Can We Get Over Our Campaign Finance Obsession?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

California’s prisons are constitutionally overcrowded. Our unemployment rate is higher the national average. Even changes in our school funding leave us shortage of the national average for K-12. Our underinvestment in higher education has led to a decline in the percentage of adults who are college graduates. Our tax and regulatory regime is uncompetitive with other states.

So in this campaign season, what’s the biggest issue in California?

Judging by news coverage, the answer is simple: money in politics.

The scandals involving three members of the state senate have turned into a conversation about how to limit money in politics. The big issue in the Secretary of State’s race, the only one with real energy, is the notion of fundraising bands. And we’re all safely ignoring the governor’s race because there are no real challengers – since a challenge can’t be considered real if there aren’t tens of millions of dollars behind it. The initiative battles on health care make the news for all the money that’s attaching to them.

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California’s Workforce Professionals and Insights from Unlikely Sources

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director & Milken Institute Fellow

This morning is the start of the 2014 California Workforce Association (CWA) conference in San Diego. CWA is the leading association of workforce professionals in our state, and a main force for educating and professionalizing our field.

Regarding education, we have noted in recent years that workforce professionals can learn much not only from writings on labor economics, human resources, and industrial relations, but also from technology, contemporary literature and even popular culture (i.e. Mad Men, Enlightened, Silicon Valley).

In this vein, and as CWA members gather from throughout the state, there are several recent books by California authors outside of the workforce field that help us better understand the evolving job world. Let me highlight three:

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If You Like Shakedown Prop. 65 Lawsuits, You’ll Love SB 1381

Tom Scott
Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

Some things should not come as a surprise. When it comes to the California Legislature, one of the least surprising things is that there are certain legislators who have an appetite for pleasing the Consumer Attorneys of California. State Senator Noreen Evans has done exactly that with SB 1381, which is related to genetically engineered food. Some of you might remember Proposition 37 from 2012, an initiative aimed at labeling genetically modified food. Well, it seems that Senator Evans was not happy with the fact that California voters rejected it, so she has quietly reinvented it in SB 1381.

Proposition 37 would have required labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if the food was made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. It also prohibited labeling or advertising such foods as “natural”. CALA opposed Prop. 37 because it would have created more opportunities for lawsuit abuse. This initiative was written by the same individual who wrote Proposition 65 back in 1986 which has led to rampant abuse of our legal system. And I am sure that person’s fingerprints are somewhere on SB 1831, which states that California consumers have the right to know, through labeling, whether the foods they purchase were produced with genetic engineering.  The bill also allows people to sue for alleged violations of the labeling law and to collect attorney’s fees.

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Boston Strong Helped by a California Champion

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

In Boston, I watched the emotional running of the 118th Boston Marathon. Following the awful events of last year that drew this city and the country together behind the slogan “Boston Strong,” an American won the men’s race for the first time since 1983 — and he was a Californian. Meb Keflezighi from San Diego set off wild chants of “USA, USA” along the route and the playing of the national anthem when he received his trophy.

Enthusiastic large crowds cheered long after the elite runners had passed. The Boston Strong slogan was on t-shirts all over the city on runners and spectators alike.

The excitement and determination around town was palpable. Remember the seagulls in the animated movie, “Finding Nemo” who machine gun like repeated “mine, mine, mine, mine” in trying to grab their prey? Bostonians were seemingly chanting “ours, ours, ours, ours,” about the marathon — taking it back from the terrorists’ desire to create  havoc and fear. The attitude often repeated over the weekend was to “take back the finish line.”

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Partisanship Must Be Harnessed, Not Fought

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

News item: Pete Peterson, the Republican candidate for California Secretary of State, has 30 percent support, and a big lead, in a new Field Poll.

Reaction: As readers of this site know, I’m a big fan of Pete and his work on civic engagement in local communities around California. He’d make a terrific Secretary of State, and would transform the office in important ways.

But that’s not why Peterson has that level of support in the polls. Those surveys reflect one fact: Peterson is a Republican.

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The Cost of Driving in California

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Feeling the pain of gasoline prices? In California the average price of gasoline is about $4.20 a gallon. That’s second highest in the nation behind Hawaii. Some of the recent jump in state gas cost can be attributed to refinery troubles. But California also leads the nation in taxing gasoline.

According to a chart prepared by energy giant Exxon Mobil earlier this year, California is the only state with combined state, local and federal tax that tops 70-cents a gallon.

Of course, some in the Golden State  think that is not enough.  Efforts to create an oil severance tax would add to the cost of gasoline, perhaps even vaulting the per gallon price of gas past Hawaii, which has the extra burden of importing its oil.

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Pork Barrel Spending Plan with Funding from Cap and Trade

Morris Brown
Resident of Menlo Park and Founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail project

With a major announcement last Monday, Senate pro Tem Senator Darrell Steinberg announced a new major spending initiative with the funding to come from expected Cap and Trade revenues.

Steinberg’s proposal can be viewed here.

The plan encompasses a wide range of projects, from transportation, to new streets, funding for below market rate housing, funding for transportation and, of course, major funding for High Speed Rail.

This is the kind of new spending that Governor Jerry Brown has continually opposed and  on numerous occasions, he has stated now was not the time to be starting many new spending proposals.

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If the Government Takes Your Money Illegally, Shouldn’t You Get it Back?

George Runner
Member of the California State Board of Equalization, District 2

Did you know, if the State of California takes your money in the form of an illegal tax or fee, you might not be able to get it back?

I was outraged when I first learned if a taxpayer pays a tax or fee that is later found to be unconstitutional or illegal in court, the government does not necessarily have to refund their money.

Currently, taxpayers are only eligible to receive refunds if they have exhausted all of their “administrative appeals remedies,” even if the tax they paid is later declared illegal or unconstitutional.

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Can Good Government and First Amendment Groups Win Back the Public Trust?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

It’s clear, with the charges against noted campaign finance advocate Leland Yee, that good government and campaign finance reform groups that gave him awards have lost the public’s trust. I call upon them need to take steps to win it back.

It’s also clear that, given Yee’s strong support among First Amendment advocates, press freedom groups that gave him awards also need to restore the public’s trust in them. I call upon those First Amendments to adopt a program to win that trust back.

And what should we say about gun control advocates, who are clearly sullied by Yee’s support for gun control? Any abuse of trust by a gun control advocate is, of course, a violation of the public trust by all such advocates. I call upon them to take steps to win back the public’s trust.

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Local and State Politics Will Spark LA’s New Newspaper

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Increasing the voices of political diversity is one of the missions of California’s newest newspaper, the Los Angeles Register. Did I just write that a new newspaper is opening in this digital age? The owners of Freedom Communications, publishers of the Orange County Register and other newspapers, launched their swim against the tide Wednesday when the first edition of the Los Angeles Register hit the streets.

Owners of the paper were direct in expressing their model for success: report on local communities and offer diverse voices – especially a different take on the world from the neighborhood behemoth, Los Angeles Times.

Freedom Communications co-owners Eric Spitz and Aaron Kushner wrote in a front page column, “The Register brand has stood for free markets and individual liberties since 1906, and we will carry this tradition forward.”

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