Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meet Our Newest CA Assembly Member, Tea Party Republican Craig Huey

Tea Party candidate Craig Huey
Did this headline get your attention?

Good, because if Sacramento gets it's way, that's exactly what could happen. Come November, the new 66th Assembly District, which covers the South Bay from Palos Verdes to Manhattan Beach, could end up being represented by either Tea Party Republican Craig Huey or Tea Party Republican Nathan Mintz.

As I've previously reported, the South Bay is fortunate to have a very strong Democratic candidate for the new AD66 seat - Al Muratsuchi, a member of the Torrance School Board and Deputy Attorney General with the California Department of Justice.

Democratic candidate
Al Muratsuchi
That's important, because AD66 is one of the linchpins in getting a 2/3rds majority in the state legislature. When the California Citizens Redistricting Commission upended the political landscape in 2012, it opened up a unique opportunity for Democrats get the two seats we need to overcome an obstructionist Republican minority.

Until we get that majority, we're just kidding ourselves that we can fix what's really wrong with California. The best we can hope for is triage.

Unfortunately AD66 has also become a top priority for Republicans after campaign finance reports revealed Democratic leadership in Sacramento - including departing Assembly member Betsy Butler - had yet to give any financial support to Al's campaign.

Even PACs like the California League of Conservation Voters - an important environmental group that funds progressive lawmakers - only donated $1,000 to Al - while at the same time donating $7,800 to former board member Betsy Butler, even though she running in a safe Democratic district without any viable Republican opposition.

So folks, it's going to be up to us defend the South Bay against well-funded Tea Party Republicans Huey and Mintz.

Here's what we need you to do to help:

Donate whatever you can spare. Even $5 is not too little

Beach Cities Democratic Club meet and greet in Manhattan Beach
Saturday, March 3


Thursday, February 9, 2012

National Media Picks Up On CA Endorsement Scandal, "When Democratic Party Bosses Cling to Power"

Just in time for the California Democratic Party convention in San Diego this weekend, the Huffington Post picked up on the story we ran earlier this week on how Assembly Speaker John Perez is diverting resources away from winnable swing districts to protect "incumbent" Assemblymembers running is super-safe Democratic districts.

Paul Hogarth gives some good background that I had left out in the original piece, so I include it here.

Ten years ago when it came to redistricting, Democrats in the legislature made an unholy alliance with Republicans to carve "safe" districts for each party. Not only did it polarize the legislature, but it also gave right-wing Republicans artificially high representation -- at a time when the state was getting younger, browner and more progressive every year. But with a new map drawn by a Citizen Task Force, Democrats are poised to gain seats this November -- and if they play their cards right, maybe win a two-thirds supermajority. If that should happen, we could finally pass real revenue solutions in Sacramento that make millionaires and oil companies pay their fair share.

If you were John Perez, the Speaker of the State Assembly, this should be an historic opportunity to herald resources at expanding the Democratic majority. Instead, he has made the re-election of Assemblywoman Betsy Butler his #1 priority. Even if it means moving her to a new district -- because the one she currently represents is no longer as "safe" as it was. Even if it means having her challenge other Democratic candidates, progressives who have deeper ties to that community. And even if it means using the State Party's obscure rules to stack the deck at Democratic Party endorsement meetings.

This weekend, Osborn faces a tough uphill battle to block that endorsement. If anything, the deck is even more stacked against her than it was in the AD-50 pre-endorsement caucus, where Butler got 57% of the vote, most of it coming from delegates Perez had pulled from Assemblymembers in other districts.

Legislators can appoint half of their delegation outside of their own district, and those appointees get to vote in their own districts. Speaker John Perez has been pretty vocal in encouraging Ms. Osborn to "wait her turn" until Ms. Butler is termed out. The problem with that is that she had been waiting her turn for Asm. Mike Feuer to term out in 2012. Butler's district barely touched this new AD-50, in fact she represents less than 2% of the new AD-50 now. However, as Butler decided not to run for the now more Republican friendly district that encompasses much of her new district, Osborn is now being told to wait again by the Assembly caucus. Except she is not waiting, and has continued to run her campaign.

As a result, Speaker Perez has been organizing a dump of delegates into the new district, tilting the balance from Osborn to Butler. At the convention, where the Democratic club members do not get to participate, this tilt of power towards legislators becomes more pronounced. If Butler is able to get 2/3 of the delegates in her column, the only way to remove the endorsement from the consent calendar is to get 2 members from the Pre-primary endorsement review panel (PERC) to agree to pull it off the consent calender for PERC review. If less than 2/3 support Butler, Osborn supporters will be able to gather 300 signatures to bring the endorsement to the floor.

So this weekend promises to be interesting. Osborn's supporters aren't the only ones promising to bring the endorsement to the floor for a vote. Delegations from the Progressive, LGBT, Women's and Environmental caucus have been vocal on Dem party listserves, as have members of Take Back Red California. 

