Category Archives: Reform

Can Party Leaders Afford to Dismiss Sentiment Behind Prop. 14?

Few things unite Republican and Democratic party hardliners more than a threat to the status quo. The current two-party stranglehold in California has yielded a virtual monopoly on ideas and public policy. This reality, coupled with ridiculously uncompetitive legislative districts, is a prime source of the gridlock we see daily in Sacramento.

Candidates pander to their liberal and conservative bases in the primaries, then try to convince everyone in the general election they are moderates in the center. Once they get into office they revert, with very few exceptions, back to lapdogs for the extremes of their respective parties and special interests. This is a sham Californians obviously see through given their approval for Open Primaries — just as they did in rejecting some of the big corporate power plays in the other statewide propositions this week.

But rather than catching a clue about voter sentiment and realizing how smart the electorate actually is, the entrenched party apparatchiks condescendingly dismiss the will of the people. John Burton, old-guard Democrat and Party Chairman, vowed as early as Tuesday night to consider filing a lawsuit. The Republican establishment, also voiced strong opposition to Prop. 14’s passage, and seemed content to stand with Burton, albeit in a crouched position.

Of all things, our politicians fear moderate voters and independents who care more about common sense problem solving than capital D or R ideology. An open primary will mean candidates will actually have to appeal to a broader range of the electorate from the get go — not just the extremes as has been the case for too long. One look no farther than Steve Poizner for a timely example. Long considered a moderate Republican, Poizner transformed himself into the second coming of Bill O’Reilly during a campaign in which he sought to brand himself as the only “true conservative” on the Republican ticket. A big reason he was trounced, besides winner Meg Whitman’s financial largesse, was that he was simply too disingenuous to believe.

Prop. 14 is emblematic of voter frustration and disenfranchisement. The measure, which passed overwhelmingly, is perhaps not as revolutionary as Prop. 13 and and term limits. But neither is it as draconian. The Blue Dog has seen first hand the chaos of term limits, which despite their intent have ironically backfired for a whole host of reasons. And Prop. 13 is at the root of many problems the state is facing today. But Prop. 14 would not appear to be in that camp. As political columnist Dan Weintraub writes in today’s Sacramento Bee, Prop. 14 is a victory for centrists/moderates and independents who deserve a voice earlier in the process.

Rather than scrambling like cockroaches for attorneys to overturn the will of the people, the Democrat and Republican Party Corporations should seek ways to broaden their appeal with more mainstream candidates. Tuesday’s election should make one thing clear to them: the majority of voters (of all parties) are standing by with cans of RAID.

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Filed under 2010 Election, California Legislature, Politics, Reform

Obama’s Rush to the Economic Right: Will Sacramento Follow Suit?

Taking in President Obama’s state of the Union speech while frying patty melts for his kids, one thing struck the Blue Dog big time: Obama came out of the gates running for the center. In fact, his momentum seemed to carry him across the line and into Republican territory on jobs and the economy. Obamas’s most surprising, and apparently sincere, admission that business is still the engine that drives the economy was refreshing and even startling. Good for him. And let’s hope the Republicans find it in themselves to work with him instead of trying to sabotage the country for political gain in November.

And Obama should get credit for stabilizing the economy and starting to clean up the crap left by the previous Administrations. But his claims of jobs creation, however, rang a bit hollow. After all, the avalanche of recovery funds have chiefly been absorbed in protecting public sector jobs. In fact, the Stimulus Project suggests as much as 75 percent of the mega funds have gone to entitlements and government works.

Saving taxpayer-funded jobs ain’t the same thing as creating jobs. Government may employ people, but it doesn’t create the underlying wealth and new revenue. It absorbs, redistributes and transfers wealth. And yes, it plays a critical role in curbing private-sector abuse. This is all the subject of a whole different conversation. The point here is that government jobs are the offspring of taxpayers and especially the loins of business.

One wonders if the liberals in Sacramento heard Obama. Or were they too busy watching Nancy Pelosi and Joe Binden grin ear to ear as if they had just sipped the Kool-Aid or were in on the same joke?  One worries if the California Left really does get it. Here’s a classic example: A few months ago, there was a “Jobs Summit” held in Sacramento to explore  ways to create jobs. According the press account, there was an array of traditional Democratic stakeholders — labor, public employees unions, government, academics, think tanks and the like. But guess what? No mention of the economic engine Obama talked about. Apparently business wasn’t important enough to have a seat at the table. Never mind business is the table, as Obama pointed out in his speech.

