Thursday, December 31, 2015




          California’s new “motor voter” law has now taken effect, even if it’s not yet in massive use, and so far the sky has not fallen.

          That was the prediction from many Republicans the moment Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new measure into law last fall, with many GOP activists predicting it would lead to “state sanctioned voter fraud” and flood the voting rolls with non-citizens.

          But it has not happened yet, and probably never will.

          That’s because the same rules that prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving the same type of California drivers license as citizens or legal residents  will apply to everyone automatically registered to vote during visits to Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

          The new law registers every eligible Californian who goes to the DMV to get a drivers license or renew one. Once Secretary of State Alex Padilla has set up specific procedure to be followed in all offices, every eligible person who doesn’t opt out will be registered. The opt-out option will be offered to everyone qualified to vote.

          The fears of many Republicans stem from the fact that many new drivers license applicants today are Latinos and their participation rate in the last few elections has hovered just above 15 percent, the lowest for any ethnic group. Asian-Americans are next lowest.

          The GOP knows that Latinos who do vote have long gone mostly Democratic, one reason some Republicans give for opposing a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The subtext of that opposition is simple: Make citizenship available to undocumented Hispanic immigrants and then make voting easy for them and the existing huge Democratic voter registration pluralities in California and elsewhere will become even more pronounced.

          This is one reason Republicans in many other states have made voter registration and voting itself more difficult for everyone, requiring some kind of official photo identification before even registered voters can get a ballot to fill out.

          California’s new law also requires photo ID, something GOP critics of the new law – passed without Republican support in the Legislature – ignore.

          A quick visit to the DMV’s website ( reveals that besides passing written and road tests, recipients of new legal-resident drivers licenses must show a Social Security card and prove their “legal presence” in California and the nation.

          That proof can be a birth certificate, a passport, an immigration green card or even Border Patrol crossing cards and Mexican consular IDs. Only those whose identification proves they are eligible to vote will automatically be registered.

          That’s why Padilla could confidently say after Brown signed the new law that “We’ve built the protocols and the firewalls to not register people that aren’t eligible. We’re going to keep those firewalls in place.” In fact, they’ve been up for years.

          But the Tea Party and other conservative organizations that oppose making voting easier for eligible citizens ignore all this.

          “The law…will guarantee that non-citizens will participate in all California elections going forward,” Linda Paine, president of the Election Integrity Project of California, told a reporter. The new law, her website added, “facilitates noncitizens to register and vote with prosecutorial immunity and will break down the integrity of California’s election process to the point that it cannot be repaired.”

          But the DMV rules make it easy for any clerk to tell who’s an eligible voter, and Padilla promises the procedure he’s still setting up will ensure even more security.

          Registering to vote has always required showing some of the same documentation needed for a drivers license. Forged versions of those documents are no easier or harder to obtain now than before. Which means that voter fraud – a negligible phenomenon in California up to now – figures to remain at about the same very low levels as ever.

          And yet, conservative Republicans who have long asserted – with no proof – that the undocumented vote in large numbers, insist there will be much more fraud. “This assures corruption of our elections,” Stephen Frank, former president of the California Republican Assembly, wrote on his blog. “Our elections will look like those of Mexico and other corrupt nations and honest people will stop voting since illegal aliens will outvote them.”

          In other words, Frank and other conservatives insist the sky is falling – but a quick look outside demonstrates that’s just not so.


    Email Thomas Elias at 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




          A flood of lawsuits began within weeks after a huge, still-ongoing leak of natural gas arose in late October from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility 1,200 feet above the Porter Ranch area in the northern reaches of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

          There’s a class action on behalf of many residents and a suit by the city of Los Angeles, plus individual actions by homeowners.

          These suits claim negligence, ultra-hazardous activity and “inverse condemnation” of property, among other items. There are no fatalities, but the legal language is akin nevertheless to charges made against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. after the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, which killed eight persons and devastated dozens of homes.

          It’s too soon to say SoCal Gas was negligent because no one has actually seen the source of the leak, which still spreads noxious odors and greenhouse gases for miles around. (The Aliso Canyon storage site is about one mile from the edge of upscale Porter Ranch.)

