Category Archives: Diaries & Misc.

A Changing of the Guard

Perhaps we don’t get big high wooly hats like they do at Buckingham Palace, but today will see a big transition for California. As in 2017 when Kamala Harris replaced Sen. Boxer, the transition from Brown to Newsom will be more than one of age or style, but of a real change in California politics.

Jerry Brown with Dianne Feinstein and Gavin Newsom in 2004.

Gavin Newsom is nobody’s radical. In many ways, he borrows a lot from Gov. Brown’s political style. A little from the left, and a little from the center(-right). A plan for a massive increase in funding for early childhood education, with a hard “sobering” look at high speed rail.

That is not to say that Newsom isn’t generally progressive. When he takes office today, he will surely be pretty close to the most progressive governor in the nation. But like Brown, Gavin likes balance and a sound financial platform.

Unlike Brown, Gavin Newsom likes a bit of flash and some excitement. He likes a grand sweeping vision. And he’ll have plenty of chances for grand action, in responding to climate change, the housing and homelessness crisis, and making healthcare more affordable.

There are a slew of news stories about the differences between Gavin and Jerry, some more accurate than others. (SF Chronicle, AP, Politico, NPR, etc.) The press likes coming up with drama, and so a transition is a good source of clicks. And no doubt that the change from Brown to Newsom will bring changes, but the most profound will have to be a greater expectancy of a truly progressive state. The Governor elect’s job is now to follow up on that.

Of course, he isn’t the only one being sworn into office today. We will also get the first statewide LGBT elected official in Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, and a full slate of Democratic leaders across the board.

You can watch the Governor’s swearing in ceremony on many news websites, though he has already released excerpts of his speech.

Incoming California Gov. Gavin Newsom will draw immediate battle lines Monday with President Donald Trump in his inaugural address, portraying California’s “progressive, principled” policies as the antidote to the White House’s “corruption and incompetence.” … “People’s lives, freedom, security, the water we drink, the air we breathe — they all hang in the balance,” Newsom plans to say, according to excerpts of his speech released by his office.

SF Gate, 1/7/19

It’s Time to Vote

It’s Time to VOTE! You should have received your ballot in the mail already. Send it in at least a week early to ensure that your county has adequate time to verify your ballot before election day.

As for who/what to vote for? Well, the Democratic endorsements are a pretty good place to start. And finish, for your statewide races. The statewide endorsed candidates are all well-qualified. A particular shout out to Ricardo Lara, who would be the first out LGBT statewide elected official, and Tony Thurmond, who is in a tough state superintendent race against the charter school candidate, Marshall Tuck. Lara is in quite a tough race as well, with Republican turned independent Steve Poizner. Poizner maybe found it tough to get traction with the extremists in the CA GOP, but he’s still very conservative, and we don’t need him back in statewide office.

How about a nice table on how the parties endorsed on the ballot measures? You can find a lot more information on the very informative California Choices November summary page.

A few of these deserve special mention: it is imperative that we vote NO on Props 5 & 6. Prop 5 would strengthen (!) Prop 13 in the state, despite sounding like a nice simple handout to seniors. Problem is that it mostly goes to wealthier seniors, and is paid for by younger homebuyers. Prop 6 is the gas tax referendum. While the gas tax measure wasn’t perfect, for a multitude of reasons, we need to ensure that it doesn’t get overturned at the ballot.

Now, go find your local ballot measure pamphlet and start researching, the election is three weeks from tomorrow!

The Trump Administration is Clueless About Our Wildfires

Stuart Rankin/Flickr
by Brian Leubitz

Donald Trump is, as Rex Tillerson pointed out, a moron. But in Exhibit 19,872, there was Trump tweeting about the wildfires. It made not one lick of sense, however.

Except this is total bullshit.

“We are not having any issues accessing any water supplies,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. “We have plenty. The fires are right near reservoirs. We’re doing the job, we’re fighting the fight, we have the resources.” (KQED)

But being that this is just one of Trump’s stupid tweets, you would think we would just ignore it and move on. But no, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross figured he should up the ante on this stupid.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has directed fisheries officials to “facilitate” access to water in order to aid in firefighting efforts in California.

The administration appears to have taken a misleading Trump tweet as an opportunity to swipe at the Endangered Species Act. But practically, nothing may come of it.
“The protection of life and property takes precedence over any current agreements regarding the use of water,” he said in a written statement.