We are in big trouble if this “summit” mentality mirrors the current mindset in the Capitol, a notorious Slaughterhouse for pro-business and private sector job growth initiatives. Growing business is serious business, and is getting more urgent. Consider that California’s nearly 13 percent unemployment rate is nearly as high (about 2 points less) than Michigan, which has been decimated by the gasping auto industry.

Obama called on policy grounded in “common sense”  and post partisanship. Whether this can happen in DC is anyone’s guess. Here in Sacramento, the stakes are higher and the divisions perhaps even greater in terms partisan rancor.

Nonetheless, let’s think big, and positively. So here’s a call — albeit a naive one –  from the millions of silent Centrists who would love to see the following from the California Legislature:

(1) Make private sector job creation its number one priority. And that doesn’t mean hiding behind the long-term dream of  “green job creation” at the same time regulations and laws are passed to ban products, shut down what manufacturing is left, hamstring farmers, mandate bureaucratic reporting of information that is already readily available just to curry favor with special interests and activists groups, etc.

(2) Steinberg and Perez should each reach across the aisle and name a moderate, respected Republican in each house as a Job Czar, who would serve as advisors on job-related legislation.

(3)  Run every bill through an economic filter with analysis from an independent third-party group of economists — as well as from Capitol staff and their bosses.

(4) Create a legislative Siberia for any bill that creates a new program or bureaucracy.   State office buildings already are littered with programs that don’t have adequate funding.

The Blue Dog likes to start from the ideal and work backwards, lowering expectations as we go. So let’s think big. Sacramento Dems – take a page from the Democrat in Chief. Create an environment friendly for jobs growth and you’ll ultimately have plenty of tax revenue to address the many ominous ills in our state.

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What Scott Brown Means for Jerry Brown, et al

Depending on your pundit, Scott Brown’s stunning ascension to Ted Kennedy’s vacant Massachusetts Senate congressional seat is either a crippling defeat for the Democrats or a harbinger that Republicans will soon hold sway throughout the nation.

In reality, these are both oversimplifications and miss the point. From this Left Coast moderate perch, Brown’s surprise win is a victory for the great swath of independents and moderates who cut through both sides of the aisle.

What moderates lack in colorful political personalities and a party all their own, we make up for with a nasty habit of abruptly slamming on the brakes when we see either fringe taking control of the wheel. President Clinton learned this. So did Newt Gingrich. This is what seems to have just sent shockwaves through the nation’s political circles.

Anyone listening? There is a reason the nation’s fastest growing political force is gathering around the independent, moderate center. We may not have the power to hold conventions and catapult candidates out of the primaries. But we serve as critical check-and-balance calibrators and defiant momentum changers.

Massachusetts’ liberal base is legendary. So there is no denying Brown’s victory sends a powerful signal. But is it one Senator Barbara Boxer will understand or heed? If she exhibits the entitlement mentality and arrogance displayed by Democrats along the Eastern seaboard and in DC . . . she could well be toast. No matter what, the likes of Carly Fiorina and  Tom Campbell should suddenly feel very, very emboldened.

In the race for Arnold’s seat, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner will have to look over their shoulders as they pander to the Republican’s hardcore right. It seems Jerry Brown would do well to take advantage of being unchallenged (for a race he hasn’t officially entered) and stake out centerfield while his adversaries charge wildly to right before trying to veer back to the middle post June.

The moderate pendulum is not just swinging, but rather assertively at that. November is suddenly getting interesting.

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What’s Your S.O.S.?

Governor Schwarzenegger delivered his final State of the State (SOS) address this morning. It was a mixed bag. Sober reality check. Wistful glorification of California’s can-do spirit. A vague, punch-drunk plan of attack for rescuing California.Protecting education, cutting prisons, tax breaks. They all sound wonderful. How this stacks up with financial and political reality is highly suspect. But give the Governor credit for connecting the dots and trying to move ahead in the face of insurmountable odds.

Depending on your viewpoint and situation, S.O.S. can mean a lot of things.

* For castaways desperate for salvation, it’s the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass – “Save Our Souls.”

* For soldiers sick of canteen food, it’s “Sh*! on a Shingle.”

* For cynics in the capitol press corps and in The Building, it’s “Same of Sh@#.”

