Bill Whalen

 

The big news out of Washington last week: the swift resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – a lickety-split split from the Obama Administration in that the news was dropped late on Thursday, followed the next day by a goodbye ceremony at the White House, at which time her replacement was introduced.

Sebelius’ departure is the classic Washington whodunit. Did she leave on her own accord, as do many a cabinet secretary in a second presidential term? Or, now that Obamacare can claim its 7 million signees, was the head of HHS a pre-Easter sacrificial lamb for those who’ve been calling for her head?

(Appropriate for the manager of the Obama Administration’s troubled healthcare law, even her farewell remarks had a noticeable glitch)

Here’s yet another way to look at life after Sebelius: it’s the question of justice – spelled with both a lower- and upper-case “j”.

As for lower-case justice, the argument here is the resignation is months overdue. Sebelius could have/should have stepped down sometime around last Halloween, right after Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander called for her to resign, seconding 32 House Republicans calling for the same. Alexander’s not exactly a bomb-thrower. Instead, he offered a very reasonable rationale: as HHS Secretary, it was Sebelius’ responsibility to oversee the rollout of the new federal health insurance website – a techno-blunder that Sebelius would later try to brush off as “miserably frustrating”.

But Washington being Washington – no culture of shame, no one walking the gangplank unless the ship’s already sinking – Sebelius didn’t step down. At least, not for another five-plus half months.

Not exactly justice denied, but certainly justice delayed.

As for upper-case justice, that would be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose future isn’t a whodunit. It’s a “when’s-she-gonna-do-it?”.

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Bill Whalen

 

As chance would have it, I attended a mixer on Wednesday night to listen to Dan Schnur, a candidate for California Secretary of State.

Dan’s a former colleague – we both worked for Gov. Pete Wilson back in the 1990’s. Since then, he’s worked as a p.r. strategist, press secretary for John McCain’s first presidential campaign (the 2000 version – the one reporters romanticized), and he chaired California’s Fair Political Practices Commission – the state’s watchdog agency – during the final months of the Schwarzenegger Administration.

But his biggest selling point as a first-time candidate is his professorial career at USC and Cal-Berkeley – guiding fledgling political junkies into jobs in Sacramento, Washington and the campaign circuit. Combined with his FPPC tenure, it enables Schnur to deliver a good-government riff about the evils of political money, while trying to encourage young voters to engage in a process that tests their faith.

One other thing about Schnur’s candidacy: he’s running as an nonaffiliated candidate, wagering that he can draw enough support from both nonaligned voters – the fastest-growing segment of California’s electorate – and disaffected Democrats and Republicans to finish in the top-two in California’s June primary.

The latest Field Poll on the SoS race, released earlier this morning, was a cold splash of water for those who might have assumed the open primary would open the door to nonaffiliated candidates.

The results: Republican Pete Peterson, executive director of the Davenport Institute at the School of Public Policy, leads with 30% of likely voters, followed by Democratic State Sen. Alex Padilla at 17% (nearly half of which came after Field asked voters to choose a candidate other than disgraced State Sen. Leland Yee, who quit the race amidst a sensational scandal). As for Schnur, he sits at 4%, a point behind the Green Party candidate.

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Carson Bruno

 

Early polls might generate buzz, but reporters, voters, and politicians should view these polls skeptically.  They are unlikely to predict the June primary results very well for three cascading reasons.

Few people are paying attention to the election at this point in the cycle.

In the last five Field and PPIC polls that have asked a head-to-head June primary question, on average 27% of the electorate is undecided (shifting very little between December and the spring).

In PPIC’s January survey, only 28% of likely voters (and just 28% and 21% of likely Republican and Independent voters, respectively) were following election news very or fairly closely.  A statically similar segment of Republicans and Independents were “not at all closely” following the election.  This suggests that roughly half of voters who expressed an opinion in the head-to-head match-ups are following the election “not too closely.” If voters are not really paying attention to the election, do not expect the polls to be an honest portrayal of future outcomes.

And maybe more importantly, based on the PPIC polls from December 2013, January 2014, and March 2014, a quarter of voters are unsatisfied with the choices of candidates.  Don’t expect these voters to pay much attention to the contest; if they don’t like the choices, why would they invest the time?

