Monday, October 29, 2018




Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown attracted little local attention a month or so ago, when at the very end of California government’s bill signing-or-veto season he signed a bill guaranteeing “net neutrality” for all computer users in his state.

This didn’t attract a lot of attention in most quarters, coming as it did during the confirmation battle over new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But there was one outfit that saw the Brown move for what it is: the Donald Trump administration, which considered the move a major declaration of defiance by the one state that has resisted its agenda most.

Net neutrality essentially stops internet service provider companies (ISPs) from charging some websites more than others to use their service; it won’t let them pick and choose which websites to slow down or speed up, nor does it allow ISPs to block contacts they don’t like. These previously illegal practices were legalized nationally last June by the Federal Communications Commission, acting at the behest of firms like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Frontier.

          The new California law asserts the state has the right to protect its citizens from these practices and it is the only state law of its kind in America. It was backed by a large coalition of consumer groups and tens of thousands of individuals, the conflict perhaps causing Brown to delay his signature until the last possible moment.

          Although it got little news coverage, the new law got plenty of attention from the Trump administration, which within minutes filed a lawsuit to quash it.

“Once again, the California Legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also opposes California’s anti-smog and climate change mitigation regulations and its immigration sanctuary laws, among many others.

Unlike other disputed issues, net neutrality involves nothing ideological, nor even social policy. This dispute is about money and freedom in an arena where everyone has previously been treated with complete equality. It cements a huge change in one of the Republican Party’s most central ideological stances of the last 160 years: The belief that states have the right to control policy within their borders on anything where the Constitution does not explicitly give authority to the federal government.

During all those years, the GOP portrayed itself as the champion of decentralized government. But the latest battles, net neutrality now a big symbol of them, expose Republicans as opportunists: So long as states’ rights meant they could exempt states they controlled from things like voting rights for minorities, pollution controls, abortion and equal access to education, the GOP was all for the concept.

          But with Republicans controlling the presidency, the judiciary and most of Congress, the party began revealing its true colors. No less than Democrats when they are in power, the GOP wants to assert its agenda everywhere in America, and never mind what any state and its populace might want.

          There’s a lot of future danger here for Republicans and their longtime agenda, chiefly because of the pendulum swings natural to politics. Whichever party is in power often assumes it will wield that authority forever, when history shows power in America is almost always fleeting.

          So when the GOP attempts to impose its policies on states that want no part of them, using the Constitution’s supremacy clause that gives federal laws priority when they conflict with state or local ones, it risks major losses once the Democrats regain power, as they surely will within two, four or six years.

          But the GOP, under Trump’s management and leadership is anything but foresightful, generally acting with little or no delayed gratification but rather demanding instant satisfaction and obedience.

          Yes, it’s common for opponents of heavily centralized government to change when they gain power, but today’s pattern as it’s playing out over net neutrality suggests a more lasting position for the national Republican Party, which is doing all it can to perpetuate its hold on power.

          But all the GOP needs to do is persist in its current approach and today’s crescendo of resistance to its ideas and policies by state governments and individuals will grow so loud the Republicans’ hold on power won’t be able to withstand it.

    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




          When it comes to splitting California into two or more new states, silly season never seems to end.

          Since 1940, at least 27 efforts to alter this state’s boundaries or divide it into as many as six new states have arisen and failed. The closest any came to success was last spring’s effort by venture capitalist Tim Draper to create three states from this one, which drew enough initiative petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but was dumped by the state Supreme Court.

          Draper since has said he won’t try again soon, having failed twice in three years, first with a “Six Californias” effort and then with his stillborn multi-million dollar petition drive for three states.

          But that’s not ending the notion of making multiples out of California in a sort of reversal of the national “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “From many, one”) motto seen on coins from pennies on up.

          Proponents of the so-called “state of Jefferson,” including multiple counties in Northern California and southern Oregon, have been making their pitch since the early 1940s, but have made little headway. This idea got its biggest boost after the 1960s “one person, one vote” decision of the U.S. Supreme Court deprived rural counties of much of their previous representation in the state 

          But the silliest and most politically transparent effort yet is now up for its turn in whatever spotlight gets thrown on state split ideas. This one is called “New California,” and it has yet to draw definite boundaries, but its website ( makes clear that this may be the most politically motivated state split concept ever.