* For liberals, to paraphrase Democratic ex-Speaker Karen Bass, it’s “Save our Shreds” of what is now the social safety net.

* For Arnold, it boiled down to the “Same Optimistic Speech.”

The Blue Dog thinks it was very well-written and delivered pretty well. But the feel-good tone evaporated minutes after the speech . . . just inventory the pitiful track record of a Centrist Governor sandwiched between too-far right Republicans and the dominant left-wing Liberals. They are all talking about collaboration now. But as Sacramento political pundit Steve Swatt so nicely put it: “By summer the olive branches will be fire wood.”

Achieving some measure of budget reform should now be Governor Schwarzenegger’s drumbeat to a proud legacy, It’s a worthy goal and the Governor should be applauded for that. The Legislature should, but of course, won’t, do anything meaningful or visionary to help him.  After all, a broken system cannot fix itself.

Yes, Governor, California is a wonderful place indeed. But her glow has faded and she can’t rely on her looks any more. The fresh-faced beauty queen is now a haggard middle-aged woman with missing teeth and a crack pipe in her hand.  Optimism alone is not going to change that fact.

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Comfortably Numb in Neverland

Main Dog

“After the ecstasy, the laundry,” goes the Zen adage.

Or in Sacramento terms: “After Independence Day celebrations, the grindstone.”

And it looks like the grindstone is still winning. Big 5 leadership noses rubbed raw. Budget gridlock continues. Tough, impossible choices are delayed. No news here.

And really, does anyone really care outside of Sacramento? Isn’t it totally plausible that our elected officials are getting more calls from constituents wanting help getting tickets to the Michael Jackson memorial service than are grousing about the budget? Our legislators have got to be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the Michael Jackson Saga is sucking so much media and public attention from away from the impasse. Nothing like a good soap opera to relieve the pressure.

For a minute, let’s suspend reality and dream of a world when Californians and the media gave even a fraction of the attention and energy into our dysfunctional government as is going into the King of Pop’s funeral arrangements and second coming [The Blue Dog, swear to God, actually saw a newscast this evening devoting coverage to some local guy who says a knot in his birch tree contains the face of Jackson].

One percent of that kind of interest in the Capitol and we’d have a budget. Five percent, a revolution . . .

Yeah, Independence Day is a time for feeling good about our country, state and freedoms. But that is only half of the bargain. The other piece is that we all possess a responsibility to be passionately engaged in our Democracy. When we pay obsessively more attention to birch trees and dead celebrities we shouldn’t complain too much about the government we get.

The contrast between what is going on in LA and Sacramento over this past Fourth of July and well into the foreseeable future is almost too much to bear. Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot of laundry piling up.

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High-Priced Escorts?

This Bites

Did you hear the one about the convicted murderer, an elderly female prisoner with breast cancer? How many prison guards did it take to provide an escort to her chemotherapy appointment?

In California, the rumored punchline is: FOUR.

A little bird, albeit not a jailbird, dropped this tidbit in the Blue Dog’s dish. Can’t vouch for the veracity of the information, but if true, this has to be a candidate for the  annual “$72,000 Government Toilet Seat Awards.”

We already know the sweet arrangement the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) has going. Sure we need to respect, protect and fairly compensate our prison guards, who no doubt have phenomenally difficult and thankless jobs. But this type of story may hint at why California needs what — 30,000 prison guards and a budget some three times that of a state like Texas? And if true, this quadruple burly escort service for old ladies — even if it would happen to be a mass murderer like Dorothea Puente — would seem obvious overkill. Are these the policies written into contracts from which California cannot escape?

While a card-carrying member of Amnesty International who is all for humane treatment of inmates, the BlueDog is compelled to ask if we’ve taken things too far. Do prisoners receive better healthcare than the working poor or even the middle class? Is their food service of higher quality than the lard and dough we feed our school kids? (A produce company has complained to the BlueDog that inmates are mandated to receive top grade fruits and veggies.)

Perhaps above all else, the moderate faction abhors the imprisonment of common sense and balance. Prison reform is a massively complex matter requiring a lot of legal maneuvering. But there’s a simple way to have your voice heard — either regarding questionable corrections or other agency expenditures: report it to Governor Schwarzenegger’s Waste Watchers Program.

After all, this is your government. And the time is ripe for speaking out.

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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.”

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. . . 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.”

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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.

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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.”

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