Saturday, March 27, 2010

BIG OUT-MIGRATION SLOWDOWN SHOULD END A FALSE POLITICAL THEME

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 9, 2009, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“BIG OUT-MIGRATION SLOWDOWN SHOULD END A FALSE POLITICAL THEME”

Don’t expect any of them to admit it, but it turns out they were wrong – all those politicians who whined for many years that high taxes and lousy business conditions were pushing Californians to leave for other states.

That claim has been a firmament of campaigns by the “out” party, whichever one doesn’t hold the governor’s office at any moment, since the 1980s. Any politician who wants to take that office away from an incumbent invariably claims he or she can stanch the outflow.

It turns out none of them could, from current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to predecessors like Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and George Deukmejian.

That’s because the tide of middle-class Californians leaving the state has never had much to do with taxes, the business climate or jobs. Rather, it was mostly about housing prices. Don’t bet on this happening, but the new reality means the out-migration theme really ought to disappear from political discourse.

In fact, the same tide that sent hundreds of thousands of Californians to Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Texas also was responsible for the vast growth of inland California, from the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys to Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Both those tides appear to be be quelling. For the real impetus behind large-scale population movement was – surprise – money. As long as residents of coastal California counties from San Diego to Ventura, San Mateo and Marin could sell their homes for enormous profits and then buy much larger properties in other states or inland counties with cash left over, they did it. Many wound up with larger digs and smaller mortgages – or no mortgages at all.

In 2004-05, for example, more than 47 percent of all moves within the United States were housing related, with the largest share motivated by a desire for bigger, better and cheaper homes, according to a new Brookings Institution study based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service. By contrast, less than 18 percent of moves were related to jobs, and the majority of those involved transfers.

But last year, housing motivated only 17 percent of all moves, a drop of about two-thirds from five years earlier, while job-related moves accounted for 34 percent of moves. Meanwhile, the actual number of job-related moves was lower than it had been for the last decade.

In short, all those shouts about high taxes, illegal immigration and business conditions causing a middle-class population drain were mostly hogwash. So are the similar bleats heard today. There may have been a bit of those factors at work, but the Brookings study shows that while there was an outflow of almost 300,000 Californians to other states at the peak of the migratory wave, housing profits were the fuel, not the supposed conditions loudly and scurrilously exploited by politicians like Schwarzenegger.

When the housing bubble popped, the game of musical chairs mostly ended.

Besides a hoped-for but unlikely muting of self-serving myths, the migration change could have one other political effect: It might prevent California from losing one of its 53 seats in the House of Representatives, or even cause another to be tossed our way.

For even as the domestic out-migration dwindles, international in-migration continues (the San Francisco Bay area had a net in-migration of about 5,000 from other parts of the United States last year, while the Los Angeles area’s losses to other American regions including inland California amounted to about 100,000 – one-third of prior levels. At the same time, international immigration brought 27,000 new residents to the Bay area and 89,000 to L.A.).

Prior to release of the Brookings study, the general assumption was that states like Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida had absorbed enough former Californians to drain at least one House seat away from California.

But if the 2008 patterns continue through this year, there’s every reason to believe California won’t lose any of its current clout in Congress or much of its share of federal spending.

For even though immigration from Mexico – both legal and illegal – is far reduced from the levels of even two years ago, international immigration from other parts of the world remains steady. There is no shortage of newcomers from Asia and the Middle East.

The bottom line: The real world’s intrusion has now shown some of the most inflammatory political rhetoric of the last two decades was a red herring, and voters should know that any politician who continues trying to pin the past California exodus on high taxes or a bad business climate is a conscious liar.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

DID POIZNER WAIT TOO LONG? WILL BROWN DO THE SAME?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 6, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“DID POIZNER WAIT TOO LONG? WILL BROWN DO THE SAME?”

There is an unprecedented reality in this year’s campaign for governor: One candidate is willing and able to spend virtually unlimited personal money to get the office.

And so Republican Meg Whitman, who promises to spend as much as $150 million to get elected, renders all manner of longstanding political truisms invalid. Some of them: 1) Putting large amounts of political advertising on radio and television many months before an election is a waste of money. 2) It’s almost impossible to get elected governor if you’ve never before run for statewide office, unless you’re a movie star a la Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger. 3) If you haven’t voted consistently, people won’t vote for you. This spring, these are wrong, wrong and wrong.

