Tag Archives: leadership

Tell Washington: We need jobs now!

I’m on a mission to restore the American Dream – and I know that to do that, we’re going to have shake things up in Washington. It’s time we fundamentally change our priorities; and that starts by putting pressure on our leaders to act on creating good jobs and stop protecting unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent.

I have a deep faith in this country that we can solve any problem that comes our way, but we have to be willing to put partisan politics aside and make the tough decisions. Washington needs to do that; and that’s why today I’m launching an online petition aimed at Congress demanding they start focusing on creating jobs now.

This broken mentality in Washington that has lead with inaction on the economy and believes the best plan is one that keeps the status quo in place has to end if we’re ever going to guarantee an America where everyone can achieve their highest hopes and dreams. That, my friends, is why I am running for United States Congress.

I’ve seen first hand that people are hurting with a national uneployment rate stuck at 9.1% and our district’s unemployment rate is at a staggering 16%! Congress cannot wait until the next election to take action; not with those numbers. Too many families are desperately waiting for them and the longer they wait the worse it gets – and the further we move away from being able to reach the American Dream.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to solve the problems that we face, but it does take leaders that fundamentally understand what is at stake and are willing to make the tough choices. Rather than cater to the will of the rich few, it’s about time Washington realign it’s priorities and help restore the American Dream for millions of people.

I need your help to put pressure on Congress. Sign my petition demanding Congressional leaders and all Washington politicians change their priorities right now and start focusing on creating good jobs!

If we can collect 2,500 grassroots petition signatures by Tuesday, October 25th, I will personally deliver the petition to Congressional leaders. I will tell them it’s time to restore the American Dream.

Thank you for joining me on this important journey,

– Jose Hernandez

It’s Time Washington Saves the American Dream

(Welcome to Mr. Hernandez! Check out his website! – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

In the midst of economic and political turmoil, it is difficult to imagine and embrace the fundamental values that we as Americans believe in; the things that make our country the greatest nation on earth. Sadly, these tough times have made far too many middle class families believe that the American Dream is far from reality.

But I can tell you it does exist. And I am living proof of it’s incredible promise.

The son of migrant-farm workers, I was able to rise from the fields of California and touch the sky on the Space Shuttle Discovery as an Astronaut, a lifelong goal I was able to achieve thanks to the promise of the American Dream. Now retired, I feel it is my obligation to help others achieve the American Dream just like I did.

That’s why today I am proud to officially launch my campaign for United States Congress in California’s 10th Congressional District.

But before we talk about that, I want to tell you a little more about who I am and why I care so much about preserving the American Dream…

When I was a boy, my family and I would make the journey from La Piedad de Cavadas in the central Mexican state of Michoacan to California every spring. We would work our way northward with the crops until November, when the harvest was over, then it was back to Mexico until the next March. It was never easy, but our parents insisted that my siblings and I always attend school.

Eventually, with hard work and encouragement from my parents and teachers, I found my way into a government program known as Upward Bound, a Federal Trio program that prepares underprivileged kids for college. While in college, I was involved in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, an academic preparation program that provides support to students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds so they can attain four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields.

Thanks to these programs, I earned a B.S. In Electrical Engineering from the University of the Pacific and an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

I was very proud of my accomplishments, but the dream of traveling into space, the dream that I first had as a 10 year-old boy in the field, was still pushing at me to strive further. But it was not easy to accomplish; many outstanding and well qualified people strive to become a part of NASA’s Astronaut Program, so only a select few are admitted each year. In fact, I applied for 11 years to the astronaut program and 11 times I was not accepted.

But I had learned some lessons in the hot and dusty fields of California: never quit on your dream. Never.

On my 12th attempt, I was accepted into the astronaut program and, after more work and training, I earned a spot on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS 128 in August of 2009. My dream of flying into space had been realized.

I didn’t achieve my dreams alone. I was lucky enough to have the support of loving parents and find a program that would help me earn a college education. It was through that program I came to understand the important role government has in fulfilling the American Dream for millions of underprivileged kids.

That’s why I am running for Congress. I understand that we must start fighting for middle class families and protect vitally important programs like Upward Bound, Social Security and Medicare. I also understand that Congress must start focusing on creating good jobs if we’re ever going to prove the American Dream stills exists.

But these days all we hear from Washington is how important it is to cut these program so we can lower taxes for the wealthiest one percent. That’s the kind of unacceptable mentality that exists among our elected leaders and it’s just one of the many ways the American Dream is under attack. It’s time we do something about that.

Sign-up to get involved in my campaign for U.S. Congress today and watch our introduction video here: http://joseforcongress.com/

I know that if we work together, we can finally start creating jobs and restore the American Dream for millions of middle class families who deserve the same opportunities I had. I hope that you will join me in this journey.