          For one thing, while backers of the proposal haven’t yet drawn a definite map, they do display a tentative one, giving “Old California” a strip of coastal counties from Los Angeles north to Marin County, and veering inland from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento – essentially plopping the vast majority of the state’s Democratic voters into one state and leaving the remainder of California to go Republican.

          The political motivation becomes most clear in the 29 “grievances” the website lists as causes for wanting to separate. “After years of over taxation, regulation and mono party politics, the state of California and many of it’s (sic) 58 counties have become ungovernable,” the backers say. They then cite the often unreliable and sometimes alt-right website Breitbart News as saying far more Californians move to other states than residents of other states move here.

          But they say nothing about the likely motive for this smaller-than-reported phenomenon: California homeowners cashing out on high real estate prices and moving elsewhere to enjoy their often very large profits.

          Further, in Grievance No. 29, they say “The California communist government in conjunction with the communist state executive instituted wherever the current communist governor (Jerry Brown) has usurped power has created a reign of terror on United States citizens living in California with the intent to secede from the United States of America and thus destroy the very Union of states which gives us our liberty and freedom.”

          They call all this a “betrayal by the sitting communist governor…”

          Brown, a wealthy landowner and rancher who plans to retire to his spread in Colusa County, might be surprised to learn he’s that much of a pinko commie. Nor has he usurped any power, having been elected four times as governor and once as attorney general, all by large margins.

          Which makes the New California movement perhaps the most blatant bid yet to remove parts of California from the Democratic political domination consistently furthered by the state’s populous coastal counties.

          The clear hope of the backers is to get two Republican senators for their new state and end a lot of environmental regulations. That might not be a guaranteed outcome, though, as much of the putative New California – including Inland Empire counties like Riverside and San Bernardino – are the state’s most smog-plagued and benefit most from clear air rules.

          All of which makes New California look like a clumsier version of several earlier state splitting efforts which went nowhere.

    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, October 22, 2018




          Who needs a legislature when you can vote directly on public policy? That’s reality in California, even if things were relatively calm on the ballot initiative front as California’s election season heated up this fall.

Just eight voter-qualified measures were due for decisions this year, compared with the two-dozen or more voters have seen in some previous elections.

          But outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown has ensured there will be many more down the line, both in the 2020 election and those to come after. That’s the meaning of his veto on a bill banning campaigns from paying petition carriers on a per-name basis.

          Brown’s veto message claimed a ban on such payments would vastly “drive up the cost of circulating ballot measures, thereby further favoring the wealthiest interests.” He added that he’s aware of abuses in paying circulators for each valid signature they bring in, but disagrees with the contention of the measure’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low of Cupertino, that today’s system has “major flaws that weaken its integrity.”

          Said Brown, “Per-signature payment is often the most cost-effective method for collecting the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure.”

          So the beat will go on, long after voters have forgotten this year’s referendum on a gasoline tax increase and initiatives on subjects like animal rights, kidney dialysis center staffing, rent control and the portability of some Proposition 13 tax benefits when homes change hands.

          In fact, the year-2020 initiative and referendum festival is already on. Bail bondsmen, for one group, now are circulating a measure to suspend and later eliminate the state’s new no-cash-bail system.
The bail bond industry might become extinct in California if that law survives. So bondsmen will put whatever money it takes into a frantic campaign to save their businesses, while they also pursue legal challenges. They got their proposed referendum into circulation in record time, having it summarized and certified by the state attorney general and then onto the streets and big-box-store parking lots barely two weeks after Brown signed the new law.

          At the same time, two other initiatives are already set for votes concurrent with the next presidential election: One would alter the state’s two-year-old criminal law changes which make theft a mere misdemeanor and not a felony so long as the value of what’s stolen is under $950. The new initiative lowers that standard to $250 for most such crimes, eliminating what many in law enforcement claim has been an open invitation to car burglars and thieves.

          The other measure is a long-anticipated attempt to alter the landmark 1978 Proposition 13, which limits property taxes to 1 percent of either the latest sales price of real estate or the 1975 assessed value, plus a 2 percent annual increase.

