Friday, December 31, 2010

Joe Miller's fight to be the senator from Alaska will end in 2010

After his opponent, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski, was certified as the winner of the Alaska senate race, Joe Miller decided to end his legal fight and concede. Click here fore more from the AP.

"Roberts Urges Obama and Senate to Fill Judicial Posts"

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has asked President Obama and the Senate to fill the 96 federal judicial vacancies. Click here to read more from the NYT.

Recalling Schwarzenegger's Tenure as Governor

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Like it or not, the Governator will not "be back." We've had a long run with him, seven years.
The economy is now, undeniably, in the tank. Questions continue to linger as to whether California is governable. Answers are many, but real solutions too often seem few and far between.
So behind all the rhetorical noise, it is worth asking, how did the Governator do and what does his tenure mean for the future of California?
To answer those questions, let's take a look at a few key issues:


The Budget Process: Perhaps more important than anything else, Schwarzenegger failed to fix the budget. This is Schwarzenegger's greatest short coming, and was the primary purpose of his 2003 campaign. However, it is important to ask how much any governor could have accomplished.
Schwarzenegger has managed to get one of his favored reforms on the 2012 ballot; a measure would mandate a larger rainy day fund. Further, in November of 2010 Californians did pass a measure to reduce the number of votes needed to pass the budget from two-thirds to a simple majority. Yet, at the same time Californians also passed a measure which requires that all fee increases be passed by two-thirds of both houses. This is the same requirement necessary to raise taxes. Unless one party magically garners two thirds of both legislative houses, these supermajority requirements will result gridlock.
Gimmicks aside, there are only so many options when it comes to balancing a budget. One can raise revenue, cut spending, or borrow. Because it will be arduous, though not impossible, to raise revenue (taxes or fees), the later two options are likely to continue in at least the short term.

Bonds/Indebtedness: When Schwarzenegger took office California had $34 billion in bond debt. That sounds like a sizable number until you hear that we now have $91 billion in such debt. This is in some part due to two bond sales that Schwarzenegger supported. First, at Schwarzenegger's behest, California sold $15 billion in bonds to balance the 2005 budget. Second, again with Schwarzenegger's urging, we sold $37 billion in infrastructure bonds.

And he wants more. Schwarzenegger is supporting an $11 billion bond for water conservation that will be on the 2012 ballot.

Bonds debt is sometimes quite necessary, and certainly not inherently evil. However, it will need to be repaid at some point. It is not free money.

The Tax System: Schwarzenegger called a bipartisan tax commission that was charged with finding ways to make our sometimes volatile tax system less dependent on the highest earners and capital gains taxes. However, the recommendations were dead on arrival.

The Car Tax: One of the first things Schwarzenegger did when he rode into office was cut the infamous vehicle license fee. This was one of Schwarzenegger's first campaign promises, and he fulfilled it. The problem is that it is has cost California big time, to the tune of about $6 billion per year. Goodbye car tax, hello structural deficit.


Schwarzenegger has been plagued by charges of unethical behavior. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics named him as one of America's worst governors in 2010.
There have been questions about his use of non-profit and campaign funds for travel and special elections. He has also given termed out legislators and other friends "soft landing" jobs on state boards.


Redistricting Reform: He supported common sense redistricting reform. (Click here for more on redistricting). Legislators will no longer draw their own, gerrymandered districts in order to stay in power. Now an independent redistricting commission will draw the state and congressional district lines.

Open Primaries: Schwarzenegger endorsed open primaries. There are undoubtedly pros and cons to the new California law which provides that any voter can vote for any candidate in the primary election, and that the top two voter-getters, regardless of party affiliation proceed to the general election. Whether or not this is an achievement largely depends on your perspective.

One potential drawback is that races could be more expensive because candidates have to appeal to the entire electorate in both the primary and the general election. In addition, the new law will all but eviscerate third party candidates, who are unlikely to be among the top two voter getters, and hence will not appear on the general election ballot.

The stated purpose of the law is to elect more moderates, who are likely to be consensus builders who will break up partisan grid lock. Time will tell whether this reform proposal takes flight.


Schwarzenegger paved the way to make California a leader in green energy. He signed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Voters refused to delay implementation of this measure as recently as November 2010.

As always, history will be the final judge of Governor Schwarzenegger. In the meantime, hasta la vista and Ciao for now, Governator.

Jessica Levinson on the local news re new laws in California

Click here to see Jessica Levinson on the local news describe some of the laws taking effect in California in 2011.

More ways to skirt pay-to-play laws?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is facing questions surrounding the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts to companies that donated to a pro-Christie advocacy group, Reform Jersey Now. The companies' donations to a pro-Christine group, instead of Christie himself, may allow the companies to avoid campaign finance laws, while still using money to influence (or attempt to influence) Christie.

Click here for more from the WSJ.


"Across the nation, governors cut back on inauguration hoopla"

Lavish inaugural balls are apparently on the decline. With many of their constituents feeling a financial pinch, newly elected or re-elected governors across the country are opting for more budget-friendly inaugurations.
Some governors are using private donations, instead of public funds, for their swearing in ceremonies. This practice may raise questions as to whether donations made to to inauguration accounts should be disclosed, just as donations made to campaign accounts are. Click here for more.

Christine O'Donnell continues to strike back

Unsuccessful Tea Party candidate for senate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, continues to strike back against allegations that she impermissibly used campaign funds for personal uses (such as rent for her house). A federal criminal investigation is apparently underway. O'Donnell contends that all charges against her are politically motivated. She has previously pointed the finger at Vice President Joe Biden.

O'Donnell was recently quoted as saying: “You have to look at this whole ’thug-politic’ tactic for what it is.”

Click here for more.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"A Tea Party Supreme Court?"

Click here to listen to a discussion on "Patt Morrison" about, among other things, the political activities of Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Viriginia co-founded a Tea Party advocacy group. Patt and her guest, Found Dean of UCI School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky, primarily discuss the question, does "the Supreme Court now have a Tea Party agenda as well?"


At long last, introducing the senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski

The official vote tally has been certified. After weeks of legal wrangling over whether and how to count write-in votes, Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski has been certified as the winner of her infamous match-up with Tea Party candidate Joe Miller. Alaska, congratulations, you have two senators who will be officially sworn in on January 5, 2011. Click here and here for more.   

What new laws are taking effect in California in 2011?

Jessica Levinson will be on the channel 11 news tonight at 10 p.m. PST. The program can also be streamed by clicking here.

She will discuss new laws taking effect in California in 2011.

"Small donors make big impact"

An opinion piece in the Times Union discusses ways to reform New York's campaign financing system. The article also addresses the need not only to reduce the influence of money, but also to increase public participation in politics.

"GOP fundraising avoids campaign limits through PACs ahead of 2012"

Likely Republican presidential candidates in 2012 are raising millions in campaign funds. The group of hopefuls includes Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. No news there, right? Well, all of this money is being raised outside of the reach of campaign finance laws.

