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2008 Elections

General Election Date: November 4, 2008

State Primary Election Date: June 3, 2008

Presidential Primary Election Date: February 5, 2008

Presidential Primary Election
State Primary Election
General Election
Local Races Filing Information
Local Races Ballot Position
School Board Candidate Statements
City Council Candidate Statements
Alameda Blog Coverage of City Council Board Race
Alameda Media Coverage of School Board Race
Election Results for BOE Race
Alameda Ballot Measures - November Election
Statewide Propositions November Election
PPIC Voter Profile, Aug 2008
PPIC Post Election Analysis, Dec 2008

Prior Election Coverage
2004 Elections
2006 Elections

Presidential Primary

February 5, 2008

With the Governor approving legislation to conduct the Presidential primary in the first week of February, Alamedans will have three chances to go the polls in 2008. Here is the California Voter Foundation Guide for the February Election.

The first election in February will focus on the Presidental primary but the big issue for voters could be term limits. As expected the Legislature placed a measure (Prop 93) on the February ballot so they can reap the benefit if it passes. Senator Perata is one of those individuals who stands to gain if the term limits are changed. While placement/passage of the ballot was not certain, it all depends on how you present the measure to the public according to this survey and this study. Meanwhile both political parties continue to decline in overall numbers as "decline to state" grows and the two party system comes under fire.

Of lesser known interest, the community colleges will have a ballot measure (Prop 92) on the ballot to secure funding and decouple them from Prop 98. Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag comments on the ballot measure Prop 92 the Community College measure is creating tension between the state's teachers' unions. The San Jose Mercury ran this article on Prop 92.

See all the statements, about the Propositions on Secretary of State Debra Bowen's site, which, for the first time, features the materials translated into six languages. Or you can read the Pull Out Guide Summaries.

The California Democratic Party has published their recommendations for the propositions appearing on the February ballot.

In November, a published Field Poll shows that changes by the Legislature to loosen up absentee voting is changing the way people vote.


It is time for a new war on poverty? Three presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barck Obama published their response in a new magazine called Pathways.

Alameda Presidential Primary Results

State Primary

June 3, 2008

While three years away, the Governor's race for 2010 would be determined by one thing: cash. As politicans look to give the appearance of making campaign more fair by imposing campaign contribution restriction, the two political parties always seem to find a way around the exisiting rules. Special interests contribute in a number of ways to avoid campaign contributions imposed by Prop 34.

With filing deadline having passed and term limits still in place, the races for local Assembly and Senate seats in the Bay Area have a number of candidates.

If California followed the lead of Washington and instituted an open primary, then the Legislature might actually begin to function more effectively. LA Times columnist Geogre Skelton creates a spring cleaning list for the State Legislature.

The June Primary could the first election where absentee ballots are the majority.

General Election

November 4, 2008

With the passage of Prop 11 to change redistricting, Governor Schwarzenegger will shift his effort to get the open primary reinstated.


Filing Information
Statewide Propositions
Alameda Blogs Coverage of School Board Race

Prior Election Coverage
2006 Elections
2004 Elections

LA Times columnist George Skelton wonders if redistricting reform (it did Prop 11) will make on to the General Election ballot. An AP article shows that eight years later, ballot design still has not improved since the infamous "butterfly" ballots from Florida. The campaing practice of robocalls is coming under attack by Senator Feinstein.

The California Democratic Party executive board meeting published their positions on tentative initiatives appearing on the November ballot. In June, Debra Bowen has published the numbers for each statewide propositions.

Voters show independent streak

More registering as 'decline to state,' as the two major parties see registration continue to decline in California

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Contra Cost Times, May 26, 2007

Why select "decline to state" as your political party registration? California voters have had the option to reject membership in a political party for 100 years, but never before have so many residents eschewed major party labels.

Nearly one in five voters statewide and in the East Bay are registered as "decline to state," a figure that has steadily climbed since the percentage of independent voters doubled in the 1970s. That adds up to 3 million voters statewide, including nearly a quarter of a million in the East Bay.

The trend could prove worrisome for the state Democratic and Republican parties, whose share of the electorate has declined 20 percentage points since 1960.

There are 66,421 fewer Democrats in California today than in 2003, prior to the recall election that ousted Gray Davis and ushered in Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republicans have fared only slightly better, increasing their numbers by 20,499 in the same period.

In the East Bay, independent voters are keeping pace or exceeding the statewide trend, particularly among new registrants.

In Alameda County, decline-to-state voters have outnumbered Republicans since 2003. And six out of every 10 new registrants in Contra Costa County since January 2004 selected a category other than Democrat or Republican.

Dissatisfaction with party politics and ideology, cynicism about politicians and voter disenfranchisement are fueling the trend. Plus, Californians have always been an independent lot and how they register to vote is a logical extension of that proclivity.

"I really don't feel affiliated with either of the major parties," said Mahyar Entezari, 26, a college student from San Ramon. "Neither really represents me. ... They are too busy playing politics with issues like the Iraq war and health care."

The rise of independents could also stir controversy in California's Feb. 5 presidential primary.

Democrats will allow participation by independents in the primary, but the GOP has barred them, a move that some predict will alienate voters in the November general election.

So far, independents have impacted the political landscape chiefly in close contests. Campaign consultants only half-jokingly refer to them as "decline to votes," referring to the fact that they don't show up at the polls as reliably as party members.

But some political observers believe independents could one day outnumber those in political parties.

"So far, decline-to-state voters haven't been a huge factor because they don't vote in big numbers," said East Bay pollster Alex Evans. "But they are a bit of a sleeping giant."

Independents unveiled

Just who are these people who reject traditional party affiliations?

To find out, the Times overlaid digitized Contra Costa precinct maps with the county's voter registration database and set out to talk with people in the five neighborhoods with the highest numbers of decline-to-state voters.

The analysis reveals neighborhoods in areas dominated by new home construction, including two precincts in Dougherty Valley east of San Ramon, two in fast-growing Brentwood and a fifth that straddles Discovery Bay and Byron.

The precinct with the highest concentration of independent voters is in Windemere, a primarily single-family home development east of San Ramon so new that its wobbly landscape saplings still need the support of stakes tied to their thin trunks.

Independents are more numerous in new neighborhoods for several reasons.

Data show that decline-to-state voters are typically newer, younger voters -- 40 percent are younger than 35 -- who have attended college and own their own homes.

Home buyers in this area are also increasingly ethnically diverse, and independents have Spanish and Asian surnames in higher percentages than other ethnic groups.

Independents interviewed in these neighborhoods say they are disenchanted with the partisan roar, dislike the notion of conforming to party ideology and refuse to take voting orders from party bosses.

They regard themselves as pragmatic moderates who carefully evaluate each issue and candidate and vote accordingly.

No slave to parties

"It's old-fashioned to be 100 percent Democrat or Republican," said Lisa Hulse, 35, a San Ramon executive assistant who describes herself as conservative fiscally but liberal on social issues. "People feel nowadays that they can vote on the issues and not on party lines. I think if more people did that, there would be a change in this country for the better."

Byron voter Alvin Correia said he alternately registered Republican and Democrat in past years but settled on "decline to state."

"I vote issues and people, not the party," said Correia, a 20-year resident of Byron.

Other say they don't need a party because they don't vote in the primary.

"I just don't see a real need for voting in the primary," said Elisa Berggren, 28, a resident of a new subdivision near Discovery Bay. "I like being independent of all the politics."

Being independent does not necessarily mean middle of the road, however, said pollster David Binder. Decline-to-state voters in San Francisco, for example, view the Democratic Party as too conservative, while Central Valley independents reject the Republican Party as too liberal.

Others prefer to keep their political leanings private, perhaps because they have come from foreign countries where political parties operate very differently or they lack family traditions tied to party membership.

But regardless of why voters choose independence, they want to be counted.

"What decline-to-state voters are telling you is, 'Don't ever take me for granted,'" said Phil Giarrizzo, a Democratic campaign consultant and election turnout expert.

"What that means for candidates is that, among some voters, it's not good enough to say you have Democratic or Republican values. They want to know, 'What does that mean?'"

A national trend

California is not alone. In the 28 states that require party registration, independents have grown from 1.6 percent of the electorate in 1962 to 21 percent last year.

That figure doesn't account for moderates within parties who self-identify as independent voters. The Pew Research Center's political values poll revealed that 40 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as independents, up from 32 percent a decade ago.

Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, points to dissatisfaction with the major parties and the fact that modern voters obtain information about candidates and issues from television and the Internet rather than party leaders.

The public's disaffection with political parties is unhealthy for democracy, argues Gans.

"Parties allow people to coalesce around issues and get things done," he said. "But in the absence of fundamental improvements in our education about the political system and the way we use media in politics, we're going to have fewer and fewer people participate in politics except for the occasional peak for reasons of anger."

In California, Public Policy Institute research director Mark Baldassare points to the state's polarized primaries, voter cynicism and uncompetitive seats as the chief drivers pushing voters into the independent ranks.

Low turnout in primary elections means party activists have more influence in picking left- or right-of-center candidates, who in turn alienate moderate voters, who abandon the parties in disgust.

The spiral is showing up in the parties' rolls. In the East Bay, the two major parties have lost nearly 30,000 members since 2000 whereas the ranks of independents swelled by 80,000 people.

"This is a trend which will continue if the parties continue to operate elections the way they do," Baldassare said. "But I'm not sure there's much the parties can do to stop it. When we ask independents if they would consider joining a party, they say no."

Changes ahead?

The bigger question may be whether parties even want to stop the shift.

Campaign consultants and candidates rely on predictable party loyalists in primary elections, where the outcome of a majority of the state's partisan seats are decided.

A majority of independents already typically vote Democratic.

Republicans, meanwhile, have openly declared disinterest in decline-to-state voters, banning their participation in the presidential primary based on the belief that only committed Republicans should select the party's nominee.

State GOP Chairman Ron Nehring predicted that strong interest in Republican presidential candidates will fuel his party's registration drive and persuade independents to sign up.

"Voting in the Republican presidential primary in California is easy," Nehring said, "and certainly we encourage anyone who identifies with the Republican Party to register, and enjoy the benefits of being a member of the party."

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres is also reaching out to the independents.

"It's a national trend not to be associated with a party," Torres said. "But even though the decline-to-state voters have left us, we want them to know we haven't forgotten them. We have a number of outreach programs to tell independent voters our values and we get a lot of their votes."

A moderate edge

The rise in independent voters may act as a brake on hyper-partisanship.

"As each party has become more ideological and more extreme, it has stranded a lot of voters, most of whom are in the center of the spectrum," said GOP campaign consultant Ray McNally. "Those voters have shown us they don't like fire-breathing, sword-carrying partisans."

The best example, McNally said, is the November re-election of Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who wants to foster an era of "post-partisanship," over liberal Democrat Phil Angelides.

California's burgeoning ranks of independents could teach some lessons to both parties, said Democratic campaign consultant Garry South.

Republicans repeatedly run conservative candidates who cannot win statewide office in moderate California, South said, citing the GOP's loss of seven straight U.S. Senate races since 1992 and 20 out of 24 state constitutional races since 1998.

"And as Democrats, we have to be careful we don't put candidates for public office who are so unrepentantly liberal that they lose independent voters, which is what Democrats did in the (2006) governor's race," said South, who ran the unsuccessful gubernatorial primary campaign of moderate Steve Westly against Angelides.

"Having a swing force out there can turn the election either way," South said. "(And) that's not a bad thing."

California Democratic Party Position

June 17,2008

At its executive board meeting this past weekend in Millbrae, the California Democratic Party voted to take the following positions on ballot measures that have already qualified or will likely appear on the November 2008 statewide ballot.

Redistricting: OPPOSE
High-speed rail bond: SUPPORT
Treatment of farm animals: SUPPORT
Children’s hospital bond: SUPPORTv
Parental notification for abortion: OPPOSE
Sentencing of nonviolent offenders: OPPOSE
Increased criminal penalties: OPPOSE
Renewable energy requirements (solar): OPPOSE
Same-sex marriage ban: OPPOSE
Criminal justice system, victims’ rights: OPPOSE
Alternative fuels and renewable energy bond: NEUTRAL

Two-party structure under fire

By Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee Columnist, January 18, 2008

Venerable institutions from department stores to news- papers have been hammered by sweeping cultural and technological evolution. California's two-party political system could become another victim.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), confirming what political insiders and analysts had already concluded, found that the two major parties are rapidly losing ground among California voters, especially younger voters, and forecast that by 2025 independent voters, already approaching 20 percent of the electorate, could outnumber those of either party.

"We are an institution in transition, as are newspapers," the long-serving chairman of the state Democratic Party, Art Torres, acknowledged Thursday during a seminar at which the PPIC study was unveiled.

The PPIC study found that as the number of registered voters grew from 15.5 million to 15.7 million between 2000 and 2007, those registered as Democrats or Republicans shrank from 12.6 million to 11.8 million as the ranks of independents – younger, technologically oriented and suspicious of institutions – swelled.

PPIC's president, Mark Baldassare, noted that as the parties shrink, they have become more ideologically focused – more liberal on the Democratic side and more conservative in the GOP – and while that polarization is reflected in the Legislature, thanks to the closed primary system, it shuts out the more centrist independents.

"We're speaking to two different electorates," Baldassare said, citing polls showing wide gulfs between partisan voters ranging from taxes to abortion and the Iraq war.

The shrinkage of the two major parties is, unto itself, both logical and, perhaps, healthy. It's simply inconceivable that the incredible cultural, economic and even geographic diversity of 38 million Californians could be stuffed into two parties.

The downside is that the two parties hold a monopoly on legislative seats – and have reinforced that with a bipartisan gerrymander of legislative districts and a successful court battle to outlaw a blanket primary system. Simply put, the most conservative Republican voters and the most liberal Democrats control the election of legislators, and thus their polarization transfers itself into the Capitol. Moderates in either party, not to mention independents, are effectively disenfranchised.

That doesn't necessarily hold true in statewide elections, where the growing ranks of independents can and often do constitute the margin of victory. They have leaned Democratic in most recent elections, but not always, as the election and re-election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, indicate.

That phenomenon, in turn, bolsters a semi-permanent gridlock on major policy issues in the Legislature with centrist governors finding themselves trapped in no man's land as ideologues in both parties engage in trench warfare. What's happened to Schwarzenegger on the budget and other issues mirrors, in the broadest sense, what happened to his recalled predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis.

Davis tried to steer down the middle of the road, albeit somewhat passively, but when his popularity faded due to energy and budget crises, he caved in to liberal demands. That undermined his standing with mostly moderate voters even more – with driver's licenses for illegal immigrants being the prime example.

Until and unless one of the parties moves toward the middle and begins attracting the disaffected voters now opting for independent status, and/or structural changes are made in the electoral system, such as redistricting reform and more open primaries, or third parties take hold, this syndrome is likely to continue and Californians will, therefore, continue to see divided and gridlocked government.

Field Poll: Mail ballots make 'fundamental change in the way people vote'

By Peter Hecht, Sacramento Bee, November 30, 2007

For all the talk about getting out to vote, Californians – particularly those in the Bay Area – are simply mailing it in.

Since passage of a state law in 2002 allowing voters to sign up to cast their ballots by mail in every election, the number of permanent absentee voters has more than tripled.

According to a new Field Poll released Thursday, more than 4.2 million of the state's 15 million registered voters – 27.2 percent – have signed up to cast their ballots by mail. In the June 2006 state primary election, a record 47 percent of the ballots cast came from absentee voters.

"People who vote by mail once are more likely to vote by mail again," said California Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. "It's a fundamental change in the way people vote."

With absentee ballots for California's Feb. 5 presidential primary going out on Jan. 7, millions of state residents will have a chance to vote ahead of earlier state primaries in Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Maine.

According to Field Poll surveys of 4,523 registered voters, whether you vote absentee may depend on where you live.

Twenty-nine percent of voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area and 20 percent of voters in the Central Valley have signed up as permanent absentee voters. But only 10 percent of voters in Los Angeles County and 11 percent in Orange County have chosen to vote permanently by mail.

Most permanent absentee voters – 75 percent – are white, while 13 percent are Latino, 8 percent are Asian and 4 percent are African American. Three out of four are homeowners.

California's overall voter registration tilts Democratic – 42 percent are registered Democrats, 34 percent are Republicans and 24 percent either are members of other parties or have declined to state an affiliation.

But among permanent absentee voters, Republicans hold a slight edge.