In short,almost all the unwritten rules that usually govern California politics are suspended for this campaign. That’s because Whitman’s free spending (she’s put $40 million into her effort so far) has bought name recognition of the sort that usually accrues only to national celebrities or longtime politicians.

It has given her a huge poll lead over her Republican rival Steve Poizner, a fellow Silicon Valley zillionaire who has done a credible job in more than three years as state insurance commissioner. It has pulled her even with or slightly ahead of presumed Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, ex-governor, son of a governor and current state attorney general.

“You get some results when you advertise prolifically and no one else is on the air,” Brown allowed last month, predicting Whitman might take a bit of a lead over him before he gets an active campaign going.

The questions: Will it be too late for Brown if he doesn’t soon spend some of the $10 million or so he’s gathered? Is it already too late for Poizner, who keeps sliding in the polls as he insists he has not yet begun to fight?

Poizner claims Whitman’s almost unprecedented (for a seriously contested primary election) poll lead of almost 50 points does not mean she has accomplished anything much, saying again and again that her support may be wide, but it’s not deeply committed.

But a broad body of psychological research going back to World War II indicates that the more often people hear positive messages about a person they have begun to like, the more solid that feeling becomes. One thing for sure: There is no letup in sight for Whitman’s positive commercials about herself.

Which means that the longer Poizner waits before putting on his own blitz of attack ads to counteract Whitman’s negative commercials about him, the more of a longshot he becomes. His thus far desultory efforts at responding have accomplished little.

Of course, Poizner claims Whitman’s ads and current poll numbers are about as meaningful as advertising for Christmas sales in August. Time will tell if he’s right.

As for Brown, he can look to his own past for an example of effective early advertising. When Brown ran for his second term as governor in 1978, Republican opponent Evelle Younger, then a popular attorney general and former district attorney of Los Angeles County, emerged from the primary with a slight lead.

But Younger went on vacation for almost a month after that June vote, figuring no one would be paying attention to politics until summer’s end. Brown, meanwhile, launched a major ad campaign the day after the primary – and took a big lead that was never threatened.

In that campaign, of course, Brown did not face a self-funded candidate willing to spend stupendous sums of personal cash. This time, Brown figures to raise about $30 million, besides whatever labor unions and other supposedly independent committees spend to promote him. The more he uses now, the less he’ll have later. So he waits.

A similar strategy put Younger on the political sidelines for the rest of his life.

The message to Brown from both the past and the polls, therefore, is that he’d better not wait even until June. If he does, he risks falling far behind. His strategy of doing little in the early going worked well in this primary season, as potential rivals like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom fell away, but Whitman won’t just evaporate like they did. Nor would Poizner, if he pulls the comeback of a lifetime and overtakes Whitman.

So Brown faces a quandary: While Poizner and Whitman can give as much as they like to their campaigns, Brown donors can give no more than about $25,000 each in the primary and a similar amount in the fall season. Chump change for either Republican.

Nevertheless, Brown must do something. Simply sitting for interviews with seemingly every television station and newspaper that will send a reporter – as he did just after formally declaring for office – has proven insufficient so far.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Saturday, March 20, 2010

GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE CON-CON CONCEPT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE CON-CON CONCEPT”

The notion of a California constitutional convention, perhaps better thought of as a Pandora’s box on steroids, is dead at least for this year and most likely for many years to come. Good thing, too.

Good because there are other means afoot for fixing California government and now Californians can get on with real reforms that don’t involve buying pigs in pokes as a constitutional convention necessarily would.

This supposed method of fixing all California’s governmental problems at one fell swoop was so ill-conceived that had any clue what it might produce. Sponsors claimed they could prevent a convention from altering the Proposition 13 property tax limits or changing abortion laws, recognition of domestic partnerships or any other social issues – in fact, they said they could set this up so delegates could do little but decide whether future budgets would require a two-thirds vote or not, whether the state would have a lieutenant governor and whether new rules should restrict what ballot initiatives contain and how they reach the ballot.