          This initiative would set up a “split roll” where commercial and industrial property is taxed based on current market value, but leaves residential property taxes alone.

          Expect at least a $100 million campaign over the split roll, as businesses from neighborhood markets to vineyards to large oil refineries fight to retain their current low taxes.

          Also likely to earn ballot spots are initiatives that would put a new tax on sugared drinks and allow sports book betting and Nevada-style card and dice games in both card rooms and Indian casinos. Others now circulating would demand proof of citizenship before registering to vote and require the state to hold a 2021 statewide vote on whether California should become an independent country.

          With at least 20 months left to qualify measures for the 2020 fall ballot, you can bet there will be plenty more initiative petitions circulating before then. And sponsors of all but the sovereign California measure will have plenty of money to pay petition circulators anywhere from $2 to $7 for each valid signature they bring in.

          With Donald Trump up for reelection in 2020, most voters won’t need much additional motivation to send in mail ballots or visit voting centers. But for the relative few without strong feelings on Trump, there will be plenty of other items to pique and hold their interest.
    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




          As Election Day approached this fall, it was reasonable to ask not only who would likely vote this fall, but who has been voting for most of the last month.

          That’s because mail ballots went out weeks ago, while electronic voting centers in some counties have also been open for weeks.

          Those procedural changes, adopted in as-yet-unproven hopes of increasing voter turnout, don’t change the fundamental question of who will actually decide the many ballot proposition questions and other races before voters this fall.

          The answer has not changed much in decades: The electorate will be whiter, older and wealthier than the overall populace of California. That means it may be slightly more conservative than the general population might like, which could make some outcomes surprising.

          Here are some findings from a thorough survey of registered voters by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California:

          Almost eight out of 10 eligible Californians were already registered to vote six weeks before registration closed Oct. 22. Of the 19 million registered voters, 44.4 percent were Democrats, up slightly from the last mid-term election in 2014. Another 25.1 percent were Republicans, but the GOP was surpassed by voters who declined to state a party preference, now accounting for 25.5 percent of the electorate.

          This represents a small gain for Democrats and a significant (more than 3 percent) loss for Republicans, possibly one result of the extreme unpopularity of President Trump in California.

          With no-party-preference voters, the PPIC found, Democrats have an edge even larger than their 19 percent lead among voters declaring for the major parties. Fully 47 percent of those self-defined independents leaned toward voting Democratic, while only 18 percent say they usually prefer Republicans.

          But there are large parts of the state where those numbers don’t reflect reality. Democrats tend to be concentrated in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area, homes to 56 percent of registered Democrats, while 63 percent of Republicans live in Orange or San Diego counties and the Central Valley.

          This goes far toward explaining why Republicans fare much better in congressional and legislative races in those areas, while getting almost no seats elsewhere.

          The statewide distribution of likely voters, defined as people with a history of voting often or saying they are determined to vote this time, pretty much follows party registration.

          Just short of half of all registered voters live in the two areas most dominated by Democrats, while 43 percent of likely voters reside in the Orange-San Diego county, Central Valley and Inland Empire regions.

          The PPIC also found that the while millenials (aged 22-37), generation Xers (aged 38-53) and baby boomers (ages 54-72) account for 90 percent of California voters, the more senior so-called “silent generation’ (ages 73 and up) votes in the highest numbers, proportionately. Fully 88 percent of the oldest age grouping surveyed were registered to vote, while just 60 percent of millennials signed up. But baby boomers, with 39 percent of the state’s likely voters, will cast more ballots than any other age group. Put them together with their seniors, who make up 13 percent of likely voters, and more than half of all ballots will be cast by folks aged 54 and above.

          That’s far higher than the average Californian’s age, 35.4. The differential of almost 20 percent between average ages of citizens and voters is the highest ever.

          All these numbers help make some contests and campaigns unpredictable. But they tend to favor, for example, proponents of Proposition 6, which would repeal last year’s gasoline tax increase, as those on fixed incomes – a high percentage of the “silent generation” and some baby boomers – can be expected to favor repeal.

          The numbers also may portend a weak performance by state Sen. Kevin de Leon in his all-Democrat contest with incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who at 85 may not look as old to many baby boomers and “silents” as de Leon would hope.

