Try California, Guys

Call me a homer, but I think it’s rotten form for major California organizations to have retreats and conferences out of state. It’s particularly bad form if you’re say a union that has just launched a recall of the governor, or a group of Republican legislators holding out on approval of the budget.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., whose leaders have filed a notice of recall against Gov. Schwarzenegger, are holding their convention later this month in Las Vegas. I’m sure they got a good rate and will have a good time. But it’s tone deaf for a high-profile union that is demanding a big pay raise to go to Nevada. Earth to the CCPOA boys: your pay doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes from state tax dollars. State tax dollars are generated from economic activity here in California. Thus, it’s borderline obnoxious to help the Nevada budget while seeking to take money from the California budget. If you want a raise and a new contract, why don’t you swing by Carson City and ask the Nevada legislature for one while you’re at it?

The Recall Gamble

I think the governor should embrace the recall proposed by the prison guards union.

Read my reasons in today’s Los Angeles Times here.

The Doomsday Scenario

I recently mused on Facebook about which might arrive first: Christmas or a new budget agreement for California, which is already more than two months late. A conservative friend quickly responded with his hope that Christmas would come first.

You might call the Republican legislative strategy in California the Doomsday Scenario. And it’s not a threat. Republicans seem moore than happy to usher in the closing of state government. California will run out of cash within a month. It’s not at all clear that the governor could keep the state open if that happened. But for Republicans, there might be very little to lose.

The party is already terribly unpopular in the state. There’s little hope of any change in that. Nearly all of the Republican legislators are insulated from being kicked out of office in November by a gerrymander. And Republicans have little hope of gaining any new seats from Democrats because of the same gerrymander. Republicans already have thrown their best-known, best-liked politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the bus, all but dismissing him as a Democrat. The California GOP is stuck at the bottom of the pit. So why not blow up the state? There’s nowhere to go but up.

Prop 2. backers suing to change their own ballot statement

In California, supporters of Prop 2, a Humane Society-backed ballot initiative to regulate how farm animals are confined, appear to have made a little bit of legal history. Earlier this month, they essentially sued themselves in an attempt to change their own ballot argument in favor of the measure.

The lawsuit, which is attached below, makes for odd reading. The language of the lawsuit sounds almost apologetic, asking for a "very minor change" (italics not mine) in both the ballot argument and the rebuttal to the "no" side’s argument. Technically, the supporters are suing the Secretary of State, but they’re suing the Secretary of State to change something they themselves wrote. The reason for the filing? To avoid voter confusion, the lawsuit says.

A California Constitutional Convention?

“All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require." Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of California.

I read with interest that Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council suggested last week that California convene a constitutional convention to look at its entire system of government. Joel Fox on Fox and Hounds Daily is skeptical. I posted on my New America Foundation blog that it certainly is an interesting idea. I could see Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has reached his "throw up his hands" moment, back such a convention.

Emails and memos I turned up in reporting for my book, The People’s Machine, show that Schwarzenegger’s aides and political advisors discussed just such an idea — albeit not too seriously and not at length — in 2004.

A convention might provide a method to take on many of the untouchable subjects of California politics. Wunderman mentions the two-thirds requirements for passing a budget (a fact of California life since the 1930s) and for raising taxes (a provision of Prop 13, passed in 1978). But any constitutional review needs to be bigger, and think about the state government as a whole. The entire structure of the state, which was largely put in place, should be re-examined.

Department of Hypocrisy: California Republicans, Champions Of Direct Democracy, Now Want To Violate It

Today’s LA Times story by my longtime colleague Evan Halper makes one thing painfully clear. California’s Republican legislative leaders, for all their championing of direct democracy and the rule of the people when it comes to subjects such as Prop 13 (property taxes) and Prop 22 (same-sex marriage ban), are prepared to violate all sorts of voter-approved initiatives to get a budget deal and avoid a tax increase.

Halper got his hands on a memo that details what Republicans are talking about. As Halper recounts the memo’s contents, the Republican proposals involve "diverting money specifically set aside by voters for local governments, road and other transportation projects, mental health programs and early childhood education." To give a little history, voters set aside money for transportation via ballot initiative with Prop 42 (2002), for local government with Prop 1A (2004), mental health programs with Prop 63 (2004), and early childhood with Prop 10 (1998).

For Republicans to want to raid such funds is hypocrisy. To borrow against such funds in the name of opposing tax increases is dishonest. The act of raiding such funds creates a debt for the state that must be paid back. The very act of raiding the funds is thus a tax increase in disguise.

Parra’s punishment indicates political parties are not about governance

Sources and friends sent me a number of thoughtful criticisms of yesterday’s post about Assemblywoman Nicole Parra’s banishment from the Capitol and Assemblywoman Patty Berg’s comment, "We have spent millions of dollars ensuring that Nicole comes back three times in a row." These emailers make some strong points.

Among these: Party discipline is an important value. It’s selfish for one member to hold up something as important as the budget because of her own constituency. If legislative leaders were to permit such behavior, there would be chaos. Another criticism involved Parra’s cause — the water bond, which many see as welfare for the ag biz.

Let’s leave the water debate for another time (though it’s worth noting there is a bipartisan compromise on the table) and take on the party discipline point. Party discipline is fine — if legislative leaders enforce it in the service of delivering for the state. But in this era, when it comes to the budget and resolving California’s major problems, legislative leadership consistently has failed to reach timely compromises.

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach that seeks not to punish moderates but to encourage them to lead in the way in finding compromise. But there’s little interest in real compromise among leaders of either party. They’re about control, not governance. It speaks volumes that Parra, a high profile moderate who has had three tough races, has been kicked out of the Capitol.

Banished Moderate Update: Why Didn’t Parra Stay Bought?

In the coverage of how Assemblywoman Nicole Parra was kicked out of the Capitol (she is now the only one of California’s 120 legislators without an office of the building) for the crime of abstaining on a meaningless budget vote because a water bond was not attached, I was struck by this quote from Parra’s Democratic Assembly colleague Patty Berg (D-Eureka). It speaks volumes about the mindset of legislators here. And for those who want to know why Californians favor direct democracy over legislative action, it should give you a sense of why we Golden State voters choose the ballot over our lawmakers.

From this Sacramento Bee Story:

"We have spent millions of dollars ensuring that Nicole comes back three times in a row. The way it’s done here is that if you are in the majority party, and you are a Democrat, you vote on the budget."

Why Monterey Would Be a Cool Capital

This piece of mine which ran in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times started out as an attempt at satire. But now I think I’ve talked myself into it. Why not relocate state government to Monterey? The state government could use a change of scenery..

A Test for Union Leadership

The LA Times recently published an excellent investigative story on Tyrone Freeman, the leader of California’s largest SEIU local, which represents home health care givers. It’s an outrageous tale of self-dealing, with money from union affiliates going to the business pursuits of Freeman’s wife and mother-in-law.

Freeman, 38, is a young and talented leader; I saw that firsthand as a reporter covering labor for the LA Times in 2006. Freeman is popular within the union movement, and close to SEIU’s international president, Andy Stern. (The last time I saw Freeman, he and Stern were sitting down to a meal at the Pacific Dining Car). So this is going to be a difficult test of the union movement in LA and nationallly.

But it’s a test. Freeman needs to step down and offer a full-throated apology. The union needs to ask for an independent audit of the local. And the public needs to hear immediately from union leadership — Stern, county labor chief Maria Elena Durazo, other top SEIU leaders such as janitors’ union chief Mike Garcia — about how such conduct must not be permitted in the movement. So far, the silence is deafening. Stern, in the story, refuses to address the conduct in question. That won’t cut it.