Since California neither gained nor lost Congressional seats in the 2010 census, you might think that redistricting wouldn't be a big deal. Sure, some districts have gained population and others have lost, so the lines would have to shift around a bit, as tmess2 discussed back in March.
But that was before the Californian voters resoundingly passed Proposition 20, the "VOTERS FIRST Act for Congress." That act gave the responsibility for redistricting to a non-partisan commission.
Last Friday, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission released their first draft of the state's new Congressional districts. And it is clear they took their job seriously. The districts look like something a rational human being would draw, rather than the usual gerrymandered mess. But that also means the districts bear little resemblance to the districts of the past. The Los Angeles Times has produced a nifty zoomable map of the proposed changes.
Such sweeping changes would mean that there will be few true incumbents in 2012--almost every Representative will be introducing themselves to many voters who were not in their previous districts, and in some cases two incumbents will find themselves facing off against each other. The elections statewide should be unusually wide open, and should see a lot of turnover.
Quoted in this story in the LA Times, the House editor of the Cook Political Report thinks the redistricting alone will result in a net gain of two to five seats in the California delegation.
A little reflection shows why this should be so: California has trended Democratic over time. But until this year, Congressional districts were gerrymandered to protect incumbents. So the districts in effect "froze in" the political leanings that California had decades ago. But now fair districts let the distribution of Representatives catch up to the changes in the political leanings of the voters, and will result in a net gain for Democrats. If a similar procedure were followed for big states that have trended red (maybe Georgia?), then presumably that would favor Republicans.
The California districts are not yet settled. There is a public comment period, and then the inevitable lawsuits. But no one seems to doubt that the districts in 2012 will look very different than they did in 2010, and that the difference will work to the advantage of Democrats--not because the lines are biased, but because they are fair.
It goes without saying that California is a big state. Los Angeles County, by itself is larger than almost any state. The very size of California contributes to many of its problems. Redistricting for this next decade is no excpetion.
After the last census, California found itself with 53 seats. At the end of the decade, these 53 seats were split 34-19. This is a little more favorable to the Democrats than a proportional representation system would be (based on the votes for governor and senator in 2010), but not by that much (4-5 seats).
As California stayed steady at 53 seats, in a perfect world, the lines would stay roughly the same. Only problem is -- as with other large states -- they were very significant population shifts. Based on the population of California, the target size for the new seats is 703,000. However, anything between 686,000 and 720,000 is acceptable. Out of those 53 seats, 17 seats are too big, and 30 are too small. The largest current district is the 45th (held by Republican Mary Bono Mack) with 914,000 residents, and the smallest is the 47th (held by Democrat Loretta Sanchez) with 631,000 residents.
With the exception of Almedia County (large enough for 2.2 seats) and Santa Clara County (large enough for 2.5 seats), most of the counties which are large enough for two or more members are in Southern California. Los Angels County, with 9.8 million residents, is large enough for 14 seats. Orange County, with 3 milion people , is large enough for 4.3 seats. San Bernadino County, with 2 million people, is large enough for 2.9 seats. Riverside County, with 2.2 million people, is large enough for 3.1 seat. San Diego County, with 3.1 million people, is large enough for 4.4 seats.
The big problem with drawing lines in Southern California, however, is sitting in the far southeast corner of the state -- Imperial County (home to the only government to try to defend Proposition 8) only has 174,000 people. That means that whatever district includes Imperial County has to also include voters from San Diego County or Riverside County. However, taken the excess from both of those counties, leaves you about 130,000 people short. By drawing slightly smaller than average districts, however, you can end up with a total of fifteen seats between Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernadino, and Imperial Counties. Given the current lines, this works out to about 1 more seat for these five counties.
A pair of stories caught my eye today, and made me think.
First was an issue related to pensions for highly paid employees of the University of California. Prior to 2007, due to an IRS rule, they "only" earned a pension on the first $245,000 of their annual salary. In 1999, these executives were apparently promised that if the IRS rule were ever lifted, then their entire salary would count toward their pensions. The IRS did agree to grant a waiver beginning in 2007, but the pensions of these employees remained the same. And then, this year, UC President Mark Yudof recommended against raising the amount of the pensions.