          Suspected cause is crumbled or cracked concrete in a well hundreds of feet underground, says the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Whatever the cause, this is unquestionably a disaster, even though Gov. Jerry Brown – whose sister is a director of SoCal Gas’ parent company, Sempra Energy – has yet to call it one.

          Plus, the utility still has not deployed the most modern inspection techniques for checking on its other wells. It seeks approval from the PUC to charge customers $30 million a year for six years to use a state-of-the-art “Storage Integrity Management Program,” but won’t say why it doesn’t deploy the new technique now, rather than awaiting approval for the charge as part of a pending general rate case.

           There’s also the late action of the state’s Division of Oil, Gas andGeothermal Resources, which on Nov. 18 – four weeks after the leak began –issued an emergency order compelling action to plug it, explaining ironicallythat it “didn’t want SoCal Gas and its contractors to losetime...”

          But is this the equivalent of San Bruno, which did not displace nearly as many persons, but for which PG&E still faces criminal charges and was assessed a $1.6 billion fine?

Did SoCal Gas react too slowly? The company says it observes all four of its storage fields daily and checks well pressure weekly. “The leaking well had passed its most recent inspection,” said a spokeswoman.

The utility also is relocating residents who want a temporary move. By late December more than 4,000 families had applied, with at least 2,100 resettled in various housing types (sometimes it’s a single hotel room for a large family). Not until Christmas week did SoCal Gas agree to act on each relocation request within 72 hours. Two schools have also closed; it’s still unclear who will pay for that.

Thousands of the area’s 30,000-odd residents blame the leak for ailments like nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory problems and vomiting, even though federal, state and local health officials say the gas carries no serious health risks. The noxious odor it bears stems from chemicals added to alert people when they have leaks of otherwise odorless gas.

          Most likely, no one will ever prove whether long-term health detriments exist. By the time cancers might develop 20 to 30 years from now, residents will have been exposed to enough other environmental factors that singling out the gas leak would be difficult even if a cancer cluster should occur among today’s Porter Ranch residents.

          While there’s absolutely no doubt about the cause of death for the eight persons who died in San Bruno, there will likely never be such certitude around Porter Ranch.


          And so far, there's been no official determination of negligence, either. “No one can be certain what caused the damage until the (concrete) casing is inspected,” says the state Oil and Gas division.


          That can’t happen until the leak is stopped, which SoCal Gas says might be months away.


          All of which means, despite the lawsuits, it’s too early to demonize SoCal Gas, even as many residents complain about everything from a slow initial response by the utility to serious and immediate health problems and inadequate relocation housing. This will never be identical to San Bruno, but it could turn out just as badly for the utility involved and those who regulate it.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the
Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” is available in an updated third edition.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015




          There’s a simple answer to the question of why the seemingly constant lying of presidential candidate Donald Trump has not cost him much, if any, of his standing among Republicans likely to vote in this spring’s primary elections.

          There’s also a complex answer.

          The simple answer is that because Trump – billionaire businessman and television personality that he’s been for many years – is a celebrity, he can say almost anything and no one will pay much attention.

          The complex answer is tied to the simple one. Because he’s well-known, a celebrity longer than many voters have lived, those voters believe they already know him, and heed what he says less than they do the sometimes inaccurate, absurd utterances of other candidates.

          (The Florida-based fact-checking organization PolitiFact finds that 75 percent of Trump’s campaign statements are at least partially false, giving Democrat Hillary Clinton a 28 percent rating.)

          So when Trump says, as he did during one Republican debate, that he became pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin while waiting together in a “60 Minutes” green room before each went on the same show, no one bats an eye. Trump’s poll standing was totally unchanged when the truth emerged: He did that program in his penthouse office in New York while Putin appeared in his Kremlin office, almost 5,000 miles away. Neither saw the innards of any green room for that program. This was a complete fabrication, and there is no evidence Trump has ever met Putin.

          The same happened two months later, when Trump shrugged off the fact that he invented a story about thousands of Arab Americans cheering from Jersey City as the World Trade Center across the Hudson River in New York collapsed on 9-11. Never happened. Said Trump to TV host Bill O’Reilly, “I didn’t have time to check the facts.”

          No time to check the facts? Just make it up. Like he did with the bogus statistic he cited while claiming 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks. Wrong. The vast majority of white victims are killed by other whites. No harm to Trump’s poll standing.

