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School Superintendent Race is Referendum on Teachers Unions

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

While the battle for Superintendent of Public Instruction between two Democrats is drawing attention because it is the most hotly contested statewide political race, in the end the contest may not so much depend on voters feelings about the candidates as how they feel about the power wielded by teachers unions.

The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers are all in for their man, incumbent Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

Challenger Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive, will tell anyone that listens he is not anti-union, that he has only worked in union schools and supports teachers right to organize. Still his candidacy is anathema to the unions because of his reform platform.

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Why Not Drug Test Legislators?

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)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari called a few days ago for mandatory drug testing for all California legislators and statewide officeholders. Then, some hours later, he said he had been joking.

My first reaction, before he recanted, was that this was a terrible waste of money, given the abundant evidence we already have about politicians’ deficits in judgment and thinking. Would anyone be surprised if it turned out our elected officials are, well, on something?

But once I knew this was but a joke, I reconsidered.

What would be the harm – as long as no one was punished or run out of the legislature for testing positive?

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Swearengin to CA GOP: Unity for Me But Not for Thee

Jon Fleischman
Publisher of the FlashReport

Last weekend at their state convention, the California GOP rolled out the red carpet for Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the GOP nominee for State Controller. The opening night’s main event was a dinner banquet profiling the “Women of the GOP” — and the plum keynote speech for that dinner was given to the charismatic Swearengin.

Swearengin in talking with the press corps at that very event, created a divisive earthquake for the GOP by making it clear that she is not supporting the GOP’s nominee for Governor, Neel Kashkari.

Swearengin told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m looking at the two candidates like other Californians are… We still have not had a chance to meet, so I’ve been focused on my race and getting the word out to voters around the state that I think California needs some independence when it comes to watching the treasury.”

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Property Rights Group Urges Brown To Veto Redevelopment 2.0

John Hrabe
Writer and Communications Strategist

An influential property rights group has released a new radio ad campaign urging Governor Jerry Brown to veto three bills that would bring back California’s abusive redevelopment agencies.

The California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, which praised Brown’s previous effort to abolish redevelopment agencies in California, is hoping to block a trio of redevelopment bills – SB 628, AB 2280, and AB 229. The legislative package, property rights advocates fear, would bring back redevelopment’s worst components: eminent domain abuses and taxpayer-funded corporate handouts.

“Since redevelopment’s abolishment in 2011, the Redevelopment Lobby has been advocating for a replacement that would bring politically connected developers back to the public money trough,” said Nick Mirman, a grassroots activist with the Alliance. “If signed, these redevelopment bills will invite a return to the era of rampant eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare.”

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Initiative Reform — One Bridge Short

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

As someone who participated in the working group on initiative reform package that ended up as Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s SB 1253 signed by Governor Brown over the weekend, I can say the bill is, well, okay as far as it goes. But to invert a title used for a World War II book and movieA Bridge Too Far which tells the story of the allies trying to go too far with a battle strategy, the initiative reform in my mind came up one bridge short – in other words, it did not go far enough.

The bill lengthens the signature gathering period a month, a plus for grassroots organizations. It allows proposition proponents to pull an initiative if a legislative compromise is reached, an incentive for ballot measure authors to work with the legislature and vice-versa and certainly a step that can save state money and voter aggravation.

The measure also brings the legislature into initiative discussions early. Once proponents collect 25% of the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot the legislature would hold committee hearings on the measure. This, of course, means additional work for committee staff and members and those who count the signatures.

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What Should State Do With Those Tesla Millions?

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)

Don’t tell us you don’t have the money, Jerry.

Gov. Brown and the legislature were perfectly willing to give a single company, Tesla, $500 million, mostly in tax credits, to build a battery plant here.

But now that Tesla took a better deal in Nevada, state leaders are dropping the subject of that $500 million, as though this is the end. If California has that kind of money to give to a company for speculative technologies, California has that kind of money for greater investments.

