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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Governor Palin's Debate Performance: No Substance

The immediate reaction to the performance of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in her debate on Thursday night had to be one of relief for many Republicans. After a week in which she raised the fears of even loyalists with her poor answers to very basic questions from Katie Couric, her performance in the debate reassured the base that she was who they thought she was--a maverick able to make folksy references, through an effective attack, and seem charming.

The pundits seemed to agree. The best they could say is that she allayed feared, stopped the bleeding, but they also said that her performance was not, in 2008 parlance, a "game changer."

All week long we heard pundits suggest that the bar was set so low by the Governor that if she simply didn't fall over herself on the stage, she would look good by comparison. Indeed that they were correct.

I am going to argue here, however, that aside from her demonstrated ability to talk on Thursday night, her answers and the substance were not altogether different from what she had displayed earlier in the week.

How confident are the Republicans in her ability after this debate performance, the performance that they tried to spin as great?

The answer is very simple: she is not scheduled to be on any of the Sunday morning talk shows this weekend nor are there plans for her to be on any for the rest of the campaign. That is a very telling fact.

The second very interesting fact came out of the FOX News interview that she did on Friday morning--the only interview that the McCain campaign allowed her to do. On Thursday it had been announced that McCain had decided to pull his operation and stop advertising in Michigan. This was announced around midday on Thursday. Palin was asked about this on Friday morning.

Palin's response was that she had, "Read that this morning and I fired off a quick e-mail."

She continued:
"Oh, come on. Do we have to call it there? Todd and I would happy to get to Michigan and walk through those plants where car manufacturers.

We'd be so happy to get to speak with the people there in Michigan, who are hurting because the economy is hurting. Whatever we can do and whatever Todd and I can do in realizing what their challenges in that state are, as we can relate to them and connect with them and promise them that we won't let them down in the administration. I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try."
The illuminating point, of course, is that she, " that this morning." She was not involved in the strategy or decision making, nor was she briefed. Telling? Perhaps.

Bottom line here for me is that if Palin's performance had inspired the confidence of the McCain campaign, neither of those two factors really show it.

My overall impression of Palin's debate performance is that it often read as though she had strewn together soundbites. By comparison to the Couric interview it at least sounded well, but about half an hour into it, it became very clear she had no substance or depth of understanding whatsoever.

She was able to lob some attacks with catchy lines:
"Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure. And it's not what our nation needs to be able to count on. You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can't admit the surge works."
However, the most telling moment was when she told the moderator she was basically not going to answer her questions.
"I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also."
This was actually a good strategy, because it became obvious that other than energy questions, she really had no understanding of the policy issues. This way she would not look ignorant, just indignant. The idea that she would refuse to answer the debate questions, I think, needs to be seriously questioned. It has not been, and frankly there is even so much more material to look at.

In a moment we will go through some her mistakes. But I want to highlight some curious answers.

At one point they were discussing global warming.

She argued in general:
"I'm not one to attribute every man -- activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet."
That's the conservative position on global warming, I understand that. But she went right back into the idea that we need to utilize domestic oil supplies.
"The chant is "drill, baby, drill." And that's what we hear all across this country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into."
Biden missed a chance here because Palin really conflated the issue of energy independence with that of global warming. Obviously, from a global warming standpoint, it makes no difference whether you are using foreign or domestic oil supplies.

The second issue is that of Afghanistan commander, General David McKiernan. Governor Palin, of course, called him General McClellan, but that's not really the important part despite the media's focus on the name.

Senator Biden started the exchange:
" The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not work-- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan."
Gov. Palin then responded:
"Well, first, McClellan did not say definitively the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan. Certainly, accounting for different conditions in that different country and conditions are certainly different. We have NATO allies helping us for one and even the geographic differences are huge but the counterinsurgency principles could work in Afghanistan. McClellan didn't say anything opposite of that. The counterinsurgency strategy going into Afghanistan, clearing, holding, rebuilding, the civil society and the infrastructure can work in Afghanistan. And those leaders who are over there, who have also been advising George Bush on this have not said anything different but that."
Here's what General McKiernan said on Tuesday:
"First of all, please don't think that I'm saying there's no room for tribal engagement in Afghanistan, because I think it's very necessary. But I think it's much more complex environment of tribal linkages, and intertribal complexity than there is in Iraq. It's not as simple as taking the Sunni Awakening and doing the Pashtun Awakening in Afghanistan. It's much more complex than that.

But there are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, it's such a poor country, by any set of metrics you can imagine. A country that has very harsh geography. It's very difficult to move around, getting back to our reliance on helicopters. It's a country with very few natural resources, as opposed to the oil revenues that (Iraq) has. There's very little money to be generated in terms of generated in Afghanistan. The literacy rate -- you have a literate society in Iraq, you have a society that has a history of producing civil administrators, technocrats, middle class that are able to run the country in Iraq. You do not have that in Afghanistan. So there's educational challenges, challenges of human capitol that I mentioned earlier."
Key point that Biden referenced:
"So there are a lot of challenges. What I don't think is needed -- the word that I don't use in Afghanistan is the word "surge." There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and non-military resources, I believe. That's my advice to winning in Afghanistan. It won't be a short-term solution."
Third point that I want to cover here, the Vice Presidential role that Palin suggests.

Gov. Palin said:
"I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president's policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are."
She followed up:
"Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position."
Senator Biden got in one of his better responses of the night:
"Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history. The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.

And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he's part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous."
Frankly, Senator Biden got it mostly right in terms of the powers of the Vice President in his response.

The constitution is pretty explicit about the role of the Vice President:
"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."
So where Governor Palin gets the idea that the Vice President has more powers, I do not know.

There are a couple of other mistakes that the Governor made.

