Monthly Archives: May 2009

No Moderate Is An Island

Pay AttentionSometimes, the Blue Dog would rather have someone else do the barking about the state of Moderate Nation. Some good mind chow in CNN.com’s “No One Represents America’s Center.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Journalism, Politics, Reform

. . . Open Primary Makes a Baker’s Dozen

dog_withboneA Blue Dog reader with decades of experience inside the Capitol weighed in with another reform measure omitted in the 12 reforms mentioned in the last post. Here is what he says:

 “I think a lot of the reforms you mentioned would be helpful, but the key reform we need is the open primary.  Both of the parties are controlled by special interest groups so it is very difficult to win a partisan primary unless you are owned by them.  At least an open primary gives moderates of both parties a real shot.  It also helps make members from now safe districts a little more responsible since they could face a November election running against a member of their own party.  A little fear and/or respect of the voters would further help the system.”

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Politics, Reform

A Dirty Dozen Reforms for Reinventing California

Main DogAs the dust settles and legislators and the governor peer up and out of their foxholes, let’s hope they see the citizenry circulating petitions for gutsy reform initiatives. The system is broken and beyond repair. Time to tear down the entire house and build a new one from a new foundation up. So checking politics at the door, here are a dozen nakedly brash ideas — old and new — that should be on the table.  

(1)  Establish a Constitutional Convention that is not beholden, created or otherwise connected with the Legislature or Executive Branch. The recommendations of which would ultimately be put into a ballot initiative. Reform measures the convention should recommend and/or consider:  

(2) Reducing the size of legislative districts, increasing number of legislators to achieve greater accountability (see earlier post)

(3) Eliminating term limits

 (4) Weighing pros and cons of a part-time legislature

(5) Eliminating the two-thirds majority vote on budget matters

(6) Mandating a two-year budget cycle and level of rainy-day cash reserves

(7)  Pegging expansion of state spending to inflation or another reasonable benchmark level; maybe tacking on a few percentage points; but basically establishing strict spending limits coupled with a mechanism for flexibility 

(8) Examining the evisceration of all sacred cows, especially Prop. 13 and Prop. 98

(9)  Investigating what responsibilities and funding should be returned to local governments, which are by definition closer to the people they serve 

(10) Mulligans. As naive as it may be, we need to find a way to get out from under expensive contactual obligations and mandated funding for programs. Can an initiative wipe the slate clean so we can start with a clean slate — i.e. – renegotiating everything in terms of benefits, salaries, services, etc.? 

(11) Requiring a boot camp for new legislators prior to assuming office so they aren’t learning the basics on the job

(12) Creating a legislative process that isn’t a joke. Specifically we need to ensure exhaustive discussion of complex issues. Too many times we see enormously critical decisions made with just “two minutes for each side” to present their positions in policy committees. This is an insult to the democratic process and irresponsible. Californians deserve better. 

The Blue Dog totally gets the latest spasm of voter anger. But it’s not enough anymore to simply stew. Let’s do something titanic and constructive with all the vitriol at our disposal. Let’s reinvent the business of government from the ground up.

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Media, Politics, Reform

Humor Upon the Gallows

dog_withboneThe worse things get, the more we apparently rely on humor to survive. The fallout from yesterday’s vote and sudden momentum pushing California’s  death spiral into oblivion has brought about an unexpectedly large dose of humor from several anonymous CalBlueDog readers. One offered some creative ways to generate revenue. Another  a way to make difficult cuts. Another sent along a photo capturing some of yesterday’s carnage. Yes the sky is falling, but we might as well chuckle before it crashes down on our heads: 

*Revenue from Naming Rights: “The Legislature ought to start selling ad space and naming rights in the Capitol and at the various state agencies to raise money.” Here are some ideas:

– The Cache Creek State Capitol Dome (with Neon Sign instead atop for an extra Billion) . . . The Kaiser-Permanente Department of of Public Health . . .  The Chevron Department of Conservation . . . the Waste Management Integrated Waste Management Board . . . The Pfizer Assembly Committee on Health . . .  The ACLU Assembly Committee on Public Safety . . . The Senate Judiciary Committee brought to you by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association . . . The Toyota Air Resources Board . . . The Sierra Club Senate Committee on Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials . . . The  CTA Assembly Committee of Education . . . The SEIU Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee . . . The Disney Assembly Committee on Water, Parks & Wildlife . . . The State Farm Assembly Committee on Insurance . . . the Wells Fargo Senate Committee on Banking, Finance & Insurance . . .  

