Monday, March 19, 2018




          U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein took months of heat from the most left-leaning of her fellow California Democrats after she counseled patience with President Trump during a Democratic Party gathering last summer.

          But lately, she has literally jumped for joy, at least partly because of her approach.

          Most vocal in lambasting her since she advocated for patience is former state Sen. President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who also blasted Feinstein for being too old (she’s 84) for another term and too compromised by her past votes for things like the invasion of Iraq and the federal Patriot Act in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

          But Feinstein’s moderate approach may pay off big on the issue she’s cared about most ever since a few fatal 1978 gunshots from onetime San Francisco Supervisor Dan White suddenly propelled her into political prominence.

          For decades since then, Feinstein has pushed for strict gun control, often not a sexy cause. As an example, immediately after last year’s Las Vegas massacre, she filed a bill to ban the bump stocks used by the gunman in that attack. The day after an AR-15 automatic rifle was used to kill 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla., she sought to reinstate the 10-year ban on assault weapon sales she wrote and carried earlier in her Senate tenure. That ban lasted from 1994 to 2004.

          So it was no wonder Feinstein became excited while sitting beside Trump during a White House meeting on gun control when he suggested adding her assault weapons measure to a bipartisan bill for which he had just announced support.

          What are the odds that if Feinstein had been one of his most rabid critics, Trump would have jumped aboard a Feinstein gun control bill unpopular with Republicans in Congress and their sponsors at the National Rifle Association? Slim to none for a President known to act frequently out of pique.

          It’s unknown yet whether that measure will ultimately pass or how long the fickle Trump will keep supporting it. But at least he’s on record favoring it, even if he did pull back support of increasing the age limit for buying assault weapons.

          So, when de Leon’s campaign airs ads showing Feinstein with Trump, it will pay to remember this reward for her more moderate approach, born of a mature recognition that as long as Trump is President she will have to deal with him.

          Call Feinstein a radical practicalist if you like, but at least she’s gotten Trump to support part of her pet cause, far more than the more radically resistant style of fellow California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has yet achieved.

          That won’t stop de Leon’s carping, also likely to include some re-showing of a Saturday Night Live satire of Feinstein’s gleeful little jump.

          De Leon, whose campaign attacks on Feinstein were labelled “shoddy” by the non-partisan national Bloomberg News service, frequently suggests Feinstein does not hold “California values,” by which he means sympathy for illegal immigrants and unwavering support for labor unions. De Leon also cherry-picks votes to blast, lambasting her okay for the Iraq war, even though all three of the most recent Senate Democratic leaders voted the same way.

          While everyone in politics knows that over 26 years, any senator will cast some controversial votes, de Leon’s attacks cost Feinstein the endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party convention. That likely won’t matter much in November, as she has a huge campaign finance edge and can easily air messages demonstrating that she has, in her words, “always voted with labor.”

          But her emotions become stronger on gun control, at least partly the product of her having been nearby when White assassinated both fellow San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone.

          Feinstein has so far avoided even mentioning the fact that de Leon was the longtime Sacramento roommate of disgraced state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who allegedly brought young women he was harassing back to their quarters. De Leon maintains he never saw or heard any such Mendoza activities.

          The bottom line here is that de Leon plainly believes he can only make headway if he attacks Feinstein for being too moderate. But every poll so far indicates this approach will not get him elected.

    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’s early in the election season, barely past the filing deadline, more than two months before the June primary election and more than six months before November, when voters will elect the next governor of California.

          But it’s already clear that fundamental pledges made by the leading candidates in all the early public polls have been essentially unrealistic.

          The two most ambitious promises made so far both came from Democrats who have now backed off one and are clinging to hope that they can somehow make the other work.

          Those promises: A single-payer Medicare-style health plan for all Californians mimicking the federal Medicare coverage available to everyone over 65. And a pledge to add 3.5 million housing units in all parts of the state by 2025, or about half a million living spaces per year for the next seven years.