In response, three dozen of the people affected wrote a letter to Yudof, threatening legal action if the increase were not granted. While I don't believe the full text of the letter has been released (someone please provide a link in the comments if it has), the San Francisco Chronicle obtained a copy and printed excerpts. The most amazing bit:
UC could give in and grant the higher pensions. Any other decision would be "demoralizing" for executives, they wrote.
This comes at a time when the University of California system is drowning in a sea of red ink (a $21.6 billion deficit), even after raising tuition 32% this year. I would think that would be demoralizing enough in itself for the people who are among those running the place.
It's hard to believe that, in the wake of the AIG bonus scandal, people can still be this stupid. If they'd stayed quiet until better times, and helped the University to weather the budgetary storm, then perhaps at some point they could have gotten some of the increase. As it is, public opinion will demand that they lose their jobs.
Which brings us to the second news item.
The New York Post is reporting that some elements of the New York City Sanitation Department have been purposefully slowing down clean up from the recent blizzard as a form of legal protest. According to the Post story, labor relations with Mayor Bloomberg have been very tense recently:
In the last two years, the agency's workforce has been slashed by 400 trash haulers and supervisors -- down from 6,300 -- because of the city's budget crisis. And, effective tomorrow, 100 department supervisors are to be demoted and their salaries slashed as an added cost-saving move.
A bit of caution must be used in interpreting this story, as Halloran is a Republican, the New York Post is an unabashedly conservative paper, and this gives them an opportunity to critique unionized public employees. But I heard Halloran as the guest on a San Francisco news broadcast today, and he was refraining from calling out union leadership, instead attributing this to individual supervisors upset with their pending demotion. While the Post and Halloran may at some point add their own political spin to the story, my intuition is that there is some truth behind it.
And if so, the slowdown has endangered lives--in fact, cost lives. When streets are not plowed in a timely fashion, emergency vehicles cannot get through. In one particularly horrifying example, a newborn baby died when it took 10 hours to reach a hospital.
You can probably see why the two stories are linked in my mind. In the first, the employees may be legally justified in demanding their pensions be increased, but foregoing that increase is the right thing to do. In the second, the sanitation workers have cause to be demoralized by recent cuts, and the union has a right to object vigorously and legally. But putting innocent people's lives at risk during an emergency is never justified.
I would write more, but the (alleged) actions of both small groups leaves me "demoralized."
Election Day is two weeks out. Who do you think will win these these Senate races? More polls to follow!
Will Lisa Murkowski be able to get enough people to spell her name? Will the Republican vote so shatter that McAdams is able to pull off a win? Will Alaskans object to Miller having his own Stasi, or will that put him over the top?
Jane Harman served in the House of Representatives from 1992 to 1999, but didn't run in 1998 (thus her term ended in January of 1999). She ran for her old seat in 2000, and has been there ever since. She was challenged in 2006, and survived, winning the primary 62.5% to 37.5%.
The same woman who challenged Harman in 2006 is challenging her again. And for the same reasons. Marcy Winograd shares many of the social ideals that Harman does, but goes a little further: Winograd is a progressive in areas where Harman is not. If you've never heard of Marcy Winograd, you can read about her on the website.
The major issues, aside from Winograd taking no corporate contributions, actually relate to George Bush, warrantless wiretapping, and the possibility that Harman colluded with foreign agents. The charges against Harman are rather serious, although they rarely get press.
A sample of something "minor" from Winograd's website:
Before Congress votes on another $33 billion supplemental war appropriation, Congressional Candidate Marcy Winograd (CA-36) challenges her opponent Jane Harman to immediately divest of up to $8.3 million worth of investments in military contracting firms and return over $60,000 in campaign contributions from military contractors.
Colluding with the defense industry has never been a problem for any elected official. Harman's biggest problems relate to Harman working with the Bush administration to keep the NY Times from publishing material on warrantless wiretapping, while having a public posture that she was against the idea. It's possible that, as one of the Democrats on the Intelligence committee with access to all sorts of information, she secretly supported the Bushies.