Thank you,

Jose Hernandez

California League of Conservation Voters Endorses Debra Bowen for Congress

When people think “California League of Conservation Voters” they focus on the words “California” and “conservation.” And rightfully so. First and foremost, CLCV is the political arm of the environment. For nearly four decades, we have worked tirelessly to seek out and endorse environmental champions and then fund and support their campaigns to help them get into office. This has always been a primary part of our mission.

But every now and again we find a candidate who is not only an environmental champion but also demonstrates leadership in another critical piece of our mission: aiding voters. For the special election in Congressional District 36, we’re lucky to have found such a candidate, and it’s none other than Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Secretary Bowen has a long track record of expertise and leadership on the environment. During her fourteen years serving in both houses of the Legislature, Bowen authored bills to protect our coast and restrict offshore oil drilling. She also co-authored four landmark environmental laws including the first bills in California to ever address global warming, environmental justice, and create a renewable portfolio standard. She also aided Senator Alan Lowenthal with his critical legislation to clean-up pollution in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

At a time when Congress is not only lacking environmental leadership but when the majority has become downright hostile towards any attempt to protect open spaces, improve public health, and protect clean air and water, Bowen will be a needed breath of fresh air in Washington.

In fact, if protecting the environment alone was the only reason to send Secretary Bowen to Washington, it would be enough. But electing her to Congress would also add an incredibly important leader in the field of fair elections and open government. While her environmental work has been notable, Secretary Bowen’s single most important piece of legislation was arguably AB 1462, the landmark law that made all of California’s bill information available on the Internet. A voter can easily find out how his or her legislator voted on any piece of legislation because of this bill, so if you’re following any piece of legislation online as it works its way through the California Legislature at the Senate and Assembly websites, you have Debra Bowen to thank for it.

Secretary Bowen also has a record of holding corporations accountable. Bowen was chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee during the height of the infamous Enron scandal. She was one of the lawmakers leading the charge against Kenneth Lay and Enron and investigating their manipulation of the energy market. Only too recently, Massey Energy and BP ignored safety violations that caused unparalleled environmental disasters and cost lives. We need a legislator who is smart, full of integrity, and has a track record of standing up against corrupt and powerful polluters and hold them accountable. We have such a leader in Debra Bowen.

This is why CLCV is thrilled to endorse Debra Bowen for Congress, and why we will do everything we can to make sure Debra Bowen goes to Washington. Join us by committing to support Debra Bowen for Congress here.

Not with a bang.

The condemnation of the current political regime in Sacramento has become nearly universal. The follow T. S. Eliot inspired quote comes from the August/September issue of Connections, a publication of the Peace and Justice Center, Stockton, CA.

This is the way California ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. With a failure of leadership so complete, so total, as to leave the state bereft of hope for its future.

Those were the final words of an opinion piece by Robert Cruickshank from his July 19th post here at Calitics.  


I am not as pessimistic as Robert was in this post, but then maybe he sees more of the intestinal insides of power politics than I do.  I still hold out the hope of a fundamental change that I believe is necessary if the never truly realized dream of California is to have another chance.

It should be clear to all that the frustration with Sacramento politics as usual has essentially gone viral in California. Comb through the comments to OpEds in the opinion pages of any California newspaper from the very Libertarian Orange County Register to San Francisco Chronicle and you need to hack through the resentment with a mental machete, filtering it out to determine if there is any real substance to the comment or just emotion.

We are now ready to got through another long, painful and secretive budget process. Economic recovery has not come to California. If history repeats itself, California will lag the rest of the nation in terms of job creation and that makes it very difficult to be optimistic about revenue projections for the State. It appears that history will also repeat itself in that the real negotiations will take place in secret meetings and then both sides will run to the nearest microphone to sell the result as a victory for their side.

California needs a legislature where there are no backroom deals, where the process of legislative budgeting if fully transparent and open to media and the public, where the education of our children is an assumed responsibility of government, where the care of the ill and dying is not determined by the need to pay executive bonuses, where water is a human right and not a tradeable commodity.

If your legislator is not running to deliver all of the above, then it is time to go in a new direction. Those goals, common to most Californians, define what Green candidates can, and if elected, will deliver. Green candidates who do not accept corporate donations are set free to serve the public rather than their masters.

Cross posted from California Greening.  

California’s Past, California’s Future

Over at Newstalgia, Gordon Skene posted a fascinating echo of the past, from a Jerry Brown address to the state the day after the passage of Prop. 13 in 1978.

