Tag Archives: Special Election

Don’t Believe New Revenues Are a Losing Issue

In polling, the answer you get depends heavily on the question. Obvious enough, right?

Few should understand this point better than the prestigious, independent Field Institute, whose polls on California issues often contribute to the public debate.

So why is Field polluting the discussion around revenues in California with bad questions and bad data?

We can and must do better, and soon.

The most recent Field Poll scans the horizon for support levels on prospective special-election issues

(get the poll here, and the fascinating cross-tab results here).

It’s helpful to see, in this poll, where Californians would cut to help reduce the state budget deficit. Basically, most voters would cut nothing except prisons and, perhaps, the costs of environmental regulation. Republicans would cut a lot more, except K-12 public schools.

The broad consensus is against almost any cuts that would be needed to meet the state’s widening budget chasm.

So are people willing to support new revenues? (OK, let’s go ahead and say “tax increases.”)

Not according to Field. But look at how they asked the question. Registered voters were asked to respond to: “I would be willing to pay higher taxes to help the state balance its budget.”

Even that poor wording got 43% support overall. Democrats and independent voters gave it 53% support.

But look at what’s missing in the question. The wording speaks to who would pay the higher taxes – the respondent – but how much? And for what purpose?

There’s no limit stated, no type of tax enumerated. And the purpose is as grim as they get: “help[ing] the state balance its budget.” If you have ever seen California voters talk about the state budget, they view it as a black hole rife with waste.

It’s astonishing that there’s a core of 43% willing to shovel their own money into a ditch to help “the state” fix “its budget.”

Of course there are many better ways to ask this kind of question. For instance, you could ask voters if they’d pay more to protect the specific programs and services they like. (Which is basically everything but prisons.) Linking tax increases to specific purposes helps a lot.

Or you could ask about specific kinds of taxes that don’t mainly affect the individuals responding to the poll. An oil extraction tax gets big numbers in polling for lots of reasons, one of them being who it’s targeted at (highly profitable oil companies).

An increase in income taxes on the wealthiest Californians similarly scores well because – as much as we may try – most Californians don’t fit into the top 1%, 5%, or even 10% on the income scale. (Disclosure: I managed the campaign for Prop. 63, which added a 1% surcharge on annual income over $1 million to support mental health programs.)

And if you present the facts properly, I’d bet you’d see majorities supporting a split-roll property tax, or at least a fix to change-in-ownership rules for commercial property.

We need to educate voters about the degree to which we have a revenue problem that’s been papered over for 20 years and salvaged occasionally by bogus economic bubbles. There are lots of sensible ways to raise money and not have undue impact on the people who can least afford it. If there’s ever going to be a time to find billions of dollars in steady new revenue sources, we’re pretty near the “hair on fire” phase now where that will be both necessary and possible.

Don’t believe you’d be limited to 43% support for a raft of revenue measures. Smartly designed, longer-lasting revenue solutions will have an audience – an even bigger audience if we don’t see this special election happen, or if the tax extensions fail and we flop into devastating austerity. Let’s get to work now.  

A Late June Election Timetable?

While both Debra Bowen and Janice Hahn have announced that they are in the race to replace Jane Harman, she still hasn’t officially resigned.  Why? Well, here’s the thing.  The election would be tentatively scheduled for the time right around when Jerry Brown wants to hold his statewide special election on the budget.

As soon as Jane Harman officially resigns from the House, Brown has to peg an election date.  While there is not necessarily a requirement that this special be tied in to the statewide special, it certainly would make sense.  And if he is already stuck to a date for the special, it cuts down on his wiggle room with the Legislature.

it is rather odd how this is playing out, with a special in one Congressional district possibly affecting the statwide special, but this very well could happen.  And 1/53 of the state might have the power to set the date for the rest of the state.  So, if you are in the 36th, congrats on your new found power.

While Harman has been pretty flexible on her resignation date, apparently she really wants to move on by the end of February, so we should hear some news about the setting of a date by mid-March.  Given the timeline from there on out, and a June election would fit in there well.