Under federal law, presidential candidates must create an exploratory or presidential fundraising committee prior to collecting any campaign donations. However, in order to skirt this troublesome law (intended to reduce the influence of money over politics), candidates are raising funds for their political action committees (popularly known as PACs). PAC funds can legally be used for essentially the same purposes as direct campaign contributions, for consulting, staff and travel.

Click here for more from USA Today. 


Christine O'Donnell denies misusing her campaign funds

First come the accusations, next come the denials.

Recently, reports swirled that there is a federal criminal investigation concerning failed Republican candidate for senate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, and her use of campaign funds for personal purposes. 

Now O'Donnell is coming out swinging, claiming that any investigation is political motivated. O'Donnell claims that Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware, is behind the investigations. Here is an excerpt from her statement: "So given that the King of the Delaware Political Establishment just so happens to be the Vice President of the most liberal Presidential administration in U.S. history, it is no surprise that misuse and abuse of the FBI would not be off the table."

For more from the WSJ, click here, and for more from the NYT, click here

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thanks for the new laws Governor Blagojevich

Thanks to Blago's stellar performance as Governor of Illinois, the General Assembly has approved a bevy of laws aimed at decreasing the influence of money on politics. Click here for more.

Jessica Levinson quoted in the Daily News about new laws taking effect in 2011

Jessica Levinson was quoted in the Daily News about state regulations taking effect on January 1, 2011.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

"It seems like, except for the pot, we're in a more regulation mode," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. "There's a lot of laws dealing with safety, which is no surprise."
Nursing facilities that fail to post the Medicare ratings - from one to five stars - will face fines.
"The law on nursing homes is representative of the increasing aging population," Levinson said. "As more families face putting family members into assisted care, they want more information about facilities, and this law addresses that."
There are also laws that show how much times have changed, such as the repeal of an unenforced 60-year-old law requiring the Department of Mental Health to research the causes and cures for homosexuality. "I was really surprised that this was still on the books," Levinson said. "Even though California voters recently decided that homosexuals can't marry, I don't hear a lot in the popular discourse of it being a mental illness."

Is the seemingly endless Alaska Senate race drawing to a close?

Yet another loss for Tea Party candidate Joe Miller. Reuters reports that a federal district judge dismissed Joe Miller's lawsuit challenging his loss to Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's election for a Senate seat. The judge lifted the injunction that he had previously imposed. That injunction delayed certification of the election results. The election is expected to be certified on Thursday, December 30th.

Murkowski, the incumbent, will be the first Senate candidate to win based on a write-in campaign since 1954.

"Palin's Donation Strategy and Romney's: The Tea Party Surge versus the 2012 Surge"

Slate provides this report on pre-election donations made by Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney's political action committees (PACs).


"Feds investigate Christine O’Donnell spending"

The AP reports that Christine O'Donnell, the unsuccessful and controversial senate candidate from Delaware, is under federal criminal investigation for using campaign funds on personal expenses.
O'Donnell is also (in)famous for asking “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?”

"Tilting rightwards: What the latest count shows about America "

Click here for a report by The Economist, on how the new round of redistricting will affect Congress' partisan makeup.

The article concludes by stating: "Moreover, Republicans will have unprecedented control over redistricting. In November voters chose Republicans to lead state legislatures. Because these legislatures guide redistricting, Republicans will now be able to choose their voters."

From Paris: America has lost its political center and redistricting is to blame

The Paris Post-Intelligencer writes that America has lost its political center, and Congressional redistricting is to blame. In the article, gerrymandered districts are blamed for a lack of moderate legislators.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"New House Members Wake Up to Redistricting"

The NYT reports on the importance of the upcoming process of redrawing Congressional lines. The article focuses on New York Congressional lines, and brings up the possibility of appointing an independent redistricting commission, just as California has.

Was the 2003 recall of Gov Davis worth it?

Click here to listen to Jessica Levinson, John Meyers of KQED and Governor Davis discuss the propriety of the 2003 recall election that swept Gov Schwarzenegger into Gov Davis' post.

What is Corruption?

David Brooks of the NYT has compiled his list of the best magazine essays of the year. In it,he describes a piece in the American Interest, by Lawrence Rosen called "Understanding Corruption." The essay asks the question, "what does corruption mean?"

So I ask the reader, is corruption a legal term, something akin to bribery? Is it a broader moral concept?

Rosen find that people in the Middle East see corruption as a different concept, one that seems to resemble a lack of generosity or awareness of indebtedness. 

Will there be sunlight in Washington?

A Washington State Senator is pushing for increased campaign finance disclosure. This call for greater transparency comes in the wake of citizen outrage over secret campaign funds that played a role in two legislative races in 2010. Undisclosed PAC spending now seems to pose a threat to the continued viability or effectiveness of existing disclosure laws.

Jessica Levinson on KPCC at 10:40 a.m.

Jessica Levinson will be live on KPCC (89.3 fm or at 10:40 a.m. She will be discussing the 2003 recall of Governor Davis, and Governor Schwarzenegger's legacy.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, December 27, 2010

Did it pay off to recall Gov. Davis and elect Gov. Schwarzenegger?

Was the recall worth it? For more from the L.A. Times, click here and here.

"Will Redistricting Lead to A Great Disappearing Act?"

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Will Republicans be able to legally cause Democrats to disappear? Just maybe.

Now that the U.S. Census Bureau has announced its reapportionment data, we are entering what I like to term, "redistricting season."

Every ten years we count how many people live in our country. Then we draw lines that are intended to ensure that citizens are fairly represented in the House of Representatives. Simply put, if you're one person, you should get one vote. No more, no less.

But here's the rub. Those lines can also help political parties increase their power. The party in charge of drawing district lines can, and often does, try to draw members of the opposing party right out of their districts. Is there one, very strongly Democratic district? Why not split it into two and see if you can get a Republican in there? Partisan wrangling seems to be an ever-present facet of the redistricting process.
In so-called "swing states" like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, redistricting could make a big difference. Those three states have two things in common. First, due to changes in population they will loose representatives. Second, Republicans control the state government, and hence the redistricting process.

Is there any recourse for the party that is not in power?

Why yes. The 1965 Voting Rights Act. To give a terribly general explanation of this federal law, it says, in sum, that the states should not obstruct minority voting rights by doing things like drawing congressional district which split up "majority-minority" districts.

For instance, the lines drawn in Detroit, Cleveland and many parts of Texas could not only help to solidify Republican power, but could also erase some minority districts. For this reason, those drawing the lines must tread lightly in order to avoid drawing impermissible lines. As a side note, based on redistricting in Cleveland we may soon be throwing a farewell party to Congressmen, and sometimes Presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich.

Many eyes will be on Texas, where the state picked up four representatives in large part because of population growth in Hispanic communities. Democrats contend that the areas of growth typically support Democrats, while, predictably, Republicans claim just the opposite. Republicans, in control of the redistricting process, could likely draw districts that strengthen their own hold in the Lone Star State. It is well worth noting, however, that Texas is one of more than a dozen states that under the Voting Rights Act must get the stamp of approval from the (now Democratically controlled) Justice Department before their districts are drawn.

History could indicate that President Obama's justice department may wish to steer clear of this bloody war, but as they say, only time (and line drawing) will tell.

