waste Management Board. In his budget today, he proposed eliminating the board.

No word yet on whether Linda Adams will now send the governor a letter saying he has "done a disservice to the people of California."

December 30, 2008
Contest: Guess the state deficit on New Year's and win a prize
The budget clock outside the governor's office continues to spin. As I write this, the deficit is $7,424,324,673, and by the end of June, it is expected to hit $14.8 billion.

So can you guess -- or calculate -- where it will be at midnight on New Year's Eve?

Here's a hint: Every minute represents $28,234. So let's check your math skills. Whoever emails me or leaves a comment below with the most correct answer by noon Wednesday gets a signed copy of Daniel Weintraub's book about the governor, "Party of One." Go to it.

 
December 30, 2008
More misgivings on the No-on-Prop. 8 campaign
A senior volunteer for the No on Proposition 8 campaign has posted some interesting insights on the Daily Kos on why the campaign lost momentum in the final weeks, failing to stop a ban on same-sex marriages despite pre-election polls indicating it would do so.

The volunteer suggests the campaign was too focused on focus groups, was clueless about using the Internet, was too secretive in sharing information and was reluctant to frame any kind of message around the thousands of same-sex couples in California who were already married.

Some of these criticisms we've heard before, but there is a depth of detail in this post mortem that makes it a worthy read. Find it here.
December 29, 2008
Nobel economist again dings Schwarzenegger on state's budget
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who recently won the Nobel Prize for Economics, has a column today about how the states are handling their budget troubles. He had this to say about California:

Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor's budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state's fiscal future -- and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.
Krugman's column, although true enough, is lacking in crucial context.  Because California's Legislature is controlled by Democrats, it was impossible for Schwarzenegger to cut spending upon taking office. And with the two-thirds vote requirement, it's been tough for him to get Republican support to raise taxes and cover the current $11.2 billion shortfall.

His column also fails to acknowledge that states, unlike the federal government, can't engage in deficit spending. They have to balance their budgets each year, at least on paper.

Krugman, I suspect, enjoys tangling with Schwarzenegger. He dinged him in this blog entry in November, was ambivalent about his health care reform proposal in 2007 and, of course, called him "Conan the Deceiver" in this piece from 2003.
December 24, 2008
In Nevada's budget crisis, everything is on the table
As California's budget impasse drags on and on, with Republicans refusing to raise taxes and the governor haggling with Democrats over non-budget policy issues, it's an appropriate time to check in with our neighboring state -- Nevada.

There, with Democrats controlling both houses and Republican Jim Gibbons in the governor's office, Nevada leaders closed a $1.2 billion shortfall in the state's two-year budget by cutting programs, exhausting the state's rainy day fund, shelving building construction, and borrowing money. 

Having made those tough choices, Republican leaders are now acknowledging that higher taxes are inevitable as the governor and lawmakers prepare a new two-year budget for the fiscal year that begins midway in 2009. 

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno had this to say to the Reno Journal Gazette:

"It will be very difficult for the governor to craft a budget that doesn't include any revenue enhancements. Everything has to be on the table."

If low-tax Nevada raises taxes, it will hardly be alone. Several other states are planning to raise fees and taxes to deal with a historic downturn in revenues. One of them is Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, who wants the Legislature to raise vehicle-registration fees, raise the 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax and broaden the sales tax to include rental cars, according to a story Tuesday in the Washington Times.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that California pattern itself after Idaho or Nevada, a state with legal brothels. But at least leaders of those states aren't allowing ideology to get in the way of a budget solution.

December 23, 2008
It could be worse: You could work for Watsonville
Government employees of all stripes are understandably nervous this holiday season as the state, cities and counties consider proposals to cut payroll costs.

And then there's Watsonville.

This city south of Santa Cruz shut down most city services on Monday and won't reopen them until Jan. 5 to deal with a $561,000 budget shortfall for the current year. The temporary layoffs mean no library, no recreation programs, no basic street maintenance and no counter service at the police and fire departments in this city of 51,000 people.

You can read about it here on Watsonville's Web site.
December 23, 2008
Who's the "Secret Santa" for Sacramento's homeless?
It's inspiring to know that someone would want to bequeath $500,000 for a successful program to help the homeless. But it's doubly impressive that such a donor would not crave the recognition that such a gift deserves.

Cottage Housing, a Sacramento non-profit that helps the homeless transition from the streets to self sufficiency, announced today that it it has received half a million dollars from "the estate of a long-time Sacramento community college teacher."

Cottage Housing is not naming the Secret Santa, at the request of the donor's widow. The non-profit is now challenging area residents to expand the gift to help house the growing numbers of local homeless.

Although I can understand the need to honor a donor's request for anonymity, it's too bad we don't know more about this humble Santa, whose untold life story might inspire others to be similarly generous.

Who was this teacher? What drove his concern about the homeless? And are there other Santas out there who will help match this gift?

The Bee's newsroom is working on a story, so we'll have more to share on these questions later.
December 23, 2008
Why California can't fix its budget
Today's page of letters illustrates why California teeters towards insolvency.

