Friday, May 27, 2016




          It seemed like déjà vu last month when a panel of the California Board of Prison Terms recommended parole for onetime Charles Manson “Family” member Leslie Van Houten.

          Other parole board teams have recommended release several times for less well-known former Manson murder participants like Bruce Davis and Charles (Tex) Watson and none has yet been freed.

          But some parole panelists believe Van Houten should be different. Denied parole 19 other times during 46 years in prison, she has been an exemplary inmate, organizing women’s support groups and earning college degrees.

          Parole Commissioner Ali Zarrinnam told Van Houten during a five-hour hearing in Corona earlier this year that her “behavior in prison speaks for itself … 46 years and not a single serious rule violation.”

          Gov. Jerry Brown should pay little or no heed to that kind of sentimental talk as he considers whether to accept or veto the parole recommendation. And most likely, he won’t. When parole officials recommended freedom for fellow Manson Family killer Davis last year, Brown wrote a six-page reversal making this salient point: “In rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself. This is such a case.”

          It’s rather doubtful that Van Houten, once a rich family’s daughter and now a gray-haired 66-year-old, would do much damage to society – the usual standard followed in allowing or denying parole – except in this case for its effect on the societal psyche.

          For if murderers can eventually go free after behaving as brutally as Van Houten did in 1969, first holding down victim Rosemary La Bianca in her Hollywood Hills home while fellow killers Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel repeatedly stabbed her, and then adding 14 stabs of her own just for emphasis (later, she said she inflicted ‘about 16 stabs’), what value has society placed on human life? And what effect might that have on others considering brutal killings of their own?

          There was also the matter of Van Houten’s scrawling racist slogans in Mrs. LaBianca’s blood on several interior walls of her home. And there was her carving the word WAR into the stomach of Mrs. LaBianca’s husband Leno, murdered with her.

          And yet, there are plenty of lawyers and prison psychiatrists to whom this is largely irrelevant because Van Houten has been a model prisoner, just as was her pal, Susan (Sadie) Atkins, who helped kill actress Sharon Tate and others and died of cancer in prison, where some chaplains bemoaned her incarceration because she was such a “deep and noble” person. None of those Atkins admirers, nor any of the psychiatrists who have evaluated Van Houten, set foot in the crime scene the next day, as this columnist did.

          Nor did any of them see Atkins and Van Houten, with a few other Manson followers, repeatedly enter courtrooms with X’s carved into their foreheads to mark the degree of their support for their guru and each other – and what they had perpetrated.

          Sure, they – like Davis and Watson – have been exemplary convicts. But that did not help Cory LaBianca last year, when her six-year-old granddaughter asked what happened to her great-grandparents.

          Two new factors are at play in this latest parole case. For one thing, Brown has only 30 more months in office and will likely be the last California governor with personal memories of the Tate-LaBianca murders. He lived nearby in the Hollywood Hills at the time and was an elected Los Angeles community college trustee. Will future governors who did not live in the area (no one in the current list of prospects to succeed Brown was either an adult or lived in the vicinity at the time) be more sympathetic to the now-elderly killers?

          Another possible factor is Brown’s push for a fall ballot initiative that would ease paroles of state convicts – possibly including Davis and Van Houten.

          Would he view it as hypocritical to simultaneously push this measure and deny parole to Van Houten, classed as an ideal candidate for freedom by every prison system expert (none of whom was directly exposed to her crimes)?

          One thing for sure: If Brown okays this parole, it will most likely taint his legacy, perhaps even more than the several forms of corruption that now afflict his administration.

     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, go to




          It seemed almost too good to be true when Republican state Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford authored a bill aiming to keep many ex-legislators from lobbying their former colleagues in Sacramento for about three years after their departure.

          Even better was the surprising response from majority Democrats: Unlike many proposals from Republicans, this idea did not die an instant death upon coming up in a Senate committee made up of four Democrats and just one Republican. The committee passed the bill out unanimously, once it was watered down.