As a result, expect Osborn's people to have lots of help collecting the 300 signatures needed to take Butler's endorsement off the consent calendar.

If Butler can be held below the 2/3rds threshold in the endorsement vote on Saturday, expect a floor fight on Sunday.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Campaign Contributions Raise Troubling Questions For Speaker John Perez And Sacramento Democrats

Assembly Speaker
John Perez

Democratic activists hoping for big gains in the California legislature this year were dealt a serious blow after campaign finance reports released last Thursday raised troubling questions about Assembly Speaker John Perez's strategic priorities and the California Democratic Party's ability to achieve a two-thirds majority in the State Senate and Assembly.

Democrats currently enjoy a majority in both the Assembly and the State Senate, but would have to pick up at least two more seats in each chamber to achieve the super-majority needed to pass revenue increases over the objections of a recalcitrant Republican minority.

Yet campaign finance reports reveal that Speaker Perez, Sacramento Democratic lawmakers and PACs donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to safe Democratic Assembly districts while virtually ignoring new "swing" districts or defending others against possible Republican pickups.

In the 10th Assembly District (Marin, D+35) Sacramento Democrats gave $80,600 to Mike Allen, an incumbent Assemblymember who moved into the open district when his existing district was carved up and reapportioned. This, even though Mr. Allen is running against two other Democratic candidates and no Republican opposition.

In the 50th Assembly district (Santa Monica, D+33), Perez and Sacramento Democrats donated $88,750 to Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who moved north to the Democratic stronghold after redistricting meant she'd have to run in the new, more conservative 66th Assembly district (Torrance, D+3). Butler is running against Democratic candidates Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom, both long-time residents of the district. The lone Republican in the race, Brad Torgen, is not considered a viable candidate.

Records also show that most of these donations were given to Allen and Butler during a three-week period last December, and that many Democratic Assemblymembers who donated did not give money to any other Assembly campaigns. The timing suggests a coordinated and conscious effort from leadership to funnel money to these candidates at the expense of other candidates running in more competitive districts.

Perez is also using his considerable energy and influence to secure endorsements for Allen and Butler, including endorsements from the state Democratic Party (which can mean substantial institutional support and resources).  In what party insiders are calling an unprecedented move, Perez is using a controversial technique known as "delegate stacking" to pull  dozens of delegate appointments from Assembly members state-wide to vote for Allen and Butler in local endorsement caucuses. Perez's intervention has already secured a state party endorsement for Allen, and virtually guarantees an endorsement for Butler.

But as Butler and Allen enjoy the largess of their colleagues in Sacramento while running in districts so safe a Democratic corpse could win,  two other candidates running in swing districts which could potentially lead to Democratic super-majorities enjoy no such protection.

In the South Bay, Torrance School Board member Al Muratsuchi became the Democratic candidate for AD66 after Betsy Butler left the district.  Election experts consider the race highly competitive for Republicans, giving them the best opportunity in two decades to pick up a seat in that area.
AD66 candidate
Al Muratsuc

However, not a single Sacramento Democrat, including both John Perez and Betsy Butler have yet to make any financial contributions to his campaign

Even Democratic State Senator Ted Lieu, whose district overlaps much of AD66, gave $1,000 to Butler, but nothing so far to Muratsuchi.

Additionally, while PACs - including the Professional Engineers in California Government, the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the California State Council of Laborers - gave over $300,000 to Butler and Allen, many of them presumably at Perez's direction, Muratsuchi received only $11,900 in PAC money, including $1,000 from the California League of Conservation Voters -  $6,800 less than they gave to Betsy Butler.

Sacramento's indifference means Muratsuchi has had to loan his campaign $45,000 to defend the new South Bay Assembly seat against two Tea Party candidates, Nathan Mintz, who ran and lost a close race against Butler in 2010, and Craig Huey, who ran an unsuccessful $500,000 self-financed congressional campaign against Janice Hahn last year.

(Muratsuchi responded to this story on, "I fully believe that the Speaker will help our campaign raise the funds to make me a member of the state Assembly this November.")

In the Central Valley, where termed-out Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani is running for Senate District 5 (Stockton, D+4), only one Sacramento lawmaker, fellow Democratic Assemblymember Kevin De Leon, contributed to Galgiani's campaign.

Galgiani has $140,000 in cash on hand while her two Republican opponents, Assemblymember Bill Berryhill and former County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, each have twice that amount.

Galgiani represents much of the district now and is considered a popular moderate. reports the race is "likely the bellwether Senate district for 2012....Galgiani came out as gay to the Stockton Record on November 1, and will be running in a district that voted 64% in favor of prohibiting same-sex marriages."

If elected, Galgiani would be the first openly gay legislator elected from a Central Valley district.

SD05 candidate Cathleen Gagliani
Taken in their entirety, campaign finance records, along with reports of political maneuvering, clearly and consistently demonstrate Speaker Perez and Sacramento Democrats are prioritizing the reelection of "incumbent" Assemblymembers in safe, Democratic districts over obtaining a two-thirds majority in the legislature in 2012.