But as noted above, protecting life and property is totally unrelated to our use of water.

In reality, this is about the Central Valley Ag interests having put something in his ear about water at some point. Except that people have died from these wildfires. (A third firefighter was recently killed in an accident.) And instead of commending the firefighters for their hard work, or mourning the loss of life, Trump decided now was the time to score a point politically.

On the Failings of IRV, Or, Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

by Brian Leubitz

The concept of Ranked-Choice voting has been around in several major cities in California for over a decade. In San Francisco, it was approved as Prop A in 2002. So, it is far from new. Yet, it still never ceases to provide interesting results, and a fair bit of outrage. Of course, the the most well-known example is the case of Jean Quan’s victory in Oakland over Don Perata. Before the RCV shifted votes around, Perata had over a third of the votes, over 10,000 more than either Quan or Rebecca Kaplan. Kaplan was in third place after the minor candidates were shifted, and most of her votes went to Quan. Many, including Perata, were outraged. There was outrage that the candidate with the most 1st place votes didn’t win. There was outrage that Quan and Kaplan had been stating that their supporters should vote for each other number two, as if they were “ganging up” on another candidate.

Fast forward to 2018, and it appears that the controversy has just moved across the Bay to San Francisco. The Mayoral election to replace Mark Farrell, the interim mayor chosen by the Board of Supervisors after Ed Lee’s sad and surprising passing, has three candidates with a chance of winning. Former Senator Mark Leno, President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed and Supervisor Jane Kim all have met the public financing requirements, and are all polling relatively close. Polling in SF is pretty hard with low response rates, especially considering the recent rash of spam calls, and many of the polls seem to have some sort of bias. But the basic state of the race seems to have London Breed in front, with Leno slightly behind, and Kim in third. The numbers vary from poll to poll, but the basic state of the race seems somewhat stable.

And this brings me to this tweet and video:

The billionaire in question is Ron Conway, an “angel investor” with a lot of money in various tech companies in the Bay Area. He was one of the largest funders of Mayor Lee, Asm. David Chiu and Sen. Scott Wiener through direct contributions as well as PACs and IEs. And now  he and his wife Gayle are supporting Board President Breed, which has become quite controversial.

But putting that part to the side, this is ultimately a direct result of ranked choice voting. On the 2002 ballot arguments in San Francisco, supporters and opponents acknowledge that RCV would reduce negative campaigning so as to not alienate voters who supported other candidates first. This is simply one step further, with campaigns advocating to support one of their rivals second.

But the San Francisco Chronicle is having NONE. OF. IT. In an editorial entitled “Jane Kim, Mark Leno try to game the system in SF mayor’s race”, they argue that this is simply not fair:

The Kim-Leno collaboration shows the continuing determination of the progressive factions to keep Breed out of the mayor’s office. It also projects an element of desperation by Kim and Leno. Their new “stand up to the billionaires” 30-second video shows that no dose of demagoguery or disingenuousness will be spared in trying to stop Breed, who grew up in poverty and has repeatedly demonstrated both her independence and ability to build coalitions as president of the Board of Supervisors.

Oh, did I mention that the Chronicle endorsed Breed? Probably didn’t take too astute of an observer, but they have previously gotten in trouble for some questionable reporting practices. And for my part, I should disclose that I am a supporter of Sen. Leno. (He performed my wedding ceremony, in fact.) My political club, the Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Club endorsed Leno first and Breed second. We understand that in a RCV environment, it makes sense to have more than one endorsement. The progressive organizations of which the Chronicle is speaking see this too. Many of these organizations prefer Jane Kim, but they would rather see Mark Leno in office than London Breed, or vice versa. And perhaps that is also true of these two candidates themselves.

If there were a runoff, would anyone begrudge either candidate for endorsing the other? Would the Chronicle accuse them of “gaming the system?” I mean, isn’t this how primaries work? Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton. Was he gaming the system?

In San Francisco, and other RCV cities, we only have one election, rather than a primary and general. So the only way to make this type of statement is to state that you prefer one candidate over the other.

This isn’t “gaming the system.” This IS the system that San Francisco voters supported, for better or worse, in 2002. This is precisely what the ballot arguments envisioned. If the Chronicle would like to change San Francisco’s voting, I think you could find a lot of support for that idea.

Until then, don’t hate the players. Hate the game.