Republicans make up 41 percent of those choosing to vote by mail in all elections, while 40 percent are Democrats and 19 percent aren't registered with either party.

In 2010 governor's race, money will rule

By Garry South, Capitol Weekly, May 31, 2007

Well girls and boys, here we are with another major election just around the corner. No, I'm not referring to the 2008 presidential race--that's already bearing right down on us. I mean the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the primary for which is just three short years away.

Who will run? Who will win? Who will replace the termed-out Terminator as president of the California Republic? It's too early to predict, of course, but there are instructive lessons for both major parties in recent California political history. And you know the old saw about those who ignore history.

For our part--and with apologies to Al Gore--we Democrats have to get our arms around another sort of inconvenient truth: In this supposedly deep-blue state, we have lost six of the last eight gubernatorial elections. Four of those six defeats have been embarrassing landslides--Tom Bradley in 1986, Kathleen Brown in 1994, Cruz Bustamante in the 2003 recall (as the only name Democrat on the ballot), and party-favorite Phil Angelides in 2006. The average vote percentage received by those four candidates was precisely 36.75 percent. Angelides ended up with the exact same share of the vote, 39 percent, that Barry Goldwater received against LBJ in the 1964 blowout.

Interestingly, Gray Davis in 1998 was the only Democratic nominee since Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978 to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. (And Davis, lest people forget, took a leave as Brown's chief of staff that year and managed the governor's re-election campaign.) L.A. Mayor Bradley ran a tight race against Attorney General George Deukmejian in 1982, but still received only 46 percent of the vote. In 1990, former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein waged a close battle with U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, but also came up with just 46 percent. (Davis got 47 percent in his 2002 re-election.)

There have been only four Democratic governors of the Golden State since 1898, two of whom were named Brown. Davis in '98 was the first Democratic candidate in 20 years to win the governorship--and only the fourth in the entire 20th century. When he gnawed his way to a hard-fought re-election victory four years later, he became only the third Democratic governor since 1854 to win a second term--and the only one not named Brown.

We Democrats are very proficient at winning localized races for the Legislature and Congress, and down-ballot races below the governor's office. Our party "brand" simply is more saleable than that of the GOP in low-visibility races, all other things being equal. But we've got to face the music: Fully five of our last six gubernatorial candidates have gone down in flames, and there are lessons to be learned from those races if we are to avoid getting singed again in 2010.

The Republicans, for their part, must come to grips with the fact that they have been pathetically uncompetitive in most statewide races for the past 12 years--pretty much since Gov. Pete Wilson decided to save his own hide in 1994 by beating up on illegal immigrants. This seminal act accelerated a Democratic trend in the state, particularly and predictably among Latino and Asian voters, the two fastest-growing population groups and voting blocs in the state.

The GOP has lost--count 'em--seven straight U.S. Senate races in California, most by huge margins. Despite the bipartisan gerrymander of 2001, another Republican-held congressional seat bit the dust last November, reducing their total to 18 members of the 53-member delegation. Since the early 1970s, Republicans have controlled either chamber of the state Legislature for just one year: the Assembly in 1996.

Despite his supposed faults and failings, the weakened Davis in 2002 led a Democratic sweep of all statewide offices for the first time since 1882. In both 1998 and 2006, the GOP won only two of the eight statewide constitutional offices--in three of those cases, with incumbents running for re-election (Secretary of State Bill Jones and Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush in 1998, and Gov. Schwarzenegger last year). When Steve Poizner won the insurance commissioner's race last November, he became the only non-incumbent GOP candidate besides Arnold to win a statewide office since 1994.

Obviously, with these sad track records, neither a Democrat nor a Republican can possibly win the governorship in 2010. But I jest, of course.

I am absolutely serious, however, when I point out that in the 2010 governor's race, the three most important factors will be money, money and money. (New Website tracking money and its effect.) As Angelides demonstrated beyond doubt, under the contribution limits of Proposition 34, passed by the voters in 2000 and in effect for the governor's race for the first time in 2006, it is nearly impossible to raise enough to run competitively for chief executive of this mega-state.

Angelides was the presumptive frontrunner for most of the primary race, with an impressive slate of organizational and officeholder endorsements. But despite three and a half years of full-out fundraising as a statewide constitutional officeholder and former state Democratic Party chairman, Angelides would have been trampled by Steve Westly had he not been able to transfer $8.5 million in leftover funds from his 2002 re-election campaign (raised before limits went into effect), or benefited from a $10 million so-called independent campaign on his behalf. Conversely, if Westly had not been willing to part with $34 million of his own wealth in the primary against Angelides, he himself would have been uncompetitive.

On the Republican side, it was no accident that the only two 2006 statewide winners were the two free-spending multimillionaires, Schwarzenegger and Poizner. Poizner pumped more of his own fortune into the insurance commissioner's race than Angelides raised in the entire general-election campaign for governor ($13 million vs. $10 million.

Among the potential Democratic candidates in 2010, only new attorney general and erstwhile governor Jerry Brown could possibly--repeat, possibly--best the primary field with a minimum of cash. Other than Westly, no other prospective candidate has ever raised dough for a governor's race with Proposition 34 caps.

All other would-be governators of modest means on both sides will face the harsh reality of trying to bank sufficient funds to be viable under the Proposition 34 limitations. (And remember, candidates, one full year of the four-year gubernatorial cycle is already behind us. It's 2007, do you know where your money is?)

It's not a particularly happy prospect that California governor's races essentially have been turned into roller derbies for rich people--and with supreme irony, due primarily to Democratic-sponsored campaign-finance reform measures. But in the 2010 race, while I don't know who will be governor, I predict the dollar will be king.

More money for colleges, lower fees, come get it!

By Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee, July 18, 2007

Given all the other groups that have used the ballot box to engineer big-bucks raids on the state treasury, the only surprise is that the lobbies for the money-strapped California community colleges waited so long.

But now they've done it, qualifying an initiative that will appear on the February presidential primary ballot. By 2009-'10 it will lock up nearly a half-billion additional dollars in state funding -- meaning taxpayer money -- for California's 109 two-year colleges. Its 2 million students make it the largest college system in the country.

The colleges badly need the money. They probably deliver more opportunity per buck than any other state system. But instead of trying to reform the convoluted fiscal structure responsible for their starvation diet, this measure asks voters to put a few more kinks in it.

As a lot of analysts have pointed out, the big problem in California isn't so much a shortage of state funding as it is the very modest fees that students pay. This year it's $20 per credit unit in tuition, $600 a term for a full course load.

That's barely half of what students pay in the next lowest state and less than a third of the national average. As a result California loses a lot of federal financial aid money that could be used not just for tuition but for other expenses.

Yes, the sudden, unpredictable fee jumps of recent years are irritating. But instead of addressing the basic imbalance between fees and state funding, the initiative, backed by the California Community College League, the California Federation of Teachers and various other community college groups, proposes to make it worse.

It would change education funding formulas to require more money from the treasury, reduce fees to $15 a unit and cap future fee increases to growth in per capita personal income, or 10 percent, whichever is lower.

In addition, it would write a series of governance changes into the state constitution that would guarantee employee groups representation on the system's board of governors. Roger Salazar, the spokesman for the measure, says requiring the governor to choose some board members from lists drawn by employee groups would "take the politics out of the process." More likely, it would just shift the political arena and, in any case, bring people with conflicts of interest to what's supposed to be a citizen board.

Called the Community College Governance, Funding Stabilization and Student Fee Reduction Act, it's a complicated 5,500 words that de-couple community college funding from Proposition 98, the K-12 school finance system to which it has been tied since 1988.

Instead, it would create a set of fiscal formulas that base increases in future community college funding not on enrollment but on growth in the state's college-age population, regardless of how many actually attend the two year institutions.

Two recent studies have both pointed to the low completion rate of California community college students -- the percentage who get an associate's degree, transfer to a four year college or finish a formal career training program; 79 percent of community college students get no credential. Half never go past the first year.

Some of that is predictable in a system used by a lot of Californians who take just one or two courses to upgrade their job skills and employability. Yet it's also true, as Nancy Shulock of Sacramento State University pointed out in a report issued earlier this year, that while the state provides financial incentives to increase enrollment, it has few incentives encouraging a higher completion rate.

By no longer coupling funding to enrollment, the measure is likely to undercut even the incentive to enroll more students. And it does nothing, other than lower fees, to increase completion rates. Nor will it help inform adolescents that mere graduation from high school doesn't necessarily prepare them for college work.

The fee decrease is itself a little misleading. Although the sticker price at the community colleges is low even without the proposed cut, it doesn't cover an array of other expenses -- books, transportation, foregone income -- that often get forgotten.

The main object, as Salazar says, is to stabilize funding, which makes absolute sense in a state that raises and lowers spending with no long-term strategy. But does it make the system more accessible? Since the 25 percent fee cut represents only a small percentage of the total cost even at community colleges, it looks a lot more like a political sweetener to help the measure draw support than a genuine attempt to get more students to attend.

And, of course, as in so many other raids on the treasury -- the stem cell bonds, Arnold Schwarzenegger's $500 million after-school program, California's road bonds, the prison bonds -- it's advertised as involving no new taxes. It's all supposedly free money. In that, it would join the parade of other unfunded initiatives that have helped create the chronic budget mess that California continues to live with.

Court decision limits union access to district mailboxes for campaign purposes

By CSBA, August, 2007

In a victory for school districts, an appellate court has issued a decision (San Leandro Teachers Association v. Governing Board of the San Leandro USD) upholding a district policy that prohibited the use of district mailboxes to distribute union newsletters containing political endorsements.

CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance filed an amicus brief in support of the district. “This is an important decision,” said Alliance Director Richard Hamilton, “because it upholds the prohibition and confirms a district’s obligation to place reasonable limits on the use of district equipment, such as a school mailbox, for campaigning. If the trial court decision had been allowed to stand, the union would have had one-sided access for political campaigning and the district would not have been allowed to respond.”


The San Leandro Teachers Association placed copies of its newsletter in teachers’ school mailboxes containing information about the union’s activities. One of the two newsletters in question contained information about competitive salaries, health benefit increases and other routine matters. However, the newsletter also contained information about SLTA’s campaign activities to elect two candidates it had endorsed for the school board election, as well as information on what some members were doing to assist in the campaign. Another newsletter urged members to assist in the campaign by volunteering to make phone calls or walk precincts in support of the endorsed candidates. Production of the newsletters was done at SLTA expense and carried markings indicating that the material was a work of SLTA and not sponsored by the district.

Several days later, the district advised the president of SLTA that, consistent with district policy, the union was prohibited by the Education Code from using district mail facilities to distribute materials that contain political endorsements. Education Code Section 7054 states, in part, that “No school district funds, services, supplies, or equipment shall be used for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate.” SLTA filed an unfair practice charge with the Public Employee Relations Board. PERB dismissed the charge and held that the use of the school mailboxes amounts to “services” or “equipment” within the meaning of Section 7054.

SLTA and the California Teachers Association then filed suit in the superior court challenging the district’s action. The lower court agreed with SLTA and CTA that the district’s policy was unconstitutional and that mailboxes do not constitute “funds, services, supplies, or equipment” within the meaning of Education Code Section 7054.

Appellate court ruling

The appellate court overruled the trial court and held that the internal mailbox system is a “service” or “equipment” within the meaning of Education Code Section 7054. According to the appellate court, Section 7054 prohibits the use of district resources in furtherance of political endorsements regardless of the identity of the actor or the cost to the district.

The court also analyzed the relationship of Education Code Section 7054 to the Educational Employment Relations Act (Government Code Section 3543.1), which allows employee organizations the right of access to mailboxes and other means of communication, subject to reasonable regulation, for the purpose of exercising employee rights. The district argued that limiting the district’s involvement in political campaign endorsements, consistent with the requirements of Education Code Section 7054, was a “reasonable regulation” under the EERA, and the court agreed.


It has been clear that Section 7054 prohibits the district itself from using district resources such as the school mailbox system for campaign endorsements. However, this ruling reaffirms a district’s obligation to adopt reasonable regulations limiting other groups’ access to internal district mailboxes for political campaigning. If the appellate court had affirmed the lower court ruling, districts would have been forced to allow unilateral access to district communication systems for campaigning without being able to respond in a similar manner.

The court’s ruling clarifies a district’s obligation to limit access to internal systems for campaign uses and would likely apply to other district communication systems, such as telephones and e-mail, as well as to district equipment, such as a photocopier. The court noted that there was an important distinction between the use of the internal mailbox and a table in the teachers’ lounge where the union may leave its newsletters because the mailbox is an integral internal communication system, and its primary purpose is to deliver messages to teachers and faculty. Because the table is not primarily used for delivering messages, and because placing items on the table requires the cooperation of the recipient in order to reach its destination, placement of political materials on the table, unlike the use of the mailbox, is permissible.

This opinion is consistent with other court rulings that have allowed district resources to disseminate information about a bond issue or ballot measure in a fair and impartial manner, aw well as the use of a district mail system to disseminate that impartial information. The opinion is also consistent with prior rulings that allow a board to adopt a resolution in support of a ballot measure at a public meeting, as long as the resolution does not urge the public to either support or oppose the measure and as long as the district uses normal, neutral channels to communicate the resolution.

This opinion also is consistent with other PERB decisions and court rulings that have distinguished the use of district internal communication systems for campaign purposes from the use of district facilities by a union or outside group, where the group might endorse a candidate, or a governing board meeting, where the board might take a position on a ballot measure. The Civic Center Act (Education Code Section 38130 et seq.) and Education Code Section 7058 carve out an exception for public gatherings that could potentially include political advocacy, because school auditoriums and board meetings are open to the public at large.

Campaigns raise stakes on nonprofits

Untraditional donation channels are expected to gain ground in 2008. They assure anonymity and do not impose caps

By Dan Morain, Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2007

When Taco Bell heir Rob McKay and his fellow "investors" gathered in Washington this month to fund start-ups, they weren't looking for the latest idea hatched in some tinkerer's garage.

Instead, the investment partnership known as Democracy Alliance, a group that includes filmmaker Rob Reiner and billionaire George Soros, were looking to be angels to political start-ups. In the 2008 election, their millions could be part of the new thing in politics.

Some major political players are expected to shift their money away from traditional campaign entities in favor of an old standby: the nonprofit. By giving to nonprofits, donors are unfettered by contribution caps that apply when they give directly to candidates. They also can be assured of anonymity.

The law allows nonprofits to be "very aggressive politically, while shielding donors from disclosure," former Federal Elections Commission Chairman Michael E. Toner said. "That is a very attractive combination."

In an election cycle in which top-tier presidential candidates are setting fundraising records, nonprofits offer yet another channel into which money can flow. Politically active nonprofits have been around for years and have gotten involved in past campaigns, particularly state ballot measures. But interest in them generally -- and in one type in particular -- is increasing as federal regulators crack down on other types of independent campaign organizations.

It is the 501(c)(4), named for the tax code that defines it, that seems to have struck a chord with people looking for new ways to organize their independent fundraising. Financiers who make up Democracy Alliance are among those who have funded nonprofits in the past and almost certainly will be doing so in the coming year.

Independent campaigns typically don't back specific candidates. Instead, they target candidates' stands on issues, such as immigration, abortion rights, the environment, the Iraq war, and various labor and business questions.

Nonprofits won't be the only path for independent campaigns. Political action committees, controlled by unions, businesses and ideological groups, have been part of the scene for decades. So far this year, PACs raised $111.2 million, a 9% increase from the same period in 2005, the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute reports.

Another type of political organization, the 527, named for the IRS code that defines it, emerged when Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and others spent millions during the 2004 presidential election. Recent filings show that in the first nine months of this year, 527s raised at least $76 million, up from $60 million for the same period in the last presidential campaign.

Some donors are shifting away from 527s as federal regulators crack down. But unions remain heavy users. Democratic and Republican governors associations operate through them.

Unlike nonprofits, which are barred from spending a majority of their money on elections, the point of 527s is to get involved in elections. They are not supposed to expressly advocate for or against a candidate, but they can be pointed.

One such group, Stop Her Now, states its goal as "rescuing the American public from the radical ideas of Hillary Clinton." However, it is not advocating for the Democrat's presidential defeat; it's merely "educating the American public," said its spokesman, Joe Turman.

On the flip side, last week John Podesta, chief of staff under President Clinton, incorporated a new 527 called the Fund for America. The Democracy Alliance's McKay and Anna Burger, national political strategist for the Service Employees International Union, are officers in the new group, which is expected to provide money to help elect Democrats.