Pretty boring stuff for the delegates, but constitutional scholars claimed nothing could prevent a constitutional convention from doing anything it wanted, just like the original one that produced the Constitution of the United States. Delegates to that gathering were supposed to refine the old Articles of Confederation that bound the original 13 states together only loosely.

But that convention turned around and designed a whole new system of government. And so long as a California convention didn’t do anything directly contradictory to that Constitution, it could have done pretty much whatever it wanted, no matter what the sponsors said.

The only restraint would have been that whatever the delegates did would have to be approved by a majority of the state’s voters.

So it really would have been a Pandora’s box, with nobody sure what might emerge.

Since the sponsors dislike the current initiative process, where anyone with either the volunteer manpower or the money to hire petition circulators can pretty much get any measure onto the ballot for an up-or-down vote, those most intimately involved with the current process resisted.

The four big companies that now coordinate initiative petition drives and hire the carriers who accost shoppers at malls, grocery stores and big box stores simply refused to have anything to do with the petitions to call a constitutional convention. Before they called it quits, the initiative sponsors – primarily the business-oriented Bay Area Council and its political committee known as Repair California – griped that those companies were discriminating against the “con-con.”

But nothing could force the petition signature firms to play ball with an outfit that wanted to destroy their business or alter it beyond recognition.

Besides that, the convention backers had trouble raising money for their effort even from companies they expected to support them. Might those big companies have feared that a convention could go strongly populist and get rid of many tax breaks they now enjoy? Nobody’s saying.

The early evaporation of the con-con illusion now leaves room for real reform, and convention backers still have the ongoing initiative process as a way to achieve everything they said they wanted, except they’ll have to go about it one issue at a time.

The reformist playing field might now be dominated by California Forward, A non-profit, foundation-backed outfit that has always wanted to approach things one issue at a time.

California Forward, spearheaded by lawyer and former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg and supported by major foundations – not corporations – is behind several new legislative proposals that might reach the November ballot. They call for long-term budgeting by state government, with minimum two-year budgets that could be passed by simple majorities in the Legislature, rather than the current two-thirds majority. California Forward turned to this route after it, too, had trouble getting the money to pay petition carriers.

Its plan would keep intact the two-thirds majority for imposing new taxes and cut off all pay to the governor and legislators whenever a budget is late. It would also force lawmakers to identify funding sources for any new spending that tops $25 million per year and compel ongoing reviews of all state programs to make sure they are run efficiently and accomplishing their purposes. It also requires that one-time cash windfalls be used for one-time expenses, like building roads or buying parkland.

How sensible can you get?

California Forward also backs the open primary measure on the June ballot as Proposition 14.

Almost everything California Forward proposes was also backed by the constitutional convention backers. But this is the sensible, incremental way of creating change one item at a time, rather than taking the blunderbuss approach a convention would bring, with its vast potential for major mistakes that could damage this state for generations to come.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

COUNTING ILLEGALS: IT’S THE LAW AND IT’S GOOD FOR CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“COUNTING ILLEGALS: IT’S THE LAW AND IT’S GOOD FOR CALIFORNIA”

Once again, the self-destructive cry is heard from some parts of California, just as it is every 10 years when the Census is about to begin: “Don’t count illegal immigrants.”

The argument for not counting illegals is simple, well expressed the other day by Ken Calvert, a Republican congressman from the Riverside County city of Corona. “The law is the law and illegal immigrants should not be counted…because they are not U.S. citizens or legal residents,” Calvert told a reporter.

The flaw in this argument is just as simple. It’s unconstitutional not to count illegals. The Constitution puts the Census mission simply: “counting the whole number of persons in each state.”

So unless illegal immigrants physically are the non-persons some activists would figuratively like to make of them, they have to be counted. It’s the law.

It’s also good for California. This state often complains legitimately that the federal government doesn’t pay enough for services provided to illegals, a gripe that Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have lately made a centerpiece of their campaigns for governor.

Those services include things like public schooling, emergency room care, imprisoning illegal immigrant criminals and a host of other items. It’s a common claim that illegals cost California taxpayers a net of as much as $7 billion per year. This, of course, disregards all taxes they pay, from sales and gasoline levies to local utility taxes and – in many cases – income tax.