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Bill Whalen

 

Every four years, before America chooses a new president, the two major parties study the map, weigh their options (financial, political, symbolic) and then choose where to hold their national conventions.

Some years, the choices seem simple. Take the Democrats’ options for 2016. Having twice dabbled in swing states – Colorado in 2008 and North Carolina in 2012 – after two previous stays in safe blue havens (Massachusetts and California), Democrats might prefer something more biographically appropriate, assuming Hillary Clinton is the nominee. That pretty much narrows the list to Chicago and her native Illinois, or New York City and her adopted Empire State (both cities, of course, where Bill Clinton also accepted his party’s nomination, making for the consummate Clinton love-in).

As for Republicans and 2016, choosing a convention site seems as complicated a task as settling on a nominee – the options are multiple and it’s a question of what direction the GOP would like to head.

Last week, the Republican National Committee’s Site Selection Committee announced six cities in the running for the party’s 2016 national convention: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas. Two other cities that had expressed an interest – Phoenix and Columbus (Ohio) – didn’t make the cut.

The next phase in the process: selection committee members will travel to the cities to hear their pitches and then deliver their recommendations to the RNC, followed by another rounds of cut, and after that a final decision by the national committee this fall.

So what to make of the six cities still in play?

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Carson Bruno

 

*Editor’s NoteCA6: The first two installments of this series example the possible demographics and economics of Tim Draper’s “Six California’s” initiative, currently in the qualifying stage for the November ballot.

This final installment looks at the politics of partitioned California – what would be the new states of Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, and South California*

 

 

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Bill Whalen

 

Before Ray Donovan, the fictional Hollywood fix-it man seen on Showtime, there was Raymond J. Donovan, the Reagan-era Labor secretary.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Donovan held that cabinet post. While he’s mostly forgotten, one thing he said endures. It came after Donovan had stood trial for larceny and fraud charges in connection with a New York subway-contracting scheme – in all, a two-and-a-half year legal ordeal. Given his New Jersey labor roots and the fact that the Mafia allegedly was complicit, the press presumed Donovan’s guilt.

Only, he was acquitted.

After which, Donovan uttered these words: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Which brings us to another son of New Jersey looking to restore his luster: Gov. Chris Christie.

Buried under an onslaught of bad press over a state government scandal involving the shutdown of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge (aka, “Bridgegate”), Christie last week tried to turn the corner on his troubles – and turn the tables on a press corps that’s all but written his political obituary.

First, Christie released the findings of an internal review (here’s the report, in its entirety) conducted by attorneys of the governor’s choosing – five of them, former federal prosecutors.

Second, Christie mounted a media mini-offensive – “mini” in the sense that it’s hard to get on cable these days unless you have an opinion about Putin’s motives, Obamacare’s efficacy, or the fate of the Malaysian jetliner.

Third, a day after he released the review, Christie held his first press conference in nearly 11 weeks. And he sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

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Carson Bruno

 

Earlier this month, the California Employment Development Department released good news; California’s unemployment rate decreased 0.2 points to 8.1% in January 2014.  Based on EDD data, the number of unemployed dropped 29,000, while the number employed increased by 50,000.

This is good news – unemployment dropping, employing rising, and a growing labor force. But, it isn’t necessarily great news. Great news would be California recovering faster than a) previous recessions and b) other states’ rate of recovery.Categories

Using state-level seasonally-adjusted employment, unemployment, and labor force Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the charts below show the three metrics relative to the economic cycle’s peak for the previous three recessions and recoveries – when the metrics return to pre-recession levels (i.e. cross 0%). For instance, at California’s December 2007 economic peak, employment totaled 17,014,221. As of January 2014, it was 17,068,468 – a difference of 0.3%.

As shown in the table to the right, the data are broken into 8 categories: California, Tier 1 to 6 states, and “Net In-Migration” states. These categories are assigned based on net domestic migration. For instance, Tier 1 states are those where the most Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) migrated (on a net basis) from California.

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Bill Whalen

 

The big news out of Northern California today (aside from some long-overdue rain): State Sen. Leland Yee detained and arrested by the feds amidst a sweeping series of raids by FBI and gang task force agents.

Yee’s a Democrat from San Francisco, a longtime fixture in Sacramento, and a political pioneer: the first Chinese-America elected to the State Senate and, before that, the number-two Democrat in the State Assembly. At present, he’s a candidate for California’s Secretary of State – that candidacy now, obviously in deep trouble, if not finished.

