September 2007 Archives

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 29, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

Past week and beyond


With traveling solons returning home from various parts of the world next week, both Healthcare and Water Policy are two special session topics that are heating up. There are various views on both matters and some new Special Session legislation has been introduced this week.

And, in breaking news, the so-called "Dirty Tricks" initiative to change how California allocates its Electoral College votes appears to be dead, at least for now.

Governor "green" speaks at the United Nations, upstaging the absent President Bush (who held his "own" global warming conference to upstage the U.N.) and gets a chance to sign three major environmental bills. Let's see if he puts his pen where his mouth is.

Public Safety bills on the Governor's desk get support from the former Attorney General.

We hear at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this and any signings or vetoes by the Governor in the weeks and months ahead, so

If you like the work we've been doing at Speak Out California, with our regular weekly updates which provide inside commentary and analysis on what is going on in our state capital, we hope you'll support our work by making a contribution to Speak Out California. To contribute, just click here for our website so we can keep providing this unique and important perspective on our state and its future.

At Speak Out California we provide the facts and the commentary that keeps you informed on what is really happening in our state. We don't accept any advertising or corporate sponsorships, so you know that we are not beholden to any group or special interest. Our commitment is simply to provide uncompromising reporting and analysis of what is happening in our state from the progressive perspective.

If you can pledge $10, $25, $50 a month, or send us a one-time contribution, we can continue to keep you in-the-know and keep the progressive voice alive and growing in California.

Just click here for our website to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice strong!


And now, for the week's goings-on:


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There is no one in California with any knowledge of our state's prison system who doesn't agree that it is in crisis. While we expand the number of offenses for which incarceration is the penalty and then expand the length of sentences for those offenses, we have expanded the prison walls beyond capacity. As as result, the courts have intervened in our correctional system's process and threatened to close the doors to new prisoners unless the conditions within the prisons improve significantly.

With state government squeezed for funding, we have seen the cost of the corrections portion of the state budget increase geometrically over the past two decades. With more and more "three strikers" clogging up the prisons, and more elderly lifers needing expensive medical care as they age and die in prison, the problem has only gotten worse. What can and should the state do about this?

What will it take to avoid the state's prison system being taken over by the courts, with consequences that are unacceptable to the people of the state?

Assemblymember Paul Krekorian (D- Burbank) has a proposal that attempts to address at least one aspect of this situation. Here is Assemblymember Krekorian's explanation of the bill that now sits on the Govenor's desk awaiting either signature or veto.


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It's quite amazing how the Constitution of our country seems to come through---even to skeptics who think it's an antiquated or unrealistic set of principles. While those who don't support its freedoms try numerous tricks and subterfuge to undermine it (unfortunately, with some success), it nonetheless remains an extraordinary living and breathing document. The most precarious of these principles, particularly "in time of war" is the First Amendment, dealing with the right of free speech. That's the one that reads,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It seems that we have recently seen so many challenges to our rights and freedom in this country by the very people who are in charge of its government and are supposed to be preserving and protecting those very rights as defined by our constitution. They are often the very people who do not want the voices of the people to be raised in free and open exchange of ideas or criticism. Consider: All Saints Church in Pasadena, where its Pastor spoke openly against the war in Iraq and the IRS tried to challenge its tax-exempt status. Just this week, the IRS announced it was withdrawing its coercive effort. Then there is Erwin Chemerinsky, the highly regarded constitutional scholar who was chosen to be the Dean of the newly created U.C. Irvine Law School, only to see his apppointment withdrawn by the Chancellor of the University in response to right-wingers who disagree with Chemerinsky's interpretation of the Constitution. But freedom of speech prevailed and after great public outcry, that appointment was properly restored.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 22, 2007

Key bills and issues we've been following during the

past week and beyond


Now that the regular session of the legislature has ended and a variety of bills are waiting the Governor's approval or veto, the special session is in full gear. The big battles over water and health care reform have taken over the stage front- and -center. And with Hillary Clinton's unveiling of her version of healthcare reform, the issue has become even more prevalent in political debate not only in California, but nationwide.

With a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California coming out this week as well, we've seen how the failure to produce meaningful healthcare reform and a swift resolution of the annual budget stand-off has impacted the popularity of our Governor and the legislature. Not good news for either side.

Talk of ballot initiatives already moving along, plus threats of new ones emerging for 2008 continue to gain public attention and comment. With the veto last week by the Governor of the Iraq War initiative, which would have allowed Californians to register their opinion on that military and political fiasco, some of the interest has been muted in the early measures, but there is still enough out there (not the least of which are the Presidential primaries) to keep the public interested for the next several months.

We here at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this in the weeks and months ahead, so

If you like the work we've been doing at Speak Out California, with our regular weekly updates which provide inside commentary and analysis on what is going on in our state capital, we hope you'll support our work by making a contribution to Speak Out California. To contribute, just click here so we can keep providing this unique and important perspective on our state and its future.

At Speak Out California we provide the facts and the commentary that keep you informed on what is really happening in our state. We don't take any advertising or corporate sponsorships, so you know that we are not beholden to any group or special interest. Our commitment is simply to provide uncompromising reporting and analysis of what is happening in our state from the progressive perspective.

If you can pledge $10, $25, $50 a month, we can continue to keep you in-the-know and keep the progressive voice alive in California.

Just click here to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice alive.

And now for the week's goings-on :


SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 and the Governor's Special Session

The latest polling from the well-respected Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) confirms what most of those in the political world have long-known: healthcare is just about at the top of the heap when it comes to the public's interest in state policy. Although trailing immigration by about a point or two among likely voters ( 19% say immigration is the top issue facing the state, healthcare comes in at 18%) the debate has intensified as the healthcare crisis in California and nation-wide continues to escalate. The poll shows that almost 1/2 of Californians are following the healthcare debate closely.