The argument over whether illegal immigrants cost taxpayers more than they contribute is an old one and has never been authoritatively resolved, but there is no doubt they use public services. Likewise, there is no doubt that Californians have long paid more in federal taxes than they get back via federal spending on roads, water projects, welfare, defense contracts or anything else. The figure for 2008 was that California received just 79 cents back for every dollar paid in federal taxes.

The imbalance has been so bad that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a plea for equity a key part of his January budget message. The odds are poor that he will do any better at extracting federal dollars than predecessors like Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, George Deukmejian and Ronald Reagan, all of whom voiced similar complaints.

Which leads back to the Census. A strong showing in the count that begins next month will be the easiest way for California to get back more of the tax money it tosses into the national pot.

For the Census is not used merely to draw congressional districts and dole out Electoral College votes, the two functions it was nominally created for. Congress also uses the count to distribute more than $400 billion each year to state and local governments, plus Indian tribes.

Besides that, Census figures are used to locate pools of skilled workers, decide where schools and hospitals should go and allocate highway and Medicaid/Medi-Cal money, among other vital functions.

So the more people California has, the more money it will get. Also, the more people California has, the more seats it will get in Congress, thus increasing or decreasing the state’s national influence. It is no coincidence, for example, that California now has 53 House seats, the most ever for any state, and also has its first-ever House speaker, San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi.

Should Republicans win back control of Congress later this year, chances are the new speaker would not be from California, but the state’s big GOP delegation would assure plenty of committee chairmanships, just like the state now has under a Democratic majority.

And it turns out illegal immigrants are one major part of getting the money and influence California’s size and populace ought to produce. Don’t count the estimated 3 million to 4 million who are here, and California will lose seats in Congress and billions of dollars.

That’s why cooler heads than Calvert’s should prevail, and it appears they will. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials points out that the Census has always counted people who were not eligible to vote, from slaves (counted as partial people at the beginning) to children and women before they gained suffrage.

It’s rather ironic that some California Republicans in Congress argue that illegals should be counted for purposes of allocating money to states, but not for redistricting. Ironic because that reasoning could cost some of those who favor it their jobs, as they might be being tossed into districts with other incumbent representatives if the state lost some of its seats.

The bottom line is that the more people are counted in California, the better for the state in myriad ways. Which is why it’s a gross disservice for any California representative to encourage Census takers not to count illegals or suggest illegals work at avoiding the count.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Friday, March 12, 2010

PARTIES DON’T GET IT AS VOTERS DECLARE INDEPENDENCE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 26, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

THOMAS D. ELIAS
“PARTIES DON’T GET IT AS VOTERS DECLARE INDEPENDENCE”

Something remarkable is happening in California politics, but the leaders of the two major parties don’t seem to get it.

Voters are deserting the state’s Republican Party in droves, but most are not going to the Democrats. Instead, they are declaring their independence and becoming an entirely unpredictable force capable of moving elections one way in a particular year and reversing their field the next.

The same thing is happening nationally, but the California secretary of state’s voter registration report produced shortly before each statewide election demonstrates the phenomenon is at least as strong here as anywhere else.

Two recent election results reveal the enormous potential importance of what’s happening: When the large majority of decline-to-state voters swung Democratic in 2008, they handed the presidency to Barack Obama. But when the same category of voters went the other way in Massachusetts two months ago, Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat held more than 50 years by John and Edward Kennedy.

Here are the new numbers that essentially render California a swing state, one that neither party can afford to take for granted even if some analysts persist in calling this a solidly “blue” Democratic state:

Democrats remain the largest party in this state, with about 7.5 million adherents, about 45 percent of all registered voters. Republicans are second with 5.2 million registered members, or 31 percent. There has been some increase among Democrats since the last statewide primary election in 2006, but most of that bump came during the Obama voter registration drive of 2008 and no one knows how many of those new voters will turn out again.

But decline-to-states are up almost 600,000 over the last four years, rising from barely 18 percent of all voters to just over 20 percent. Anyone who doesn’t think 600,000 voters can swing an election hasn’t been paying attention.

And yet… the leaders of both major parties continue to oppose the kinds of changes independents usually like and vote for.

It was a joint effort of both major party organizations that killed the “blanket” primary California used for a couple of years after voters approved it in 1996 by a 59-41 percent margin. The two parties – which agree on few other things – also joined forces in 2004 to defeat an effort to set up a “top two” primary election system that would list all candidates together on the primary ballot, regardless of party, with the top two vote-getters advancing into the November runoff election.