Jessica Levinson on "AirTalk" Tuesday Dec. 28th at 10:30 a.m.

Jessica Levinson will be on "AirTalk" on Tuesday December 28th at 10:30 a.m. talking about Governor Schwarzenegger's legacy. The show is broadcast on 89.3 FM. You can also listen live by clicking here.

Did Jon Stewart make the Senate pass the 9/11 Bill?

Did Jon Stewart's comments on "The Daily Show" lead to Senate passage of the bill providing health care to 9/11 responders? For more, read this

Miller Won't Block Murkowski Senate Certification

GOP Senate hopeful Joe Miller has announced that he won't prevent certification of his opponent, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski. For more, read this.

Murkowski lost against Miller in the primary, and ran as a write-in in the general election. Since the election, Miller has waged numerous legal challenges in both state and federal court. He was a decisive loser in state courts. Now what remains is for the federal judge hearing Miller's challenge to lift the stay on senate certification of Murkowski as the winner.

Lest you think this is the last word in the Miller-Murkowski match-up, it is not. Miller has vowed to continue litigating some of his claims concerning the election. Specifically, the battle concerns, among other things, whether write-in ballots that contain misspellings of Murkowski's name should be counted.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Hotel Stays, Flights and a $400 Bottle of Wine"

Jessica Levinson is quoted in Voice of San Diego about the propriety of gifts to San Diego County Office of Education employees. Specifically, the employees took business trips to learn more about companies they considered doing business with, and those companies picked up most, if not all, of the tab for those trips.
"It smells bad," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "They're clearly trying to influence them."

How can redistricting affect politics on local levels?

The Mercury News reports that San Jose will soon undertake its once every ten years job of redrawing districts for city council members. The new district lines are expected to have a significant impact on the balance of power in San Jose, and therefore on a wide range of issues facing the city. 

In related news, all eyes will soon by on California's newly minted independent redistricting commission, which will draw both state and federal district lines.

Barack Obama for President?

In supremely unsurprising news, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says President Obama is likely to run for re-election in 2012. If this weren't true, David Axelrod's move to Chicago to spear head the re-election campaign would seem a bit puzzling ... For more from USA Today, click here.

Is Filibuster Reform Looming?

CBS offers this report.

The NYT weighs in here.

Politico writes about the issue here.

When do websites become campaign advertisements?

An anonymous website called the "Cutler Files," became an important facet of Maine's recent gubernatorial race. The website contained content critical of unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, and raises questions about future applications of campaign finance laws.

Cutler filed an ethics complaint concerning the website because it did not disclose its authors or funding.Websites may be subject to campaign finance disclosure and disclaimer provisions. Simply put, if the website was, for instance, authorized by another candidate, that's information that should be publicly disclosed. One of the authors of the website has already been fined, and the legal wrangling continues.

The next question for Maine will likely be, should there be a financial threshold that one must reach before falling within campaign finance disclosure laws. For instance, a website that expressly advocates for or against a client may cost little money. Does the public still have a right to know who is behind a website?

For more, click here and here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cash for Votes?

The Washington Post reports that despite ethical concerns, members of Congress raise large campaign sums while weighing in on laws affecting their contributors. Even if there is not one lawmaker whose decision was affected by a large campaign contribution, the appearances of this arrangement are terrible.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Is Kamala Harris the anti-Palin?

Is California new attorney general, Kamala Harris, the anti-Palin? Politico says yes.

What were the top 10 political moments of 2010?

Politico has this report on the "top 10 political moments of 2010."

Is the Supreme Court Moving to the Left?

A L.A. Times article finds that the addition of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court has moved debates during oral arguments to the left.

Could Predictions about GOP Gains be Overrated?

These articles argue that there could be a myriad of reasons why the predictions of big GOP gains surrounding the next redistricting process could be overstated.

Will Democrats Invoke the Voting Rights Act?

Many are contending that Republicans stand to gain as a result of the new U.S. census numbers. They will likely attempt to draw district lines that cause Democrats to do something that would make many Republicans quite happy, disappear. What is the Democrats' recourse? They could claim that new redistricting schemes violate the Voting Rights Act. For more, click here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Got Prohibition?

An initiative banning the sale of alcohol in some movie theaters has qualified for the ballot in Springfield Missouri. Voters will soon decide whether they can throw back a cold one while watching a movie. Click here to read more.

"In Redistricting, Equality Can’t Make People Vote"

Interesting discussion of the limits of redistricting. Specifically, the piece posits that fair districts can be drawn, but that politicians will always pay more attention to those districts that contain a greater majority of voters than other districts. The moral of the story seems to be, if you want your politicians to pay attention, vote.

Will Joe Miller Bow Out?

After the Alaska Supreme Court rejected all of his legal challenges to the Alaska Senate race, Tea Party candidate Joe Miller will decide on Monday whether to continue his fight, or concede to incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski.

If he decides to bow out, it could be based on the fact that the majority of legal experts think he has a slim chance to succeed in federal court. Having exhausted his claims in Alaska State courts, that would leave him with few additional options, save for an unrealistic appeal to the U.S. Senate.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reform for the Filibuster?

Senate Democrats -- who will remain in the majority, granted a weaker majority, when new Senators are sworn in next month -- are looking to reform the filibuster.For likely details of the proposal, click here.

More Democrats for Illinois?

Now that the reapportionment data is out, the partisan wrangling over redistricting has begun.

The Hill reports that in Illinois, unlike most other states, Democrats could pick up seats as a result of the redistricting.

Breaking News re Rahm Emanuel

The Chicago Board of Elections finds that Rahm Emanuel is eligible to run for mayor. He is now the clear front runner.

Is Rahm Emanuel Elligible to Run for Mayor of Chicago?

Former White House chief of staff, current mayoral candidate, Rahm Emanuel has been battling to prove that he meets the residency requirements necessary to be placed on the Chicago mayoral ballot.

 The Chicago Board of Elections will likely make its decision today.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Secret Money Flowing into U.S. Elections?

According to the Associated Press over 132 million undisclosed dollars flowed freely into the midterm elections.

In part as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling in January 2010 in Citizens United, independent groups can spend unlimited, often undisclosed funds, in an effort to affect candidate elections.

And the next Senator from Alaska is....?

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller is once again unsuccessful in his quest to have five thousand ballots declared invalid under Alaska election law. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Superior Court on all counts.

When (more and more likely not if) the federal courts rule against Miller, Lisa Murkowski will be certified as the winner of the election.

Reapportionment, Redistricting, and Partisan Politics

The U.S. Census Bureau unveiled new reapportionment data. The data will affect the number of representatives that each state has, in addition to the size and shape of districts within the states.

A partisan battle is brewing over how to draw the district lines. For more, there are interesting pieces today in Salon and Slate.

"Former Justices Stevens & O'Connor Reject 'Citizens United' Ruling"

The controversy over the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United rages on.

Two former Supreme Court Justices, Justices O'Connor and Stevens, have recently publicly denounced the Court's decision. By a 5-4 ruling, the Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend general treasury funds on so-called electioneering communications.

