Tag Archives: Robert Sawyer

3 More years of What?

One instance of silencing a critic for speaking the truth is offensive enough.  Two incidents and you start thinking about patterns. So, with the news that Governor Schwarzenegger has asked for the resignation of Fish and Game Commissioner R. Judd Hanna within three months of the firing of California Air Resources Board Chair Robert Sawyer, it made me a little uncomfortable. You see, if this becomes a pattern, it becomes a pattern we are all too familiar with from DC. Silencing critics, scientists, etc.

But Arnold, even after all this time of watching him, still carries an air of mystery. For example, after sacking Sawyer, he hires Mary Nichols to head CARB, who has been doing a pretty good job at pushing the requirments of AB 32, the global warming emissions bill.  But the resignation of Hanna looks to have been Arnold tossing a bone to the right-wing of the GOP that is heavily represented in the Legislature. He hasn't been giving them a whole lot else in the way of victories, so why not let the NRA bully a Fish and Game Commissioner who has the temerity to speak up in the protection of, dare I say, fish and game. 

UPDATE: Here are the thoughts of the President of the Human Society on Hanna's firing resignation. So we have three more years of Arnold. Flip it 

Buth the thing that I wrestle with is how much do we try to work with Arnold. Sure, it aggravated me to no end last year when the Legislature handed Arnold another term in office, with a nice little bow on top. (Well, it could be argued that the bow was the Democratic campaign's shoddy worksmanship, but that's a different story.) But, now we have him in office for another three years or so, so what do we do with that time.

Part of Arnold's appeal is that he sees himself as some kind of visionary for the post-partisan generation. (Except that he hasn't found it within his purview to actually drop the R beside his name). But he has so much potential to leave a lasting mark on the state.  For example, with one signature on AB 43, Arnold could become one of the greatest leaders for civil rights in the 21st century by finally granting marriage equality. His initial reluctance could wear down.  In 50 years from now, the Randy Thommason's and Fred Phelps will be seen as no better than George Wallace and your everyday, run of the mill Klan wizard. Arnold can be on the fronteir of history, or he can be the last reluctant pol on the bandwagon.  Now is his chance.

And marriage equality is certainly the only front of this Arnold self-battle.  There's the Dirty Tricks initiative, will Arnold support the “loser's mentality?” There's the lead shot bill sitting on his desk right now. He has in his hands the California Condor's future? Does he care to be a leader and protect our natural resources or will he surrender to the special interests that he so decried in 2003?

Arnold has always had the opportunity to be a truly great leader, but has never lived up to his rhetoric.His position in history is up to him.

ACTION ALERT: Tell The Legislature To Keep The Pressure On The Governor

Frank Russo predictably delivered with great coverage of yesterday’s Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing into political pressure from the Governor’s Office on the California Air Resources Board.  Just keep scrolling.  The most shocking piece of news that Russo highlights, which was also in a couple news articles on the subject, was that the Administration flack sent to give the Governor’s side of the story, Dan Skopec, ISN’T EVEN PART OF THE ADMINISTRATION ANYMORE.

Skopec no longer works for the Schwarzenegger Administration as of a week ago, and has started his own firm, “Climate & Energy Consulting” on Sacramento’s K Street Mall, to serve clients he described as “emerging technologies companies that will take advantage of the changes in energy that will result from climate policies.” Despite repeated questions from committee members, he refused to reveal who in the Administration had asked him to testify, who he had spoken to about the hearing, who had prepped him, and what he was told. Although he repeatedly testified about actions of the Schwarzenegger Administration using the word “we”, he later apologized for the use of that word which he is accustomed to use. He later admitted that he was not speaking for the Schwarzenegger Administration, but was basically there as a private citizen.

They sent a lobbyist to defend the Governor.  The hay that can be made from that decision is pretty clear.  And this part could be even more damning:

Dr. Sawyer (the former CARB chief), in his testimony, complimented Catherine Witherspoon for resigning from her position as the Executive Officer of CARB since she serves in that position at the pleasure of the board itself. Despite the desire of Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger’s Chief of Staff, to have her fired, this could not be accomplished directly by the Governor. Sawyer said he had been ordered to place this on the agenda and met with a subcommittee of the board only to find out that there was a consensus of fellow board members not to do so. It was feared that had Witherspoon remained in the position that individual board members would be removed until there was a majority willing to fire her.