Two of the letter writers accuse the governor of picking on state employees with his plan for furloughs, as if every other part of state government -- schools, welfare, etc. -- was going untouched. 

Then you have Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers League, defending Proposition 13, the ballot measure that has resulted in wide variation in how residential and commercial properties are taxed. Coupal is now threatening to prepare another ballot measure to overturn the taxes and fees that are part of the budget deal proposed by Democrats.

As long as entrenched interests groups refuse to budge, and as long as lawmakers feel so intimidated by these groups that they won't cross them, California will remain mired in a fiscal nightmare.
December 22, 2008
Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act

Somebody needs to change the sign outside the governor's office to read:

"Schwarzenegger and the Legislature's failure to act."

Shared sacrifice? Shared responsibility.

December 17, 2008
Real estate lawyers dominate Kevin Johnson's list of advisers
In his scramble to get up to speed on issues, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has assembled a transition team of advisors that "literally is hundreds of people," according to spokesman Steve Maviglio.

For the last week, The Swarm has been seeking a list of these advisers. Maviglio claims that a full list hasn't been assembled, but after a little prodding, he released the people Johnson has tapped to lead the transition teams.

So, for the first time, here is the list of the mayor's top advisers, with links to their biographies.
 
December 15, 2008
City debates whether K.J. "hid the ball" on city charter revision
Not surprisingly, Kevin Johnson's plan to change the Sacramento city charter is generating both heat and smoke.

Several city council members, bloggers and on-line commentators are calling the mayor's bid a "power play," which it is. But are some are going farther by claiming that Johnson deliberately misled voters about his intentions prior to taking office.

December 14, 2008
Are churches enjoying a boom with the downturn?
With sweeping assurance, the New York Times reports today that bad times are drawing bigger crowds to churches, particularly evangelical churches. The story includes some anecdotes to support this conclusion, and reports that ministers are dropping their traditional sermons to offer practical advice to people who have lost jobs and homes.

I'm sure there's some truth to this, based on past recessions and reports from Britain and elsewhere. But I'm wondering if the real picture is more mixed for churches.

December 11, 2008
Schwarzenegger and his solar-powered Jacuzzis
Today's lead editorial takes a deserved shot at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's claims that Californians can lead the fight against global warming while still enjoying their SUVs, Jacuzzis and big-screen TVs. We've been challenging the governor on his "green with no sacrifices" claims for two years, to little effect. In a recent speech, he had this to say:

It's all about technology, because we all know that the guilt trip that we have put on people has not worked, to tell them that they should not use the Jacuzzi, or the big, large plasma TV, or to drive with a big SUV, a Hummer or something like that. (Laughter) Or to fly with a plane. All of those things did not work because the fact of the matter is the people should use a big television set but it should be powered by solar. They should go and sit in the Jacuzzi, in the biggest Jacuzzi in the world but it should be powered by solar. They should fly their airplane whenever they want but it should have maybe a different kind of designed engine so we don't use fossil fuel. Or they should go and stay in their SUVs and in their Hummers but maybe have that Hummer be powered by electric motors or something like that. So it's technology that really needs to be changing, not that we're driving a car or taking a Jacuzzi or any of those things. God forbid we would stop the Jacuzzi.
Yes, he actually said this. You can read a full version of the speech here.

As our editorial noted, the Air Resources Board has taken a similarly rosy view on the economic impacts of its plan to implement the state's global warming law. It's a law, we feel, that needs to be aggressively implemented, but with some candor about the economic impacts.
December 10, 2008
Maviglio re-emerges as Mayor Kevin Johnson's official spokesman
The Swarm was surprised to see Steve Maviglio's name as the contact person on a city press release yesterday regarding the outside accounting firm that Mayor Kevin Johnson wants the city council to hire.

Why? Because Maviglio doesn't work for the city.

Maviglio had served as Johnson's spokesman during the campaign, doing double duty as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass' spokesman. But following the election, Maviglio slipped off to Italy for some R&R, and Johnson announced a staff that included Kunal Merchant as chief of staff but no mention of Maviglio.

I reached the omnipresent Maviglio this morning. He told me is working without pay. The city isn't paying him. Nor is anyone else, he said. He's also ended his employment with Speaker Bass after the election.

It's hard what to make of this. Signs of transitional stress in City Hall? Signs of Maviglio answering the mayor's call for more philanthropic efforts? What do you think?.


December 10, 2008
Linkbox: Clarity on the state's budget calamity
Today's editorial examines the upshot of Monday's joint session of the Senate and Assembly on California's deteriorating finances.

As promised, here are some links to presentations and statements by the state's top financial officials, who testified at the hearing.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor

Treasurer Bill Lockyer

Controller John Chiang

State Finance Director Mike Genest

Response from Senate Republicans


December 9, 2008
Blagojevich arrest: Firing editorial writers "a thing of value"
Here's some vindication (kinda) for the hard work of being an editorial writer. Federal authorities listed the attempted firing of editorial writers as "a thing of value" in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

As you may have read, Blagojevich and his chief of staff were arrested today on various charges, including soliciting bribes in exchange for the selection of Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

The criminal complaint also alleges that Blagojevich tried to get certain Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired in exchange for helping the Tribune Company receive state aid in the sale of a baseball stadium owned by the company. It doesn't name the editorial writers, but says they wrote "widely circulated editorials" critical of the governor. Blagojevich in turn "corruptly solicited and demanded a thing of value, namely, the firing of certain Chicago Tribune editorial members."