At one point she claimed that troop levels in Iraq had returned to “pre-surge” levels. This is untrue, the levels have come down, but at the current plan calls for levels to remain higher than pre-surge numbers through at least early next year.
"Barack Obama even supported increasing taxes as late as last year for those families making only $42,000 a year."
According to, Obama did not.
"The budget bill in question called for an increase only on singles making that amount, but a family of four would not have been affected unless they made at least $90,000 a year."
Palin on McCain's healthcare proposal:
"He's proposing a $5,000 tax credit for families so that they can get out there and they can purchase their own health care coverage. That's a smart thing to do. That's budget neutral. That doesn't cost the government anything as opposed to Barack Obama's plan to mandate health care coverage and have universal government run program and unless you're pleased with the way the federal government has been running anything lately, I don't think that it's going to be real pleasing for Americans to consider health care being taken over by the feds. But a $5,000 health care credit through our income tax that's budget neutral. That's going to help."
According to
"Independent budget experts estimate McCain's plan would cost tens of billions each year, though details are too fuzzy to allow for exact estimates."
Finally Palin claimed:
"But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category. So they're going to be the ones paying higher taxes thus resulting in fewer jobs being created and less productivity."
In fact, that's again untrue, most small businesses do not make over $250,000 and would thus be unaffected by the tax increase.

Here are a few of my final thoughts on Palin. This blog has been a bit longer than I planned, but I think there are important issues that need to be analyzed.

The bottom line for me is that some people will undoubtedly like Palin's style which tends to be more "folksy" for lack of a better adjective. I might choose vacuous. From my standpoint, I think the President and Vice President need to have some sort of demonstrated depth of policy understanding. I like to have a beer and watch football as much as the next guy--I will be planted in front of my television watching football today in fact--but I have to say that I was a bit appalled by Palin's casual style.

But again, that's a matter of taste. The alarming fact for me is that she has not demonstrated a policy understanding that goes beyond a brief soundbite. I listen to the other three candidates--McCain, Obama, and Biden, and I feel whether I agree or disagree, that they have an understanding of the issues and the policy process.

Someone suggested that this reflects a liberal bias in my evaluations--that government inherently is the answer. I think I have more of a mixed view of government than a lot of liberals. I would certainly like to see government run better and I would love to cut out a lot of the wasteful programs and see a tax cut for most Americans.

I do not think my criticism of Palin is merely a matter of a belief in the role of government.

A couple of the examples I have in mind have to do with issues such as the fundamentals surrounding the bailout, her understanding of foreign policy, and tax cuts.

Do we need to go back to the Couric answer on the bailout that was all over the place? For example, I do not agree with Brian Bilbray, the Congressman from Southern California, on the bailout. However, when I watch him I believe that he understands the issues around the bailout and the reasons and rationale for him to oppose it. Guess what though--Palin supports the bailout. She could not articulate it to Katie Couric and she did not put much more substance behind it on Thursday.

Her inability to understand foreign policy details--again, conservatives support this as a legitimate government power, again, I do not think the government philosophy explains my apprehension of her lack of understanding of foreign affairs during a time when we face the two wars and a global strategy against terrorism. Should she become President, would anyone be comfortable with her working knowledge of the world?

Tax cuts are a hallmark of any conservative agenda, but she could not articulate the policy details there either. She had a few soundbites, some attacks, but no demonstrated understanding. So I disagree with any defense of her in that area.

At the end of Thursday's debate, it was clear that Sarah Palin was not going to end up being the death knell for the McCain campaign. McCain has his own problems and between them and the current state of the economy he is in trouble on his own accord. But Sarah Palin in my book did nothing to change my view of her fundamental lack of qualifications to be Vice President.

We can cite her resume as much as we want and debate over whether or not being mayor of a small town or a part-time governor of the fourth smallest state in the country is sufficient experience. We really can debate those issues. What we cannot debate, in my opinion, is that she simply, regardless of that experience, lacks the policy understanding to be President.

I am a maverick myself in a lot of ways on policy issues. I am also a populist. I do not think that there is a necessary connection between being a populist, being a maverick, disagreeing with the way this country is run or the way politics are conducting and not understanding the issues that we face. In fact, I would argue that being a maverick means that you should know the policy issues better than anyone else so that you can articulate your disagreement with the policies and develop a new course.

Sarah Palin is not a maverick, she is a know-nothing. She harbors these anti-government views, thinks she's against things, but doesn't really understand the policy implications of her views or why she dislikes government. For her it is an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual exercise. She is reflexively against these programs rather than intellectually against them.

For me as well as many thoughtful Americans on both sides on the fence, she is scary. There was an interesting contrast on Thursday night. After the debate, one of the McCain surrogates was Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii. She was bright, articulate, and very effective.

Why was she not the nominee? Hard to know for sure. But she seemed a better choice than Palin in every way. Well, perhaps except for one. She is not the most attractive person physically. In response to my original Palin post, several people suggested that Palin was "hot." That was really in a lot of ways a degrading remark to women. It suggests that it does not matter how inarticulate or unknowledgeable the governor is, at least she's physically attractive. There was even a reference in the National Review last night that one of the editors was aroused by the Governor winking at him on the camera, that that gesture made him sit straight up in his seat. There may be something to that.

I suppose I am an elitist as some have suggested because I am not interested in how "cute" or "hot" a candidate is but rather what their policy positions are, and as important, their ability to articulate them.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lt. Gov. Garamendi Headlines Democratic Rally at UC Davis

On Thursday afternoon, four leaders in Democratic politics in this region and this state came to the UC Davis campus in Freeborn Plaza for a campaign rally. There were approximately 150 students who ended listening to the speeches from these four leaders.

The event was organized by the Davis College Democrats--Don Gibson, the President,;Brandon Craig, the Vice President; and Jack Zwald were some of the many key organizers and also introduced several of the main speakers.

The headliner was Lt. Governor John Garamendi, who is going to be one of the Democratic candidate in 2010 for the Governor. Also there were two legislative candidates in Davis and Yolo County--Mariko Yamada who is running as the Democratic nominee for the 8th Assembly District and Lois Wolk who is running as the Democratic nominee for the 5th Senate District in a heated battled against Republican Greg Aghazarian. Finally, Bill Camp, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

John Garamendi gave an impassioned and fiery speech attacking John McCain, Sarah Palin, the Republicans, talking about education and the state budget.

