50,000 58,000 citizens can use a petition to call for a vote that will let them keep taxes at the existing level for five years, and 55% of the state’s voters approve of raising corporate taxes, but only a handful of Republican legislators are required to block the vote and thwart the democratic process. What’s wrong with this picture?
California’s “supermajority” rule–with aid and comfort from the astroturf organization Americans for Prosperity, that’s what.
This, from a state Republican party that was delivered a shellacking in 2010 with no wins in important state seats and LOSSES in the State Senate and Assembly.
Supermajority dictates that 2/3 of the legislature in both houses must vote yes on budgetary matters. California has a majority, but not a supermajority, of Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate. Thus the logjam when it comes to passing a budget every time. The Republican minority flaunts its it coronation by doing what it does best–not a damn thing–and any ill will voters have magically rubs off onto the democratic process or government itself as opposed to the deserving party.
Americans for Prosperity was behind the acrimonious Tea Party town halls of the summer of 2009, protesting meaningful health insurance reform. David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity conservative astroturf organization has provided aid and direction to California Republicans who formed a bloc resisting Governor Brown’s proposed budget plan. On February 23, 2011, this hard-right conservative front group called for California legislators to join the Orwellian-named Taxpayer’s Caucus–not as taxpayers who supported fair taxation of the wealthy and of corporations, but “no new taxes ever” taxpayers. All but 5 members of the GOP members of the state senate sheltered under this cover, with the 5 in somewhat red to reliably red districts left to act as “moderates,” or those who won’t move in talks with the governor though they may seem to be willing to negotiate.
A key part of Brown’s budget proposal would have the state legislature refer extensions of existing taxes on income, gas, and vehicles to a June public vote.
If Californians vote to extend these existing taxes, which will otherwise expire in July, 2011, they’ll be able to cut the $25 billion budget shortfall nearly in half by guaranteeing continued revenue.
Where this will hit hardest is in education and social services. According to the California Department of Education, about 52% of California K-12 budgets come from state sources. Already, over 19,000 teachers in the state have received layoff notices in anticipation of the worst-case scenario budget cuts. It’s clear not all will be hired back in the fall. A southern California district in one of the GOP 5’s state senate districts estimates per pupil spending will drop by $760.
Parents and others who care deeply about public schooling in the state have already organized and collected several thousand voter signatures:
The grassroots group Parents for Great Education has also consistently been organizing and calling for the legislature to let Californians vote on extending current taxes, along with forty-eight other grassroots groups listed in the graphic below.
But on two key points, and after days of negotiations with the Republican bloc, Governor Brown’s budget is at an impasse. Fifty thousand voters thwarted by the “GOP 5” (pdf) — five state senators and about four times as many Assembly members.
I’ve called them out before, but I’ll do so again:
- Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, Senate District 14, fax : 559-253-7127, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, Senate District 15, fax: 916-445-8081, email: email@example.com
- Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, Senate District 12, Fax: 916-445-0773, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sen. Bill Emmerson, 37th State Senate District, R-Hemet, State Capitol, Room 4082, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 651-4037, Fax: (916) 327-2187
- Tom Harman, 35th State Senate District, R-Huntington Beach, State Capitol, Room 5094, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 651-4035, Fax: (916) 445-9263
Here is a profile of each:
Tom Harman: Tom “Landslide” Harman will term out in 2012, but he only won his seat by a 256 vote margin in 2006. His state senate district (35) overlaps a little with a potentially purple congressional district (48) that includes the university town of Irvine, and the Orange County cities of Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach.
Take a look at just one school in Harman’s state senate district:
Laguna Beach Unified School District gets $14,944 per student funding. Are those parents going to be happy when the 900-API scoring schools have their precious programs cut, even though only about $2.6 million of the $40 million school budget comes from the state? According to one local news report
Laguna Beach is unique in that it is a basic aid district opposed to a revenue limit district, which means its approximate $40 million budget is obtained mostly through local property taxes. About $2.6 million—far less than what other districts receive—is backfilled by the state.
But if the vote for an extension doesn’t fly, LBUSD will be solely dependent on property taxes, which are also taking a hit due to economic downturn in recent years, [Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Norma] Shelton says.
Ballpark estimates of home value trends in the wealthy Orange County coastal town show that Laguna Beach houses are valued at 25% less year-over year and almost 50% less than 2007 peak real estate bubble prices. You’d think these people paying taxes on overvalued high-end homes would be eager to shift the tax burden to multi-billion dollar revenue oil companies that extract precious resources from the state.
Tom Berryhill: a Modesto, CA State Senator from a longtime California political family with a father who served in both houses of the state legislature, a brother who’s concurrently serving in a neighboring district, and a cousin who ran for Congress.
In 2010, he was elected in the 14th state senate district with controversy over his residency in the district that was challenged by a Republican opponent who petitioned the California Supreme Court for a hearing, but was declined. He was elected with 68,102 votes (67.6%) in a reliably red, million-person plus California district where the demographic makeup of voters is increasingly Latino.
Sam Blakeslee: In the 2010 elections, he won 72,248 votes with 49.4 % of the votes cast. His closest Democratic challenger, John Laird, won 61,150 votes with 41.8% of the votes cast, a diference of 11,098 votes. He holds a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from public universities, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara–education without which his current job at his family firm would not be possible. His father is also a professor at Cuesta College. Yet his current “no revenue” position would starve higher ed, including the UC system, of $500 million as a result of budget cuts.
