Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NEXT UP: A SEMI-SOVEREIGN CALIFORNIA MOVEMENT?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2014, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NEXT UP: A SEMI-SOVEREIGN CALIFORNIA MOVEMENT?”


          The proposed Six Californias initiative died last fall, a victim of the weaknesses in its own concept and so much skepticism that even a $5 million petition circulating campaign wasn’t enough to get it onto the 2016 ballot.


          But this doesn’t mean innovative and quirky – some might call it imaginative or fatuous – thinking about changes in this state’s future status has stopped.


          Next up, apparently, will be a move toward a somewhat more sovereign California, maybe not a completely separate nation-state, but at least an entity capable of making its own binding deals with other countries and able to pass laws that could not be overturned by either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court.


          A start in this direction comes now from an outfit called Sovereign CA, headed by Louis Marinelli, a 28-year-old teacher of English as a second language on the San Diego campus of Alliant International University.


          “We’re dissatisfied with the federal government and we think we can do things better,” says Marinelli. “The world is changing around us and we can change, too, as the world does. But it’s not a good idea to do things in a rush. This would be a big change, so we would do this gradually over many years or even decades.”


          There is no doubt Marinelli & Co. got a bit of a boost from an October poll by Fox News that found 17 percent of Americans would like to throw at least one state out of the Union. In that survey, 53 percent wanted to get rid of California, far more than the 23 percent who would like to oust No. 2 New York and the 20 percent itching to dump Texas.


          Marinelli, who can’t say how many members his group has because it charges no dues – but reports getting more than 2,600 Facebook “likes” – hopes to put three initiatives before the voters in 2016 to get started toward semi-sovereignty.


          One would set up a method for Californians to vote on whether to officially rebuke the federal government via something like a vote of no confidence. “This would be a first-in-the-nation kind of vote,” Marinelli said. It would task a new state commission with writing a letter to the President and both houses of Congress expressing California’s disapproval and lack of confidence in their ability to govern the country. Of course, any such letter would go straight to the round file.


          A second proposed measure would set up a nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel of state legislators to analyze how “sub-national sovereignty” might work and its effects on Californians and other Americans. The group would have to hold hearings and call experts to testify on how California could sign its own treaties with foreign countries and otherwise assert itself internationally – while still using the United States dollar and having its citizens register with Selective Service and serve in the American military. The idea of making binding agreements with other countries is something recent California governors like Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger have liked. Both have signed so-called “memoranda of understanding” with other countries and their provinces, but none has had much long-term meaning because they lack the status of treaties.


          This group would take up questions like whether California should give up participating in presidential elections or revert to something like the not-quite-statehood status Puerto Rico has today.


          The third Sovereign California initiative would be completely symbolic, calling for state’s Bear Republic flag to be displayed at equal height with the Stars and Stripes on all public property.


          Taken together, it’s barely the beginning of a sovereignty movement and a far cry from a call for secession. That’s the way Marinelli and friends like it.


          “We’re not pursuing actual separation from the rest of America,” he said. “It’s more like sub-national sovereignty, something like Scotland has within the United Kingdom, with a lot of autonomy, but still within the national system.” One difference: Sovereign California wants at least to explore taking the state out of national elections and even give up its representation in Congress.


          Meanwhile, Scotland has full representation in the British Parliament and the Scottish economist Gordon Brown was prime minister as recently as 2010.


          All of which makes various possible forms of sovereignty for California fun to look into, but about as unlikely to happen as Six Californias.



    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

REVERSAL COMING FOR UNJUST PUC RULING?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2014, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “REVERSAL COMING FOR UNJUST PUC RULING?”


          Both the current president of the California Public Utilities Commission and one of its member commissioners admit to improper, unethical contacts with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over items including which judges should rule on the utility's cases.


          So President Michael Peevey and Commissioner Mike Florio recused themselves from voting on current PG&E cases. That, however, didn’t stop them from voting in mid-November to give the Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. fully $3.3 billion in customer money (over 10 years) to help pay for Edison's incompetence at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County.


          This sequence raises three major questions: Why are these men still on the PUC, California’s most powerful regulatory agency, when they can’t participate in vital decisions involving the state’s largest regulated company? If they’ve admitted corruption in handling one large utility firm, should the assumption be that they’ve acted similarly with others, but not been caught? Is there any hope to overturn a recent spate of laughably unjust PUC decisions?


          The answers: PUC commissioners serve fixed six-year terms and can’t be dumped in mid-term, even by the governor who appointed them. (In this case, Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to utter a critical word about the disgraced commissioners, implying he doesn’t mind if they serve out their terms. Peevey’s will be over in January.) Peevey and Florio might be pressured into resigning, but no one can force them out.