Another non-surprise is the demand by Californians for major reform in the healthcare system. Regardless of party affiliation, the people of our state want major changes. And for those of us who like numbers to go with claims, 69% want major changes- with 77% of Dems and 63% Reps. calling for major changes. Add to the mix that 68% who identify as "independents" want to see major reforms to the system.

Unfortunately, the rest of the poll on the subject of whose reforms the public supports is inadequate and incomplete. The poll only asks for comparison of the Governor's proposal and the legislative leaderships AB8, a bill that the gov has already said he will veto. Can't have an honest analysis without bringing into the debate the question of a single payor, or Medi-care type system where there is a single agency that takes in the money and pays it out. No insurance companies, no profits, just one agency that oversees payments. That allows everyone to choose their own docs and healthcare providers who will be able to practice without insurance company interference, get paid a fair fee and discard all the bureaucratic tape of having to deal with the thousands of different plans in California alone. For a comparison of the three major reform options for California, check out this article here. For a look at the most recent offerings from the PPIC, check out their site here .

While the real universal health care measure, SB 840 languishes, the Clinton campaign this week unveiled its own national plan for health care reform. Her proposal, entitled "American Health Choices Plan" rolled-out this week to great fanfare. Although the other leading Democratic contenders have submitted proposals as well, it was expected that Hillary's ideas would hold the greatest weight, since she has been studying and leading the charge for healthcare reform since her ill-fated universal healthcare proposal back in the early 90's. While the jury is still out on this plan, many on the progressive side are disappointed she, too, includes the insurance companies in the play. Her plan does, however, set up a variety of options that will allow all people to have insurance. It's quite a mishmash, but tries to cover as many options as possible. For more on her plan, check out this LA Times article .

Special Session--California's Perennial Water Problems

California politics, like life, cannot exist without addressing our inherent water problems. This state was never meant to house millions upon millions of people in its semi-arid Southern portion. Its Central Valley provides enormous amounts of agriculture requiring huge amounts of quality water. Add to the challenges are antiquated and inadequate systems that exist to protect the Delta regions from flooding their banks and destroying everything in their way.

The economic history of California is the history of gold, railroads and water. Unfortunately, the first two are much more interesting and have captured the state's and its leaderships imagination much more effectively. The subject is, admittedly, somewhat arcane but is nonetheless, quite important.

So we'll try to boil this dispute down to its essence: We know we need water, we know we need to shore up our levees and we know we must restore the important Delta area. The battle is over how and how much. Both sides agree the money will have to come from bonds that the voters have already passed and amounts that they believe must be further allocated through additional bonds. Although we've already passed over $14.8 billion in water bonds since 2000, it's simply not enough to address our state's water crisis.

The Governor wants to follow the old-fashioned, overwhelmingly discredited and outmoded approach . He is proposing to put an additional $9 billion bond request on the February, 2008 ballot and build more dams for water storage (over $5.1 billion for that purpose.)

Senator Perata has introduced two measures that provide a comprehensive package to address the Delta crisis. The first of Perata's measures addresses the existing bond allocation and maximizes those funds to ensure they are used to stabilize the Delta, following the strategies outlined in the California Water Plan (conservation over concrete). The second calls for a bond in the amount of $ 5.8 billion to develop new regional water supplies and apply advanced technologies leading to conservation, recycling, and other known effective measures that are less harmful and more cost-effective than pouring concrete and holding a media extravaganza to unveil billions of dollars worth of concrete.

The big battle here is that Schwarzenegger wants to concrete the problem---building two huge and expensive dams and spending additional billions to expand one dam in Contra Costa County. Dams are the last resort for environmentalists who see them as harmful to ecosystems and not cost efficient or effective. In this case, the feds and state agencies have also found these dams are neither cost-effective nor environmentally sound.

The California Water Plan, on the other hand, calls for developing new regional water supplies by doing things such as water recycling, water conservation, groundwater cleanup, groundwater protection and stormwater capture. By increasing the water supplies within each region of the state, we reduce reliance on the fragile Delta and the unsustainable burden we put on exporting its water throughout the state (and particularly to the 21 plus million people in Southern California who rely upon it for their drinking water).

Not surprisingly, groups like the Sierra Club are calling for more emphasis on conservation, which has proven to be the cheapest and most effective way to deal with our water problems in California. Check out this article by Gary A. Patton, Executive Director of the environmental stalwart, the Planning and Conservation League.

This battle is far from over. But with time deadlines and expectations that progress must be made before the area collapses from floods, drought, overuse and simple neglect, we can expect to see the level of frenzy and debate ramp up quickly...at least for those who are listening.


Bills, Vetoes and other Legislative Offerings:

Although the time period within which to pass regular year legislation has ended, the real work comes for those bills that have landed on the Governor's desk. Just because it's a good bill, has bipartisan support, makes sense, protects the public (or God's other creatures), it doesn't mean it's going to become law. What stands in the way is Arnold Schwarzenegger and often numerous well-heeled corporate special interests out to kill what they couldn't kill in the legislative process itself. This is where the real rubber hits-the-road. The Gov gets to pay back his campaign contributors, grandstand for the media and the public, and try to redefine the issues that comprise the legislation itself. At the same time, legislators fight feverishly to posture their bills in the best possible light, and we try to engender public support that will overcome any other obstacles that haven't been put to bed during the nine months that the legislation has been pending, amended, amended again, rewritten or hijacked.