          But even watered down, this bill still has merit. Here’s why:

          As things now stand, legislators can resign their seats at any time, creating a need for a special election. Fully 58 of these have been conducted over the last 26 years, more than two a year. They have come thicker and faster lately than before: In 2013, Los Angeles County alone had 14 special elections to fill vacancies left by politicians – at a cost of about $15 million. San Bernardino County had 13 special elections, each cost about $1 million.  Some involved city councils and the boards of special districts.

                But some were for high-profile posts in the Legislature vacated by incumbents seeking higher office or leaving for more lucrative jobs than those in the state Senate or Assembly, which pay a paltry $96,250 per year – plus perks like cars and copious staff. About half the special elections involving legislators were about incumbents leaving to take higher-paying jobs – many as lobbyists.

          The most recent case was former Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno, who served five years before taking a lucrative job as a Sacramento lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. That’s the main lobbying arm of drug companies often collectively called Big Pharma.

          Before him, former Democratic state Sen. Michael Rubio of Shafter resigned to take a job with Chevron Corp. and Republican state Sen. Bill Emmerson of Riverside County left to join the California Hospital Assn.

          These men and others who leave their seats at mid-term now must wait only a year to come back and lobby their onetime colleagues. That’s only half the time former U.S. senators are supposed to wait.

          Vidak’s proposal, to be voted on by the full state Senate and possibly the Assembly later this summer, originally aimed to bar lobbying by lawmakers leaving at mid-term until the end of the first legislative session that begins after their departure.

          That gobbledygook can be translated into “two to four years,” since legislative sessions run two years and a legislator resigning only shortly after the start of one would have to wait for two sessions to end before getting down to work. Not many special interests, no matter how deep their pockets, would want to hire a legislator/lobbyist who would be idle that long.

          So Vidak’s measure was watered down, now requiring only a two-year wait, essentially doubling the current hiatus and putting California legislators on equal terms with departing U.S. senators.

          Said Vidak aide Jann Taber, “The chair and other members of the committee were not prepared to support the bill without the amendments.”

          The chair of that committee, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, is Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat elected with support from business interests. Another committee member is Carol Liu of La Canada-Flintridge, wife of disgraced former Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. She may have some close knowledge of conflicts of interest.

          Despite being watered down, this bill still ought to be on the list of must-pass legislation because it would lessen at least a bit the motivation for legislators to leave at mid-term and make them slightly less desirable new lobbying hires.

          Sure, that’s not as good as it started off to be, but it’s still a step in the right direction, making this a classic case where the perfect should not serve as an obstacle to the good.


    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, May 23, 2016




          There’s a certain smug quality about the California Democratic Party as it heads toward a primary election likely to produce more intra-party runoffs than ever before, possibly ranging right up to the ballot-topping race to succeed Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate.

          But just because there may be as many as 30 runoffs pitting Democrat vs. Democrat this fall does not mean all is hunky-dory for this party, which before this spring’s big registration rush to vote for Bernard Sanders for president had gained only about 75,000 registered adherents since 2012, despite California’s significant population increases.

          Yes, Democrats do enjoy a 17-point registration advantage over Republicans, one reason both major parties have considered this state “safe” for Democratic presidential candidates for two decades. But no, Democrats are not justified in crowing about it.

          That’s because mid-May figures from Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California’s top election official, demonstrate that typically in recent years, when new voters register, they sign up as “no party preference (NPP),” refusing to identify with either party.

          The rise in NPP registration from 21 percent of the total in 2012 to more than 24 percent today is completely unprecedented and represents an almost total rejection of both parties. Yes, Republicans have actually lost hundreds of thousands of their adherents to the NPP column, far more than Democrats have lost, but Democratic numbers are not growing much despite the party’s expensive and labor-intensive outreach and registration efforts.

          This could have great meaning in the primary, where polls show that in the minds of many likely voters, Hillary Clinton represents the traditional Democratic Party, while rival Sanders has become the latest emblem of change.

          The last time she ran for president – in 2008 – perceptions were similar, but NPP registration was far lower. So Mrs. Clinton won a big plurality in California that spring, enough to keep her going through months of losses to “hope-and-change” symbol Barack Obama in other states.

          This time, California votes almost last, and as usual its vote will have only symbolic meaning. Since NPP voters can cast ballots in Democratic primaries, but not Republican ones, their impact will be felt far greater on the Democratic side.

