All posts by Dante Atkins

Los Angeles Mayor: Garcetti takes lead as Greuel goes hard negative

Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti at CicLAvia
Candidate Garcetti at CivLAvia. Photo: Marta Evry

For Los Angeles voters, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Only four weeks remain until the city finally elects a new mayor to replace Antonio Villaraigosa. Ballots are hitting mailboxes this week, and the sprint to the finish has begun.

Councilmember and former City Council President Eric Garcetti won the March 5 primary election by a hair over four points over his general election opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel. The big question at that point was: who would win over the voters of the three major candidates–Jan Perry, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez–who didn’t make it? So far, Garcetti seems to be winning that battle: all three of those primary opponents endorsed him, and the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll shows him with a 10-point lead over his rival as mail ballots drop. The poll indicates that in most cases, Greuel is failing to win over the bases of support she is depending on for victory: Garcetti leads among women, even though Greuel has made gender a key selling point in her campaign. She is effectively tied with Garcetti in the San Fernando Valley, which should be her base. And perhaps most troubling, Greuel actually trails among Republicans by a wide margin, when conventional wisdom early in the race dictated that Greuel would have natural advantages in that constituency against Garcetti, who is widely viewed as a progressive liberal. Instead, the poll indicates that Greuel’s dependence on $3 million in independent expenditure spending from the Department of Water and Power union, IBEW, is damaging her standing with a constituency most observers would have expected her to win.

“That’s an untenable situation for Greuel,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times City Election Poll.

It most certainly is an untenable position. And Greuel is responding the same way most candidates in an untenable position would respond: throw absolutely everything at the wall, and see if anything sticks.

The rollout of Greuel’s hard negative campaign, however, didn’t appear to go so well. The campaign built a childish attack site against Garcetti that listed essentially every single negative attack the campaign has ever used, but also included some personal attacks, like calling him a “trust fund kid” who has “never had to work a day in his life.” The site was discovered by the media, whereupon the Greuel campaign subsequently password-protected it. Of course, the site might have been a signal for Greuel’s independent expenditure allies to unleash their own negative attacks: WOMEN VOTE!, the political arm of EMILY’s List, has already spent over $80,000 on mailers with negative attacks on Eric that closely parallel the message of the Greuel campaign’s attack site.

Greuel also made a massive television buy last week, spending $700,000 for a positive piece touting her endorsements. But what ran instead during the second half of that buy was a hypocritical negative ad on digital billboards. (Funny side note: all the digital billboards in the ad have actually been deactivated by court order.)

And perhaps most amusingly, Greuel’s camp is also realizing how damaging close affiliation with the unpopular Department of Water and Power can be. A close Greuel ally, former Controller Rick Tuttle, filed an ethics complaint yesterday in advance of last night’s televised debate between the two candidates, alleging that back in 2009, Garcetti postponed an audit of the DWP that might have reflected badly on a ballot measure that both the DWP, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel were all supporting. The aforementioned Jan Perry, whose committee was responsible for the hearing, has said that the accusation is bogus. Not that it matters to the Greuel camp: the mere filing of the complaint gave Greuel cover to claim during the debate that Garcetti “was under investigation” for ethics violations.

Not that it mattered: NBC-4’s political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said that Garcetti was the clear winner of last night’s debate because voters want to see specifics about policy, rather than negative attacks. But we can expect the negativity to continue from the Greuel campaign: they’re in full “spaghetti-on-the-wall” mode, desperately hoping that something will stick.

Note: This opinion piece reflects solely the viewpoint of the author, and does not constitute a editorial.

Los Angeles Mayor: Wendy Greuel’s campaign of confusion and chaos

Note: This opinion piece reflects solely the viewpoint of the author, and does not constitute a editorial.

The conclusion of the primary election in Los Angeles has set off a new scramble for endorsements by those left standing, and nowhere is that more true than the runoff for Los Angeles Mayor, which will take place on May 21. This past Tuesday, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel received the unanimous endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for her campaign to replace the termed-out Antonio Villaraigosa. The vote was a foregone conclusion after the Executive Committee voted to recommend the endorsement to the membership with roughly 70% of that vote.