Of course, for the people of the 36th, they are likely to be out of a Congressional member until late summer.  With two strong Democrats and a likely significant Republican presence, any candidate getting 50% becomes rather unlikely.

Ah, fun election games!

Darren Parker Ad and Phonebanking

(I got to know Darren while on the Kamala Harris campaign, and now he’s running against Sharon Runner for Senate. The Choice is Clear! – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Progressives: We are working the phones to make sure this seat flips into the “D” column. Registration’s close, so turnout is the key! Come help us man the virtual phonebanks!

(Edit by Brian: Details for the phonebanks and the ad over the flip.)

For SB County Calling visit: https://www.moe-phonebank.com/…

For LA County Calling visit: http://www.darrenparker4senate…  

-click on “Phonebank Today” and follow the instructions


The Special Election Just Got Harder

One advantage the Legislature has had for years in referring ballot measures directly to the people is that lawmakers were not subject to any standard of impartiality. They could, and often did, write a sunny “official” description of their own referred measures for official ballot materials. The hope was to encourage some number of extra votes by casting such measures in a positive light.

That’s in the past tense now, though, due to a court ruling last week. And that change could jeopardize legislatively referred measures intended for the much-discussed June 2011 special election ballot.

Without the power to control the framing of the special-election measures, the Legislature and Gov. Brown could find passage just marginally more difficult in an election that could be extremely close.  

The Court of Appeals ruled late last week that the Legislature cannot supplant the Attorney General, who is normally charged with writing a fair and “impartial” description of statewide ballot measures. From now on, no more advocacy language from legislators can appear in the official title & summary.

The case came out of the successful Nov. 2008 high-speed rail bond measure, whose title and summary were pointedly upbeat. For instance, the title was the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act,” and the first bullet read, “Provides long-distance commuters with a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices.” (For more see here: http://bit.ly/gK7c05)

The measure won (52%-48%), and that victory won’t be revisited due to this ruling, but the appeals court found that the Legislature’s practice of writing such chipper language for its own ballot measures violated the law controlling initiative descriptions. The Legislature has routinely exempted itself from that law in the course of stipulating the language to appear as the title and summary. But those days are over.

Going forward, every measure, whether it’s put on the ballot by citizens or legislators, will now need to have a neutral ballot title, summary and label prepared by the AG. And that could make the much-discussed June 2011 special election harder for Gov. Brown and his slate of initiatives.

To see why this matters, look back only to the most recent statewide special election. In May 2009, the Legislature put a slate of special measures on the ballot, most related to the budget. I worked against two of those, Props. 1D & 1E, which sought to cut early-childhood programs and mental health services that had previously been created by voter enactments.

Suffice it to say that the title and summary descriptions written by the Legislature skipped over a lot of the details, like the fact that we were being asked to amend past voter initiatives. The summaries made these cuts sound painless and even, in some ways, made the proposals sound like efforts to ensure funding for important programs, not to cut programs.

Hoping to find votes, the authors of these summaries had inverted the meaning of the actual proposals to make them sound good. For those of us hoping to persuade voters to stop the cuts, the official language was maddening.

Opponents of 1D were not able to challenge the ballot description, but the 1E opponents did. They feared that the initial summary language would falsely convey to voters that 1E would protect and enhance children’s mental health services, instead of cutting significant mental health services. But it was unclear whether we could win a court fight. If the court were to find that the Legislature was free to exempt itself from the requirement for an impartial title and summary, 1E opponents would have been forced to accept the language as initially drafted

Before their case went to a judge, attorneys for the Legislature and the 1E opponents worked out a settlement. The revised summary was better. But settlements get forced when both sides are unsure of the outcome. The 1E opponents took half a loaf rather than risk going with the first draft.

There was more of a titanic battle around that year’s Prop. 1A ballot description, a fight over the nature of the tax increases proposed therein and how they were tied to a spending cap. Opponents of 1A won a couple of tweaks to the language, but mostly lost their effort to recast 1A in a more neutral/negative light. In their case, the court upheld the basic right of the Legislature to put almost anything they wanted into the title & summary.