From his biography on his website:
Blakeslee was named “Freshman of the Year” by the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, Legislator of the Year by the California Police Chiefs Association, Outstanding Legislator by the California State Sheriffs Association, was honored by People First of SLO and Tri-Counties Association for Developmental Disabilities for his advocacy on behalf of those with disabilities, and received statewide honors for his work on behalf of staff safety at Atascadero State Hospital.
Senator Blakeslee grew up on the Central Coast and attended public schools. He graduated from San Luis Obispo High School and then began a career in construction. Years later, he returned to school and attended Cuesta Community College, where his father, Earle Blakeslee, taught music when the college first opened in 1965. He later earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geophysics from University of California, Berkeley. Furthering his education, Senator Blakeslee earned a Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara for his research in seismic scattering, micro-earthquake studies, and fault-zone attenuation. He is published in numerous scientific journals.
Blakeslee skipped debate in the 2010 elections and was the only candidate to do so (following a national trend among Republicans across the country who declined to debate their fellow candidates and flouting the vetting process). Discussed at that debate was a California oil extraction fee patterned after Texas to make up for school budget shortfalls which are currently the central problem State Senators and Assemblymembers are being asked to solve right now. (Apparently he had no solutions then and no solutions now.) Only later did Blakeslee agree to a debate when challenged to do so by his chief competitor.
Anthony Cannella: elected in 2010 to the 12th State Senate District after being mayor of Ceres, CA. The youngest of the GOP 5. His father is Sal Cannella, who, as a Democrat, lost a State Senate race in 1998 and had also previously been mayor of Ceres for several terms. Like Blakeslee, Cannella is a graduate of UC Davis, a California public university where he enjoyed an excellent college education funded by taxpayers, and for which he would repay with a $500 million budget cut to California’s colleges and universities because of his refusal to allow the state’s residents to vote on tax extensions. Anthony Cannella’s main challenger was Democrat Anna Cabellero, who fought a closely contested race. Democrats knew the 2/3 supermajority was at stake, which is why Caballero outspent Cannella; the final vote was 92,270 to Cannella, 86,963 to Caballero.
However, in the 12th State Senate District, there is a precedent for district residents to recall an obstinate GOP obstructionist. In 2008, Republican State Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced faced a recall vote:
Supporters of the recall want Denham removed from office in large part due to his refusal to vote for the State Budget last August that was delayed for over 51 days. That delay, supporters of the recall claim, caused widespread panic and harm to thousands of people with disabilities, mental health needs, seniors and others across the State due to the cut off of State funding until a budget was passed. Denham has said his refusal to support the State Budget last August was because it was seriously out of balance and required more spending cuts.
Supporters of Recall Effort Turned in Over 60,000 Signatures of Registered Voters
• The sponsor of the recall, Gary D. Robbins, filed 61,144 signatures of registered voters in the 12th State Senate District.
• To qualify a recall election, the supporters of the recall needed to get at least 31,084 valid signatures on a recall petition, which is 20% of the total votes cast in the last 12th State Senate District election, which was November 2006.
• The recall qualified through a random sample signature check by local county election officials, who reported the results to the California Secretary of State.
• Candidates seeking to replace Senator Denham must file nomination papers with county elections officials 59 days before the election date.
• The Secretary of State will certify the candidate list 55 days before the election.
12th State Senate District Includes All of Merced and San Benito Counties
The 12th State Senate District includes parts of Madera, Monterey and Stanislaus counties and all of Merced and San Benito counties. The district includes the cities of Atwater, Ceres, Dos Palos, Gonzales, Greenfield, Gustine, Hollister, King City, Livingston, Los Banos, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Newman, Patterson, Salinas, San Juan Bautista, Soledad and Turlock.
However, Denham survived the recall vote. He left office in 2010 because he was termed out.
The interesting thing about the city of Ceres is that it is 51% Latino and 48% of the district speaks a language other than English at home. Overall, the district is just under a million people and growing.
Bill Emmerson: It’s questionable whether Emmerson moved his primary residence from Redlands to permanently live in Hemet, or whether he switched addresses by simply leasing a residence from homeowners who lived there. According to this newspaper article dating from July, 2010:
When Benoit was appointed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, Emmerson ran for his vacant 37th Senate District seat.
To establish his residency in the Riverside County district, he leased a home owned by supporters Nick and Charlotte Jones near Hemet’s Ramona Bowl. He plans to follow his June victory by running again when his term ends in 2012.
He still owns his home in Redlands, but when he’s not in Sacramento, he said he regularly stays at his leased Hemet house. He is switching his membership from the Kiwanis in Redlands to the breakfast-meeting Hemet Valley Kiwanis.
According to MapLight, 79% of Emmerson’s political contributions came from outside his district.
If you live in one of the GOP 5’s districts, call and ask why they won’t let Californians vote to decide to extend taxes or not. Ask them why they’ve enjoyed the fruits of California’s excellent but struggling public education system, yet they’d deny that to kids coming up after them. Tell them that their party is on life support and with changes coming in re-drawing district lines in big districts like Berryhill’s or Cannella’s, they’ll have to adapt to the electorate or go extinct.