Those who don’t follow every detail of the race, or are perhaps less familiar with Los Angeles politics, might wonder why Greuel would be able to receive such a forceful showing, given the generally prevailing notion that Greuel would perhaps be more moderate, while her opponent, former City Council President and DNC Executive Commmittee member Eric Garcetti, would receive the lion’s share of progressive endorsements in the race. And the simple answer has to do with pensions.

It’s a familiar story to many: when the economy imploded, many local governments got hit with massive budget shortfalls, and Los Angeles was no exception. In order to preserve as many city services as possible, the City Council sought to save money by scaling back future labor costs for city workers. The long and arduous history of these negotiations is beyond the purview of this piece; suffice it to say, however, that the City Council, led by Council President Eric Garcetti, voted unanimously to scale back the retirement age for future city employees hired after July 1 of this year, thus saving about $4 billion over the next few decades. Labor was not happy because they felt that any such restructuring needed to happen through the collective bargaining process; the Council, however, had been advised that because the change did not touch the contracts of current workers, that the Council had the authority to proceed without ratification. Even though the vote was unanimous–with ardent pro-labor Councilmembers like Paul Koretz and Richard Alarcon voting in favor–this move earned Eric Garcetti the enmity of union leadership.

When it came time for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to issue its endorsement in the May 21 runoff election, Wendy Greuel was more than happy to take advantage. See, she had the advantage of being City Controller when this all went down, so unlike Eric Garcetti, she didn’t have to vote (though given the fact, as mentioned above, that even Koretz and Alarcon sided with Garcetti, it’s naive to think that the more moderate Greuel would have opposed the vote). While campaigning for the endorsement, Greuel absurdly compared Eric Garcetti to notoriously anti-worker Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (which earned her the ridicule of the Los Angeles Times), and promised that were she to become mayor, she would reopen talks on the pension reform the City Council passed and subject it to collective bargaining.

Greuel told labor exactly what they wanted to hear, and not surprisingly, she got the endorsement. And that’s where things get a little dicey. See, Greuel’s campaign depends on winning over more moderate valley voters, and the voters of Republican Kevin James, who finished third in the primary. And let’s be honest: attacking pension reform while having the DWP union Super PAC spend millions on your behalf in the primary campaign is probably not the way to get that done. The Chamber of Commerce, which had also endorsed Greuel, was none too pleased either, and they called Greuel to account for her positions. And thus started a fast and furious march to the right for Wendy Greuel.

First, she backed away from her commitment to reopen the pension reform to negotiations, telling the Los Angeles Times that she actually supports the changes that the City Council did, even though just a few days beforehand, she had compared the Council’s actions to those of Scott Walker. She also said that instead of renegotiating with labor on the pension reform already done, she just wants to talk with them about how to avoid a lawsuit about those same reforms (though how she expects to accomplish both objectives while conceding nothing is anyone’s guess). It didn’t end up mattering–the Chamber had to cancel a fundraiser it was throwing for her out of lack of interest. But that walkback was just the beginning.

Greuel’s campaign took it a step further: to “clear the air”–and presumably save face with the Chamber of Commerce and conservatives–they released a letter from former Speaker of the Assembly and former Mayoral Candidate Bob Hertzberg, which reads, in part:

Wendy is ready to roll up her sleeves and attack the real problem – our current pension obligations. She wants to explore raising the retirement age for current employees, and scaling employee contributions based on when workers enter the pension system.

Got that? It gets better. Shortly thereafter, the Greuel campaign announced that she had received the backing of conservative Republican former Mayor Richard Riordan, and that were she to win, Riordan would be her first hire in her new administration. Now, for those who are unaware, Mayor Riordan spearheaded a failed campaign to place a measure on the ballot that would have severely rolled back pensions for city workers, and even eliminated the defined benefit system in favor of a defined-contribution 401(k) style retirement system. And sure enough, Riordan told the Daily News–Los Angeles’ more conservative newspaper–that in Greuel’s administration, he will indeed do more of the same:

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan said Wednesday he has endorsed City Controller Wendy Greuel in the mayor’s race and joined her campaign as an economic advisor on labor and business issues.

Retirement costs will be a focus in the campaign, Riordan said. He said he will try to bring business and labor groups together to work on pension issues.

“Pension and health care,” Riordan said, listing off his agenda. “We’ll talk about a lot of things, including 401(k)s.”