          There is no reason to believe either man behaved differently toward Edison and SDG&E than with PG&E, which is now trying to get the PUC to force customers to pay again for repairing the decrepit gas pipeline system that caused a 2010 explosion which killed eight people in San Bruno. Customers have been dunned monthly for maintenance over several decades, but no one knows where those billions of dollars went.


    It’s also true that judges commonly instruct jurors in criminal trials that if they catch a witness in one lie, they can assume the person lied about other matters, too. Similarly, citizens would be justified to figure that if an official acts unethically on one matter, he might also be corrupt on others.


     And normally there would be no reason to hope any PUC decision would be overturned. Commission decisions can usually be appealed only to the state Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both panels can refuse to hear any appeal. Both have been consistently deferential toward the PUC.


          Enter former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who now asks a federal court to insert itself into the legal process and block the San Onofre rate settlement.


          Turns out Aguirre dug up a 2000 case where Edison claimed it was not being paid for some power it produced; it called this an unconstitutional taking of property. That case was settled before trial, but okayed by a federal judge.


          Aguirre believes consumers have already paid far too much for the debacle at San Onofre, retired after tube leaks caused the failure of hugely expensive steam generators that Edison executives provably knew were flawed long before their installation. He’s trying to turn Edison’s 14-year-old arguments against it, claiming money collected from all customers by Edison and SDG&E from 2005 onward to pay for those generators was an unconstitutional taking of property for which consumers got nothing in return.


          “You have Edison (which manages San Onofre) discovering the design problem beforehand and still installing the machinery,” he said. “But the PUC in (processing) the new settlement never allowed (pursuit of) evidence on how Edison acted unreasonably and imprudently. So we’re now using Edison’s own argument against it.”


          Whether Aguirre wins or not, the combination of San Bruno and San Onofre expose very clearly the PUC’s longtime pattern of favoring large companies over consumers. More light has been shed over the last six months on the PUC’s multiple shady dealings than in the 40 preceding years.


          “There were unconstitutional and illegal backroom deals here,”Aguirre said. That’s essentially what Peevey and Florio admitted to in their dealings with PG&E.


          Gov. Brown is the only person who could apply enough pressure to change any of that, but he continues doing nothing while the commission digs itself ever deeper into public distrust.


          -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WILL UC AT LAST FACE UP TO OUT-OF-STATE STUDENT DILEMMA?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “WILL UC AT LAST FACE UP TO OUT-OF-STATE STUDENT DILEMMA?”


          It’s a dilemma that University of California officials have long refused to confront, but one they may soon have to face: How many foreign and out-of-state students can UC absorb and still fulfill its mission of providing an elite education for the very best California high school graduates?


          The issue has become central at many UC campuses, where an unprecedented 20 percent of this year’s freshman class now hails from outside California.


          The tens of thousands of out-of-staters are a revenue bonanza for the system, whose support from the state budget is hundreds of millions of dollars lower today than it was 10 years ago, even if it has rebounded a bit from the lows of the Great Recession.


          UC now depends greatly on the $23,000 surcharge out-of-state residents pay above the standard in-state tuition of $12,192. That provided the system with almost half a billion dollars last year and will yield even more in 2015.


          But even the 20 percent overall figure is misleading. For at the most in-demand UC campuses, Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego, about 30 percent of new students this fall were foreign or from other states. Meanwhile, at the least in-demand campuses, Merced and Riverside, out-of-staters among freshman were just 1.2 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. This brings the average for the system way down. But just like California high school grads, few out-of-state students are clamoring for admission to Merced and Riverside.


          All this leaves UC officials and advocates able to claim accurately that “UC has not reduced the number of California students it admits,” as retired UCLA Chancellor Charles Young put it in response to a previous column, “either in the total number or the percentage of…high school graduates.”


          But with about five times as many out-of-staters today as 10 years ago, Berkeley and UCLA and San Diego unquestionably admit fewer Californians even though their enrollments are up a bit. Yes, all Californians in the top 9 percent of their high school classes are offered UC slots, but decreasingly at the campuses they – and the out-of-staters – most want to attend.


          There are some signs the complaints of students shunted off to campuses they don’t really want in order to make way for the high-paying out-of-staters are finally being heard.


          UC President Janet Napolitano and other officials this fall have indicated they may consider putting some kind of lid on admissions of non-Californians, even though they simultaneously insisted they’ve kept the university’s longtime commitment to California kids and their taxpaying parents by increasing class sizes to allow for the influx of non-Californians. They also propose to raise tuition in each of the next five years, a plan vehemently opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. No one says publicly this is intended to make up for taking fewer out-of-staters in coming years, but it looks like one intent.