Does this remind one of the Saturday massacre involving U.S. Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal of the Nixon Administration?

Schwarzenegger is taking a beating in both the local and national press, as well he should.  This reflects nothing more than an abuse of power.

I would like everyone reading this who lives in California to call their Assemblymember.  They need to know that they will be supported in this effort to rein in the Schwarzenegger Administration and ensure that oversight is undertaken and the laws of the state are met.  That includes subpoenas for top Schwarzenegger Administration officials if need be.  The Senate also needs to hear from you; they will be meeting next week in the Rules Committee to confirm the new chair of the Board, Mary Nichols.  That needs to be a legitimate confirmation hearing with tough questions about Nichols’ independence and how she will implement the Global Warmings Solution Act.  This is not a small issue; as I write, I’m watching the Live Earth concerts and seeing millions of people begging for action on climate change.  Now, here we have one of the only legitimate pieces of legislation in this country addressing the issue, and it’s being undermined by a Governor who wants to talk big on the environment while supporting his corporate buddies behind the scenes.

Information on the flip:

These are the Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, who are particularly important.

Loni Hancock – Chair
Dem-14 (916) 319-2014  [email protected]
Julia Brownley
Dem-41 (916) 319-2041  [email protected]
Felipe Fuentes
Dem-39 (916) 319-2039  [email protected]
John Laird
Dem-27 (916) 319-2027  [email protected]
Lori Saldaña
Dem-76 (916) 319-2076  [email protected]

Here are the points of contact for the Senate Rules Committee:

Senator Don Perata (Chair)
[email protected]
(510) 286-1333.
Senator Gilbert Cedillo
Senator Alex Padilla
(818) 901-5588

It helps, of course, if you are a constituent (Asm. Brownley will be getting plenty of calls from me).  But even if you’re not, this is an important enough issue, one that speaks to the very structure of democracy in this state, that you should make a call.  And ALL of your representatives ought to know that you’re paying close attention to this issue and that you want results which are consistent with the law and the need to take a real and not a symbolic step in the fight against global warming.

CARBgate Hearing – Republicans chicken out, Democrats hold firm

The first couple reports about today’s Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing into the politicization of the California Air Resources Board are starting to dribble out.  The SacBee described a set of angry lawmakers sking pointed questions and threatening that their probe into how the Governor is trying to manipulate the board into adopting his favored implementation of anti-global warming laws would continue.

Assembly Democrats said Friday they will continue investigating whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger exerted “illegal and improper pressure” on the California Air Resources Board after they were dissatisfied with answers given by two lower-level representatives of the governor at a Capitol hearing.

A full report on the flip:

The higher-ups sought for questioning, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, did not arrive, even though handy seat cards were placed at the table awaiting their presence.  Dan Skopec, the functionary who the Schwarzenegger Administration sent to testify, apparently grumbled and gainsayed his way through the hearing, much to the dismay of committee Democrats.  Matt Jones at CMR writes:

Skopec, who, in a former life, carried the water of Rep. Doug Ose (the former Sacramento area Congressman who defended the energy generators), was a disaster. He called the testimony of CARB officials “fiction,” and then refused to answer committee questions about the Governor’s staff review of his testimony. He also provoked the committee by calling the hearing political theater — not a wise move for someone who later said he may soon be a lobbyist before the legislature.

Skopec’s comments drew scorn from Assemblymember Jared Huffman of Marin County, who compared the Schwarzenegger Administration’s micromanagement of the Air Board to Karl Rove in the White House. LA Assemblymember Mike Feuer also lit into Skopec for failing to fully answer questions. Other members of the panel — including Santa Barbara Assemblymember Pedro Nava, Sacramento’s Dave Jones, and Mark DeSaulnier of Contra Costa County — also asked pointed questions and drew incomplete answers from the Administration officials.

Jones also mentioned that not one Republican on the committee even bothered to show up at the hearing.  They want no part of this controversy, probably because they don’t believe in such a thing as global warming to begin with.

The testimony of the two former members of the Air Resources Board, Robert Sawyer and Catherine Witherspoon, seemed to me to be fairly damaging.

Schwarzenegger fired Sawyer last month, and Witherspoon resigned Monday because she said the Governor’s Office had tried to control the air board to the benefit of polluters. In particular, Witherspoon said Schwarzenegger deputy chief of staff Dan Dunmoyer had routinely called her to question whether ARB policies would unduly hurt businesses in California.