The Lt. Governor began generally:
"We are one month away from one of the most important elections that we have had in a generation, your generation. This is about you Davis students, this is about your future. It is about how this nation is going to represent itself across the world. Whether we are going to continue with the war in Iraq, whether we are actually going to finally deal with the terrorists that attacked this country, or whether we are going to be diverted on a false war brought to us on false premises, by a false president."
Garamendi then talked about Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin:
"There is a debate tonight. Oh come now. It is important who the Vice President is. You look back on the recent history of this nation and it is common that the Vice President becomes the President. This is about the Presidency. This is about who could become President and tonight we are going to see a defining moment in this election... When a person makes a choice about who they choose to be their successor, which is what happens when you choose the Vice Presidential candidate, you're making a statement about your values as President. You're making a statement about how you perceive this nation's future. There's difference here, Barack Obama made a choice, and he reached back to a very successful, well experienced individual who understands foreign policy, who understands the nature of public policy in the United States, whether it's the economy, social, economic issues, environmental issues, international issues... And he chose Joe Biden. A man with experience in the issues of this nation. A man with experience in the issues of the world. Solid. Knowledgeable. Capable of being President. It tells you about the way in which the next President thinks."

"Now at the Republican Convention, McCain came up with a surprise. You draw your own conclusions here. I drew mine. Experience--limited. Knowledge--watch TV. Go to youtube. It's there to be seen. Ability to debate--we'll find out tonight. Ability to be President... oh no we're not talking about Palin, we're talking about McCain making one of the most fundamental decisions that a President must make. That is to choose somebody who could become President at any moment. This is not an academic exercise, this is not about learning. This is about John McCain and how he thinks. Ultimately it's about governing."
Garamendi then talked about the bailout Bill:
"Wall Street walked away with tens of billions of dollars and left mom and pop in Davis and Stockton with mortgages that they couldn't possibly pay, this is time for a change. This afternoon, Congress will vote on a bailout bill. Fortunately the Democrats stood up to the President, to Secretary of the Treasury Paulson, and said wait a minute, enough already for the high and the mighty. We want this bill to at least have something for the homeowners, for main street, for the men and women out there that are losing their jobs, losing their homes, they did the best they could. It's a much improved bill. It's not the one I would like to see. But it's the one we need... But do not forget the policy that the Republican administration and the Republican congress brought before the American people. They brought a policy that once again took care of their friends at the top.
"Some people want to say this is economic class warfare, and the answer is that's exactly what they have done to the American public is to create an economic class war because they have made the wealthy, wealthier and the poor and the working men and women, poorer. And it is time for a change and we're going to do that."

Garamendi then talked about the California Budget deal.
"Here in California, this is the worst budget in all of my years dating back to 1974. The worst budget ever was signed by the Governor. And in the process of signing it, he made even worse. He took out his veto pen and he took $500 million away from the poor, from the elderly, from the disabled, and from those who depend upon the public sector for their basic health care and indeed their livelihood and lives. It was mean spirited and it was wrong.

"That budget also had another problem, and it's right here on this campus, just to keep pace, with the number of students that come to the campuses of the University of California and inflation, we needed $300 million more. Not to add, not to enhance, not to provide the classes so that you can graduate in four years rather than five or six, but to simply keep pace. The budget is $200 million short of that and of that $100 million that was added, you the students throughout the university campuses, you paid $130 million of that amount of money. It is wrong and I'm telling you we have got to stop it. We must stop it now.

"The great California society and education was built on a free public education at every level, K through 12, the community colleges, the University of California, the State University System, and it is rapidly disappearing because of some wrongheaded policies and total lack of history of California. A free public education no longer exists in California. The taxes that were increased in this budget were minuscule except for one... The single biggest tax increase was a tax on students. It is called a fee indirectly because it is nothing but a very direct tax on students."
"Some of you are studying government, some of you are studying economics, I want you to study a particularly stupid tax. When you tax students you have done something incredibly stupid. President Yudoff, you've listened to me and I want you to listen right now, NO MORE STUDENT FEE INCREASES. Not in this budget. Not in the next budget. And not in the budgets ahead. Because you will deny access to the students who will build the California economy in the future, who will be the teachers, who will be the engineers, who will be the researchers. Stop it! Stop it now! No more tax on students."

"Study the history of California. Study how this state became the 7th wealthiest economy in the world. It was done with the best education system in the world. We are not there today... You cannot do it on the cheap. Starve the education system and you will starve the future of California. And we are well on the way to slow starvation diet today. In 1990, the state, the economy of California, the people of California supported the University of California students to a tune of $15,000 per student. Last year, the people of California, the economy, the seventh largest economy in the world, supported the students at the University of California at a rate of $10,000 per student. A full one-third decrease in the support that the people of California provided to the students who will be the future economy. That is stupid economy policy. That is bad tax policy. And I want every student, on every campus, to rise up and say, enough already. We will not have this anymore, we understand the history of this great state. We know that when the wealth of this great state is spent on the future generations, that economic wealth occurs along with social justice."
Bill Camp was the first speaker. He urged people to put elect Mariko Yamada to the State Assembly and Lois Wolk to the State Senate. He said he was a strong supporter of Mariko Yamada, candidate for the State Assembly, but Lois Wolk is the one now who faces the tough challenge.
"Lois Wolk will be a fighter because she's from Davis. You put her in the State Senate and she'll make sure that everyone that comes in to be a regent respects you and respects your educational opportunity. You want to do something about the misuse of power by Arnold Schwartzenegger and the UC Regents, you get Lois Wolk elected. She's the one who will be your voice and fighter."
Bill Camp told the students that he talks to people in Honduras and all around the world, and everyone is watching this election. He told the students, "It is you who can turn the world around." He emphasized how important this election was to this country and this world. "I beg you to be a part of this Democratic process, to be the champion to lead this nation."

Assembly Candidate Mariko Yamada was introduced by former Davis School Board Candidate and Vice Chair of the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee Bob Schelen as an underdog who won the nomination and a fighter for the values of the underdogs.