Riordan’s endorsement comes as Greuel builds a strong coalition of support from both labor and union groups. Business groups backing Greuel, like the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, are likely to support having Riordan, a fiscal conservative, on her team.

So, let’s recap: in the span of a few days, Wendy Greuel went from claiming she wants to reopen to negotiation even the most modest, unanimously-voted reform done by the City Council, to announcing that Richard Riordan would head up her policy on dealing with pensions were she to get elected. Do you have whiplash? I do. And I’m not the only one.

Union leaders backed Wendy Greuel because they felt they could trust her. Do they still feel that way now? Ada Briceno of HERE Local 11 said that they would knock on endless doors from Boyle Heights to San Pedro. Will they still, if it means that every single door-knock they make is one step closer to putting a prominent enemy like Richard Riordan in charge of a possible Mayor Greuel’s pension policy?

It’s a question that matters now more than ever, because the chaos in Wendy Greuel’s campaign isn’t just related to the fact that her multiple positions on pension reform make Mitt Romney’s campaign look like a model of intellectual consistency. Just last night, the Greuel campaign suffered a major staff shakeup in the field department:

In a sign of turmoil in Wendy Greuel’s campaign for Los Angeles mayor, her field director and three others resigned this week after an abrupt shift in strategy to turn out supporters in the May runoff against rival Eric Garcetti.

All four of those who quit were veterans of the high-tech operation used in President Obama’s reelection campaign. They specialize in mining data to target likely supporters and persuade them to vote, a crucial task in close, low-turnout elections.

In a statement Friday, Greuel, the city controller, said she was expanding her field team by hiring consultant Sue Burnside, who worked on Greuel’s previous City Council and controller campaigns. She did not mention the departure of the former Obama operatives: field director Stacy Cohen, data director Joe Kavanagh and regional field directors Maya Hutchinson and Marisa Kanof.

Greuel’s new field consultant, Sue Burnside, uses paid canvassers, whereas the model used by the now-resigned former Obama organizers was volunteer-dependent–and apparently, they didn’t have the volunteers they wanted. But as Parke Skelton told the Times, it’s hard to build a citywide field campaign less than two months before the election. Maybe the Greuel campaign is relying on their labor support to pick up the slack. But if she’s really relying on SEIU and AFSCME to knock on that next door to put Richard Riordan back in City Hall, she might need a little more help.

In Los Angeles City Attorney’s race, NRA takes center stage

Full disclosure: I, as well as many organizations with which I am affiliated, have endorsed Mike Feuer for Los Angeles City Attorney.

Politicos in Los Angeles don’t get a break after Presidential elections. In the Southland, we have to make a practically immediate pivot from our national November elections to our biennial Municipal elections, which occur in March of odd-numbered years. For Angelenos, this election is more contentious than any cycle since 2005, when Antonio Villaraigosa defeated Kenneth Hahn in a rematch of Hahn’s 2001 victory. Mayor Villaraigosa is termed out, and the battle to replace him is taking up a substantial amount of oxygen. But as the presumed frontrunners in the mayoral race campaign to define both themselves and their opponents, there is already a strong contrast in the race for City Attorney.

The incumbent City Attorney is an independent–from a party point of view, at least–named Carmen Trutanich. Trutanich was elected in 2009 after defeating unpopular City Councilmember Jack Weiss in a runoff. Despite having pledged to serve two terms and not run for another office while serving as City Attorney, however, Trutanich ran to succeed Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whom you might remember from his narrow 2010 loss to Kamala Harris in the California Attorney General race. Trutanich’s campaign, though, did not go as planned. Conventional wisdom among the political class in Los Angeles said that Trutanich would win easily because of his advantage in both money and endorsements. But voters apparently held him accountable for violating his pledge: he failed to even make the general election. thus guaranteeing that to salvage his political career, he would have to actually fulfill at least part of his pledge and run for a second term as Los Angeles City Attorney. Keep in mind, however, that to really fulfill his pledge, Trutanich would have to do this, since he already violated it by running for District Attorney in the first place:

Should the pledge be violated, a penalty of $100,000 must be paid to LA’s Best After School Program from the violator’s personal funds. In addition, the candidate breaking the Pledge must purchase one full-page newspaper advertisement in every daily newspaper in Los Angeles to be run on the first Sunday following the breach of the Pledge. The ad must include a large headshot of the candidate in question, a copy of the Pledge and the words, “I AM A LIAR”, in large block print.

