Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Let's Stop Celebrating the 'Record' Number of Women in Congress

Here is my latest on HuffPo Politics. 
As we watch and wait for news about the sequester, I have seen an increase number of stories about how the sequester will affect women. Some of these news items mention the record number of women in Congress as if these two developments will cancel each other out. The thinking goes, I believe, that the sequester could disproportionately affect "women's issues" but that the "historic" number of women in the halls of Congress could work to prevent that from happening.
I am eagerly awaiting the day I do not read stories these stories. Both about women's issues and about the record number of women in Congress. This is not because I think there are too many female political representatives, quite the opposite.
In January the 113th Congress was sworn in. Amidst the predictions and prognostications for this Congressional session, came a number of stories about the historic number of women now in Congress. Specifically there are now 101 women in both chambers. This number includes three nonvoting members. There are 535 people in Congress total. Simple math tells us that less than 19 percent of our representatives are women. Women account for slightly more than 50 percent of the population of the United States.
By any stretch of the imagination women are still woefully underrepresented in the halls of Congress (not to mention board rooms and executive offices). Yes, given recent history women are "making progress," however, it is difficult to take too much solace in this lopsided number.
I am frankly deeply saddened that we must find cause for celebration when fewer than one in five representatives, but approximately one out of two members of the population, are women.
I am not someone who advocates voting for (or hiring or promoting) any individual solely because of their gender. Our nation faces real and serious issues; we need the best representatives advocating for their constituents, not the second or third best. 

What we need is a society in which we can vote for the best candidates and in which our representatives are actually (at least roughly) representative of the American population. There are many systemic reasons why they are not more and better female candidates, and I do not endeavor to outline them here.

My point is that we are quite far from that place in which roughly equal gender representation is accepted as the norm. This may be why I sometimes cringe when I hear about "women's issues" or how a particular issues (such as the sequester) affect women. Its time to start talking about how issues affect people, period.
Women's issues are conventionally used to mean issues related to healthcare (including issues related to abortion and childcare), education, and workplace issues such as fair hiring and pay equity. These are "people issues" not women's issues. Certainly laws related to abortions more directly affect women, but it speaks volumes about our society that basic issues related to educating children, and pay in the workplace are still considered to be mainly the province of women. A paradigmatic shift is in order.
So please forgive me if I fail to scream my excitement about the record number of women in Congress from the proverbial rooftops. The day there is nothing to write on this topic because it is expected that fifty percent of the population will account for roughly fifty percent of our representatives, and that "women's issues" simply become "issues," is the day I will celebrate.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

California Supreme Court Considers the Legality of Banning "Pot Shops"

You can watch my appearance on SoCal Connected discussing the California Supreme Court's upcoming decision regarding medical marijuana here

Under California law, it's legal to buy medical marijuana, but it's not so under federal law. That's why some localities have banned pot shops.
California's highest court heard arguments Tuesday over whether cities can do that. In essence, the court will decide, when it comes to medical marijuana, whether federal or state laws prevail here in California, and whether cities can regulate dispensaries through zoning laws.

Medical Marijuana, Regulation, and the California Supreme Court

This week I was honored to be on "SoCal Connected" to speak with Madeleine Brand about the California Supreme Court's consideration of whether localities can prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries (watch it here). Our state's highest court is wading into a confused thicket of laws concerning marijuana, and more specifically medical marijuana. Here is a quick synopsis of the legal landscape.
Under federal law, marijuana is a schedule 1 drug. This means it is an illegal narcotic and there is no accepted use for it. Recently a federal appeals court rejected a suit seeking to change that classification. It is now up to Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration to act. The federal government could take a number of different routes. First, it could classify medical marijuana. Second, it could legalize medical marijuana. Third, it could reduce penalties for the use and/or possession of medical marijuana.
Next we move on to California State laws. In 1996 the voters passed Prop 215, commonly known as the Compassionate Use Act. That law, among other things, allows doctors to recommend that certain patients use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Patients with such a recommendation can possess and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. The law was later amended to allow collective distribution of medical marijuana. Still, the contours of the law are far from clear. 