Yamada told the crowd:
"It was a very very tough and grueling primary that we came through. Yes, we were the underdogs. But we went direct to the people with our message. It goes to show you that all the money and all the hype in the world, does not replace good old fashioned hard work, effort, and connecting directly with the voters. And that's what this theme is today. Just what brother Bill Camp just said, the whole world is watching us..."
Finally Senate Candidate Lois Wolk addressed the crowd. She attacked her opponent, Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian and Assembly Republicans.
"I am running in the Senate, as you've heard, against someone who won't even mention the fact that he's a Republican. He won't mention his party. He's not proud he's a Republican. He never mentions it and I understand why. In the Assembly, the Republicans and my opponent have opposed some very interesting bills.

They have opposed the successful effort to ban lead from children's candy. Think about that for a minute. The Governor, a Republican, signed that bill.

They have opposed cleaning up the polluted air in the valley. One in four children takes an inhaler to school. Think about that.

They have opposed most recently the effort to clean up the shoddy mortgage broker practices that have been occurring in this state. Think about that in a Senate district that is probably number one in terms of foreclosures.

They and my opponent have opposed flood protection for homeowners in the Central Valley--an area that floods all too commonly.

And they voted against protecting seniors from those whose caregivers would steal their money.

That's why Republicans are running away from being Republicans."
Wolk faces a tough challenge for the Senate seat left open by termed out Senator Mike Machado. It is a district that has a 15 point Democratic advantage, but it is one of just two open and targeted seats by the Republicans who are pumping in millions in support of Assemblyman Aghazarian. Mariko Yamada faces an easier challenge in the heavily Democratic 8th Assembly District that encompasses Yolo and East Solano County.

Lt. Governor John Garamendi announced this summer he will run for the Governorship. He ran back in 1994 but lost to then State Controller Kathleen Brown. Some of the possible opposition are San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, Los Angeles Mayor and Former Speaker of the Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa, Attorney General and Former Governor Jerry Brown, and possibly State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. That would be in 2010.

In the meantime, the Presidential race and the legislative races are focal points in this area. Democrats are relying heavily on strong student turnout for Barack Obama and a host of other issues.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Response to Rich Rifkin's Column on Parcel Tax and District Fiscal Management

In last night's Davis Enterprise, Rich Rifkin, certainly no stranger to this blog, presented his analysis of Measure W.

In his column he presents numbers on the district's fiscal situation. I both agree and disagree with his findings. And I agree in part with his conclusions.

Let us begin here:
"In the 1997-98 school year, the Davis school district had $4,995 to spend per student in average daily attendance (ADA) revenues. Ten years later, that had grown to $7,972, a 60 percent increase, which equals a compounded annual inflation of 5.33 percent. On top of the ADA money, the district receives funding from other state and federal sources, as well as our local taxes.

Had the ADA revenues simply kept pace with inflation over the past 10 years, our district would have had $6,517 in ADA money per student. That's $1,455 less per child than we are actually getting and spending."
He then writes:
"The answer is clear: The school board has been increasing salaries and benefits (for teachers, staff and administrators) at an unsustainable rate."
And we can pin the culprit to the 2005 and 2006 school years when certificated and classified salaries increased by 7 and 11 percent.

The Vanguard reported on this issue back on July 24, 2008.

The genesis of this problem was a memo sent out by then-Davis Joint Unified Superintendent David Murphy to the Board of Education dated September 20, 2006.
"In this memo are factually incorrect statements that ultimately led the school board to approve a 6.5% teacher pay hike based on claims in it that the district had the funding available over a three-year period to pay for this pay increase. At the time this was a factually incorrect assessment. According to sources however, it is likely that neither the Superintendent nor the interim CBO were aware of this fact."
The board was told that they would have to use one-time reserves the first year of this pay increase in order to cover the expenditures. After that, monies would become available on an on-going basis to pay for the salary increase. The board was told that this increase would thus only require a one-time use of one-time money. As it turned out, this was not accurate either.
The three-year ongoing fund projection was wrong. There were at least two glaring errors in it.

First, the budget was missing some positions that were being paid $400,000. FCMAT discovered this in their report to the school district.

Second, there were changes to special education funding that were not factored in and this accounted for nearly half a million dollars in expenditures. Both of these errors accounted for $900,000 or just under half of the money spent in the salary increase.

The district would keep itself fiscally solvent and the budget on the positive side by spending the district's voluntary (as opposed to the state mandated) reserves. As those reserves have become depleted however, the district has run into huge fiscal problems.

What is the root of these problems? According to a board member at that time, the problem largely consisted of problematic budget tracking procedures that were in enacted under Tahir Ahad.
The new board has taken steps to correct this problem.

So when Rich Rifkin writes:
"What needs to be done going forward is some responsible financial planning by the district. Whenever money rolls in - as it did during the housing boom - our school district spends it as if there is no tomorrow. They agree to contracts with huge inflators, under the assumption that the good times will never end. And then when they do end, all they can think of is to raise another parcel tax.

Instead, the school board ought to cap the increase in per-pupil spending on all programs at 3 percent per year, regardless of how much money they get from the state. In good times, this will result in a large surplus. And in bad times, the district will be able to move forward without a crisis or a tax increase."
I completely agree with Mr. Rifkin's assessment and I believe that every member of the current school board completely agrees as well. The board has worked very hard since the departure of the former Superintendent and CBO to put the district on sound fiscal footing.

The other point that Mr. Rifkin does not make is that even with the increase of spending over the last 10 years, California and by extension Davis' schools still have remained substantially below the national average in terms of per pupil spending.

As Michael Hulsizer cites in his recent letter to editor now posted on the Measure W website.
"According to the most current data from the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Labor Statistics, California schools spend $1,055 less per student than the national average. This means that our Davis schools currently receive $9.1 million annually less than the national average."
Remember that this below average spending occurs DESPITE the fact that the cost of living in California is considerably higher than in almost all other states.

Mr. Hulsizer writes:
"In September 2007, Stanford University researchers concluded that despite higher costs than almost all other states, California schools are funded 30 percent below the national average and a staggering $5,500 PER STUDENT below schools in New York State. The result is that California schools have the highest student-to-staff ratios (teachers and administrators) in the United States."
And he concludes:
"While Measure W will not bring Davis schools to the national average, this modest proposal will at least allow our schools to protect several core instructional programs that help our school district arguably be one of the finest in our region, if not the entire state. Moreover, 100% of Measure W funding will go to programs and services for our children."
I have spent many hours working to understand the city of Davis' fiscal situation. I have devote many columns to that. I agree here with Rich Rifkin in part in terms of fiscal responsibility. Where I might differ (although perhaps not) is that I believe the district has already taken the steps that Mr. Rifkin recommends to prevent the kind of problems that surfaced back in 2005 and 2006.

