Black Bart Award Nominee: Jerry Brown

John Wildermuth

Journalist and Political Commentator


Jerry Brown, California’s 79-year-old governor, is as clear an example as you’d like to prove that yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And that’s why he’s my choice as Californian of the Year.

Sure, Brown has been involved with the environmental movement for decades, signing the coastal protection act in 1976, leading the charge for alternative energy and battling oil companies over pollution rules.

More recently, he’s been the de facto leader of the nation’s fight against global warming, challenging President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations and turn a blind eye to evidence of the growing danger of greenhouse gases and taking on a global environmental role.

But unlike many environmentalists, including Brown 1.0 of the 1970s and beyond, the governor has recognized that when you’re talking about a huge and diverse state like California – or the country overall – one size, however noble, seldom fits all.

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Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


Two weeks in London underscored how much—apart from a 40-degree temperature difference—Southern Californians have in common with our British cousins.  Housing shortages and affordability, traffic gridlock, deteriorating infrastructure and mounting sexual harassment scandals beset both Los Angeles and London. Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—mirrors our country’s schisms over trade and immigration.  London, like California, favors free trade and opposes draconian immigration policies.  It’s probably no coincidence that both the Golden State and England’s capital have been enjoying vigorous economies.  Just as California’s economic health is threatened by federal anti-trade and anti-immigration policies, Brexit could undermine London’s financial industry and the economic benefits of EU membership.

Just as in America, it is the rural and less populous areas where nationalist sentiment prevails in Britain.  That dynamic produced a narrow victory for the pro-Brexit forces in a 2016 advisory referendum that ended up forcing former Prime Minister David Cameron out of office.

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Why State Efforts to Preclude Arbitration Usually Violate Federal Law

Chris Micheli

Attorney and Lobbyist at the Sacramento government relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc.


The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provides that agreements to arbitrate “shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” (see 9 USC Section 2) How has the U.S. Supreme Court viewed the reach of the FAA and state efforts to limit or preclude the use of arbitration?

More than three decades ago, the high court explained the purpose of the FAA. In Southland Corp. v. Keating (1984) 465 US 1, the US Supreme Court held: “In enacting Section 2 of the FAA…Congress declared a national policy favoring arbitration and withdrew the power of the states to require a judicial forum for the resolution of claims which the contracting parties agreed to resolve by arbitration.”

The FAA, as well as the California Arbitration Act (CAA), evidence a strong preference for enforcement of arbitration agreements, so long as the underlying contract is fair. Half a dozen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the key case of AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 131 S.Ct. 1740 that the FAA prohibits states from conditioning the enforceability of an arbitration agreement on the availability of class wide arbitration procedures as such a requirement would be inconsistent with the intent of the FAA.

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Spinning to Explain Away Increase in Crime Rates

Michele Hanisee

President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys


Imagine the reaction if, after a loan officer told an applicant they would not receive a loan because of too much debt, the applicant asked “How about we just disregard 25% of my debt?”

As illogical as this sounds, it was the approach recently articulated by a group seeking to downplay the crime rate increases in California following various criminal justice “reforms.”  In a study picked up by a few newspapers, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJJ) opined that the crime rate statewide in California decreased following these reforms–if you excluded Los Angeles County.  Yes, Los Angeles County, where more than one out of four residents of California reside!

The propaganda espoused by proponents of these various reform measures is that crime is not really rising very much so long as it isn’t as bad as it was 30 years ago.  They continue that trend with their attempt to manipulate the statewide crime rate increase by excluding more than 25% of the population.

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Black Bart Award Nominee: Kevin de León

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


It is tempting to nominate the We Said Enough movement confronting sexual harassment and the women behind the crusade as my Black Bart Award nominee for 2017. The undertaking has changed the culture in the state capitol and changed the politics as well leading to the resignation from office of two state assembly members and who knows how many more legislators might fall from grace.

You could say the entire sexual harassment earthquake is a California phenomenon since it started in Hollywood with the accusations against Harvey Weinstein. The issue and its aftershocks will continue into the new year.