3 Republicans voted with their constituents. 11 looked elsewhere

Issa, McClintock and Rohrabacher join Dems in voting NO on House tax proposal

The President is going to want his Heart charm back.

by Brian Leubitz

The House voted on their tax debacle, and 3 of California’s Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting no. But in the end, the GOP tax bill passed through the House of Representatives with a vote of 227-205.

But, as with the health care “repeal and replace”, this is going to be decided in the Senate. Sen Johnson of WI has already said no. That means they need to get this done while Luther Strange is still in the Senate and the GOP Caucus will have either lost a seat or are dealing with a pedophile in their caucus.

Our own Senators are strongly against the bill, and so we will be left hoping that a couple of the wavering Republicans will opt for a NO. With the health care mandate now thrown into the mix, this bill could be a grenade to our health care system as well as the pocketbooks of the middle class.

Representative Party District Vote
Doug LaMalfa Republican 1 Yes
Jared Huffman Democrat 2 No
John Garamendi Democrat 3 No
Tom McClintock Republican 4 No
Mike Thompson Democrat 5 No
Doris Matsui Democrat 6 No
Ami Bera Democrat 7 No
Paul Cook Republican 8 Yes
Jerry McNerney Democrat 9 No
Jeffrey Denham Republican 10 Yes
Mark DeSaulnier Democrat 11 No
Nancy Pelosi Democrat 12 No
Barbara Lee Democrat 13 No
Jackie Speier Democrat 14 No
Eric Swalwell Democrat 15 No
Jim Costa Democrat 16 No
Ro Khanna Democrat 17 No
Anna Eshoo Democrat 18 No
Zoe Lofgren Democrat 19 No
Jimmy Panetta Democrat 20 No
David Valadao Republican 21 Yes
Devin Nunes Republican 22 Yes
Kevin McCarthy Republican 23 Yes
Salud Carbajal Democrat 24 No
Steve Knight Republican 25 Yes
Julia Brownley Democrat 26 No
Judy Chu Democrat 27 No
Adam Schiff Democrat 28 No
Tony Cardenas Democrat 29 No
Brad Sherman Democrat 30 No
Pete Aguilar Democrat 31 No
Grace Napolitano Democrat 32 No
Ted Lieu Democrat 33 No
Jimmy Gomez Democrat 34 No
Norma Torres Democrat 35 No
Raul Ruiz Democrat 36 No
Karen Bass Democrat 37 No
Linda Sanchez Democrat 38 No
Edward Royce Republican 39 Yes
Lucille Roybal-Allard Democrat 40 No
Mark Takano Democrat 41 No
Ken Calvert Republican 42 Yes
Maxine Waters Democrat 43 No
Nanette Barragan Democrat 44 No
Mimi Walters Republican 45 Yes
Lou Correa Democrat 46 No
Alan Lowenthal Democrat 47 No
Dana Rohrabacher Republican 48 No
Darrell Issa Republican 49 No
Duncan Hunter Republican 50 Yes
Juan Vargas Democrat 51 No
Scott Peters Democrat 52 No
Susan Davis Democrat 53 No

California’s Leaders on Trump/GOP Tax Joke

Some California Leaders had some thoughts.

Sen. Harris:

Senator Feinstein:

“It’s unbelievable the lengths that Republicans will go to give the richest Americans a huge tax cut. The Republican tax bill will likely increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion and slash key deductions and credits for working families in order to give the richest Americans and large companies a tax cut.

“I’m particularly concerned about limitations on essential tax provisions that benefit working families and the middle class. This bill would harm families and is a non-starter for me, and I’ll fight to defeat it in the Senate.”

Mortgage Interest Deduction

The Republican bill caps the mortgage interest deduction for new home purchases at $500,000. All told, 18 counties in California have median home prices above $500,000 including Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Marin, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Orange, San Benito, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Ventura.

“Owning a home is an essential part of the American dream. Capping the mortgage interest deduction could create a huge barrier to homeownership and depress existing home values across the country.”

Sales and Income Tax Deductions

The Republican bill eliminates the deduction for state and local income taxes. In California, 5 million households claimed the income tax deduction in 2015.

“Ending this important deduction for the middle-class would mean income could be taxed twice and could lead to the reduction in critical state and local services. Republicans should scrap this one-sided effort and work with Democrats to pass true tax reform that ensures working families aren’t hurt and everyone pays their fair share.”