To understand why, you need to understand the Holy Trinity of most California politicians: money, term limits, and the value of personal relationships.

First, lets talk about money. If you're part of the Democratic Assembly caucus in Sacramento, it makes sense to collectively pool your fundraising and PAC resources so you don't have to do what AD50 candidate Torie Osborn has had to do every day for the last 15 months - solicit funds from small-dollar individual donors. Her work paid off, having raised $520,000 from 1,639 individual donors, but that sort of labor-intensive fundraising isn't practical for sitting lawmakers trying to legislate during a 2-year election cycle.

So the caucus pools resources through their individual campaign committees, building up massive war chests with millions of dollars donated each year from individuals, corporations, and political PACs.  In turn, these resources are apportioned and prioritized by the leadership. Which is where Speaker Perez comes into play.

In 2010, John Perez survived a bruising political fight to became the first openly gay Assembly Speaker in the chamber's history, succeeding the termed-out Karen Bass. As Majority Leader in the California Assembly, the Speaker wields considerable power by controlling the caucus' purse strings. Theoretically, if there's an opportunity to flip a red district blue and maximize his caucus' chances of achieving a super-majority, that's where Perez should be spending money.

AD10 candidate Mike Allen
Instead, Perez's primary objective in 2012 appears to be consolidating loyalty within his own caucus by taking care of vulnerable members who aren't yet subject to term limits - in this case Allen and Butler, neither whom are termed out until 2016 (remember, Galgiani, the Assemblymember running for Senate in the Central Valley, is termed out this year). Nothing consolidates loyalty like cash.

Term limits factor heavily in this game as well. California lawmaker's careers are short - only 6 years in the Assembly and 8 in the state Senate. Perez himself is termed out of the Assembly in 2014.  While I'm not suggesting intervention on Allen's and Butler's behalf is a literal case of quid pro quo, it is indicative of a culture of mutual protection, where an insular community of  Sacramento lawmakers trade favors and keep careful score against the day they'll need to cash in their chits.

Perez is not alone in this - most Sacramento lawmakers see politics not just as a calling but as a career. As a result, both Democrats and Republicans are caught in a cycle of short term gain over long term, strategic thinking.

For Republicans, it's radicalized their caucus as moderate representatives find themselves challenged, their livelihoods threatened if they dare break with Grover Norquist.

For Democrats, it's meant an endlessly revolving door between the private and public sectors, where lobbyists spend millions to influence lawmakers and termed-out lawmakers become lobbyists to influence former colleagues. It forces even the most altruistic lawmakers to limit their horizons to only a few years into the future, and less altruistic lawmakers to be more accountable to special interests than they are to the voting public.

All this raises an even more troubling question. Do Sacramento Democrats even want to achieve a two-thirds majority?

Doing so would mean taking ownership of the mess our state is in, and making tough, unpopular calls on tax increases vs spending cuts.  Raise taxes and risk the wrath of Californians who mistakenly believe cutting "waste, fraud and abuse" would fix everything, or keep whacking away at the social safety net or infrastructure spending and risk alienating powerful public employee unions sick of seeing their membership take the brunt of Sacramento's budget woes.

AD50 candidate
Betsy Butler
Either scenario would be deeply unattractive to a lawmaker with one eye on the exit sign worried about their next job.

Political insiders will claim this just isn't true, that Sacramento's strategy will change after the June primaries, focusing less on incumbents and more on flipping swing districts.

However, even if accurate, considering California's new top-two election rules, it's a deeply flawed strategy.

In the case of both AD66 and SD05, there's no guarantee Muratrsuchi and Galgiani will survive a June primary and make it to November. And even if they do, their well-funded opponents will have already had a six-month head start to rip the Democrats to shreds with negative mailers and media spots.

When the California Citizens Redistricting Commission upended the political landscape in 2012, it opened up a unique opportunity for Democrats, but only if we have the foresight and political will to take advantage of that opportunity. Now is the time to stop paying lip service about achieving a two-thirds legislative majority and actually do something about it.

Until that happens, we're just kidding ourselves that we can fix what's really wrong with California. The best we can hope for is triage.

As our convention convenes this weekend in San Diego, I hope the delegates, activists, candidates and politicians assembled will take a hard, cold look at how the political landscape is shifting beneath our feet.

These issues are more important than any single election or candidate, they go to the very heart of what it means to be a Democrat in California in 2012.


State Senator Ted Lieu responds:

Re: My $1000 contribution to Betsy Butler's committee. As you know, I have not endorsed in the race. The contribution was made in April 2011, months before the first draft of Assembly maps were released, and months before Betsy Butler announced where she was running. In early fall, my Ted Lieu for Senate 2011 committee was frozen due to the Kinde Durkee case.

Regarding AD 66, when the Kinde Durkee legal proceedings are resolved, I will contribute to Al Muratsuchi's campaign. I endorsed him early and am helping him in a variety of other ways.