Sawyer said the governor’s office has undermined the traditional independence of the air board, which has the reputation of being an apolitical, science-based body.

“The governor’s staff has the task of conveying policy directions from the governor to the Air Resources Board,” Sawyer said. “However, Gov. Schwarzenegger, your staff has interjected itself in a manner that has compromised the independence and integrity of the board.”

You know, it doesn’t matter whether or not legislators want the Governor’s support on healthcare reform, or the term limits initiative.  This cuts to the very heart of how the branches of government in California function.  The Assembly is standing up right now, so far, because they feel the presence would have no meaning if they pass laws that the Governor then can simply circumnavigate to arrive at his preferred solution.  In addition, the Assembly is not being permitted to conduct oversight with the actual executive staff involved in the incident.  If Dan Dunmoyer was calling CARB members and pressuring them to back off tough regulatory stances, then he must be brought before the committee to answer for that.  It’s quite simple. 

As for next steps, Loni Hancock, who’s an excellent progressive voice in the Assembly, is mulling over a variety of options.

Afterward, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the committee chair, left open the possibility of seeking a subpoena of Kennedy and Dunmoyer to force them to answer committee questions. She also said lawmakers may pursue bills that enable air board appointees to serve for fixed terms rather than at the pleasure of the governor, giving board members more independence. Another possibility is to give state lawmakers appointment powers.

I don’t see how the Governor would sign bills taking away his authority, so to me, the subpoena route seems the only one that’s viable.  Democrats are also starting to fight this one in the court of public opinion, which to someone like the ego-driven Schwarzenegger is the only court that matters.

This should get very, very interesting.  Stay tuned…

CARBgate Update: Schwarzenegger’s Taking A Hit Nationally

I wouldn’t have expected the national media to pick up on the story of the Governor’s actions not matching his rhetoric when it comes to the environment, but the New York Times actually found some room for it in today’s paper.  They even highlight the governing-by-magazine-cover that has become a staple of this Administration.

In September, Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, signed into law a landmark emissions-reduction measure and then drove a green bus during his easy, breezy re-election campaign. Since then, he has announced that he will buy offsets for his own personal carbon emissions, threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over air quality and appeared on the cover of Newsweek spinning a globe on his finger […]

But the Governator’s eco-friendly reputation may have taken a dent over the last week in a messy battle over the leadership of the California Air Resources Board, a science-geared agency that has traditionally operated with considerable autonomy, even though its 11 members are political appointees. Its most visible mandate is the nuts and bolts of putting the emissions law, known as AB 32, into effect […]

“We have schizophrenia here,” said James Marston, a lobbyist for Environmental Defense who worked on passing the emissions law. “Even while we were doing AB 32, the Schwarzenegger administration was a little schizophrenic.” […]

“There’s an obvious difference to what he’s been saying and what his administration and other appointees have been doing,” said Don Perata, a Democrat who is president pro tempore of the State Senate. “There’s some real knuckle draggers over there.”


The replacement of the fired Robert Sawyer on the board with environmental stalwart Mary Nichols certainly reflects an effort by the Governor to stop the bleeding.  But the Democrats in the Assembly are holding a hearing on the Sawyer and Catherine Witherspoon resignations today, and when our man in Sacramento Frank Russo has any information we’ll bring it to you. 

Meanwhile, two top aides to Schwarzenegger, Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, were asked to testify in the hearing, and the Governor refused their participation.  So committee Chair Loni Hancock is talking about subpoenas:

Assembly Democrats said they may need to subpoena two of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s aides, who are expected to rebuff an invitation to testify at an oversight hearing today on why two officials were forced from the state’s air resources board.

Berkeley Assemblywoman Loni Hancock sent letters to Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, asking them to testify at the Natural Resources hearing she heads. Her committee is looking into accusations that the administration interfered with the board’s implementation of AB 32, the landmark law to curb greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020.

“If we don’t get the answers we hope and expect, the committee will explore the option of a subpoena,” said Steve Maviglio, deputy chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

Schwarzenegger’s aides had not replied to Hancock by Thursday, though a spokesman said they will send a representative of the administration to the hearing but not the two staff members.