Budget Cuts from Survivor Alcatraz: Another reader suggests taking all state agency and department heads and putting them on Alcatraz Island, where they must fend for themselves, their departments and make a case for their respective programs. Arnold’s Hollywood friends can produce the episodes pro bono and Californians can tune in to make the hard decisions by voting programs and public servants off the island. We can follow it up with a Series: Survivor: Catalina involving legislators. The state could reap millions in TV broadcast revenue from advertisers; if the program goes nationwide, we get the royalties. 

Eyewitness to Carnage: Finally, this photo came over the transom. 

SS STEINBERG RIP

While the shot unfairly singles out Senator Steinberg, the Blue Dog imagines there are plenty more boats sinking with other names, including a large vessel called the S.S. Capitol.  The Blue Dog thanks his readers, and welcomes more antics as he gears up for more serious fare . . . “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Media, Politics, Reform

Think Small, Californians

Bone They say takers eat well, but givers sleep well. Maybe it’s time we start focusing more on our sleep. 

Given the enormity of the challenges facing California, it is easy to become fatalistic and cynical. The problems are so daunting and our leadership so dysfunctional that it leaves us feeling totally helpless and impotent. Perhaps we should adapt a new personal survival strategy: downsize our expectations of government/others and demand more from ourselves. 

Yeah, its easy to rail on the status quo and bark for reform. The BlueDog will continue to howl, attracting a growing cadre of like-minded California moderates in the process. But for today, let’s focus on pointing the finger at ourselves. What can we do to improve our own little corners of the world? The people we encounter as we go about our lives? How can we assume more personal responsibility for our fellow man?

There are a zillion things we can do that don’t involve giving money or too much of your time:  

* Donate clothes, furniture and appliances to charities. Donations are down and demand is up at local thrifts.

* Spend some time talking to a friend or acquaintance who has lost a job. Ask what you can do to help.

* Be a considerate driver

* Turn off the Blackberry and spend genuine time with your kid.

* Stop cursing. 

* Instead of scorn, indifference or subsidizing an addiction with loose change, look a homeless person in the eye and say hello. Better yet, extend yourself and buy him or her a sandwich.

* Pick up somebody else’s litter or trash.

* And because the BlueDog can’t resist: Maybe we should call for a freeze on all pending legislation for a year. In the meantime, requiring all legislators and their staffs to leave the Capitol so they can apply all their state-paid time to doing something tangible and meaningful in their communities — instead of being marginalized by a process that encourages division, problem-creation, mediocrity and gridlock. One would think that a more gratifying application of public service. 

If we did any one of these things every day, California’s collective soul might lift us out of the morass in some weird, cosmic way. At the very least, we would all sleep a bit better . . . even as California burns itself to the ground.

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Politics, Reform

Trivial Pursuits & Greed in the Bag

dog_snarling“Give Me Men to Match My Mountains,” begs a caption chiseled into a building across from the State Capitol. It’s a majestic call for leadership from another, less cynical era. Here’s something more apt for today: “Give Me Men & Women to Build Our Mole Hills.” 

From all quarters, the inane seems to be the only arsenal available to our elected officials:  To wit:  Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who thinks the critical issue of our time centers on banning plastic bags – a plank in a platform he obviously thinks will catapult him into the state Assembly next year. Way to go Roger, you probably do belong in the Legislature, a place where every day seems disproportionately focused on playing trival pursuit on the malodorous tongue of a frothing, volatile multi-headed leviathan known as the budget crisis, health care crisis, unemployment crisis, homeless crisis, education crisis . . . 

But those matters can wait while our elected officials dicker around with things like Assembly Bill 68 (Brownley), which seeks to impose a 25-cent tax on plastic shopping bags. Proponents trot out “Bag Man” at news conferences where they twist facts like taffy. A preponderance of science and research shows plastic bags to be a non issue. There is even a strong case to be made they actually are better for the environment than paper (note earlier posting here and again full disclosure that the Blue Dog has performed consulting work for firms that produce plastic bags and packaging materials).

Bag Man: A Capitol Policy Maker

Bag Man: A Capitol Policy Maker

The BlueDog- an avid recycler – is old enough to remember when paper bags were evil because they were made by raping our forests. But who the hell cares about  historical perspective? Or  pesky details associated with life cycle analysis, consumer choice, financial impact on shoppers or the Legislature’s abrupt abortion of its nascent plastic bag recycling program? 

This is, after all, California, land of endless opportunity to do something well-meaning, but ultimately amounting to a public policy mole hill. Someone should scratch at beneath the surface in search of motivations. Frustration on the part of our elected officials at their own self-evident impotence in solving what truly matters? A desire to distract us from reality? Control issues? Or is it something less cosmic and more base, like greed?

