2014 Black Bart Award Winner: The Non-Voter

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

There are 10,289,851 Californians who share this year’s Fox and Hounds Daily’s Black Bart Award — because they didn’t vote. They are the registered voters who did not bother to vote in the November Election. This is not a good thing, but since the Black Bart end of the year award recognizes the individuals or groups or even actions that greatly affects California policy or politics during the year there is no ignoring the impact of non-voters on our governing process.

The 42.2-percent turnout was a record low for a November General Election. As stated in the nomination of the Non-Voter, the low turnout is a sign of lack of interest in public affairs, not good in a democratic society that requires the people to make decisions. When so many refuse to partake that affects the policy decisions in the state and the direction in which the state moves.

It is a concern that when voters ignore public affairs the democracy can wheel out of control. One can be cynical about voting, as Mark Twain remarked, “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” But in truth, the lack of voting signifies lack of interest; lack of watching those who run the government. Voters’ non-participation while seemingly following along aimlessly as government does its business might lead to danger. Journalist Edward R. Murrow said, “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

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Boehner and McCarthy Take Charge

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

The vote to pass the “cromnibus” spending bill in Congress confirms the one of the biggest political stories of 2014: Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are fully in charge in the House and will no longer allow Tea Party types to push them around.

Anti-Boehner Republicans tried to stop the bill because it did not defund Obamacare or cut off funding for Mr. Obama’s executive action on immigration.  Roughly one quarter of House Republicans opposed the spending bill over these issues, but Boehner was able to narrowly pass the bill because 57 Democrats voted for it despite the opposition of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

This sets up a new power structure in the House; Pelosi is Democratic leader in name only, the real Democratic power will be Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who made the deal with Boehner to provide enough Democrats to pass the spending bill.  In 2015, Boehner will negotiate with him on must-pass legislation.

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Black Bart Award Nominee — Legislature is California’s Comeback Story

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Pigs are taking wing. There are snowdrifts outside the devil’s door. The Chicago Cubs will win the World Series. And the California Legislature is my pick for the Black Bart award.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the same Legislature that in 2009 defined dysfunction by forcing the state to issue IOUs because lawmakers couldn’t agree on the best way – or any way, actually – to bridge the state’s budget gap. And just to prove that wasn’t an accident, in 2010 legislators didn’t pass the budget until October, more than three months late.

But regardless of what Neel Kashkari kept trying to tell voters this fall, California is in a comeback and the Legislature gets a big piece of the credit.

Just look at the November ballot. Both Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, and Proposition 2, the state’s new Rainy Day Fund, were put on the ballot by the Legislature after long and often heated three-way negotiations between legislators of both parties and Gov. Jerry Brown.

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Stu Spencer: Primaries Important in Presidential Runs

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

The New York Times ran an article that said big time Republican Party donors were trying to clear the presidential field of like-minded establishment candidates so that the donors could put their resources behind one candidate.

Stu Spencer, who was Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, thinks that is a bad idea.

“There is nothing wrong with a wide-open primary,” Spencer insists. “The bundlers want to clear the field, but you don’t want to clear the field.” Spencer says all segments of the party should feel they have a voice. What’s important, he says, is what happens after the primary campaign. The party has to come together after the primary to get behind the winning candidate. He insisted that would not happen if certain segments of the party feel shut out.

Some Republican consultants say it’s a mistake to repeat the primary debate performances of 2012 when many candidates shared a stage.

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Take the High Speed Rail to a New Disneyland

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)

On Christmas Eve, it felt like the park was all ours.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and early ’90s, Disneyland was so reliably empty on the day before Christmas that it became a family tradition to spend December 24 in the “Happiest Place on Earth,” often along with a visit to my grandmother, who lived in Anaheim. When my uncle, a Disney freak and expert park navigator, came down from Northern California to join us, we could ride every attraction in eight hours. Tickets got more expensive each year, but they didn’t break the bank; in 1989, adult admissions for one day, without any discount, were $23.50, and kids ages 3 to 12 were $18.50.

Today, I have three little kids, the oldest of whom is 6, but I wouldn’t think of taking them to Disneyland. Disney—via special events and the invention of holiday attractions—has all but eliminated any notion of an off-season. Christmas week is now so busy that ticket sales are sometimes cut off as Disneyland and its sister park, Disney’s California Adventure, reach capacity. This year, you’ll probably find the worst holiday traffic in California on Main Street U.S.A.