          But those same numbers won’t do much to help any Republican seeking statewide or legislative office.

    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, October 15, 2018




          Nowhere has talk of an impending “blue wave” sweeping Democrats into Congress and Republicans out been louder and more constant this fall than in California, where the GOP held only 14 of the state’s 53 House seats even before election season began.

          But as the vote proceeds by mail this month and nears a climax in polling booths, one thing seems likely: Democrats will not dominate quite as strongly here as they’ve hoped.

          Yes, they do have the advantage that this mid-term election is largely a referendum on Donald Trump’s popularity as President. But no, Democrats probably won’t flip seven seats here – half the GOP total – as they’ve often said might be a key factor in gaining control of Congress’ lower house.

          Example: Even though Democrats have often touted the approximately 40 percent Latino residency in Devin Nunes’ 22nd District, it has been several cycles since his vote total was under 68 percent of all those cast. Even now, with reams of national publicity over his questionable conduct as a Trump acolyte while chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the often-authoritative Cook Report still rates the 22nd a “solid Republican” district.

          This despite the very recent revelation by Vanity Fair magazine that Nunes, who often says he’s a Tulare-area dairy farmer, and his family long ago moved their operation to Iowa. Only an uncle still has a local dairy farm, the magazine reported.

          So this seat, once considered a decent possibility for the Democrats, will likely stay red. Probably, so will Tom McClintock’s 4th district in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and southeast of Sacramento, despite his getting his first taste in many years of serious Democratic opposition.

          But there almost certainly will be some Democratic pickups, as several Republican-held seats are now rated tossups or leaning Democratic. One that leans Democratic is the 49th district in north San Diego County and south Orange County. There Democrat Mike Levin has led Republican Diane Harkey by a 10-point margin for the seat long held by the GOP’s Darrell Issa, currently listed as the richest man in Congress due to his car alarm fortune.

          Another seat looking promising for Democrats is the coastal Orange County district long dominated by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, sometimes called “Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman” because of his frequent Russophile remarks. Recent data showed Democrat Harley Rouda either even or leading narrowly over Rohrabacher.

          Democrat Katie Porter also appears to have a decent shot at beating Republican Mimi Walters in another Orange County district, the 45th, where Walters took 59 percent of the vote two years ago. A Walters loss would be a major turnaround attributable almost completely to Walters’ strong backing of Trump.

          Democrat Katie Hill’s attempt to unseat Republican Steve Knight in the 25th District, centered on Santa Clarita, also is rated a tossup in most polls. Knight won only narrowly two years ago, and appears vulnerable.

          So does Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th District, centered on Modesto. Like Nunes’ district, the 10th has a large Latino populace, but Denham drew just 52 percent of the vote last time out, far behind Nunes’ 2016 performance. Democrats will spend more than $4 million trying to take over this district.

          But they are not doing as well in the 39th District in northern Orange County and some parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Long held by the retiring Republican Ed Royce, now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this district was considered ripe for plucking by the Democrats, but that party’s candidate, Gil Cisneros, trailed Republican Young Kim by about 4 percentage points in one recent poll.

          If Democrats win all the races now leaning their way, but lose any of those that appear to be tossups right now, there’s a good chance they may not take over the House, which comes with investigative powers many of them are salivating to use against Trump, just as the GOP used them to hound former President Barack Obama.

          The bottom line: There will likely be something of a blue wave when the results start pouring in on Election Night, but anyone claiming it will be of tsunami size may prove to have been carried away.

     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




          The focus of the ongoing election, one where many voters already have ballots in hand, is primarily on President Donald Trump, from both his loyal supporters and his fervent opponents.

          Without Trump’s presence, there would be few threats to the current status quo in the state’s delegation to Congress, where 39 current members are Democrats and 14 Republicans. But Trump arouses such strong feelings that half the current GOP seats appear threatened this fall, even though his name is absent from official election materials. So there’s plenty of contrast in the congressional races, where Trump’s antagonists are working ferociously to weaken his support on Capitol Hill.

          One result is that a run for governor that might otherwise be central to voters draws relatively little attention.

          Yet, California’s governor is arguably the second most powerful political figure in America, with a bully pulpit and authority over a huge budget and bureaucracy. The governor and his appointees control utility prices, air quality, highway construction, state parks and much more.