          That kind of thing didn’t work for past presidential candidates like Joe Biden and Gary Hart. Biden’s first run, in 1988, died with the revelation that he “borrowed” a few lines from someone else’s speech for one of his own. Hart lost out after getting caught lying about an extramarital affair.

          Meanwhile, when muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger lied about his own affairs and then failed to deliver on a promise to fund an independent investigation of his womanizing, he lost no votes. He also lied when he declared his candidacy for governor in 2003, promising to take no special interest campaign money, a falsehood exposed the next day as he began taking big money from car dealers and oil companies. No matter…some polls indicate if Schwarzenegger were eligible to run again, he would handily win the California governor’s office.

          Schwarzenegger established a pattern while running here. Whatever he said, whatever commitment he reneged on, it simply did not matter.

          That’s exactly how it’s working today with Trump now above 40 percent in some national polls of likely Republican voters. Lying isn’t a liability if you’re a celebrity. Consistency counts for nothing, too.

          For sure, Trump has been consistently inconsistent, changing positions on everything from abortion to immigration. Like Schwarzenegger, when he takes a new position, he does it loudly.

          This should alarm Democrats.  Normally, campaigns conduct copious opposition research, trying to locate every problem or lie in a rival’s background.

          No need for that with Trump. His bankruptcies are known; voters laugh them off. Many of his lies are widely publicized. They haven’t mattered. Anyone bringing them up now, say a debate moderator, will be lambasted by candidates and voters for bringing up old, “irrelevant” stuff.

          In an ordinary campaign, lies and inconsistencies are always relevant.

          With Trump, they might still matter to some voters. But for many, possibly most, they mean virtually nothing, just The Donald running off at the mouth again. The question this raises: If nothing a candidate says can be held against him or her; if he or she isn’t accountable for past sins and dishonesty, how is anyone going to beat that candidate? For sure no one ever beat Schwarzenegger.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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




          It surely looked like reefer madness was back the other day, when the state began advertising for a new medical marijuana czar. The timing of the listing, coming while a dozen proposed ballot initiatives to legalize recreational pot are pending, appeared to suggest an assumption by Gov. Jerry Brown and his administration that at least one will pass.

          The new pot czar, to be paid between $115,000 and $128,000 annually, would actually only be in charge of medical marijuana – to start with. (Two more putative ballot measures now authorized to seek voter signatures would make refinements to the 1996 Proposition 215, which legalized medipot.) The wide presumption is that if and when recreational marijuana is legalized, it will be regulated by the same czar as medipot, working under the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

          So even while the marijuana industry and its millions of customers can’t seem to decide which measure to back, the choice of their future chief regulator is almost upon us.

          That person will supposedly be hired by the end of January, and then get one year to organize a new agency that will label all medical marijuana products, license growers and dispensaries around the state and weed out mavericks who refuse to comply with the state’s new regulations, passed by legislators last summer and then signed into law by Brown.

          “What we’re seeing is a dramatic shift in professionalism within the cannabis industry and a major component is more vigorous, resilient and intelligent regulation,” said Paul Warshaw, head of GreenRush, a medipot business with 125 associated dispensaries offering 5,000 pot-related products.

          Colleague Seth Yakatan, CEO of Kalytera, a company now developing marijuana-derived cannabidiol products it hopes will be used against osteoporosis and other health problems, sees a major shift in mindset.

          “California’s medical marijuana industry has gained a reputation as being loosely regulated, often to the detriment of patients and business owners,” he said. “If this budding industry is to be taken seriously, California’s new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will need to be properly…managed.”

          But establishment of that agency also implies the Brown administration wants to be ready for full legalization, which could come as early as one year from now, depending on which, if any, currently proposed ballot measure should pass.

          “Whoever takes the job will probably have a target on their head,” predicted Dale Sky Jones, president of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, to a reporter. A leading source of information on pot, Oaksterdam also advises the states of Washington and Colorado, which already have legalized recreational pot.

          The new medipot boss will have to be careful never to even imply that he or she would like to see recreational marijuana legalized in California. That would bring ire from cannabis opponents, who cite federal studies indicating the weed can demotivate youthful users, in addition to damaging the brains of some young people.