          Many of those NPP voters are young people only recently eligible to participate – the same kind of voters who gave energy and manpower to Obama’s campaigns. They could create a stark generational split in the Democratic vote.

          The trick for Democrats this fall will be getting those young NPP voters to turn out again in November.

          Academic studies indicate that it’s highly unlikely the new voters would go Republican in the fall, as very few voters switch parties during an election year even if the candidate they liked in the primary has lost. But they might stay home unless Mrs. Clinton can motivate them in a way she has not so far.

          So Democrats appear just as flummoxed by the NPP phenomenon as Republicans. Both parties sometimes react to the reluctance of youths to choose a party by reminding new voters of what happened many years ago.

          Mrs. Clinton, for example, has difficulty comprehending that feminist appeals have not worked well with young women voters, who take for granted the status she helped win for them via her efforts in the 1970s and ‘80s, long before she became a national figure.

          Younger voters, male and female, tell poll takers they are more interested in what they believe a Democrat might do for them in the next few years. This message from youth, both registered Democrats and those with no party preference, is one reason Mrs. Clinton this year has adopted a more strongly liberal tone than ever before. She strongly stresses immigration reform, increased wages and voting rights.

          None of that is likely to change the pattern of new voters steering clear of all political parties. Which means Democrats can’t be smug, any more than the shrinking GOP should be depressed. For the tide moving toward no party preference is not yet fully understood by either party, and if they make wrong moves, the errors could redound for years.

    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




          The key questions in the today’s primary election (editors: sub “the June 7 primary” or “Tuesday’s primary,”for “today’s” here, depending on your run date) include not merely who will win in each major party and how many national convention delegates they might net, but also who will vote.

          That last question, in fact, might decide the answers to the first two. Before all his opponents dropped out, it seemed that to do well, Republican businessman Donald Trump needed votes from many, many thousands of Californians who don’t ordinarily go to the polls or fill out ballots in advance. The same for Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders on the Democratic side.

          Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of course, already had the great majority of usual voters well in hand long before advance voting stations opened and absentee ballots went out in mid-May.

          But the outpouring of youthful voters aged between 18 and 25 for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 signals that both Trump and Sanders also have the potential to change the makeup of the California electorate.

          That electorate normally is dominated by older, white, college-educated, affluent, home-owning citizens. But as Trump campaigned across America this year, he drew support mostly from people who don’t fit all those categories: They may mostly be white, but they are not so likely to be college-educated, affluent or homeowners. Many have voted only sporadically, if ever, in the past. Sanders’ voters have often been a flip side of that: Well-educated, mostly white, but younger and neither affluent nor homeowners.

          The normal California electoral divide – the usual pattern of who votes and who does not – generally sees half of all adult U.S. citizens living here make the key decisions for the other half, who don’t vote but often gripe. The latter category tends to be younger, poorer, more Latino, renters and less likely to be college-educated than those who vote regularly.

          It’s a pattern almost guaranteed to arouse classist resentments, and that has been the essence of both the Trump and Sanders campaigns, as different as they are in many other ways.

          This is important stuff if only because the divides in attitudes and emotion between groups more likely to vote and those less likely are wider than ever before in the modern era, similar in some ways to ideological splits in pre-Civil War America – and look where that led.

          Here’s one divide, as determined in polling this spring by the Public Policy Institute of California: While likely voters are divided on whether government at all levels should do more to reduce gaps between rich and poor (51 percent believe government should do more, 44 percent disagree), fully 70 percent of non-voters say the government should do more. Views of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, follow a similar pattern, with likely voters almost evenly split between approving it or not. Non-voters view the law favorably by a 55-36 percent margin. And those are only two of the differences.

          The irony here is that non-voters consistently want government to do more for them (69 percent said a higher minimum wage means a lot to them), but those same people do nothing to ensure that government will perform as they want.

          These findings raise a lot of questions, a key one being how to get more of the non-voters to cast ballots and actually try to put people who share their views into office.