Moreover, I also believe that teachers as a whole in this society, are underpaid in terms of the jobs that they perform and the importance of those jobs to our society. The fact is that we have increased their wages and benefits over the last decade. I would argue that is a good thing. The bad thing is that the district prior to 2006 did not have good fiscal management practices. As I have gone into painstaking detail however, those issues have been resolved with both better personnel and better practices as recommended by FCMAT in 2006.

Finally the big picture is that we do not spend nearly enough on education in California, especially when you taken into account cost of living. And we are nowhere near the top in performance.

Davis voters get a chance to do two things. First, they get a chance to keep Davis schools great. And second, they get a chance to renew their commitment to excellence in education. We can find ways to save money in other aspects of our lives. We can hold the line on fiscal discipline in other ways that do not harm our children's ability to receive a quality education.

What has struck me in this debate is the 90 percent of the things that critics have suggested the district do, the district has already done. The other thing that has struck me in this debate is how many times discredited arguments are repeated with no acknowledgment that they have already been asked and answered. What that tells me is that people are looking for excuses to vote no on this measure rather than reasons to vote yes. That is unfortunate because the end result will be a cutback in the programs that make Davis schools what they are.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

“Atria Bills” Signed That will Stop Price-Gouging of Seniors and Increase Emergency Preparedness

Last winter, residents of Atria Covell ended up with duel complaints. First, for the second time in as many years, the seniors, most of whom are on fixed incomes, were hit with large rent increases. To make matters worse, a serious winter storm knocked out power and showed the Atria facility to have an appalling lack of emergency preparedness.

In a rally and protests it became very clear that Atria was extremely fortune that no one was seriously hurt.

In a rally last January, 30 residents of the Atria Covell Gardens community protested both the rental increase and the living conditions.

The most appalling story was a woman who lived in the facility with her husband who was on oxygen. After losing electricity, no one in administration contacted them to find out what their needs were. She in the end had to call the pulmonary company that supplied them with the oxygen and at 10:30 at night he brought out canisters that supplied the oxygen for purposes of travel or other issues of mobility for a two hour period.

According to her, two of the administrators,
"instructed me on how to use the portable tanks. But they also... said that they would never be able to help me again. Because they are not allowed to... The AL's cannot help you with oxygen."
This week hundreds of bills have finally made their way from the legislature to the desk of the governor. For many of these bills, it is their untimely demise as the Governor has unilaterally decided not to sign them.

However, the good news for elderly residents of California’s assisted living facilities celebrated Sunday as Governor Schwarzenegger signed two new consumer protection bills.

Barbara Turner is a resident of Atria Valley View in Walnut Creek, a facility similar to the one in Davis. Like Davis they also suffered through a power outage, theirs lasted three days.
“Last year, I received an 8½% rent increase, and other residents suffered through a 3-day power outage. We’re pleased that the legislature and the Governor have taken an interest in our issues, and we hope they will continue to protect seniors in the future.”
According to a release from the Campaign to Improve Assisted Living:
Both pieces of legislation address resident complaints about Atria Senior Living’s practices. Seniors residing in multiple Atria facilities have complained of rent increases that far exceed the cost of living, while some in Davis and Carmichael suffered blackouts this winter. Atria residents normally receive notices about rent increases by the beginning of November, and increases are effective at the beginning of January. Advocates say they will be watching to see how Atria responds to the new laws.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass sponsored the legislation.
“It’s like the wild west with many assisted living operators. They can charge whatever they want, and there’s very little accountability for the quality of care. Both of these new laws are an important first step to holding them accountable.”
Speaker Bass’s AB 2370 will give assisted living residents information on past rent increases before they move into a facility.

Meanwhile our own Assemblywoman Lois Wolk put together her own bill, AB 749, that will require Atria and other assisted living facilities to identify a backup source of power in the event of a blackout, and improve other emergency preparedness requirements.

Assemblywoman Wolk:
“Residential care facilities provide a vital service to California’s seniors. Yet, this is a largely unregulated industry. Within the past year, a winter storm left a facility in my district without power for over two days. They didn’t have heat, lights, elevators, or medical devices dependent on electricity. My bill will provide additional protection for residents of these facilities.”
The bill requires facilities like Atria to have a comprehensive emergency plan that will ensure that the facility can remain self-reliant for at least 72 hours. That plan must be made available to both residents and local emergency responders.

Davis' Assemblywoman Lois Wolk said:
"I worked with the senior residents, the senior home advocates, and the Governor's administration to come up with a solution that provides the security and peace of mind the residents deserve, without placing an unreasonable bureaucratic burden on the facility."
Gary Passmore of the Congress of California Seniors:
“These bills are an important step in protecting vulnerable seniors in assisted living facilities. Atria residents spoke up about these problems, and the legislature responded.”
While it is easy to be cynical of government, here is a situation where there were key and glaring problems facing our seniors who were vulnerable to price gouging by private care facilities and vulnerable to lack of state regulations requiring things like emergency preparedness and back up power generation. Here is one case at least where the leadership in this state stepped up and came up with a solution to these problems. For the resident of places like Atria Covell Gardens it means piece of mind both in terms of their financial situation but also in terms of basic public safety.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Measure W Imperative

In just over a month, an election is going to be held that may be the most important election since 1932. I write those words with hesitation, because dare I say that every election I have ever been a part of, and that goes back only to 1992, they have said something like that.

And yet, for me that biggest lesson of my life occurred in 2000 because it was a realization that one cannot take things for granted. A scant few votes in a single state and some, if not voting irregularities, then anomalies determined the course of history of this nation. Not to mention a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

Okay now let's stop and dispense with the melodrama here. The fact of the matter is that there are a number of important elections coming up in just over a month from now. For me, the most important of the ones below the Presidential contest is Measure W. I have devoted much time and space to this measure.