The Jerry Brown you hear is in full backpedal mode, telling voters that the message was received, that government spending is a scourge, that “we must look forward to lean and frugal budgets.”  Voters sent a message that they want their taxes cut, and the state will oblige.  Brown offered a hiring freeze for state workers, proposed a round of budget cuts, and endorsed some kind of automatic limit on spending for the future.  He offered a defense of state workers late in the clip, and he asked corporations to pretty-please take the huge windfall they would get by having their property taxes lowered to “invest in the state,” but otherwise, it’s a full-on co-opting of the Jarvis message.

Now, coming the day after passage of Prop. 13, you can argue that Brown was doing what he had to do.  The people really did speak, although they didn’t quite know the consequences of the words they were using, and Brown would have a re-election battle within 5 months, and he had to project a message that he “felt the pain” of those out there who voted to save their homes.

The problem is that this statement is directly analogous to the statement of Darrell Steinberg on May 20, 2009, the day after the special election went down in flames.  Some would obviously ague that he was in the same position as Brown, and did what he had to do as well.  As I said on May 20:

Where is the argument for DEMOCRACY in these statements?  Since 1978 that democracy has crumbled and needs to be completely rebuilt.  Everyone knows this but refuses to say it out loud.  This is why the legislature and the Governor have historically low approval ratings.  People are starved for actual leadership and see none.  Only democracy will save us.  This failed experiment with conservative Two Santa Claus Theories has now become deeply destructive.  Because the democrats have provided no leadership and ceded the rhetorical ground, California public opinion holds the contradictory beliefs that the state should not raise taxes and also not cut spending.  And if it persists without leadership and advocacy to the contrary, nothing will change.

Not once in those 31 intervening years has an argument been offered that leads proudly instead of placates meekly, that tells people about the future instead of the past, that makes stands on principle instead of trying to do the best with the system we have.  That address in 1978 should have been replayed in a loop at every Democratic committee meeting and club event for 31 years, with the inevitable question asked afterward: “Is this a rallying cry?  Is this the voice of a party that presumes to be on the side of the people?  Is this giving people a vision, a dream, even a goal?”

People understand this in their lizard brains.  They can naturally discern the strong and the weak, and gravitate toward the former even if their strength is repulsive.  Since 1978, we have had exactly one other Democratic Governor in California, the kind of guy who signs on to amicus briefs with the Cal Chamber of Commerce defending illegal gubernatorial actions, and he was run out of Sacramento by a radical right movement that considered him too much of a hippie.  (By the way, the modern version of Jerry Brown similarly loves illegal, anti-democratic executive actions, probably because he can’t wait to use them.)

I have always thought that a strong defense of democracy, of the principles of majority rule, of government as a protector and a defender, would be rewarded in the public square.  Instead we muddle through, and people suffer.  I have not taken too much note of this “failure of the California dream” concept – for my money, as long as there were millions in poverty, gated communities and invisible barriers stratifying society, a separate California for the poor, the sick, the aged, then that dream was a good tool for marketers but a destructive proposition to tout.  And while this has never been more true in our unequal society, it was ever thus.  For the dream to be resurrected, it would have to be something fundamentally different.  Not a “dream” of suburban sprawl and excess, but a dream of a society that takes care of one another, that seeks to maximize potential, that provides opportunity and allows individual dreams to take root.  That can only happen in a flowering democracy reflective of the popular will.

I think leaders are emerging.  While I won’t be a part of day-to-day writing of the back and forth of California politics, as a citizen of the state I intend not to abandon it but to do whatever I can to involve myself in a movement toward fulfilling that new dream.  It’s deeply frustrating to analyze the politics of a state surrounded by brick walls to responsible governance at every turn, but paradoxically I think it remains an exciting time to be a progressive in California.  The long march continues.

Half A Loaf Is Not Enough On Prison Reform

George Skelton writes about some of the accomplishments on deck in the next week in the Legislature.  Beyond the renewable energy standard, which would be a solid accomplishment, and water, which really is kind of an unknown, Skelton looks at the prison “reform” bill, where he is both right and wrong.

The goal is threefold: to reform a system that has the worst-in-the-nation recidivism rate — 70% — for inmates released from prison. To begin substantially reducing the overcrowded prison population before federal courts do, as they’ve threatened. And to save the $1.2-billion already slashed from the prison budget on paper, but not in reality.

There apparently will be no compromising with Republicans. They’re having no part of it, playing the law-and-order card as they have for decades — advocating long lockups but opposing any tax increases to pay for the bulging prisons […]

One thing that’s needed, he and other reformers contend, is more education, drug rehab and job training for inmates. Another is a better parole system. A scaled-down bill passed by the Assembly on Monday seeks to encourage the former and achieve the latter […]

Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) are trying to restore much of the Senate version, which also included an independent commission to update California’s sentencing structure. But their problem is Assembly Democrats. Some are scared of being portrayed as a crime softie by a future campaign opponent. Steinberg took a shot at them Tuesday.