          Even Democrats and health care advocates pushing hardest for single-payer – a key plank in the state Democratic Party’s platform – have come to see it as unrealistic just now. So they’re backing a package of bills in the Legislature that aims to expand health insurance coverage beyond what the federal Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – has already done.

          Meanwhile, there has never been one year – even during the era of California’s headiest growth – when 500,000 housing units were built in this state, let alone seven consecutive years. It’s not even certain there would be enough available wood, concrete and other building materials.

          It’s not so much that the candidates are backing away from ideas they’ve supported; rather, reality has set in and they’re realizing they must be more incremental.

          Take the current leader in all polls, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco best known for his order allowing America’s first same-sex marriages. Newsom lists San Francisco’s universal health plan as one of his top achievements, and still wants statewide single-payer.

          But when more than 50 labor unions, ethnic and health-oriented groups in mid-March endorsed a package of bills expanding the state’s Obamacare plan, Covered California, to include undocumented immigrants while also lowering premiums via subsidies drawn from other state funds, Newsom was quick to endorse.

          He called the new, scaled-back plan “a step in the right direction, with the potential to move closer to our ultimate goal…single-payer.”

          Of course, the new realism bears out criticisms by other candidates like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, who pointed out – among other items – that Medicare premiums now paid by Californians which would be essential to funding a state single-payer plan are extremely unlikely to be available to state government so long as Donald Trump remains president.

          The candidates have not yet backed off their extremely optimistic housing goals.

          Said a Newsom aide, “Gavin is committed to creating the incentives to do 3.5 million units. Conditions demand it. We can’t just sit by in our massive housing crisis, which is not only over homelessness, but also affordability.”

          Republicans have also made unrealistic efforts, most notably San Diego businessman John Cox, who tied his candidacy to an initiative expanding the state Legislature to 12,000 members. That measure never got off the ground because it had almost no popular support.

          The campaign has also brought out some decidedly Trumpian comments from Democrats, as when Villaraigosa said he was “ascendant” at a time when he still trailed Newsom in every survey. Chiang, running third among Democrats in public polls, made even more Trump-like statements on social media.

          “@realDonaldTrump & DC @GOP have made it their mission to put affordable healthcare out of reach for American families,” he tweeted. “CA should move toward #SinglePayer & I’m the only one who can balance a budget to get it done.”

          In a Feb. 14 tweet, he also pronounced himself the “Most Accomplished Man in California.”

          Both tweets aroused memories of Trump telling the 2016 Republican National Convention that only he could “make American great again.”

          All of which makes this a very challenging primary election season for California voters, who must sift through myriad claims and promises and then decide who can actually run the nation’s largest state government in a way that combines idealism and realism to solve tough problems.

    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, March 12, 2018




          This has all the symptoms of a classical political vendetta: At every opportunity, President Trump does whatever he thinks might harm California, which does more to resist his agenda than any other state and which provided the vote margin that saddled him with a popular vote loss in 2016.

          In just one late-winter week, Trump took three such actions. First, he threatened to pull federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers out of California, predicting a massive crime wave if he did that. Then his budget director for the second straight year cut out of the next proposed federal budget all $10 million that was spent last year on an earthquake early warning system. His attorney general topped it off by filing suit to knock out California’s “sanctuary state” laws.

          California law enforcement for the most part greeted the “threat” of an ICE pullout with a yawn. “Do your worst,” many police chiefs seemed to say. Several had previously testified in federal hearings that fall and winter ICE raids targeting illegal immigrants everywhere from body shops to supermarket checkout lines hurt their own anti-crime efforts by diminishing cooperation and trust between immigrants and cops.

          And California officials from the governor down promised to fight Trump’s anti-sanctuary action.

          But the state’s response to the threatened quake warning cut is completely different, several members of Congress from both major parties insisting they won’t let seismic warning money disappear from the budget.

          “Congress has remained steadfast in its bipartisan support for the system,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, one of the prime thorns in Trump’s side. “I’ll work to see the project (gets funded) just as we did last year.”