A similar proposal will be on the ballot in June as Proposition 14, and once again the two major parties are working in tandem to defeat it.

They say they don’t like this measure because it would almost always take minor-party candidates like those of the Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties off the runoff ballot. Translation: It could permit the decline-to-state voters and other moderates to break the monopoly now held by extreme conservatives and extreme liberals in the respective primaries of the Republican and Democratic parties.

With party registration tending to be heavily skewed in one party’s favor or the other in most legislative and congressional districts, party nominations are now usually tantamount to election.

But, some say, decline-to-state voters can now participate in the primaries of both the Republicans and Democrats. That’s correct – but only if they specifically request a party ballot. How many voters even know such a request is possible and will be honored by election workers? And virtually no one knows how any decline-to-state who votes by absentee mail ballot can participate in either major party primary.

All of which means that the extremists now running the two major parties will likely keep control of district-based elections unless Proposition 14 passes. But decline-to-states have become so numerous that California might be back to unpredictable swing state status from this fall forward, as they move back and forth.

Pass Proposition 14 and district-based elections might also become unpredictable again, something that could help bring an end to the uncompromising partisan paralysis that so often afflicts state government.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

WILL RIVALS BE FOILS FOR A CANNY JERRY BROWN?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

THOMAS D. ELIAS
“WILL RIVALS BE FOILS FOR A CANNY JERRY BROWN?"

So far, the most interesting thing about the formal entry of Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown into the run for governor has been the reaction of the two megabucks Republicans now vying so avidly and expensively to be his November rival. Or maybe to be his unwitting foil for the fall election season.

Both former eBay chief Meg Whitman and current state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner greeted Brown by calling him an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal.

But neither was anywhere near California during most of Brown’s previous eight years as governor. So maybe they don’t know he was the guy who often employed the terms “small is beautiful” and "an era of limits" to describe what government should be. Or that he’s the fellow who vetoed three bills giving state employees raises – in one year. Or that he fought a raise for university professors by reminding them of their “psychic rewards.”

It was awful, griped Jon Coupal, the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, in a conference call set up by the Whitman campaign, that Brown saddled several new parcel taxes upon Oakland during his recent eight years as mayor.

Yep, responded Brown, there were some of those. “Are (Coupal and Whitman) saying the people don’t have the right to vote more money for police and schools if that’s what they want?” he asked incredulously. “Every one of those taxes was approved by two-thirds of the people who pay the tax. Are they trying to tell the people what to do? Anyone who says the people shouldn’t have the right to tax themselves is living in an ivory tower. That’s fundamental to democracy.”

If other charges leveled at him this year prove as easy for him to fend off as those first ones, Brown will have fun this fall.

He didn’t seem to have much fun during his last-go’round as governor.

Back then, he said in an interview, “I wanted to be governor because I thought it was an important and exciting job and I was drawn to it. I had seen my father do it and I thought I could do it well.”

He slept on a mattress on the floor of a bare apartment near the state Capitol. He famously rode around in an ultra-unpretentious powder blue Plymouth sedan. About the only fun he had, it seemed, was when he dated singer Linda Ronstadt.

Things are different now, and Brown says he is, too. He and his wife of five years, Anne Gust, live in the Oakland hills rather than the gritty downtown neighborhood he called home while mayor. “I go home at night more now,” he said. “I know I don’t need this job. But I would like to bring back a time when people worked together even if they came from different parties.”

It’s almost as if he’s saying he wants to clean up the mess made by his various successors. But can he or anyone accomplish much when Republicans who deviate from the party line risk either recall or getting knocked off in the next primary election? When Democrats who cast an anti-union vote often lose party support for their next campaign?

Brown thinks he can do it in part because he’s changed profoundly since leaving office in 1983. “I’ve seen a lot more, I’m more patient,” he said. “Being mayor of Oakland was an eye opener. Half the people in my neighborhood were below the poverty line, there were parolees just out of Pelican Bay. It gave me a real-life feel that has grounded me.”