Independent efforts are "going to be a huge deal," California Republican strategist Jim Brulte said. "Control of the federal government is at stake."

Washington lawyer Joseph J. Andrew, former Democratic National Committee chairman, predicted that groups involved in healthcare and energy, sure to be high on the next administration's agenda, would be especially active.

"Stakes are perceived to be very high," Andrew said.

The wealthy, corporations and unions long have paid for independent campaigns. An individual's donation to federal candidates is capped at $2,300. But individuals can spend as much as they want on outside efforts, so long as they don't coordinate with candidates. Often, ads aired by independent campaigns are the most pointed.

"This is part of the modern political playbook," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which predicts that up to $3 billion will be spent on ads in the 2008 campaign.

Tracey said that by restricting direct donations, campaign finance laws simply sent campaign money in different directions: "We crushed one giant cockroach and now we have 60."

A tenet of campaign finance law is disclosure. Disclosure provides insight into who backs campaigns and why. Candidates, parties, political action committees and 527s reveal donors' identities in filings with the Federal Election Commission or Internal Revenue Service.

By law, nonprofits can keep donors confidential. Although their tax returns are public documents, they contain much less information than campaign finance reports. And because tax returns are filed once a year, money spent in the 2008 election year won't become public until long after votes are counted.

"The law hasn't really caught up with many of these organizations," said Stephen Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington.

In a recent report, the Campaign Finance Institute said that nonprofits, such as the AFL-CIO and Focus on the Family Action, spent $90 million on campaign-related activities in 2006.

"Due to the lack of official disclosure, this is clearly an underestimate," the report said, predicting that "a substantially larger sum of soft money" would be spent in 2008.

New nonprofit groups that are raising millions include Americans United for Change. Largely funded by unions, it has aired ads attacking congressional Republicans who voted against recent healthcare legislation.

Another is Freedom's Watch. Created by former aides to President Bush, it focuses on the war, terrorism and the "emerging threat in Iran," said its president, Bradley Blakeman, a former White House aide. The group opened with a $15-million campaign supporting Bush's Iraq war strategy.

Freedom's Watch is using traditional campaign techniques, including mail and television and Internet ads. It won't advocate for or against a candidate directly, but it can home in on candidates' positions on issues.

"We're forming a never-ending campaign," Blakeman said. "We're taking on generational issues that are not decided at the ballot box."

Freedom's Watch identifies some but not all of its backers and does not reveal the amount they give. Supporters include former ambassadors, and several are major GOP donors. One, Sheldon Adelson, billionaire chairman of the Las Vegas Sands, gave $1 million in the last year to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 527.

As the 2008 election nears, legal ground shifts. In the last year, the Federal Election Commission has imposed $2.6 million in fines on seven 527s, finding their past activities violated rules against expressly advocating for or against candidates.

The commission also has begun to look at nonprofits for the first time, said Washington political law attorney Ezra W. Reese. The commission has fined some, including the Sierra Club, for their political activity. Such steps could curb political spending -- but maybe not.

"A lot of people are going to spend the money and hope for the best," Reese said. "A lot of organizations are looking at FEC fines as a cost of doing business."

Loyola Law School professor Richard L. Hasen said that a recent Supreme Court decision striking down some restrictions on corporate spending could lead to more money for ads typically funded by nonprofits and 527s.

"It is fluid as to where the money is going," Hasen said. "But there is every incentive to spend more this time. . . . Just as the fear of a filibuster-proof Senate could be motivating corporations to spend more, the possibility of a filibuster-proof Senate could be tantalizing for unions."

Meanwhile, investors who make up Democracy Alliance arrived in and left Washington with little notice. Created by a former Clinton White House aide, the group's goal is to counter conservatives who had funded think tanks in past years. Its staff recommends which nonprofits are worthy of investors' money.

Some partners are known. Many are not. The ante for new members is said to be $1 million. In the 2 1/2 years since its creation, Democracy Alliance's "partners" are estimated to have given $85 million to organizations, though there is no publicly available accounting. The goal, according to its website, is to build a "more robust, coherent progressive movement."

Democracy Alliance did not release its agenda. Nor did it disclose groups that will probably receive its money. Its executives would not speak publicly.

Why the mystery?

"They're so secretive because there is no point in signaling their strategy to the other side," said Rick Jacobs. Jacobs is the founder of Courage Campaign, the California affiliate of an alliance-funded confederation of state groups that seeks to build online support among liberals. "Why tell them what we're going to do before we do it?"

Prop. 92 finds two teachers unions at odds

Measure would cut fees, guarantee funding level for community colleges

By Shane Goldmacher , Sacramento Bee, November 16, 2007

The community college measure on the Feb. 5 ballot is shaping up to be a battle royale between California's biggest teachers' unions.

On one side is the California Federation of Teachers, the state's second-largest teachers' union. It has been the biggest financial backer of the campaign for Proposition 92, which would lower community college fees and set aside a percentage of the state budget for the two-year schools.

On the other is the California Teachers Association, the largest teachers' group in the state, which so far has been the sole funder of the opposition campaign – to the tune of nearly $300,000.

"We're used to being on the same side of issues," lamented Marty Hittelman, president of the federation of teachers backing the measure.

"I can't say that it never happened, but I don't remember any measure where it has," said Sandra Jackson, communications director for the teachers association opposing it.

Proposition 92 would lower community college fees to $15 per unit, from the current $20. More controversially for the CTA, the measure would tinker with the funding formula in Proposition 98, the 1988 ballot measure that locked in K-12 education's portion of the state General Fund at roughly 40 percent. It is considered sacrosanct by the education community, particularly the teachers association.

Opponents fear that by locking in community college funding, money could be siphoned away from the K-12 schools, where most CTA teachers work.

David Sanchez, president of the CTA, co-signed the lead ballot argument against the measure. "Nowhere in the measure does it identify a way to pay for all the new spending. ... They could cut education funding, including K-12 schools," he wrote.

But Hittelman said that argument "doesn't hold up."

"It goes back more to Proposition 98 was their invention and they don't like to see it messed with," he said. "I think the rationales (for opposing the measure) that are being given don't make much sense."

Union membership rolls are likely also playing a part in the split. Hittelman estimated that teachers in the community college system constitute about 30 percent of CFT members. They make up only 2 percent of CTA teachers.

"We have more concern for community colleges than they might," Hittelman said.

Jackson said the CTA "supports more funds for community colleges," just not the way Proposition 92 does it.

Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California and a backer of the measure, said theoretical support of community colleges isn't helping students.

"Everybody loves community colleges right now. I've never heard so many people say community colleges need more money," Lay said. "We've tried for 20 years to play the game in Sacramento, and what it has meant is fewer Californians being able to go to college."

The intra-teacher squabble doesn't bode well for the fate of the initiative, said education consultant Kevin Gordon, who isn't affiliated with the campaign.

"I think that the lack of support from the CTA and/or their activism against it, combined with the really horrible budget outlook, is going to be enough to sink that ballot measure," Gordon said.

Legislative analysts have pegged the cost of the measure to the state at roughly $300 million per year for the first three years.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, announced his opposition Thursday, saying Proposition 92 "will make California's bad budget problems worse."

The deep-pocketed teachers association, which spent tens of millions of dollars in 2005 sinking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election agenda, has put in $290,000 opposing the measure – an amount Gordon called "chicken feed" for the union.

"I am sure they will spend whatever it takes to make sure it's defeated," he said.

Jackson declined to comment on potential future spending by the association.

At least one major local CTA affiliate, the 45,000-strong United Teachers Los Angeles, has bucked the state organization and endorsed Proposition 92.

Other education groups are split on the initiative as well, most often with groups protecting their educational turf.

The California Faculty Association, which represents teachers at the California State University system, is actively opposing the measure, while the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges is supporting the measure.

Community colleges' partners in California's public higher education system – the CSU Board of Trustees and the University of California Regents – both voted this week to oppose the measure. Each cited the potential loss of state funding for their system.

"The CSU is worried that the passage of the proposition could mean leaner times by shrinking the pool of discretionary money available for higher education from Sacramento, which of course would impact CSU," said spokesman Paul Browning.

"There's a sincere debate about the future of higher education," said Lay, the community college advocate. "We are trying to have a system that will be accessible and affordable and the other universities have a different agenda, talking about their fee increases and executive pay this week. ... We believe we are going the direction the people want."

Term limit study supports both sides of debate

Study gives ammuntion to supporters as well opponents of Proposition 93

By Steven Harmon, Sacramento Bee, November 25, 2007

SACRAMENTO — An expansive new report by the Center for Governmental Studies on term limits concludes that Proposition 93 is a ... mixed bag. So much so, in fact, that both sides of the contentious ballot fight over loosening term limits claim the report supports their view.

One the one hand, the report likes that the measure will allow lawmakers to spend up to 12 years in either the Assembly or Senate — instead of the six-year limit in the Assembly and the eight-year limit in the Senate. Loosening that restriction, according to the report, will increase legislative experience, expertise and oversight. On the other hand, the report expresses reservations over a loophole in the proposition that would allow 41 of the 120 incumbent legislators to stay in office beyond 14 years. Those lawmakers are mostly state senators that previouslytermed out in the Assembly but haven't yet served 12 years in the Senate.

In other words, the report, "Termed Out: Reforming California's Legislative Term Limits," comes down squarely on both sides of Proposition 93.

"Some of these changes are good for the state," the report said. "Most are neutral; and a few are harmful."

The report ultimately did not take a position on Proposition 93, which voters will decide in February, although it left plenty of ammunition for both sides.

"The core principle of Prop. 93 is to make the Legislature more effective and efficient by having the most experienced legislators," said Richard Stapler, the spokesman for Proposition 93. "And Prop. 93 retains what's good about term limits. We applaud the study's findings." Kevin Spillane, spokesman for the No on 93 campaign, countered that the study affirmed term limits' benefits, and debunked some claims made by Proposition 93 proponents.

"Term limits does limit corruption and lobbyists don't like it," said Spillane, referring to two of the study's findings. "Lobbyists hate term limits because it prevents them from establishing long-term relationships. I was pleased with the report because it acknowledged the benefits of term limits more than most academic studies do. That's significant to have that third-party validation."

The report said it did not find California's current term limits law to be "significantly dysfunctional," but that a 12-year plan would "improve some of its structural weaknesses."

The study also noted how rarely legislators serve the full 14 years — only 19 have done so since 1990. Often, the study's author Sasha Horwitz said, legislators serve two or four years in the Assembly before jumping to the Senate; or they serve just six years in the Assembly, unable — or often unwilling to even try — to unseat an incumbent senator.

"It's a myth," Horwitz said, "that they're serving the full 14 years."

Among the more interesting findings in the report is that the current term limits law has changed the face of the Capitol. From 1990 through 2008, 369 legislators will have served, compared with 296 in the previous 18-year period — 1970 to 1988 — an increase of 25 percent. More women and minorities have been elected, though the report acknowledges the shift in minority representation was just as influenced by demographics as term limits.

The strongest gains among minorities are in Latino representation, up from 5.8 percent in 1991-92 to 23.3 percent now. During that time, Latino population grew from 24 percent of the state's overall population to 35 percent.

Redistricting in 1991, which created more districts where minority groups were an electoral majority, was also influential.

White representation has dropped from 87 percent to 63 percent — just as the white population in California has dipped from 57 percent to 44 percent.

The idea of more citizen-legislators, however, was debunked in the study. The Legislature now includes more members who had previously served in local government than pre-term limits. And current legislators are likely to continue to seek political office once termed out.

"It's always been people more politically involved and politically minded that tend to go into the Legislature," Horwitz said. "There are not as many people as advocates had hoped who would return to civilian life."

But, there have been changes in the types of people running for the Legislature. There are fewer lawyers, farmers and ranchers and more business people and educators. The only professional area that has stayed consistent among legislators is in the health care field.

The good thing about shorter terms, the report says, is that legislators have less time to be corruptible. Newly arrived members are more skeptical of lobbyists and "lack the knowledge to exploit the political process for personal gain."

Longer tenures give legislators more time to understand where the perks are, establish deeper ties with lobbyists, and greater access to government resources, the report said, that "may lead to the appearance or actuality of corruption."

Or, put another way, the report concludes the best and worst of politicians: Loosening term limits would give lawmakers more time to understand complicated issues — and more time to take advantage of the system.

Initiative jump-starts college fee discussion


By Matt Krupnick, San Jose Mercury, December 23, 2007

A February ballot measure has energized the debate over the wisdom of California's perennially low fees at the state's 109 community colleges.

Proposition 92, to be decided by California voters on Feb. 5, would lower fees from $20 to $15 per unit, and severely restrict future hikes.

California already has by far the lowest community college fees in the nation - less than a quarter of the national average this year.

Some are upset

But the measure has generated an angry response from those who support a high-fee, high-aid structure, much like the one developing at the University of California.

Some have criticized the community colleges for using Proposition 92 to guarantee the schools more money while wiping out some of their fee revenue.

Community colleges should not be the same as high schools, said Patrick Murphy, a University of San Francisco professor of politics and a higher-education finance expert.

"The proponents keep saying, 'Treat us like higher education,' " Murphy said. "But then they go and say, "Treat us like K-12.' I think it's a lousy idea."

Proposition 92 would permit fee increases only under very specific circumstances, and likely not at all for several years. If voters approve the measure, community colleges - which serve more than 2.5 million students - would lose millions in revenue, according to the state's non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

The lost money means lawmakers and the governor would need to pull money from other areas for the community colleges. Leaders of both the University of California and California State University oppose the measure, as does the California Teachers Association.

That opposition is hypocritical, said Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, which helped draft Proposition 92. University and K-12 leaders supported measures that guaranteed their schools state funding, he said.

"It's strange that all these things have tied the hands of the Legislature, but when it comes to community colleges, that's where people draw the line," Lay said.

Financial picture

While recent studies have shown that fees are only a small percentage of students' total costs, proponents say the measure acknowledges that students at two-year colleges rarely apply for financial aid. The psychological effect of raising fees would keep many of those students from attending college, proponents say.

"What you really need is not to be charging" at all, said Jeffrey Michels, president of the faculty union for the Contra Costa Community College District. "These should be public schools, like high schools."

But the initiative's fee policy has left even some strident community college supporters scratching their heads.

A March report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education showed that fees represent just 4 percent of the total cost of education for the average California community college student. In other states, fees average 18 percent of the total.

And more than half of California's full-time students have their fees waived because of their income status, the study revealed.

"The bigger problem is how to deal with that other 96 percent" of the cost, said Debbie Cochrane, one of the report's authors. "The fees are not the affordability issue. In fact, fees are the smallest part of the picture."

Supporters said fees are one of the few student expenses they can control. And they noted that fee hikes nearly always lead to immediate enrollment declines, which lead to less money for the schools.

But a similar fee limit in Colorado hurt colleges in tough budget years, said Katherine Boswell, a Utah-based education consultant. The limit made it difficult for schools to make up the lost funding through fee hikes. In California, past budget cuts have led colleges to cut classes rather than significantly raise fees.

California's low fees have eroded the community colleges' ability to serve students, she said.

"I really do believe in keeping tuition low, but not at the risk of harming community colleges," Boswell said. "Community colleges are hurting so much already."

Lay said many of the same people who are opposing Proposition 92 also would oppose fee hikes. The measure would help students plan the cost of their college education, he said, unlike the current system in which fees fluctuate depending upon the economy.

With a severe shortage of skilled workers looming in California, the state needs something drastic to boost enrollment, he said.

"Is there any revenue source we could have put in there that would have made them say, 'Way to go, community colleges'?" he said. "The yo-yo fee policy is just not good for students or for the economy."

How special interests avoid spending limits

By Erin McCormick, San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 2008

More money is flowing into California's legislative campaigns than ever, despite contribution limits that voters approved eight years ago in an attempt to quash the influence of well-heeled special interests in state elections, according to an analysis by The Chronicle.

Big-ticket donations have moved from candidate-run funds, where individual contributions are capped at $3,600 per election, into independent campaigns run by powerful groups to elect or defeat candidates.

Special interests also use loopholes to funnel money to legislators by donating to funds that fall outside the law's limits, including legal defense funds, ballot measure committees or lawmakers' favorite charities.

As a result, watchdog groups say, it has become nearly impossible for the public to follow the money.