What gets signed and what doesn't is still a mystery in many instances. What will not be a mystery this year is the governor's stated commitment to vetoing, yet again, Mark Leno's AB 43, the Gay marriage initiative. With the state slowly but irretrievably moving in the direction of tolerance in granting gays and lesbians equal rights, this governor has stated that he will not sign a gay marriage bill, period. Although the push-back on both sides continues, the church-based groups who continue to contact the gov on speed re-dial continue to prevail. Interestingly, however, although the city of San Diego is not known as a bastion of liberalism, its mayor, Jerry Sanders, came out this week in favor of equal rights and treatment for gays, having been enlightened because his own daughter, whom he clearly loves and respects, is a lesbian. In a heartfelt and moving press conference, the Mayor of San Diego showed courage and integrity in the face of potential political consequences. His words are worth repeating here, just in case the governor is listening:

"I've decided to lead with my heart, which is probably obvious right now, to do what I think is right and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice"

If only the tough-guy Governator could do the same...

Speak Out California continues to highlight bills we think need your support. Most recently, we asked for your help in urging that the Governor signs SB 94 (Senator Kuehl) which is critical legislation to ensure that low income women and men have access to family planning services. To send a letter to the Governor, click here.

We'll be highlighting a number of other bills in the days ahead and hope you'll join our action-alert campaign to ensure we see meaningful legislation signed into law and not thwarted from the big corporate interests or ideologues trying to undermine important public policy that will protect the people of our state.


Shenanigans and other Goings-on

The UC Irvine Law School story has a happy ending. As we predicted once the outcries and fury of Chancelor Michael V. Davis ill-conceived retraction came to light, Davis has re-signed Erwin Chemerinsky as the new dean of the Law School, thus proving that sometimes the right thing can happen with enough public outcry.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the powers that control the decision-making for the California State University system. This week the governing Board of Trustees approved an 18% increase in the pay for Chancellor Charles Reed. In addition, they agreed to increase the executive compensation for the state's 23 campus presidents and Reed's four top deputies anywhere from 9 to 18%. To add insult to injury to the students whose fees and costs are going through the roof, they announced their intention to raise executive salaries about 46% over the next 4 years. It's hard to believe these folks don't realize the terrible message they're sending to our future leaders---you, who have very little must pay more so that those who have a lot can receive more. The rationale for these huge increases in salary to these highly paid administrators? We need to increase their salaries and benefits to stay competitive. Competitive with whom? While Reed will be pulling in $421,500 next year (plus a $30,000 annual retirement bonus), the Governor of the state of California makes about 1/2 that amount. Who would have thought the job of CSU head was more important than being the leader of the entire state of California! Check out Jim Doyle's report in the SF Chronicle here.

New Initiatives on the Horizon

The right-wing continues to attack the eminent domain issue, but never through the front-door. While almost fooling an unsuspecting public in 2006 with Proposition 90, the anti-environmentalists are at it again. They're planning to bring forth another measure that will limit state and local government from controlling land use decisions that protect the public and maintain some level of sanity in how our communities grow and function. In response, those who believe in some government oversight are getting two counter-offerings ready for the initiative pipelines, most likely for the June ballot. We'll have more on those as they evolve.
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The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

What ever happened to the right to dissent?--A response to the firings, floggings and attacks on those with whom we happen to disagree

If I had a hammer--nostalgia with the great Peter Paul & Mary

To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/

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Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team


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The American people are getting to be more and more like the frog in the pot of water. You know the analogy---if you put a frog in water and slowly up the heat, the frog doesn't know when he's getting cooked until the water is just about boiling and his fate is sealed because he can't jump out. Ive been feeling that this is what is happening to the American people recently and we're not yet aware that the first amendment, like the frog, is being destroyed by a slow, but sure attack on dissent.

Today I awoke to a plea from the folks at MoveOn.org asking that I call my U.S. Senators and urge them to reject an attempt by Senate Republicans to condemn Move On for its ad last week regarding the testimony of General Patreus. If you recall, they referred to him as "General Betrayus" for what they claimed was a dishonest and slanted analysis on the progress of the so-called "surge" strategy that Bush and his cronies imposed upon Congress, the American people, and most importantly our soldiers and the Iraqi people.

This shameless ploy reminds me of one of the most fundamental strategies recommended when you're being attacked and can't respond effectively because the facts are simply against you. Don't try to respond, just attack the messenger. By deflecting attention from the substance of what is being said, the focus moves from the issue to the character of who is sending the message. It is a strategy that the Bush administration has employed since its beginning. Every time the Emperor is observed walking without clothes, and that pesky child yells that the Emperor is naked, the Bush media machine (Fox News and others) steps in and attacks the child as being blind, or crazy, or both, or in the case of the Bush years, of being disloyal and unpatriotic.

It is not new that dissent is characterized as disloyalty. During times of war (that is REAL war, like World War 2) there was an effort to keep Americans focused on the battle, and dissent, as limited as it may be, was kept in check while our soldiers fought off the Nazi's and Imperial Japan. Think more dramatically about after that war, when Joseph McCarthy established his drunken and reckless reign of terror on the American people, using Communism as the "War" we were fighting and using anyone who ever read a book by Karl Marx as a scapegoat.

Fast forward to today, where the "War on Terror" has replaced the War on Communism as the war de jour. While the threat of terrorism is real, the threat of losing our democratic way of life appears to be even more real and immediate in our country today. It was one of our great sages who observed that democracy will never be defeated from without, it will only be defeated from within.

Are we at that stage where the cancer of extremism within our country, the lack of an open, free and independent press has extinguished an honest and open debate on the issues, where our President believes he is king and not subject to the checks and balances of the co-equal branch of government we call Congress? Is democracy being threatened from within?