Where should the money go?

I’m tempted to suggest that the money go to help shore up Medi-Cal, which has many new customers who are having trouble finding doctors. The cost of restoring reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal is $250 million, so the Tesla money would more than cover it.

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Is Common Core Technology Worth It?

Hannah Oh
Visiting Analyst at State Budget Solutions, focusing her research on education.

California’s transition from its previous STAR program to the Common Core State Standards has been slow and more costly than expected. With the first Common Core tests scheduled for this spring, school districts are still struggling to provide all of the necessary technology and bandwidth for the new assessments, which are required to be administered electronically in lieu of traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit research organization, released a report last week on the technology spending for Common Core in California’s top five districts: Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, and Elk Grove. The study revealed technology cost overruns, controversial funding plans, and a myriad of problems that accompanied the new technological devices in multiple districts.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, has been heavily criticized for using public bonds to finance its iPad program that is estimated to exceed $1 billion. Immediately after the first batch of iPads was distributed, LAUSD dealt with additional challenges of students breaching firewalls, missing and stolen devices, and confusion over accountability. Last month, the district officially suspended its contract with Apple due to high costs and ethical questions regarding Superintendent Deasy’s relationship with Apple during the bidding process.

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Why Suburbia Irks Some Conservatives

Joel Kotkin
Editor of and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

For generations, politicians of both parties – dating back at least to Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt – generally supported the notion of suburban growth and the expansion of homeownership. “A nation of homeowners,” Franklin Roosevelt believed, “of people who own a real share in their land, is unconquerable.”

Support for suburban growth, however, has ebbed dramatically, particularly among those self-styled progressives who claim FDR’s mantle. In California, greens, planners and their allies in the development community have supported legislation that tends to price single-family homes, the preference of some 70 percent of adults, well beyond the capacity of the vast majority of residents.

Less well-noticed is that opposition to suburbs – usually characterized as “sprawl” – has been spreading to the conservative movement. Old-style Tories like author-philosopher Roger Scruton do not conceal their detestation of suburbia and favor, instead, European-style planning laws that force people to live “side by side.” Densely packed Paris and London, he points out, are clearly better places to visit for well-heeled tourists than Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.

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Why Are Supposed “Greedy” Oil Companies Lowering Gas Prices During Cap and Trade Debate?

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

Oil companies have been part of the campaign to make voters aware that gas prices will increase in January once fuels are put under the cap-and-trade provisions of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Yet, a strange thing is occurring. The campaign to delay the application of cap and trade rules for fuels goes on as gas prices continue to fall in California. If oil companies really can manipulate increases in gas prices, as critics have charged for a long time, wouldn’t now be the time to keep prices high to help their campaign?

Governor Jerry Brown defended the implementation of the cap and trade rules for fuels in his speech on climate change earlier this week at the United Nations. Brown noted the dropping fuel prices. “Luckily the price of oil has been coming down ever since those ads went on the air just a month or so ago.” Brown said.

As of the latest statistics from a few days ago, self-serve gasoline prices in Los Angeles County, for example, have hit their lowest point since Valentine’s Day. The latest stats showed that prices have dropped 69 of the past 75 days.

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If Harris Becomes US AG a Likely Replacement is…

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

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been mentioned as a possible replacement for retiring United States Attorney General Eric Holder. Harris said she is staying put. However, persuasive arguments from a president have been known to cause people to change their minds.

Should Harris get the job, it is too late to take her name off the November ballot. If the scenario plays out and Harris becomes the U.S. Attorney General and wins the election, Governor Jerry Brown will appoint a replacement.

Here’s a guess on someone who would be on the top of the list as an appointed AG: retiring senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg.

His name has already been batted around as a possible California Supreme Court nominee. But, Steinberg is more of an activist politician — the Attorney General’s office fits the bill.

If Brown offered, it’s a solid bet Steinberg would take the job.

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