“It’s time to say, ‘Come on,’ ” the Senate leader told reporters. “We have a law-and-order Republican governor who is willing to sign a comprehensive package with absolutely essential reforms that protects public safety. It’s time to get real […]

Steinberg and Bass may coax more votes from the skittish Democrats.

But if they can’t, the good-time incentives and parole improvements alone would be worth passing. They’d mark substantial progress toward prison reform.

As I’ve said, the current bill is not a prison reform bill, but a parole reform bill.  The education, treatment and job training encouraged is immediately undercut by the Governor’s slashing of those programs as part of the deal.  And the lack of an independent sentencing commission means that we’re likely to see both increased sentencing laws and increases in the prison population continue, and we’ll all be back here in 10-15 years.

That said, parole reform IS a key element.  Changing the situation where 2/3 of the convicts returned to prison get sentences for technical parole violations is urgently needed.  The Phillip Garrido case is an example of how increased case monitoring on the most serious offenders could have benefits for public safety.  But it does not totally stand in for full reform.  The sentencing commission goes hand-in-hand with fixing parole.

Sentencing commission: In other states, a sentencing commission looks at who is being sent to prison and for how long, and what sentences work best to lower reoffense rates. Sentences are based on the severity of the crime and the offender’s prior record. Instead of a system driven by relatively low-level property and drug offenses, prison sentences are focused primarily on violent and career offenders. The result in other states is that fewer offenders go to state prison, but the offenders who do go to prison are serving longer. For lesser crimes, offenders go to county jail.

Skelton only touches on who’s really to blame for our intransigence on prison reform – those allegedly fiscally responsible Republicans who refuse to bear the costs of their policy desires.  They’ve joined the appeal of the federal judge order to reduce the population by 44,000 on the grounds that their beautiful minds tell them there’s no problem in the system:

State Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster) said the judges had ignored the state’s recent “huge investment” in spending on inmate healthcare, as well as statistics showing that California spends more on healthcare per prisoner, and has a lower mortality rate among them, than many other states.

“We believe there is constitutional care today,” he said. “We believe there always has been.”

If you want the long form of this lie, read Tom Harman.  Either way, it’s just not true.  Inmates have died, around one a week, before a federal receiver was instituted.  Republicans fought the implementation of investing in prison health care, and the continued presence of infirm prisoners based on draconian sentencing laws like three strikes can account for the increased costs.  Republicans typically call for increased rehabilitation and treatment for offenders while cutting the funding.  It’s a shell game.

However, we are well beyond that at this point.  We have a bill that needs only a majority vote.  And Assembly Democrats are petrified of justifying votes they had no problem with as recently as 2007.  By the way, opponents can go back to those votes too, and make the same mailers.  You either can act like you have the courage of your convictions, or not.  Ultimately, the people will pay the price.

Assembly Readies Prison Vote; Will Senate Fight Back Against Gutted “Reform”?

We’ve heard this one before, but the Assembly will apparently vote on a prison “reform” package today, one that does not meet the $1.2 billion in cuts to the overall prison budget the Assembly supported in July, and which excises the sentencing commission that would actually get to the root cause of the overcrowding crisis by reining in 30 years of expanded sentences from the Legislature.  This makes manly tough guy Alberto Torrico very proud, but the Senate may not go along with it, if this SacBee report is any indication:

If the Assembly approves the plan as expected Monday, Steinberg will withhold concurrence in the Senate until several prison-related issues are settled.

“We’re going to wait for a package that includes reform and gets to the budget number that we need,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg wants the Assembly to act on creating a commission to overhaul sentencing guidelines and for the lower house to adopt an alternative custody program that could release, with electronic monitoring, some nonviolent offenders who are aged or infirm, or whose sentences expire in less than a year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the Senate-passed plan, which contains both the sentencing commission and the alternative custody proposals.

The Assembly plan is a parole reform plan.  That’s worthwhile and needed, but it’s not a long-range plan that will prevent the Legislature or a federal court from having to make the same decisions about early release 10 years down the road.  It’s also not a short-range plan, as it cuts $220 million less from the budget than is required and leaves that hole to be dealt with later – with cuts to what?  Education?  Health care?  Maybe the Assembly can explain where they would cut in order to keep the terminally ill or blind people with one leg locked up and on the public dole.

It’s a sad commentary that the Department of Corrections is more committed to advancing reform than the State Assembly.

Last Thursday, the CDCR announced it would close the largest youth prison in California, diverting young offenders to local facilities. This is one of the real reforms our coalition has called for to improve public safety and end wasteful prison spending. As part of the People’s Budget Fix, we have proposed keeping young offenders at the local level, closing all six of the costly and ineffective youth prisons, and diverting half of the budget currently spent on these prisons to local programs. If fully implemented, this reform would save $200 million a year.