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Winds of Change in Contra Costa County?

Alex Aliferis
Executive Director, Contra Costa Taxpayers Association

As multiple districts across California voted for bonds, parcel taxes, and fees, something happened in Contra Costa County in 2014.

Since 1937, the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association has been an active countywide organization that holds local cities, districts, and the county accountable and transparent while opposing unneceassary taxes. Contra Costa County is one of seven counties that compose the Bay Area. San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, and Marin counties create the San Francisco Bay Area counties. Contra Costa County has almost 1.06 million residents located in the cities of Oakley, Brentwood, Antioch, Pittsburg, Martinez, Concord, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, El Cerrito, and Richmond.

According to the California Taxpayers Association, the Bay Area has the highest parcel taxes in California. Los Angeles County has the second highest in parcel taxes on property.

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Black Bart Award Nominee – On the Dark Side

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

In our introduction of the Black Bart Award we note that it could go to someone or something that performed a heroic act OR performed a dastardly deed. My suggested nominees fall to the Dark Side of California’s political world this year.

In light of the negative publicity generated by three state senators being accused of crimes, the institution of the state senate was shaken to its core. Senator Ron Calderon stood accused of accepting bribes to put forth a bill for a moneyed interest who turned out to be an FBI agent. Senator Rod Wright was convicted of committing fraud by living someplace other than his district. But, none of the revelations was more spectacular than the arrest of Senator Leland Yee accused of accepting bribes and playing middleman in a gunrunning operation.

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How I Fear the 2016 Taxapalooza Will Go

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)

Here’s my hope for the coming 2016 Taxapalooza of various tax-hiking initiatives: The debate will create a healthy discussion and convince various initiative sponsors, the legislature and the governor to come together and advance a tax reform that preserves our progressive tax structure, lowers some rates for competitiveness, taxes our service-based economy more fairly, and produces at least $20 billion a year in new revenues. The reform goes so well that everyone decides to rationalize the budget process and write a new constitution in 2017.

Here’s my fear: we get a warmed-over extension of Prop 30 that doesn’t make the state more competitive or make taxes saner or produce more revenues that we need to reverse decades of disinvestment.

I’m pretty sure my fears will be realized. Indeed, there’s a pattern to the even-numbered years of Brown’s governorship that likely could be repeated in 2016.

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Stockton and Detroit Exit Bankruptcy Leaving Pension Systems As-Is

Lance Christensen and Victor Nava
Lance Christensen is Director of the Pension Reform Project at the Reason Foundation, and Victor Nava is a Policy Analyst at the Reason Foundation.

The landscape for public employee pensions shifted in 2014 as federal judges gave credence to the idea that pension benefits may be cut in bankruptcy. This challenges the long held idea that pension benefits are impervious to cuts and most observers are wondering just how significant this shift will be going forward.

This fall, city leaders watched as federal judges approved debt-cutting bankruptcy plans in Stockton and Detroit, ending two of the largest municipal bankruptcy cases in U.S. history. Many speculated both cities could do more to ease their fiscal problems by making significant cuts and structural changes to public pensions. However, both judges demurred and moved forward with plans that eased a portion of the cities’ financial obligations, but largely protected pensions. The failure to significantly address public pension debt and make structural changes to the pension systems in both Stockton and Detroit does not bode well for the economic future of either city post-bankruptcy. It also presents an interesting conundrum for other cities in dire fiscal distress that bear significant pension costs and unfunded liabilities. Are more cities to follow the path to pension cuts in bankruptcy?

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A New Outbreak of Prop. 65 Lawsuit Abuse Underscores Need for Reform

Tom Scott
Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

CALA has documented the lawsuit abuse related to Proposition 65 for quite some time. Despite minimal reform (like Assemblyman Gatto’s AB 227 passed last year) the lawsuits have continued. With the state considering new regulations related to warnings that could actually bring more lawsuits, I thought it might be helpful to show one example of just how out-of-control Prop. 65 lawsuit abuse is getting, even though few in the news media are paying attention.

A little background: if your business is in violation of Proposition 65 (i.e., you don’t have a bland, useless warning sign about the presence of chemicals at your business) you can be sued for $2,500 per day either by the Attorney General, the District Attorney or a City Attorney. However, a private citizen can also bring a case against a business, which increases the likelihood of a business without a sign being sued.

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