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For those of us who remember the 60's (and yes, there are some of us who lived through them and still remember), it was a night to wax nostalgic and hopeful. Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Peter and Paul (two-thirds of the great Peter, Paul & Mary trio) talk and sing about what it has meant for them and still means for them, to sing about justice, freedom and a love between their brothers and sisters all over the land. They were in Santa Barbara, my home town, to receive the prestigious Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.

The award is presented annually to individuals who have "demonstrated courageous leadership in the cause of peace." To put this award in context, some of its prior recipients include: Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Carl Sagan, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Walter Cronkite, Anne and Paul Ehrilich and Daniel Elsberg (among others). Obviously, a pretty impressive group.

While Mary was, unfortunately, back home in Connecticut recovering from back surgery (having won her battle against a virulent form of leukemia as well ), Peter and Paul sang gallantly (clearly missing that magnificent Mary Travers sound). They talked of their life-long commitment to peace, social justice and community well-being.

In addition to those of us who remember them with full heads of hair, there were 120 young people in the audience---primarily college students, but some high school students who were selected as the next best hope to restore a sense of commitment to the principles that moved so many of us during our college years back when the Vietnam War and Civil Rights battles were raging in this country.

In that earlier era,we sang and danced to the Movement for political and social justice, peace in our time, brotherly and sisterly love and respect. We hoped for a better world that was comprised of these things, not material things. We dreamed about justice and goodness and love and kindness. The notion of dreaming for Versace, BMW's, 10,000 square foot mansions and diamonds were nowhere on our radar-screens or desires. We wanted peace, and a more just world for ourselves and all humankind.

It brought tears to the eyes of many of us as Peter Yarrow implored the youngsters in the audience to pursue these goals as our next generation of leaders. He and Paul (actually Noel Paul Stookey) spoke eloquently about these causes and their hopes that we can, yet again, regain our footing by pursuing a kinder, more peaceful planet.

Although partially immersed in the music and nostalgia, I couldn't help asking: "What has happened in our nation that we see our youngsters dancing to gangsta rap and other 'music' that glorifies killing and objectification of women? Why are our youngster's heroes packing heat along with their ostentatious gold and diamond jewelry? How is it that the nation's heroes today do not call for social justice or self-sacrifice or human kindness? Rather, they are admired and even worshiped for the number of cars, or girl-friends or houses they own.

Where are the young people crying out for social justice or marching against this illegal and hopelessly failed war? Why are we and they not calling for accountability by a White House that believes it is above the law? Why are we not challenging Bush and Chaney for their corrupt and destructive management of our environment, their criminal indifference to the poor who are living on the streets or in gang-infested communities where neither they nor their children are safe from violence? Where is the public outcry against corporate greed and irresponsibility in the pursuit of greater and greater wealth, to the detriment to our own workers?

Where are we on all this, Peter and Paul ask? We of the so-called "peace generation' demanding social justice, peace and the freedom to think and be who we are and want to become. We HAVE the hammer, we ARE the hammer....of justice, of freedom of love between our brothers and our sisters.......... We are at a cross-roads in our nation's history and in our own sense of purpose. There should be little doubt: It's time to bring that hammer back.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 15, 2007

Key bills and issues we've been following during the

past week and beyond


The final days of this year's regular session ended in the wee-hours of the morning, September 13 around 3:30am. At that moment, the Speaker banged the gavel, announced that the session had ended and likely declared victory of some kind for the work that had been done. The drama was somewhat undercut, however, by the fact that the Governor had already called a "Special Session" to consider the healthcare and water issues that were not resolved during the regular legislative year, thus extending the legislative year for some additional period of time.


A variety of bills were sent to the Governor's desk for signature and veto, a few of which have already been acted upon. With the Term Limits/Extension initiative taking front-and-center in the decisions being made on the floor and behind the scenes, the session produced lots of buzz and intrigue during its final days. Purely political decisions always do play in the equation (various interest groups try to jam bills through at the final hour when few are watching or awake enough to notice). This year the dance was made even more delicate by this all-consuming focus on pleasing the public, enough to justify their vote to extend the terms of current term-out members (particularly the leadership of both houses and both parties) in the February primary.


Ballot initiatives continue to grab headlines as the California Democratic Party has announced an aggressive and pro-active effort to keep the electoral vote-splitting initiative off the June, 2008 ballot. But a redistricting initiative will not be showing up in time for the February ballot, putting the Term Limits/Extension measure at risk. Nor will the Iraq War initiative, since the Governor made short shrift of it by veto earlier in the week. While perhaps restoring some of his lost credibility with his own party, the Gov. dropped the hammer on one of his appointees at the behest of 34 NRA-beholden legislators, further dampening the ability of those given certain responsibilities from carrying them out appropriately---in the Alberto Gonzales/ George Bush mold. But there is so much more, so we'll get to the details, but first:


If you like the work we've been doing at Speak Out California, with our regular weekly updates which provide inside commentary and analysis on what is going on in our state capital, we hope you'll support our work by making a contribution to Speak Out California.


At Speak Out California we provide the facts and the commentary that keep you informed on what is really happening in our state. We don't take any advertising or corporate sponsorships, so you know that we are not beholden to any group or special interest. Our commitment is simply to provide uncompromising reporting and analysis of what is happening in our state from the progressive perspective. If you can pledge $10, $25, $50 a month, we can continue to keep you in-the-know and keep the progressive voice alive in California. Just click here to support our work in keeping California's progressive voice alive.