"Anne Gust Brown keeps governor-elect grounded"

Jessica Levinson was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle about the influence of Jerry Brown's wife on his future tenure as governor.

Here is an excerpt of the full article: 

"What do you do when your wife, an unpaid adviser, becomes the focus of controversy? Analysts and watchdogs say such a problem would probably cause more stress in a couple's marriage or with other staff than anything else.

'But the public really has no recourse with other unelected advisers, either, like a chief of staff,' said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do Socialism and Vegetables Have More in Common than Meets the Eye?

A hilarious discussion of socialism and vegetables against the background of the recent ruling declaring a portion of the new healthcare law to be unconstitutional under the commerce clause.

Don't Tell Us What to Ask

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Goodbye "don't ask, don't tell." At seventeen years old, the controversial law almost reached voting age.

Congratulations, President Obama, among others. A major piece of your 2008 campaign will shortly be realized.

Though, President Obama, you could have accomplished the same result by unilateral legislative action, you invited Congress to the party. Sixty-five Senators voted for the repeal of the divisive law that prevented gays from openly serving in the military. The vote largely fell down party lines. Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the repeal.

In an all too rare moment of smart strategy, the historic bill was a stand alone bill, meaning it was not attached to any other proposed laws. The bill originated in the House of Representatives, which had previously passed in that legislative chamber.

A majority of both members of our nation's legislative chambers have now essentially said whether you're a man who loves women or a woman who loves women, you've voluntarily opted to risk your life for our country, so feel free to be yourself, publicly.

The historical trajectory of gay rights seems increasingly clear. All eyes will soon turn to the Ninth Circuit's decision on the constitutionality of California's controversial ballot measure, which banned gay marriage. For more on that, click here.

As for gay people serving in the military in silence, in the words of Joan Didion, "goodbye to all that."

Will the Supreme Court Let Arizona Keep Its Clean Elections Program?

A portion of Arizona's public campaign financing program now hangs in the balance. For more read today's NYT editorial, or a previous Huffington Post article.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How Many Representatives Do I Have Today?

On Tuesday December 21, 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau will announce which states will gain and loose seats in the House of Representatives.

This is “Super Tuesday” for anyone interested in how many representatives they have in their state. The national redistricting season is upon us.

U.S. Census population information determines the size, shape and number of districts in a state. In some cases, legislators can basically be drawn right out of their districts. For instance, depending on the shape a size of a district, a reliably Republican district can be split apart and turned into two Democratic districts. Depending on which states, and specifically which districts gain or loose seats, it could shift the partisan balance of power

Will Democrats be able to draw themselves back into power? Probably not. The data will likely help the Republicans. If the map looks the way it does now, Democrats will have to pick up 25 seats in 2012 to re-take the house. But under a new map, that number could be more like 35.

Who draws the lines? In some states the legislatures draw their own district lines, in others, like California, an independent redistricting commission draws the lines

Unprecedented Gutsiness by the Federal Government

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Talk about unexpected news -- the Senate has acted by unanimous consent. In a historic, gutsy, and pioneering move our elected officials have come to a shocking conclusion--our food should be safe.
Who said the Senate isn't a body of innovation and change?

Last month 73 Senators voted to pass the Food Safety and Modernization Act. Never mind that that vote was invalidated because the bill will raise revenue and should have originated in the House of Representatives.

The Senate has gone out on a limb in passing this legislation. They have opted to take on a truly controversial fight -- food contamination. Among other hot button provisions, the bill will force companies to recall bad food, inspect farms and food processing facilities, and impose stricter standards on imported foods. Our legislators are really stepping into the public fray on this one.

The bill will give the Food and Drug Administration more resources to fight and prevent such minor issues as outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella. When will our government turn its attention to something of consequence?

The Senate, never a body to shy away from risky behavior, has passed the first update of our food safety system in approximately 100 years. Oh how fast the wheels of the government turn.

But in truth, there are arguments on the other side of this issue. For instance, some people may deserve to be contaminated. But seriously folks, this bill gives the FDA a good deal of money, some argue it should spent elsewhere (or not spent at all). Small farmers have worried about the cost of compliance. Some also argue it represents government overreaching, as certain food producers and farmers will fall under stricter FDA control.

Even taking into account the counter-arguments, it seems to me there's a rather good case for trying to make sure that people don't get sick from what they eat. In an all-too-rare act of bipartisanship, members of both sides of the aisle in the Senate agree.

"Legislators push to alter Capitol's business-as-usual"

Jessica Levinson is quoted in the Sacramento Bee today, in an article by Jim Sanders, about legislative reform proposals for California in 2011.

"Jessica Levinson ... suspects that many of the new bills were proposed mostly for show. Some currently lack detail. 'I'm a cynic, but I think some of this is window dressing, in all honesty,' she said, noting the Legislature's record-low approval rating, which was 10 percent in a recent Field Poll.'"

Reform for California in 2011?

Jim Sanders, of the Sacramento Bee, has compiled a list of legislative proposals to reform California governance.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Gutsy Move by the U.S. Government

In a gutsy move by our federal government, both sides of the aisle recently came together on Sunday December 19, 2010. What was the innovative, controversial issue that brought together the Senate? That our food should be safe.

California's Redistricting Commission--Will It Make Any Difference?

In November of 2008, Californians passed Proposition 11, creating an independent, citizens redistricting commission. Thanks to the voters' decisions in November of 2010, this 14-member commission will draw legislative lines on the state and federal level. Previously, legislators drew their own district lines.

As of last week, the 14 members of the commission are now in place. The commission is made up of 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 4 registered voters who are members of neither major political party.

In today's Los Angeles Times, the question is, how much difference will this commission make to politics in California? 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Business Interests Triumph in the Roberts Court?

A new report indicates that business interests are doing well in the Roberts Court.

The study indicates that the Supreme Court is not only hearing more cases involving businesses, but also that its rulings are favorable to those interests.

More Breaking News on DADT

The Senate votes to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." The House already passed the bill. It now heads to the White House for President Obama's signature.

This means that gays will be able to openly serve in the military. A major victory for President Obama. Upon his signature, this repeal will fulfill one of his 2008 campaign promises.

Breaking News on DADT

Senate cloture vote passes 63-33. The bill will now advance to a full vote of the Senate. The bill has already (twice) passed in the House of Representatives.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Tries to Increase Voter Turnout

Trying to conquer a problem that faces so many jurisdictions, NYC Mayor Bloomberg has called for reforms to NYC's election laws.

Bloomberg wants to relax voting restrictions and requirements in order to get more people to the ballot box. Bloomberg proposes earlier voting, later voter registration, and easier absentee voting.

The problem is that the changes must be approved by the state legislature. The members of the legislature were all successfully elected under the old regime, and may be reticent to change the laws that helped them get their jobs. Incumbency protection is often a lurking problem.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is An Overturn of Don't Ask, Don't Tell Imminent?

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman (I) has proclaimed that there are enough votes in the Senate to repeal the controversial, Don't Ask, Don't Tell law.

"Supreme Court's corruption of election law"

Fascinating op-ed by Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21, in POLITICO.