Insurance and tobacco companies, unions, Indian tribes and other groups have used independent expenditure campaigns to pump millions of dollars into otherwise obscure state Assembly and Senate races, sometimes outspending the candidates themselves.

While such expenditures were allowed before voters restricted political giving by passing Proposition 34 in 2000, their use in legislative races has exploded by more than 2,500 percent since campaign contributions went into effect - growing from $1 million in 2000 to nearly $27 million in the 2006 election cycle.

For example, a special election in December to fill a vacant Los Angeles Assembly seat turned into a slugfest between labor unions and business groups - as a committee funded by state employees spent $251,000 running phone banks and organizing precinct walkers to support Democratic candidate Warren Furutani, who eventually won.

A corporate coalition funded by real estate developers, doctors and energy companies ran a $266,000 campaign for another Democrat in the race.

"The bottom line is the financing of political campaigns is a mess," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist, who follows state legislative campaigns as publisher of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan guide to state and federal election races. "The system favors the moneyed - and there's been no sign of reform."

On Thursday, the state Fair Political Practices Commission will hold hearings on the spike in independent campaign expenditures since Prop. 34 went into effect in 2001.

In the coming months, the agency's chairman, Ross Johnson, a former legislator who was a co-author of the contribution-limits law, says he hopes to investigate the multitude of ways big contributors are getting around the reforms.

"The people of California have repeatedly voted to limit contributions to candidates - with the expectation that that would reduce special interests' influence over legislation," said Johnson. "But the will of the people has largely been thwarted."

Special interests run massive campaigns against candidates they don't like, paying to produce their own negative ads and mailers:

    -- When Ellen Corbett, then a San Leandro assemblywoman who supported consumer rights, ran for state Senate in the 2006 primary, she faced a mysterious opponent. Californians for Civil Justice Reform, funded by insurers, tobacco companies and other corporate interests opposed to consumer lawsuits, spent $577,000 for mailers opposing her and ads supporting her opponent, John Dutra.

Meanwhile, a consumer attorney group called California Alliance jumped in to support Corbett, funding a $385,000 campaign. By the time the primary was over, 14 different independent committees had weighed in, spending a total of $2.2 million to influence the election. Corbett survived that primary and went on to win the Senate seat.

    -- Former Democratic Assemblywomen Cindy Montanez of Los Angeles wasn't so lucky. Montanez was author of a Car Buyers' Bill of Rights in 2005. A year later, she was crushed in a Senate primary against Democrat Alex Padilla, thanks in part to a $123,000 opposition campaign by a committee known as Californians Allied for a Prosperous Economy - which was funded by car dealers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution's First Amendment guarantees individuals and groups the right to spend unlimited amounts of their own money to promote their political views. Under state law, candidates are not allowed to coordinate any of the activities of these independent spenders.

"Do we really believe legislators are less beholden to these outside groups because they've spent independently?" asked UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain.

Even after the election is over, there are plenty of places special interests seeking to curry favor with lawmakers can put their money without having it subject to campaign limits. They can give unlimited amounts to a lawmaker's favorite charity or to his legal defense fund or ballot measure committee.

Since contribution limits went into effect, The Chronicle found, special interests have nearly tripled the amount of money they give to charities at the behest of legislators - from $1 million in 2000 to $2.6 million in 2007. Some of these donations benefit bona fide charitable groups, while others seem to serve only the legislators' personal interests:

    -- Last year, as a group of Indian tribes sought to win lucrative gambling compacts from state government, the Barona Band of Mission Indians allowed 16 of its favorite legislators to pick a school to receive a $5,000 donation - contributing a total of $80,000.

    -- State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, solicited $850,000 in contributions to charities last year from donors, including Sierra Pacific logging company, E&J Gallo winery, Kaiser Permanente and the Irvine Co. development firm. Of that, $560,000 went to the Rebuilding California Foundation - an Oakland nonprofit formed in January of 2007 to monitor the spending of the state infrastructure bonds approved by voters in a campaign led by Perata.

    -- In 2006, Democratic Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally of Los Angeles directed $357,000 in contributions from a host of special interest groups to the California Black Legislative Caucus Foundation, a group that he chairs. The caucus has sponsored conferences and posh retreats for legislators.

In some cases, contributors pull out the stops and give money in as many different ways as they can think of.

In 2006, as AT&T Corp. sought legislation that would allow it to enter the cable television industry throughout the state, it gave direct campaign contributions to 76 of 80 assembly members and 36 of 40 senators.

But it didn't stop there. AT&T gave $205,000 to the Democratic Party, $605,000 to the Republican Party and put $137,000 into various independent expenditure campaigns. And it made $99,000 in donations at the behest of nine legislators. In the year following the vote, it gave $50,000 to a ballot measure committee controlled by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, who sponsored the bill, and $25,000 to a ballot measure committee controlled by Senate leader Perata.

The bill, which took control of cable TV contracts away from localities and allowed statewide competition, passed overwhelmingly. Consumer groups said it was a giveaway that essentially deregulated the cable TV industry.

"I don't think special interests are spending any less," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica consumer lobby that opposed the bill. "They are simply funneling the money through different avenues."

Meanwhile, Prop. 34 hasn't made much of a dent in the regular fundraising by lawmakers' campaigns.

In the 2000 statewide election, before campaign contribution limits took effect, legislative candidates, competing in 100 races, raised a combined $109 million in their campaign funds.

In 2002, the year after Prop 34 took effect, total fundraising dropped to $72 million. But by the last legislative election in 2006, candidates for the 100 Assembly and Senate seats on the ballot raised enough money to surpass their 2000 record - collecting a combined total of $110 million.

Dave Gilliard, who has worked as a strategist in Republican Assembly races and independent expenditure campaigns, said the new ways money is being spent have made more work for campaign consultants like him but haven't made things easier for the public.

"I think contribution limits have had the opposite affect that voters wanted," he said. "It's driven a lot of money underground and made it harder for people to figure out who's behind a candidate. But it hasn't lessened the amount of money going into politics."

How to fix the system is a matter of debate. Republicans and many academics who follow campaign money argue that, because the nation's highest court has ruled that independent expenditures can't be banned, the best answer might be to get rid of campaign limits and improve disclosure to the public.

More liberal reform groups are calling for lower limits, elimination of loopholes and public funding of campaigns. But few people think the current system is working.

"It's just a screwed deal," said former state Sen. John Burton, co-author of the campaign contribution law. "There's always a way to get around limits."

Big spenders

The biggest independent expenditure committees and what they spent in the California legislative elections during 2006 and 2007.

California Alliance for Progress and Education $3,621,409

This committee, which bills itself as "an alliance of professionals, employees and small business," ran campaigns in seven legislative primaries and four general election races in 2006, including opposing Democratic San Leandro state Sen. Ellen Corbett in her primary run for her Senate seat.

Major funders

California Dental Association Independent Expenditure PAC$1 million
California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee$760,000
California Real Estate Political Action Committee$450,000
Farmers Employees & Agents Political Action Committee$344,500
California Building Industry Association PAC$200,000
California Hospital Association PAC$120,000
Team 2006, sponsored by California sovereign Indian nations $1,992,392

This group of tribes with casinos ran independent expenditure campaigns in eight 2006 Assembly and Senate races, including helping Republican incumbent Sheila Horton fight off Democrats' attempts to capture her San Diego Assembly seat.

Major funders

Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians $2.8 million
Sycuan band of the Kumeyaay Nation $2.8 million
Pechanga band of Luiseno Indians $2.8 million
California Correctional Peace Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee $1,653,226

This group representing California prison guards, one of the state's biggest contributing groups, made independent expenditure contributions in 17 legislative races in 2006.

Major funders

California Correctional Peace Officers Association$2.8 million
Californians for Civil Justice Reform $1,666,883

This group of corporations and industry groups that support legal tort reform funded independent expenditure campaigns in three Senate primaries in 2006, including spending more than $500,000 to oppose Ellen Corbett.

Major funders

California Building Industry Association$100,000
21st Century Insurance$100,000
ACC Capital Holdings Corp.$100,000
California Real Estate Political Action Committee$100,000
Bank of America California Political Action Committee$100,000
Pfizer Inc.$100,000
Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.$75,000
American Insurance Association$75,000
Amgen Inc.$60,000
Countrywide Home Loans Inc.$50,000
Farmers Insurance Group$50,000
Chevrontexaco Corp.$50,000
The Irvine Co.$50,000
Philip Morris USA Inc.$40,000

Source: Chronicle analysis of campaign finance filings

Follow the money

Loopholes in California's campaign contribution limits make special-interest spending hard to follow:

Before Proposition 34 took effect in 2001

-- Unlimited: Special interests could give unlimited amounts to candidates' campaign funds.

After Prop. 34 took effect

-- Limited: Special interests are limited to $3,600 per election to state Assembly and Senate candidates.

-- Unlimited: Special interests can spend unlimited amounts on their own campaigns to support or oppose candidates.

-- Unlimited: Special interests can give unlimited amounts to legal defense funds or ballot measure committees or make big donations to a charity at a legislator's behest.

To view campaign contributions and expenses, go to the California secretary of state's Web site: cal-access.ss.ca.gov/Campaign/

Local primary races: some hot, some not

Candidates file for June election; most crowded contest is for Houston's Assembly District 15 seat

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Contra Costa Times, March 11, 2008

The East Bay will see a mix of hotly contested races and outright snoozers as the filing deadline for the June 3 primary election separates those who talk from those who run.

The most crowded field is Assembly District 15, an open seat that stretches through the San Ramon Valley to western San Joaquin County and north to Elk Grove.

It's the last remaining district held by a Republican -- Guy Houston terms out this year -- but its near even party registration has Democrats seriously eyeing a win.

The number of potential Democratic candidates thinned out in the weeks leading up to Friday's filing deadline, dropping from nine to four. Democrat Joan Buchanan, a trustee for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, is the perceived front-runner, although political unknown Ted Ford of Walnut Creek has entered the race, along with Stephan Nigel Filson and Stevan Eldred Thomas, both of Danville.

Four Republicans have been campaigning hard for their party's nomination, including San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson, Danville businesswoman Judy Bivano Lloyd, optometrist Scott Kamena of Livermore and entrepreneur and rancher Robert Rao of Livermore.

Neighboring Assembly District 14, which includes Lamorinda, Berkeley and portions of West County, looks as though it will feature a pitched primary fight for the seat held by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock.

Democrats Tony Thurmond, Nancy Skinner, Kriss Worthington, Phil Polakoff and William Campisi qualified. Hancock will move on to the fight of her political career in a head-to-head state Senate contest with former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, who termed out in 2006. The women will vie for the seat held by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who also leaves office this year because of term limits.

But one of the most anticipated battles deflated mid-week when former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla unexpectedly bowed out of the contest for termed-out state Sen. Tom Torlakson's seat.

That leaves one-term Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, without a primary challenger and virtually guarantees that he will be Contra Costa's next state senator.

Torlakson will run for DeSaulnier's Assembly seat. The senator plans to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2010.

Court ruling offers hope to dysfunctional California politics

By Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee Columnist, March 19, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court gave California a road map to fundamental political reform Tuesday, if it's willing to take it, by approving Washington state's new version of the blanket primary election.

Eight years ago, the court threw out California's experimental blanket primary system that allowed voters to cross party lines in choosing nominees for state office, and Washington state's very similar system was subsequently invalidated.

The decisions were victories for major political parties, which had objected to allowing voters from other parties to participate in nominations. The court upheld their contention that the system violated the parties' rights to limit association.

Four years later, however, Washington voters reinstated the open primary concept in a slightly different form. The previous system placed all candidates on one ballot – hence the term "blanket" – with the top vote-getter from each party advancing to the general election. The substitute, backed by the State Grange and other reformist groups, advances the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party affiliation – which could mean that two candidates from the same party would face each other.

Once again, the major parties sued to throw out the Grange system, clearly assuming that the courts would invalidate it, and the 9th District Court of Appeal did exactly that. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, refused to overturn the new Washington primary system, which has never been implemented.

If voters are not confused and the parties can still tell them which candidates they prefer, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, overturning the new blanket primary system would be "an extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people."

The decision shocked party leaders in Washington, who had been confident of victory. "You're kidding," Washington Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said when informed of the decision, according to the Associated Press.

While Tuesday's decision is limited to Washington, and the court left open the possibility of further challenges if the new blanket primary proves to be unworkable or confusing, it opens the door for California to reinstate a new open primary system.

And it's a door the state should enter, because the current "closed primary" system has contributed mightily to California's political dysfunction.

The two major parties are continuing to lose traction among voters, while the ranks of independents are continuing to expand. But when coupled with gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts, the closed primary tends to create more ideological polarization in the Legislature and freeze moderates and independents out of meaningful roles in choosing officeholders.

The state's ongoing budget crisis and lack of progress on issues such as water and education reform attest to the dysfunction – and to the disgust and alienation that Californians increasingly express toward politics.

An open primary system that passes legal muster – as the Supreme Court indicated Tuesday it could – would not be a panacea for political dysfunction, but in combination with thoughtful reform of redistricting, and perhaps term limits, could restore some of the Legislature's legitimacy and relevance.

The Washington system would, in effect, reduce the role of parties to private organizations, still able to tell voters which candidates they support but unable to control those choices, as the current system corrosively allows. The result could be a Legislature that's less robotic, less beholden to internal party factions, more moderate and more oriented toward making policy rather than playing partisan and ideological games, as we're seeing now on the budget.

Open primaries another path to moderation?

Feinstein wants limits on automated phoning

By Steven Harmon, Contra Costa Times, November 11, 2008

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger likely will go to the end of his days in the Capitol frustrated by the unwillingness of the two major parties to work together, especially in times of crisis.

But he apparently is trying to plant the seeds of compromise for future governors, having led the successful redistricting ballot initiative, which he contends will make lawmakers more responsive to the needs of constituents.

He will soon pivot to another pet reform that he says he hopes would bring even more levelheadedness to Sacramento: open primaries.

"The next thing is open primaries," Schwarzenegger told a crowd during a late October rally in San Diego. "That's how we have to walk down that road and create the real change."

The system would allow the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — in an open primary to advance to a general election runoff.

Two Democrats or two Republicans could end up facing each other in November in legislative, gubernatorial or congressional contests.

That means voters could choose candidates from either party. Currently, parties allow only those registered with them, or unaffiliated, such as decline-to-state voters, to participate in their primaries.

The rationale behind such a move would be to force candidates to the political center in a general election runoff by relying on voters of the other party to win.

"If you were in a safe Democratic district, you'd have to go over and get Republican and independent votes to win," said Alan Hoffenblum, a GOP consultant and co-editor of California Target Book, a publication that analyzes legislative races.

"Vice versa with the Republicans. You wouldn't be beholden to just the extreme of your party."

That would theoretically temper their behavior in the Legislature, which would see more compromise on such issues as the budget and taxes.

Leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties are opposed, saying it would effectively take the parties out of play in huge swathes around the state and weaken their ability to control the outcome of who represents their party.

"This would force political parties to abandon even more of the state than they do now," said Ron Nehring, chairman of the state Republican Party. "If a party doesn't have a candidate on the general election ballot, a party has no reason to be involved. Is it healthy to our democracy to not have our parties engaged in every part of the state?"

Others say that it would lead to an increase in money in campaigns, giving wealthier candidates an unfair advantage, and providing an opening for independent groups and special interests to become more involved than the parties themselves.

"For anybody who runs campaigns, it's a good idea," said Bill Cavala, a Democratic strategist. "Interest groups would be in the driver's seat. Groups doing independent expenditures will see a new way of spending money and they'll be involved. It would quintuple the amount of money. Clearly, it's an incentive for interest groups to make sure they had a finalist in the November general election," or to at least influence the outcome between two candidates of the same party.

California had an open primary system from 1998-2000 before the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it violated a political party's First Amendment right of association. But the high court in March approved an open primary in Washington state, in which there are no party nominations and candidates from all political parties run on the same primary ballot to produce a "top-two" general election.

There's little data from the 1998 and 2000 primary elections that showed any ill effects of the open primary system, said Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser to the Democratic state party.

"But it's clear, tens of thousands of people wandered into the other party's primaries," Mulholland said. "We the Democratic Party believe we have the right to determine who votes in our primaries. We don't want people in other parties voting in our primaries."

Some government reform groups don't view open primaries as a top priority.