However, for his influence on California politics for the entire year I am nominating senate president Kevin de León as the California political figure of the year.

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Racial Politics of Today Took Root in LA Mayoral Contests Decades Ago

Raphael Sonenshein

Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA, and author of Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles (Princeton U. Press, 1993)


He seemingly came out of nowhere, a populist of uncertain ideology who promised justice for communities that had long been marginalized by elites who ran the city.  He had an eye for the media and an instinct for the jugular. His name was Sam Yorty, and he may have invented the racialized politics that we see today.  With no organization to speak of, he won the Los Angeles mayor’s office in 1961.

Yorty was a renegade Democrat detested by his own party and held in contempt by Republicans, who preferred the incumbent Norris Poulson.  Yorty emerged from a crowded field in the nonpartisan primary to face Poulson in the runoff.  He  made up for his lack of elite support through an alliance with broadcast journalist George Putnam, who gave Yorty endless free publicity on his popular shows.  Poulson suffered from a serious throat condition and Yorty made certain the voters knew it by challenging the mayor to debates and then berating him for refusing.  Yorty won the election and embarked on three contentious terms in office.

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Split Roll Proposal Bad for Jobs and the Economy

Teresa Casazza

President of the California Taxpayers’ Association


The California League of Women Voters and other advocates of a split-roll property tax system filed an initiative December 15 that would increase property taxes on California employers by an estimated $11.4 billion per year.

A tax increase of this size will lead to higher consumer prices for goods and services we use every day. In addition to dramatically increasing the cost of living, this misguided measure would drive employers out of California, taking middle-class jobs and future career opportunities with them.

The measure is targeted specifically at California-based employers, and thus would make the Golden State less competitive with other states for jobs and investments. It would add a new section to the California Constitution that would, beginning with the 2020-21 budget year, require commercial and industrial property to be frequently reassessed at full market value.

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Are Pension Trusts the Answer to California Local Government Pension Problems

Marc Joffe

Senior Policy Analyst, Reason Foundation


Many California cities and counties are living interesting times, experiencing rising revenue together with skyrocketing pension bills. Although required pension contributions usually rise in response to bear markets, today they are escalating just as stock indexes reach new highs.  The reason is that CalPERS and other systems are taking advantage of today’s relatively benign investment environment to reduce discount rates on future pension liabilities. Lowering the discount rate increases the recognized amount of Total Pension Liabilities (TPL) and thus the amount required each year to pay for benefits earned as well as to pay down Unfunded Actuarially Accrued Liabilities (UAAL).

California municipal revenues are rising especially in affluent parts of the state near the coast. As a result, many cities and counties are finding themselves with spare cash – an unusual circumstance in our often fiscally-challenged state.  According to state controller data, aggregate city revenues rose 4.5% to $78 billion in fiscal year 2016. Total county revenues climbed 4% to $69 billion. For both cities and counties, total revenues comfortably exceeded total expenditures.

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Dear Santa, Bring Immigrants!

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)


Kris Kringle
Santa Claus Lane
Carpinteria, CA 93013

Dear Kris,

I hope you don’t mind me writing you at the California beach house address you slipped me when we met at that Mattel corporate event. I would have mailed this to the North Pole, but I don’t have any international stamps.

I know most of the letters you get are from kids. So let me start out by saying there is no toy I need. And while I’m on the subject, please don’t get my 6-year-old the hot tub he asked you for—those things are dangerous for little kids, and our house is so small that there’d be no place to put it.

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F&H Daily’s Ninth Annual Black Bart Award Week

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


For the past eight years frequent contributors to this page Joe Mathews, John Wildermuth and I have nominated candidates for Californian of the Year in the world of politics. We name the final selection the winner of the Black Bart Award.

There are no specific criteria to follow in making the selection. Each author will explain his reason for selecting a nominee. Perhaps, the nominee took one courageous act, or committed a dastardly deed that had great repercussions, or performed heroically in difficult circumstances. The nominee may be a person, or more than one, or even an institution or an issue that had great impact on California politics and policy over the year.

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