If you read the fine print of AB 68, you’ll see a provision that allows grocery stores and retailers to keep 5 cents for each bag they tax. Wow. The bag itself probably costs less than a penny. Bag bashers like Dickinson and Brownley claim “19 billion” plastic bags are sold annually. So if we do the math, that’s a $4.75 Billion reach into the pockets of Californians — of that, about a Cool Billion will go to grocery stores and retailers. Can they possibly need that kind of jack to administer the program? In an industry with razor thin profit margins, it’s no wonder their associations are on board with measure. Seems like an incentive to push more bags.

The winners in this game of trivial pursuit certainly aren’t average Californians, who have bigger worries on their minds and loftier expectations of their elected officials. Where is our Sir Edmund Hillary? Where are our fearless, dutiful Sherpas?

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Environment, Media, Politics, Reform

Death By 1,000 Cuts & Tweets

dog_snarlingA state media insider tells the BlueDog that the Los Angeles Times has issued an edict to cut down the length of its front-page news stories. The new policy mandates that no A1 news story shall run more 28 or so column issues — a cut from the previous maximum length of 35 column inches.

This is a 20 percent cut, and is in keeping with a business goal of achieving a 50-50 balance of advertisements and news. Page A3 — the showcase for California and Capitol news — is a meager shadow of its former self. Consider the Thursday, May 7 edition, which contains just one article and a weather photo.

The Times has always considered itself a national paper — a claim increasingly suspect given erosion of interest in state news. Some speculate the short shrift stems from the fact the Times’ top two editors are alumni of its business page, which has now replaced the once robust California section’s mix of local and state news as the B-section of the newspaper.  With that shift, news from the state Capitol, matters of public policy, politics or state issues of import are now crammed into the A-section. Meanwhile California goes to hell. 

This internal news from the Times is hardly earthshaking. But it’s a another disconcerting symbol — not only of the amazing shrinking newspaper, but the anorexia Californians (leading the nation again) seem to have when it comes to substance in its media and information diet.  

Earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee eliminated its Monday morning commentary page, which now runs print advertisements opposite editorials. The op-ed is evolving into the ad-ed.  There is just something unseemly about this, even if it is sincerely designed to stanch the bleeding. 

The once derided USA Today even looks robust against the inevitable trend toward morsels of democratized, digital media. We are now compressing sound bites into nano bites; decentralizing news from established sources to random blogs (yes, even fairly credible ones like this one), Twittering “tweet”communiques maxing out just over 100 characters (not words or inches).  Against this benchmark, the 28 column inches in the Times is a veritable encyclopedia that warrants continued reverence. But the ink continues to ooze quietly from the newspaper industry like a shaving nick that refuses to coagulate. And we’re running out of band aids.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journalism, Media, Politics, Social Networking

Circling the Drain @ 14 Percent

main_dogThe BlueDog is still chomping on the latest Field Poll released last week about the California Legislature’s appalling approval ratings from the very people it purports to serve.  To realize just how truly abysmal the numbers are, let’s put them into a broader, more historical context of polling “lowlights”:               

Governor Schwarzenegger     33%
George W. Bush           29%
Gray Davis                   25%* 
Richard Nixon                       24%
Harry Truman     22%
California Legislature 14%

It’s a jaw dropping perspective. Can it get any worse? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes, especially if we peer into the mind of the legislators themselves.

“You know, the Legislature is generally unpopular, but people tend to like their own legislator, ” Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg said in Kevin Yamamura’s coverage of the poll in the Sacramento Bee

The BlueDog about choked on his English muffin upon reading this. After all, Steinberg is one of the best and brightest in the Capitol. By all accounts he is as decent and dedicated a public servant as they come.  While there’s a kernel of truth to his conventional wisdom, it comes across as cavalier and tone deaf. Nuancing the  sentiment of 86 percent of California voters seems like a risky proposition.  

This is exactly the type of mindset that insulates legislators from reality  . . . along with a highly deferential workplace environment in which they are fawned over, catered to and not always told the harsh truth by those around them as they travel up and down in their own private elevators.  Safe legislative districts and a broken political system only reinforce the illusion of being in sync with their constituents.

But this being a blog for Moderates, there is a one positive takeaway from the poll: the putrid view of the Legislature may be serving as a unifying bipartisan force.

“What’s remarkable about his job rating numbers is that there’s no differentiation between the two parties,” Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo told the Bee: “I can’t think of another elected official who, when getting negative ratings, scores just as poorly among his own party as among the opposing party.”

Sounds like a catalyst for reform. It won’t be long until the Legislature succeeds in flushing itself down the drain, and the 86 percent of us can commence the business of reforming California government.

* (Based on an online figure stating Davis’ approval ratings were in the “mid-20s” around time of recall election)

Leave a comment

Filed under California Legislature, Media, Politics, Reform