          One way, suggested Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica in a recent forum, would be to get more news coverage of government. But with virtually all Sacramento television news bureaus closed for economic reasons (political bureaus cost money, but no one ever bought advertising time because of them) and newspapers operating at bare-bones levels because of the industry’s slump, that doesn’t figure to happen soon.

          Another suggestion is better civic education in public schools. But try getting high school students to pay attention in government classes.

          That might leave it up to charismatic candidates to drive the vote and bring usual nonvoters to the polls. If Trump and Sanders do that in this election, they’ll have made at least one positive contribution.

    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, May 16, 2016




          You can tell by the television ratings that few are interested in this contest: The two debates involving five candidates with the highest poll ratings among almost three-dozen aspirants to replace the retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer drew among the smallest audiences of any political gabfests this year.

          One potential result could be the first really big showcase for the Top Two primary system.

If there’s one thing the presidential race demonstrates, it’s that politics are entertaining when charismatic candidates with media skills emerge, like longtime reality TV star Donald Trump. All debates he’s done were ratings bonanzas for the cable networks showing them. The same for verbal clashes involving Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders on the Democratic side.

          This contrasts starkly with the California senatorial debates. Which suits the longtime leader in the Senate race just fine. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat who polled 27 percent of the likely primary vote when she declared for office more than a year ago, managed just a 2 percent gain to 29 percent in a Survey USA poll in early May, after her first encounter with rivals.

          Meanwhile, Orange County Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez was up from 8 points in the initial survey to 18 in the latest. Taken together, the three Republicans in the race – software entrepreneur Ron Unz and former GOP state chairmen George (Duf) Sundheim and Tom Del Becarro, pulled a mere 25 percent. Unless one or two of them drops out very soon, November could see its first California statewide race matching two persons from one party, a landmark made possible by the Top Two, or Jungle, primary system adopted via Proposition 14 in 2010.

          The main difference between the early May polling and last year’s was that undecided voters dropped to an abnormally high 30 percent or so from the ultra-high previous level of 48 percent. Like the TV ratings, these numbers show the race arouses little interest, perhaps because of the general assumption it will go to a Democrat in the end, ho-hum.

          For Harris, this means she has no need to spend much on maintaining her frontrunner status. Her state job – California government’s second most powerful elected office – makes her prominent enough that none of her challengers doubts she’ll make it to November.

          No one is quite so sure about Sanchez, running second in all surveys. One seeming outlier of a poll in mid-May had Sanchez with a mere 8 percent, just ahead of Unz, the purported Republican leader. But the methodology of that poll was not disclosed and its finding is so different from contemporaneous surveys that not many take it seriously.

          Should Sanchez make the runoff, this will soon cease being a ho-hummer. Her presence would set up the very kind of matchup Top Two intends: Two people from the same party, each far more appealing to voters in general than any candidate from the rival major party. But two people with vast contrasts in style, support and substance.

          Harris at times has demonstrated toughness as attorney general, as when she refused to go along with a preliminary national settlement of cases stemming from the mortgage crisis of 2008-2012 and won California victims of the banking scam far more than they’d have gotten under the original settlement.

          Sanchez, meanwhile, tells it exactly as she sees it, evidenced by her statement early this year that between 5 percent and 20 percent of Muslims worldwide want an ISIS-style caliphate to rule everywhere. Refusing to back down in the face of Islamophobia charges, Sanchez said her assessment is backed by both congressional testimony and conversations with Muslim leaders she has met as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

          Sanchez also is less adamant on gun controls than Harris. And her base of support would be both among Latinos and in Southern California, while Harris would draw her strongest support in the Bay area, where she was formerly district attorney of San Francisco.

          Sanchez, then, might give Republican voters an alternative, a place to go if their party mates are eliminated, always a stated aim of Top Two. This could produce a more moderate, possibly even more conservative senator than California has seen in a generation.

          So while this race has not yet excited many, stay tuned and it just might.


    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 years as the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) spawned scandals, criminal allegations and physical disasters, Gov. Jerry Brown sat silent, uttering nary a critical word about the disgraced agency.

          He’s still not talking about ethical problems in his administration, including charges of cronyism and favoritism at the Energy Commission and documented lies both from state prison authorities and the group of agencies that threatened summer blackouts unless the leaky Southern California Gas Co. storage field at Aliso Canyon in northern Los Angeles reopens soon.