I think it is one of the most important issues facing Davis right now for a lot of reasons.

Last week I criticized the Measure W effort and was rebuked (and that's clearly too strong a word) by Measure W Campaign Coordinator Kingsley Melton.

My statement that drew his criticism:
"The concern that has been emerging has been that this campaign has been low-key."
Mr. Melton responded on the blog:
"Sorry DPD, I have to take issue with this statement. Perhaps you have not been contacted by Measure W, and with good reason, you are identified as a supporter. We are running a targeted operation that is on track to contact every likely absentee voter prior their receiving a ballot.

As I sit here numerous volunteers are making the phonecalls and contacts essential to the Measure's passage. We may not be a big budget operation, but we are a lean and mean machine. To learn more about volunteer opportunities and campaign activities, please visit our website,"
I hope my friend Kingsley Melton does not take this the wrong way, but I have to disagree with him. I am glad they are on track to contact every likely absentee voter, and I hope they are very effective, but I have seen some very effective grassroots campaigns of this sort. The most effective was a special election in 1998 for Lois Capps. I understand this is not going to be a million dollar campaign, but it still needs to be a high profile one. The efforts by the Davis Schools Foundation ring a bell as to how to organize on this kind of level.

The Capps campaign was able to mobilize over 50 percent in 1998 across the Christmas and New Year's holidays by bombarding the voters not only with calls--we're talking six, seven, eight calls across not a city but across a congressional district with hundreds of thousands of voters. We are talking huge amounts of volunteers, direct mail, vote-by-mail applications, etc. I am glad they are going to contact every voter, but they need to contact every voter about seven times for it to be effective. And I hope they do.

I do not want to be a downer, but I do not have a sense for that kind of coordinated effort at this point. And I only point this out because in my opinion, we cannot afford to lose this.

If I am looking for a spokesman, how about the elderstatesman of Davis--Dr. Herb Bauer.

Reading his words literally gives one chills.

He writes:
"Open your eyes for a moment and read Measure W for the coming election. Measure W protects children and their education alone, nothing else. Read the details to convince yourself. In a world full of flames, with war on earth and ill will to men, only well-educated children may hope to create a better world."
If anyone in this entire community has been there and done that, it is Dr. Bauer.

Last week the Davis City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Measure W.

In part the resolution reads:
"DJUSD spend less on each child’s education than either the national or the state average, and the District has stretched every dollar to minimize overhead; and.... Measure W is needed to continue services such as reduced class size, enhanced reading and math programs, training for teachers, school-based technology support, school counselors, nurses and more; and... funds from Measure W will make a direct difference in increasing classroom resources for the children of Davis; and... Davis is a community that is defined by its commitment to our schools and our children, with Davis schools enhancing the quality of life for all residents..."
And as we reported last week, Former School Board Member John Munn and current President of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association sent a letter to the Davis Enterprise on behalf of the group in support of Measure W.
"The Yolo County Taxpayers Association board of directors has voted to support Measure W, the proposed parcel tax to maintain school programs in Davis. Although the association is not pleased by spending decisions that have contributed to the school district's current financial situation, the need for Measure W is real; and opposition at this point would not be in the best interest of the community, where taxpayers have a clear interest in the education of Davis students.

This support, however, comes with a caveat. We expect that the school district and board members now understand how decisions about present spending can lead to future deficits. Therefore, the association will not support future tax measures to pay for deficits created by subsequent board decisions.

But this is for another day's debate. Today, we must work together to keep the good things we have, which requires passing Measure W."
There are so many reasons to continue to support Measure W--quality education is not a luxury in this world, it is a necessity. $120 is real money to people. But it pales in comparison with the costs of substandard education. There is simply too much at stake now to allow our schools to go by the wayside. Education is the ticket to a better life and maintaining a strong education is an imperative.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that this is about our children and their future. They only get one shot at this.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin is Unfit to Be A Heart Beat Away

I spend most of my time on this blog talking about local politics and frankly I have a pretty sizable backlog of local stories to cover, but I have to put those stories on hold today. Yesterday was one of the most momentous days in this country in sometime. The stock market fell 777 points and that was not even the headline. As one analyst said yesterday, it was not even the worst news of the day. The credit market is in far more serious condition. Major banks are failing. Congress voted down a horrendous bailout bill that would have done horrible things and yet at the same time would have saved us for the time being.

Unbelievably the Republicans response to the failed economy was something to the effect of they would have voted for it, but Nancy Pelosi made too partisan a speech by telling the truth about the economic and fiscal situation of this country, so they voted against preserving what's left of the US financial, economic, and credit system because Nancy Pelosi gave a speech they didn't like? Sounds incredulous and actually if it is true, it is far worse than anything one can imagine.

In this time of crisis many will be looking to the two candidates for President. Barack Obama said that he was uncomfortable from the start about the idea of interjecting presidential campaign politics into the mix. I think that was a wise position to take. John McCain tried to demonstrate himself as a leader, tried to come in to broker the deal, claimed victory at the beginning of the day yesterday before he lost the vote. Then he tried to blame his opponent after the vote failed. At the same he claimed we cannot resort to partisanship, he and his handlers made a string of partisan attacks.

Leadership from McCain? I am sorry, but any suggestion that McCain had any semblance of common sense and responsibility let alone leadership went out the window the day he named Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential candidate.

For a few weeks it actually looked like a brilliant pick. She energized conservatives, she energized working class and blue collar voters, she even energized some of the women and Hillary supporters. She gave by most accounts a great speech at the convention.

However, I go back to my initial reaction to her selection.

At the time, I suggested it was a risky move. "Her pedigree is just not impressive. I have to believe the Republicans could have found someone more qualified. She's been the Governor of a small state for a short period of time. Before that, she was part-time mayor of a city of 9,000 people."

I thought it took away from the strengths of McCain--namely experience. It took away the question about whether Obama was ready to lead.

Honestly, and I do mean honestly, it is far worse than this.