Sadly, it’s the latest installment in a real-life version of House of Cards occurring under California’s State Capitol Dome.

Last week, Senate Democrats voted down a Republican resolution to expel state Sen. Roderick Wright – a Democrat convicted of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury.

And there’s State Sen. Ronald Calderon, a Democrat indicted on federal corruption charges for allegedly accepting almost $100,000 in bribes and other assorted mischief (free food, free golf).

Both senators are on a leave of absence – though they’re still receiving their taxpayer salaries.

Here are three quick takeaways from Yee’s transition from running for higher office to riding in the back of a squad car.

Absolute Power Corrupts. The last time Republicans controlled California’s State Senate? That would be 1956 – the same year Eisenhower was re-elected, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Elvis cut his first gold album, and a full decade before some fellow named Reagan took on Jerry Brown’s father for governor of California. Nearly 60 years later, Democrats entered 2014 with a crushing 28-11 supermajority – with it, the ability to pass any piece of legislation it so desired (run-of-the-mill statutes, tax increases, constitutional amendment) without the need for GOP input and votes. That supermajority is no more, thanks to the three senators’ legal troubles (State Senate supermajorities are based on two-thirds of 40 seats; a minimum of 27 seats is needed). It’s reminiscent of what befell congressional Democrats in 1994, when the party seemed a little too arrogant and a lot too corrupt (remember the House banking scandal?) after four decades of majority control. The need to take advantage of supermajority led Senate Democrats down a bad political path earlier this month when they opened a hornet’s nest over affirmative action and college admissions. Yee’s apparent association with a gangster named “Shrimp Boy” suggests not only a politician who lost his bearings but perhaps adds to the perception of an institution unfamiliar with the concepts of honorable conduct and voter backlash.

A New “E” for GOP? California elections tend to revolve around a set of issue all beginning with the same first letter – economy, education, and environment. In 2014, will Republicans find a way to add a fourth “e” – “ethics” – to that list? For a party-out-of-power that’s struggling to find common ground with swing voters, the Democratic scandals could be a godsend – fraud, bribery, perjury and fraternizing with mobsters hardly being wedge issues. The simplest way for California Republicans to package this: by plagiarizing verbatim from 1994’s Contract With AmericaTo restore accountability to Congress the State Legislature. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.”A trickier matter: how legislative Republicans play the ethics reform package recently introduced by their Democratic counterparts.

Impact on the SoS Race. Before his run-in with the law, Yee was one of a handful of candidates – Republican, Democratic, independent – angling for a top-two finish in the June open primary for Secretary of State (among other responsibilities, the SoS is California’s chief election officer). Assuming that effort’s now cratered, who benefits from Yee’s fall? Obviously, some disenchanted Democrats will migrate to the frontrunner, State Sen. Alex Padilla. But keep an eye on Dan Schnur, a USC academic and nonpartisan. On the day before Lee’s legal troubles, the Schnur campaign issued this press release touting the candidate’s “anti-corruption agenda”. Before that, he called on Lee to vote to expel Roderick Wright from the State Senate. Historically, third-parties candidates in California are at a disadvantage: no grassroots infrastructure; the struggle to build a donor network. But the latest scandal adds gives Schnur’s candidacy a rationalization and potentially a tailwind – in a year when strange winds are blowing through California’s State Capitol.

 

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

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Carson Bruno

CA6

The first installment of the “Sacramento Spotlight” series examining Tim Draper’s proposed “Six Californias” ballot initiative found that no single new state could decisively be named a winner based on demographics.

 

Next up: the economics of the new states.

At face value, each new state would be economically different. Northernmost Jefferson would be mostly an agricultural/resource state with forestry likely to become the dominant private industry.  North California, south of Jefferson and spanning from Nevada to the Pacific Ocean, would benefit from a little bit of everything: tech industry, agriculture, tourism, and healthcare.  Silicon Valley, of course, would be dominated by tech; Central California, situated between Silicon Valley and Nevada, would mostly be agriculture and resource extraction; West California’s Los Angeles hub would mean entertainment would be a massive force and South California’s Orange and San Diego counties would dominate the economy.

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