Dan Walters thinks that this could be some kabuki theater, which would be interesting, because clearly there is a real conflict over implementation of the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, and clearly neither side wants to give an inch.  The Governor has the upper hand because the Air Resources Board, which is tasked with implementation, is entirely appointed by him.  But the Legislature can undertake meaningful oversight like they are today, and use Schwarzenegger’s fascination with his own self-image as a lever to get the required solution.  This bit, incidentally, from Walters’ story, was remarkably reminiscent of another chief executive:

Núñez […] said he had wanted Kennedy and Dunmoyer to appear before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee today — asking first orally and then, late Tuesday, in the form of letters to the two gubernatorial aides. […]

Later, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, Aaron McLear, said such an appearance “would be unprecedented,” which doesn’t square with the historical facts. Kennedy, who was then a high-ranking aide to Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, testified before a legislative committee delving into a scandal involving a software contract with Oracle Corp. five years ago. In fact, the circumstances were somewhat similar, with critics alleging that Kennedy had interceded with a state agency for political reasons.

A press flack calling appearances before legislative committees “unprecedented” when the same person sought to testify has HERSELF appeared in the past?  Knock me over with a feather.

Schwarzenegger names new CARB chief

Mary Nichols, the former chair of the California Air Resources Board under Pat Jerry Brown, was named today to be the new head of the board tasked with implementing the landmark global warming legislation passed last year.  She was a cabinet secretary under Gray Davis and served in the Clinton Adminstration working on the environment.  The early accounts are glowing, particularly from her predecessor.

…the appointment of Nichols, one of the state’s first environmental attorneys, is likely to blunt complaints from administration critics that Schwarzenegger’s actions on the environment are not living up to his bold promises.

“She’s superb, and she will be an independent person,” Sawyer said. “I’ve known Mary for a long time, we’ve served together on the air board, and I would find it hard to think of a better person.”

He said under Nichols’ previous tenure as air board chair, historic regulations were implemented on unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters and other regulations that helped cement the board’s reputation as the world’s most innovative and toughest air pollution agency.

“She’s a lawyer and she knows the Clean Air Act probably as well as anybody in the state,” he said.

I was all set for an industry lobbyist or something to be installed, but Schwarzenegger does seem to know that his brand is being threatened with the appearance of meddling into AB 32 [ed. — last year’s Global Warming Solutions Act].  Mary Nichols sounds like an excellent appointment.  But this will not stop Friday’s hearing, and it will not stop the demands for accountability on the Governor’s attempts to subvert a law he signed. 

…I should also mention that without the outcry over the other resignations on the board, there is no way Arnold would have replaced them with anyone nearly as qualified.  Fighting back actually can work.

UPDATE: The Flash Report is whining.

Arnold’s AB32 meddling is officially a scandal

Catherine Witherspoon resigned today, and unlike Robert Sawyer, it appears that this resignation was legitimate.  Witherspoon was incensed by Sawyer’s dismissal and the repeated attempts by the Governor to change the landmark global warming law through implementation in ways that he couldn’t change it in the legislative arena.

In interviews with The Times, Witherspoon said there had been a pattern of interference by the governor’s top staff in favor of industry lobbyists seeking to weaken or stall air pollution regulations, including the state’s landmark global warming law and proposed regulations on diesel construction equipment and wood products containing formaldehyde.

“They were ordering us to find ways to reduce costs and satisfy lobbyists,” she said, adding that the governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer took the lead on pressuring the agency staff and board chairman.

Adding insult to injury, she said, members of the governor’s staff have publicly blamed her and Sawyer for not doing more — conduct she described as “Orwellian … a triumph of appearances over reality.”

This will go completely nowhere on the national scene, where Arnold actually governs.  But within the state, more journalists are questioning the Governor’s commitment to the noble goals on global warming that he wastes no time espousing worldwide.  On the flip…

Here’s Evan Halper in the LA Times:

In public hearings and private negotiations, administration transportation officials are working to slow a planned crackdown by regulators on aging diesel construction equipment — among the state’s most noxious machinery and a major source of greenhouse gases […]

It is not the first time the governor has made bold promises on the environment while his administration dragged its feet behind the scenes. Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills that would put new taxes on polluters, spur the development of alternative fuels and help clean the air. He has accepted $1 million in campaign cash from the oil industry, and he had threatened to veto the global warming bill unless it was made more business-friendly.