We’re still waiting for that, and I imagine we’ll be waiting for quite a while. In any case, Trutanich’ main obstacle in his unanticipated quest for re-election is former Assemblymember Mike Feuer, who was commonly viewed during his time in office as one of California’s most effective legislators. Feuer has received the unanimous backing of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and is the consensus choice of most grassroots Democratic groups throughout the city. The reasons why go far beyond the obvious fact that Feuer is a Democrat, while Trutanich is not. There are significant issues of contrast, perhaps most notably on the hot-button issue of gun control.

Before becoming the City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich was a co-owner of a firm called Trutanich Michel LLP. Now that Trutanich is in the City Attorney’s office, the firm has rebranded itself as Michel and Associates, P.C., though the firm declares that despite Trutanich’s departure, all the talented attorneys and staff have remained. What’s notable about the this law firm? Well, they were and still are the go-to law firm for the National Rifle Association:

Our clients include the National Rifle Association, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, law enforcement agencies and officers, industry trade associations, gun shows, importers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, special-effects companies, prop houses, armories, pyrotechnicians, and individuals who face firearms-related federal or state licensing and compliance issues or criminal charges. Michel & Associates, P.C. is Consulting Counsel to firearm retailer advocate FFLGuard for all California legislative and litigation issues.

And what would you go to them for? Well, if you want to get laws overturned that were passed by gun rights advocates:

Whether challenging a law’s constitutionality, advocating to invalidate or change a law, or simply determining the most cost-effective way to comply with it, our lawyers have been there. We know where to find answers when illogical, ill-conceived and poorly implemented laws do not provide them. We know the state and local requirements and politics. Our network of professional relationships includes politicians and political staffers, as well as staff at regulatory agencies administrating firearms laws.

As a matter of fact, Trutanich’s former partner Chuck Michel even maintains, an advocacy and information site for gun rights activists. So, this is how Carmen Trutanich made his money in the private sector: being paid by the NRA to challenge gun safety laws designed to protect the public. No surprise, then, that Trutanich got the endorsement of the NRA during his 2009 race. But who wrote many of those laws? Mike Feuer.

Mike Feuer used to serve on the Los Angeles City Council before being elected to the State Assembly in 2006. During his time on both bodies, Feuer authored legislation on many issues of interest to gun safety advocates, including requiring sale of trigger locks, background checks and bullet sale restrictions, record keeping, and limiting gun purchases to one per month. Mike Feuer has been endorsed by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and recently released his own plan to curb gun violence in Los Angeles.

Trutanich, on the other hand, profited off of the NRA to oppose exactly this type of legislation during his private-sector career. During his 2009 campaign, Trutanich took the NRA line, claiming that “we don’t need more laws to control guns. We have the laws. We just need to enforce them.” But now, ever the political opportunist who will say what he has to in order to win, Trutanich is taking the exact opposite line. Trutanich recognizes that this re-election bid–which, keep in mind, he never wanted to wage in the first place–hinges on increased popular demand for gun safety laws owing to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Still, there are some areas of policy disagreement, as well as signs that Trutanich still can’t put his NRA past behind him.

During his last term in the Assembly, Feuer passed a bill in the Assembly requiring microstamping of guns, which would make law enforcement investigations easier. As the LA Weekly reports, Trutanich and his allies are opposing this law:

The bill requires that all semi-automatic handguns sold in California be equipped with a microstamp that imprints a numeric code on the shell casing when the gun fires. Police can then use the code on the casing to find out who purchased the gun. The measure was backed by the Brady Campaign and by dozens of California police chiefs and sheriffs, including LAPD Chief Bill Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Taylor noted that the law, which was signed in 2007, still has not been implemented. The New York Times reported last year that the measure has been held up due to a patent dispute, and due to the maneuvering of gun rights organizations.

“Maybe it’s unworkable, impractical,” Taylor said. “So far, Mr. Feuer’s micro-stamping bullet plan seems like it’s more of a gun control stunt, than a solution.”

In an interview, Feuer said it was “breathtaking” for Trutanich’s campaign to “trivialize something that is so important to the sheriff and the police chief in his jurisdiction.”

