A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Look, Dad, I'm famous!

A short post: It looks like a picture of me handing out "No on 1A" stickers last Sunday is in today's Chronicle on page B5 — "B" as in Babylon, of course.

To save all three of this blog's readers from the trouble of heading over to the corner of Park Street and Santa Clara avenue to buy themselves a copy, I'll direct you to the image here. It's part of a barely-related story about the state budget woes.

And yes, I called my Dad (and Mom) to tell them about it. Though the main reason for the call was to wish him a Happy Birthday…

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My "No" Endorsement on Propositions 1A-1F

I send out an occasional email to folks I know locally and around California before election time who might not read this blog. Without further ado, this is the core of a message I sent out yesterday:

You probably have already received your information and ballots, and probably some mailings as well about Propositions 1A -- especially 1A -- as well as 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, and 1F.

My super-condensed recommendation: JUST SAY NO. Please vote, definitely, but I'd be just as happy if you voted NO on every one -- well, especially 1A.

But you probably want a bit more detail and perspective and nuance, especially because you are going to be seeing and reading impassioned arguments on both sides of the issue over the days and weeks to come.

First off, who is behind these propositions? It's our state legislators - a democratic majority held hostage by a republican minority to trying to reach 2/3 majority to pass a budget for the state. Year after year, they have a horrible time keeping the state running because, to paraphrase my state Senator (I think it was her), "It's hard to make a deal with somebody who doesn't care about the outcome." These propositions were their Faustian bargain in order to get a budget passed and prevent the state government from shutting down a few months ago. So there is immense pressure by most of the legislators, and Governor Schwarzenegger, to pass this. (I should note that our local representatives, Assemblymember Sandré Swanson and Senator Loni Hancock are, bravely, standing in opposition to most other Democrats on this issue.)

The reason these propositions -- especially Proposition 1A, the main one -- are a bad idea is that they are a SHORT-TERM FIX with LONG-TERM DAMAGE to our constitution.

You will probably be getting a lot of pleas to pass these propositions from advocacy groups, especially education groups, saying that we must pass these or terrible things will happen. (I should point out that educators are actually quite split on the issue -- the California Teachers Association (CTA) is for 1A; the California Federation of Teachers and the California Faculty Association are against it.) We are indeed at a precipice but unfortunately with these temporary revenues (starting in two years!) comes a permanent spending cap on state services.

The League of Women Voters says that "this measure would only make things worse." I couldn't agree more. These ballot measures only fix a symptom rather than the fundamental underlying problem. Colorado implemented something like this in 1992 and has suffered greatly because of it.

In the weeks up to the Democratic Convention last week, the state legislators put tremendous pressure on delegates to get the Democratic Party to endorse these measures. Delegates have been deluged with emails, letters and circulars, and personal or robo-phone calls from our party leadership, begging us to endorse their compromise. But it didn't work. The grassroots know better. The party couldn't reach the required number of votes to show a party consensus on Proposition 1A and several others.

I am hoping that with the Republican party (except for Schwarzenegger) in opposition to 1A, and the Democratic Party not taking a position, that this measure and most of the other ones can be defeated, which just means that our representatives in Sacramento will have to continue to fight for a long-term solution. There will still be a lot of money spent on both sides, with most of the Pro-1A funding coming from the aforementioned CTA along with Schwarzenegger's PAC, the billionaire owner of Univision TV, and Chevron, for example. (Hmmm....)

So here is the breakdown on the propositions:

1A - A state spending cap. This is the poison pill that has to go along with 1B. If this passes we are in deep, deep trouble.

1B - Education funding. Looks good but here's the trick - it only goes into effect if Proposition 1A passes. So the Democratic Party came out in support of 1B, but as a symbolic gesture only. Some people are voting "yes" strategically so that if, worst-case, Proposition 1A were to pass, at least we'd get the short-term benefit. I'm inclined to "just say no" to the whole process.

1C - Sells bonds for education backed by lottery revenues. This one did get the nod from the Democratic Party though just barely, which I think is a shame. I agree with one opponent of this who said "balancing the budget on the backs of those who play the lottery is despicable and shameful."

1D, 1E - diverting funding for childhood services and mental health services. This has been described as robbing Peter to pay Paul. The amount of revenue this would save is trivial in any case.

1F - a time-waster initiative that will probably pass because it sounds like a good idea. This blocks pay raises for state officials if the budget is showing a deficit. Sounds like an OK idea on the surface, which is probably why it's doing so well in the polls. I really don't care one way or another if it passes. The Democratic party came out strongly in favor of it despite its many flaws for (as I see it) public relations purposes.