          And Republican Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona, who chairs an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), said “I will continue to advocate for…the earthquake early warning system. This is a system the West Coast needs.”

          Of course, Trump hadn’t visited the West Coast as president until the middle of this month, when he was due to fly here to look at border wall prototypes and headline a Beverly Hills fundraiser. In his pre-politics days as a television reality show performer, he was here often, but didn’t venture far from studio lots or his Los Angeles-area properties, not worrying much about the ground shaking. He may never have experienced a significant quake.

          The USGS project he seeks to quash, called ShakeAlert, would provide between 30 and 60 seconds notice before earthquakes, allowing millions of persons to get out of harm’s way. Warnings would come via radio, television, alarm sirens and a smartphone app.

          The system would also operate in Oregon and Washington, but the great majority of lives that might be saved are in California.

          No one doubts that early warnings could help greatly when (not if) the next major temblor strikes. The extra half-minute or more would allow time to duck under desks, move away from sides buildings that might shed bricks and stones, drive to the sides of highways and get off bridges that might collapse. Each of these things could have saved multiple lives during the1989 Loma Prieta quake and the equally devastating 1994 Northridge shock.

          When Trump first threatened to cut the federal contribution to this system, whose app is already being tested, state lawmakers led by Democratic Sens. Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Jerry Hill of San Mateo proposed $23 million in state money to keep the project going.

          If the federal government pulls out of ShakeAlert – comparable systems already exist in other quake-prone countries like Japan and Taiwan – California appears ready to go it alone. For sure, those other countries have proven the technology works.

          The proposed Trump cut would probably delay setting up 800 new sensing stations which need to be added to 850 that already exist. The added listening posts could increase warning times by detecting earth movements at their very beginning.

          Here’s the irony: While Trump conducts his vendetta against California, in keeping with his frequent practice of ignoring his previous actions and statements whenever he gets that impulse, he’s nevertheless likely to attend whatever ribbon-cutting grand opening event the USGS might stage, and then try to take credit for a program he twice tried to kill.

    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



(One in a series of interviews with significant candidates for governor of California)


          Antonio Villaraigosa reads the polls, both his own campaign’s internal surveys and the public ones reported frequently via newspapers and television. These days, they make him feel good.

          “I’m on the ascendandcy,” the former Los Angeles mayor and onetime state Assembly speaker smiles when asked to assess how his campaign is doing. Yes, he’s still in second place in every poll reported so far, but his numbers look far better than they did early last year, when he began his first statewide campaign.

          When he entered, Villaraigosa drew just 6 percent in the first poll on the race, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. In that outfit’s most recent survey and one from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, he was up to 21percent. By comparison, early leader Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and ex-mayor of San Francisco, is down from his initial 31 percent to 23 percent. Newsom says he’s not interested in polls; Villaraigosa is.

          “I talk more about middle class jobs,” Villaraigosa said in an interview in a Los Angeles restaurant. “I talk about building things. We are doing extremely well in Southern California – Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties.”

          Villaraigosa believes an 18-month “listening tour” he took around most parts of California has given him an important edge. “I saw that people are interested in economic prosperity,” he said. “I got a sense for what most people here want. Many of them feel the economy is not working for them. They are doing all the right things, punching all the right boxes, but they need help from the state to grow middle class jobs.”

          Contrasting his record with that of Newsom, with whom every poll indicates he’s likely to be matched in a two-Democrat November runoff election, Villaraigosa doesn’t actually say this race could pit his practicality against the idealism that saw Newsom pioneer same-sex marriage and universal health care in San Francisco. But it seems like things might go that way.

          “For me, this isn’t about any contrasts between me and (outgoing Gov.) Jerry Brown or Newsom,” Villaraigosa said, “It’s about me and my sense of California. I met a lot of really good, hard-working people on my tour and it gave me a sense that we’ve got to build again. We need to fix our roads and highways, maybe build more. We need to fix our schools because so many of them are crumbling. And I am for high speed rail.”