You can read the full complaint here.
December 8, 2008
Budget standoff: The cost of doing nothing
State Finance Director Mike Genest prepared an interesting power point for today's joint legislative session: What will happen if lawmakers doing nothing about the current revenue shortfall?

Without cuts or new taxes in the current fiscal year, the state will have just $300 million in cash by February and will be $2.4 billion in the red by March, Genest reported. With budget solutions, we'll get down to a nervously low $1.8 billion in March but then things will turn around.

You can watch a Web cast of the joint hearing now, right here, on the California Channel. 

December 5, 2008
Will Carole Midgen help clean up the tire dumps?
Now that it's official, the public is justifiably livid about the governor appointing former senator Carole Migden to a high-paying job on the state Integrated Waste Management Board. Just read the comments on this story on Capitol Alert.

But amid all the fuss about the governor and Darrell Steinberg securing this appointment, I'm wondering if Midgen will actually prove to be an environmental advocate, particularly when it comes to cleaning up tire dumps and junk heaps in the Central Valley.

Back in 2002, Midgen tried to fend off efforts to regulate smog in the Bay Area that was wafting into the Central Valley. Speaking on a radio show, she blamed the valley's air pollution on "tires burning down there and a lot of problems with junk heaps."

Now she's in a prime position to do something about those tire dumps and junk heaps. Will she seize the opportunity?
December 3, 2008
Has Mary Nichols talked to Obama about EPA? Her lips are sealed
AOC_MNIchols_044w.JPGLoose lips sink ships. Perhaps that's why Mary Nichols is being coy about reports that President-elect Barack Obama is vetting her to be the next secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, met with the Sacramento Bee's editorial board today to discuss the state's climate change policies and upcoming rules on truck pollution.

At the end of our meeting, I asked Nichols if she had talked with President-elect Barack Obama about the U.S. EPA job.

Nichols' response: "I'm not talking about that. I've been asked not to talk about it."

Asked not to talk about it? Hmm. Does that sounds like a "yes" to you?

Sacramento Bee Photo/ Autumn Cruz  Dec. 3, 2008

December 2, 2008
Hapless Cavala hits Bee for reporting on legislative staff pay hikes
Bill Cavala, former deputy director of the Assembly Speaker's Office of Member Services,  is shocked -- shocked -- that the Bee would run a story the other day highlighting pay hikes for legislative staff in the midst of a state fiscal crisis.

Cavala penned an item in the California Progress Report defending these "hapless" staff, suggesting they are being targeted by "underpaid reporters who face an insecure future in a business slowly going out of business."

Yes, that is what we do here at The Bee. Angered at our low pay and modest benefits, we spend our waning hours figuring out how we can lash out at "hapless" state employees who make more money than us.

Give me a break. I'll acknowledge there are many underpaid legislative staffers who are dedicated workers and shouldn't be held responsible for the disaster known as the Legislature. But there are also veteran staff who are far from hapless. Because of term limits, these "staffers" are become increasingly powerful. They write the bills and design the budget gimmicks that lawmakers enact every year, and then some get plumb jobs as lobbyists.

Hapless? Hardly.

December 2, 2008
Steinberg taps Pavley to head Senate Natural Resources Committee
In a previous item, I noted how Northern California water interests were butting heads with Southern California interests over who should head the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which handles all water legislation, including any bills related to a peripheral canal.

Guess who emerged victorious? Senate leader Darrell Steinberg today tapped Southern California Sen. Fran Pavley to chair this key committee. That was a setback for Sen Lois Wolk of Davis, who has water expertise and sought the seat but ended up getting appointed to the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
December 1, 2008
Remote islands filled with California foxes? My kind of story
SBZpair-723256.jpgAs a reporter who's covered the environment for more than 20 years, I am always on the lookout for feel-good stories. They are hard to find.

Here's one. On the Channel Islands of California, biologists for the National Parks Service and other agencies have saved an endangered species, the island fox, in a mere decade. The foxes' numbers dwindled to roughly 100 ten years ago. Now there are 650 foxes and the numbers are steadily increasing.

How did they do it? First, the parks service eradicated feral hogs and other invasive creatures on these stunningly scenic islands. They also rounded up foxes and established a captive breeding program for them.

The return of the bald eagle has also helped. That displaced golden eagles, who moved to the isles and aggressively fed on the island fox after bald eagles died off due to DDT and other threats.

NBC News had a nice story on the foxes tonight, which may have been based on a piece The Ventura County Reporter ran a few weeks ago. But if you really want to chase after foxes, go to this site, run by Friends of the Island Fox.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Island Fox. 


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 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 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 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 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 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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 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.