Closing the largest youth prison is an excellent start which will save $30-40 million by the CDCR’s estimate. But we’ll need to do more if we’re going to come up with $1.2 billion in savings. The need for action could not be more urgent: we must find those savings in the Corrections’ budget to avoid more draconian cuts to education, health care and other public safety programs like domestic violence shelters and drug treatment programs.

Moreover, most Californians agree we need to cut wasteful prison spending. Polls show that most Californians think we should cut the Corrections budget and we should protect funding for education. Most Californians also agree that prison should be reserved for violent offenders, not people who commit petty offenses.

Yet, the Assembly cannot agree on what seems like common sense to the rest of us: people who commit low-level crimes like petty theft and simple drug possession should be punished on the local level, not in prison cells at a cost of nearly $50,000 per person per year. It shocks the conscience that Assembly Members were willing to vote for billions of dollars of cuts to education-the most important program to average Californians-but are afraid to cut wasteful prison spending by even a fraction of that.

Interestingly enough, Noreen Evans, the Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, wrote an impassioned piece arguing in favor of the Senate’s prison package.  As part of the Assembly leadership, she’s likely to fall in line today.  But she recognizes that the political considerations driving this debate are pretty outrageous.  It’s hard to argue with Dan Walters’ assessment that this episode shows how nobody in the legislature, on either side of the aisle, has earned much of a right to object to the howls and disapprobation from throughout the state.  The Senate could lead the way, at least on this issue, and force the Assembly wobblers, terrified of their own voters, to knuckle under.

Stay tuned.

Don’t Expect A Broken Government To Yield An Unbroken Result

So the modest prison reform deal between legislative leaders and the Governor stalled out in the Assembly last night, and the chamber adjourned for the weekend.  Not enough Democrats could be convinced to support the deal, particularly the ones with designs on statewide office or in perceived swing districts.

Let’s explain right away what this says about the broken legislative process in Sacramento.  It’s infuriating that the bill was rushed to the floor without the votes on the Assembly side and without any kind of education campaign to explain the stakes to the public.  Federal judges will release 44,000 prisoners.  We can either do it smartly or stupidly.  There is no other choice.

We knew that $1.2 billion in prison budget cuts had to be allocated for a month.  This plan was, in fact, pretty much in place for a month.  Did anyone in leadership say a word about it?  Did they whip their caucus?  Did they explain that without this, a federal judge will use a potentially haphazard process to release prisoners without any reforms, and even if the legislature tries to shift the blame, THEY WILL BE BLAMED ANYWAY because citizens habitually view the legislature as the source of most of the state’s troubles?

Instead, the debate gets ruled by Yacht Party misinformation:

Sen. John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, spoke in favor of shutting down some juvenile jails instead of freeing inmates since the population of younger offenders has dropped. “It’s a shame we’re doing this in such a hurry,” he said.

And Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, spoke out for cutting rehabilitation money rather than letting prisoners out. “The immediate safety of the public must take precedence,” she said.

Not only does it do that (overcrowding has led to the lack of space for rehabilitation and treatment programs and the nation’s highest recidivism rate, which leads to additional needless crime), but the package put together by the legislature WOULD do that.  Schwarzenegger’s line-item reductions as part of this deal would cut $180 million in rehab and treatment programs, which is completely insane.  That said, the sentencing commission that would come to fruition in this bill is quite important, and those Democrats in the Assembly holding it up are rank cowards who don’t have no belief in the value of their own ideas.  Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod does:

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod said, “Do you all live in a parallel world?” She said federal authorities that have found California prisons too overcrowded are going to use their power to release prisoners and that it would be preferable for the state to have control over that process.

“I trump each and everyone of you with children and grandchildren. And you know what? I’m not scared,” she said, referring to several GOP senators’ references to how they feared for their children’s safety.

Still, in the end this is a process problem.  The backroom dealmaking made by legislative leaders who have no sway over their caucuses leads to embarrassing results like this.  The power of special interests leads to calculations that changes must be made in the dead of night, and the power of money in politics means that fear can rule over hope.  Individual cowardly lawmakers in thrall to Tough On Crime thinking led us down this road, but a broken government certainly keeps us there.  And it’s not, as this shows, just about 2/3.

…I’m hearing that “Crime Victims United,” a front group for the prison guard’s union which has never received one donation from anyone else, claimed sex offenders would get early release despite being exempted specifically in the bill.  They out and out lied, and would have done so in ads in lawmakers’ districts.  Crime Victims United should be investigated by the FPPC and disbanded.  They’re an astroturf group using fear and falsehoods to shield a protected class from having to give back their largesse from the state treasury.  Ultimately, this is about cowardice on the part of lawmakers, but the influence of money plays a big role.