Rep. Jane Harman , a California Democrat long involved in intelligence issues, was overheard on a 2005 National Security Agency wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
In return, the Israeli agent pledged to help lobby for Harman to become chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Two former senior national security officials, one who has read a transcript of the wiretap and a second who was briefed on its contents, said Harman agreed during the conversation to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” Their accounts were confirmed by a third source with knowledge of the wiretapped conversation and subsequent events.
In the end, Harman didn't get the committee chair she wanted, but what she did with the NSA is still unknown.
Even though she voted for TARP, the stimulus and health care reform, Harman is not a progressive, she's normally a blue dog on non-social issues. She also probably colluded with the neo-con Bushies. But is that enough to cost her the primary election?
Harman has about $500,000 cash on hand to less than $65,000 for Winograd. Until this year, that would really have been the be all and end all, but this is the year of the unexpected. Over on Act Blue, Harman has raised $60 (no, I'm not missing any zeroes) to Winograd's $80,000. This is the year that those contributors might all be making calls, canvassing, and truly getting out the vote. It's also California: a state incredibly hard hit by the implosion of the housing market, the recession, and economic problems directly related to state funding of programs. Will Democrats in the 36th want a rep in Congress who will be a fiscal conservative, or someone who will fight for Federal programs which could help them? Does anyone care about Harman's hawkishness? Will the voters in this district succumb to "incumbent fever"?
We'll see on June 8th. By the way, whichever woman wins will likely carry in November as this is a reliably Democratic district, and neither of the Republicans vying in that primary is a top tier challenger.
In a parallel universe situation reminiscent of something that would come out of Babylon 5, Jerry Brown will be announcing that he's running for governor of California. Here's the weird thing: we noted in February of 2009, or 13 calendar months ago using the regular calendar, that he was running. I guess this is the "formal" thing. He's been being polled all along, and he's done well: last September, he was winning. In Republican polling a couple weeks ago, Brown was dead even with Meg Whitman. He'll do even better once he gets going.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a big fan of Jerry Brown. Met him back in 1976, and he's smarter and more impressive then his "Governor Moonbeam" press might indicate.
Moving across the country: it did not go unnoticed in Jessville that the House is going to slap Charlie Rangel's hands. It's called "formal admonishment", and will occur on Friday. It's offensive. They nailed him for misusing funds for a trip. That other Congressmen went on. That was approved. Is he guilty of that? Yeah, sure, and he'll give back some money. BUT...Charlie is REALLY guilty of serious misuse of funds: the housing in violation of New York City rent control laws, the tax problems with his Caribbean properties, the outright bribe money.....plus the parking tickets....(lots of links here). They nailed him for something minor to avoid having to deal with more legitimate and serious charges, and thus not have to censure him. Or worse.
And finally, people have been asking me how an earthquake in Chile that was 500 times worse than the one in Haiti could cause so much less damage and loss of life. I don't know why people ask me these things...but in case you were wondering, it's because they have a functional government in Chile. That means organization, response, infrastructure. Yes, it's also that the quake was much deeper and offshore and away from populated areas. But no matter what the disaster, the response matters. In Chile, people were allowed to "loot" grocery stores while waiting for aid, and the government will make payments to the stores. (No TVs, though....bravo to the Chileans to realize that finding food when you're hungry is very different from stealing.) Is the Chilean earthquake a terrible tragedy? Absolutely, but the recovery will be quicker and easier because of a functioning government.
We haven't written anything about gay marriage since the Maine vote early last month. A lot has happened, so let's catch up.
First, there was a ruling in Lewis v. New York State Department of Civil Service. It was a narrow ruling, but basically upheld that gay public employees who were married in other states needed to be granted spousal benefits in New York State. It was narrow in that it did not cover full recognition of these marriages.
Next, the anti-DOMA lawsuit we've all be waiting for has finally be filed:
The lawsuit was brought by seven gay couples and three widowers, all of whom were married in Massachusetts after it became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage in 2004.
In court documents filed Tuesday, the couples say the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because it denies them access to federal benefits given to other married couples, including pensions, health insurance and the ability to file joint tax returns. They argue that the law "eviscerates" the historic power of the states to establish criteria for marriage.