If you are interested in more, check out Calitics, a respected California political blog, which has a really good run-down of these measures, with much more analysis than I can muster.


And here are the LWV's positions:

But feel free to ask me if you have any thoughts or questions. I'm by no means the expert on this whole thing, but I talked to a lot of people on both sides of these ballot measures, so maybe I can help you come to a decision for your vote.

And as always, feel free to forward this missive along to your friends and neighbors.

Monday, April 27, 2009

CA Democratic Convention Wrap-Up

Back from the weekend's California Democratic Convention, and with a good night's sleep behind me, I thought I would post my recap of the event. But first, the one-word executive summary: SUCCESS!

I came to the convention with high hopes for a number of candidates and issues. In earlier posts I talked about my positions on the candidates, specifically my endorsements of Karen Bernal for chair of the Progressive Caucus and Karen Weinstein for the Women's Caucus; my endorsement (along with a bunch of volunteering, even with the kids helping) for Hilary Crosby for Controller of the party, and my hopes to block a party endorsement of 1A and its little sisters.

When Karen Bernal easily won her race on Friday evening, I started a running gag with fellow progressive delegate (and issues chair of the City of Alameda Democratic Club) Mark Briggs: "One down, three to go." Saturday morning, after a dreadfully early 7:30 AM convening of the Women's caucus, we found the Karen Weinstein and in fact her entire slate that ran on the platform that the caucus should actually do something, all but swept the results. (One position ended up in a tie and I never found the final result.) I held up the number two (which, coincidentally, could be interpreted as "peace" or "victory", but I digress).

I should mention that most of my time Friday and Saturday was alternating between helping with Hilary Crosby's campaign and opposing proposition 1A, along with attending meetings and watching speeches from the main hall. I barely had a chance to rest or eat — when I took a walk and quiet lunch break finally on Saturday, I hadn't eaten a proper meal since the previous lunch!

Saturday evening I attended the "Red to Blue" dinner rather than the official Party's dinner banquet. It was attended by grassroots Dems whom I've known from the Howard Dean days as well as John Edwards campaign events. Howard Dean himself was there, first mingling and then giving a short but well-received speech. Following were awards presented to local "red county" congressional candidates (including the victorious Jerry McNerney). The speeches were heartfelt and received warm ovations — but when Hilary Crosby came up to the podium to announce that she'd just gotten the results, and that she had won the controller's race, the room erupted in cheers that dwarfed the earlier applause. She had won by 54% but it seemed like nearly 100% of the people in the room were her supporters or volunteers who spent hours making phone calls to fellow delegates (rather than her opponent's robo-calls), preparing campaign materials, and working the convention floor over the last two days.

"That's three."

Sunday, I spent the entire morning talking to fellow delegates and passing out anti-1A stickers that a small group of us in the area had designed and printed ourselves, alongside other folks who were handing out pro-1A stickers (We played nice) and other anti-1A groups. We had already distributed a couple of thousand bright orange informational "Why Proposition 1A is a Bad Idea" flyers on Saturday; now it was down to the final push. I had to take a break to go see Howard Dean and Debra Bowen speak, but otherwise it was non-stop trying to get people to show their support for blocking the party's endorsement of this proposition and help convince people who were on the fence.

When I saw the chairwoman of the resolutions committee up on stage, I knew it was time to go take my seat so I could vote. And after impassioned arguments from both sides of the issue (who care about the same things at the end of the day, which made it hard for many to grasp the issue), it came time to vote. These endorsement votes, designed to capture a sense of the party's consensus, require a 60% majority to pass. And 1A managed to get … 58%. I don't have the actual counts but we managed to block the endorsement by something like 22 or 26 votes. We managed to prevent the Democratic Party from endorsing Proposition 1A. And with the Republican party opposing it (yes, politics makes strange bedfellows), we may be able to prevent it from succeeding at the polls.

"That's four."

The other measures had some fights, but the results were pretty much what I expected. Proposition 1B, which brought education funding, easily got the party endorsement, though it's symbolic only because it would only go into effect if the damaging Proposition 1A were to pass. Proposition 1C's endorsement passed, which I'm not too happy about, but then again, I despise the entire way that the lottery ("taxation for the poor") is tied to our education budget. (One speaker argued "balancing the budget on the backs of those who play the lottery is despicable and shameful," which sums it up for me.) 1D and 1E failed to achieve an endorsement. Finally, Proposition 1F, a weak incentive to legislators to balance the budget, is clearly a measure designed to pander to the voting masses. I started out opposed to the measure, but the speakers in favor of it had some very convincing arguments that it would essentially be good public relations for the Democratic Party to come out in favor of reform, especially because it is polling so well. Most delegates ended up agreeing, and its endorsement passed overwhelmingly. What-ever.....