In the piece Wertheimer discusses the Court's infamous Citizens United decision, and issues of judicial activism and campaign finance disclosure.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Clash of the Titans: An Ode to Sarah Palin"

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

First, a disclaimer, this post has absolutely nothing to do with Sarah Palin's political views. This is merely a hopefully comedic exploration of a reality television show, its hosts and guests.

Congratulations Sarah Palin, you helped usher in another Kate Gosselin television breakdown. I think we all knew it could be done.

On the most recent installment of Sarah Palin Conquers Alaska, sorry, I mean, Sarah Palin's Alaska, its Sarah versus Kate. These two may have more in common than either would like to admit. I have a sneaking suspicion that in high school you could find either one of these lovely ladies offering to be the cheerleader on the top of the pyramid, while feigning surprise that they "accidentally" wore shoes with cleats.

Kate Gosselin, who verbally bulldozed her husband on a weekly basis in front of a captivated television audience, headed up north to Alaska to pay a visit to Sarah Barracuda herself. And coincidentally, in the episode we see Sarah take more than a few jabs at the First Dude. At one point she proclaims that they might as well eat because moose burgers because Todd sure isn't going to catch any fish.

Oh boy! Or should I say, oh woman!

Now, drum roll please, its time to camp. While there was precipitation outside, Kate was definitely the one who rained on the parade. Kate dutifully looked after her brood. And by that I mean she took up residence under a makeshift tent, the only dry space of ground around. Kate then proceeded to do what any rational person who is cold and wet does, talk about it ad nauseam. Kate, as much as you complain about the circumstances, it isn't going to make them any better.

Sarah, meanwhile, in a Stepford Wife-like sing songy voice skips around the campgrounds with a jolliness that is almost as troubling as Kate's Debbie-downer demeanor. Oh Sarah, please stop talking about how much character this adventure is building. Not everything in life has to be an endurance test.

Am I proponent of strong women? You betcha! I simply don't understand those who aren't. Think about what it means for a moment.

But this clash of the titans wasn't about showcasing strong women. This was about watching Mama Grizzly triumph. In the words of Kate Gosselin, "all hail you Amazon woman."

Tax Cuts for Christmas?

Today the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a tax package already approved by the Senate. While complicated, the tax bill will do two main things--(1) extend the Bush era tax cuts, and (2) extend unemployment. A little something for both sides of the aisle. Will the House make any changes to the bill?

Click here for more from POLITICO, and here for a report by the WSJ. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The House (Again) Passes A Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The U.S. House of Representatives has again passed a bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The bill's fate is now in the hands of the Senate.

Click here for an AP report. 

"Bloomberg Is Accused of Hiding Election Money"

NYC City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently quieted rumors that he will make a bid for the White House is 2012, is now accused of concealing certain campaign funds.

Click here to read a WSJ article on this topic. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

The House of Representatives will vote on a new, stand alone, bill to repeal the controversial Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

For more on this, click here for Washington Post coverage, and here for coverage by The Hill.

"Embattled G.O.P. Chief Is Seeking a Second Term"

Embattled RNC Chairman Michael Steele seeks a second term. Click here for a NYT story about Steele's bid for re-election.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Your turn to play budget director: what should the government pay for, what should you?"

Jessica Levinson will be on NPR today at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the purposes of taxation.

Click here for a description of the show. 

Proposition 8: Who Will Be Left Standing?

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post. 

This week the Ninth Circuit heard arguments about Proposition 8, the uber-controversial California ballot measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Put another way, women and women, and men and men, if you want a marriage license, go to the end of the line and then walk straight out the door; California won't give you one of those.

The three judge Ninth Circuit panel heard arguments surrounding two basic questions. First, do proponents of the ballot measure have something called "standing" to appeal the decision of the trial court? Second, is a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage constitutional? This short piece addresses only the first question.

What happened at the trial level?

The federal trial over the constitutionality over Proposition 8 boasted an illustrious cast of characters. The two superstar legal eagles who faced off in the epic battle to pick the next president in 2000 joined forces almost exactly a decade later to have Proposition 8 declared unconstitutional. David Boies and Theodore Olson, the powerhouses from opposing sides of the famous and perhaps infamous case of Bush v. Gore, successfully convinced Judge Vaughn Walker to invalidate Proposition 8.

Apart from all of the debates about the propriety of the proposition, Judge Walker faced a singular question; do "plaintiffs seek to exercise the fundamental right to marry?" While the opinion was 138-pages, the answer was simply, "yes."

Who is left standing?

Simple enough, right? The proponents of Proposition 8 would appeal Judge Walker's ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, contending in essence that Judge Walker got it wrong.
Not so fast. The developments since Judge Walker's August ruling are nothing short of the stuff first year Constitutional Law final exams are built on. Hold on to your hats, we're now primed to enter a cloud of procedural confusion.

People who bring lawsuits (and appeals) in federal courts must have "standing" to do so. In a nutshell, the person suing (or appealing a judgment) better be able to prove that she has or will be injured, and that if she wins the case, it will remedy that injury.

When Boies and Olson filed suit in federal court, they sued, among others, Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown as defendants. When Attorney General Brown opted not to defend the suit, Judge Walker allowed a conservative group called "Protect Marriage" to step in and defend the measure.

After Judge Walker's ruling Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown selected not to appeal the case, a decision quite likely within their discretion. This didn't sit too well with some proponents of Proposition 8. A conservative group unsuccessfully asked the California State courts to order Schwarzenegger and Brown to appeal.

But, you may ask, "If Judge Walker granted the Protected Marriage group standing to intervene in the case, then they must have standing to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit?" Not necessarily so. The ability to intervene and standing to appeal could be different. But let's not go down that rabbit hole just now.
One option for the Ninth Circuit, brought up during the oral arguments, would be to ask the California Supreme Court, whether, under state law, proponents of an initiative have standing to defend it. But as, Davis Boies argued, perhaps issues of federal standing should not be decided by state courts.

What if we have to sit this standing argument out?

If the Ninth Circuit ultimately concludes that proponents of the ballot measure have no standing to appeal, the nation's first trial on the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage will end because there will simply be no one left standing.

A decision that plaintiffs lack standing would, however, be important precedent in another area. Such a decision would mean that if a ballot measure is successfully challenged, and the governor and attorney general do not want to defend that ballot measure, there could be no one who could legally defend that measure. In essence, faced with an attorney general and governor who don't want to defend a measure, the vote of a majority of a state could be overturned by one district court judge.

Is that a problem? Maybe not. The judiciary stands as an important check against the majority. The judicial branch is designed as a break against decisions by the majority that can harm minorities. The judiciary is in many ways the last stop on the train to tyranny of the majority.

U.S. District Judge Declares a Portion of Obama's Healthcare Law Unconstitutional

Breaking news. A federal judge has declared a portion of Obama's healthcare law to be unconstitutional.

Click here for one of what will be many articles.

A full analysis to come.

"To Lead Chicago, Emanuel Must First Prove He Lives There"

Click here to read a NYT article exploring former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel's campaign for mayor of Chicago.

Will his time in D.C. help or hurt Emanuel?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What do our taxes get us?

