PolitiCal

On politics in the Golden State

Category: Labor

Environmentalists and unions band together to fight CEQA changes

Environmentalists and labor unions are banding together to fight efforts to overhaul California's landmark environmental law.

Organizers said the new coalition, made up of dozens of advocacy groups and dubbed "CEQA Works," was formed to counter an aggressive campaign by business groups to make changes to the California Environmental Quality Act. While legislation has yet to be introduced, Gov. Jerry Brown has called on the Legislature to streamline the law to help speed the state's economic recovery.

Environmentalists fear a repeat of last year, when lawmakers tried and failed to push through last-minute changes that activists said would have gutted CEQA.

"CEQA is the most foundational environmental law in California," said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, one of the coalition's founding members. "We decided we couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore and wait for bad things to happen."

Signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the measure requires developers to go through a lengthy public process detailing their projects' potential environmental effects and how those would be mitigated.

Business groups have long complained that activists, labor unions -- even corporate competitors -- abuse the law by filing frivolous lawsuits to delay and kill development. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce are leading an effort to streamline environmental reviews and limit legal challenges.

But environmentalists argue that claims of delays are exaggerated. Less than 1% of all projects in the state face CEQA lawsuits, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Nevertheless, Reznik said the new group will offer its own proposals to update CEQA, including increased electronic record-keeping. "I think there is a recognition that things can be improved in CEQA," he said. "We’re not just the group of no."

ALSO:

Environmentalists, unions fear last-minute CEQA changes

State gives initial OK to $1.4 million for lawsuit settlements

Assembly speaker vows action on public pensions, 'regulatory reform'

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Unions tout 'Prop 32 effect,' take credit for legislative wins

UnionsProp32
Organized labor is taking credit for more than just defeating a November ballot measure that sought to curb union clout in state politics.

After trouncing Proposition 32, unions were crowing about Democratic gains in Congress and the party being positioned to take supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. In a Wednesday morning memo, the California Labor Federation said its get-out-the-vote effort made the difference in tight races up and down the ballot, including Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30.

"This election proved to be a game-changer," wrote Steve Smith, a spokesman for the labor federation. "And it couldn’t have been possible without a galvanized, motivated labor program on the ground."

FULL RESULTS: California races

Smith said unions began to build their Proposition 32 opposition operation in the spring, ultimately recruiting 40,000 volunteers and making more than 3.7 million voter contacts on the phone or at the door. Unions raised at least $64 million to fight the measure, which would have eliminated their ability to deduct political contributions from their members' paychecks.

Republican donors, anti-tax activists and business executives poured tens of millions of dollars into several committees to promote Proposition 32. GOP rainmaker Charles Munger Jr. spent nearly $36 million to boost the measure and attack Brown's tax initiative.

VIDEO: L.A. voters discuss 2012 election

Smith said the ballot measure's defeat offers a clear lesson for conservatives.

"If measures that attack workers are on the ballot, they will be defeated," he wrote. "And not only will they be defeated, they will drive workers to the polls in record numbers, which has a direct impact on races and measures up and down every ballot across California"

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups call Proposition 32 deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: A man hands out signs at a rally in Los Angeles this month. Credit: Reed Saxon/Associated Press

Jerry Brown, California Democrats appear to be big winners in election

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

Gov. Jerry Brown’s $6-billion-a-year tax initiative to rescue California schools and the state's finances appeared to squeak by with a victory early Wednesday, and Democrats' grip on Sacramento tightened as the party crept toward winning a super-majority in both houses of the Legislature.

Tuesday's election also brought an end to the three-decade-long congressional career of Rep. Howard Berman, who early Wednesday morning conceded defeat in his political slugfest against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley.

The bitter contest between Sherman and Berman, awash in more than $13 million in campaign spending by the candidates and independent political groups, was triggered when California's newly drawn political boundaries put the two incumbents in the same district.

"I congratulate Brad. ... I will do whatever I can to ensure a cooperative and orderly transition," Berman said in a concise concession statement early Wednesday.

FULL RESULTS: California races

In a similar high-profile mash-up between Democrats, Rep. Janice Hahn of San Pedro was cruising to an easy win against Rep. Laura Richardson of Long Beach in a newly drawn district that includes many minority, working-class communities, election results showed.

Among other closely watched races for California House seats, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Oak Park) narrowly defeated state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) in Ventura County, and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) bested former Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, according to results with all voter precincts reporting in those districts.

California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, won an easy reelection victory over nonprofit executive Elizabeth Emken, her underfunded, little-known Republican challenger.