          But at least Brown and his appointees are at long last making some moves.

          Most prominent was a mid-May ruling from the PUC that reopened a scandal-plagued settlement dunning consumers about 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of closing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in north San Diego County, wrecked in large part because of a blunder by its main owner, Southern California Edison.

          The settlement was outlined in a secret meeting in Poland between Edison officials and former PUC President Michael Peevey, under criminal investigation for his role.

          Two quieter actions could be important, too. Brown’s latest budget revision, for one, shows he has given up on the idea that the PUC problems will quietly go away without him doing anything, thus leaving him a legacy of balancing the state budget, promoting renewable energy and fighting climate change.

          Even Brown – or at least his budget writers – now admits the PUC has safety problems. It didn’t take a genius to see this, after the 2010 explosion of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. natural gas pipeline that killed eight persons in San Bruno and destroyed dozens of homes. That was followed by the San Onofre shutdown.

Then came the months-long methane leak at Aliso Canyon. Brown in mid-May quietly signed a bill by Democratic state Sen. Fran Pavley of Los Angeles requiring each Aliso well to pass a battery of tests or be plugged before the field can reopen.

          Along with his budget proposal for a new safety division at the PUC, that made three significant moves in less than a week for Brown, who all but ignored these fronts for years.

          Put them together, and it’s clear Brown knows the state’s utilities have safety issues and his regulatory appointees have ethical ones. He’ll toss a little money at the safety problem. But not much.

In a state budget reaching above $120 billion, the governor proposes spending just shy of $1.7 million on 11 PUC staffers for a new Division of Safety Advocates (DSA).

          This outfit, the proposal says, would operate much like the present PUC Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA), tasked with keeping utility rates down. ORA has dismally failed at this, instead engaging in an elaborate dance where utilities demand hugely high rates, then let the PUC cut them back a little and brag about how much it  “saved” consumers. California utility rates end up among the three highest in the Lower 48 states.

          What might happen with the putative new DSA? Would it contribute to “compromises” that delay safety? Would it obfuscate lines of responsibility and help set up new criminal indictments like the one PG&E faces over San Bruno? Would DSA be a waste of money?

          For sure, the PUC has long possessed the ability to track how utilities spend infrastructure maintenance fees California customers have paid since the early 1950s. But the agency never did that.

          Also, does creation of a new division mean the governor and his appointees tacitly admit the abject failure of the existing PUC Safety & Enforcement Division?

          Amazingly, it wasn’t until 2014 -- well after both San Bruno and San Onofre – that the commission adopted a policy of continually assessing and reducing utility safety risks.

          The budget plan says the new DSA would “determine whether additional safety improvements are needed.” They plainly are.

          The bottom line: Sure, the PUC favors adding this office. It could provide a convenient fig leaf for commissioners to hide behind.

          While Brown’s three mid-May moves should be just the beginning of an ethical and safety cleanup, they do show that secure as he feels, with no need ever to run for office again, he can be forced to recognize a need for changes, even if he won’t talk about them.


     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, go to

Monday, May 9, 2016




          The inevitable generational changing of California’s political guard is sure to continue next month, but don’t expect much of a shift in the party makeup of the state’s 53-member House delegation, where Democrats now dominate by a 39-14 margin.

          Change began to move quickly two years ago when patriarchs in both parties retired, including past chairmen of major committees like Democrat Henry Waxman in coastal Los Angeles County, Republican Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita and Democrat George Miller of Contra Costa County.

          This year’s departures will include Democrat Lois Capps of Santa Barbara County and Monterey County Democrat Sam Farr. All were in their 70s when they announced they were leaving.

          There will still be plenty of seniority in the delegation, though, both in age and years of service, which means even more changes are likely two, four and six years from now.

          A lot of the age and experience now resides in the San Francisco Bay area, home to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 76, and fellow Democrats Jackie Speier, 66; Anna Eshoo, 73, and Zoe Lofgren, 68. San Jose Democrat Mike Honda, 72, faces his second straight tough reelection battle this year, his political survival very much in doubt.