NYC will soon start charging motorists who require emergency services. They will not be the first municipality to do this. Is this just another sign of the bad economic times? Is it appropriate? What should we get for our tax dollors.

Click here to read the article in the Wall Street Journal about this topic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What do you expect to get from your tax dollars?

I will be on Patt Morrison's show on KPCC on Monday December 13th. You can listen by tuning in to 89.3 or clicking here.

He Can't Rangel Out of an Ethics Violation

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.
By an overwhelming vote of 333 to 79, 20-term Congressman Charles B. Rangel was censured by his colleagues for 11 ethics violations, including, among other things, improperly using his office to solicit fundraising donations for a City College built in his honor and failing to pay income taxes on a vacation home.
Rangel is the first member of the House to be censured in almost thirty years. The last were Congressmen convicted of having sex with Congressional pages. Congress passed up the opportunity to doll out a reprimand, a lesser punishment.

Rangel, like the newly convicted former Congressman Tom DeLay, claims that his punishment is politically motivated. (For more on DeLay, please see this recent post).
Rangel seemingly strode the streets of Harlem, the area of New York he represents, as a king among men. He has indeed given a great deal to our country, serving in the Korean War and as a driving force of the civil rights movement. Four short years ago Rangel nabbed the coveted position of chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
After this steady rise, came a precipitous fall. By 2008, newspapers buzzed with reports that Rangel accepted Manhattan apartments below fair market value, failed to report personal assets on disclosure forms, and neglected to pay income taxes.
Rangel was also accused of number of fundraising violations involving a City College built in his honor. Rangel, for instance, was charged with using Congressional stationary to solicit funds, asking companies and their representatives with business in front of Congress for donations, and protecting a tax loophole for a company that promised to make a million dollar donation to that school. Rangel eventually relinquished his position as chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel later said he brought the situation on himself, but vehemently pleaded with members of Congress to serve up a lesser sentence, a "reprimand." His pleas were to no avail and the formal censure was handed down.
What will happen to Rangel now that he has been censured? Not much. His reputation may have been forever tarnished, but it seems once Rangel stepped down as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the concrete sanctions ceased.
Rangel's campaign for a reprimand instead of a censure shows just how much words matter. Perhaps that should be no surprise to members of a governing body whose job descriptions include drafting laws, an area in which words most certainly do matter.
A censure is a formal resolution condemning inappropriate behavior that carries no specific consequences. Censures and reprimands are the same thing in the Senate, but different in the House, where a reprimand is served up when the crime is seen as not rising to the level of requiring a more formal resolution.
Another question, will this ordeal bring down more than Rangel's reputation, but also something that is already pretty low, public confidence?

The Supreme Court Could Axe Efforts to Reduce Big Money

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post

The Supreme Court has decided to review a 1998 Arizona law which provides public financing to qualified candidates. This decision will likely define the constitutional boundaries of public financing laws across the country.

Critics claim programs that provide public funding for candidates are welfare for politicians, that the public should not be forced to support candidates with whom they disagree, and that public funds could be better spent in other areas. Proponents, on the other hand, contend that these programs provide qualified candidates who may not have access to campaign funds with the opportunity to run competitive campaigns, allow candidates to spend time with all of their constituents and not just those who can provide campaign donations, reduce corruption or the appearance of corruption, either of which may arise as a result of private contributions, and increase public confidence in their elected officials.

In an effort to allow publicly financed candidates to remain competitive in the face of heavy opposition spending from privately financed opponents or independent expenditure groups, many public campaign finance laws provide so-called "rescue funds." These rescue fund provisions now stand on constitutionally shaky ground because of the Court's 2008 decision in Davis v. FEC.

In its misguided 2008 decision, the Supreme Court found struck down a portion of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (popularly known as McCain-Feingold), the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment," on First Amendment grounds. That amendment provided that a candidate running against a self-financing candidate could raise triple the normal contribution limits. The Court found that this amendment unconstitutionally limited a self-financing candidate's First Amendment right to spend as much of his own money as he wishes, concluding that a self-financing candidate would be not want to continue spending his own money if he knew his candidate would be able to raise larger contributions. In addition, the Court looked with disfavor on the state's asserted interest in leveling electoral opportunities for candidates of differing personal wealth.

Enter John McComish and company. McComish and some past and future candidates and a political committee challenged the constitutionality of the rescue funds provisions contained in Arizona's public campaign financing law claiming in essence that under the Court's 2008 decision the First Amendment rights of non-publicly financed candidates and independent groups is infringed upon under Arizona's law, because their spending triggers a publicly financed candidate's receipt of additional public funds. Put another way, plaintiffs claimed that they would not want to keep spending money if that action triggered the receipt of public funds by an opposing candidate.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that Arizona's public campaign financing law was not the same as the Millionaire's Amendment, in part because the purpose behind the two provisions is different. The Millionaire's Amendment was designed to level the electoral playing field, an interest that has never been in favor with the Court. The purpose of Arizona's public campaign financing law, by contrast, is to reduce corruption or its appearance, an interest that have long been upheld by the Court.
Further, the Millionaire's Amendment treats similarly situated candidates disparately, while Arizona's law treats different candidates differently. In Arizona's law, one candidate opts into a public financing scheme, and another does not.

In June, in an ominous move, the Court issued an order to stay the Ninth Circuit's ruling.
The Court's ruling will likely determine the constitutional limits of rescue fund provisions across the country. If rescue funds provisions are struck down on First Amendment grounds, the continued viability of public financing laws will be called into question. It may be difficult to convince candidates to take part in public financing programs if they cannot get additional public funds when faced with high spending opponents or third parties.

An earlier, lengthier version of this article is cross posted in the
Daily Journal.

The Hammer Gets Nailed

This following post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A Texas jury decided to nail the hammer to the wall. After less than twenty hours of deliberations, twelve citizens, six men and six women, convicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of illegally directing $190,000 in corporate political donations to Republican candidates for the Texas State Legislature. DeLay faces up to ninety-nine years in jail.
DeLay, always the optimist, stated that he would be cleared of these money laundering charges at trial. He contended that his indictment was politically motivated and has plans to appeal the conviction. Prosecutors deny that the charges have anything to do with partisan politics.
Tom "The Hammer" DeLay first caught the nation's attention when he swept into power in 1994 as a principal player in the Republican Revolution. DeLay, no stranger to controversy, has also been under investigation for his relationship with infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, tax evasion and fraud.
His trial gave the public a glimpse into the sometimes unseemly campaign finance practices of Washington, D.C. Jurors were regaled with tales of huge sums of corporate money flowing freely throughout the political system. The jurors heard stories of meetings members of congress agreed to have with lobbyists in return for large contributions.
So what's the problem? Doesn't money always flow relatively freely in the political system? Yes, but the problem in this case is that Texas has a century old law prohibiting corporate contributions to candidates. Prosecutors charged DeLay with funneling nearly $200,000 in corporate contributions through the Republican National Committee to state legislative candidates.
Prosecutors, however, did not prosecute DeLay for violating that law, finding that there was no way to charge someone with conspiracy for such a violation. Prosecutors instead opted to charge DeLay with money laundering.
The evidence, consisting almost exclusively of circumstantial evidence, was enough to convince the twelve jurors of varying political affiliations.
The difficulty of this prosecution and the harmfulness of the underlying facts to the integrity of the electoral and political processes give fuel to an argument that at least eight members of our Supreme Court seem to agree with: disclosure of campaign funds is vitally important. Disclosure not only tells the public where candidates and committees are getting their money from, and hence to whom they may be responsive, but also helps to detect violations of existing laws.
The Disclose Act now stands before our lame duck Congress. While it would not have affected DeLay's trial, it is an important step toward trying to repair public confidence in a representative democracy too often shaken by political scandal. Let's throw a little sunlight into the sometimes dark world of financing political campaigns.