          Villaraigosa recognizes that he might not seem quite as “progressive” as Newsom, one reason he got only 9 percent support in the spring state Democratic Party convention, dominated by the party’s left wing. But he says his record of building and repairing schools, renewing the Los Angeles airport and hiring 1,000 more police during his eight years as mayor might resonate among moderate Democrats and with the 25 percent of state voters who are registered as Republicans. Add that to his strong Latino support.

          “We all have to make choices, and that might be what Republicans face here,” he said. “There’s a sense that the two of us (he and Newsom) may be in the runoff and if so, people will have to decide if I’ll do what I say. The way to tell is to look at what I did as mayor of the largest city in the state, which is also the richest city and the poorest city and the most diverse city. Violent crime dropped 49 percent while I was mayor, homicides 40 percent. One in three Los Angeles schools were classed as failing when I came in; that went down to one in 10. We built three light rail lines and two busways. And we were the No. 1 city in reducing carbon emissions.”

          Like Newsom, Villaraigosa has been questioned about his admitted marital indiscretions, and like Newsom, he’s expressed regrets. But he says that hasn’t been an issue for most people. “I’ve only been asked about it in debates, never at a campaign event,” he said.

          Listening to Villaraigosa, then, you get the feeling he thinks this campaign will be about issues more than personalities. He might be right.
     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, March 5, 2018




          There is loud talk in the Legislature and anywhere California Democrats meet in large numbers about passing a single-payer health care plan something like the one that didn’t make it to a state Assembly vote last summer.

          But don’t bet on such a plan passing anytime soon. For one thing, Democrats now lack the two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses that they enjoyed most of last year, the edge that allowed them to pass a gasoline tax increase Republicans will try to defeat at the polls this fall.

          Those big margins won’t return until mid-year at the earliest, as Democrats lost three Los Angeles-area Assembly seats and one in the state Senate to the Legislature’s sexual harassment scandal and some health problems near the end of 2017. Even if Democrats hold on to all those seats, a likely prospect, they would have precious little time before the November election to place an inherently controversial single-payer, Medicare-for-all plan on the ballot.

          That plan was so questionable when presented last year that Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, usually a reliable liberal, shelved it for the year last June. His objection: There was no clear financing for the idea, with many ultra-liberal Democrats figuring they’d just pass something and figure out later how to pay for it.

          There’s also the dicey matter of negotiating with federal officials – mostly conservative Republicans these days – over how to switch the payroll withholding that now funds Medicare over to the state if California adopts single payer.

          And there’s the reality that California will have to find new money somewhere if it expects to keep Medi-Cal benefits at present levels in the face of federal cuts included in the Republican tax bill passed in the waning days of last year.

          Medi-Cal advocates including Health Access California warn that the state may see “the mother of all Medicaid battles.” Medi-Cal is the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program, funding health care for about one-third of the state’s residents, a figure that demonstrates California’s extreme economic inequalities. Liberal Democrats now want to expand Medi-Cal even farther, saying they plan to cover undocumented immigrants along with low-income U.S. citizens.

          Without two-thirds majorities, it will be difficult to act on any of this agenda because Democrats can have no realistic expectation of help from any Republican who hopes to be reelected. That’s because all these ideas are part of what Republicans call the Democrats’ “tax-and-spend” politics.

          Long-simmering disputes over rising prescription drug costs also figure to occupy plenty of time in Sacramento this year, just like last year.

          But single-payer is the largest target for California Democrats, who understand that passing it would take this state outside the constant battles in Congress over repeal or dismemberment of ex-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

          One big problem would be convincing the millions of California seniors now on Medicare that a state-run program can provide as widespread and comprehensive coverage as Medicare, widely perceived as one of the best-run federal programs. Of course, if Republicans in Congress move to cut or eviscerate Medicare, as some have threatened or promised, then a completely independent but unproven state-run plan might look much better to over-65 citizens.