"I'd put Election Day registration at the top of the list," said Kathay Feng, director of California Common Cause. "To the extent (open primaries) makes other proposals possible, I'm willing to pair them. But there are other reforms with higher priority, like campaign finance."

It's time for major changes at the Capitol

Term limits, gerrymandering, the closed primary - dump them all

By George Skelton, Los Angeles Times Columnist, April 10, 2008

SACRAMENTO — It's time for spring cleaning -- whether smartening up the backyard, scrubbing the old boat or scouring the Capitol.

Brush away the cobwebs. Mend the creaky gear. Toss the broken junk.

I have a long to-do list for the Capitol. Not just simple cleaning, but some major remodeling.

Its importance will become increasingly evident as summer approaches and the politicians move from budget belligerence into a bad bottleneck. This brawl could be the worst ever.

Not just the budget, but water, healthcare, education. Name the issue. This place hasn't been working well.

So, here's what I would haul to the dump:

  • The two-thirds majority vote requirement for legislative passage of money bills, including tax hikes. Somebody bought that at a garage sale several decades ago and we've been tripping over it ever since. It's the biggest cause of Capitol gridlock.
  • Let the majority party act and be held accountable for the consequences. When there's an inflexible minority and a two-thirds vote mandate, the only result is dysfunction and summer-long stalemate. Before 1962, at least, a budget could be passed by a simple majority vote if it didn't increase spending by more than 5%. It wasn't until 1978 -- through Proposition 13 -- that a state tax hike required a two-thirds vote.

    • Term limits. It's like firing the lawn guy every six years whether he's doing a good job or not. It takes awhile for the new hire to learn even what he doesn't know, like how to cultivate relationships. Voters came close to reforming term limits in the February election, but were deterred from positive public policy by the negative personalities of political leaders.
    • Gerrymandering. It's like letting your kid's Little League team design its own baseball diamond and choose the umpires. The game's rigged. Legislators have been choosing their own voters. An independent commission, rather than the self-serving Legislature, should draw legislative districts. We need general election competition that produces a more pragmatic, less partisan bunch oriented toward the center.
    • The closed primary. This really is a relic. Toss it. Both major parties are losing members while the ranks of "declined to state" independents grow.

    But we cling to party primaries where the most far-right or hard-left extremists usually win nominations. That combined with gerrymandering creates a highly partisan, polarized Legislature. We need a system where any voter, regardless of party, can participate in a primary. Such a system, from Washington state, recently was sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It works like this: Candidates of all political stripes run on one primary ballot. There are no party nominations. The top two vote-getters advance to the November election.

    And these things are in sorry need of repair:

    • The initiative system. It's rotten, taken over by special interests in cahoots with consultants, a growing political-industrial complex. The frequent result is ballot-box budgeting, with voters tying the hands of their elected representatives, forbidding them to prioritize spending. Some voter-approved programs operate like automatic sprinklers, but are almost impossible to shut off.

    One fix would be to bring back the "indirect initiative," which was foolishly discarded in the mid-1960s. Under that system, the Legislature would get a crack at altering an initiative before it went on the ballot. Sponsors could accept or reject the lawmakers' tinkering. But the Legislature could serve as a filter for flaws.

    "There are too many initiatives on the ballot," says Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "If the Legislature can resolve the problem, that's the best place to do it because it has the experts and can hold public hearings."

    • Campaign finance rules. Either fix or chuck them. There are enough loopholes for a colony of squirrels. Set up some form of public financing so the politicians are bought by the public rather than by the special interests. Try it out first with just a couple of offices, such as secretary of state and state superintendent of public instruction. They should be off-bounds to high-rolling favor seekers and partisan politics anyway.

    If public financing won't fly, eliminate all the rules -- the contribution limits, the convoluted shell games -- and allow candidates to raise whatever they can from anybody. But require them to report online to the secretary of state within 24 hours any donation over $250. That way, voters can follow the money. Also, close out those special kitties used by the governor and legislators as personal slush funds.

    • Legislative compensation. Lawmakers receive a tax-free, daily expense allowance of $170 that should be an embarrassment. To receive it, every day of the week, they can't be out of session for more than three days in a row. It's comical the contortions they go through to keep that money flowing. Lawmakers hold "check-in" sessions where they "report" but don't meet. Junk it.

    Pay for reasonable air travel. Provide an ordinary state car and a modest housing allowance. Demand receipts. But pay wages the same as Congress: $169,300 annually. The salary for legislators currently is $116,000. Leaders make $133,000. Compensating them fairly and honestly would allow lawmakers to arrange their work schedule to benefit the boss -- the electorate -- not merely the family bank account.

    • Budgeting. The governor is right: This family needs a rainy-day fund, a jar in which to stash surplus change when times are good and to draw from when money's tight. Some fiscal discipline -- a spending limit -- makes sense, given the history of debt. A close examination of outgo might disclose unnecessary expenses. But this desperate situation also calls for a willingness to generate more income. Start by modernizing the outdated tax structure.

    Achieving even some of this could be back-breaking politically, because there hasn't been a good spring cleaning at the Capitol in many decades. There has only been a lot of silly junk brought in that cluttered up the place.

    Good intentions could harm redistricting ballot measure

    By George Skelton, Los Angeles Times Columnist, April 28, 2008

    It's now practically certain: There'll be a measure on the November ballot to finally quash the Legislature's self-destructive system of gerrymandering.

    What's uncertain is whether there'll also be a rival measure placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

    This is a much-needed reform that could wind up being loved to death by too many smothering embraces.

    And it's an excellent example of the need for another reform: a fix of the initiative system.

    We should bring back the "indirect initiative" -- foolishly jettisoned in the mid-1960s -- that allowed the Legislature and governor to tinker with a citizens' initiative before it went on the ballot. Sponsors could accept or reject the lawmakers' amendments. If accepted, the result presumably would be an improved product, the avoidance of campaign bloodletting and resolution of a state problem.

    The problem here is infamous gerrymandering, which rigs elections to favor the party that already holds a given legislative seat. In California, that's usually the Democratic Party. Legislators, in effect, choose their own voters rather than the voters getting a fair crack at choosing them.

    Never thought I'd hear a legislative leader acknowledge it -- Democrat or Republican -- but Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines of Clovis lamented to me last week that gerrymandering results in the election of ideologue extremists.

    Because the Legislature draws districts so they're lopsidedly either Democratic or Republican and aren't competitive in November, most elections actually are decided in the party primary. Almost always, the most true-blue Democrat and red-glowing Republican are nominated. That makes for unyielding party partisanship.

    "You have real liberal and very conservative people getting elected and nothing gets done [in Sacramento]," Villines says. "We should slug it out in the primary -- and slug it out in the general.

    "Citizens should draw the maps with no politicians' involvement. It's an inherent conflict of interest. I'm serious about it."

    For nearly three years, Democratic legislative leaders have promised straight-faced to produce a reform plan that stripped away the lawmakers' power to draw their own districts. They've pledged to turn the chore over to an independent citizens' commission. And they've reneged.

    This taxed the patience of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some good-government groups: Common Cause, AARP, the League of Women Voters and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. They took matters into their own hands and united behind an initiative to create a 14-citizen redistricting commission.

    The proposal also has been endorsed by a new reform outfit, California Forward, co-chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and Thomas V. McKernan, chief executive of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

    Schwarzenegger donated $550,000 of his political money to the signature-collecting effort. About 700,000 voter signatures are needed -- 1.1 million to be safe -- and they're expected to be turned in to county registrars within a week or two. Once they're validated and the secretary of state certifies the initiative for the ballot, it's there for good. There's no taking the measure off the ballot.

    It has been speculated that the initiative sponsors might hold back the signatures while assessing the seriousness of recent rumblings of another legislative effort at reform. Maybe they could compromise on a single measure, it's theorized. Forget it. The good-government groups have heard it all before.

    "The chances of that happening are between slim and none, with the emphasis on none," says Steve Smith, a political consultant for the initiative group.

    Outgoing Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) unnerved skeptical reformers recently when he told The Times that he plans to propose a sweeping legislative package that would alter redistricting, term limits and campaign fundraising.

    Nuñez would create a 17-member independent redistricting commission: nine members screened by judges and chosen by the governor, eight selected by legislative leaders. He calls it a "hybrid" commission designed "to provide checks and balances" against partisan favoritism.

    The term limit change -- allowing a total 12 years in either house -- would be similar to the Nuñez proposal rejected by voters in February, except there wouldn't be any sweetheart bonus time for incumbents. The fundraising change would bar legislators from hitting up special interests during hectic legislative periods, such as when the budget is being negotiated.

    "You look at the schedule of bill deadlines and you find committee chairmen holding [fundraising] events the same week," Villines says. "I'm not saying anyone is doing a quid pro quo. But it just looks bad and gives the wrong perception. Common sense says it shouldn't be done."

    If you get the impression that Republican Villines is cheering on Democrat Nuñez, you're correct. Nuñez is catching the heat -- accused by reformers of lobbing a grenade in front of their swiftly moving redistricting initiative -- but Villines is the speaker's silent partner.

    Why doesn't Villines just endorse the initiative being pushed by Schwarzenegger and the outsiders? "We've got to do it on the inside and show some courage," he answers. "We in the Legislature shouldn't abdicate issues."

    But Villines also has another motive: He thinks if legislators can start cooperating on political reform, they might come together on more issues, such as the water development that he and other Central Valley legislators covet.

    "It's not a strategy for leverage," he insists, not entirely convincingly. "But we need to break though this partisanship and get into a cooperative environment."

    Nuñez told me he's "not enthusiastic about mortgaging California's future" by borrowing billions for water facilities. "More bonds? We can't even pay the bills right now."

    As for the redistricting initiative, "it's very bad -- very bad -- for Democrats," he claims.

    An assessment by Democratic map-drawers contends that the party could lose up to 10 Assembly seats.

    Nonsense, say the initiative sponsors.

    Nuñez's message: There'll likely be Democratic opposition, regardless of whether the Legislature passes a rival measure.

    Fortunately, the reform groups aren't wincing. They're plowing straight ahead.

    Call the absentees: Micro-targeting in the low-turn out campaign

    By Anthony York, Capitol Weekly , May 1, 2008

    For the first time in California history, the majority of the ballots cast in this June's elections are expected to be absentee ballots.

    The growing popularity of vote-by-mail ballots, coupled with an expected low turnout election mean that most voters will have their ballots in hand before Election Day for the first time.

    While the Secretary of State's office does not offer official projections, either on turn-out or what percentage of the voters will be absentee, political consultants across the state say they expect early voting to be more important this year than ever. In the 2006 primary election, 46.9 percent of voters were absentee, up nearly 13 percent from the 2004 primary.

    In the recent special election that sent Jackie Speier to Congress, overall turnout was in the mid-20s, with almost three-fourths of all voters casting absentee ballots.

    "Every campaign now has to take into account the fact that a large portion of the votes that will be cast are in voters hands a month before election day," said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the campaign to recall Jeff Denham. "A lot of those ballots are going to be cast well before the election day occurs. You've got to try to talk to those folks when they're thinking about your race."

    This June, with no statewide candidates on the ballot, and only two ballot initiatives, only the most tried and true voters are expected to come to the polls. Turn-out models vary from campaign to campaign, but most expect turn out to be as low as 20 percent in some districts.

    So most campaigns are concentrating their outreach efforts on the so-called "five-of fives," voters who have voted in all of the last five elections.

    And the messaging has started earlier than ever. Many campaigns have already started their mail campaigns, and some are beginning to reach out to high-propensity voters through phone banks. Foot soldiers are already knocking on door, and lawn signs are out earlier than ever.

    "We recognize that there will be a higher percentage of babsentee voters this time, and that we need to reach them early in May, when they get their ballots," said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the No on 98/Yes on 99 campaign.

    The early messaging is due in part to the brevity of this spring's ballot. Because there are only two initiatives on the ballot, and no statewide candidates, many campaigns are assuming voters may fill out their ballots earlier, simply because it will take less time than normal.

    Some groups are focusing their efforts on absentee voters to put their candidate over the top this year. EdVoice has launched a "carbon-free voting" campaign in Santa Monica to help boost votes for Senate candidate Fran Pavley.

    EdVoice spokesman Paul Mitchell says the campaign has been focused in the parts of the district that PAvely represented in the Assembly. "Voters in the 41st Assembly District are favoring Pavley 54-16," Mitchell said. "So the challenge them becomes not just persuading those voters who to vote for, but getting them to vote."

    Mitchell said Los Angeles County has lower permanent absentee rates than most other parts of the state. "Parts of her district are 11-13 percent absentee," he said. "If we can boost absentee voting in those places, we know we're boosting support for Pavley."

    But even though a majority of the ballots may be mail-in ballots, a number of them will be handed in to poll workers on Election Day. Even so-called permanent absentee voters some wait to cast their vote, opting to hand in their absentee ballots at the polls.

    Hefner says that while early voters can often times differ with Election Day results, the absentee votes that are handed in late tend to closely mirror the ballots cast at the polling place. " The people who walk into a polling place with an absentee ballot tend to look like those cast on Election Day. In close races, you see that tide turn as they count the vote."

    Confusing ballot designs still plague elections

    By Deborah Hastings, AP, May 11, 2008

    The solution should have been a no-brainer, voting experts say. After all, it was a badly designed ballot that enflamed the 2000 election meltdown and introduced the vagaries of chads to the political lexicon — pregnant, hanging and otherwise.

    So it would seem that redesigning ballots to make them simpler should have been a high priority. But that hasn't been the case, voting experts say.

    Eight years after the fiasco in Florida's Palm Beach County, confusing ballots continue to stymie voters and plague elections in this primary season.

    "The sad fact is, we still have not systematically addressed the need for good ballot design standards," said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school. "We've spent billions of dollars on overhauling election administration in this country, but we're still seeing the same ballot design mistakes in almost every federal election."

    There are no federal laws concerning ballot design. Some states have guidelines, others don't. Largely, ballots are designed by local election officials, who number more than 5,500. On Election Day, that means there will be the same number of ballots across the country, all with different designs.

    This year's hectic primary season has already met with confusion and controversy. In Pennsylvania's April 22 contest, some folks at the polls complained a ballot section containing delegate choices was hard to read and easily overlooked.

    In Ohio's problem-prone Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, several March 4 primary voters became upset when poll workers insisted they remove a perforated ballot stub, used as an accounting device, on which was clearly printed "Do not remove." Voters feared their ballot wouldn't be counted.

    County elections director Jane Platten held a news conference that day, promising voters — who turned out in record numbers for a Democratic nominating race between New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — that every ballot would be counted, with or without a stub.

    One of the worst primary snafus occurred in Los Angeles County, the nation's largest voting jurisdiction. On Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, an avalanche of voters inundated polling places. Many complained about a ballot eccentricity that required independent voters to fill in two ovals — one for a candidate and one for the party in which they were voting.

    Days later, a stormy public hearing followed, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors demanded an investigation. Initially, more than 60,000 ballots were considered void. Acting county registrar Dean Logan then led a recount of those cards and eventually 48,525 Democratic votes were added to the county total, giving 51 percent to Clinton and 42 percent to Obama. The election's outcome was unchanged, and opponents appeared calmed by the recount.

    Platten and Logan said the confusing aspects of their county ballots will be dropped in time for November's general election. Los Angeles voters go to the polls again on June 3 in a primary election for nonpresidential candidates. The double ovals have been eliminated in favor of preprinted cards for each party, Logan said.

    Platten said she will get rid of the troublesome tab when she and her staff begin redesigning Cuyahoga County's ballot this summer, in time for November.

    In 2002, Congress passed a mammoth reform package known as the Help America Vote Act, designed to prevent a repeat of the 2000 election debacle. Part of that disaster was caused by Palm Beach County's "butterfly ballot," an open-faced punch card in which candidate names ran over two columns, with punch holes running side-by-side down the middle. Voters complained they were confused by the layout and didn't realize until afterward that they had punched the wrong hole.

    A recount of those ballots — and others across Florida — created more disarray when auditors discovered some holes hadn't been pressed hard enough, leaving bits of the ballot — dubbed chads — hanging, swinging or pregnant — not perforated all the way. As a result, many of the ballots were not counted.

    The federal voting act made $3.9 billion available to election officials to overhaul their voting systems. Much of that money went to purchasing new systems, including electronic touch-screen technology touted by manufacturers as the answer to voting ills.

    "There was a belief that with the machines, technology was going to solve the problem of voter confusion." said Norden, who has assembled a task force to provide ballot design help to local officials.