    All this reinforces the fact that the most elite of UC’s campuses increasingly cater to the wealthy, whether from other American states or from foreign counties like China and Saudi Arabia which – rolling in cash – fund full tuition for many of their young citizens at UC.


          It’s not that in-state students are not already paying plenty, too. UC tuition has just about tripled over the last decade, increases topping 20 percent in some years. In terms of non-inflated money, in 1980 the value of a median-level California home would buy more than 200 years of UC education. By 2011, it bought only about 30 years.


          Which means tuition has climbed even fast than housing costs, stunning in a state where home prices have risen faster and higher than anywhere else in America.


          While it’s true that the influx of well-funded, high-paying non-California students increases diversity on campuses, much of that diversity could also be achieved by recruiting more heavily from underserved parts of California like the Central Valley, home to myriad ethnic groups.


          The bottom line is that more highly qualified California kids than ever are being turned away from their first-choice campuses, displaced by students from elsewhere.


          It’s an open question whether and when their parents’ displeasure over this will lead legislators to reduce budget support for UC even more than they already have. That’s why Napolitano & Co. must confront this entire issue, and soon.

 
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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

KEY PENSION QUESTION UNANSWERED IN STOCKTON RULING

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2014, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “KEY PENSION QUESTION UNANSWERED IN STOCKTON RULING”


          Politicians and public employees drawing pensions had high hopes they would get clarity on a key question from the federal bankruptcy judge presiding over the city of Stockton’s ongoing  attempt to regain its financial health.


          But it now appears that unique inland port city will emerge from more than two years of bankruptcy without any answers to the question of whether public employees deserve more long-term security than people working for private companies.


          This question became a root, unspoken, underlying issue as tax revenues dropped during the Great Recession and cities like Stockton, San Bernardino and others searched for ways to balance their precarious budgets.


    For many decades, the general presumption was that because private sector jobs generally paid better than government work, public employees deserved somewhat more long-term financial stability than others.


          But as raises, pensions and job security began to fall or (as with defined-benefit pensions) all but disappear from private industry, the pay and benefits of public workers looked better and better. Those benefits were locked in via either union contracts or civil service standards.


          Many voters eventually saw themselves making less and earning lower pensions than public employees who nominally worked for them. This led to election of tough-on-public-employee city council members in many locales.


          Soon a new question arose: Are contracts with public employees more sacred than those with others who deal with government, like the private investors who buy and hold city bonds?


          The early autumn ruling that upheld Stockton’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy by cutting salaries of many current workers and eliminating some jobs did not touch the vested pensions of past and present employees, from police to street cleaners and clerks. That rankled bond holders who had waited years for payments and now will see them stretched out over many more years than originally called for.


          The judge, Sacramento-based Christopher Klein, said in a preliminary ruling that pension contracts are no more sacred than others. But his final ruling was based on the reality that if public employees and retirees get completely equal standing in bankruptcies, they will far outnumber other creditors and could vote down any settlement that doesn’t favor them.


          So Klein did answer one of the key questions in municipal bankruptcies, saying the workers are equal to others owed money by a city or county. That led him to leave worker pensions intact, for fear Stockton would be doomed to stay in bankruptcy many years longer if he okayed a cut.


          But the other question central to many voters who are not public employees was never addressed: Should public employees ever get better pay and benefits than private sector workers who have fewer contractual or civil service protections?


          San Bernardino voters gave one answer in the fall election, rejecting a ballot measure that would have seen future police and Fire Department pay and benefits set by negotiations between city officials and unions. That would have been a big change from the current system basing salaries on the average of 10 other cities with populations similar to San Bernardino’s 214,000.


          That vote may have been a statement that voters in the troubled city believe public employee pay and benefits are not too generous.


          Meanwhile, another federal bankruptcy judge ruling on the city of Detroit’s financial plan has just held that it’s OK to cut public employee pensions there.


          All of which means Stockton’s path forward may now be set, but it’s still unclear whether that will form any meaningful precedent or pattern for other cities to follow as they try to cope with the generous promises they made while recruiting public employees in better times.


-30-

     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

POWER RATE SHIFT: UTILITIES SEEK TO SOAK SMALL USERS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “POWER RATE SHIFT: UTILITIES SEEK TO SOAK SMALL USERS”


          A strong spotlight shines these days on the state Public Utilities Commission as it gets set to rule on how much the state’s biggest utilities will have to pay for their sometimes fatal blunders and how much consumers will be soaked for the negligence of utility executives.