          It’s not that single-payer is a new idea in California. Twice during the first decade of this century, former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, now a Los Angeles County supervisor, shepherded such plans through the Legislature, only to see them vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her idea – also embodied in most current proposals – was to use existing health insurance premiums as the main funding source, one reason California would need to get access to Medicare fees now taken regularly out of most seniors’ Social Security checks, in addition to what comes out of workers’ paychecks.

          As was Schwarzenegger, current Gov. Jerry Brown is skeptical about whether adequate funding is available for any of this.

          All of which creates an extremely complex health care situation in Sacramento, and nothing complex gets done quickly there. So people anticipating a single-payer ballot proposition on a California ballot probably should not hold their breath. Chances are it won’t come before 2020 at the earliest.

    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




          California’s top two primary system is living up to its “jungle primary” nickname more than this spring than ever, with dozens of candidates vying in both statewide and district races across the state for rare, elusive spots on the November general election ballot.      

          Before Proposition 14 passed in 2010, every political party recognized by the state got one slot and no more in the fall runoff. But now only the two leading primary election vote-getters make the final, regardless of their party.

          Over three election cycles since voters adopted the system, this has created dozens of one-party races for legislative and congressional seats and once put a congressional district with a significant Democratic registration margin into a runoff involving two Republicans.

          So far, there’s been only one statewide, top-of-ticket single-party race: Two years ago, Democrat Kamala Harris easily defeated fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez for the U.S. Senate seat long held by a third Democrat, Barbara Boxer.

          Barring a major upset, there will be another one-party Senate race this fall, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein facing off against longtime state Senate President Kevin de Leon.

          There also could be a one-party run for governor, as Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have paced the field since polling began early last year.

          But Republicans now show signs of smartening up to one basic law of the jungle primary – when too many candidates from one party run, they can splinter their supporters’ vote so much that none of them makes the runoff.

          Barely a week before the filing deadline for the June primary, one of the three significant GOP candidates for governor dropped out for the sake of party survival. That was former Sacramento-area Congressman Doug Ose, who entered the race late and never drew many campaign donations or decent poll numbers.

          Ose, like San Diego County businessman John Cox and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, hoped to capture the bulk of the votes of California’s Republicans, who now total just one-fourth of those registered to vote. But he never got above 3 percent in the polls.

          If Allen and Cox split Ose’s meager support, both would still be running far behind Newsom and Villaraigosa, unlikely to advance to November. To field a fall candidate, the GOP probably needs one more of its hopefuls to drop out, the survivor presumably netting virtually all Republican votes and possibly pulling more currently undecided voters than any Democrat. An unlikely scenario.

          But at least the Republicans recognize the danger of having too many candidates for one office.

          So far, Democrats hoping to flip some of California’s Republican seats in Congress don’t seem to have gotten this message. It won’t matter in districts with an incumbent running, as that single Republican will make the November ballot along with whoever tops the Democrats in June.

          But in the 39th and 49th districts, where longtime incumbents Ed Royce and Darrell Issa are retiring, Democrats risk not making the ballot despite Hillary Clinton’s carrying both districts in 2016.

          When he announced his impending departure, the 13-termer Royce endorsed longtime aide and former Orange County state Assemblywoman Young Kim. But several other strong GOP candidates also entered that race, along with four significant Democrats. It’s likely that Kim will advance to November, and there’s a possibility one of the other Republicans might pull a few more votes than any Democrat. Which would leave a one-party Republican race in a district Clinton won by almost 10 percent.

          In Issa’s longtime district, Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and state Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey are strong Republican candidates, running 2-3 in a February poll behind Democrat Doug Allen, who came within less than 1 percent of beating Issa in 2016.

          But if any of the four other Democrats in the running becomes even a bit stronger, Allen could drop to third in the splintered primary vote, leaving a two-Republican runoff in another district Clinton won.

          The bottom line: Just as Ose dropped out for the sake of his party, some Democrats running for Congress must leave the field or risk failure for their party’s efforts to take over control of the House of Representatives.

    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