The Stakes Of The Upcoming Prison Policy Fight

At the Netroots Nation panel (and a quick thanks to everyone who attended, and the panelists, and Dan Walters for noticing), I identified two short-term fights that are worth engaging.  One consists of playing defense – stopping the Parsky Commission from instituting a Latvia-ization of California through eliminating business taxes and flattening the income tax.  The other short-term fight concerns the $1.2 billion dollars in cuts to the prison budget, identified in the July budget agreement but not clarified on the specifics until the Legislature returns to work this week.  We are starting to see some organizing around that, with human rights and civil liberties leaders massing on the Capitol Steps today to promote sound prison reform instead of just lopping off all rehabilitation and treatment programs for the overcrowded corrections system and calling it a day.  Leland Yee, Nancy Skinner, Jim Beall and Tom Ammiano, who just replaced indie Juan Arambula as chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, will speak.  So we have a sympathetic ear on one of the key committees.

About a week back, Laura Sullivan produced an NPR report describing the devolution of the corrections system in California, using Johnny Cash’s historic concert at Folsom Prison as a launching pad:

The morning that Cash played may have been the high-water mark for Folsom – and for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The men in the cafeteria lived alone in their own prison cells. Almost every one of them was in school or learning a professional trade. The cost of housing them barely registered on the state budget. And when these men walked out of Folsom free, the majority of them never returned to prison.

It was a record no other state could match.

Things have changed. California’s prisons are all in a state of crisis. And nowhere is this more visible than at Folsom today.

Folsom was built to hold 1,800 inmates. It now houses 4,427.

It’s once-vaunted education and work programs have been cut to just a few classes, with waiting lists more than 1,000 inmates long.

Officers are on furlough. Its medical facility is under federal receivership. And like every other prison in the state, 75 percent of the inmates who are released from Folsom today will be back behind bars within three years.

In addition to having a solid education, transportation and medical system in the early post-war period, California’s prisons were once the envy of the nation, too.  Then the Tough On Crime crowd got a hold of the levers of power, produced 1,000 laws expanding sentences over 30 years, pushed the public to do the same through ballot initiatives, increased parole sanctions, and the system just got swamped.  In the early 1980s we had 20,000 prisoners.  Now it’s 170,000.  The overcrowding decimates rehabilitation, sends nonviolent offenders into what amounts to a college for violent crime, violates prisoner rights by denying proper medical care, and increases costs at every point along the way.  Sullivan argues that much of this goes back to the prison guard’s union.

In three decades, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has become one of the most powerful political forces in California. The union has contributed millions of dollars to support “three strikes” and other laws that lengthen sentences and increase parole sanctions. It donated $1 million to Wilson after he backed the three strikes law.

And the result for the union has been dramatic. Since the laws went into effect and the inmate population boomed, the union grew from 2,600 officers to 45,000 officers. Salaries jumped: In 1980, the average officer earned $15,000 a year; today, one in every 10 officers makes more than $100,000 a year.

Sullivan uncovered a front group PAC called Crime Victims United of California that has received every one of their donations from the CCPOA.  By seeding “victim’s rights” groups and enabling more stringent sentencing laws, the CCPOA mainly benefits from the overtime needed for their officers to properly house 170,000 prisoners in cells designed for 100,000.  70% of the prison budget pays salaries.  5% goes to education and vocational programs.  And that’s the part of the budget being cut.

It only costs her about $100,000 to run these programs – not even a blip in a $10 billion-a-year prison budget. But, says Bracy, the programs are always the first to go. Sometimes she almost feels like giving up.

“It’s just not cost-effective to throw men and women in prison and then do nothing with them,” she said. “And shame on us for thinking that’s safety. It’s not public safety. You lock them up and do nothing with them. They go out not even equal to what they came in but worse.”

The numbers bear that out, with 90,000 inmates returning to California’s prisons every year.

But compare that to the Braille program here at Folsom. Inmates are learning to translate books for the blind. In 20 years, not a single inmate who has been part of the program has ever returned to prison. This year, the program has been cut back to 19 inmates.

Meanwhile, the Schwarzenegger Administration is about to use federal money to increase funding for anti-drug units, which will actually send more nonviolent drug offenders to prison at a time when federal judges have mandated the reduction of the population by 44,000.

This is insanity.  But members of the political class, for the most part, still want to be seen as daddy protectors, and will gladly institute the exact same failed policies that have thrown the system into crisis.

We have a moment here, with $1.2 billion in mandated cuts, to create legitimate policies that can both cut costs and reduce the prison population while actually making the state safer.  The recent Chino prison riot has led editorialists to come out for sensible prison policies, understanding the connection between stuffing hundreds of thousands of people into modified public storage units and the potential for unrest.