And now for the week's goings-on :


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When I learned that UC Irvine had just hired Erwin Chemerinsky to become the first Dean of their newly created Law School, I was very impressed. It's quite rare for any law school to get one of the greatest legal scholars of our day as its chief. To get someone of Chemerinsky's stature to be the first dean of a new law school is an even greater coup. This is the real deal-- a person who was going to put a beleaguered UC Irvine on the map and very quickly.

I didn't think for a moment, "Wow, and now we'll start putting out progressive lawyers to match the thousands being rubber-stamped out of conservative institutions, like those overrunning the federal government and the executive branch, in particular." What I thought, and apparently like so many others who have worked with Chemerinsky or heard him speak, is that this University will become an institution of excellence and pride, with thoughtful and quality lawyers. With a dean of Chemerinsky's reputation, this school will quickly put itself on the map. Go UC Irvine! ... Not.

Just a week after announcing that the position had been offered to Chemerinsky, who then accepted the offer and planned to return to California after a 4 year hiatus at Duke University Law School, the Chancellor of UC Irvine, Michael V. Drake, rescinded the offer. This questionable act sets academic freedom and integrity back into the Bush era. Professor Chemerinsky is a great legal scholar, an academic expert who the L.A. Times says stands out not for his liberalism, but for "the intellectual rigor of his analysis and the effectiveness of his argument". For more on this excellent editorial, click here

Apparently he is too controversial and too independent for the Chancellor's liking. What? You've landed one of the best constitutional scholars of our day, an expert in an area of the law which is fast disappearing into hysterical oblivion, and you decide he's "not the right fit for the University"? That, of course, begs the question: What is the right fit for this University? Is it the embarassing controversies that have befallen the institution and in particular, its ethically challenged medical research facilities, that have plagued the school for over a decade? Is it the inadequate way UC Irvine handled the Muslim/Jewish furor this past spring? Or is it the school's mediocre standing in the ranks of the University of California? Whatever the case, here comes an enormously well-respected legal scholar--by conservative and liberal scholars alike--to bring excellence to the school and he's unceremoneoulsy dumped because the Chancellor suddenly decides he's too liberal? What has happened to academic freedom? When did it become wrong to express one's beliefs and opinions---especially in defense of the constitution of this country? What happened to the pursuit of excellence in America-whether academia, politics or any other field of endeavor?


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There is little doubt that watching legislation work its way through the process is much like watching sausage being made. The bottom line is: You don't want to watch. Although theoretically it is interesting, informative and exciting to see the democratic process of law-making take form, in reality there is so much push-and-pull, give-and-take and last minute backroom dealing that it's impossible to follow. It's often impossible to understand.

So when the Speaker of the Assembly asks his members to "read the bill" when debating the frenetically altered and re-altered health care reform measure, AB8, he's asking for a logical response to an impossible situation. How can one read a bill that comes to your desk literally "hot off the press", so hot that you can warm your hands on the paper? How can you understand what's there when it deals with a convoluted system in a convoluted way---with no opportunity to vet the latest in a series of compromises, re-writes and reformulated policy?

Granted, the efforts are the result of hard-fought and truly late-night negotiations, but there has been little time to analyze the possible impacts and "unintended consequences" of legislating at the 11th hour, with dozens of special interest groups hovering over the negotiations and dozens of people trying to craft language that fits the proverbial square peg into a round hole. That's exactly what the end-of-session looks like on a good day. But here we've got what is billed as a major overhaul of the healthcare system in California, a measure that will lead the nation in healthcare reform. Really? Has anyone read the entire bill in its final form? Highly unlikely.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending September 8, 2007

Key bills and issues we've been following during the
past week and beyond


The first of the final two weeks of the regular session is now done, with hundreds of bills having been heard and or otherwise disposed of. Healthcare, predictably continues to be front and center. The environment has seen some good news and bad, while civil rights--for both the gay community and working women round out the headline grabbers for the week.

Ballot initiatives and threats of same continue to be bandied about, while the Republican play to steal yet another presidential election is taking on broader national attention as its implications for Republicans holding the White House become known. Term Limits has dodged a bullet and will now appear on the February ballot, creating greater pressure to get a redistricting measure passed before the coming recess. And the Perata Iraq initiative sits on the Governor's desk, most likely facing a veto. Of course, the Gov didn't endear himself to his party this weekend at the Republican state convention, but that is of little concern as the Reps continue on a downward spiral in this state.

So let's get to the details:

SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 .

With all the hype about AB 8, Senator Kuehl's true reform healthcare measure, calling for a Medicare type system to cover all Californians and still have us choose our own doctors, appears to be DOA on Schwarzenegger's desk. With the legislature's leaders heavily in negotiations with the Governor on a bill that keeps the insurance industry well in the game, there is just no way to fix this truly broken health care system. With a private, for-profit health INSURANCE industry in place, the only move that can be made essentially requires us to try to shove a square peg into a round hole. It can't be done, but that isn't deterring them from trying. For an excellent piece on why this process is not the answer, click here.

Schwarzenegger is insisting that everyone have health insurance. This is NOT universal healthcare, it is universal insurance- whether people can afford it or not. This deference to the insurance industry is maddening for those who realize the private companies are a major part of the problem and need to come out of the equation completely. Nonetheless, there have been concessions of transparency where the insurance companies would have to reveal what they pay and where the dollars that they rake in go.

The negotiations are complicated and keep changing almost by the minute. Rather than give you a play-by-play on all the moving parts, let's break this down to the core issue in all this: Who will pay the bulk of the health care costs and who will be covered by the program? With so many major players in the mix --the hospitals, big and small employers, workers, the poor, doctors and healthcare providers, federal dollars, etc. there is real concern that we could be rushing into another end-of-session energy-deregulation type debacle.