Now, all of the budget measures in May 2009 went down to defeat by about 2-to-1, so you can argue that any puffery put into ballot materials by the Legislature was a nonfactor. But in a close race, everything matters. The June 2011 special election – if it comes together – was surely conceived with one big assumption: whatever the Legislature puts on the ballot, it will control the framing of those measures in the official ballot materials. No more.

The Court of Appeals decision in this case is remarkably simple to read and grasp. It’s online here:


The gist of the ruling is this: The requirement for the AG to write an impartial summary of “each measure” on the statewide ballot was itself instated by a ballot measure – the Political Reform Act (PRA) of 1974. Even the Legislature can’t ignore the statutory requirements of a ballot measure enacted by the people. So the appeals court found that the Legislature could not exempt itself from those requirements. The fact that legislators were only doing it for measures they had drafted themselves was immaterial. The PRA says it’s the AG’s job – period.

This is a simpler Article II case than even many critics of this longstanding legislative practice seem to have imagined.

The bottom line for June 2011 now is that any legislatively referred measure must go to the AG for a description, and the content of that description will be subject to litigation on any claim that the language may be prejudicial.

That could be a big negative for some of the issues that have been rumored to be part of a new special-election package, including possible repeats of 2009’s 1D & 1E to cut children’s services or mental health care. The job of selling the special election just got harder.

PPIC: Special Election Initially Popular

We’ve seen that the Republicans are scared of letting the voters vote on taxes. The Norquistians are saying that even putting taxes on the ballot is a violation of the no-tax pledge.  Something has got them nervous, perhaps that’s because of numbers like these:

The poll, just released, shows strong support for Brown’s special statewide election on budget fixes, as well as reasonably strong support for his suggestion to erase California’s deficit with a mix of cuts and taxes.

The Public Policy Institute of California finds 66% of voters surveyed like the idea of a special election to consider budget issues. That includes not just an overwhelming majority of Democrats (74%) but a majority (55%) of Republicans, too.

*** **** ***

While the poll offers several more interesting nuggets (like an affirmation of the fiscal disconnect affecting the state’s voters which we’ve discussed before), here’s one more that helps explain why Governor Brown’s budget not only protects K-12 schools (for the most part), but puts them front and center should the voters reject the $11 billion in tax extensions he wants on a June statewide ballot: 75% say they oppose any more K-12 cuts, and 71% say they’d pay higher taxes to spare those schools.(Capital Notes)

In fact, a strong plurality rejects a cuts only budget.  Only 36% favor cuts alone, while 49% prefer at least some taxes, and another 7% favors additional debt.  As to which taxes, well, the corporate tax is still tax number one.  Too bad the voters just chose to preserve a $1.5 billion corporate tax cut. I guess it goes to show you what a bit of campaign propaganda can do.  You can grab all of the numbers at the PPIC survey here.

The voters clearly still need additional information on how our system works. They don’t quite understand how we fund our budget, and where it all goes.  But, at the same time, I think voters understand more than they are given credit for in the media and amongst some political circles.

Governor Brown’s budget is far from perfect, but it’s enough that it is scaring the Right. And that’s a start.

Successful Voter-Approved Program Steps In To Bail Out Failed State

On May 19, voters were asked to divert money from First Five programs to pay for General Fund expenditures.  The argument was that First Five had a reserve that was just “sitting around” and they should give up some of that money, earmarked for children’s programs, to pay for the budget.  At Calitics, we called this the “if it ain’t broke, break it” proposition.  First Five, financed by a tax on cigarette sales, was well-funded and able to make multi-year program projections, so that the programs started up were not in perpetual fear of being dropped.

One of the values of First Five is that they can seek out other programs affecting children and contribute to them, in keeping with their mandate.  And that is what they have voluntarily agreed to do with respect to the Healthy Families program, California’s version of S-CHIP.

Meeting in Sacramento this afternoon, the First 5 California Children and Families Commission agreed to help the Healthy Families Program, which faces a $90 million General Fund shortfall in 2009-10. But the Commission declined to commit to a specific level of financial assistance. As a result, it appears all but certain that the enrollment freeze approved last month by the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which oversees Healthy Families, will take effect on Friday, July 17.