          And the current race between Republican businessman John Cox and Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and himself a businessman, offers as strong a contrast as any of the hot contests for Congress.

          For sure, the old saw that there’s “not a donut’s worth of difference” between political parties and their candidates does not apply this time.

          One example: Cox is one of the prime funders of Proposition 6, the initiative seeking to rid drivers of a 12 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase imposed mostly by Democratic state legislators last year. Newsom says the state needs the money, but Cox calls Caltrans grossly inefficient and maintains cutting waste would provide money do everything planned for the gas tax increase.

          Cox strongly supports Trump, who also has had a role in this race. The President’s endorsement of Cox before the June primary election was a big reason he won a spot in the current runoff election.

Newsom, meanwhile, promises to continue and possibly expand ongoing California policies that make it the single largest antagonist of Trump’s agenda on the environment, immigration and energy. Trump has attacked Newsom in tweets and speeches, causing Newsom to tweet back that “next time you call me and my policies out, have the guts to @ me and we can have a chat.”

          Then there’s the nonspecific Cox pledge to halt alleged waste at Caltrans, contrasting with Newsom’s call for widespread reforms in the state’s entire contract bidding process. Newsom sees entirely too many single-bid contracts being let by the state, which he says might be wasting billions of dollars.

          Cox firmly opposes the state’s ongoing High Speed Rail construction project, demanding its funds be redirected to improve roads, highways and “more efficient” transit projects, without specifying what that means. Newsom likes the bullet train, sees it as a way to make parts of the Central Valley into bedroom communities for industries in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas. He says fast trains could make now-torturous commutes routine, allowing workers access to home ownership at costs far below those in coastal counties.

          Newsom says the state’s biggest problem is income inequality, and hopes to relieve it somewhat via single-payer health insurance, among other tactics. Cox never mentions income inequality on the campaign trail or on his website, but says he can relieve much of the state’s poverty via “reform” of the California Environmental Quality Act.

          But their biggest contrasts come over basic values and social issues, where Cox has little to say about gay rights, higher minimum wages or gun control. Newsom makes those issues central in his stump speeches and on his website, where he declares his devotion to those causes and others like paid family leave, universal pre-school and same-sex marriage rights.

          Newsom promises to “protect immigrant rights and defend our sanctuary status;” Cox says he “flatly rejects” sanctuary policies “that have allowed violent criminal aliens to escape prosecution.” He wants “smart immigration” bringing in workers with “skills needed to fill specific shortages.”

          In short, California somehow wound up with a classic Republican vs. Democrat race despite its top-two primary election system, which sees Democrat-on-Democrat contests for many offices, including the U.S. Senate.
    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, October 8, 2018




          All across California’s political spectrum, agreement is solid that this state suffers from a significant housing crisis – one of both affordability and supply.

          But there’s little agreement on what to do about it. Some politicians push for massive building within existing cities, especially near rapid transit stops and the most frequently used bus routes. Others suggest that almost half of all newly-built housing should fall into the “affordable” category with income limits on buyers.

          One thing for sure: steep rises in the price of existing homes make it hard for all but the wealthiest people in the under-40 age categories to buy, especially in coastal counties where increases have been highest. At the same time, rents in many cities are so high that a majority of households in some counties devote half their income or more to housing costs.

          Two propositions on the November ballot now enter this fraught area, one allowing vast expansion of the rent controls now operating in 15 California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The other expands the right of homeowners over 55 to transfer existing property tax valuations to any replacement house or condominium they might buy.

          Rent controls have been sharply limited since the late 1990s by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, named for two state legislators of that time.

          Costa-Hawkins greatly eased strict controls in cities like Santa Monica, Cotati and San Francisco. Yes, rent controls there still apply to apartments (most local laws do not cover rented single-family houses) so long as they remain occupied by the same persons. But when renters move out, prices can rise to market rates, often doubling or more when longtime residents move on. The original ordinances kept strict controls in place even when vacancies occurred.

          Under those original laws, many landlords neglected maintenance: paint peeled, plumbing deteriorated and stucco cracked without being repaired because landlords felt their profits were too thin. Tenants often had to do the repairs.

