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

An update on election results: The GOP is no longer a statewide party

There are still over 4 million votes to count, but with what we have so far, the California results are looking outstanding.

Of the six congressional districts that we were targeting most heavily, it looks like we will flip at least four. Steve Knight has conceded to Katie Hill. Harley Rouda is now up nearly four points over Putin’s favorite Congressman Rohrabacher, and Harder’s lead over Dehnam is growing. And Mike Levin defeated Diane Harkey.

In the other two House seats, we are still waiting on Orange County. In Ed Royce’s seat, Young Kim still holds a small lead over Gil Cisneros. And Mimi Walters is around 2,000 votes ahead of Katie Porter. As of my last check, there are still well over 400,000 votes to count in Orange County. It is not entirely unlikely that one or both of these leads may vanish while these votes are counted. The California Congressional delegation could have single digits of Republicans.

In the statewide close races, and now looks like Ricardo Lara is set to become the first LGBT statewide elected leader in California’s history. His lead has been growing and is now over 1.5%. Tony Thurmond, however, is still down a little less than a point. With over 4 million ballots to count, it is not on conceivable that he could yet go ahead of charter school fave Marshall Tuck.

And Democrats won big elsewhere as well, winning all of the other statewide races and looking set for supermajorities in both legislative bodies. It is rather hard to argue that the GOP is going to be competitive any time in the near future either as we look like we see a lot more energy in fights within the Democratic party.

But that’s for another day.

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!

Progressive Coalition Files Split Roll Measure for 2020

by Brian Leubitz

We still have twelve weeks before the 2018 election, but a coalition of labor, community organizations, business leaders, and elected leaders are already thinking about 2020. Today, they filed 860K signatures, far more than the 575K requirement to get to the ballot. Even assuming a higher failure rate that is typically encountered when using a mostly volunteer signature gathering process, this seems like it is on the road to the ballot.

In short, it is a split roll measure, which would split the personal property roll from commercial and industrial property. It is difficult to imagine that as they were watching ads about granny losing her home, voters were thinking about how much an office building or factory was worth. And that’s exactly the point here, the state is basically giving a huge tax boost to large companies. Maybe that’s what we would want to do, but we should be upfront about the transfer of wealth from school teachers to real estate conglomerates.

“Over the last 40 years, California has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, leading to chronic underfunding of schools, services, and local communities along with poor local land use decisions, and a spiraling housing crisis,” said Helen Hutchison, President of the League of Women Voters of California. ”Schools and Communities First is the first structural and equitable tax reform in four decades. It will reclaim over $11 billion robbed every year from schools and local communities, shaping a new legacy of investment in the people of California.”

Of course, you will see people screaming about “job killers.” But, alas, this is simply not true. In a recent study, UC-Santa Cruz researches came to the conclusion that fair assessments of real property would actually strengthen the state’s economy by incentivizing better land use.

We will have a long time to talk about this split roll measure, but it is a conversation that has been necessary for a long time. Prop 13 reform is overdue, and maybe 2020 will be the year we actually get some real reform.

By the by, don’t be fooled again by this granny in the streets canard. The CA Realtors are trying it again with Prop 5, and it will be an uphill climb to defeat it at the ballot. But don’t fall for it, it will cost the state and municipalities billions of dollars.

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.

California Wins Round One of the Sanctuary Litigation

SB 54 Sponsor Kevin de LeónCourt (mostly) denies Trump Administration’s Request for an Injunction of SB 54
by Brian Leubitz

In a 60 page decision, Federal District Judge John Mendez denied an injunction on all parts of SB 54, California’s Sanctuary State legislation relating to state and local governments. However, Judge Mendez did issue an injunction over accompanying legislation, AB 450, which dealt with private employers, and their willingness to hand over records without a warrant or allow federal immigration agents access to nonpublic areas of their businesses.

You can read the full decision here.

For the most part, the logic of the Court was that the state has no obligation to use state policing resources to provide assistance to federal immigration forces.

[The Federal Government] argues that requiring a judicial warrant or judicial finding of probable cause is irreconcilable with the INA, which establishes a system of civil administrative warrants as the basis for immigration arrest and removal. …

The Court disagrees and instead finds that California’s decision not to assist federal immigration enforcement in its endeavors is not an “obstacle” to that enforcement effort. Plaintiff’s argument that SB 54 makes immigration enforcement far more burdensome begs the question: more burdensome than what? The laws make enforcement more burdensome than it would be if state and local law enforcement provided immigration officers with their assistance. But refusing to help is not the same as impeding. If such were the rule, obstacle preemption could be used to commandeer state resources and subvert Tenth Amendment principles. Federal objectives will always be furthered if states offer to assist federal efforts. A state’s decision not to assist in those activities will always make the federal object more difficult to attain than it would be otherwise. Standing aside does not equate to standing in the way. (Page 43)

Of course, this is just a motion for a preliminary injunction, but Judge Mendez did use the opportunity to add another point about the immigration debate:

[T]his Court joins the ever-growing chorus of Federal Judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bi-partisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue. Our Nation deserves it. Our Constitution demands it. (Page 60)

A Quick June Election Results Post

San Francisco Mayor Gavin NewsomElection results from across the state were generally favorable, with the huge exception of Josh Newman’s recall. Most importantly, while there are still a few races left, it appears that Democrats avoided the Top2 stumbling block and have a shot at flipping the seven targeted House seats.