Jean Ross argued on our panel that lawmakers will probably pass the buck and let the judicial branch take the heat for any individual consequences to early release.  That would be a mistake, particularly if in the process, they jettison the founding of an independent sentencing commission that would finally address the runaway sentencing laws at the heart of the crisis.  The clock is ticking on whether we will have any leadership on this issue, as a report is demanded by the federal judges in mid-September.  This is an organizing opportunity, a chance to show an ossified political class that we care about more than just being Tough On Crime.

CA-10: An Interview With Anthony Woods

The race in CA-10 for the seat vacated by Ellen Tauscher features three lawmakers with long resumes at the state level.  And then there’s Anthony Woods, a young man with no prior history in elected office, but festooned with what Benjy Sarlin of The Daily Beast called the best political resume ever.  Woods is an African-American product of a single mother who found his way to West Point and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  He is a two-time Iraq war platoon leader who returned all of his men home safely and received the Bronze Star.  He is someone who, after returning home, was dismissed from the Army for challenging its Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  But politicians don’t vote with their resumes.  They must have the conviction to vote with their principles.  I actually conducted the first interview with Woods back in April, and since then others have taken notice.  So I thought I’d return to Woods and ask him about some of the key issues facing the Congress in the coming months.  A paraphrased transcript of the conversation, executed last Wednesday, is below.

DD: Thanks for talking to me today.

Anthony Woods: No problem, thank you.

DD: So how’s it going on the campaign trail?

AW: You know, it’s really exciting.  We’re reaching that point where we’re really building some critical mass.  As you know, I did pretty well in the last fundraising quarter, we’re going to have enough money to compete with some experienced lawmakers.  The Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund just endorsed me, which is very exciting and shows their commitment to this campaign.  We just had a great grand opening of our office with 50 volunteers from across the area.  I’m holding a town hall meeting in Fairfield (this already happened -ed.) coming up and we’re really starting to see a path for this to happen.  It’s great.

DD: OK, well let’s start with the biggest issue on everyone’s minds right now and that’s health care.  The way it’s looking, if you’re elected you might get a vote on this.  What are your principles for this debate, and how would you like it to go.

AW: Well, I’ve been getting more concerned every day.  At first, I was thinking that Congress gets it.  They’re going to do something to deal with the health care crisis in this country that I see talking to folks every day.  But as we get into it, they’re moving further and further away.  First of all, they should have started the conversation at single payer so that if they had to move to the center they would have been coming from a better place.  What we have are two issues: access and cost.  Clearly the system right now is broken on both fronts.  50 million people go without health insurance and the costs are skyrocketing.  And the Congressional effort looks to be falling short.  I’m very concerned that there may be no public option.

DD: OK, so will you take a stand right now and say that if the bill before you has no public option that’s available the day it’s introduced, you won’t vote for it?

AW: I don’t know if I’d exactly go that far, but here’s what I would say.  I think there has to be a public option that’s efficient and effective.  And if the Democrats have some bold leadership, they can do it and do it right.  What we need is some competition in the individual marketplace.  If people have to buy insurance, we have to give them a choice that’s affordable.  So that’s my first priority.  And if the bill before me doesn’t have that, yeah, I’d have trouble voting for it.

DD: You say it’s about bold leadership, OK.  Right now, about 90% of all private insurers offer abortion coverage as part of their health care plans.  If a public option is supposed to compete with the private insurance market, doesn’t it have to offer the same kind of baseline coverage that private insurers offer, especially if they are legal medical services?

AW: I think so.  I am pro-choice, and I don’t believe in limiting the right to choose.  And if you’re giving someone health insurance who has had trouble affording it, if they have to make the difficult choice to get an abortion, they need the same kind of resources that you could get on the private market.  So I would agree with that.

DD: OK.  I want to talk about the F-22.  As you know, the Senate just voted down funding for additional funding for F-22 fighters that were designed for the Cold War and have never been used in Iraq or Afghanistan and are apparently vulnerable to rain.  What’s your reaction to that, and then I want to get into the military budget more generally.

AW: I support stripping the funding.  My view is that if the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President all say we don’t need them, we probably don’t.  And regardless of the impact on jobs, we should listen to that.  I think we need in procurement a short-term view and a long-term view.  We should obviously be prepared to defend the country, but we should be prudent with those funds, because it is real money.

DD: The F-22 funding and some other funding may stop, but the military budget will increase this year.  And we still spend more on military activities than any other country on Earth combined.  How can we continue to do that, isn’t it unsustainable?

AW: My deployments in Iraq taught me that the military cannot be the solution to all of our problems overseas.  Because we have this mindset currently, we’ve created a situation where the military is providing resources that other agencies could provide.  We shouldn’t have the Defense Department doing the work of the State Department or NGOs or US AID.  I think if we shift some of that burden, it will actually make the troops safer, because we can focus resources on protecting them and providing them the equipment they need, instead of making the military the sole solution to every problem overseas.