          As much as $8 billion over the next decade rides on decisions of the five-member commission, about to rule on the 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion that killed eight and destroyed dozens of homes in San Bruno and on the Southern California Edison decisions that caused the premature shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.


          These are critical cases, but no matter what the commission rules on them, the average electric bill won’t rise by more than a dollar or two per month. A much bigger increase rides on another issue now under much quieter consideration by the same commission, which has for decades favored big companies over small utility customers.


          The seemingly arcane question to be decided sometime soon is how many rate tiers should appear on the typical California electricity bill. Tiers have a lot to do with how much customers pay for power, as for decades the rule has been that the more you use, the more you pay for each kilowatt hour.


          A typical Edison bill last winter showed up to 314 kilowatt hours costing just over 12 cents each for a total of $40.06, while the top tier of that same bill had 135 kilowatt hours priced at almost 30 cents each, for a total of just over $50. So the price was $10 more for one-third the power in the higher-priced tier.


          Now the commission is about to consider a plan by PG&E – yes, the same company under federal criminal indictment over San Bruno – to cut the number of rate tiers from four to two, a move sure to raise the rates of low-usage customers and lower what’s paid by factories, office buildings and other large power users.


          This would essentially see people who have cut their power use to conserve energy and fight climate change often paying more for using less. If PG&E wins the new formula it seeks, the same plan will soon come to Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers, too. Edison already proposes a such pricing.


          A further change, added to raises in raw rates, would cut discounts given to the lowest-usage (read: poorest) customers by as much as 20 percent.


          It’s all part of an effort begun by Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno to help the big utilities “simplify” their billing. A measure he pushed last year, known as AB 327 and eventually signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, also will soon impose a flat fee of about $5 per month on every electric customer, most likely coming atop what they pay now. This fee will supposedly compensate big power companies for continuing to maintain the state’s electric grid while more and more consumers install rooftop solar panels.


          This isn’t big money for most folks, but it is a slight disincentive to install solar, since the savings from it won’t be quite as good as before. Is this really what Brown and other loud advocates of renewable energy want?


          It all may be the product of a 2012 legislative conference on Maui, where some lawmakers saw their expenses paid by corporations and/or labor unions. It’s documented that rate restructure was discussed there, and that the Perea bill followed.


          If that conference had even the slightest influence on the coming changes, the plane tickets and hotel rooms the businesses and their union workers paid for will turn out to be choice investments.


          For these changes would mean billions of dollars in additional revenue each year for the big utilities, lower bills for the state’s biggest energy hogs and higher prices for millions of consumers.


          Sadly,all that’s standing between those consumers and the higher expense is the PUC, whose corruption in the San Bruno affair has been thoroughly documented.



    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net 
   

WHO NEEDS A POLITICAL PARTY?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “WHO NEEDS A POLITICAL PARTY?”


          Neither devoted Republicans nor dedicated Democrats are happy about one obvious message of this month’s election:


          At least in California, there’s no need at all to choose or join a political party.


          This message came across in several ways. For one thing, the two Republican candidates for statewide office who refused to endorse their party’s candidate for governor both did far better than all other GOP candidates for major office. For another, the two-year-old “top two” primary election system gave Republicans a decisive voice in the many districts where Democrats so dominate that GOP voters previously didn’t have influence. The same for Democrats in the few districts where the tables are turned and Republicans dominate.


    Party stalwarts hate this, because it has already demonstrated a moderating influence on legislators and members of Congress, and the leaders of both major parties tend to be extremists of left and right. It is likely no coincidence that that the two Republicans who ran strongest – Pepperdine University Prof. Pete Peterson for secretary of state and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin for controller – were the most moderate statewide candidates their party offered this year.


    Small party adherents also despise top two, because it has essentially taken their candidates off the November ballot. Libertarians, Greens and others have the same shot anyone else does in the primary, but if they’re not one of the top two vote-getters then, they are forced to the sidelines for the rest of each election year.


    And why not? If they demonstrate sufficient appeal to voters in the primary, they’ll be fine in the fall. If they don’t, they won’t be elected later anyhow and would merely clutter both the ballot and any debates that might be held along the way.


          Another central feature of top two is that voters have no need to affiliate with either party at any time unless they hope someday to win political office themselves. There is no longer any public office or proposition on any ballot for which people declaring no party preference cannot vote.


          It’s plain from the latest voter registration statistics that voters are increasingly aware of all this. Just before Election Day, 517,000 more Californians were registered than four years ago.