          Over in the Central Valley, Fresno’s Democratic veteran Jim Costa, 64, faces off a second time against well-funded Republican farmer Johnny Tacherra, who led Costa on election night two years ago. Costa narrowly survived that year on the strength of late absentee and provisional votes. A strong GOP turnout for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the Fresno area could mean the end of Costa’s 38-year political career.

          Further south, a succession clash is brewing in Orange County, where former Assemblyman and ex-county Republican Chairman Scott Baugh this spring began raising money for a 2018 campaign to succeed his old “friend,” longtime Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, 68, who promptly issued a statement denying any plans to retire that soon.

          Of all these seats, the one with the best chance to change parties this year belongs to Capps, who took over for her late husband Walter in 1998. The early favorite here is Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a Democrat, but nine candidates are running and the race for the two November runoff slots seems wide open.

          Two other seats being vacated this year belong to Democrats Loretta Sanchez of Orange County and Janice Hahn of San Pedro. Sanchez seeks the retiring Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat, while Hahn wants a slot on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, where her father Kenneth served 40 years. There will be no party change in either district, though; both are solidly Democratic.

          But there could be a party change in the Sacramento area’s 7th district, now represented by Democrat Ami Bera, an MD and the only Unitarian in Congress. Several Bera votes have angered left-leaning Democrats. If they desert him in November, Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Steve Jones could take this swing district.

          But the coastal district now represented by Farr looks safely Democratic, with Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Jimmy Panetta a heavy favorite. Panetta, 46, whose father represented the district many years before becoming Bill Clinton’s budget director and chief of staff, then CIA director and defense secretary for President Obama, staked his claim to the seat early and no other Democrat is seriously challenging.

          The upshot is that California’s congressional delegation will gain some youth this year, but could lose a bit of seniority. This won’t matter much unless Democrats somehow regain control of the House and give Pelosi a second term as Speaker.

          That looks unlikely, in large part because gerrymandering has made Republican dominance inevitable in much of the South, especially populous Texas.

          Still, the newcomers – almost all likely to be Democrats – from this year’s election and 2014 will be poised to give California renewed clout if and when Democrats ever regain control of Congress, something that’s improbable at least until 2022, when the next Census creates new political districts all across America.

    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




          Even before Californians at last start marking absentee ballots this month or begin to think about heading to the polls for the June 7 primary election, many onetime Republicans had already voted with their feet.

          Just over 400,000 of them, to be precise. That’s how many fewer Californians were registered as Republicans early this spring compared to eight years ago. By contrast, Democrats gained about 9,000 voters, while the no-party-preference category was up more than 520,000.

          And although about 850,000 new voters have registered in the last few months, unofficial reports indicate they predominantly signed up as Democrats or without party preference. How much of this was due to enthusiasm for presidential candidate Bernard Sanders is anyone’s guess.

But increasing numbers of Californians just won’t call themselves Republicans. Sure, many so-called independents will back GOP candidates: The California Field Poll, for example, shows about 40 percent will steadily vote Republican, with Democrats getting a slightly larger share and almost 20 percent of those with no stated party preference remaining true swing voters.

          In no way can that make up for the Democrats’ steadily increasing edge in the state, now a margin of almost 16 percent over the GOP.

          In fact, Republicans, with an all-time low of 27.6 percent of registered voters in their column in March, are suddenly in danger of becoming the third choice of California voters, behind Democrats and no-preference, which checked in this spring with 24 percent of registrants.

          Demographics explain much of the shift. Latinos now are the population plurality in California at about 38 percent of all residents. They and Asian-Americans form the two fastest-growing ethnic voter blocs. This means voters who physically go to the polls are less likely than ever to encounter black or white faces there, and more likely to see brown and ochre ones.

          With these demographics, all it takes to explain the GOP’s plight is a look at the party platform, readily available on the Ballotpedia website (

          In a state where the Latino plurality in every poll indicates it considers immigration amnesty the top issue, the GOP platform says, “We support devoting more resources to border control and increasing penalties for overstaying visas.” Not a word about enabling undocumented immigrants to seek citizenship or legalization.