With that in mind, there are those who are urging the leadership and legislature to go slow, and allow the governor to call a special session (he can do it anyway) and try to think through the process more carefully and deliberatively. Another option considered is to put an initiative on the ballot that addresses the funding mechanism, since there is no way the obstinate and out-of-touch right wing that has a hold on the Republican Senators will even consider such a mechanism---even if those having to belly-up are willing to pay! For more on this aspect of the story, check out this article at the California Progress Report, as well as Julia Rosen's piece here.

Environmental efforts

While two important environmental bills apparently delayed until next year's session, a major breakthrough has occurred on the water/flood control scene. A package of bills reflecting a compromise has been reached which will address the uncontrolled development on flood-prone lands in the Central Valley region without imposing moratoriums on construction or impeding local economic growth. The dam on overhauling the state's antiquated and ineffective approach to flood protection and water planning appears to have been broken----or so the claims go. For an analysis of what this compromise looks like, click here for the SacBee article and here for the California Progress Report's coverage.

Sadly, two other key environmental bills that we've been touting haven't made it through the process this year. One is Senator Alan Lowenthal's SB974, an important bill to clean up the air near the ports of California-- Long Beach , L.A. and Oakland . For more on this story, click here for our blog.

The other is Senator Joe Simitian's SB 412, which would require that California establish the need for LNG plants before allowing them to be built in the state. Seems like a no-brainer, but this bill got in the cross-hairs of end-of-session wrangling between the Senate and Assembly. While Speak Out California has been urging the leadership to move this bill back onto the floor for a vote, we're still waiting. If you would like to help by sending emails to Speaker Nunez, go to our action alert to sign up here. We've also blogged on here.

For more information about the successes and failures of other measures, California Report's chief Frank Russo has done a yeoman's job of covering them here.

Civil Rights push for gay marriage and workforce equity

The Governor will see AB 43, Mark Leno's gay marriage bill back on his desk again this year. For the second time, the Legislature, on a strictly party-line vote, has passed this measure and will likely see the governor veto it again. This is a hard sell, with the Governor having ducked the measure last year, saying the Court should decide. The Supreme Court turned around and said the legislature should decide. Well, they have. Governor?

Two measures that we've been following on our weblog over the past few weeks have now passed both houses and are on their way to the Governor's desk. The first, AB 437, by Assemblymember Dave Jones, ensures that victims of pay discrimination continue to have a fair opportunity to seek redress in the courts. The measure clarifies that the time period for alleging pay discrimination claims runs from the date of each payment of a discriminatory wage.

The second, AB435 by Assemblymember Julia Brownley, addresses workplace discrimination against women. The measure extends the statue of limitations for an employee in order to file a civil action against an employer for wage discrimination and also extends the time period that an employer is required to maintain wage and job classification records.

Click here for more on both these measures.

Initiatives on the move

Without a doubt, the most talked-about initiative this week is the transparent attempt by the Republican party to co-opt California's 55 electoral votes in order to swing the next presidential election back to them. The initiative is couched in pleasant and reasonable language; talking about fairness and every vote counting, etc. But there is nothing fair about this initiative, designed to replace California's winner-take-all system of handing all its electoral votes to the state's popular vote winner (as is done in 48 other states) with a system that gives electoral votes by congressional district popular vote. Bottom line: In a state where the Reps have about a snowball's chance of winning, this measure, if passed, would send them home with about 20-22 of the state’s 55 electoral votes. It is a cynical and serious plot to keep the White House, even though they haven't really WON the presidency since 1988.

The Dems are rightly, crying foul here. This past week, National Democratic Party Chair, Howard Dean called this, "just another Republican attempt to rig an election." Check out the San Francisco Chronicle article here. Unless enough people know about this ploy, the measure will likely qualify for the ballot and cost the Dems between $10-20 million to kill it, moving money from places it would otherwise be spent for democratic candidates and issues. Likely exactly what the Reps had in mind when they pulled this stunt. Smells a lot like Karl Rove is still alive and well.

When we reported last week's edition of While California Dreams, it appeared that the Term Limits/Extension initiative might not make it onto the ballot because it appeared to lack the required number of signatures. Seems this was a false alarm-as two counties reconsidered their counting techniques, recounted, and decided that the signatures qualified after all. A collective sigh of relief was purportedly heard emanating from the Capitol as current, otherwise termed-out legislators still stand to gain additional years if this measure passes.

This event may very well lead to additional ballot measures. The conventional wisdom goes that Schwarzenegger's support is either necessary or very helpful to get the term-limits/extension measure passed, but he won't play ball unless a redistricting measure is also included, which will take the ability to configure legislative districts out of the hands of the legislature. Without such a measure, there is concern that the Gov. might even oppose the desired term-limits/extension measure, thus likely condemning it to fail. Speaker Nunez is purported to be scurrying hard to put an initiative together that will meet the Gov's requirements, while Senator Perata has made it clear it won't get by the Senate if it also includes putting Congressional redistricting into the hands of an outside body. The key question is whether such a compromise is in the offing and whether it flies with the Gov. No answer on that one yet.

As we reported last week, Senator Perata's advisory initiative is on the governor's desk. Perata wants the people of California to be able to weigh in on the war in Iraq and let the President and Congress know whether we want an immediate withdrawal of our troops. The vote was predictably along party-lines and the odds are that the Gov. will veto it along the same party line. But the problem for the Governor "of the people", as he likes to define himself, is that he can't argue that the people shouldn't have a chance to express their opinion on this measure, without being labeled a hypocrite. Don't bet on seeing this reach the ballot, however. There's very little upside for the Gov in signing the measure to send it to the ballot. He's too good a politician not to realize this.