          While polls indicate opponents now number only about 40 percent in California, that figure will no doubt grow if pot critics mount a serious campaign against whatever initiative eventually qualifies for next fall’s ballot.

          So it might be best if Brown and his aides make it clear their job posting is merely a requirement of new laws already on the books, and not an anticipation or endorsement of any or all of the putative pot initiatives.

          One thing for sure: Given the fact that medical marijuana is already an almost $4 billion business in California, and rates as the state’s most lucrative crop by a margin of more than $1 billion over second-place grapes, legalizing random pot growing and use will likely make pot a dominant product, perhaps producing as much revenue as all other crops combined.

          This would be an enormous change, possibly causing some present growers of everything from grapes to nuts, citrus and cotton to change signals and plant marijuana instead. The impact of that on American diets and food prices could be enormous.

          So it behooves Brown to avoid reefer madness and stay as far from endorsing a pot proposition as he can.


    Email Thomas Elias at 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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015




    It will be no surprise if Californians don’t see many needed highway repairs getting underway in the next year. For the Jerry Brown administration says it will take $59 billion to repair state roads and another $78 billion to fix those maintained by cities and counties.

        This magnitude of repair money is not available from the state’s general fund or from current gasoline taxes, which are carved up into many pieces, the money going for things like building hydrogen refueling stations and mass transit in addition to fixing roads.

        So it will take either higher gas taxes or a major bond issue to bring California highways up to the standards they enjoyed for more than 50 years prior to about 1990, when raids on the gasoline tax fund began in earnest.

        But Republicans hold just over one-third of the seats in both houses of the state Legislature, and they are adamantly against new taxes, especially any that might be proposed by the majority Democrats. It would take at least one GOP vote in both the Assembly and the state Senate to get the two-thirds vote needed for a gas tax hike without a general election vote.

        Plus, no bond money could possibly be available until the middle of 2017, even if legislators manage to settle on how much to borrow and then convince voters to okay their plan.

        There are three roots to the state’s difficulties in getting new highway money. One is the long history of politicians “borrowing” from the gas-tax-fueled highway fund and then not repaying the money in a timely way. That leaves a lot of Californians distrustful of putting more money there.

        A second problem is the GOP’s longstanding opposition to new taxes of any kind. Ever since President George H.W. Bush famously intoned at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, “Read my lips… No New Taxes!” and then reneged on his pledge, only to be dumped from office after just one term, his fellow Republicans have been loath to okay any new levy.

    Third is the general level of public distrust for state government and the bond issues it proposes. One such bond was to fund high speed rail, but the current bullet train plan is so far afield from what voters okayed that it draws opposition even from Quentin Kopp, the former judge and state senator who was a leading progenitor of the entire concept. Other major agencies have been caught in corruption and cronyism, but don’t bother to change the rules that permitted it, and Gov. Brown exerts no pressure for such repairs.

        And what if a bond issue does make the November ballot? It could be buried among as many as four dozen other propositions and get little attention from voters even if many millions were spent to promote it. If that bond proposal were written to provide money for other programs, thus freeing up general fund budget money for roadwork, voters might be distrustful that highway money would even really be voted, seeing anything like this as more likely to create a massive slush fund for politicians to draw upon as they please.

        But Brown remains optimistic about getting at least something done. “The roads are going to get fixed,” he told reporters last fall. “Whether it takes a week, a month, a year or two, ultimately…it’s just a question of when.”

        That’s probably right, but the when probably won’t arrive in 2016 or anytime before Democrats somehow manage to capture two-thirds majorities in the Legislature. They had that margin sporadically between 2012 and 2014, but only for short intervals, as several Democratic legislators vacated their seats to run for other offices, leaving Assembly or Senate seats unoccupied and unable to contribute to supermajorities.

        In the meantime, there’s enough money for the most urgent repairs, like the repaving, lane and offramp replacements prominently visible now on two of the state’s main north-south highways, Interstate 5 and California 99.

        But not enough for new roads, new ramps, replacing most worn-out bridges or fixing even very bumpy, pothole-riddled pavement.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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




          For many years, California’s powerful Public Utilities Commission has conducted Kabuki-style dances with the multi-billion-dollar corporations it regulates. But the latest significant commission decision amounts to a descent into comic opera.