In a resolution, the First 5 Commission committed “to join with like-minded public and private partners, including but not limited to health plans and philanthropic organizations, to provide financial assistance in Fiscal Year 2009-10 to the extent practicable and feasible…to ensure young children have access to affordable health insurance coverage.” This commitment, however, “is contingent upon the availability of funds in the applicable First 5 California accounts.”

I wish that First Five would have chosen a specific funding level, which could have rolled back the enrollment freeze.  Still, they are making a commitment to help provide health insurance to needy children, one they couldn’t have made if the state clawed back some of their money in the May 19 election.  This way, First Five can target the money and keep in line with what the voters asked from them – to use their revenue to provide needed services for children.  The state could have used that money for anything if they skimmed it off the top.

People often wail about ballot-box budgeting and the broken initiative process in the state, and to an extent I agree with them.  But First Five is an example of GOOD ballot-box budgeting.  It has a dedicated funding source, it’s well-managed and well-capitalized, and it has the ability to make contingencies.  If the structure of state government fails to allow increased revenue to pay for needed services, it’s perfectly logical to go outside that process and produce dedicated sources of funding.  It shows the virtue of a balanced approach.  I don’t necessarily want the ballot to do all of Sacramento’s work for it, but the broken system of government sometimes leaves no choice.

Another Special Election Merry Go-Round

If you look at state economic statistics and the consistently worsening projections as each month of revenue collection goes by, you would recognize that, even if the positive talks on closing the current budget gap result in a deal, the possibility – even probability – of another deficit requiring a revision could take hold as early as this winter.  That’s what happened last year, and if anything the economy in the state has softened since then.  At this time, the value of having a fully seated Senate and Assembly, due to the need for 54 Assembly votes and 27 Senate votes to move anything, becomes even more pronounced.  Right now, we are down one Assembly seat owing to Curren Price’s move to the Senate (owing to Mark Ridley-Thomas’ election as LA County Supervisor last November).  The CA-10 race could leave another opening if Sen. Mark DeSaulnier or Asm. Joan Buchanan emerge victorious.  And in Los Angeles, an opening on the City Council may cost the Assembly another seat for a period of time.

Los Angeles voters showed a profound disinterest in the civic election in March when just 18% turned out, but there was a virtual stampede of candidates this week to run for the San Fernando Valley seat of former City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who won the race for city controller.

The slate of 14 candidates for the Sept. 22 special election reflects the varied geography of the 2nd District, which stretches from Studio City and Sherman Oaks at its southern border, through Van Nuys, Valley Glen, North Hollywood and Sun Valley to the rugged reaches of Sunland-Tujunga at its northern edge […]

With just two months to raise money, a number of City Hall watchers are eyeing several strong contenders: former Paramount Pictures executive Chris Essel; state Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, a Democrat who lived in Burbank until moving this spring to Valley Glen; and Los Angeles Unified School District board member Tamar Galatzan.

Krekorian, who is an assistant majority leader, moved into the Council District but not out of his own Assembly District (Valley Glen is on the edge) to pursue this seat.  If he wins, it probably wouldn’t take effect until December 8, assuming that he doesn’t reach 50% +1 on September 22.  AD-51 (Curren Price’s old seat) will have a new Assemblymember by November 3 at the latest, but Joan Buchanan or Mark DeSaulnier could reach the US Congress on the same day, and Krekorian might move to the LA city council and vacate AD-43 soon after.  By the time all these special elections shake out, we’ll be well into 2010.

All of this shows the need to modernize our system of filling special elections, which always seem to be more widespread in California.  Wendy Greuel was elected City Controller back in March.  There’s little reason to drag out the search for her replacement this long.  And if we had Instant Runoff Voting for the first round, we would not need to wait two months for an additional round, paralyzing state and local government and costing the state money in setting up additional elections.  In the case of federal and state legislative elections, this is particularly perverse, since the way in which runoffs occur (with the top vote-getter in each party) almost always become useless races where the ultimate victor is well-known from the beginning.