          But while Democratic registration was actually up slightly, by about 87,000, Republican rolls were down by almost 356,000. Where did the new voters and the former Republicans go? Most went to the no party preference column, up almost 650,000 and to smaller parties like the Greens, Libertarians, American Independents and Peace and Freedom, whose membership rose a combined 115,000. Belonging to a fringe party also no longer limits anyone’s ability to participate, as it previously did.


          The numbers show a marked acceleration of a trend toward voter independence that began in the late 1990s, but only advanced slowly before top two. Now more than 23 percent of all California voters decline to choose a party, double the 1998 figure and almost as many as call themselves Republicans (28.1 percent).


          All the parties hate this, and are again contesting top two in court, this time challenging a similar Arizona system. So far, the California plan has withstood court challenges, but no one can be sure about Arizona.


          Which means the just-concluded vote could have been the last one under this system.


          The major parties would love that, of course, as they despised the way 24 legislative races and several Congressional contests this fall pitted party mates against each other. The intra-party competition made some districts that were previously among the most one-sided into serious, unpredictable battlegrounds.


          “You no longer have a choice between hamburger and fish on the political menu,” griped one activist. “Now it’s just between two types of hamburger. What kind of choice is that?”


          It turns out to be a healthy one.



    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

LOGJAM ENDS, REPLACING BOXER COULD BE FIRST RACE OF NEW ERA


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2014 OR THEREAFTER
 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

    “LOGJAM ENDS, REPLACING BOXER COULD BE FIRST RACE OF NEW ERA”

 

          This year’s election is over, and the main Nov. 4 result in California was not the least bit surprising: Four more years of Gov. Jerry Brown working with a Democratic-dominated Legislature.

 

          But the next election season began the moment this year’s ended, and every indication is that the long logjam that has frustrated ambitious Democrats for most of the last two decades will now break up.

 

          For Brown, about to start his fourth term as governor, cannot run again for that office and is highly unlikely to try for any other. Four years from now, he will be 80. He tried for president and failed while in his 30s and 40s, and no one over 69 has ever been elected for the first time as the nation’s leader. So as healthy and vigorous as Brown appears, he’ll be finished when he’s termed out in four years.

 

          At the same time, Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer may not seek a new six-year term. A four-termer, Boxer has been considered one of the most vulnerable senators before each of her last three runs. But Boxer always won, in part due to her hard work.

 

          Her last run, in 2010, was typical. She held coffees in living rooms from Chico and Eureka to the suburbs of San Diego and many points east and in between. “It’s always hard for me,” she said in an interview while running. “Every six years, there are millions of new voters and I am constantly having to re-introduce myself to them.”

 

          At 75 when her current term ends two years from now, the onetime Marin County supervisor may simply retire to her current home in the desert resort town of Rancho Mirage. Six years ago, as she readied her run, Boxer’s campaign kitty held $3.6 million. By contrast, a month ago it stood at just $200,000.

 

          Already 81 and now the oldest member of the Senate, Boxer’s longtime colleague Dianne Feinstein will be 85 when her current term ends in 2018. Vigorous as she is, will she want a new six-year commitment to continual red-eye cross-country airline flights? Especially since the Republican takeover of the Senate will move her out of her chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, will she find it worth the trouble to run? The regretful guess here is no.

 

          Add this to the departures in this year’s election of California congressional kingpins like George Miller, Henry Waxman and Buck McKeon and it’s clear California is developing an entirely new political elite.

 

          Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, and state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, previously the San Francisco district attorney, both plainly aspire to lead, although it’s unclear whether either will go after Boxer’s seat in 2016 if she opts out, or wait until 2018, when two top-of-ticket jobs could be open.

 

          They are not alone. Proven office-holders like John Chiang, the current state controller and newly-elected treasurer, may want higher office. Could billionaire investor Tom Steyer, long a large contributor to liberal candidates and causes, become the next big-bucks, self-funded candidate? Will current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti try for a top statewide office? How about his predecessor, the limitlessly ambitious Antonio Villaraigosa?

 

          And there could be Michelle Obama. She and her presidential husband reportedly bought a house in Rancho Mirage earlier this year, not far from Boxer. So despite current denials, First Lady Michelle, like Hillary Clinton before her, might try picking off a Senate seat from a state where she never previously lived. Of course, this sort of thing hasn’t worked well for past newcomers to California.

 

          On the Republican side, the persistent and spirited showing of this fall’s gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari makes him an intriguing figure. And San Diego County Congressman Darrell Issa has long lusted after a Senate seat, while Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s strong campaign for state controller could give her a future.

 

          The upshot is that California is in for an interesting four years of politicking, with the old guard that has dominated state affairs for more than 20 years about to give way to younger people. Only time will tell whether that’s good or bad for most Californians.

 

     -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net