DD: I want to tell you about a story I saw in the Wall Street Journal.  It showed that the top 1% of wage earners in this country, the executives, the wealthy, are now earning 35% of all compensation.  How do you react to that?

AW: Wow.  That says a lot.  You know, these are tough times, and when you see a tiny fraction like that benefiting from the resources of this county, I think it says that they need to sacrifice.  We’re in a situation where we implemented tax cuts in the middle of a war.  We’re trying to figure out how to pay for health care.  And the top 1%, they’re doing pretty well.  I think we need some shared sacrifice.

DD: Why do you think it’s so difficult for Democrats to simply say what you just said in that way?  Even the surtax they’ve come up with in the House to pay for health care is getting dismissed.  Why can’t we just make the case that America is worth paying for, especially for those who use the public commons so much?

AW: I really think it starts with people who are willing to say that.  And it’s why I want to be there representing this community in Washington.  My opponents are mostly the same politicians who we keep sending to Washington again and again, and I think we need someone who isn’t afraid to say that, you know, the country has provided a lot to a small group of people, and they should give a little bit back.

DD: OK, let’s move on.  The foreclosure crisis is still hitting California hard, and so far the solutions that have come from Congress hasn’t worked.  What are some of your ideas to keep people in their homes?

AW: This is something I hear about from people every day when I’m campaigning.  In California, we had a moratorium on foreclosures for a while, and I think that’s part of the equation, but if you don’t provide loan modifications for people, eventually that’s not going to be enough.  The immediate crisis we have is that people are losing their homes, so we need to make the necessary adjustments to allow people to refinance.  After that immediate crisis, I think we have to clean up the regulatory environment, both in the mortgage market and also in banking.

DD: I’ve heard an interesting proposal called “right-to-rent,” where people facing foreclosure can pay rent on the home for a number of years, they get to stay where they are, the banks have a revenue stream and don’t have to deal with a blighted property, and the community gains from not having foreclosed properties on their block.  What do you think of that?

AW: Sounds good.  A lot of people are suffering right now.  And it’s traumatic to uproot yourself and have to leave your community, to have your kids leave schools.  So anything that keeps folks in homes and communities sounds like a smart idea to me.  It’s certainly better than what we’re doing.

DD: But how do we institute something like that when the banks, in the words of Dick Durbin, “own the place”?

AW: That’s a tough problem.  You know, the healthiest banks right now are the ones who separated investment and lending.  And I think that most people I meet are frustrated to see the banks get us to this point.  They want common-sense regulatory solutions to change that environment.  I think the banks will have a real problem on their hands if they keep pushing and pushing, and people don’t see a change in their daily lives while the banks rake in tons of money.

DD: OK, but what’s the theory of change?  How do we get all this done?  When you have a situation where special interests rule and campaign contribution money means more than constituents, how can we fight for progressive outcomes in a Congress that appears to care more about the next election?

AW: Well, I think we have to elect people who are accountable to the ones who sent them.  For me, I will give as much access to everyday people as possible, and let them shape my agenda rather than special interests and lobbyists.  And I think we need to elect more people who have this philosophy.  We’re going to have to do it one representative at a time.  And I think that’s one of the reasons why my campaign is taking off.  We cannot expect different results with the same politicians dealing with the same problems year after year.  So I don’t know if we can deal with everything at once, but we’ll have to do it one representative at a time.

DD: OK, last question.  Obviously, here in California, we’re looking at a terrible budget and lots of structural problems.  What can be done at the federal level to perhaps help the state out of this mess?

AW: Well, just looking at the state budget deal, it’s basically more of the same.  There’s a crisis of leadership in Sacramento, and it produced a budget full of accounting tricks that just kick the can down the road.  It’s clear that the system is broken, and that’s why I’d prefer a Constitutional convention and at the least getting rid of the 2/3 rule for budgets.  California is such an important economy, it’s a big chunk of the country, and when we aren’t doing well, the country suffers.  At the federal level, I think we need smart investment.  The state is a donor state, it doesn’t get back in funds what it pays in taxes.  So I’d like to help reduce that.  And also, we can take advantage of the resources and opportunities in California.  This state has the chance to be a new energy leader, through wind and solar.  And so I’d like to see those kinds of smart investments in California.

DD: Do you support a second stimulus, focused on state fiscal stabilization funds to save those jobs that rely on state spending?

AW: I think we’re having a hard time distributing the funds from the first stimulus.  So I think we have to give it some time to work.  But we are definitely at a crisis point in this state, I see it every day, so I think we need to monitor the situation.  And we have to make sure there’s a safety net in place for the people of California.

DD: OK, great, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

AW: Thank you.