Brown does not expect to resolve the ongoing budget mess instantly, figuring that will take at least two years. “We’ll have to hold spending down and develop a plan with everyone on board,” he said. “Starting in December, I’ll meet with every single legislator. The Republicans should say where they want to cut, too, and then we’ll work it out. Plus, I believe the economy will come back – it has every time we’ve had a recession for the last hundred years. Is California finished? That’s absurd. With a total economy of more than $1.5 trillion, our budget is less than 2 percent of the gross state product.

“The Republicans have not yet identified just how they would solve things. So you have to put the spotlight on them. Is there waste? Well, we’ve already cut $60 billion in the last three years. But one thing is for sure: California government can’t continue unless we pull together. And we can do it because I don’t believe the Republicans want to destroy California.”

That’s a speech the Jerry Brown of the 1970s and ‘80s could never have made.

So this time, it’s Brown who’s after a psychic reward, the satisfaction of restoring California’s luster. The bottom line: Even if he’s severely outspent by whichever ultra-rich Republican he faces, all indications are he will have plenty of fun this year, and maybe far beyond.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Friday, March 5, 2010

IMMIGRANT AMNESTY: LITTLE CHANCE THIS YEAR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 19, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“IMMIGRANT AMNESTY: LITTLE CHANCE THIS YEAR”

Every poll shows there are few things California’s burgeoning Latino community wants more from government this year than immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for persons now in this country illegally, also known as amnesty.

But despite happy talk from President Obama and some other leading Democrats, chances of this happening are very slim.

For Democrats who now possess large but shaky majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House are not nearly as united on this cause as they are on health care – and their brand of unity on that cause has produced nothing close to what Obama promised as a candidate in 2008. There is no publicly-run health insurance option on the table. The proposed requirement that all citizens must have health insurance has all but disappeared, and more.

If Democrats who once appeared united on health care reform can’t even pass a truncated version of that, there’s not much chance they will produce an immigration amnesty no matter what their leaders might say. For there’s nothing even approaching unity on immigration reform. That’s because politicians of all stripes well know that no matter how many requirements and fines they might impose on illegal immigrants seeking permanent legal status, there will be strong opposition back home.

Why would Democrats bother keeping on talking about various combinations of immigration amnesty and tougher border and employment enforcement when they know it won't pass?

Chances are it’s because they’ve been promising reform (amnesty) to Hispanic voters so long and have reaped so many Latino votes in the process that any verbal backing off risks alienating much of this increasingly important voter bloc.

Some call it pandering, but Democrats lack the votes to prevent a Senate filibuster on any immigration reform plan that involves amnesty, even with a different name.

So we see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco carefully saying her chamber will likely wait until after the Senate acts on immigration before making any moves of its own. The odds of the Senate acting first are somewhere between slim and none; all the prominent immigration proposals of the past few months have emanated from the House.

Meanwhile, many first-term House Democrats elected in the 2008 Obama sweep fear a strong voter backlash if they OK amnesty. They and their frequent Republican jousting partners are alike in one important way: Most care more about their own reelection chances than virtually any other cause.

That why Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, quickly okayed Pelosi’s plan to let the Senate act first and prove it can “get something done.”

Don’t expect Obama to push Congress on this even as hard as he did on health care, where he’s often criticized from the left for not being strong enough. Obama’s top aide, former Illinois Congressman Rahn Emanuel, once called immigration “the third rail of American politics.” So the White House knows this is a toxic issue and will understand when Democrats run from it in an election year.

And they will. Not just members of the House. Senators like Colorado’s appointed Michael Bennet, who faces his first election campaign this year, will be understandably leery of the issue that made Tom Tancredo, a longtime Colorado congressman, into a national figure and a presidential candidate.

Obama, meanwhile, nominally backs a plan written by Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the House Hispanic caucus chairman who knows the President well from their days in Chicago politics. This one calls for much tougher enforcement efforts, criminal background checks for current illegals wanting to stay, a six-year wait for permanent legal status. It’s similar to the plan pursued unsuccessfully several times by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president.

Noting that 10 million Hispanic voters turned out in 2008, the vast majority going for Obama, amnesty advocate Frank Sharry, head of a group called America’s Voice, threatens that “a lot of those voters won’t turn out in the midterm elections,” in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida unless there is an amnesty of some kind.