Feuer has rightfully made an issue of Trutanich’s NRA-funded past, calling on him to return the profits he received from opposing California’s laws at its increasingly radical behest. Trutanich, meanwhile, who has not disclosed how much he profited from working from the NRA or the firearms industry at large, is trying to deflect the criticism with a demand for Feuer to return his salary on the grounds that he didn’t earn it:

Taylor shot back that Feuer has failed as a Sacramento lawmaker. “The taxpayers’ paid Feuer to do a job. He failed miserably. Return the money, Mike. You didn’t earn it,” Taylor said.

Kind of an ironic claim, isn’t it? To begin with, Trutanich has been so ineffective at doing his job that the City Council has passed motions to try to get its own lawyers. And even beyond that, Trutanich of all people should know how effective Mike Feuer has been in office. His own law firm has undoubtedly spent time working for the NRA and other affiliates in the gun lobby to oppose Feuer’s laws. His former constituents, including me, can attest to his work ethic. US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who knows a thing or two about gun control, called him “one of California’s most dynamic and effective elected officials.”

So maybe Trutanich should quit his campaign and do what he knows best–representing the NRA–and let the City Attorney’s office be run by someone who’s competent. Who knows–maybe Trutanich will get the opportunity to represent the NRA in a suit against the City Attorney after Feuer wins? Wouldn’t that be ironic.

Republicans can’t cover up policy failure with diversity outreach

Reposted from my Sunday feature at Daily Kos. Since it’s mainly California content, I think it deserves a place here too.

Los Angeles conservative radio hosts

California right-wing radio shock jocks John and Ken. Diversity!

Immediately after the November election, I wrote about the overwhelming victory Democrats enjoyed in California, where Governor Brown’s tax measure was passed, the union-busting Proposition 32 was soundly defeated, and Democrats claimed a supermajority in both chambers that will allow them, if they so choose, to pass budgets and submit initiatives for voter approval without a single Republican vote.

Since the time of that writing, things have gotten even worse for Republicans in the legislature, as Democrats picked up two additional seats in vote canvassing in races which their candidates were trailing on election day: Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani came back to beat her colleague Tom Berryhill for a hotly contested State Senate race to pad Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s margin. And lastly, in perhaps the shocker of elections in California, Democratic candidate Steve Fox completed a comeback on the very last day of canvassing when the Los Angeles County Registrar counted the last 1,601 votes in Assembly District 36. Fox gained 463 votes from that final update, giving him a 145-vote win in a traditionally Republican area and padding Speaker John Perez’ majority to a 55-25 count in the 80-seat chamber.

Republicans have held minority status in Sacramento ever since the turn of the millennium, but it’s only now that panic is really starting to set in. Because of Proposition 13 in 1978, which began California’s so-called “tax revolt,” it takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass tax increases or put referendums on the ballot; while still a minority, Republicans had always held at least one-third of one of the two chambers, which allowed them to effectively control the terms of the debate for budgetary issues and continue to extract major cuts and concessions every single election cycle. But as the extremist Republican agenda of decimating the public sector and social services continued to cripple the state, cracks started to show. During the red wave of 2010, California Democrats not only held all their seats; they actually expanded their legislative majorities. Meanwhile, team blue also swept every single statewide office that year, despite the millions of dollars that failed CEO’s Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina spent trying to buy a governorship and Senate seat, respectively.

In 2012, the dam burst. A variety of factors combined to create a Democratic wave in California: nonpartisan redistricting created a series of competitive districts; the creation of online voter registration led to a surge of turnout by young and minority voters; and voters who had had enough of budget cuts began to believe in a different vision for the state. It all adds up to one reality: when the rounds of special elections are over and all the vacancies are filled, Democrats will be able to do what they want in Sacramento without a single Republican vote, provided that they can keep their caucus unified.

The shocking results are leading California Republicans to engage in the same refrain being used by their Washington counterparts. It’s not the policies, they claim, but rather the message:

California Republicans in the Assembly looking to revive their party have a new team on their side.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway on Thursday announced a new “Diversity Outreach Team” made up of government staff members. A news release says the group will focus on “helping strengthen Republican ties with women, ethnic communities and young people.”

“We know that most Californians share our common-sense ideas, but we need to do a better job communicating that message,” Conway said in a statement. “To become the majority party again, we must not only talk to diverse communities but also listen and that’s what our Diversity Outreach Team is all about.”