Complaints from California: Untangling the Ballot Measures

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

On November 2, 2010, California voters weighed in on nine ballot measures, all initiatives. Their votes sent one very important messages: We don't trust you legislators.

Lets take a closer look at a few of these measures.
The voters' decisions on the two redistricting measures are emblematic of their attitudes to their elected officials. After the last census, in 2001, when the legislators drew their own district lines, the overwhelmingly majority of legislators were able to draw safe districts for themselves. In November 2008, California voters passed Prop 11, a measure which creates a 14-member independent redistricting commission to draw district lines for the State Senate, State Assembly and Board of Equalization. That commission is now in the final stages of being formed.
Prop 27, the last of the nine ballot measures, would have eliminated the independent redistricting commission. The "yes" side contended that Californians could not only afford such a commission, but that voters should not allow unelected individuals to draw the state's lines. In an era of terrible budget deficits, voters said "no." Essentially, the voters would prefer that a group of 14 people they've likely never heard of draw district lines rather than a group they have heard a little something about, their elected officials.
The voters then went a step further and approved Prop 20, which asks the independent redistricting commission to not only draw the state district lines, but also the federal congressional lines. This could mean that some senior members of the California delegation could basically be districted out of office. To which voters seemed to respond, "good luck to you."
Californians also passed, by a two-to-one margin, Prop 23, which prohibits the state from borrowing certain local funds used for transportation and redevelopment. The voters essentially said to the state legislators, find a way to balance the state budget that does not include borrowing local funds. This is also an example of ballot box budgeting. The voters have gone to the ballot and sent a clear message to their elected officials, telling them what they can and cannot do when balancing the budget.
Speaking of the budget, the voters also passed Prop 25, which provides that only a simple majority of both legislative houses are needed to pass a budget. Before Prop 25, there was a supermajority requirement that two-thirds of both houses approve a budget. The November election came on the heels of the state's historic budget battle. Bloody budget negotiations dragged on for 100 days before the houses cobbled together a less than ideal agreement. The voters likely didn't want to see that happen again.
But while the voters give, they also take away. While finding that only a simple majority of both legislative houses in needed to pass a budget, the voters also opted to increase the requirement needed to increase certain state and local fees from a simple majority to a two-thirds vote. What message could the voters be sending? "Pass the budget, but don't increase my fees."
The legislators, who face approval ratings which would suggest that only immediate family members and staffers support their job performance, should take little solace in the voters' decisions on the November 2010 ballot.

Which Way Are the Political Winds Blowing as We Enter Election 2010?

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

I walked outside today with the distinct feeling that madness has descended upon us. As I crossed the street the wind nearly pulled the legs out from under me. Even the trees were shown no mercy. They now stand askew, a monument to nature's forces.
Next week voters across the nation will go to the polls. We will elect, among others, Governors, Senators, and members of Congress. But we can't predict the outcome of many races. Why?
We simply don't know which ways the political winds are blowing. (Too silly? Stay with me here.)
Voters may be waiting to be knocked off their feet, and they just haven't. Too often we feel we are voting for the lesser of two evils. Meg Whitman explicitly acknowledges as much in her latest campaign commercial, as she tries to tell voters why this is not so. In an era of candidates who must explain that they are not witches, I worry that it is too easy to disengage from the process.
Too many voters have either tuned out or turned off. They either don't like the candidates and/or don't feel part of the political process. Voter apathy is an enormous problem in a representative democracy. By definition our government is premised on the belief that our elected officials represent us, not just a small sliver of us.
There are no easy solutions to the problem of voter apathy. Assuming we make barriers to voting reasonably low, there is just no simple way to get much of the public jazzed about electing their State Senator. I fear that too many people know the answer to "Who won American Idol?" as opposed to "Who won your State Senate race?"
Of those taking part in the process, many remain undecided. They may, like the trees (I've almost made my point, hang tough), simply lean one way, but not markedly so. In California one in five voters is not registered as a member of either major party, instead, they are listed as Decline to State (DTS).
I count myself among their ranks. First, I work for a non-partisan organization. Second, I teach and I want my students to feel comfortable sharing their political views without knowing whether or not they comport with mine. Third, I simply don't feel fully at home in either party.
DTS voters, if they make it to the polls, can sway many elections. But we don't know exactly who they are. They are the ultimate X factor. Are they in the middle of the two parties -- too socially liberal for the Republican Party but too fiscally conservative for the Democratic Party? Or are they, on the other hand, to the right or left of the main street parties -- do they feel Republicans are too moderate or Democrats are not liberal enough?

I have no quick answers or solutions. After my wind swept morning I'm still walking and talking and plan on walking my way right into the voting booth. I may not be thrilled with some of the choices, but I'm sure going to weigh in on them. Care to join me?

California's Newly "Balanced" Budget Is a Farce

California's budget deal, coming 100 days after the protracted budget negotiations began, is anything but cause for celebration. True, the state will be able to start issuing debt, which is needed to pay for a myriad of things, such as public works projects. Localities will also get some much anticipated state funds. However, the legislature closed the state's $19 billion budget gap with unduly optimistic predictions and accounting gimmicks.
Now, on to the rosy predictions contained in the budget deal:
First, California has balanced its budget in part based on the assumption that the state will get $5.4 billion in federal funds. The problem is that the federal government has indicated that it will give something closer to $1.3 billion.
So there is about $4 billion that we can fairly safely assume the state will be short next year.
Second, the budget assumes that California will have higher than expected tax receipts. Why? A cynic would say because the state needs to balance the budget, and utilizing unreasonably optimistic predictions is the way to do it.
Next, where will be remainder of the revenue come from?
The state expects to receive $1.2 billion in revenue from the delay of a corporate tax break. California is also getting approximately $2-3 billion from a transfer of state funds, which the state will eventually have to be paid back. So there is another few billion that the state will have to pay back in the future.
We're now up to $7 billion that the state will have to pay off in the near future.

Next, on deck, the spending cuts:
Forty percent of the $19 billion budget gap is made up in spending cuts. These cuts include: (1) a roll back of benefits to state workers, including a higher retirement age and a requirement for larger employee contributions to pension programs; (2) reductions in medical care to inmates; (3) reductions in pay to state in-home care workers; and (4) a reduction of approximately $3 billion in funding to schools, funding which is in fact voter mandated, and will have to be paid back in the future.
If you're still counting, we've now tallied approximately $10 billion that the state will have to pay back in the coming year or years.