So all in all, a successful (and enjoyable) convention!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pre-Convention #3: Just Say No to Propositions 1A-1F

The California Democratic Convention, starting tomorrow, will have the most fireworks when it comes to the upcoming Propositions 1A-1F in the upcoming election. I predict that it will be a battle between the MACHINE and the GRASSROOTS for the soul of the CA Democratic Party.

Here's the deal: The Democrats in the California Legislature, as a way to compromise the minority rule of the Republican Party, have teamed up with the Republicans to write Propositions 1A through 1F, and then heavily promote them as a way to solve our state's budget crisis. Only this "solution" is not going to actually solve anything in the long term.

Most Democratic activists know this. Democratic clubs around the state (including our own City of Alameda Democratic Club) have rejected these propositions and are urging a NO vote. But most of the political insiders — almost all State Senators and Assemblymembers except, well, ours (Loni Hancock and Sandré Swanson) plus a few brave others, are pushing at the delegates to help the Democratic Party, when it meets this weekend, officially endorse these measures.

These propositions are a nightmare. They are a Republican's Wet Dream. They are the Democratic Party selling their souls to the Republicans. They are a wedge designed to split the party (1B sounds enticing, but it can only pass if 1A passes).

As a delegate, I've been bombarded with flyers and emails over the last couple of weeks from so-called progressive electeds. Mark Leno, Karen Bass, Jerry Brown, and others are trying their darndest to get us, the grassroots, to support their compromise.

I understand their "hands tied" position, but the reality is, if these propositions pass, the legislature's hands will be welded down, almost permanently. It's horrible that we are placed in this position where Democrats are pushing for permanent spending caps.

Fortunately there are are groups who are opposed to it. The League of Women Voters has come out strongly against 1A and most of its sisters:
The League would support real budget reform, but we regretfully conclude that this measure would only make things worse.

Bob Burnett writes in the Huffington Post:
It's clear that California's Democratic legislators were between the proverbial rock and a hard place and tried to do the best they could. But that's no excuse. It's not enough to put a temporary budget fix in place. The fundamental problem needs to be addressed.

At the convention this weekend, if the grassroots can resist the pressure from Democratic leadership to go along with this Faustian bargain, maybe we can defeat this horrible band-aid, and come up with a long-term solution that actually works.

By the way, I want to just express how fortunate I feel that we are represented here in the State Legislator by Hancock and Swanson. I haven't agreed with everything they have said or done, but in this case, they are sticking their necks out for what's right, and not caving into pressure or even retaliation for their principles.

I'll have more to say on these measures as we get closer to the election. But in case it's not clear yet: Please vote NO on the special election ballot measures, especially NO on 1A, the "lynchpin" of them all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Convention Update: Caucuses PLUS Equal Pay Day in Alameda

I was going to write about the caucuses at the California Democratic Convention, specifically the women's caucus, and propitiously as I entered Julie's Coffee and Tea Garden this morning (from where I write this) I noticed a prominent sign in the window announcing "Equal Pay Day" (link to PDF flyer) in Alameda, coming Tuesday April 28, a week from today. The goal of the day is to highlight that "on average, women are still paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men for the same position."

Although the numbers aren't the same, this reminds me of these lyrics from Laurie Anderson's "Beautiful Red Dress" from the late eighties:

OK! OK! Hold it!
I just want to say something.
You know, for every dollar a man makes
a woman makes 63 cents.
Now, fifty years ago that was 62 cents.
So, with that kind of luck, it'll be the year 3,888
before we make a buck.

Anyhow, that day features discounts for women from businesses all around Alameda, but more importantly, it raises awareness of an issue that just doesn't go away. Men and women around the island are asked to wear RED that day to help raise awareness.

So what does that have to do with this weekend's California Democratic Convention?

My friend Karen Weinstein is running for chair of the Women's Caucus of the Party. She's currently Political Development chair of the caucus, and is one of Alameda County's elected representatives to the Democratic Party. She's a 2008 alumna of EMERGE. And she's an amazingly dedicated activist.

She is running on the platform that the Women's Caucus should be a great opportunity for activism regarding Women's issues, but that the current leadership is just not taking enough leadership. A bit over a year ago, for instance, progressive members of the caucus managed to introduce and pass a resolution censuring Dianne Feinstein for her Republican-like stances on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment and her support for Mukasey as Attorney General. This was against the leadership of the caucus. I've heard several stories like this.