Minority Leader Pelosi did a Facebook live event. In a previous event, she had this to say of her 14 Republican California colleauges:

“We would hope that our colleagues would use their numbers – 14 – to influence the Republican leadership to take this out of the bill – and a bill that’s a disaster in so many other respects as well,” Pelosi said. “But short of that, we indict them for causing great harm to their constituents, financially, community-wise and to our great state.”

“Are they so weak that 14 of them could not weigh in and say, ‘This is not right for the future of our country’?” she said. “Have they no power? Have they no influence with the Republicans?”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who apparently forgot to add the caveat, “except for Californians.” He has a twitter video here.

“Every single American is going to keep more of what they earned.”

Speaker Rendon:

“The dangerous Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax plan throws California taxpayers under the limousine. Under the rushed-together Republican tax plan, hardworking Californians could pay up to 22% more to subsidize tax breaks for billionaires and big corporations. Cutting the mortgage deduction in half hurts homebuyers and the housing industry. Proposition 13 lowered California property taxes, but the Republican tax plan effectively raises the property tax for many California homeowners. Adding insult to injury, the Republican tax plan makes Californians pay taxes on taxes we already pay. Whether it is students with loan debt or builders trying to create affordable housing, millions of Californians will be harmed by the Republican tax plan. No member of Congress from California can support this plan and look their constituents in the eye.”

Rep. Mark Takano on Speaker Ryan’s plan – (D-Riverside)

“The House Republican tax plan is a massive transfer of wealth from Californians and middle-class families to wealthy individuals and large corporations. Limiting deductions for state and local taxes, capping the mortgage interest deduction, and eliminating the student-loan-interest and medical-expense deductions are all policies that are specifically designed to hit Californians, who already contribute more to the federal government than they receive.

“The winners in this plan are the small percentage of people who already possess the largest share of our country’s wealth. Repealing the estate tax benefits only those with greater than $5.6 million in assets. Repealing the alternative minimum tax would allow wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share, including President Trump, who would save millions of dollars if this provision is passed into law. And permanently cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% from the current 35% would only benefit the corporations that are already enjoying record profits.

“Shifting money from middle-class Californians to the wealthiest individuals and corporations in America is bad policy in any environment. But given the severe inequality in our country and the struggle many working families face every day, this plan is simply indefensible.

“I strongly oppose this legislation and don’t see how any California Republican could support it.”

DNC Spokesperson Vedant Patel ahead of a Mnuchin visit to Corona to shill for this joke:

“Despite widespread agreement that the Trump-Republican tax plan would actually raise taxes on many middle class families, Donald Trump’s loyal puppet Secretary Mnuchin is jetting off to California to pitch his boss’s damaging proposal. As one of the many multimillionaires in Trump’s Cabinet, Secretary Mnuchin stands to profit immensely and can’t – or won’t – comprehend the catastrophic consequences for California’s working families if this tax plan becomes law. While Secretary Mnuchin tries to sell this sham tax bill, we hope that he avoids using any chartered flights that could cost the American taxpayers more in addition to what this disastrous tax plan will.”

Brown Vetoes Income Tax Disclosure Requirement for Presidential Candidates

Law would have required release of income taxes in order to be eligible to appear on the California ballot.

by Brian Leubitz

Sometimes you never know with Governor Brown. And so is the case with SB149:

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have required presidential candidates to release five years of income tax returns before their names could appear on the California ballot. The bill, SB149 by Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Ukiah, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, was approved in the Legislature largely along party lines. Though it does not mention President Trump, it clearly targeted the commander in chief, the first in 40 years to withhold his tax documents from the public. (SF Gate)

With Gavin Newsom, you know how this would have turned out. He’d be all aboard this train, but Jerry gets uncomfortable. He comes up with a slippery slope argument; he questions the constitutionality. In his veto message (PDF), Brown does just that:

Add in the fact that he didn’t release his tax returns for either of his governor’s races, and you have one uneasy guy. I never thought he was *likely* to sign the bill, but I’m not sure I would have been surprised either way.

In other news, the governor made decisions on a number of other notable measures, including signing SB179 which allows the selection of a non-binary gender designation, and vetoing SB649, a telecom-backed measure that would have expedited the approval of cell phone towers.