    "You can have the greatest machines in the world," Norden said, but if you create a design that is confusing, you're going to end up with voter errors."

    Touch-screen machines have proved to contain ballot design problems as well. In 2006 in Sarasota, Fla., some 18,000 voters failed to mark a congressional race. The electronic layout, which posted the race at the top of a ballot page without the same type of heading given to other contests, has been blamed by voting advocates as the cause of those under-votes.

    David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is part of the Brennan Center task force. Electronic voting machines, like ATMs, should have only one choice per screen, he said. "Putting everything on one screen is very problematic. Putting everything at once in front of the voter overwhelms them. And that can be an invitation to cut the voting short."

    Under the federal voting law, mandates also were established to help revamp election systems, including producing ballot design guidelines. Those directives are carried out by the federal Election Assistance Commission.

    The commission, which has been criticized by some voting advocates for being slow to act, produced overall guidelines last November, when it posted online a 266-page report titled "Effective Designs for the Administration of Federal Elections."

    In December, the commission mailed CDs of the report, with downloadable ballot graphics, to election officials nationwide.

    Apparently, not everyone got the report.

    "I certainly haven't seen it," said Cuyahoga County elections director Platten. "Now that I know it's there, I will get on the Web and check it out."

    Political robocalls target of legislation

    Feinstein wants limits on automated phoning

    By John Marelius, San Diego Union Trubune, May 31, 2008

    When a candidate asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein to record a message for an automated campaign phone call, she was happy to oblige.

    Then the complaints started.

    “I had hundreds of phone calls from people who said, 'How dare you call me at three o'clock in the morning,' ” the California Democrat told a Senate hearing in February. “And I learned my lesson. I do not now do robocalls. But they have become for many people very invasive when they come sometimes eight to 10 times a day and sometimes in the middle of the night.”

    Now, Feinstein is co-sponsoring legislation to impose modest restrictions on an ever-growing, and to many voters highly annoying, campaign practice.

    Most voters mistakenly believe that because they signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry, political phone calls should stop along with commercial ones. But political calls are specifically exempted from the registry.

    “Ninety percent of people have no clue that politicians are exempt and when they do, it makes them angry,” said Shaun Dakin, a marketer and longtime political volunteer who has launched a voluntary political do-not-call registry on his Web site StopPoliticalCalls.org.

    Under an obscure Public Utilities Code section that is not enforced, robocalls are only legal when introduced by a live person.

    Because candidates can reach tens of thousands of voters for just a few cents per call, political professionals say robocalls offer a way – perhaps the only way – for candidates who can't afford expensive television commercials and mass mailings to get their message out.

    “As more and more forms of communication change and access is limited, we're very concerned that people still have the right and ability to communicate with their fellow citizens,” said Republican strategist Wayne Johnson, president of the American Association of Political Consultants.

    Johnson did acknowledge the potential for annoyance.

    “Certainly the risk of irritating the voter is higher with an auto phone call than it is with a piece of mail they can throw away and a channel they can change,” he said.

    In California, nearly all of the robocalls that swamp voters' answering machines during election season are illegal under Public Utilities Code sections 2871-2876. That requires most automated calls, including political ones, to be introduced by a live person, which they almost never are.

    Violators are subject to a fine of up to $500 for each violation. The PUC may also order that the automatic dialing be disconnected for a specified period of time.

    But voters don't know about the requirement, campaigns ignore it and the Public Utilities Commission doesn't enforce it.

    “It's one of those things that's on the books and not enforced,” said Michael Shames, president of the San Diego-based Utility Consumer Action Network.

    Shames said his organization would consider filing a class-action lawsuit against robocall vendors if it gets enough complaints about them. “We'll be the robocop,” he said.

    It's not easy to find, but the PUC's Web site contains instructions on what people who believe they have received an illegal robocall can do.

    They are told first to file a complaint with their local telephone company. If the phone company does not correct the problem to their satisfaction, a complaint can then be filed online with the PUC.

    It's a process that apparently has never been used.

    “I've never even heard of that before,” said Republican political consultant Dave Gilliard, who is working to help Duncan D. Hunter replace his father, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who is retiring from Congress.

    The younger Hunter's campaign has sent out robocalls that feature the candidate's voice urging voters to support him. Three other candidates in the 52nd District – Republican Brian Jones and Democrats Vickie Butcher and Mike Lumpkin – have directed automated calls at district voters.

    And District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has taped a call on behalf of San Diego city attorney candidate Jan Goldsmith.

    One of the San Diego mayoral candidates is apparently using robocalls to identify supporters. Without identifying the campaign behind it, the call asks voters whom they plan to vote for and how sure they are of their choice.

    As for the phone company, Gordon Diamond, a public affairs officer at AT&T, said he was unaware of the complaint process.

    “I was wondering how a person would know to even call us to complain if they wanted to or if people even know what the regulations are,” Diamond said. “It's not anything that's come up on our radar screen.”

    Because the commission has done so little to publicize the complaint process, it has nothing to enforce, said Barbara O'Connor, a professor of political communication at California State University, Sacramento.

    “They're not really doing anything because nobody knows to complain to them,” O'Connor said.

    Commission information officer Tom Hall acknowledged, “There's certainly an enforcement issue there. It's a rather tricky thing to enforce.”

    Feinstein is cosponsoring the Robocall Privacy Act that would fine groups that make political robocalls between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., make more than two calls to the same number in a day, fail to disclose the party responsible for the call or block caller-identification information.

    The senator touched off a firestorm in the political consulting industry at the end of a Senate Rules Committee hearing in February when she said she planned to amend the bill to include political automated calls in the National Do Not Call Registry.

    Almost immediately, the American Association of Political Consultants launched a fundraising drive to torpedo the measure.

    Broadening the bill to that extent also raised constitutional questions.

    “As a recipient of these calls, I find them very annoying,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “But as a matter of constitutional law, I do think there are serious First Amendment issues raised by limiting political speech.”

    Feinstein decided to stick to her original bill.

    “She's looked at the whole scope of the issue and believes at this time it's best to move the bill as introduced,” said Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman. “The goal here is to stop the most outrageous practices.”

    Rick Gilmore, president of Denver-based Democratic Dialing, is a lonely voice in the robocall industry that favor's Feinstein's legislation.

    “I've been in this business since 2002 full time. I know what works. I know what doesn't,” Gilmore said. “It does the client, the campaign, zero good to call somebody who just gets enraged by it.”

    Gilmore said he targets calls for the middle of the day when he is more likely to get answering machines than someone eating dinner.

    “People tend to listen to calls longer on their answering machines,” he said.

    Donald Green, a professor of political science at Yale University, studied the effectiveness of robocalls and pronounced them “an abject failure.”

    “None of them worked,” Green said. “None of them increased turnout. None of them shifted preferences.”

    He said robocalls are widely used because they're so inexpensive.

    “If you're paying 2 cents a call and can buy 50 robocalls for a buck, $1,000 gets you 50,000,” Green said. “But you might as well take that $1,000 and throw it in the street.”

    Robocalls were ubiquitous during the 2006 special election to replace former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who was sent to prison after admitting he accepted $2.4 million in bribes and pleading to tax evasion and conspiracy. The open seat, eventually won by Republican Brian Bilbray, attracted a field of 18 candidates, many of whom had little money and relied heavily on robocalls.

    Most political consultants believe robocalls can have limited effectiveness if not overused.

    Republican strategist Gilliard said robocalls are about the only way to respond to a last-minute attack, such as a hit piece that arrives in the mail the day before election day.

    “If I find out early enough in the day, I can have a call out on people's answer machines in the afternoon,” Gilliard said. “You can get a message saying don't believe what you just got in the mail.”

    Here's how the process to stop illegal calls is supposed to work:

    People contact their telephone company to file a complaint.
    The telephone company is supposed to tell the business or campaign to stop.
    If the calls do not end, the phone company can disconnect the phone line.
    If people are not satisfied with the phone company's response, they can file a complaint with the commission's Consumer Affair's Branch on line at uniontrib.com/more/robocall or by telephone at (800) 649-7570.

    Statewide Propositions - November Election

    Legislative Analyst Office Analysis of Propositions

    California Democratic Party Propositions Recommendations

    California League of Women Voters Recommendation and Review of State Propositions

    Proposition 1 Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century. SB 1856 (Ch. 697, 2002) Costa.
    Existing law creates the High-Speed Rail Authority with the responsibility of directing the development and implementation of intercity high-speed rail service. This bill would enact the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, which, subject to voter approval, would provide for the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds, $9 billion of which would be used in conjunction with available federal funds for the purpose of funding the planning and construction of a high-speed train system in this state pursuant to the business plan of the authority. Nine hundred fifty million dollars of the bond proceeds would be available for capital projects on other passenger rail lines to provide connectivity to the high-speed train system and for capacity enhancements and safety improvements to those lines. Bonds for the high-speed train system would not be issued earlier than January 1, 2006. The bill would provide for the submission of the bond act to the voters at the general election on November 2, 2004. (Note: Subsequent legislation moved this measure to the November 2008 ballot.)

    Proposition 2 Treatment of Farm Animals. Statute.
    Requires that an enclosure or tether confining specified farm animals allow the animals for the majority of every day to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up, and turn around. Specified animals include calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs. Exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes. Provides misdemeanor penalties, including a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail for up to 180 days. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Probably minor local and state enforcement and prosecution costs, partly offset by increased fine revenue. (Initiative 07-0041.)

    Proposition 3 Children's Hospital Bond Act. Grant Program. Statute.
    Authorizes $980,000,000 in bonds, to be repaid from state's General Fund, to fund the construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of children's hospitals. Designates that 80 percent of bond proceeds go to hospitals that focus on children with illnesses such as leukemia, cancer, heart defects, diabetes, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Requires that qualifying children's hospitals provide comprehensive services to a high volume of children eligible for governmental programs and meet other requirements. Designates that 20 percent of bond proceeds go to University of California general acute care hospitals. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: State costs of about $2 billion over 30 years to pay off both the principal ($980 million) and the interest ($1 billion) costs of the bond. Payments of about $67 million per year. (Initiative 07-0034.)

    Proposition 4 Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy. Constitutional Amendment.
    Amends California Constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minor until 48 hours after physician notifies minor's parent, legal guardian or, if parental abuse reported, an adult family member. Provides exceptions for medical emergency or parental waiver. Permits courts to waive notice based on clear and convincing evidence of minor's maturity or best interests. Mandates reporting requirements, including reports from physicians regarding abortions on minors. Authorizes monetary damages against physicians for violation. Requires minor's consent to abortion, with exceptions. Permits judicial relief if minor's consent is coerced. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Potential unknown net state costs of several million dollars annually for health and social services programs, court administration, and state health agency administration combined. (Initiative 07-0053.)

    Proposition 5 Nonviolent Offenders. Sentencing, Parole and Rehabilitation. Statute.
    Requires State to expand and increase funding and oversight for individualized treatment and rehabilitation programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees. Reduces criminal consequences of nonviolent drug offenses by mandating three-tiered probation with treatment and by providing for case dismissal and/or sealing of records after probation. Limits court's authority to incarcerate offenders who violate probation or parole. Shortens parole for most drug offenses, including sales, and for nonviolent property crimes. Creates numerous divisions, boards, commissions, and reporting requirements regarding drug treatment and rehabilitation. Changes certain marijuana misdemeanors to infractions. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increased state costs that could exceed $1 billion annually primarily for expanding drug treatment and rehabilitation programs for offenders in state prisons, on parole, and in the community. Savings to the state that could exceed $1 billion annually due primarily to reduced prison and parole operating costs. Net savings on a one-time basis on capital outlay costs for prison facilities that could exceed $2.5 billion. Unknown net fiscal effect on expenditures for county operations and capital outlay. (Initiative 07-0081.)

    Proposition 6 Criminal Penalties and Laws. Public Safety Funding. Statute.
    Requires new state spending on various programs to combat crime and gangs, and to operate prison and parole systems. Increases penalties for several crimes, including violating gang injunctions, using or possessing to sell methamphetamine, or carrying loaded or concealed firearms by certain felons. Eliminates bail for illegal immigrants charged with violent or gang-related felonies, establishes crime for removing or disabling a monitoring device affixed as part of a criminal sentence, and changes evidence rules to allow use of certain hearsay statements as evidence when witnesses are unavailable. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net state costs likely to exceed a half billion dollars annually primarily for increased funding of criminal justice programs, as well as for increased costs for prison and parole operations. Unknown one-time state capital outlay costs potentially exceeding a half billion dollars for prison facilities. Unknown net fiscal impact for state trial courts, county jails, and other local criminal justice agencies. (Initiative 07-0094.)

    Proposition 7 Renewable Energy. Statute.
    Requires all utilities, including government-owned utilities, to generate 20% of their power from renewable energy by 2010, a standard currently applicable only to private electrical corporations. Raises requirement for all utilities to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. Imposes penalties for noncompliance. Fast-tracks approval for new renewable energy plants. Requires utilities to sign longer contracts (20 year minimum) to procure renewable energy. Creates Solar and Clean Energy Transmission Account to purchase property or rights of way for renewable energy. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: State administrative costs of up to $3.4 million annually for the regulatory activities of the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission, paid for by fee revenues. Potential, unknown increased costs and reduced revenues, particularly in the short term, to state and local governments resulting from the measure's potential to increase retail electricity rates, with possible offsetting cost savings and revenue increases, to an unknown degree, over the long term to the extent the measure hastens renewable energy development. (Initiative 07-0066.)

    Proposition 8 Limit on Marriage. Constitutional Amendment.
    Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: The measure would have no fiscal effect on state or local governments. This is because there would be no change to the manner in which marriages are currently recognized by the state. (Initiative 07-0068.)

    On July 28, 2008 a new title and summary were provided for Prop 8. Th eold summary was written 2007 before the California Supreme Court ruling.


    Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

    Fiscal Impact: Over the next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact to state and local governments.

    Here's the old one:


    Amends the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: The measure would have no fiscal effect on state or local governments. This is because there would be no change to the manner in which marriages are currently recognized by the state.

    Proposition 9 Criminal Justice System. Victims' Rights. Parole. Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
    Requires notification to victim and opportunity for input during phases of criminal justice process, including bail, pleas, sentencing and parole. Establishes victim safety as consideration in determining bail or release on parole. Increases the number of people permitted to attend and testify on behalf of victims at parole hearings. Reduces the number of parole hearings to which prisoners are entitled. Requires that victims receive written notification of their constitutional rights. Establishes timelines and procedures concerning parole revocation hearings. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Unknown potential increases in state prison and county jail operating costs due to provisions restricting early release of inmates. To the extent that any such costs were incurred, they could collectively amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. A potential net savings in the low tens of millions of dollars for the administration of parole reviews and revocations if the changes related to parole revocation procedures were not overturned by potential legal challenges. (Initiative 07-0100.)

    Proposition 10 Bonds. Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy. Statute.
    Authorizes $5 billion in bonds paid from state's General Fund, allocated approximately as follows: 58% in cash payments of between $2,000 and $50,000 to purchasers of certain high fuel economy and alternative fuel vehicles; 20% in incentives for research, development and production of renewable energy technology; 11% in incentives for research and development of alternative fuel vehicle technology; 5% in incentives for purchase of renewable energy technology; 4% in grants to eight cities for education about these technologies; and 3% in grants to colleges to train students in these technologies. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: State costs of about $9.8 billion over 30 years to pay both the principal ($5 billion) and interest ($4.8 billion) costs on the bond. Payments of about $325 million per year. Increase in state sales tax revenues of an unknown amount, potentially totaling in the tens of millions of dollars, over the period from 2009 to beyond 2018. Increase in local sales tax and VLF revenues of an unknown amount, potentially totaling in the tens of millions of dollars, over the period from 2009 to about 2018-19. Potential state costs of up to about $10 million annually, through about 2018-19, for state agency administrative costs not funded by the measure. (Initiative 07-0101.)

    Proposition 11 Redistricting. Constitutional Amendment and Statute.
    Creates 14-member redistricting commission responsible for drawing new district lines for State Senate, Assembly, and Board of Equalization districts. Requires State Auditor to randomly select commission members from voter applicant pool to create a commission with five members from each of the two largest political parties, and four members unaffiliated with either political party. Requires nine votes to approve final district maps. Establishes standards for drawing new lines, including respecting the geographic integrity of neighborhoods and encouraging geographic compactness. Permits State Legislature to draw lines for congressional districts subject to these standards. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Probably no significant increase in state redistricting costs. (Initiative 07-0077.)

