Mayor Ashley Swearengin in the Cat Bird Seat
Who could have asked for a more perfect series of events? Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin discreetly sits as a candidate in the November election for California’s State Controller, while her two Democratic opponents battle it out for second place. It was generally accepted that the Democrat who went on to the general election would easily win the office. That’s not so sure right now.
Betty Yee, of the State Board of Equalization, was officially declared the winner over former Assembly Speaker John Perez by 481 votes. Mr. Perez has, in response, sought the first recount in modern history of a statewide office in California.
Theoretically, if there were a complete recount, Ms. Yee would again be declared the winner by a small margin. But, seeing as California does not pay for recounts, it is up to the losing candidate to foot the bill, and pick the precincts. Mr. Perez has plenty of extra campaign cash left over from the primary to call for a recount, but cannot afford to do the entire state, which would cost over $4 million. He is only paying for those precincts that are heavily Hispanic and which voted overwhelmingly for him.
By just recounting precincts that polled heavily in his favor, Mr. Perez could manufacture his own victory. Once he has made up the 481 votes he can call off the recount and declare victory. Ms. Yee might counter with her own recount but does not have the same financial resources available as does Mr. Perez.
This boils down to Ms. Swearengin running against someone who will be perceived as buying the election. How well is that going to go down with the voters? We will see. And we might also see the first Republican win a statewide office since Steve Poizner won Insurance Commissioner in 2006.
To Form a More Perfect Union
After 18 years as a Congresswoman and 16 as Maine’s Senator, Olympia Snowe declined to run for office again, even though she won her last election with 74% of the vote. Tired of the polarizing atmosphere in Washington and a dysfunctional Congress, Ms. Snowe has put her efforts instead into reform. Ms. Snowe posted a blog on Independence Day outlining her commission’s recommendations on how to strengthen our democracy.
On her blog, she quoted a recent article by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, “Congress has passed just 56 public laws this year, for a total of 121 since the beginning of 2013. This virtually guarantees the current Congress will be the least productive in history, well behind the ‘do nothing’ Congress of 1948, which passed more than 900 bills. And many of the 121 bills are not exactly weighty.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, of which she is the co-chair, is made up of leaders who not only hail from different political parties, but have a deep understanding of how the legislative process can work, should work, and must work. Their recommendations are so basic it’s laughable. Below are ten out of their sixty total recommendations, the most striking stating that Congress has to actually show up for work. Over the course of three months in 2014, Congress only spent 53% of business days in session. The Commission on Political Reform is recommending that Congress work five- day work weeks and three weeks straight.
The following is a list of ten main commission recommendations.
- Increase voter participation in primaries – Only 20% of eligible voters vote in Congressional primaries. The commission recommends that states and political parties aim for 30% by 2020 and 35% by 2026. Rather than a yearlong process that confuses voters, we recommend a single June Congressional primary date, more open primaries and eliminating Congressional caucuses and conventions.
- Balance access and integrity in our elections -We recommend that states use the data revolution to (1) identify eligible, unregistered voters and offer them the opportunity to register and (2) greatly improve the accuracy of voter rolls.
- Ensure a fair process for drawing congressional districts -To reduce distrust between the two parties, we urge the adoption of redistricting commissions with the bipartisan support of state legislatures and the electorate, to avoid the kind of single-party gerrymandering that has contributed to political polarization.
- Tackle money in politics -All political contributions, including those made to outside and independent groups, should be disclosed. Congress should also pass legislation requiring detailed disclosure of spending by congressional leadership PACs and mandate that those funds be used solely for political activities, not personal use.
- Reform the filibuster and Senate debate – Don’t allow filibusters on whether to move to debate a bill. And, at the same time, guarantee a minimum number of 10 amendments, split between the majority and minority, on each bill debated.
- Empower congressional committees – Legislation should go through the full committee and amendment processes to avoid power in Congress being too centralized. By strengthening the role of congressional committees, we will create fertile soil for consensus building across the aisle.
- Spend more time legislating in Washington — and with one another – The House and Senate should schedule synchronized, five-day workweeks in Washington, with three weeks in session followed by one-week recesses. The President and Congressional leadership should hold regular monthly meetings, and the President should attend biannual joint caucuses.
- Adopt a biennial budget cycle -To avoid the annual clash over the budget and ensure better oversight and long-term thinking, Congress should adopt a two-year cycle for budget and appropriations. The current annual budgeting process is badly broken — as crisis after crisis has shown over the past few years.
- Create an expectation to serve -We encourage a year of service for Americans ages 18 to 28, and recommend greatly improving the opportunities to serve in programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, to run for political office or to serve in appointed office. This would fulfill Americans’ enthusiasm to give back.
- Improve the presidential appointments process -The onerous appointments process discourages many of the most qualified applicants. We recommend cutting back on unnecessary restrictions to serve, streamlining the financial disclosure process, reducing the number of positions requiring Senate confirmation and encouraging the private sector to allow employees to take a temporary position in government.