In the local level, cities and states have four primary options. First, they can prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries (maybe -- more on that in a moment). Second, they can impose moratoriums on such dispensaries. Third, they can impose regulations, like zoning laws, which restrict such dispensaries. Fourth, they can impose no local regulations. To date many localities have taken the first route and banned medical marijuana dispensaries. These include Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Culver City. As I have previously noted in Los Angeles voters will likely face three different ballot measures dealing with medical marijuana this May.
This week the California Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the issue of whether localities have the power to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in light of State laws, primarily the Compassionate Use Act, which address this topic. 

Debating the Mayoral Debates

In Los Angeles, elections are non-partisan and, despite the state's new top-two law, send two candidates to a run-off unless a one garners more than 50 percent of the primary vote. Considering the competitiveness this year -- five frontrunners seen in dozens of debates -- it is assumed two will move from the March 5 primary to the May 21 general.
Therefore, I'm curious how voters will decide which candidates to send to the May election. After all, what do we really know about them?
Judging by the number of debates -- some 30 of them -- we should know a lot about them. However, having watched a number of these increasingly predictable forums, I'm simply not sure if the voters are able glean tons of useful information.
It brings up questions. Are there new and better ways for candidates to reach the voters? Can't we do better? I'm not convinced that the debates so far do much more than allow the candidates to hit their talking points in different forums. Many of those talking points are, quite understandably, less than surprising by the time the 30th debate rolls around.
But there are certain groups that have benefitted from the dozens of mayoral debates held over the past couple of months. Those are the groups hosting the event. Often those groups, or the interests supporting those groups, are able to extract pledges and promises from the candidates.
Perhaps if we made the debates fewer and further between they would feel more like special events worth watching or listening to. In addition, making debates more rare would reduce the repetition we hear in the candidates' answers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Case of Lady Gage and California Political Fundraising

Wondering if legislators ever go back to their offices and "just dance?" Don't think your elected officials have a "poker face?" Dubious as to whether your lawmakers were "born this way?" Curious as to whether, just like us, our lawmakers sometimes have a "bad romance?" 

We may not know the answer to those questions, but we do know that State Senators Ricardo Lara and Ron Calderon were at Staples Center this past weekend to take in a Lady Gage concert. Is this official business?
Well, it's officially a fundraising event for them. Lara is running for re-election to the Senate and Calderon is running for state controller next year. The two democratic senators were slated to hold a joint campaign fundraiser at the concert. Contributors who gave $3,900 were rewarded with a ticket to the concert and a night in a nearby hotel.
Lara and Calderon's joint fundraiser at Lady Gaga's concert likely says less about their devotion (or lack thereof) to the performer than it does about their desire to raise large campaign donations at popular venues. In our current system, in which campaign contributions to candidates are limited, but expenditures by candidate campaigns are not, the third for campaign funds is all but unquenchable. Put another way, once candidates get on the fundraising treadmill, it is difficult to see when and how they will ever get off that treadmill.
The seemingly endless fundraising race is not, of course, the fault of the candidates and officeholders. The current legal framework breeds the almost ceaseless need for campaign cash. This actually harms not only the public, but also officeholders who spend so much of their time fundraising rather than legislating or governing.

Finish reading this post on

The Phil Mickelson effect: Do millionaires flee states with high taxes?

Quoted in this article in the Christian Science Monitor. 

Here is an excerpt:

The issue is a politically sensitive one for California. In November, state voters passed Proposition 30, which raises tax rates 1 to 3 percent for those making more than $250,000 a year. The initiative is integral to California's new budget, which shows a surplus. But along with Washington's "fiscal cliff" solution – which also will raise taxes on the rich – there are questions about how California's millionaires will respond.
“If there is anything that can be termed a mass exodus, then I think that will be symbolically very important,” says Jessica Levinson...
Experts acknowledge that any migration effect is hard to gauge.

Will Medical Marijuana Be Legal in California?

Looking forward to being on SoCal Connected tomorrow (Monday 2/4/13) to discuss this issue.