          The same polls show women voters of all demographic groups care deeply about abortion choices and birth control. But state Republicans tell them they’re “the party that protects innocent life because we believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death.”

          Gun control is another popular cause in California, but the GOP calls for “elimination of waiting periods to purchase firearms…” And the party manifesto seems to proclaim it wants higher health care costs: “We support restricting Medicaid to restrict elective, medically unnecessary surgeries while increasing the compensation to doctors and hospitals for necessary surgeries and other treatments.” Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin might call whatever committee decides which surgeries to fund or not a “death panel.”

          It adds up to a party that’s seriously out of step with the majority of voters its candidates seek to represent.

          There’s a warning here for Democrats, too: Their legislators on both state and federal levels must continue backing causes popular with voters or they could become as passé as the GOP, now threatened with irrelevance.

          This trend began long before the current top two primary system arrived in 2010, allowing all voters to go for any candidate they like in primary elections other than those for president, regardless of party. In some ways, it has made party organizations almost irrelevant, as runoff elections often feature two candidates from the same party, with slightly different beliefs and priorities.

          Meanwhile, Republicans have not carried California in presidential election since 1988, after a 36-year stretch in which they only lost this state once, when Barry Goldwater ran in 1964. Democrats, despite strenuous efforts to sign up new voters, have not changed their share of the electorate by more than 2 percent in the last decade.

          Which means it’s no time for them to be smug, but it is high time for Republicans to realize they can no longer expect to remain significant so long as they insist on thumbing their noses at the attitudes of the vast majority of Californians.

     Email Thomas Elias at Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, May 2, 2016




There’s nothing like a nice fantasy to keep a person feeling warm at night, and a fantasy is what comforts Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernard Sanders this month, as he insists it will make a big difference if he somehow ekes out a June 7 California primary win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But reality is that California win or not, Sanders has no chance for the Democratic presidential nomination, chiefly because of a party rule demanding proportional distribution of any state’s delegates to its nominating convention. Sanders says he’s “good at math,” and if so, he knows that even though he narrowly won Indiana and even if he takes 60 percent of the California vote (highly unlikely, say all the polls), Clinton’s effort here will still net more than the 150-odd delegates she still needs to clinch the nomination.

          This doesn’t even include delegates she’ll pick up in places like New Jersey, Oregon and West Virginia, which vote the same day or earlier.

          For awhile, it appeared there would be meaningful, fiery action here on the Republican side, where California has a mere 172 convention delegates, compared with the 546 going to the Democratic gathering. It only takes 1,237 GOP delegates to get nominated, while a Democrat needs 2,383. This could have made California far more important to the GOP.

          But then came Indiana and a clear-cut Donald Trump win that all but clinched the GOP nomination for him and forced his last remaining serious rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to drop out.

There will still be plenty of rallies and loud talk in California, but not nearly as much emotion or spending as the state would have seen if Indiana had gone for Cruz and given him all 57 of its Republican delegates.

In that case, it wouldn’t matter that no one in either party seriously believes any Republican can win this state’s 55 electoral votes in November. That’s about one-fifth what it takes to get elected, just from one state, something that long gave a political foundation to Ronald Reagan, who never lost an election in California – before it became solidly Democratic.

          Another result of the Cruz dropout is that Reagan can now stop spinning in his hilltop grave above Simi Valley where he may somehow have heard one Republican after another violate his “11th Commandment:” Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

          Intramural insults became major sport among Republicans as they began some preliminary stumping in the Golden State before Cruz departed. There was former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio opining at Stanford University that Cruz is “Lucifer in the flesh,” and a “miserable son of a b---h.” That amplified a bit on Trump’s seemingly constant hurling of the epithet “lyin’ Ted” at Cruz and his remark that Cruz “is a nasty guy and people don’t like him.”

          Cruz, son of a pastor, had jabbed back more subtly, claiming “I have never insulted Donald personally.” But he became more direct on his campaign’s last day, calling Trump a “serial philanderer” and a “pathological liar” and more, all during just one rant.

          So much for the 11th Commandment.

          This all set up the most entertaining state convention in many years for beleaguered California Republicans, who have won no statewide elections in 10 years and finally got to see their first full-fledged “cattle call” in more than 20 years, as all national candidates remaining at the time made the scene.