For better or worse, it appears that Gavin Newsom is now very well positioned to be our next Governor, with only John Cox in his way. No big surprises in the other statewide constitutional races. But one to watch will be the state superintendent race, where Marshall Tuck leads Tony Thurmond. This nonpartisan race will likely be an expensive race as the charter schools and teachers unions fight over the future of our public schools. In both his previous run and his current one, Tuck has been reliant on the charter school movement for his electoral prospects. While the position is somewhat limited, a strong charter advocate would not be a good omen for our schools.

Back to the subject of Sen. Newman, Kerry Cavanaugh in the LA Times states the truth behind the election: the Republicans wanted a do-over in a lower turnout election. Their stated pretext of the gas tax was a mere fig leaf for their reliance on the flawed recall process.

Finally, here in San Francisco, the Mayoral race still is far from decided. London Breed is winning on first choice ballots, but as Don Perata learned, that alone does not make you Mayor. Leno now leads in the latest RCV count with a big boost from the second choice votes from third place Jane Kim. Lots of votes are still out there to determine the final outcome though, so this will probably be an agonizing wait for San Francisco to finally determine who will take over for Interim Mayor Mark Farrell.

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.

Another June Poll: Newsom, DiFi with big leads

Another June poll: in Mark DiCamillo’s (formerly of Field) Berkeley IGS poll, Newsom and Feinstein both retain big leads in their respective races. However, in the gubernatorial race, both of the two Republican gubernatorial candidates are polling ahead of the Democratic pack.

On the Senate side, behind Feinstein (28%), Kevin de Leon (11%) is just narrowly ahead of the Republican pack for the second spot in the November general election. And the anti-Semitic Twitter troll didn’t make it out of the “other candidate section”, so that’s a good thing.

The leading Republican is a man named James P Bradley(10%), likely on the basis of his ballot designation “Chief Financial Officer.” Now, his website is pretty much a stock WordPress theme, complete with the twitter feed of the developer rather than the candidate and a slew of typos. But, he has a website, so that’s something. He’s a Trumpster, and proudly proclaims that he is the “Keep America Great First Candidate,” just to make sure he gets all the Trumpisms in there. (Also note that I didn’t do anything to his photo with the weird 3D effect or whatever is going on. That’s straight from his site.)

Ultimately, the races for the second spot in both contests are rather unsettled. It is entirely possible that there are no Republicans in either race and we have competitive Dem-on-Dem general elections or it could go the other direction and we have two Democrats who are huge favorites to win in November. Of course, having no Republicans on the statewide ballot would help competitive down ballot races.

In other news, Top 2 really is awful.

Reacting to the GOP Tax Scam

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (far left) looks on while Pres. Donald Trump acts. (Photo NASA)
Could this be the time to fix our own tax system?

by Brian Leubitz

Well, now that the dust has settled a little bit on the mess that is the GOP tax plan, some are looking to find ways to react to the changes. Of course, given that this is California, and we have state taxes that will no longer be deductible in 2018, that has been one of the bigger targets. Some have suggested reclassifying taxes as charitable contributions (seems a little iffy legally), and urging state residents to prepay property taxes (temporary, but on solid legal footing.) But the biggest question would be the state income taxes that Californians will no longer be able to deduct, and apparently there is a plan for that:

But perhaps the most promising option, teased by a large group of tax law experts and vocally championed by prominent liberal economist Dean Baker, is for states to repeal their income taxes and replace them with employer-side payroll taxes. This might appear like a minor technical change. But it would not only totally offset the new limit on deducting state taxes — it would amount to a sizable tax cut for many middle-class families and would vastly simplify tax preparation by freeing people up from filing their own state taxes.(Vox)

And, long-time Calitics writer David Dayen says that this is actively being considered in Sacramento:

This is still a very preliminary idea, with a whole lot of details to be considered. This could be a win-win for Californians, and a nice little middle finger to the Republicans in DC. Also, with all of the measures that have been passed dealing with income taxes, this will almost certainly need to go to the ballot even if we get 2/3 in the both chambers of the Legislature. And this could be the opportunity to fix Prop 13 along with the rest of our tax system.

If it is crafted well, the only loser will be the federal government, most Californians will get a tax cut from this switch, and state taxes will be easier. Some California Republicans had been arguing that their tax bill would force the state to lower taxes, but not sure if this is what they had in mind. I suppose it will be interesting to see if the Republicans in Sacramento are interested in joining Democrats in reforming our own tax system. To be honest, given the headaches of Prop 13 and the boom-bust income taxes, some tax reform here is probably over due.

Even if this goes through, the federal government will have to react to the changes at some point down the road. But given that they would likely need Democratic votes, perhaps we arrive at a more balanced place of action. Or at least until 2018 changes things.