About time this was filed, and based on the 14th amendment, it has a good chance of winning. Section 1:
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Then, we have Barbara Ann Radnofsky, candidate for Attorney General of Texas, and a lawyer. She contends that a clause in the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage has some bad ramifications for married straight people. Subsection B reads:
"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
Architects of the amendment included the clause to ban same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships. But Radnofsky, who was a member of the powerhouse Vinson & Elkins law firm in Houston for 27 years until retiring in 2006, says the wording of Subsection B effectively "eliminates marriage in Texas," including common-law marriages. [...]
Radnofsky acknowledged that the clause is not likely to result in an overnight dismantling of marriages in Texas. But she said the wording opens the door to legal claims involving spousal rights, insurance claims, inheritance and a host other marriage-related issues.
"This breeds unneeded arguments, lawsuits and expense which could have been avoided by good lawyering," Radnofsky said. "Yes, I believe the clear language of B bans all marriages, and this is indeed a huge mistake."
In October, Dallas District Judge Tena Callahan ruled that the same-sex-marriage ban is unconstitutional because it stands in the way of gay divorce. Abbott is appealing the ruling, which came in a divorce petition involving two men who were married in Massachusetts in 2006.
And finally, from California, we have a petition drive to get a ballot initiative in front of the people which would ban divorce. This sign explains it all:
You too can vote to take away civil rights from someone
The idea, put forth by John Marcotte, is founded on the ideal that if marriage is so sacred, let's make sure it is SO sacred you can't get out of it. Or as he said:
Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more.
I love this as a, um, shove to all those hypcrites who believe in legislating against others but live in the "do as I say, not as I do" world.
If you're a Californian who has state taxes withheld from your paycheck, the first check you receive after today will have less money in it. The state isn't calling it a new tax, but it's sure going to feel like that: an additional 10% of state income taxes will be withheld. Theoretically, you'll get the money back next year.
The idea is that the state of California is taking a forced loan of $1.7 billion (with a "b") from the state's taxpayers. The state says that when you file your taxes next year for this year, you'll get the excess paid either in the form of an increased refund (if you're owed one) or the ability to pay less than you supposedly owe.
In reality, though, this is in addition to the .25% increase to all California state tax rates enacted back in February, and they're not going to be able to live without the additional income. Therefore, my guess is that you'll get your 2009 money back, but they'll continue to take it out of your check in 2010, and then give that back to you in 2011 and so forth.
This is a small amount of money, running generally from $12 to $40/month per wage earner. Still, it can easily affect spending. Assuming it's margin money, it's a chunk out of holiday spending or a dinner out. If you're already strapped, it makes you closer to lining up your monthly bills and saying "eenie, meenie, miney, moe" as you pick which bill won't get paid.
There is a risky way to avoid having the excess taken out of your paycheck. In actuality, it's risky for some, and a smart move for others. If you owe taxes every year - it's risky - DON'T DO IT. However, if you're one of those people who gets a tax refund every year (especially if you don't itemize) you have already been giving an interest-free loan to the government at all levels. Therefore, if you increase your deductions on a W-4, you'll have less tax money taken out by the Feds AND the state. You won't get money back next year, in fact, because of the way the rates work, you'll likely owe about $150 - $250 dollars, but you'll see the additional dollars now. So, it's a good idea if you want to put the money in your emergency savings account, but a bad idea if you need the extra tax money to live on.
Expect to see more of these creative tax systems in the future, not just in California, but in other states with financial issues. This creativity reminds me of the handbag story. I was shopping with a friend and her two sisters. The sisters are BIG FANS of a certain brand of very expensive handbags. The brand was on sale for 50% off, meaning they cost about $400 - $800 EACH. The end of the season ones had clearance prices. (Don't get me started.) One of the sisters decided to buy a $1600 handbag for $300. She said that this was a savings of $1300, and she could (I kid you not, she actually said this) "really use the $1300." I wanted to explain that she didn't GET $1300, she was still spending $300 ON A PURSE. Plus, she was going to have to charge it, so there would be interest charges. I found, however, that I was truly speechless. She attributed my facial expression to confusion on my part and explained that the $1300 would become part of her assets, thus offsetting other liabilities she had. And honest, while the specifics are different, the idea that "fake" money is the same as "real" money is specious, at best.