          Costa-Hawkins gave landlords relief, but led to widespread under-the-table sublets, with original tenants re-renting to others at rates far below what an open market would allow. At the same time, many tenants who rented when quite young grew older and wealthier, but clung to their low-cost units for decades, a form of welfare for the middle class. Few studies measure these phenomena, in part because researchers find it hard to get honest information.

          Still, rent controls allow many to stay in prime areas they otherwise could not afford. Expanding vacancy controls, as Prop. 10 would allow where cities choose to do it, might slow the high-rent tide.

          Prop. 5 would affect housing very differently. Current laws, adopted a decade or so after passage of the landmark 1978 Prop. 13 property tax limits, allow homeowners over 55 to carry their current tax valuations (1 percent of the latest purchase price or the 1975 value, plus a 2 percent increase each year) to a replacement home of equal or lesser value within their own county. But only 10 of the 58 counties allow this benefit to cross county lines.

          One result is that realtors report at least 70 percent of over-55 homeowners have not moved in 17 years. By contrast, the Rand Corp. reported in the 1970s that the average Californian moved every seven years.

Less movement by older homeowners cuts the ability of younger families to move into larger, established homes often owned by seniors. What’s more, several counties that once participated in the tax benefit transfer program – Contra Costa, Marin and Monterey – pulled out because they believed they lost property tax money.

          That concern leads most public employee groups, including the state sheriff’s association and teachers’ unions, to oppose Prop. 5.

          But realtors backing it say it could free existing housing for homeowners wanting to move up in price category who now find it difficult to find homes for sale. That, in turn, could open more starter homes for young buyers. If more homes come on the market, realtors argue, prices may drop and ease the affordability problem.

          Taken together, these measures have the potential to create some movement at last on a problem area that’s been essentially frozen for decades.

    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 few feet behind Gavin Newsom as he sipped a drink in a coffee shop near Los Angeles International Airport, a tall man with a wet paint roller wiped a menu blackboard clear, giving the store a clean slate.

          But Newsom’s words and attitudes in an interview made it clear the symbolism was only partially complete.

          “I tend to agree with (current Gov.) Jerry Brown on 95 percent of things,” said the lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor. “I differ with him on some of his bill signings and vetoes, on gun control for one example. When I was mayor, (now Senator, then District Attorney) Kamala Harris and I tried to shut down the Cow Palace gun shows. Jerry had the chance to do that last month, but instead he vetoed the bill. I would have signed it.”

          Democrat Newsom – leading Republican John Cox by double figures in every poll this fall in their run for governor – thinks that if elected, he would also be more involved in women’s and children’s issues, ascribing his interest to his second wife, actress Jennifer Siebel. “If you’ve met my wife,” he grinned, “you may not be surprised at how the dynamics of women’s issues might change.”

          But Newsom says anyone who expects he might loosen the state’s purse strings when the famously parsimonious Brown era ends may be mistaken. “I was anything but a free spender when I was mayor,” he said. “Just look at my record.”

          He also says he won’t back California away from resisting many of President Trump’s policies. “I admire (Atty. Gen.) Xavier Becerra’s 44 (and counting) lawsuits against the Trump administration’s moves,” Newsom said. “He’s right on all of them. These lawsuits are principled and go deep in pursuing California values. I will defend California’s values on the environment and immigration and other issues and I will not be timid.

          “At the same time, I will not go to bed every night thinking what I can do the next day to resist Donald Trump. I’ll do what’s necessary and right.”

          Newsom also wants to re-instill civility in politics. He says he’s come to admire some traits of opponent Cox, a businessman who moved to California from Illinois about a decade ago.

          “I like his resiliency in the face of long odds,” Newsom said. “His whole history shows that. I admire his putting himself forward the way he has.”

          Does this mean he might give Cox a job in a putative Newsom administration, as he did with some onetime opponents in San Francisco? Say, make Cox a University of California regent or a California State University trustee? “He approves of (federal Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos and what she’s trying to do,” Newsom said. “So that would be a no.” What about a spot on the state’s Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing? Newsom just chuckled.

          Newsom said he’s also learned from other election rivals, like former state Schools Supt. Delaine Eastin. “For authenticity, unbridled conviction, humor and energy, there’s no one like Delaine. I may well recruit her for something. The same for (former Los Angeles Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa.