That vague threat carries less clout with most members of Congress than the letters they get from angry constituents – and two polls late last year found that about 60 percent of U.S. citizens oppose any form of legalization for illegal immigrants.

All of which means Gutierrez and others who insist there will be immigration reform this year are whistling past the graveyard. It won’t happen.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

A DOWN-THE-TICKET RACE WITH TWO LIKELY WINNERS”

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“A DOWN-THE-TICKET RACE WITH TWO LIKELY WINNERS”

No one in California politics gives 33-year-old Republican Damon Dunn much chance of unseating Democratic Secretary of State Debra Bowen this fall.

Not only is she a well-entrenched political veteran, but even Dunn, a Baptist pastor and former football player turned Orange County-based real estate developer and shopping mall owner, concedes she has a record of accomplishment in her first four years of holding statewide office, especially when it comes to restoring voters’ faith in the state’s voting techniques.

“She gets credit for restoring some integrity to the process,” Dunn said in an interview, referring to Bowen’s review of electronic voting machines and the resulting return to large-scale use of paper ballots. In fact, she gets so much credit that as of early March, Dunn was the only declared Republican candidate running against her. There was still a possibility that another might jump in: Orly Taitz, another Orange County figure who is a leader of the “birther” movement that questions whether President Obama is eligible for his job.

But Dunn, the only Republican now campaigning, enthusiastically and unequivocally says he will win this fall and become California’s first African-American statewide officeholder since Mervyn Dymally was lieutenant governor in the late 1970s.

But he won’t be bitter if he loses. “I’m not in this to win; I’m in this to help,” he declares. “This state made me. My mama had me when she was 16. I was on welfare. Few people have lived poorer than me.”

He describes growing up in a family of 10, but still doing well enough academically and athletically to win a Stanford University football scholarship and later play on four National Football League clubs. He admits never voting until last spring’s special election, saying, “My family didn’t vote – that was a bad habit.”

But he insists his ideas for the office are good and that his not having voted in the past shouldn’t matter as he seeks to be California’s chief election official. “Not voting has nothing to do with the work,” he said.

Part of what he envisions: “Only the secretary of state gets a notice whenever a business in California shuts down or leaves,” Dunn said. “The secretary of state can examine the exact reasons and try to get something done about them. I would assign one of the eight appointees the secretary of state gets to that task alone.”

He also thinks he can reach out to other non-voters better than Bowen. “Who can reach non-voters better than a recovering non-voter?” he asks.

Bowen says she’ll gladly debate Dunn sometime after the June primary election, but says his ideas are na├»ve, if idealistic.

“Most businesses that close down are not leaving the state,” she said. “Even in good times, only one in eight businesses that starts up will survive the first year. A lot of closures are due to bankruptcy, too, and the economy. Businesses are closing at about the same rate in every part of the country. So if you followed up on every closure, you’d be wasting a lot of time.”

And when it comes to new voter outreach, she said, “You discover that this is a huge state and there’s a limit to how many places you can actually go. So we accomplish a lot of outreach through partnerships with businesses and unions and chambers of commerce and schools. You have to create relationships and then leverage them.”

One thing Bowen doesn’t buy is the notion that Dunn’s candidacy is the product of a plot devised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, long the chief political adviser to former President George W. Bush, for the GOP to take control of the national election process at the state level.

Some Democrats claim there is such a Rove-led conspiracy, an extension of the belief that former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris threw the 2000 election to Bush and former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell did the same for him in 2004.

The belief that Dunn might be part of such a plan was furthered by a newspaper report that Rove now advises Dunn. In fact, says Dunn, he has met Rove only once, fleetingly. “He wouldn’t remember my name. I wasn’t even a candidate when I met him,” Dunn said. “Nobody recruited me. I wish they did because it would be great to get some donations.”

Bowen scoffs at the idea of a Rovian plot. “I’m not much for conspiracy theories,” she said. “Besides, I don’t think Karl Rove would exactly be an asset in California.”

Even if he were, it would still be difficult to unseat an incumbent widely credited with restoring electoral confidence to California. Where does that leave Dunn? Probably with a promising future, especially since he’s shown a willingness to serve a campaign apprenticeship that will give him a leg up in future elections.

Which is why this contest might be the rare one that produces two winners.

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Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net