          Cruz somehow hoped naming failed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (a million-vote loser to Barbara Boxer in 2010) as his vice presidential choice could help him enough here to force a multi-ballot national convention.  Anyone who remembers Fiorina’s hapless campaign had to chuckle over that.

          The bottom line: California’s primary is no longer even symbolically important, not even for Democrats who still say otherwise. It’s even less vital for the GOP.

          Which means that the political tail has wagged the dog once again, the decisive state this time being Indiana, with less than one-third the political convention delegates California has. It also means it’s high time for state legislators to make a permanent date change and give up on their 44-year-old fantasy that a June presidential primary will ever again mean much.


    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




          Speaking to a group of crime survivors in Sacramento the other day, Gov. Jerry Brown confessed a tough sentencing law he signed in the 1970s was a big mistake.

          “The problems I create, I can clean up,” Brown declared, pitching his latest plan to reduce sentences and ease paroles for many crimes.

          Even as he spoke, two new charges of lying and misuse of funds confronted Brown’s administration. So it’s legitimate to wonder whether he would generalize his statement to the many questionable acts his appointees have perpetrated in state government.

          While there are not yet indictments or convictions, collusion between the some members of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and companies it regulates is well documented. So was cronyism and conflict of interest at the state Energy Commission, whose chairman Brown nevertheless reappointed. There were also admitted falsehoods from prison authorities over a longstanding claim that no seriously violent criminals have been sent to low-security fire camps.

          To this list, add two new charges. One sees the federal Interior Department’s inspector general investigating a whistleblower claim that as much as half a $60 million grant for improving fish habitats in and near the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers may have been misappropriated by the state Department of Water Resources. The question: Did Brown appointees spend that money preparing the environmental impact statement for Brown’s stalled Delta Tunnels project, which would send Northern California river water south via hyper-expensive tunnels?

          A second claim, by consumer advocates, alleges numerous lies in an April state report insisting there could be rolling blackouts this summer unless the leak-plagued Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field in northern Los Angeles reopens soon.

          This report was a joint project of the reputation-stained PUC and Energy Commission, along with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and the state’s electricity-allocating Independent Systems Operator. The paper was reportedly at least in part written by the Southern California Gas Co., eager to get its storage field back online, with money and gas once again flowing from it.

          The report claimed that without the stored gas, Southern California might not be able to fuel power plants at peak electric-use times this summer, thus provoking blackouts.

          Consumer advocate Bill Powers, a San Diego engineering consultant who helped kill several early-2000s plans to make California dependent on ultra-expensive imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), notes that peak gas use comes in winter, not summer. He said the highest gas use of the last 10 years came in winter 2008, when demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet (bcfd) per day. Even that quantity is well below the 5.7 bcfd available at all times from incoming pipelines and other storage fields in the region. But peak use in the summer has not gone above 3.7 bcfd in the last 10 years, meaning pipelines alone, with no storage fields, provide more than enough gas to satisfy all customers, including power plants.

          There is, then, no real threat of a blackout, leading Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, to call the state report “blackout blackmail.”

          The parallel is unmistakable with the Arnold Schwarzenegger-era push for LNG and its completely false threats of outages.

          All these ethical lapses have been or are being perpetrated by Brown’s administration. Yet, the governor says nothing about any of them, behaving as if he’s unaware of any problem (he’s not; first-hand accounts says he reads news reports on alleged wrongdoing in his administration) or hopes all these things will quietly go away and leave him a totally clean legacy.

          Repeated attempts to get Brown to address the allegations against his appointees or their documented transgressions have been rebuffed.

          Example: “We won’t be commenting on that,” was all his office would say on revelations of the $1.04 million gifted to Brown chief of staff Nancy McFadden and a “non-disparagement” agreement she signed to get the money when she left a top job at PG&E to become the governor’s closest aide.

          If Brown wants to clean up the multiple messes made by his appointees, he can. But he shows no signs of that, leaving open the question of whether Brown consciously backs those questionable acts or merely puts up with them.

      Email Thomas Elias at Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. For more Elias columns, go to