          When the PUC deals with rate increase requests from the likes of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., the Kabuki routine has gone like this: The utility company proposes a rate hike far higher than it stands any chance of getting; the PUC gives it something less than was asked, but still guarantees the company large profits. The PUC then brags about how much money it has saved consumers. But their monthly bills rise, and Californians keep paying the highest power prices in the Lower 48 states.

          This pattern has persisted for decades, just like Japanese Kabuki troupes, whose dances involve complex plots – but everyone involved knows just how they’ll turn out.

          Now comes comic opera. This takes the form of a $16.7 million fine against Edison for not reporting to the PUC on secret meetings and communications between some of its executives and PUC members in 2013 and 2014. Get this straight: Edison is penalized for not reporting illicit meetings to the other participants in those meetings. As if they didn’t already know.

    It is well documented that after the 2012 failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station (SONGS), former PUC President Michael Peevey met secretly with Edison executives in March 2013 during a junket to Poland.

    That violated commission rules and state law while producing the outline of a settlement announced by the PUC many months later. Unless changed, it will see customers of Edison and SDG&E pay about 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost for decommissioning SONGS.

          Yes, the PUC later held public hearings and negotiated with consumer groups, but the eventual settlement matched what Peevey jotted down on stationary and paper napkins in a Warsaw hotel. Classic Kabuki.

          Now the PUC, which so far refuses to reopen the settlement proceedings despite the fact its terms were set in illegal meetings, unanimously (with Commissioner Mike Florio abstaining) fines Edison for not reporting secret meetings and other so-called ex-parte communications with Peevey and other PUC officials. Ex-parte communications occur when a judge or regulator meets one side in a proceeding outside the presence of the other side.

          The fine, said Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, is intended as a “culture-changing remedy.” Whose culture? No one at the PUC is being penalized, yet its people participated in every meeting involved.

          That’s one thing making this fine a farce. Another is that the amount is minuscule, a flyspeck compared with the total of $3.3 billion Edison and SDG&E stand to get in the settlement, which stems from Edison installing key parts it knew could wreck SONGS, as they did. Neither Edison, SDG&E nor the utilities commission has produced any reason why consumers should foot any of the bill for that blunder. No wonder Edison says it "disagrees" with the fine, but won't appeal.

          It’s also ludicrous to fine one party in an against-the-rules secret meeting for not reporting that meeting to the other people in the meeting. How can it change the PUC’s culture to act as if it was unaware of meetings and emails involving its own president?

          Equally absurd is the fact that Melanie Darling, the PUC administrative law judge who proposed fining Edison, communicated privately with at least one Edison executive during the settlement process, asking at one point whether that agreement needed more work.

     In accordance with the advice she got, the PUC so far refuses to reopen the case.

          The bottom line is that by fining Edison, but not touching its own people or budget, the PUC is essentially asking Californians to believe it didn’t know about meetings in which its leadership participated.

    The PUC, of course, has done laughably disgraceful things in other cases, too, as when it “fined” PG&E more than $1.6 billion over the multi-fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion – except that PG&E will actually lose less than half that amount.

          All of which suggests it’s long past time for more than mere culture change at this rogue agency. What’s actually needed is a complete house-cleaning, or more inadvertent comedy will surely ensue.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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

Monday, December 7, 2015




          Ballot initiative campaigns don’t usually center around definitions, but the question of what’s a pension and what’s not is one battle over definitions that’s very likely to face voters this fall.

          After years of frustration caused mainly because of failed efforts to change and reduce the pensions that are or will be paid to past and present public employees, an ex-mayor of San Jose and an ex-San Diego city councilman now seem all but certain to get their issue to the ballot.

          San Jose Democrat Chuck Reed and San Diego Republican Carl DeMaio felt stymied last year when state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris gave a previous proposal of theirs a tentative ballot description making it seem unconstitutional because it might have taken existing, vested benefits from public employees, including police and firefighters. That polled as so unpopular that the two former public officials pulled back their measure and opted to try again for next November’s ballot.

          Something similar happened to ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, when he put forward a public employee pension-cutting measure that would have eliminated death benefits for survivors of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

          This time, Reed and DeMaio are leaving both current employees and death benefits alone. Instead, they now propose putting new public employees of all types into a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan guaranteeing fixed contributions from the state, cities and counties instead of fixed, promised retirement payments based on their pay at or just before the time they retire. Existing public employees would be unaffected.