Karen has been racking up endorsements, notably from the California branch of the National Women's Political Caucus. She will have my support and my vote at the convention. (Yes, men can be members of the Women's caucus - it's about women's issues, not a club for women.)

I've also been a member of the Progressive Caucus, almost from its inception. (I unfortunately missed the first meeting of the group, before it was officially recognized by the party. Some of the grassroots-vs.-Party-establishment fireworks that happened in that meeting have become legen....wait for it ...dary. Anyhow, for some reason the North vs. South co-chair sharing of leadership in that caucus is in jeopardy (Hmm, sounds like the party vice-chair issue I mentioned yesterday!) and if that change in leadership structure happens, I am supporting Karen Bernal for the leadership of that caucus. Actually, I'm hoping that this change in structure doesn't happen, at which point I don't know what will happen.

Ah, politics.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Democratic Convention Preview: Candidate Positions

I realized recently that I had neglected to post the good news here, that although I narrowly missed being elected delegate to the California Democratic Party, I managed to snag an appointment by representative Sandré Swanson. All of our local state and federal elected officials have a few slots for delegate appointments, so I'm grateful to have had this opportunity to continue my quest.

The 2009 California Democratic Convention is coming up in less than a week, and it's looking to be a busy, exciting event — much more so than last year's perhaps because there was so much emphasis on the two-person Presidential Primary race (which, by then, I had lost interest in).

Each year is quite different. This year, most of the hubbub will be about the elected offices of the state party itself. I've been following the races closely, and though my analysis and position won't mean much to many readers, I feel it's important to express my thoughts to those few readers who may be delegates, and also to help people in the general public understand the issues.

The race that is most important to me is the race for controller of the Party. HIlary Crosby is running against incumbent Eric Bradley, and I have been working on her campaign by placing phone calls to fellow delegates across the state to spread the word. (When a delegate personally calls a delegate, it's usually welcomed, unlike political calls made to the general public.) Hilary is "one of us" - a grassroots activists whom I've known for several years. She's a CPA, so she really knows money, and she's been working with groups like Take Back Red California and California Democratic Council to train treasurers of local Democratic clubs across the state, a program which she can continue in all 58 counties if elected. Her opponent is more of an "insider" and while he is a good fundraiser, he's not a financial professional.

Interestingly, Hilary's opposition to him has "changed the conversation" in a big way. The things that Hilary says are important are now things that Bradley says are important too, as soon as he's re-elected. I'm sorry, but we are a lot smarter than that; you can't be an incumbent and run on a platform of changing the system — you are the system. Anyhow, Hilary has been racking up endorsements across the state from clubs, individuals, and elected officials. And she just got an endorsement from the national group Democracy for America, which is a big deal!

The vice-chair positions have gotten jumbled around a bit. Previously there was a Northern California and Southern California vice chair — a good idea since our halves of the state are so different — but for some bizarre reason they changed it to one Male and one Female vice chair. If we had some issue with gender participation, it might, but the CDP does not have an issue. We currently have two women in that position (Alexandra "Alex" Gallardo-Rooker from Southern California, and Alicia Wang from Northern California). Now they are running against each other! In any case, I've heard both of them speak several times, and I'm much more impressed by Alicia Wang so I'll be supporting her. Considering that Rooker has recently teamed up with Eric Bradley, sending out disingenuous messages about a need for change, my support for Ms. Wang has just gotten stronger.

As far as the Male Vice Chair goes, I've heard a lot of good things about Eric Bauman (a former candidate for the chair — more on that later) but I"m keeping an open mind; apparently he does have an opponent but I have not heard much about him.

As far as the Chair of the party goes? Well there initially was a healthy contest, with two or three candidates. But for reasons I don't quite understand, all of the candidates dropped out after State Senator John Burton got into the race. Apparently he's just unstoppable. And that's what worries me. He's a huge political machine — as one friend said, he's "Don Perata Squared." Shudder.

So as a throwaway "protest" vote, I am endorsing Chris Finnie, a late entrant to the race who is a grassroots activist, and, unfortunately, a total long shot. She is a true grassroots activist who actually has some really compelling plans. I know her chances of winning are nil, but I just can't stand for these Cuban style election farces, and that's what this race is. I wish it had been an opportunity to choose the most qualified candidate instead of a juggernaut.

In my next post I'll talk about the upcoming state propositions, which will be a big topic at the convention.