California will be in the hole until the state can find a way to either spend much less, raise much more in taxes, or a combination of both. If the state doesn't really give the money back next April AND stop taking the money ahead of time, it's actually a tax increase, however couched. The economists will tell you that I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't truly understand the difference between cash and accrual systems, but I understand that either you actually have dollars, or you don't.
Is there a hidden majority ready to come out in force for Jon Corzine? Maybe
The Club for Growth (H!!! Pat Toomey!!!) is supporting a third party candidate in the NY-23. This is the seat vacated when John McHugh was tapped to become Secretary of the Army. CFG is outspending both the Democrats and the Republicans. It should have been a good pick-up opportunity for the Democrats. The polls are showing the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, ahead of both the Democrat (Bill Owens) and CFG's choice of Doug Hoffman. But no one knows who Hoffman is, while both Scozzafava and Owens have already been on the TV. The money might make a lot of difference: it might shift support to Hoffman, or split the GOP vote and allow Owens to capture the seat.
Polls close in a few minutes* in California, where 14 candidates are running to replace former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who is now Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
The two leading vote-getters from each party will meet in a November runoff, assuming no candidate breaks 50%.
Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi enters the primary as the slight favorite, but anthing can happen with the expected low turnout. Obama won 65% of the vote here, so the Democratic candidate should, repeat, should, be safe in the runoff. (If the Democrats lose the Governor's races in NJ and VA, as well as this seat, it will be a long cold winter).
We'll have results either tonight or in the AM. You can also get results here.
* Gov. Schwarzenegger has ordered polls to stay open an extra two hours just for firefighters who are fighting serious fires throughout CA, so vote tallies will not be released until 1 AM eastern, 10 PM Pacific time.
1:25 EDT: Early results have Garamendi in the lead among the Dems, David Harmer in the lead for the GOP. No one is getting 50% tonight.
Wed morning: Garamendi (26%) and Harmer (21%) are header to the runoff in November. Overall, Democrats got 65% of the vote, so it looks like John Garamendi will be headed to DC in November.
Ah-nold said he would, and now, this Friday and Saturday, it's the Great California Garage Sale. You can pick up some items on ebay and Craig's List, and shop in person at the Sacramento location. Here are all the details:
Great California Garage Sale
Governor Schwarzenegger made good on his Tweets today and had the Department of General Services post several surplus items – some signed by the Governor—up for sale on both Ebay and Craigslist as part of the Great California Garage Sale.
In anticipation of the Great California Garage Sale, the Governor had announced last month on his Twitter account that he would make sure his administration would be listening to the public’s feedback and put several items up for sale on the sites. The items on Ebay and Craigslist are a snapshot of the wide variety of inventory that can be found at the sale and will include 10-15 vehicles whose visors have been signed by the Governor.
The Great California Garage Sale, being held August 28 and 29th at the Department of General Services’ Surplus Property Warehouse in Natomas, California, is anticipating thousands of Californians to shop for surplus state property.
The warehouse has been filled with items that have been declared surplus by dozens of state departments and agencies in an effort to clean out California government’s closets. As part of the Great California Garage Sale, a vehicle auction will also be taking place onsite and will include over 500 vehicles – many of which have been declared surplus as part of the Governor’s Executive Order he issued last month to reduce the state fleet.
The Department of General Services has posted a number of items up for sale on Ebay and Craigslist sites. For those consumers who have purchased the items, they have the option of picking up their items from the Great California Garage Sale at a designated booth.
If you go, please take pictures! Especially of anything you buy.
Two polls are out today for the California gubernatorial race, pitting Jerry Brown against Gavin Newsom. One poll was accomplished statewide, the other was of San Francisco voters only. Brown smoked Newsom in both.
Statewide: 49% - 20%
San Francisco: 51% - 34%
I know, I know, there are others who may run. But they aren't. Yet.
Luckily for California, either of these guys would be a great choice!
By the way, I found out about this off my Twitter feed, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to glean data...surprising even to me.