Trump’s Tax Reform Targets California

GOP plan proposes double taxation, big savings for Trump himself

by Brian Leubitz

While there are still a lot of specifics to emerge, it is clear that the GOP tax plan would hit California hard. Of course, the biggest item that hits mostly blue states with higher taxes is the elimination of the state tax deduction. Think about how upset this would make Californians: under this plan, you would be paying taxes on the money that is going to taxes. And it is a lot of money, especially for a state like California that is a big net donor to the federal government. Details below, and Senator de Leon’s comments to the right.

The biggest deduction on the chopping block is the state and local tax deduction, which enables Californians to subtract those tax payments from their income before calculating how much they owe the IRS. In 2015, federal data shows that more than 6 million people in the Golden State claimed the deduction, worth $112.5 billion. That’s more than any other state, according to the Tax Foundation, a right-of-center tax policy research organization. California is one of just six states, along with New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania, that together claimed more than half of all state and local tax deduction dollars in 2014, the foundation says. (SacBee 9/27)

Putting aside the fact that Trump carried Pennsylvania, and would likely need it in 2020, that $112.5 billion represents a huge hit for the state. Now, you can imagine that the ads against such a measure wouldn’t be too hard to craft, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

And of course, the GOP can’t really just sell the plan on its merits. Apparently big tax cuts to the rich aren’t very popular, so instead, they are just lying.

California in Graham-Cassidy’s Crosshairs

Republican plan to destroy health care just won’t die

by Brian Leubitz

Just in case you weren’t sure about how stupid the Graham-Cassidy bill was, there’s the big BS factoid the Republicans are spreading:

“Right now, 37 percent of the revenue from the Affordable Care Act goes to Americans in four states”—California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Mr. Cassidy said. “That is frankly not fair.”(NYT)

Arm band at Mayor Garcetti’s Town Hall supporting the Affordable Care Act
First, being a nerd, I would point out that those four states have roughly 20-25% of the nation’s population, but whatevs. The really important part is that these are four large states that chose to expand Medicaid. That’s why the Republican governors of several states that expanded Medicaid are now actively opposing this bill.

What does it mean for California?

By 2026, California would lose $78 billion in federal money for the Medi-Cal insurance program for the poor and in federal subsidies for low-income residents who buy health insurance through Covered California, the state exchange created under the ACA. That figure represents a 13 percent drop in federal funding levels, according to the analysis, which was funded by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.(SF Chronicle)

Anybody think California’s Republican Representatives will actually do the right thing for their constituents?

We must do more to create affordable housing

Legislative package faces steep hurdles this week

by Brian Leubitz

A sample of SF housing listings on Craigslist right now.

The California housing situation is bad. Really, extremely bad in some places like San Francisco where housing affordability levels put families making over $100,000 into contention for affordable units. Getting housing at less than $2000/bedroom/month is really hard. I think we can all agree that is crazy. And across the state, there is a long-standing shortage of both market rate and affordable housing. That situation was not improved with the ending of the redevelopment districts a few years ago. While supply and demand cannot fix everything, we clearly need to build a lot of additional housing units (of every affordability level) across the state.

The Senate has a legislative package for that:

The two marquee measures — Senate Bill 35 from Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Senate Bill 3 from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) — would force cities that have fallen behind on their state housing production goals to reduce some of the hoops they put in place to approve developments and would authorize a $3-billion bond to spend on low-income housing on the 2018 statewide ballot.

“What the bill does do is create actual accountability,” Wiener said of SB 35. “Because local control is about how you meet your housing goals, not whether you meet your housing goals.” (LAT – 6/30/17)

Much of the package passed one house already, but several of the bills in this package have faced stumbling blocks. Most notably, Sen. Toni Atkins is trying to pass a $75 fee on non-home sale real estate transactions, but the 2/3 requirement is giving a lot of power to Bakersfield’s Rudy Salas in providing the final vote. Though, he seems to have found something that would work for him by presenting a bill that added a low-income exception to the fee. And then there’s Richard Bloom’s bill to allow municipalities to require some number of affordable units:

Also late Friday, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) changed his legislation, AB 1505, which would allow cities to force developers to set aside a certain number of homes in their projects for low-income residents. Brown has long opposed the policy, vetoing a similar bill in 2013 and saying the policy generally makes it harder to attract development to low- and middle-income communities.(LAT – 9/11/17)

The next week will decide the fate of several of these bills, though many will face some pretty tough scrutiny in Gov. Brown’s Horseshoe as well.