The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

End of Session Drama Begins

Senate Bill 974- The Art of the Possible

To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/

With only a few days left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a mad-dash to end the year on an upbeat of legislative accomplishment. This is also the time when good intentions and bad bills can wreak havoc on our state so we'll be watching bills carefully and sounding the alarm if we think there are concerns that you might want to express to the legislature or the Governor when these measures get to his desk.

We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!


Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team


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Recently, we posted a piece by Senator Alan Lowenthal, calling for passage of his container-fee measure, SB 974. This common-sense measure would have required a minimal fee on each container coming off the ships at the Ports of Long Beach, L.A. and Oakland where the air quality is so badly impacted by the vehicles transporting this important commerce. The fee generated would go to mitigate the filthy and unhealthy air quality. It would also be used to repair the infra-structure upon which the trucks and vehicles transporting these goods move.

Unfortunately, those who benefit from the commercial (read profit) aspects of this---the Wal-Marts and other big corporations, have been fighting tooth-and-nail to kill this bill. While Senator Lowenthal remains committed to its passage, the dark under-belly of politics has pushed back ferociously. Although they've been able to delay the measure, the pressure being put on the Governor and other legislators has increased because of the public concern and outcry that has moved this bill far beyond what the big moneyed lobbyists ever expected.

Although Senator Lowenthal has announced he will not move the bill this year, progress is clearly being made. The fact that he was able to sit face-to-face with the Governor means a great deal in terms of the importance this measure carries. Usually, meetings on bills occur with the Governor's underlings. In this case, the Governor has personally committed to some kind of fee to off-set the filth and dangerous conditions that surround the ports of our state.

But since this is politics, the fact is that the Gov. doesn't want to further alienate Big Business while he tries to shove some kind of healthcare "reform" down their throats. We don't think his idea of reform is much of anything, so long as the health insurance industry is still in the game and calling the shots. But Schwarzenegger is committed to putting something out there to placate the public demand for a fix of this completely broken system. Thus the delay on cleaning up the air. But this is politics--the art of the possible. So Senator Lowenthal will wait until January to rev up this important bill.

For many of us, this is just more frustration at the delay, while the health and lives of many continue to be sacrificed at the altar of greed and profit. But this is also a political world we live in. Sometimes the right thing takes a while to happen. In the case of SB 974 we'll expect to see that happen in the coming legislative year.

Here are Senator Lowenthal's thoughts on the situation:


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This is the truly crazy-making time of the legislative year, when hundreds of bills line up on the floor like airplanes on a crowded runway. And productivity isn't measured by the quality of the bills being considered but rather by the number that are disposed of on the floor each day. With over 700 bills waiting for take-off or otherwise, it's a madhouse. Several bills have already been or will be delayed, postponed or canceled while most of those lined up will take off for the Governor's desk where their fate will be decided within thirty days of their final vote.

An action alert is up, here:

http://ga4.org/campaign/ActNowforCaliforniasEnergy Future

But read on for the details.

It is chaos, exhausting and usually a productive time. But this is also the time of year when egos and hard-feelings from past slights, disrespect or other machinations force otherwise important measures to languish and die, often even before hitting the runway.

Such is the fate of Senator Joe Simitian's bill, SB 412 which would required the Liquified Natural Gas supporters to demonstrate an actual need for the product before any LNG terminals could be built in California. This seems like a no-brainer in that these plants are enormously expensive to build and often present serious environmental concerns. It would only make sense that before California allow any to be constructed under those conditions that we prove they are actually necessary. With that in mind, the measure should have made it to the floor---but was held up in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, along with several other important measures that had been developed and passed not only through their "house of origin" (the Senate) but had made it beyond all the Assembly committees. The process then calls for them to be heard or just temporarily held in the Appropriations committee before being released for floor vote in that house. In SImitian's case, he had no such luck. Was it the nature of the bill and lots of opposition? Nope. Not in this case.


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A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 1, 2007


Key bills and issues we've been following during the

past week and beyond


Now that the Budget has gratefully been put to bed for another year, the Legislature and Governor have been focused on trying to sprint through the last few weeks of this legislative year. With hundreds of bills still yet to be resolved, the big issue back on the front burner is health care reform and the unfortunate rush to completion that has now taken on an almost messianic fervor.

Another issue that has clearly been driving the Legislature, especially its leadership this year has been the Term Limits measure designated for the February 2008 ballot. Seems there may be some unexpected glitches to that one.

Another interesting measure that may or may not get on the February 2008 ballot revolves around a non-binding resolution promoted by President Pro Tem Don Perata. This ballot measure would ask California's voters if they think we should immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq. Although a non-binding resolution, it certainly has lots of folks aflutter.

Lots more to mention, so here's the scoop on this past week:


The Budge-- a final analysis

Speak Out California supporter and friend, Senator Sheila Kuehl, has been writing on the budget process and its consequences for the state of California. This is her final piece on the 2007/08 budget that gives an excellent analysis of this year's process and its impact.


SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 .

We've been reporting on California's answer to the health care debate since we started this weekly update three months ago (For a look at the back issues, click here) As we've been reporting, the issue boils down to whether we're going to get real reform through a single-payor system, like the Medicare system already in place, or just some adjustment to the current system that retains the health insurance industry as the primary beneficiary of our health care dollars, rather than patients who need the care and those who provide it to them.

The Gov wants to keep the health insurance industry in the play, even though they add nothing to the delivery of healthcare. Speaker Nunez and Senate Pro Tem Perata have proposed a compromise in the form of AB 8 as a sort of a half-way proposal.