CA-10: On Independence Day, Let’s Celebrate Service

Happy Independence Day!

On the anniversary of the birth of our country, I wanted to take this moment to first thank all the men and women who proudly serve our country in the armed services. I also think it’s important to acknowledge Americans who have found other ways to serve our country – the Teach for America and AmeriCorps volunteers who work in America’s most desperate pockets to help create a more just and equitable society, the volunteers from community, religious, and non-profit organizations who selflessly devote time and money in their local communities, and the volunteers in the Peace Corps and NGOs who generate goodwill the world over while presenting America’s best face to allies and adversaries alike.

Forty-three years ago, my wife Patti and I heeded President John F. Kennedy’s call, left Berkeley, and embarked on a journey that would shape our outlook for the rest of our lives. We joined the Peace Corps and spent two years working on the eradication of small pox in rural southwest Ethiopia. We witnessed unimaginable suffering on an almost daily basis, but we understood that the work we were doing was not just vital to good people desperately in need of help but also served to demonstrate to the world abroad the goodness of America.

More over the flip…

Today I attended parades in Fairfield and Concord and will soon be in Antioch and Livermore. These are joyous events that bring us together in celebration of the blessings of our country. Around the world, people remain awash in disease, famine, widespread poverty, and senseless oppression, I’ve seen it firsthand, but there remains hard work to be done here at home. Almost 60 million Americans are uninsured; we have not done enough to reduce the harmful effects of climate change or to promote fair trade policies; and at dark points in our past, we have strayed from the values that unite us as Americans. But there is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with America, and we should be proud to be the leaders of the free world.

Today, as you join friends and family in celebration of America’s birthday, please take a moment to reflect on the blessings bestowed to us all. If you are not yet active in your local communities, get involved. And of course, I always recommend the Peace Corps to anyone interested in giving back. I recently read that under President Obama, interest in the Peace Corps has spiked. This dedication from young Americans gives me hope that our better days are yet to come. When you see the smiling faces of people whose lives are improved by your service, believe me, you will truly understand what it means to be free.

John Garamendi is the Lieutenant Governor of California, a University of California regent, a California State University trustee, and the founder of the Clean Seas Coalition. He was previously California’s first State Insurance Commissioner, Deputy Interior Secretary under President Bill Clinton, and a state legislator. For more information, please visit http://www.garamendi.org or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. He is a candidate for California’s 10th Congressional District.

CA-10: First Major Candidate Forum In Walnut Creek

Given the relative ambivalence in recent special elections in California, where members of Congress have been elected with 10,000 votes or less, I’d consider it an accomplishment that hundreds of people flocked to the Walnut Creek Jewish Community Center last night, on a Friday night, to hear from six of the Democratic candidates who will seek to replace Ellen Tauscher in CA-10, once she is confirmed to an appointment at the State Department and resigns her seat.  Reader dslc has a short on-site commentary here, and Lisa Vorderbrueggen has provided lots of multimedia over at Political Blotter.  The audio recording doesn’t seem to be working right now, but she had videos of every candidate’s closing statement.  In case you’re just tuning in, those candidates include:

Lt. Governor John Garamendi

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan

Adriel Hampton

Anthony Woods

Tony Bothwell

(Bothwell is a San Francisco-area attorney who doesn’t yet have a campaign website, but here’s his law office site.)

Sadly, this is pretty much the extent of major media coverage that exists of yesterday’s event, despite several hundred residents and a Congressional race that impacts hundreds of thousands.  Our dwindling press corps is definitely a problem.  But based on the closing statements, you can decide for yourself who performed well last night.  I’ll just throw around some other links as the race really kicks into gear.  As a side note, apparently Garamendi brought out the giant golden bear clearly planned as his mascot for a gubernatorial race.

Luke Thomas interviews Joan Buchanan for the Fog City Journal, and Buchanan comes of as pretty knowledgeable about the challenges we face.  She foregrounded her support of mass transit and BART expansion, health care reform (she supports single payer but wouldn’t commit to supporting HR 676, and thinks that a plan currently moving through the House with a robust public option could be a “stepping stone” to single payer) and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (she generally supports Obama’s position).