          If their plan wins, it would constitute an ironic sort of negative gift for anyone planning to go to work as a cop, a water or highway engineer, a county social worker or food inspector, or a host of other vital public functions.

          But it still wouldn’t solve the state’s biggest fiscal problem, the difference between what pension systems are committed to pay to current and impending future retirees, and the money coming into the retirement systems from their investments and employee contributions. That money will have to be made up from state and local budgets, unless stock market conditions improve markedly, and soon.

          This reality, and the high pensions drawn by some retired public employees, creates resentment among many Californians. Data released during the fall showed, for instance, that the average former worker who spent 30 full years with the city of Mountain View now draws a pension of about $111,000.  Ex-Daly City workers collect just over $97,000 each. And so on, with many payments exceeding the mean California income of about $53,000.

          But these are people who spent a generation or more in public sector jobs that often paid less than similar work in private industry. One reason they took those jobs was for the eventual big pensions they figured to draw.

          Retired public employees who spent less than 30 years on their jobs bring in far less – an average of $26,150 per year for non-safety employees, or less than half what full-career colleagues collect.

          One quarrel if a Reed/DeMaio measure qualifies for next fall’s ballot will be whether 401(k)-style savings accounts really are pensions, or merely retirement benefits. For sure, while defined-benefit pension payments are guaranteed, 40l(k) values and the amounts retirees must take out of those accounts after age 69 depend on stock market performance, an iffy thing at best over the last 10 years.

          But Reed and DeMaio stop short of consigning future public employees strictly to that kind of account. Local voters could still go for  more traditional pension plans, if workers could convince them that such plans are merited or that it’s impossible to draw enough qualified public workers for vital jobs without them.

          “We are trying to control the cost of benefits,” Reed told a reporter. Without a measure like the one he and DeMaio propose, he said, “The problem is only going to get worse.”

          For sure, several polls in recent years have shown Californians believe public employees deserve decent pensions. That’s why the question of whether a 40l(k) is really a pension could become decisive next fall.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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




        Rarely has a political party flailed in as many futile ways as California’s branch of the Republican Party.

        In a state where Latinos are plainly on their way to becoming the largest voting bloc, the GOP until this fall maintained a platform plank stating that “allowing illegal immigrants to remain in California undermines respect for the law.”

        That’s now been changed in a feckless, hopeless move aiming to pander to Hispanic voters, for whom treatment of undocumented immigrants is a central issue, one that pretty much dictates where their ballots go. Those votes have gone to Democrats by about a 70 percent margin for more than 20 years, mostly because of that one platform plank and the more heated anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric used by GOP candidates who heartily subscribed to it.

        But the plank has been changed. The politically incorrect phrase “illegal immigrant” appears nowhere anymore in the state party’s platform. But the GOP just couldn’t rid its platform of the concept of illegality. Instead, that document, changed at a party convention in September, now says Republicans “hold diverse views” on “what to do with the millions of people who are currently here illegally.”

        The platform does not spell out those allegedly “diverse” views, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that ordinary Republican voters, candidates and officeholders have changed their opinions. In fact, when writers avoid using the “illegal immigrants” term and instead call them “undocumented,” there’s often an outpouring of complaints about succumbing to political correctness.

        But the party is making some effort to respond to electoral reality in California. Example: The hiring last winter of a Latino outreach person in GOP’s state office.

        The problem with these kinds of moves is that they reflect no real change, but merely an attempt to pander to a group the party might believe is sufficiently gullible to fall for it. That has not described Latinos lately.

        All of which led rightist leader David Horowitz to write in the Conservative Review that “The GOP in California is deader than dead.” He added that “There is no way Republicans will ever win that state again.”

        And yet, even now the party can win parts of California. Republicans actually picked up a couple of swing legislative seats in last year’s mid-term election, and hung onto two more. This gives the GOP just over one-third membership in both houses of the Legislature, where it can stymie Democratic moves to raise taxes, which require a two-thirds majority vote.

        But it’s not sufficient to influence votes on the state budget, which the minority party formerly held hostage every June and July during the long era prior to 2010, when voters passed Proposition 25 and allowed budget passage by a simple majority.

        The GOP has treated its minor victories like a major triumph, even though the very definition of a swing seat is one that’s prone to switching back and forth between parties every few years. This happens most often when the party of a presidential winner takes a seat in a national election year, then coughs it up again in the next mid-term.

        Horowitz and others claim the GOP will not win many Latino votes with minor, pandering platform changes. Rather, they say, it could alienate rightist voters who are its essential base.

        Said Stephen Frank, former president of the ultra-conservative California Republican Assembly, “Bottom line, (base) Republicans do not support breaking the law. Republicans do not accept losing jobs, crowded schools, tens of billions in the financing of illegal aliens. Only the self-deceiving ‘value/principle’ lacking Republicans believe that…”

        Frank is probably correct that the party’s platform change could cause some of its base voters to stay home next November if many GOP candidates adhere to the new plank. But they won’t.

        This conflict between trying to accept at least some of California’s new reality and a refusal to bend at all has plagued the party since passage of the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. That measure caused millions of legal immigrants to win citizenship, register and cast Democratic ballots thereafter, turning California into a safe “blue” state.”

    All of which assures that the GOP will continue its slide into minor party status unless pragmatists can somehow convince die-hard conservatives they need to bend a bit to avoid becoming perpetual losers almost everywhere in California.


    Email Thomas Elias at 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

Monday, November 30, 2015




          Anyone looking for a roadmap showing which of California’s 53 congressional district elections will be tight next year need look no farther than how the state’s House Democrats voted last month on a bill that would essentially halt a federal plan to take in tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. The same map shows just which Democrats feel seriously threatened a year before they come up for reelection.

          Almost all of this state’s Democrats are staunch liberals and the vast majority of them voted to back President Obama in his self-described humanitarian effort.

          This came after Republicans led by new House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin put forward a plan to add numerous layers of additional security to the existing process, which already takes about two years to vet each incoming refugee.

          The GOP presumption is that hiding among the refugees will be a few terrorists planted by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which appears to have overtaken Al Qaida as the world’s leading manufacturer of jihadi mayhem.

          So far, that assumption hasn’t been proven, even though Republicans pushing the bill cited a Paris police find of a Syrian passport after the mid-November suicide bombings and shootings there. The passport indicated one of the Parisian terrorists entered Europe along with Syrian refugees via a Greek island just off the coast of Turkey. Problem was, the passport turned out to be a probable forgery and may have been planted just to discredit real refugees.

          It certainly did that among prominent Republicans. Every major GOP presidential candidate called for at least a pause in America’s intake of refugees.

          House Republicans voted almost unanimously for the bill, which passed on a 289-137 vote. So did 47 Democrats. California Democrats voting that way included Pete Aguilar of Redlands, Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, Jim Costa of Fresno, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Scott Peters of San Diego, Janice Hahn of San Pedro and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.

          Besides their votes on this bill, one thing all have in common is that they are staunch liberals, backing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, gun control, access to abortions and almost every other stance held by mainstream Democrats. Another thing all these folks have in common is that all are seeking reelection – except Hahn. She is now running for her father Kenneth’s old seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

          This still leaves her sharing one category with the others: She fears the effect a vote to allow steady immigration of Middle Eastern refugees might have on her election chances.

          It’s hard to say how most of these politicians felt about their votes. For sure, they knew President Obama will veto the bill if it ever gets through both houses of Congress.

          But all have reason to feel insecure. Almost all won reelection last year in very tight races, none more so than Costa, who was shellshocked after the previously unknown Republican farmer Johnny Tachera led him on Election Night and only lost to him by a 50.7 to 49.3  percent margin after a month of subsequent vote counting. That was the closest shave ever for longtime incumbent Costa. Things were just about as tight for Bera, who bested former Republican Congressman Doug Ose by just 50.4-49.6 percent, or 1,460 votes out of about 180,000 cast.

          There was also Peters, who topped former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio by barely 6,000 votes out of 190,000 cast.

          The largest victory margin for any of these folks belonged to Ruiz, who had a 54-46 victory percentage. Still not much breathing room.

          Each of these politicos knows he or she will surely be a target for the GOP next fall and that if the Republicans stage a strong presidential campaign, all of them could be voted out.

          Which goes to show that election returns shape votes even if no one likes talking about this powerful aspect of realpolitik.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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