The key stumbling block, no matter how they slice and dice the negotiations, revolves around how we're going to pay for this system. Although the Kuehl bill, SB 840 is the most vetted and comprehensive proposal, the Governor has said he will veto it if and when it comes back to his desk for signature. He vetoed a similar measure last year, obviously not having read it, because his veto message completely mischaracterized the measure. That, of course, is no moment for this Governor, who like the President, doesn't let fact get in the way of his grandiose schemes. Regardless, the Dems want to get something out to the public this year, even if it isn't that helpful in revamping a system that is clearly broken and in need of a complete overhaul.

Unfortunately, the debate really hasn't started in earnest until just this week, with the Governor realizing his ideas include a tax increase that his Republican colleagues won't approve, no matter how much he insists. The Perata/Nunez proposal calls for employers to plunk a nifty 7 1/2 % of payroll into the fund, while the California Restaurant Association and other small business interests are suggesting an alternative that includes increasing the sales tax to fund the program.

There is a little something here for everyone, including a minimum employer contribution, an expansion of medical coverage to nearly all of the 4.9 million Californians without it. But it still requires all Californians to have health insurance, thus keeping the bloated insurance industry in the game. As a concession to those who believe that taking the insurance industry out of the process is the real key to reforming this broken system, the plan would make some effort to control the uncapped premiums they are able to charge while requiring them to reveal the costs of their services. This would hopefully, generate competition and theoretically reduce their unconscionable profits and ability to deny health care for so many who do not "qualify" under their profit-driven models (such as those who have had the misfortune of having pre-existing conditions that the insurance companies refuse to cover).

There are several good articles on this issue, starting with the most updated analysis from the LA Times.

And analyzing the "dance" displayed this week in these negotiations (supporting the old adage that the two things you never want to watch being made are legislation and sausage) is John Myers, Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED's "The California Report", in his 8/29/07 and 8/30/07 articles for Capital Notes.

Senator Sheila Kuehl, the architect of SB 840 and leading spokesperson for a universal, single-payor but private delivery healthcare system, has a thoughtful article questioning the race-to-finish proposal being hammered out by the Governor and Democratic leaders. Frank Russo has this article posted on his site.


Initiatives and More Initiatives filling up the 2008 ballot.

One initiative that won't be cluttering up the ballot, at least not the June ballot, is the attempt by the big business interests in California to squelch the right of the little guy to sue for violations of law under the state's important class action system. Led by the corporate big-wigs at Intel, they were hoping to sneak this little dandy passed a sleeping electorate in June, 2008. But as more and more significant and controversial measures get dumped into the June ballot, the public's attention will be redrawn to that election. Thinking the better of trying to eliminate hard-fought rights for the public, CJAC, the moniker big business hides behind, announced this week that they were pulling the initiative from the ballot. They did leave open, however, another attempt which there is little doubt they will try when they think the time is right and the public isn't paying attention. But we will be...

Another possible unclogging of the ballot comes in a most unexpected place. One of the key motivators of this entire legislative year, it is asserted, has been the legislative leadership's attempt to expand the term-limits law to allow them to serve additional terms (and then reduce terms for each subsequent batch of legislators). The goal has been to get the measure on the February ballot so the current but otherwise termed-out members and leaders can extend the length of their service. But something may have happened on the way to the Ball. It seems that not enough signatures have met the qualifications test and thus the initiative may not make it onto the ballot in time to save the terms of the current members. If the measure fails to make the Feb 5th ballot, it would be a huge blow to those who were hoping for an opportunity to extend their lengths of service.

For more on this story, check out the a first and second article by the Sac Bee.

In order to seal the deal, (should the Secretary of State certify the number of signatures before the September 20th deadline to secure a place on the ballot for the February ballot), Nunez is frantically trying to put a redistricting bill together. For the term limits/extension measure to pass, many believe that the Governor needs to lend his support to it. He's made it clear that he won't unless a redistricting measure accompanies it. While there are many moving parts to this idea--(think Congress), the Speaker is trying frantically to push this idea through the final two weeks as well.

Last, but by no means insignificant-at least in terms of controversy, is the initiative being pushed by Senator Perata which would put the Iraqi War issue on the ballot. Although only "advisory", this would allow the people of California to weigh in on whether we should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately. Cynics believe this is just an attempt to bring out more disaffected Democrats to vote on the term-limits initiative (which the polls say they support). Perata says it gives the voters an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the War and give voice to their concerns.

The measure has passed both houses of the legislature on the predictable party-line. It's certainly hard to believe there isn't a single Republican who thinks this disastrous occupation shouldn't come to an end, but there it is. Of course, the only Republican whose opinion matters at this point is the Governors. As the bill is now on his desk, the conventional wisdom is that he'll veto it since he's taken the Republican line all along on the war. No matter that it's inconsistent with his mantra of "power to the people" and that the people should be allowed to decide on matters of importance. But hypocrisy seems to run deep on the "R" side of the aisle these days, not that they have a monopoly on it---just that they seem to have perfected it during the Bush years. With little upside to the Governor, (who is having enough trouble getting along with his party these days), a veto is the more likely probability here.


The Rest of the Story


Our blogging offerings for the week


*Big Business tanking on an anti-worker initiative

Beating back bad initiatives one-at-a-time


*A final piece in celebration of Women's Equality Day

Speaker Pelosi on being the First Woman Speaker of the House


*Environmental Legislation to clean up the state's air- by Sen. Alan Lowenthal

Job Killer or Opportunity to help clean up LA's filthy air?


To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/


With only a few weeks left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a flurry of activity and key bills we'll be watching over the next several editions of our weekly update. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!


Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team


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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2007 is the previous archive.

October 2007 is the next archive.

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