          “There are ways to let your opponents save face.”

          Newsom added that he’ll likely heed the problems of homelessness more than Brown. “We took 10,000 people off the streets when I was mayor,” he said. “But when you build affordable new housing for the homeless, for every 10 that you house, 10 more soon arrive. So we need to regionalize the problem and the solutions. We also need to be careful about over-promising, not give people the idea we can do more than we actually can accomplish.”

          And what about running for president? “Oh, God no. No. No. But I realize no one cares what I say about that. I still get the question. Maybe that’s why I’m now on Trump’s radar (the president has mocked him twice recently on Twitter). But I mean what I say.”

          But what about a year from now, if Democrats don’t coalesce around a single candidate? “I will say California gives the structural advantage of holding an early primary in 2000. This state should play a central role in the future of America and the Democratic Party.” Which may mean, stay tuned.

    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, October 1, 2018




       It’s extremely rare for California’s big utility companies to spend many millions of dollars on a lobbying effort – and lose.

      That very nearly happened last summer to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which spent a combined total of more than $10 million dollars over the last year trying to have their way with state legislators, mainly over the issue of liability levels when their equipment causes wildfires.

          But not to worry… the utilities eventually got almost precisely the bailout they wanted.

          Under previous law, even when power lines and transformers were well maintained and brush cleared to satisfy safety standards, utilities could be forced to pay for damages when it was determined their equipment caused fires to break out.

          The lobbying flurry began in late 2017, after the state’s Public Utilities Commission diverged from its longstanding pattern of caving in to utility demands and handed down its most consumer-friendly decision in several decades.

          That unanimous ruling by the five commissioners may force SDG&E and not its customers to pay more than $379 million in uninsured costs from the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires that devastated large parts of San Diego County, destroying more than 1,100 homes and killing two persons. Prior to those huge fires, authorities found, SDG&E failed to maintain its equipment properly and did not adequately trim tree branches and chaparral near power lines, which caught fire when the power lines arced and sparked in high winds.

          Even now, 11 years after those fires, SDG&E is still in court trying to fob its liability costs off onto customers, ironically including some whose homes burned in the same fires.

          The late-2017 PUC decision came as hundreds of lawsuits were being filed against PG&E and Edison for their alleged responsibility in the start of the huge Wine Country and Thomas fires that ravaged cities like Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Montecito and Ventura last year.

          Those companies do not want even to think about the possibility of a repeat of the utility commission’s ruling against SDG&E. So they enlisted Gov. Jerry Brown, whose sister has collected more than $1 million as a board member of SDG&E’s parent company, to help push for new liability rules shifting much of their obligation to insurance companies and individual homeowners who had nothing to do with starting those fires.

          The rationale for such a gift to the privately-owned utilities was that the new fire dangers caused by climate change and the dead trees it helps kill might drive the companies into bankruptcy and endanger California’s electricity supply.

          If there ever was much danger to the utilities, it no longer exists. Because even after their initial bailout bill failed, the companies’ second effort measure passed in the dying hours of the legislative session and Brown quickly signed it.

          This new law, known as SB 901, will let the utilities dun customers for much of their fire-related liability, even when they are clearly culpable. All it will take to authorize this is a vote by the PUC, which almost always favors utilities over consumers. Had the bill not passed, SDG&E said, the unusual 2017 PUC decision could have had “severe adverse practical consequences for privately owned utilities” and might cause “ripple effects throughout the state’s economy.”

          Of course, that ignored the “ripple effects” that will follow if utility customers in San Diego County and elsewhere are now forced to pay off all the uninsured legal claims filed against utilities from the 2017 fires, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes.

          But the new law won’t cover the 2007 fires. If an appeals court accepts SDG&E’s challenge to its liabilities from them, bet on PG&E and Edison participating as they also renew their effort to avoid paying for damage their equipment has caused.

          The desperation the companies felt after losing their first legislative round was an emotion very unfamiliar to them, as they’ve always previously been favored by both regulators and state legislators. But those companies really had nothing to worry about. Now only a generally sympathetic regulatory panel stands between them and billions of dollars worth of aid from their customers.

     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