She has said things that are so alarming that one really has to question her capacity to be a leader. Let's remember she is the Vice-Presidential candidate to a 72-year-old man. As one analyst said yesterday, there is a strong actuarial probability that she becomes President, it is something on the order of a one-in-five chance.

The nature of this crisis just punctuates the importance of this selection. It underscores the need for strong leadership. Forget partisanship right now, there are many knowledgeable, intelligent, and qualified picks in the Republican party, Sarah Palin is not one of them.

Let us go through just a few answers here.

Sarah Palin had foolishly mentioned the proximity of Alaska to Russia as part of her foreign policy experience. Katie Couric, who is no one's idea of a hardball reporter, followed up on that in a two-part interview last week.

Couric asks:
"You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?"
Palin responds:
"That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It's funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don't know, you know … reporters."
Couric tried again:
"Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials."
Palin responds:
"Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state."
That is frightening. But her response on the $700 billion bailout question was even worse.

Katie Couric was pushing her on the question of the necessity for the $700 billion bailout.
"Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with healthcare, housing, gas and groceries, allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?"
Governor Palin's answer was complete and total gibberish.
"That’s why I say, I, like every American I’m speaking with, we’re ill about this position that we have been put in, where it is the taxpayers looking to bailout. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—oh, it’s got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So, healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we have—we’ve got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."
Paul Krugman a professor and columnist for the New York Times compared it to a student trying to bs their answer to a test that they had no idea on.
"You know, I’m sorry, but, you know, I am a college teacher, and that sounds like nothing so much as a freshman who hasn’t actually done any of the—read any of the readings and is confronted with an essay question on the exam, and so he throws in sort of random paragraphs of stuff that he thinks kind of sounds like economics. That was incredible. That was totally incoherent."
Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst for Newsweek. In an upcoming column he argues that it would be best for John McCain and the country if Governor Palin bowed out. He said that her answer to the $700 billion bailout question shows that she doesn't even understand the question, let alone the answer.

Zakaria said in an interview yesterday about his initial reaction to Palin:
"I was a bit surprised -- as I think most people were. But I was willing to give her a chance. And I thought her speech at the convention was clever and funny. But once she began answering questions about economics and foreign policy, it became clear that she has simply never thought about these subjects before and is dangerously ignorant and unprepared for the job of vice president, let alone president."
When asked if she's qualified:
"No. Gov. Palin has been given a set of talking points by campaign advisers, simple ideological mantras that she repeats and repeats as long as she can. But if forced off those rehearsed lines, what she has to say is often, quite frankly -- nonsense. Just listen to her response to Katie Couric's question about the bailout. It's gibberish -- an emptying out of catchphrases about economics that have nothing to do with the question or the topic. It's scary to think that this person could be running the country."
Finally he compared Palin to Dan Quayle and suggested she was far worse. Quayle got tongue-tied, but appeared to at least know what he was talking about. Not so with Gov. Palin.
"This is way beyond Dan Quayle. Quayle was a lightweight who was prone to scramble his words, or say things that sounded weird, but you almost always knew what he meant. One of his most famous miscues was to the United Negro College Fund when he said, "What a terrible thing to have lost one's mind. Or not to have a mind at all." Now he was trying to play off a famous ad that the group used to run, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste." And he screwed it up in a funny way. But read Gov. Palin's answers and it does appear that she doesn't have any understanding about the topic under discussion."
For those who did not see the SNL skit last weekend with Tina Fey, you missed a masterpiece. The amazing part of that is that about 90% of the lines from that skit were VERBATIM from Palin's own words. Oh sure they embellished the hand gestures and crossed over the line when she talked about the dollar meal, but there were real and complete sentences that were lifted from the actual Palin interview. As some have said, it is a little too close to reality for comfort.

Keith Olbermann actually played long excerpts from her interview with Couric and the SNL skit line by line and side by side and it was shocking to see and hear how close the SNL skit came to being VERBATIM Palin's own words. Think about that, the funniest lines from that skit were reality. They used her own words against her.

As I said at the onset of this entry, during normal times, we could perhaps bear this woman out. She's probably quite bright, she is simply completely inexperienced on the national or world stage. This is not one of those times. That she could be President of the United States down the line is a frightful possiblity that cannot happen. She simply does not have the command of these issues to be any sort of leader.

We will see first hand on Thursday as she goes head to head with Joe Biden, one of the brightest and most knowledgeable people in Washington on policy issues. Oh Joe Biden as many point out can misspeak. His statement on FDR and TV and the Great Depression was certain amusing. But it is easy enough to misspeak. Palin is not misspeaking, she does not know.

The spin from the McCain campaign is that she's being managed too well. She is being fed soundbites and rhetoric and being held back and kept out of the limelight. That when they allow Sarah Palin to be herself, to communicate directly with the people and have a conversation, she's fine. They site the speech at the Republican Convention as evidence of that.

But that does not especially gibe. I agree that the amount of soundbites that she is being fed is playing a factor here. But she is being fed soundbites for a reason. Moreover, the speech she gave at the convention is not communicating directly with the people, it is not her being her, it is her READING a teleprompter.

Katie Couric wasn't asking ridiculous questions playing gotcha. Neither was Charlie Gibson. Neither of these reporters are known for tough questions and hard-hitting reporting. They asked her very basic questions and she showed no substance, no basic understanding, and certainly no depth.

It is not cute anymore. Our country faces a fiscal crisis unlike we have seen in some time. This is no time to be going to Debate Camp and learning a few catchphrases. McCain does have a vast amount of experience in Washington and in the world, however, by picking Palin he showed a fundamental irresponsibility that goes to the very heart of his judgment. How anyone can trust his judgment based on this pick is beyond me. The country needs strong leadership and McCain failed the test in his first Presidential decision. Obama selected a competent, bright, and articulate statesman, and McCain selected the part-time governor of the 46th largest state in the country in population and the part-time mayor of a town of 9000 people. She has no knowledge of the rest of the world. It is an absolute disgrace.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 29, 2008

Proposition 4, Parental Notification, Has an 8 Point Lead in Latest Field Poll

California is vastly different from most states. Case in point, parental notification for abortions. The issue is one of the slam-dunks for opponents to abortion. In state-after-state they put these type of initiatives on the ballot and win them easily. But not in California. Twice before abortion opponents have put parental notification measures on the ballot in California and twice before the California voters have defeated them.