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

The governor woke up Wednesday as one of the biggest apparent victors in Tuesday’s election, however.

Facing well-funded opposition, Brown campaigned heavily for Proposition 30 as a way to restore fiscal sanity to Sacramento and to stave off deep cuts to public schools and universities. The initiative calls for a quarter-cent increase to sales taxes for four years and a seven-year tax hike on California’s highest earners.

Californians have not approved a statewide tax increase since 2004.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a competing measure bankrolled by millionaire civil rights lawyer Molly Munger -- Proposition 38 – which would have increased income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education.

In one of the highest-profile state ballot measures, labor unions appeared to defeat Proposition 32, which would have reduced their political influence by barring unions from using paycheck deductions for political purposes.

Californians also soured on a measure to abolish the death penalty -– Proposition 34 -- which was trailing badly with most of the voter precincts reporting Wednesday morning.

Other law-and-order measures were greeting more warmly. Voters favored Proposition 36, which would change the three-strikes sentencing law so offenders whose third strikes were minor, nonviolent crimes could no longer be given 25 years to life in prison.

Voters also supported Proposition 35, which promoted increased punishment for sex trafficking of a minor. Both led by wide margins with most ballots counted.

With most ballots tallied across California, initiatives to label genetically engineered foods and change state law to create a new car insurance discount appeared headed for defeat.

One of the biggest surprises of the election was the Democrats' strong showing in legislative races. Democrats appear on the verge of winning a two-thirds majority in the state Senate and Assembly, enough to approve tax measures without Republican support.

In Los Angeles County, veteran prosecutor Jackie Lacey became the county's first female and first African American district attorney after defeating Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson. Jackson conceded early Wednesday morning.

Lacey, 55, touted herself as the only candidate with the experience to run the office. She had the support of her boss, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is retiring after three terms.

Los Angeles County voters also approved a local measure requiring adult film actors to wear condoms. With most precincts reporting, a measure to fund transportation projects by extending a countywide sales-tax increase for an additional 30 years remained just shy of the two-thirds vote required for approval.

Some races remained too close to call, including the San Diego congressional race between Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) and Democrat Scott Peters, a San Diego environmental attorney. In the Coachella Valley, Democratic emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz was leading Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs) with just under two-thirds of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.

ALSO:

Munger’s Proposition 38 fails, according to AP

Prop. 40, on state Senate districts, passes, per AP

Proposition 36 on three-strikes law passes, AP says

-- Phil Willon

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses supporters of Proposition 30 and 32 at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento Tuesday. Source: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Unified against Proposition 32, labor works to get out the vote

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

One of the biggest ironies of Campaign 2012 may be that an initiative intended to undercut labor ended up galvanizing it.

On Tuesday, labor unions fanned out across precincts in the final push of a massive get-out-the-vote operation built in large part to defeat Proposition 32, a ballot measure that could sharply rein in its political clout in California.

In the process, the intense effort could make the difference in a number of tight contests up and down the ballot, including that of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike initiative, Proposition 30.

LIVE RESULTS: California election | National election

Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, said unions started their political efforts months early this year, canvassing work sites throughout the summer -- well before the traditional Labor day kickoff. He said the federation gave local unions volunteer quotas for the first time, yielding more than 30,000 campaign workers.

Unions also helped to bankroll an effort to increase turnout among Latinos. The group Mi Familia Vota said it expected to deploy 500 people on election day to knock on doors in Los Angeles to get voters to the polls.

The unions' opponents — Republican donors, anti-tax activists and business executives — have focused their resources on television and radio, investing tens of millions of dollars in ads to boost support for Proposition 32 and attack Brown's tax initiative. The state GOP has set up a dozen offices across the state, although party officials said they lacked the resources to match labor's ground game.

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

Recent polls showed Proposition 32 languishing and Proposition 30 slipping below the 50% threshold.

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups call Proposition 32 deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: A man hands out signs at a rally in Los Angeles earlier this month. Credit: Reed Saxon/Associated Press

Prop. 32 supporters link unions to UC Davis pepper-spraying

A little more than a week before election day, proponents of Proposition 32 are ratcheting up their rhetoric, linking union and corporate interests to a series of high-profile controversies, including the pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis.

The ballot measure would make major changes to California's campaign finance system, including banning the practice of political contribution by payroll deduction – the primary method labor unions use to raise political cash.

On Monday, the Yes on 32 campaign released a Web-only ad that features images of the pepper-sprayed protesters –- in addition to the burning homes of San Bruno and a former Los Angeles elementary school teacher accused of abusing his students. Set to a foreboding score, the ad then flashes a message: “Money in politics affects all of us.”

Some of the ties, however, are tenuous.

The images of a police officer spraying seated students in their faces is the backdrop for the claim that “Sacramento politicians” spend more on public employee pensions than higher education. “Can we blame our kids for protesting tuition hikes,” the spot asks.

Footage of the aftermath of the San Bruno gas explosion is used for the charge that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gave more than $2 million in campaign contributions to “avoid regulations.” The company has yet to be fined for the 2010 catastrophe and the state Public Utility Commission has taken heat for how it selected a mediator. Lawmakers, however, pursued legislative action.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of bills that improved maintenance and oversight of the pipelines, required automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensured that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines.

Finally, the ad says that California teachers unions spent millions to influence lawmakers to protect teachers like former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children. L.A. Unified School District chose to pay Berndt $40,000 to retire rather than take him through a lengthy and costly dismissal process.

This year, lawmakers rejected legislation that would have sped the dismissal process for teachers who engaged in offenses involving sex, drugs or violence. Teachers unions opposed the bill, saying it was an attack on due process rights.

The Web ad comes as polls show Proposition 32 losing. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters showed the measure trailing, with 39% supporting and 46% opposing.

Brian Brokaw, a spokesman for the labor-backed opposition campaign, dismissed the ad.

“The Yes on 32 campaign lost any semblance of credibility long ago,” he said, “so an over-the-top, ugly and exploitative video like this in the throes of a losing campaign is unfortunately par for the course.”

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups says Prop. 32 is deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Contributions top $100 million in ballot measure fights

Fundraising in the fight over a November ballot measure that would curb organized labor's political influence has topped $100 million.

Business interests are now outpacing unions in political donations, with the most recent infusion coming from Republican rainmaker Charles Munger Jr., who gave more than $13 million to a committee dedicated to passing the measure, Proposition 32, and opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30. According to state records, $10 million of that is a loan.

In all, Munger has given roughly $35 million to the group, dubbed the Small Business Action Committee. The group has raised more than $42 million.

Proposition 32 would make major changes to California's campaign finance system, including banning the practice of political contribution by payroll deduction -- the primary method labor unions use to raise political cash. Unions have declared defeating the initiative their top priority this year.

The labor-backed opposition campaign has raised nearly $63 million, state records show.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters shows Proposition 32 trailing, with 39% supporting and 46% opposing.

“It’s really tough to see how this initiative wins,” said Dave Kanevsky of the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which conducted the survey in conjunction with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm.

He said proponents had failed to win over their natural GOP allies and match the intensity of labor unions.

“Republicans don’t like this as much as Democrats are against it,” Kanevsky said.

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups says Prop. 32 is deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Morello rage against Prop. 32

Graham Nash and Tom Morello perform in anti-Prop. 32 concert

Tom Morello joined veteran activist super-group Crosby, Stills & Nash in Los Angeles on Wednesday for a fundraiser to defeat Proposition 32.

The November ballot measure would make major changes to California's campaign finance system, including banning the practice of political contribution by payroll deduction -- the primary method labor unions use to raise political cash. Unions have declared the initiative their top priority this year.

Morello, the former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, told Rolling Stone on Wednesday that the measure "is another of the brushfire wars in this ongoing class warfare assault of the ruling class on working families." Supporters bill the initiative as an effort to eliminate special interest money in California politics.

ELECTION 2012: The Times' voter guide

Rolling Stone reported that Morello and Crosby, Stills & Nash performed together on Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," using the rarely sung line, "As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking/ Is this land made for you and me?"

Morello's 89-year-old mother sung along with them by the microphone, the magazine reported.

Meanwhile, Proposition 32's supporters got a boost of their own from Republican rainmaker, Charles Munger Jr., who wrote a $9.9-million check this week to a committee set up to support the measure. In all, the Stanford physicist has given nearly $20 million to the Small Business Action Committee PAC, which is also opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30.

The group is running TV ads that describe Proposition 32 as "real, tough campaign reform that will finally cut the money ties between special interests and politicians."

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups call Proposition 32 deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Musicians Graham Nash and Tom Morello perform at a "No On Proposition 32" concert at the downtown L.A. Nokia Theatre on Wednesday. Credit: Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

League of Women Voters stars in new Prop. 32 ad

Labor unions working to defeat Proposition 32 have tapped a good-government group to star in their latest ad.

Helen Hutchison, of the League of Women Voters of California, looks into the camera and details why her nonpartisan group opposes the November ballot measure, which would make major changes to the state's campaign finance system, including banning political contributions by payroll deduction -- the main fundraising tool of unions.