Third Time’s the Charm?
Three guesses on who the front runner is for the Republican ticket in 2016: Tea Partier Ted Cruz? No. Pedantic Jeb Bush? No. Fire-in-the-belly-but-no-lights-on-at-home Sarah Palin? No.
It is Mitt Romney.
According to the Business Insider, “if the election were held today, 39% of Republican voters in New Hampshire would vote for Romney. Next on the list are U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who each only garner 7% of the vote. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is behind them with 6%.”
That’s a 22-point lead over the most popular Republican candidates, none of whom even crack double digits. Revenge is sweet but vindication is forever, and Mr. Romney must be feeling vindicated right now on so many levels.
During the 2012 campaign, when it looked like Mr. Romney would win the Republican nomination, there was a constant hopeful rumble that someone better would jump into the race. Mr. Romney was seen as a weak front-runner and appeared unable to unite the Republican Party behind him.
Now the shoe is on the other foot.
It is clear from the New Hampshire poll that Republican primary voters are unsatisfied with their party’s presidential hopefuls and that they are looking for alternatives. There is some wishful thinking that Mr. Romney might jump into the race. Who, out of all the candidates, can raise a billion dollars and convince the majority of the American people that he or she is the right person for the job? Also, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 45% of respondents think the country would be better off if Mr. Romney had been elected president in 2012. There is also a general consensus that much of what he campaigned on turned out to be right.
He has to be feeling pretty good right now compared to when he was sitting with his family in the Westin Hotel and Convention Center in Boston, watching the election slip away despite being told he was going to win.
It’s hard to doubt Mr. Romney’s sincerity when he says he will not run again, but all the attention and poll numbers must be flattering. He not only looks attractive compared to the list of Republican candidates, but is a much younger and vital alternative than anything the Democrats can dish up.
All the publicity makes one wonder, if Mr. Romney had stuck to his principles, like Mr. Kashkari did during the California primary, and didn’t pander to the radical wing of the Republican Party, how far could he have gone. Maybe we will find out.
The Circus Comes to Porterville
A lot happened at the July 1st Porterville City Council meeting. First they picked newly elected Milte Stowe as mayor, someone who won a commanding percent of the vote, but has no experience being on a council or even any of their committees. Some have wondered out loud why Mr. Stowe didn’t defer the position due to his inexperience. Brian Ward, on the other hand, has been on the city council for six years and has been vice-mayor twice. Mystery number one is why they didn’t pick Mr. Ward or reaffirm Cam Hamilton.
Their second decision was to make Mr. Hamilton the vice-mayor. Mystery number two is why the council didn’t just reaffirm Mr. Hamilton as mayor, as he had only held the seat less than a year. It took two rounds of head scratching voting for Mr. Hamilton to be appointed vice-mayor.
Their third decision was to take applications to fill the late Pete McCracken’s seat. Mr. McCracken came in second in the June election but passed away soon after. The prevailing thought on the council is that they want someone experienced in community service and new blood. Matt Green is not only active in the Porterville community and is new blood, but he came in a strong third in the election. Mystery number three is why waste city time taking applications when the voters have already chosen Mr. McCracken’s replacement?
By the July 9th deadline, city staff had received 16 applications to be considered for appointment to the Porterville City Council. Four of those applicants lost to Mr. Green in the election, so it would be a bit arrogant for the council to imply they know better than the voters by picking one of them. Another applicant, Felipe Martinez, has run for city council three times, and lost three times, making it clear how the voters feel about him.
My favorite is Ron Irish, who also happens to be the brother-in-law of Mr. McCracken. As written in Mr. Irish’s application to be considered for appointment to the city council, “because of being in the public eye for so long, I have come under three investigations. One: An accusation by some disgruntled citizens and a council member to the FBI concerning me getting a free home from Ennis Builders. That was completely false and after two years the case was dropped. And that councilman has apologized for the false accusations made towards me.”
The problem with Mr. Irish’s highlighting the three investigations is that in one of them he was found guilty of conflict of interest involving the Porterville Chamber of Commerce. He was not charged with a crime or fined but warned that this incident could be used against in the future.
Juan Duran, president of El Centro Mexicano American Latino, and former candidate for the city council, did not submit an application because he disagreed with the process. He feels that the appointment will be a slap in the face to the voters of Porterville. When asked who he thinks the city council will pick out of the 16 applicants at their meeting July 15th, Mr. Duran said, “I have no idea.”
Most politicians can’t go fifteen minutes off script without stepping in it. Neel Kashkari? He went 13 hours over the course of a month as a guest host on several talk radio shows and performed brilliantly. According to the Sacramento Bee, the program director of KFBK of Sacramento said, “If this politics thing doesn’t work out, we should talk.” Is there anything this guy can’t do?
Governor Brown, who has pretty much ignored the campaign, had his own radio experience throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s in the Bay Area. Seeing as Gov. Brown has a fairly demanding day job he won’t be on the radio anytime soon. After more than 40 years in public office, I think we are all OK with that.