Is this time different? Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll thinks so.

Right now is it ahead by a 49-41 margin with 10 percent undecided. However after we have mentioned before on this blog, late breaking voters and undecideds tend to oppose new initiative. However, this issue may be a bit different.

Mark DiCamillo points to two factors--the Latino Voters and the Presidential Election.
"If there's a shift going on, it's coming from the Latino voters. Because this is a presidential election, Latino voters will constitute a larger proportion of the turnout than was true two years ago."
According to the Field Poll, Latinos are even more strongly in favor of this measure than they were a few years ago. According to DiCamillo, Latino voters are expected to be 17 percent of the electorate in November. The poll indicates they favoring the measure 62 percent to 31 percent. That 31 point margin is somewhat higher than it was in 2006 when it was 22 percentage points.

Proposition 4 is a parental notification law rather than a parental consent law. That means when a minor requests an abortion from a doctor, the doctor must send a letter to her parents. Regardless of parental opposition, the abortion could be performed 48 hours later.

Supporters of the measure believe that parents need to be informed and involved in crucial decisions in their daughter's lives.

However, opponents like the ACLU argue that government should not and cannot mandate good family communications.
"Of course parents want to be involved in their daughters’ lives. Many pregnant teens do confide in a parent. But laws can’t create good family communication—that has to start long before a daughter is pregnant. It’s important to remember that not all teens live in homes where open communication is safe and possible. Many teens fear being forced to have the baby, kicked out of their homes or subjected to violence.

Proposition 4 won’t transform abusive, dysfunctional families into stable, supportive ones. It would create more difficult options for pregnant teenagers at an already difficult time in their life."
They go on to argue that Proposition four is more dangerous than previous parental notification initiatives in two ways.
"It would dramatically expand the liability of doctors who care for pregnant teenagers, authorizing lawsuits against them decades after an abortion is performed."
Furthermore they argue:
"A deceptive and dangerous alternative was written into Prop 4 for pregnant teens who can’t safely notify their parents or obtain court orders. Authors of the initiative assert that teens in an abusive home could request that notification be sent to another relative over 21 who fits the initiative’s criteria. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. To invoke the alternative, a teen would have to write a history of charges against her parents and provide that document to her doctor. The doctor must then send the teen’s written statement to law enforcement and send the state-scripted abortion notice to a designated substitute relative, together with a letter saying that the parents have been reported to a law enforcement agency. This provides no real protection for the pregnant teen. If law enforcement pursues the report, or the relative calls the parents, the abusive parents will find out about the teenager’s charges, her pregnancy and her abortion."
I agree with the ACLU's position on this proposition. I understand both points that are raised by this proposition. First, I think we need to work together to limit pregnancies in teens. Second, I agree that teens need to include their parents in their decisions. That's why they are minors.

Unfortunately, the real world often does not work out nearly as idyllic as we would like it to be. There are many teens that come from broken and abusive homes and this puts a tremendous burden and creates a tremendous barrier to make the right types of decisions for their lives.

Far from helping these teens, they put them at risk both physically and emotionally. What I would like to see rather than this type of legislation which is a band-aid at best for the types of problems raised by both opponents and supporters of the measure, is legislation that would create real resources to help teens even before they become pregnant. Real resources to help families come together, real resources to enable parents to become more involved in their children's lives, so that we do not get the point of the abortion choice. That is the legislation I will support. This I see as a draconian measure that attempts to force communication where obviously it has long since in many case broken down.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Aghazarian wants to make legislative races non-partisan?

Earlier this week, we discussed Assemblywoman Lois Wolk's first campaign ad where she accused her opponent, Greg Aghazarian of misusing his per diem, a fund that is supposed to go to help those legislators who live outside of Sacramento, commute to and from their district. Aghazarian lives and commutes from Stockton to Sacramento, a forty-five minute drive.

Why this is important is that Assemblyman Aghazarian is running on the issue of "investigating the misuse of taxpayer funds."

Meanwhile Aghazarian has been running his own campaign ad. In it, he suggests that we make legislative races non-partisan.

The current system is broken, the Assemblyman says in his ad:
"So let's fix it, by making legislative races nonpartisan, just as we do for city councils, mayors and supervisors, where people vote their districts, not the party line. It's time to rock the system."
Sounds good right? But let's look a little deeper here.

Back in 2004, Gary Podesto challenged long-time and now-termed-out Senator Mike Machado. At that time, it was a heavily challenged, expensive race, and Senator Machado was able to pull away late to win the race fairly comfortably. However, trends have changed since that time and the district is now much more heavily Democrat.

This year the Democrats have a 15% registration advantage over Republicans. Now some of those Democrats are more moderate Valley Democrats in the Stockton area. The same changes that allowed McNerney to unseat Richard Pombo in 2006 for the Congressional Seat.

In order for Aghazarian to win he has to do two basic things. First he needs to appeal to more moderate Democrats and Independents. This is clearly his goal in this campaign ad. He appeals to the reformist mindset of the electorate who are fed up with the budget stalemate at the capital.

The other thing you are probably going to see is that he is going to run against perceptions that Lois Wolk is a product of liberal Davis. The toad tunnel and other eccentricities will be brought out.

This is a bit more challenging because Lois Wolk is more of a developer Democrat and has been in Davis and Yolo County's politics.

As we discussed earlier, both politicians are more on the moderate side of their parties, however, both are clearly in the mainstream of their parties as well. Neither has a voting record that is remotely moderate. Lois Wolk has an over 90% liberal voting, while Aghazarian votes with his party over 80% of the time.

Aghazarian in order to win must show that he is not a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and Lois Wolk must show he is business as usual. Hence she fired the first shot showing the per diem issue.

Given the amount of money that has been amassed by Aghazarian I am somewhat surprised we have not seen the barrage of ads coming from his campaign yet. Perhaps that is occurring in the Stockton media market. But I suspect not. We will see if this race develops into the dirty, contentious, toe-to-toe battle that some have expected.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting