Tuesday, February 24, 2015




          Condoleeza Rice, the former secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and now a Stanford University professor, has stated very clearly she would rather attend college basketball games and help choose the college football playoff teams than be a U.S. senator.

          At 61, she says she prefers a secure job in academe, playing the piano in her spare time, mentoring students and then considering  an executive-level job if the Republicans take back the White House. She probably would also rather not face the inevitable questions a campaign would bring about her role in government deceptions that led to this country’s long and costly war in Iraq.

          “A campaign for the Senate is out of the question,” Rice has said. She’s done nothing counter to that statement, not raising money, not speechifying or anything else, keeping a low profile in general even as others visibly line up to run for the seat Democrat Barbara Boxer will vacate next year.

    And yet, the latest Field Poll shows Rice leading the senatorial field, including Democrats and Republicans, Latinos and Anglos and African-Americans.

          This is remarkable in California, a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential or Senate election since 1988 and one where Democratic voter registration runs 15 percent ahead of the GOP’s.

          What does it mean? Maybe that voters are not yet paying much attention, despite the highly publicized machinations of figures like state Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and numerous members of Congress from Orange County’s Loretta Sanchez to John Garamendi of Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County.

          Some survey respondents told Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo they’re not yet ready for political action. “It’s just too far away,” said one. “I am waiting for more information to come out.”

          But Rice’s standing three points ahead of current Democratic front-runner Harris probably also indicates the same thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated 12 years ago when he dominated the recall election that ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis: Politics in California has never been only about party. It’s always also been governed by personalities, and stars from other fields can translate that into political success.

          Republican Schwarzenegger won the recall and later was easily reelected not because he’s a distinguished politician or statesman, but because of his repute as a muscleman actor.

          Similarly, when the great semanticist S.I. Hayakawa won election to the Senate, it was because of the television exposure he got while countering massive student protests as president of San Francisco State University. Onetime soft-shoe dancer and actor George Murphy, also won a Senate seat as a Republican because of his prior reputation. And John Tunney later won that same seat mostly because his father was a heavyweight boxing champion.

          A quick look at how the only Republicans avowedly considering a run for Boxer’s seat fare in the Field survey also demonstrates that a lack of star power can be fatal when your party is in the minority.

          San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, given to aphorisms about how his family has lived the American Dream, draws just a 20 percent level of voters “inclined to support” him. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller last year, and former state GOP chairmen Tom del Beccarro and Duf Sundheim have similar levels of support.

          Almost every Democrat in the potential field does much better, with Sanchez and fellow Congress members Garamendi, Jackie Speier, Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff all drawing support in the 29 to 39 percent range, well above the mine-run Republicans but far behind Rice.

          It all goes to show that while the Republican label has been thoroughly tarnished in California and the GOP has done little to shake off the anti-Latino reputation it got from Gov. Pete Wilson’s all-out support for the ill-fated anti-illegal immigrant 1994 Proposition 187, individual Republicans can still do well.

          Which means there’s still potential for a healthy two-party system in this state. To make that real, though, the GOP must recruit charismatic candidates with star power – like Condoleeza Rice.



    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




          California attorney general's agents wasted no time after this column in late January called for a criminal investigation of the former state Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. Less than five days later, investigators executed a search warrant at Peevey’s primary home in La Canada Flintridge.

          But the scope of the investigation might not be broad enough.

          Egregious as his alleged acts have been, Peevey could not have acted alone in securing sweetheart deals for California’s largest regulated utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Utility executives discussed arrangements with him, and one of the state’s leading consumer advocacy groups often played along with whatever he did. Plus, fellow commissioners never voted him down.

          It all stems from the longstanding PUC “kabuki dance,” an elaborate routine conducted by the commission, the utilities and the consumer advocate group TURN – The Utility Reform Network.

          In this exercise, whenever each utility files for possible rate increases, it seeks far more than is justified. The commission cuts the request down, taking credit for “holding the line,” and TURN boasts of saving the public hundreds of millions.

          Demonstrating the phony quality of all this, TURN’s former chief lawyer, Michael Florio, a PUC member since 2011, is currently under investigation for allegedly helping PG&E, his onetime “adversary,” find a sympathetic administrative law judge to hear a rate case.

          In reality, everyone knows the general outlines of the outcome before any rate-case exercise begins. So this is performance art, not the prudent regulation called for by California law. It now sees Californians paying the third highest power rates in the lower 48 states (http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a).

          Yes, extraordinary examples of apparent corruption became clear during the 12-year Peevey era, predictable the moment ex-Gov. Gray Davis named the former Edison president and husband of Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu commission president. This classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse was reinforced when Peevey got a second six-year term from Davis’ successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

          Just how connected Peevey has been was clear at an early February gala honoring him in San Francisco just after investigators searched his home. Sponsors of the $250-a-plate dinner included his successor Michael Picker, Energy Commission chairman Robert Weisenmiller, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown (sister of the current governor and a board member of SDG&E’s parent company), former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and several ex members of Congress.

          Most egregious of Peevey’s actions may have been his manipulations to let PG&E off easy after its negligence (the term used by federal investigators) led to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that cost eight lives.

          For one thing, Peevey and fellow commissioners who fell meekly in line behind him still have not tracked the billions of dollars paid by utility customers since the 1950s for gas pipeline maintenance that was done only on a spotty basis.

          It has also emerged that Peevey personally signed off on an exemption allowing his old pals at Edison to replace steam generators in their San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station without a formal review of the $680 million cost, which consumers began paying long before the generators were installed and then failed, causing the plant to be retired. Other emails earlier showed Edison executives knew the generators were flawed before the installation.

          Peevey couldn't do much of this alone; almost all of it required cooperation or at least acceptance by other commissioners, the utilities and TURN, the consumer advocate group that helped “negotiate” last year’s settlement that will see customers pay more than $3.3 billion out of about $5 billion in San Onofre closure costs. Of course, the fault for that failure lies with Edison and its supplier; no one has yet explained why consumers should pay anything.

          Because so many parties have been involved in so many shady dealings, along with the kabuki dance common to all rate cases handled by the PUC, it’s clear the long-term theft of billions of consumer dollars involves far more persons and companies than just Peevey. The attorney general’s office won’t say whether its investigation might broaden to include a potential conspiracy.

          But legislative hearings to be chaired in mid-March by Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon of Lakewood just might explore this, Rendon said.

    For sure all aspects of this investigation should consider whether a wide conspiracy went far beyond one man’s possible criminal actions.


    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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Update of Feb 20



         Californias three-year-old top two” primary election system has never pleased any political party. Not large ones like the Republicans and Democrats, who don't like members of the other large party helping choose their nominees. And not minor parties like Libertarians and Greens, who resent the fact that top two virtually excludes them from November general election contests.

         So the future of this system has been in some doubt from the moment Proposition 14 passed in 2010 and restored an open primary to the state for the first time since the late 1990s. Thats when Democrats and Republicans combined in a legal effort which eliminated a short-lived blanket primary” system where anyone could vote for any candidate in the primary, but each party was assured of one spot on the November ballot for each race it entered.

   The latest challenge to top two, which sees only the two leading vote-getters in each contest making the fall ballot – regardless of party – came from three minor parties with extremely disparate ideologies – the Libertarians, the Greens and Peace and Freedom.

   All claimed top two, also known as the jungle primary” for its unpredictability, is unconstitutional because it almost never lets their members vote in November for their favorite candidates. Never mind that those candidates have unlimited opportunity to sell themselves in the primary.

         The minor parties saw their arguments rejected by a trial judge in 2012 and finally got an appellate court hearing in January.

         Some observers left that hearing before a three-judge panel in San Francisco feeling the challenge to top two would once again go nowhere. They were right, as the judges took only a few days to back the trial court.

         The hearing opened with Judge Sandra Margulies, an appointee of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, asking whether independent voters were barred from voting in partisan primaries before passage of Proposition 14. The correct answer would have been no, as both Democrats and Republicans since 2001 had allowed independents to vote in their contests if they wished.

         But lawyers for the minor parties responded by saying the reverse. Presumably, Margulies and her colleagues will have learned the correct answer elsewhere before issuing their ruling, due before April 15.

         Opponents of top two also were disappointed that the minor party lawyers did not mention either Jesse Ventura or Audie Bock in their arguments. Ventura, who ran for Minnesota governor as an independent in 1998, pulled just 3 percent of the vote in the primary, but got a 37 percent plurality in that November's runoff, taking office the following January.

         Bock, running for an Oakland seat in the state Assembly as a Green candidate in a 1999 special election, polled just 8.5 percent in the primary, but got 51 percent of the runoff vote.

         “You cant just jump from nothing to significant strength overnight,” said Richard Winger, owner of the Ballot Access News newsletter and a longtime opponent of top two. It takes time, and top two doesnt allow enough time since you miss months of campaigning between the primary and the general.

         Don Siegel, a lead lawyer for the minor parties in their challenge to the current system, said the historical points are not really relevant. This case is about whether candidates not in the mainstream can get a hearing in November elections, when four or five times more people vote than in the primary.

         He argued that top two violates the rights of people who want to vote for a small party candidate in November.

         The issue is whether those small party folks deserve a place on the November ballot if theyre not one of the top two in the primary. When they passed Propostion 14, California voters were saying they dont.

         But Siegel argued that in a 34-year-old case involving 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that you have to let voters vote in periods of peak voter interest,” and turnout clearly shows primary election season is not such a time.

         But the minor parties lost their appeal, in part because courts of appeal normally respect trial court decisions unless they have compelling reason not to.

          But if the minor parties continue to the state and federal Supreme Courts, where judges are not so deferential, no one can be sure of the outcome.

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