It takes a special brand of chutzpah to claim that most of a state’s voters agree with you when you hold no statewide offices and less than a third of the seats in both houses of that state’s legislature. But it also takes a special brand of either arrogance or blindness to believe that having your party be rendered entirely irrelevant in the most populous state in the nation is simply a messaging problem that can be fixed by token figures to head up a “diversity outreach” program aimed at all the various groups of voters who simply cannot stand what you represent.

It was the unified opposition of the Republican Party, after all, that thwarted Speaker Perez’ best efforts to eliminate a corporate tax break for multi-state businesses and use the money to cut the cost of higher education. Republican legislators and governors have consistently opposed efforts to make life easier for immigrants and their children. Republicans are the ones who have consistently worked to hold California’s budget hostage to painful budget cuts to social services and health care programs for the poor. And no amount of “outreach” to women will help undo the damage done at the national level by Rush Limbaugh and the constant efforts to strip away reproductive rights.

It’s not that California Republicans haven’t done a good enough job explaining their values. Quite the opposite: They’ve done too good a job. As a matter of fact, they even have their own equivalent of Rush Limbaugh in the form of John and Ken, archconservative radio shock jocks who enforce discipline against any Republican even contemplating lenience on tax issues or undocumented immigrants and who make a habit of crude insults against the very groups Republicans are now appointing a diversity team to reach.

If Republicans want to know what future they have to look forward to, all they have to do is see what has happened to them in California. The only thing saving Republicans nationwide is simply that the country as a whole doesn’t quite resemble the demographics of California. Yet.

2016: Cuomo betrays Democratic Party

Hey California Democrats! Were you entertaining any thoughts about supporting Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic Presidential Primary in 2016? Well, don’t. Just, don’t do it. Because whatever push he may have done for marriage equality in the state of New York, he’s a Lieberman-style villain who has betrayed the Democratic Party.

Go read Markos Moulitsas’ take for the full story. The bottom line is that even though Democrats have more seats in the New York State Senate than do Republicans, five Democrats formed the so-called “Independent Democratic Caucus” that is now affiliating with the champers Republicans and handing control to them. All with Cuomo’s tacit consent and approval: as Moulitsas says, Gov. Cuomo endorsed some Republicans for the Senate, and didn’t offer an opinion on which party he’d like to see control the chamber.

So bottom line? If you feel a sense of obligation to Cuomo because he got marriage equality in New York, I get it. But there will be plenty of Democratic candidates who strongly support marriage equality, and the Democratic Party can do better than the next Joe Lieberman.

When Democrats troll for Republican votes

When Proposition 14 passed some time ago, it was unavoidable that some races in substantially Democratic districts would end up featuring two Democrats advancing to the general election. In addition to forcing Democrats to spend money fighting each other through the November election, the backers of Proposition 14 created another problem for progressives in California: the inevitable fact that some Democrats, especially those with less Democratic support, would start trying to appeal to Republicans in the hopes of getting enough centrist and conservative votes to beat their Democratic opponents. This was, after all, one of the stated goals of Proposition 14: the backers explicitly said that they hoped that it would lead to more moderate politicians winning elections, since candidates supposedly had to appeal to all ideological blocs in their districts.

Well, it’s happening. And no, we’re not just talking about targeted mail pieces or tweaked phonebanking scripts. We’re talking about aggressive, public attempts to win Republican support, and Democrats who support their party ought to take notice wherever this happens.

Take the case of the legendary 30th Congressional District race, which is pitting Congressmembers Howard Berman and Brad Sherman against each other. Brian wrote on Tuesday about how Berman is touting the endorsements of 2008 Republican nominee Senator John McCain, as well as two other non-Democrats: conservative Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and “independent” Joe Lieberman, who is hardly beloved in Democratic circles. If you take a look at the numbers from the primary election, it’s not surprising why Berman would feel the need to do this: Brad Sherman won in June by 10 percent, but over 22% of the vote went to Republicans. Absent a sea-change among Democratic voters, Berman will probably need to win a substantial number of them to make up ground. The question is, will touting the endorsements of John McCain and Joe Lieberman turn Democrats against him? It should: If I have a choice between someone who’s being supported by Graham and McCain and someone who’s not, I’ll take “not” every day of the week.