    Candidate Votes %
    Clinton 8,944 48.9%
    Obama 8,435 46.1%
    Edwards 695 3.8%
    Kucnich 93 0.5%
    Richardson 53 0.3%
    Biden 38 0.2%
    Gravel 18 0.1%
    Dodd 14 0.1%
    Democrats 18,290 70.4%
    McCain 2,348 53.0%
    Others 2,085 47.0%
    Republicans 4,433 17.0%
    Turnout 25,972 66.5%
    Registered 39,071 .

    Candidate Filing Information

    City Council - 2 positions available

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Marie Gilmore 7/15/08 8/5/08
    Tracy Jensen 7/15/08 8/6/08
    Doug deHaan 7/16/08 8/8/08
    Justin Harrison 7/24/08 8/8/08

    Tracy Jensen Video - October 1, 2008

    Alameda Journal Endorsements for School Board and City Alameda Journal, October 24, 2008

    Alameda Blogs Coverage of the 2008 City Council Race

    Four for Two - August 15, 2008
    Justin Harrison Interview- August 15, 2008
    Alamedans Questionnaire #1 for City Council - September 2, 2008
    Alamedans Questionnaire #2 for City Council - September 3, 2008
    Alamedans Questionnaire #3 for City Council - September 5, 2008
    Alamedans City Council Coverage

    School Board - 3 Positions Available

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Ron Mooney 7/14/08 8/8/08
    Trish Spencer 7/14/08 8/8/08
    David Forbes 7/14/08 8/8/08
    Janet Gibson 7/14/08 7/14/08
    Neil Tam 7/15/08 8/7/08
    Michael ONeill 7/17/2008 Withdrew

    Alameda Media Coverage of the 2008 School Board Race

    Election Special: Endorsements Island Blog, October 28, 2008
    Alameda Journal Endorsements for School Board and City Alameda Journal, October 24, 2008
    Election Recommendations Stop, Drop and Roll, October 20, 2008
    Brain, Heart, Gut Blogging Bayport, October 17, 2008
    Meet the Five Candidates Alameda Sun, Various Dates
    Review of the Five Candidates Alameda Journal, October 17, 2008
    AUSD Board Candidate Trish Spencer Accumulates Endorsements Action Alameda, October 15, 2008
    Eve Pearlman's Endorsement of Mooney, Forbes and Tam October 14, 2008
    Alamedans Questionnaire #1 for School Board Candidates
    Alamedans Questionnaire #2 for School Board Candidates
    Alamedans Questionnaire #3 for School Board Candidates
    If TJ for CC, then what for AUSD Part II - Schools 94501-94502 - July 15, 2008
    If TJ for CC, then what for AUSD - Schools 94501-94502 - July 15, 2008
    For You Consideration - Blogging Bayport - June 25, 2008

    School Board

    Candidate Absentee Votes Election Day Votes Post Election Votes Total Votes
    52 of 52 Precincts Reporting
    Ron Mooney 4,203 5,241 3,039 12,483
    Trish Spencer 4,388 5,328 3,073 12,789
    David Forbes 3,863 4,522 2,697 11,082
    Janet Gibson 4,251 4,888 3,087 12,226
    Niel Tam 6,180 6,773 4,327 17,280
    Totals 22,885 26,752 16,223 65,860

    Final Vote Count: 35,982 ballots cast out of 44,049 registered for a voter turnout of 81.6%.

    Hospital Board - 2 positions available (4 year term)

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Jordan Battani 7/14/08 8/8/08
    J Michael McCormick 8/12/08 8/12/08

    Hospital Board - 2 positions available (2 year term)

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Robert Deutsch, MD 7/14/08 8/8/08
    Rob Bonta 7/15/08 8/8/08

    East Bay Muncipal Water District, Ward 6

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Susi Otlund 7/15/08 8/8/08
    Doug Linney 7/28/08 8/8/08
    Lena Tam 7/28/08 DNF

    City Auditor

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Kevin Kearney 7/14/08 .

    City Treasurer

    Name Date Papers Pulled Date Papers Filed
    Kevin Kennedy 7/15/08 .

    In addition here is information about other Alamedans running for office. Bill Withrow (incumbent) filed for Peralta Community College District, and Doug Siden (incumbent) is running for East Bay Regional Parks, Ward 4.

    On August 15th the Secretary conducted a randomized drawing that assigns a numerical ranking to the alphabet to determine a candidate's ballot position. Based on that randomized drawing the ballots should like those listed below unless there is breakdown in communication like the one in 2004 that saw the City races listed incorrectly.

    City Council School Board EBMUD
    Tracy Jensen Ron Mooney Doug Linney
    Justin Harrison Trish Spencer Susi Otlund
    Doug deHaan David Forbes .
    Marie Gilmore Janet Gibson .
    . Niel Tam .

    Local Ballot Measures - November Election

    Measure P. Real Property Transaction Tax Measure -- City of Alameda (Majority Approval Required)

    To maintain essential City services such as keeping existing fire stations open; maintaining neighborhood policing programs; improving traffic flow and pedestrian and bicycle safety; preventing recreation program cutbacks; and restoring previously reduced library hours; shall the City of Alameda increase the City real property transfer tax, charged when a property is sold, from $5.40 to $12.00 per $1,000.00 of value, limited to 20 years and subject to audits?

    No on P Website

    Measure Q. Obsolete and Unclear Language -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to delete obsolete and unclear language? Said amendments will be accomplished by amending Sections 2-4, 2- 6, 2-9, 3-7(A), 3-7(B), 3-7(C), 3-7(F), 3-7(I), 3-15, 9-1(E), 12-3(D), 17-10, 22-4, and 28- 6(A), deleting Sections 3-7(E), 3-15.1, 17-11, 23-4, 23-5, Art. XXV, and 28-6(B), and adding Section 2-16 to said Charter, all as more fully set forth in Resolution No. 14246 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure R. Contracts -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to provide that every contract shall be in writing and that the City shall not be bound by any contract unless it complies with the Charter? Such amendment will be accomplished by adding Section 22- 13 of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14250 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure S. Emergency Bidding -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to provide that in an emergency the City Manager or designee may forego competitive bidding for a public work or improvement or purchase of materials or supplies to protect life, health, property or essential public services? Such amendment will be accomplished by adding Section 3- 15.2, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14253 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure T. City Office Hours -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to provide that Council may determine when City offices are to be open for business? Such amendment will be accomplished by amending Article XXII Sec. 8 of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14252 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure U. Auditor Requirements -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to provide that the Auditor have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license or a related educational degree, and no bond? Such amendment will be accomplished by amending Article IV of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14247 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure V. Treasurer Requirements -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to require that the Treasurer be licensed as a Chartered Financial Analyst or Certified Financial Planner and annually recommend to Council an investment policy for City monies and monitor and report results of the City investment portfolio? Such amendment will be accomplished by amending Article V of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14248 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure W. Public Utilities Board -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to eliminate transportation from the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Board? Such amendment will be accomplished by amending Article 12-1(A) of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14249 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    Measure X. Historical Advisory Board -- City of Alameda (Charter Amendment - Majority Approval Required)

    Shall the Charter of the City of Alameda be amended to eliminate reasons for removal of Historical Advisory Board members and to authorize the City Council to determine when it is appropriate to do so? Such amendment will be accomplished by amending Article XXVIII Sec. 5 of said Charter, as fully set forth in Resolution No. 14251 of the Council of the City of Alameda.

    County Wide Measures

    Measure VV. Special Tax Measure -- Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (2/3 Approval Required)

    To preserve affordable local public transportation that allows seniors and people with disabilities to remain independent, takes students to and from school, provides transportation alternatives given skyrocketing gas prices, helps residents commute to work and reduces traffic and greenhouse gas emissions by getting cars off the road shall the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) increase its existing parcel tax by $4 per parcel, per month for ten years with independent oversight and all money staying local?

    Measure WW. Extend Existing East Bay Regional Park District Bond With No Increase In Tax Rate -- East Bay Regional Park District (2/3 Approval Required)

    To continue restoring urban creeks, protect wildlife, purchase/save open space, wetlands/shoreline, acquire/develop/improve local and regional parks, trails and recreational facilities, shall East Bay Regional Park District be authorized to issue up to $500 million in general obligation bonds, provided repayment projections, verified by independent auditors, demonstrate that property tax rates will not increase beyond present rates of $10 per year, per $100,000 of assessed valuation?

    Alameda school board needs bold leadership

    By Eve Pearlman, Alameda Journal Columnist, October 14, 2008

    Last Monday night I sat with my laptop, fingers tapping, in the auditorium of Alameda High's Little Theater taking notes on the school board debate. The turnout wasn't bad considering how few people tend to show up for these nitty-gritty local civic events.

    The four candidates who attended (incumbent Janet Gibson was out of town) were tired, having just come from another similar forum. But David Forbes, Ron Mooney, Trish Spencer and Niel Tam bravely answered tough questions — primarily budget-related — about issues that face the Alameda Unified School District.

    It's important to point out that each of the five candidates has a long track record of volunteerism in Alameda schools. They've served on boards and committees, they've raised money, they've built coalitions, they've fought for increased funding and they've gone to morning meetings and afternoon meetings and evening meetings.

    They've put their hearts and souls into improving our district.

    So let us have respect for these five individuals, all of whom are vying for a position that comes with a huge workload, bucket loads of responsibility and yet pays nothing.

    So I thank them all. We all should thank them all.

    With a lame-duck school superintendent (Ardella Dailey resigned effective in January) and board president Bill Schaff stepping down after the November election, AUSD needs powerful board leadership.

    We need strong, intelligent leaders (I'd argue brilliant ... and luckily we have a few candidates who fit the bill) who understand the complex (and sometimes bizarre) laws and regulations governing everything in public school administration, from curriculum to funding. We need school board members who can step up and be bold, coalition-building leaders. This is no time for messing around.

    Three candidates rise to the top: Incumbent David Forbes and newcomers Ron Mooney and Niel Tam.

    To call Mooney and Tam newcomers is a slight misnomer. Mooney has been active in education for decades. Before moving to Alameda in 1997, he served five years on Emeryville's School board and, in Alameda, he has been active in many school groups , PTA Council and Keep Alameda Schools Excellent.

    Mooney, like David Forbes, is one of those smarter-than-smart guys you want at the helm of things (despite the populist notions drifting about in our society than political leadership requires no expertise).

    Both Mooney have Forbes have an impressive grasp of the issues facing Alameda schools, a clear vision for leadership, and an enduring commitment to doing right by all the school children of Alameda. Forbes has served ably during a rocky time on the board, and has a long history of commitment to the district, both in parcel tax and bond issue campaigns, and as a past PTA council president.

    Tam is a just-retired district teacher who was, most recently, principal at Washington Elementary. Tam brings 38 years of educational known-how to the table. He knows how the AUSD works, how it can be improved, and will be a calm, consensus-building force on a board that is currently not working nearly as harmoniously as we might hope. Tam speaks clearly and directly, has a demonstrated commitment to serving all students, and the board will be well-served by his membership.

    In November, our best chances for solid, sophisticated leadership will come from voting in Mooney and Tam and re-electing Forbes.

    "In spite of all the distractions, the message everyone should get is that the schools are really doing a very good job," Forbes told me the other day. "It's easy to get caught up in the adult issues of finances and forget that there's a lot of good stuff going on every day, in every classroom, in every school."

    Let Mooney, Forbes and Tam lead. Let Alameda's children learn.

    Five contenders compete for school board

    By Peter Hegarty, Alameda Journal, October 16, 2008

    Five candidates are vying for two seats on the Alameda Unified School District board of education. The two incumbents, Janet Gibson and David Forbes, are running against Ron Mooney, Trish Spencer and Neil Tam.

    School district leaders anticipate more belt-tightening in the coming year as state funding shrinks and the overall economy stumbles. Last spring the school board voted for deep cuts, including music and athletic programs, to cover a projected $4.5 million short fall. Those programs were restored after voters passed Measure H in June. However, that measure is now being challenged in the courts with two lawsuits, adding to the uncertain financial future facing Alameda schools.

    Trish Spencer

    Age: 49

    Occupation: Attorney

    Web site: www.votetrish.com

    When it comes to the Alameda schools, Trish Spencer has a lengthy resume: President of the PTA council and a leader in both the Kids Chalk Art Project and Save Our Music — the group that raised some $20,000 to maintain music in the classrooms after district leaders placed it on the chopping block this year to save money.

    Spencer is also a parent with four children now attending Alameda schools.

    This marks her first time seeking a seat on the board.

    If elected, Spencer said her top priority would be to maintain quality education for all students, including arts and sports, and she would look to trim administrative costs.

    She also wants the new superintendent — no matter who gets the job — to understand just how much the district is financially strapped. She notes that she opposed the recent move by the school board to boost the superintendent's salary as a way to attract candidates.

    "We need someone who will recognize that the district does not have sufficient funds and is willing to work with what we have," Spencer said. "We need a leader who wants to be part of the team. And our team is underpaid."

    Spencer said she would like to see district officials, parents and others sit down with those who have filed the lawsuits against Measure H, the parcel tax that voters narrowly approved.

    "Litigation is costly and it's risky," Spencer said. "Given the financial situation of the district, we should be trying to resolve these lawsuits by working with the business community."

    She added: "And in this case, what's being leveraged is public education in Alameda."

    As president of the PTA council, Spencer helped every Alameda school receive a state garden grant.

    She has also worked as a substitute teacher in the city's schools.

    Janet Gibson

    Age: 71

    Occupation: Retired Alameda school teacher

    Web site: www.janetgibsonforschoolboard.com

    Not only has Janet Gibson served eight years on the Board of Education — if she wins re-election, it will mark her third term — but she has also served the school district as a teacher.

    Gibson taught here for 31 years.

    It provides her with a unique perspective as a board member, she said.

    "My expertise is that I know education and I know curriculum," Gibson said. "I know what it feels like as an employee and I know how the district functions."

    Among her goals: closing the achievement gap while still working to improve what is offered to students who are doing well academically. But with the district facing budget woes, it's not an easy task, Gibson said.

    "We are going to have to get smarter and more efficient in the way that we spend money," she said. "We need to look for ways to be creative with what we have."

    In terms of Measure H, Gibson said she regrets that the board did not spend more time working with business leaders before putting the parcel tax before voters.

    She noted that trustees also needed to move quickly to get the measure on the ballot.

    "The problem remains that there's a lack of money and it needs to be solved," Gibson said. "But I do have confidence that the community also wants a good school system."

    As a trustee, Gibson said she tries to make the board transparent and accessible to the public.

    The qualities that she would like to see in a superintendent include a willingness to gather input from the public and to become involved with the community.

    She also wants a superintendent who wants to work with the board — and not play politics with the trustees by playing one off the other to push an agenda.

    Ron Mooney

    Age: 50

    Occupation: General manager, flooring company

    Web site: www.ronmooney.net

    This may be Ron Mooney's first bid for a seat on the Alameda school board. But if he wins, it will not be his first time as an elected leader of a school district.

    Before Mooney moved here with his family in 1996, he served two terms on the school board in Emeryville.

    Tough times are ahead for the Alameda district, Mooney said.

    If the lawsuits filed against the parcel tax Measure H are successful — and the district fails to reap the millions needed to make up the budget shortfall — cuts are inevitable, including possibly closing schools, he said.

    "It's just impossible not to have that kind of discussion," Mooney said. "And we really have to understand that it's going to affect kids and education."

    Mooney said he would like to see district representatives sit down with the measure's opponents to work out a solution.

    Mooney is past president of the Alameda Education Foundation. He has been a PTA leader at Chipman, Encinal, Franklin and Wood schools and he was a leader in the campaign to support Measure H.

    Among his goals as a board member will be to boost communication between teachers of different grades and administrators and to build "coalitions" among trustees.

    "It's not just administrators," Mooney said. "It's not just teachers. It's the school district and it's our community."

    Along with a strong knowledge of school finances, Mooney wants the new superintendent to have an "educational vision," plus be someone who is willing to gather input from parents, teachers and others.

    But he also wants someone with the courage to stand up to the community when tough choices have to be made.

    "Now it's time to ensure all are striving for the highest goals.," Mooney said in a campaign flier. " We need accountability as we push for high academic standards for all schools and students. We need real conversations about the future of Alameda schools, including sustaining neighborhood schools, ensuring they exceed standards and are adhering to the dreams we hold."