Although the governor says he wants to hold polluters more accountable, administration officials recently signaled lawmakers that Schwarzenegger may not support a separate legislative crackdown. Lawmakers are proposing to prohibit the dirtiest equipment from being used on public works projects bankrolled with state bond money approved by voters last year.

Here are Greg Lucas and Matthew Yi in the SF Chronicle:

“The governor has made his name across the world as the jolly green governor, and now we have the regulators saying his inner circle has pressured them to go slow because the big industries don’t want us to go too quickly,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights, a consumer watchdog group.

The air board shakeup has as much to do with politics as air quality. After Schwarzenegger pledged to sign AB32, his chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, tried to shape the measure in the Legislature. After AB32 became law, the governor’s staff tried to control its implementation, according to lawmakers and others involved in passage of the bill.

Much of the responsibility for implementation rests with the air board, whose members are appointed by the governor, but who have a long history of independence.

“Every signal the board got from the governor’s office staff was, ‘Slow down, don’t hurt industry, don’t get ahead of us on greenhouse gases,’ ” Witherspoon said in an interview on Monday.

Schwarzenegger simply doesn’t practice what he preaches, and the high-profile resignations on the Air Resources Board are waking people up to that. 

Democratic leaders have rightly called for hearings this week to assess the political pressure being applied by the governor to the board.  And Dan Walters notes that Arnold’s attempt to manufacture AB32 into solely a cap-and-trade law is being met with resistance:

Environmental groups, backed by Democratic legislators, have denounced the administration’s cap-and-trade policy as beyond the intent of AB 32, however, favoring a more direct regulatory mechanism on emissions. The Democratic version of the state budget, in fact, seeks to deny funds for any development of cap-and-trade policy until broader studies are completed.

That’s fairly strong, and I applaud it.  But the court of public opinion is really the only one Schwarzenegger pays attention too.  Democrats who want AB 32 to be implemented as it was written need to fan out and make the case to their constituents that Arnold is trying to stop progress on global warming.  This could drag his popularity down considerably and weaken his hand in future negoitations.  The time is now.

CARB Chairman fired – or quit – for doing not enough – or too much – on global warming

People are still trying to figure out what led to the resignation of the chair of the CARB (California Air Resources Board) yesterday.  If you scan the article strictly for quotes from the governor’s office, their take is that Robert Sawyer was fired for dragging his feet on implementing air pollution and global warming initiatives.

In the statement, Schwarzenegger also criticized the board for approving a request by San Joaquin Valley air quality authorities to seek an 11-year extension of a federal deadline for complying with the Clean Air Act.

“I was deeply disappointed,” Schwarzenegger said. “The air board let the federal government off the hook by seeking delay.” […]

Schwarzenegger’s deputy chief of communications, Adam Mendelsohn, said the governor’s office did not think the air board or its staff were moving aggressively enough on air pollution and global warming.

“The issue really came to a head after the decision to ask for an extension in the San Joaquin Valley, and the lack of early action items that we wanted done … last week,” Mendelsohn said. He said the items Sawyer proposed were minor, while the governor’s office was seeking far tougher measures to control emissions from concrete factories and other sources […]

Mendelsohn said the administration first became upset with the agency when Witherspoon, without consulting the governor’s office, sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last spring seeking a long postponement of a federal deadline to clean up diesel soot.

“With the health threats of California air quality, this is a very high priority,” Mendelsohn said.

Well, OK.  And yet some environmentalists are defending Sawyer and saying things like “he deserved better.”  And then there’s this curious passage (on the fliip):

Sawyer … said he was called by a Cabinet secretary who ordered him to limit to three the number of so-called early action measures the board was considering to slow global warming.

So the governor was disappointed in Sawyer dragging his feet on global warming initiatives, yet he was called last week and told to… limit global warming initiatives?

Not sure what’s going on here, but you can be sure that it’s not as simple as Governor Schwarzenegger’s paid spinners are making it out to be.  Greg Lucas’ article for the SF Chronicle certainly makes it clearer:

Robert Sawyer, appointed by the governor in 2005, was one of three air board members who voted “no” last week when the board adopted three new policy changes to curb carbon dioxide and other emissions statewide. Sawyer, like several environmental groups, thought the board should have made more changes than those the governor sought.

That makes more sense, given what we know about Arnold’s “fight-global-warming-with-words-more-than-actions” approach.