Even more striking is news out of the race in Assembly District 10, whose general election pits Asm. Michael Allen against San Rafael City Councilmember Marc Levine. Here, the electoral situation is similar to the one in the 30th Congressional: Allen beat Levine by 7 points in the primary, but over 20% of the vote went to a Republican as well. A couple of weeks ago, Levine was seen on news footage attending the opening of the Marin County Republican Party/Mitt Romney headquarters–even though he’s on his county’s Democratic Central Committee-and joined with their hardest-core partisans in rallying for Mitt Romney before the RNC Convention in Tampa (1:50 mark of the video).

These types of things–touting endorsements from prominent Republicans in partisan offices, or trolling for votes at a rally for Mitt Romney–are, in my opinion, things that a Democratic candidate who wants to represent the party in office simply can’t do. I know that in a Prop 14 world, Democrats will sometimes have to target Republican voters to win. But touting endorsements from McCain and Graham-or even worse, attending a rally of local die-hard supporters of Mitt Romney? The natural implication of these tactics is that those people would have any reason at all to support you over your Democratic opponent because there’s at least something they agree with you on, whether it’s choice, equality, tax policy, or anything else of value from the Democratic perspective. Going there, resorting to that, is a clear signal that you’re not as good a Democrat as your opponent is, so you’re going in the other direction.

This is, of course, our first election cycle under Proposition 14, so maybe Democrats will get smarter about this type of thing in the future. Or maybe they won’t, and guarantee themselves some negative blog coverage in the process.

No, John Burton did not compare the Republican Party to Nazis

If you look at the headlines from today’s opening breakfast for the California delegation here at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, you’ll be confronted with headlines breathlessly claiming that California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton compared Republicans to Nazis.

That’s nice headline fodder and all, except it’s not true. Here’s the actual quote from Burton:

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie. …Joseph Goebbels it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

Without actually delving into the headline behind the quote, you’d think that Burton claimed that the Republican Party has an ideology relevantly similar to that of the National Socialists. He didn’t. Instead, he made reference to the method of propaganda and deceit made most famous by, yes, Joseph Goebbels: that it doesn’t matter how big the lie is, as long as it gets repeated over and over without shame. And eventually, goes the strategy, you can convince people to believe your big lie.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Romney campaign, and the Republican Party in general, is using that exact strategy. The Romney/Ryan ticket is repeating bald-faced lies over and over again in the assumption that through muddying the waters enough, they can make truth a casualty of politics. They are doing this with the big lie that Obama gutted welfare-to-work programs. Ryan lied to the world publicly when he insinuated that Obama was responsible for the closure of the manufacturing plant that closed in the Bush administration. And most egregiously, the same people who want to gut Medicare and turn it into a privatized, premium-support voucher program are the ones falsely accusing Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion.

If the Republican ticket were not so absolutely insistent on telling their big lies, perhaps comparing their strategy to the person who made the big lie famous would not be so apt. Did Chairman Burton say that the Republicans are Nazis? No. Did he say that they’re shameless propagandists who have no problem lying to the world? Absolutely. And on that, Romney and Ryan are guilty as charged.

UPDATE: Burton has issued a statement:

“To correct press reports of my recent comments about Republican lies, I did not call Republicans Nazis nor would I ever. In fact, I didn’t even use the word.


If Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or the Republicans are insulted by my describing their campaign tactic as the big lie – I most humbly apologize to them or anyone who might have been offended by that comment.”

My suggestion would be…if you’re offended by people calling you a liar, stop lying.

CDP caucus results: No endorsement in the 30th Congressional District

Today, the California Democratic Party hosted a caucus to attempt to determine an endorsement in the 30th Congressional District runoff between Congressmen Brad Sherman and Howard Berman. This is a new procedure: because we no longer have Democratic nominees, revised bylaws allow for a second endorsement caucus for the November election in situations where there are two Democrats in the general election and there was either no endorsement in the primary, or the endorsed candidate did not make the runoff.

According to the offical tally, Congressman Howard Berman got 165 votes in today’s California Democratic Party endorsement caucus, compared to 66 for Brad Sherman and 51 votes for “no endorsement.” While that may seem like an overwhelming number, the result ends up being that the CDP has issued no endorsement in the race: per the bylaws, this race would have required a 60% threshold of all votes cast for either candidate to receive an endorsement. 165 out of 282 is only 58.51%, and so no endorsement will issue.