    Niel Tam

    Age: 63

    Occupation: Retired Alameda school principal

    Web site: www.nieltam.com

    Like others in the school board race, this marks the first time that Niel Tam is making a bid for elected office.

    But that doesn't mean that he does not have a long history with the school district.

    Tam recently retired after working 38 years as a teacher and principal here, including at Washington and Miller elementary schools.

    If elected, his priorities would include creating partnerships between school officials and the community as a way to strengthen schools and boost education, he said.

    Tam also said that in the event of future cuts, which appear likely, he would initially review the list that Superintendent Ardella Dailey proposed in March — and which was shelved after voters passed Measure H.

    After reviewing the list, he would gather community input to find out what parents want to save, he said.

    "What's our over-arching goal?" Tam asked. "We need to recognize that we are here for the kids."

    As a trustee, Tam said he would work to address the physical needs of schools and would build relationships with parents and others at the neighborhood level.

    Among the qualities that Tam would like to see in the new superintendent is a passion for education and the district's educational goals, as well as a willingness to work with non-traditional organizations.

    Tam currently chairs the Alameda Multicultural Community Center and holds positions with Alameda Family Services and the Alameda Boys & Girls Club.

    His supporters include the Alameda Education Association and the Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus.

    "As a school board member, I will continue to collaborate with Alameda organizations to support the needs of our teachers so they can better serve our children," Tam said.

    David Forbes

    Age: 49

    Occupation: Sailing club manager

    Web site: www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/alm/vote/forbes_d/

    As an incumbent, David Forbes knows all about the tough decisions that trustees sometimes have to make: He was on the board when it decided to close Longfellow, Miller and Woodstock elementary schools.

    And like his opponent and fellow incumbent Janet Gibson, Forbes helped make the decision to put Measure H on the ballot as a way to prevent still more cuts.

    It's that experience that he says makes him an ideal candidate for a seat.

    "I can make the tough decisions," Forbes said. "I do my homework. I come to the meetings prepared. I am also willing to listen to people."

    Forbes has spent four years on the board.

    He's a former PTA council president and the former president of the PTA at Edison Elementary School.

    His four children attend Alameda schools, while his wife works for the Oakland Unified School District.

    If re-elected, Forbes said he will work to establish a good working relationship with his fellow trustees, as well as with the new superintendent and the district's new chief financial officer.

    But he also noted that additional cuts could be on the horizon.

    "We need to change," Forbes said. "We can't keep doing the same thing and expecting different results."

    The overall goal is to achieve systematic change in Sacramento so that school districts do not have regular cycles of funding problems, he said.

    Forbes also wants to work on closing the achievement gap, especially in mathematics.

    His endorsers include the Alameda County Democratic Party and the Alameda Education Association, or teachers' union.

    As a school district leader, Forbes said children remain his priority and he puts what happens in the classroom first.

    "We are not dealing with widgets," he said. "We are dealing with kids."

    Meet the Candidates

    Dennis Evanosky , Alameda Sun, Various, 2008

    Ron Mooney

    School board candidate Ron Mooney offers the community business savvy and a proven dedication to schools. He is past president of the Alameda Education Foundation and currently serves on its board as secretary. "I am running for school board to provide the community leadership our schools need," Mooney says.

    Mooney has learned first-hand the importance of every level of an organization. He started at a young age at a $150-plus million, 200-employee family-owned business and worked his way up to vice-president of operations. He has three children who attend Alameda schools.

    Mooney said leadership is a top priority facing the school district. He says that school board members must act as community leaders with integrity, vision and action. "The board needs to lead the discussion of what we want for our schools and how we will fund them, not continually being reactive to the diminishing state funding year after year after year," he said.

    Mooney sees the board taking a leadership role in two important areas. First the board must hold meetings and workshops to share the data and vision for Alameda's schools without relying solely on bureaucratic committees and reports. Second, Mooney says the board needs to own a master plan for the schools.

    He says that the board needs significant input from professional educators, including the superintendent, teachers, staff, administrators "to create and adopt a district master plan that all can look to for the direction of our schools, that all can look to as a guide for the major decisions we make every year, every month, every day."

    Mooney also says the school district must create long-term plans that anticipate shortfalls from the state and that "give our community the information and strategies for making up the differences."

    He sees a need to fight for fair-share funding for long-term success. "Simply asking or demanding Sacramento for more funding will not work," he says. "We cannot keep running our schools the way we have for the last decade if we are to meet the challenges of the future."

    Mooney realizes that there are no magic answers to the pressing needs of Alameda's schools. "Working together and being a leader is what is needed," he says. "I have the demonstrated ability to do just that for our community."

    David Forbes

    David Forbes has served on the board of education since 2004 and is running for re-election. "Over the last four years I have demonstrated a deep commitment to the education of all of AUSD's students," Forbes says.

    "I got involved in local school issues when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten," he says. Forbes now has four children attending district schools and is married to a special education teacher who works for the Oakland Unified School District.

    "After attending Parent-Teacher Association meetings during that first year, I was asked to become the next PTA president." He remembers breaking the glass ceiling, becoming Edison Elementary School's first male PTA president. While serving his first year, Forbes introduced the concept of "sister schools" — partnering with the then-Miller Elementary School

    Forbes served as PTA Council president from 2001 to 2004. During his tenure, he helped to start Walk and Roll to School Day, initiated a partnership between the school district and Alameda Power & Telecom and served on the board of the Alameda Education Foundation. "I ran an $83 million fundraiser for the schools — Measure C," Forbes said. "I also served on a variety of AUSD committees — and then in 2004 I was elected to the school board."

    Over the last four years he has helped the school district maintain a balanced budget and avoid a state takeover; all the while test scores and employee morale have both risen dramatically.

    "My major priorities for the next four years are two-fold," Forbes said. "The first to coalesce the new district leadership in one team; the second is to engage the community and stakeholders in a series of deep discussions as to where we take education in Alameda. Forbes says he will focus on excellence and equity in education, as well as stable and dependable financing in his next term on the school board.

    Nielsen Tam

    "I believe that it is important to be involved in the community," Tam says of his school board run. He has certainly put action behind those words. He currently sits on the boards of the Alameda Multicultural Comm-unity Center and Alameda Family Services. He also serves on the advisory committee for the Alameda Boys and Girls Club. Just recently he served as one of Alamedas' traffic commissioners and sat on the Library Strategic Planning Committee.

    "I have dedicated my entire career — over 38 years — to our children," Tam says. He had served with the Alameda Food Bank, Girls, Inc., Alameda Point Collaborative and the Alameda Soccer Club. "During my years as a teacher and principal in the Alameda School District, I have a unique perspective like no other board member," Tam says. "I managed two elementary schools and know first-hand what it takes to improve our schools."

    Tam's perspective included time spent as the principal of both Washington and Miller elementary schools. "I worked with parents, staff and the school community to achieve double-digit growth in test scores and improve our schools," he says. As principal, Tam collaborated with the American Red Cross and the Koshland Foundation to provide disaster preparedness training for families living in the West End.

    He also values his experiences with Alameda's teachers. Tam says that he knows from a principal's perspective that teachers need support to address the academic, physical and emotional needs of students in our community. "I respect our teachers as professionals and value their knowledge in working with children," he said.

    "As a school board member I will continue to collaborate with Alameda organizations to support the needs of our teachers so they can better serve our children," Tam says. His creativity led to unearthing $350,000 for an elementary school playground through non-conventional collaboration with the PTA, the Coast Guard, Alameda Rotary Club, outside foundations and non-profit organizations. "As a school board member, I will use this same resourcefulness in taking on the challenges that the Alameda school board currently faces with budget shortfalls, Tam says.

    Janet Gibson

    Janet Gibson is the first school board member ever to run for a third term. Gibson says she will continue her role as an advocate for the children and families of Alameda, and has the experience to get the job done, not only on the school board, but in the classroom as well. She has taught at every grade level, from preschool through high school. "I am familiar with curriculum, local and state testing programs, and the educational needs of all of Alameda's children," Gibson says. "My commitment is to close the achievement gap among Alameda students and, at the same time, improve what we're offering to our most talented and gifted students."

    Gibson stresses how important it is that parents, teachers and the community have access to the board. "I have always supported the idea that everyone attend and participate in our board meetings."

    Over this past term Gibson worked with the superintendent and her fellow board members to develop an equity policy. "The social and economic diversity of our island community demand that we continually pay attention to the needs of all students," she says. Gibson has known and worked with the past seven Alameda school superintendents and says that she will bring this experience to the selection and evaluation of the next district administrator.

    She serves as co-chair, representing the school district, of the Alameda Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families and helped establish the collaborative's "Season of Non-Violence" program in Alameda schools.

    "I have listened to our community and know that we must respect their wisdom as we make future plans for our schools," she says.

    Trish Spencer

    Trish Spencer is running for a seat on the school board. Spencer has seen every school in the district through the eyes of a substitute teacher, an attorney and the mother of four children who all attend public school here. Spencer has also served the Alameda PTA as its council president. "I am prepared to tackle the quality-of-education, equity and fiscal challenges facing us and represent a broad range of interests," she says.

    As PTA Council's president, Spencer organized lobbying efforts for educational funding that included trips to Sacramento, a letter-writing campaign and community rallies. She also led the successful effort to obtain state garden grants for Alameda schools, and the PTA council spearheaded the Save Our Music effort. Spencer has also advocated programs like world languages, health and safety issues and facility improvements. Spencer says that her legal background enables her to ask key questions, research viable solutions and negotiate agreeable outcomes. "These skills, along with my empathy for each child, are needed to face the district's challenges," she says.

    Spencer moved to Alameda from Newport Beach in 1998. She works as an attorney primarily providing pro-bono legal services to non-profits. "The bulk of my outside efforts have been focused as a volunteer for the Alameda schools," Spencer says.

    She got her first taste of volunteering for the district as a noon supervisor at Earhart Elementary and then as a substitute teacher. Spencer thinks that the Alameda Unified School District continues to face key challenges: quality of education, equity and fiscal responsibility.

    "These three areas highlight what I believe are most on the mind of parents, teachers, administrators and the community at large: how to manage a school system in the light of budget uncertainties and remain ahead of the curve in terms of challenging our children, compensating our educators and staff, and remaining relevant in a changing world," she says.

    Alameda Journal endorses city, school candidates

    Alameda Journal, October 24, 2008

    WHEN ALAMEDANS GO to the polls on Nov. 4, they will pick three school board and two City Council members. Two incumbents in each race are seeking re-election, and the challengers include some familiar names to the community.

    What it boils down to in both races is the economic crisis. Both the Alameda Unified School District and the city of Alameda face burgeoning budget deficits and painful decisions on deeper cuts to services, programs and staffs.

    The five school board candidates are Nielsen Tam, Ron Mooney, Trish Spencer, David Forbes and Janet Gibson.

    The two incumbents, Forbes and Gibson, voted on the decisions earlier this year to cut athletic and music programs, which ultimately were saved by passage of Measure H in June by two-thirds of the voters. Now two lawsuits challenging Measure H and a deepening deficit stemming from the state's uncertain funding future mean the school board will have to reconsider program and staff cuts, even possible school closures.

    Whoever wins the three seats on the school board — board President Bill Schaaf decided not to seek re-election — also will have a role in naming a new superintendent.

    All five candidates have been very involved in Alameda schools at various levels and know the issues well.

    We feel Gibson, Tam and Forbes are the best choices.

    Gibson brings her experience of serving two terms on the board, plus her 31 years of teaching in the district. The retired teacher says working with seven superintendents, as a teacher and board member, is an asset she brings to the search for yet another district leader. She hopes to see the district find smarter ways to budget and to use school property. She opposed the $20,000 superintendent salary increase recently approved and consistently worked to steer budget cuts away from the classroom.

    On Measure H, she says, "I take responsibility as a board member. I thought we had better communication with the business community and apparently we didn't."

    Her goal is to close the achievement gap for Alameda students, "while at the same time improving what we're offering our most talented and gifted students. We can't cut at either end. And to do this with less money will be a challenge."

    Tam is newly retired as principal of Washington School where he also taught for 38 years. With his experience on the front lines as a principal, Tam says, "We need to reflect what happened in the last five years as regards to over-arching goals, go back to goals of community involvement and see what we did wrong and did right, particularly with the business community. One goal is to build that trusting relationship with our business community."

    He cites the work by the superintendent's advisory committee on recommendations for cuts as a starting point for setting priorities. "Our schools have been devastated by the lack of resources and the central (district) office has been cut to the bone. We need to look at alternatives."

    Forbes has served four years on the board, and before that as president of the PTA council for three years. He has been working hard during his first term on the board to try to remedy the inequity in state funding for Alameda.

    One of his goals is to change the way state funding is allocated, with Alameda being a key player in a possible lawsuit against the state. "The state system is not going to change without a lawsuit," he says.

    But he remains focused on local students and the impact of budget constraints on the classrooms. He pushed back on budget cuts this year because he felt they targeted the West End. "We need to find what's best educationally and how to do it in a sustainable manner. It's not just about saving money but what's best for the kids."

    Mooney, who has years of experience as a PTA leader and education advocate, has said he would like to develop a Master Plan to see what works and what direction we need to go. While open discussions are good and necessary, our concern is that enough studies and plans have been done. Now is the time for action and tough decisions.

    We feel Forbes, Tam and Gibson will be the ones to take action and lead the district, with solid community support.

    City Council candidates also face a rocky road, with deficits and even deeper cuts being considered by the city. The field consists of incumbents Doug deHaan and Marie Gilmore and challengers Justin Harrison and Tracy Jensen.

    Jensen is a familiar face in town as a school board member since 2002. She is running on her experience on the school board as well as her job as an administrator in the city of Oakland and her years of government work. While we feel Jensen has strong talents and experience, we are going with the incumbents, Gilmore and deHaan.

    Both have done their homework when it comes to their decisions, and have been outspoken on the issues. Gilmore has been on the council for five years, and combined with seven years on the Planning Board and two years on the Recreation and Park Commission, she has a solid background in the workings of the city. She asks the questions and takes stands that may not always be the most popular but are necessary, including her support of the Alameda Theatre which, after much heated discussion, was approved by a bare 3-to-2 council vote.

    DeHaan came to the council four years ago with a strong track record on the Economic Development Commission, where he served for eight years. On the council he has been able to follow through many of the concepts from the EDC, including renovation of Alameda Theatre, and development of Bridgeside Shopping Center and Towne Centre, where he opposed approving a Target. "It would have overpowered Towne Centre, but we didn't lose the opportunity, with the possibility of Alameda Landing now (for a Target store)," he says.

    Gilmore and deHaan deserve the chance to continue the work they've begun as we face the tough days ahead.

    School board recount continues Friday

    By Roger Phillips, Stockton Record, December 04, 2008

    STOCKTON - There was no change in vote totals after the first day of the Stockton Unified School Board election recount, but trailing incumbent Anthony Silva decided to double down anyway, paying another $1,500 Wednesday for a second and probably final day of retabulating.

    The counting won't continue until Friday, Registrar of Voters Austin Erdman said.

    Today, a crew of about 30 will continue the tedious task of sorting through the 200,000 mail-in ballots - buried in 400 boxes - that were cast in San Joaquin County. Election officials are searching for the 2,046 mail-in votes cast in the 18 precincts comprising the Silva-Jose Morales race.

    The first time all the votes were counted, Morales led the incumbent Silva by one lonely vote - 2,302-2,301.

    Assistant registrar Virginia Bloom said all the votes cast in polling places plus mail-in votes from one precinct have been recounted, and Morales has an 1,153-1,023 lead - identical to his margin the first time these votes were counted.

    Silva continues to hold out hope that with a recount of the absentee and provisional ballots, a shift will occur that will win him a second term.

    Erdman said the recount does not involve any challenges regarding which votes were accepted and which were rejected. It will simply be a recount of the same votes that were counted the first time.

    Bloom said 375 provisional ballots were cast in the Area 3 race, and 277 were accepted. She said 2,046 mail-in ballots were cast in the race, and 1,889 were accepted.

    "We're just looking to make sure the count is right," said Silva, who observed the recount, as did Morales. "If the count is right, and I end up losing by one, then I accept it and move on."

    Silva could take the matter to court if the recount doesn't change the outcome. But he said Wednesday that is not his plan.


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