"Prop. 32 is deliberately written to look like campaign reform -- but it's not," she says in the ad. "It actually gives power to Wall Street, Big Oil and those secret campaign Super PACS."

While the initiative would ban corporations and unions from contributing directly to candidates, opponents argue that certain businesses, including limited liability companies, or LLCs, and business trusts, could be exempted. Supporters deny the measure contains corporate exemptions.

The state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said the initiative's language is unclear on that point.

Both sides agree that the measure does not regulate outside spending. It can't. The Supreme Court has ruled such contributions to be free speech, protected by the Constitution. If the initiative passed, groups would retain the right to spend unlimited amounts on independent committees to boost or challenge candidates and ballot measures.

In the ad, Hutchison says that the resulting landscape would favor businesses "while middle-class families pay the price." She does not mention the word "union."

Labor leaders fear that unions would be neutered because the measure eliminates the use of payroll deduction for political purposes -- their primary fundraising mechanism.

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

California voters leaning against campaign finance initiative

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes labor-backed pension bills

Gov. Jerry Brown wielded a heavy veto pen in the final days of bill-signing season,  including rejections that angered some of his Democratic allies, including organized labor
Gov. Jerry Brown wielded a heavy veto pen in the final days of bill-signing season, rejecting proposals that sought to undo past budget cuts and increase regulation.

As detailed in Tuesday's Times, it was part of a broad effort to bolster the chances of Proposition 30, which seeks billions of dollars in new taxes to help balance the budget. By demonstrating that he was willing to say no to lawmakers, Brown could show that this tax increase wouldn't end up squandered on legislative pet projects.

The vetoes, however, angered some of Brown's Democratic allies, including organized labor.

Brown took particular umbrage to union-backed bills that he said would have undermined one of the chief accomplishments of his administration: an overhaul of the state's public pension system.

He killed a measure that would have given county workers who have been laid off an additional six months to be rehired to maintain their pension benefits. Brown said the bill, AB 1885 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), would have reversed part of the deal that led to this year's signature pension legislation.

He also vetoed a bill that would have given teachers an additional seat on the board of the California State Teachers Retirement System. Brown said the measure, AB 1101 by Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), would move California in the "wrong direction."

"The state's retirement system boards need greater independence, not less," he wrote in a veto message.

Brown also rejected a bill that would have codified into law the vesting period for Bay Area Rapid Transit workers to receive retirement health benefits. Noting expiring labor contracts, the governor said the issue should be settled at the bargaining table. The bill was AB 2053 by Assemblyman Michael Allen (D-Santa Rosa).

ALSO:

Brown uses vetoes to press for Proposition 30

L.A. Times poll: Support slips for Brown's tax hike

Business group endorses Proposition 30 ballot measure

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown discusses a bill with Legislative Affairs Secretary Gareth Elliott, left, and legislative deputy Brian Putler at his Capitol office Friday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Tom Morello to rage against Prop. 32

Tom Morello
Tom Morello has found a new target to rage against: Proposition 32.

The former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine will join veteran activist super-group Crosby, Stills & Nash in Los Angeles next week to raise awareness and money to defeat the November ballot measure, which would make major changes to California's campaign finance system.

The central provision of the initiative would eliminate political contributions by payroll deduction, the primary fundraising tool of unions. So far, the labor-backed opposition campaign has raised more than $41 million to defeat Proposition 32, airing TV and radio ads that paint the measure as a deceptive corporate power grab.

Morello, who performed in New York City last week to support the Occupy Wall Street movement, will open for Crosby, Stills & Nash. In a statement, the guitarist said businesses are backing Proposition 32 because they want to "tilt the playing field even more in their direction and away from real people."

The event is set for Oct. 3 at the Nokia Theatre.

For its part, the "Yes on 32" campaign has been using a celebrity of another kind to promote its cause: former state Sen. Gloria Romero.

Romero, a Democrat who tussled with some of the state's largest labor unions during her tenure in Sacramento, has been pushing the ballot measure in interviews and Web ads.

“Having served in Sacramento, I’ve seen exactly how public employee unions, big corporations and their lobbyists use financial contributions to hold politicians hostage and set their own agenda," she said in a statement. "Prop. 32 will give voters their voice back and move our state toward a more democratic and representative government.”

ALSO:

Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups call Proposition 32 deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Tom Morello, former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, plays a concert in support of Occupy Wall Street in Foley Square on Sept. 16, 2012, in New York City. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
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