• Also in the Fog City Journal, Harold Brown has an op-ed about Adriel Hampton, claiming that “SF lefties are missing an opportunity” by not rallying to his campaign.

• Anthony Woods is getting a fair amount of attention on the blogs.  AR Dem profiled him in this MyDD user diary, and today, Woods took questions at Firedoglake in a live chat session with Howie Klein.  I thought he served himself well.

• There’s another Democratic forum scheduled for July 2 in Antioch (Antioch City Hall, Second and H streets).

A couple updates:

• Lisa V. fixed the audio feed, which you can find here.  Her story on the forum is here.

In the first central Contra Costa County showdown of Democratic candidates vying for the chance to replace Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a packed room Friday night heard little in the way of substantive policy differences but saw vastly disparate approaches.

Relative youngsters Adriel Hampton and Anthony Woods, 30 and 28 respectively, emphasized their lack of ties to the establishment […]

The high-profile candidates with decades of political experience – Lt. Governor John Garamendi; Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo; and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord – stressed their individual policy strengths.

Also, there’s actually another forum this Tuesday, June 23, sponsored by the El Cerrito Democratic Club.  It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Fellowship Hall, El Cerrito United Methodist Church, 6830 Stockton Avenue (at Richmond Avenue), El Cerrito.

…additional analysis of the forum from Halfway to Concord.

CA 10: National Service to College, Sign the Petition

The road to lasting security and economic prosperity runs through America’s universities, state colleges, community colleges and technical training schools.

Yet for an increasing number of Americans, the dream of the quality education they need to compete in the global economy of the 21st Century is out of reach.

That’s why I am asking you to help me remove barriers to college right now by signing the Service to College petition.

For decades, politicians have used cuts to public schools and financial aid programs, as well as tuition hikes at universities as a means for closing state budget gaps.

We now know that these short-sighted decisions have come at an immense long-term cost to America’s economy, the competitiveness of our workforce and our security.  

But together, we can reverse these wrong-headed policies- starting with stable and adequate funding at the K-12 level, rolling back recent tuition increases, and by rewarding national service with a year of college tuition for every year served in the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or other recognized full-time service programs.

Growing up in Fairfield, California as the son of a single mother, my family couldn’t afford health care, much less think about college tuition.

But I was lucky. I was accepted to West Point, where I received an excellent four-year college education our family would never have been able to afford alone. I went on to serve my country, including two tours of duty in Iraq.

This kind of college for service should be available to more Americans. It is a win/win bargain that will make our country stronger right now as we harness the public service spirit of a new generation and it will make our country richer in the long-run as we train more Americans for the high-skill and high-wage jobs that will keep us economically competitive.

I have been honored to serve not just in Iraq – but to work as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity rebuilding homes in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I’ve seen first hand the tremendous energy and effectiveness of Americans serving other Americans. It does more than transform once-devastated communities; it helps transform the people performing the service. This kind of community engagement helps build a model of citizenship and life-long service that is America at its best.

History has always been my passion. At West Point, and later at the Kennedy School of Government, we frequently talked about the sacrifices of the “Greatest Generation” that protected our nation in WWII.

It is a deserved title for these Americans, because they did more than serve our country in the military. They came home and used the GI Bill to help unlock nearly 25 years of economic growth and prosperity. They opened the door to opportunity for tens of millions of Americans. And they served, and continue to serve, their communities at home.

As a member of what’s being called the Millennial Generation, the largest generation in our nation’s history, I want plans like Service to College to unlock a new and great wave of service. I hope you will help me make this Service to College plan a reality.

If you agree that we need to break down the barriers to college by promoting national service, please sign our petition today.

And I hope you will learn more about me and my campaign for Congress in the California’s 10th Congressional district by visiting my website, or joining more than 3,000 supporters at Facebook or


Thanks for all you do,

Anthony Woods

Democrat for Congress, CA 10

CLICK HERE to Contribute to our Campaign