The voters should tell their public officials that the time for accounting gimmicks and unrealistic expectations is gone. California just "closed its budget gap" by employing rosy predictions and accounting gimmicks, which actually demonstrate that the state is in the red to the tune of $10 billion.

Oops, They Did It Again

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post. 
Happy 100 day anniversary California budget negotiations!
California's budget deal is anything but cause for celebration. True, the state has now ended the most protracted budget negotiations in its history. The state will also be able to start issuing debt, which is needed to pay for a myriad of things, such as public works projects. In addition, localities will get some much anticipated state funds. However, the legislature closed the state's $19 billion budget gap with unduly optimistic predictions and accounting gimmicks.
The rosy predictions contained in the budget deal:
First, California has balanced its budget in part based on the assumption that the state will get $5.4 billion in federal funds. The problem is that the federal government has indicated that it will give something closer to $1.3 billion. So there is about $4 billion that we can fairly safely assume the state will be short next year.
Second, the budget assumes that California will have higher than expected tax receipts. Why? A cynic would say because the state needs to balance the budget, and utilizing unreasonably optimistic predictions is the way to do it.
Where will the remainder of the revenue come from?
The state expects to receive $1.2 billion in revenue from the delay of a corporate tax break. California is also getting approximately $2-3 billion from a transfer of state funds, which eventually will have to be paid back.

Next, on deck, the spending cuts:
40 percent of the $19 billion budget gap is made up in spending cuts. These cuts include:
  1. A roll back of benefits to state workers, including a higher retirement age and a requirement for larger employee contributions to pension programs.

  2. Reductions in medical care to inmates

  3. Reductions in pay to state in-home care workers

  4. A reduction in approximately3 billion in funding to schools, funding which is in fact voter mandated, and will have to be paid back in the future.
Agree or disagree with Republicans, but it's a testament to the power of the state's minority party that the new budget includes no new taxes. In California, because there is a two-thirds vote required to pass a budget, the minority party holds a great deal of power.
On November 2, Californians will vote on whether to retain the two-thirds vote requirement. I urge the voters to weigh in. Whatever their decision on the two-thirds requirement, the voters should tell their public officials that the time for accounting gimmicks and unrealistic expectations is gone.

What All the November California Ballot Measures Have in Common

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Californians will soon be asked to vote on nine ballot measures dealing with everything from legalizing marijuana to how our elected officials pass a budget to whether to suspend a clean energy bill.
These measures, disparate as they are, all have one thing in common: They are all initiatives. Californians adopted the initiative process back in 1911. So in one year, we can all wish a big happy 100th birthday to the process that put citizens on the same footing as legislators.
The initiative process was adopted to help give power back to the citizens when it became clear that the legislature was unduly influenced by special interests. Sound familiar? Apparently, we can take comfort in the fact that at least some of our government's problems aren't new ones.
Back in 1911, the special interest Californians most feared was the railroad companies, who had a stranglehold over the State's legislature. Therefore, we adopted a process that allows the citizens to bypass the legislature and directly enact laws. I know, I was a bit skittish too when I first discovered that we don't need our elected officials to pass laws. Jane Citizen, step right up and enshrine your favorite program in our state constitution!
The sad irony is that the process, adopted to give citizens protection against moneyed interests, has now become dominated by those same interests. Now, the question seems to be, do you have $2 million and a desire to enact a law in California? Congratulations! Step right up, you're the next contestant on, "Lets Make a Law."
This process of direct democracy is here to stay. So let's try to improve it.
Here are two ideas to ponder: First, California could institute a system of pay-as-you-go. Do you want to enact a new program? No problem, just tell us how we're going to pay for it. Do you want to cut taxes or fees? Great, merely direct us to the program(s) that will be cut if the measure passes.
This proposal is not without its drawbacks, but it is worth considering. A system of pay-as-you-go would force the electorate to decide how much they want a specific program or revenue cut, in light of its consequences. I was at the harbor recently, and I saw the ship named, "Tax Cuts and More Services" sail away.
Another solution is to improve disclosure. It is important for the voters know who has provided the funding in favor and against initiative proposals. This gives valuable information about who could be harmed and hurt by an initiatives passage.
Disclosure can work. To the surprise of many, on the June 2010 ballot, Propositions 16 and 17, funded by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Mercury Insurance, respectively, both went down in defeat. The two companies promoting those initiatives outspent the opponents by huge margins, but they still didn't pass. Why not? One answer could be that people looked on the bottom of slate mailers and the scroll across the TV screen, or listened to the end of radio commercials, heard the names PG&E and Mercury Insurance and simply stated, "No, thank you."
Whatever your solution is for the initiative process, there's a surefire way to send a message to proponents and opponents of the November measures. Vote.

Brown and Whitman Face-Off: Many Differences, Few Surprises

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post. 
In the smack down between Mega-Meg Whitman and Downtown Oakland Jerry Brown, the candidates gave us few surprises, but drew starkly different pictures of how they would govern the Golden State.
This was a classic standoff between a populist public official and a successful businesswoman. While Brown spoke about kids and teachers, Whitman decried the benefits of tax cuts and the need to create jobs.
Whitman was calm, smooth, articulate and formal. Brown was folksy, and even a bit bumbling at times. We can perhaps see these two, in another life, as the unfailingly organized schoolmarm (Whitman) and the rebel rousing student (Brown).
Whitman, standing solid as a tree trunk, stayed close to her message, stressing her goals of creating jobs, reforming welfare and the pension system, and cutting taxes. Brown, many times swaying from side to side, used humor to deflect his advancing aged, swore twice, joshed about old drinking days in Sacramento, and emphasized his past experience.
Whitman has argued that since she knows how to create jobs in the private sector, she can do the same in the public sector. At one point, she told the audience that she comes from the "real world," where you get things done. The implication of course being that Brown was born and bred in the public sector, where officials do nothing but bicker and stagnate. She has long presented herself as the business person's candidate, who has the business acumen to turn this dysfunctional state around.
Brown positioned himself as the old warrior -- stronger for the battles he has fought at every level of government and ready to take on the biggest task yet: leading California back from the brink. Over and over again, Brown stressed the difficulties of the job and tried to make the case that only he was up to the task.
Whitman, repeatedly using the Einstein quote that "[t]he definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," tried to not-so-subtly convince the voter that it would be nothing short of ludicrous to once again send Brown to the governor's office in hopes of a better or different result. Brown, in comparison, consistently told the crowd that he's tough enough to make the hard decisions, that he's been there and knows what needs to be done.
Each candidate tried to convince the voters that the other opponent would be in the pocket of special interests. Whitman said that putting Brown in charge of California, specifically labor union negotiations, would be like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Whitman again and again hammered Brown on his ties to unions. Whitman also tried to turn her massive self-funding into an advantage, saying she is indebted to no one.
Brown, on the other hand, said he's stood up to labor unions and that it is Whitman who wants to pay back her friends -- the rich -- with a capital gains tax cut. Brown said he wants to fund education, not billionaires.
Love them or hate them, these candidates are very different. Sadly, perhaps their only area of agreement is that California is in a bind. Let's hope one of them can help.