The question you should be asking yourself now is…Sherman got a similar threshold in the first endorsement conference way back in January, but the numbers flipped this time, even though Sherman came in first in the primary election by 10 points. Why? More on that whenever I get a chance to analyze the results in more detail.

AD-50: fundraising shows Osborn vs. Butler really is grassroots vs. the machine

A quick perusal of coverage of the AD-50 race between (among others) activist and non-profit leader Torie Osborn and South Bay Beverly Hills Assemblymember Betsy Butler would give you the idea, despite arguments of Butler’s supporters to the contrary, that the race is a battle between the grassroots activists of the district who are supporting Osborn (as reflected by the local Democratic clubs that have endorsed her) vs. the Sacramento machine (as reflected by the institutional endorsements Betsy has received, with varying degrees of Sacramento assistance).

Well, if the fundraising numbers are any indication, that narrative is spot on. From a release send out by Osborn’s consultant:

According to recent fundraising reports filed with the California Secretary of State, Osborn has raised $803,753 from 3,626 individual donations.   Sixty-eight percent (68%) of the donations were $100 or less, considered a sign of grassroots support and ability to mobilize new voters into the political process.

Osborn dwarfs Butler in those small individual donations. Osborn has received 2,481 small donations, while Butler pulled in a mere 123 such donations.  In another indication of broad grassroots support, 1,488 donations were made online to Osborn’s campaign, totaling $251,503, vs. 119 to Butler for $41,285.

Butler, a lawmaker who represents the South Bay and moved to Beverly Hills to run for this seat, trailed Osborn miserably in raising local money and showing support from the 50th District.  Osborn raked in 1,658 contributions, totaling $403,430 from the new district.  Butler drew less than ten percent of that – 107 contributions totaling $59,463.

Let’s some this up nicely. Osborn has over 20 times as many small-dollar contributions, and about 15 times as many in-district contributions. So where’s Butler’s money coming from? The answer is obvious:

Torie Osborn has received 9 contributions from Sacramento totaling $8,625. Betsy Butler has received 142 contributions just from Sacramento that come to $291,044.

And there you have it. There could be no clearer indication. Torie Osborn is looking to represent Assembly District 50 in Sacramento. Betsy Butler is looking to represent Sacramento in Assembly District 50.

One would have thought that Sacramento would have looked at the grassroots fundraising prowess of Torie Osborn and sought to elevate that and channel that into productive, progressive change. Instead, protecting incumbents is such a priority that they’re willing to throw not just the kitchen sink, but everything else in the entire house, into AD-50 just to try to defeat her.

OFA-California launches “pride” campaign to energize LGBT voters

Roughly coinciding with Harvey Milk Day and still basking in the glow of President Obama’s full evolution on marriage equality, the Obama re-election campaign in California, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, launched Obama Pride in Los Angeles earlier this week. From the release:

Today, Obama for America-California and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) hosted the official launch of Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama in Los Angeles at the home of LACDP Chair and California Democratic Party Vice Chair Eric C. Bauman and his husband Michael Andraychak, coinciding with Harvey Milk Day as part of the national Obama Pride launch.

In a living room packed with LGBT community leaders and couples from all walks of life, the Obama Pride launch featured a coffee discussion on the President’s accomplishments for the LGBT community, the impact of the President’s policies on their personal lives, and the challenges in the 2012 election.

“President Obama is the first President to fully embrace all rights for LGBT Americans, from opposing discrimination in employment to supporting marriage equality.  In our community, talk about promises kept by the President: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is no more; for the first time, federal civil rights law recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected class with the Matthew Shepard and James Bird Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; for the first time in history, a President of the United States supports marriage equality.  LGBT Americans has seen more progress under President Obama than any other time in U.S. history.  And we stand with President Barack Obama in 2012,” said Eric C. Bauman, LACDP Chair.

Karen Ocamb at Frontiers Magazine has a recap of the day’s events, reactions from Obama’s supporters in the LGBT community, and the challenges that still await the re-election campaign.

Needless to say, it’s amazing what can happen when politicians aren’t afraid to demonstrate the courage of their convictions. It’s actually motivating!