Director's Corner

For Better Politics, It's Time for Some Raging Moderates

Op-Ed, LA Times
July 11, 2014

Like more than 20% of my fellow Californians, I am now classified as a no-party-preference voter, registered to vote but with no affiliation to any of the state's polictical parties. Read more>


The Lesson of Indicted Politician's 341,000 Votes 

Opinion, San Francisco Chronicle 
June 10, 2014

When an accused arms dealer receives more than 300,000 votes in a campaign for statewide office, the most natural reaction for most of us is embarrassment. But here's an idea: We should build a statue to Leland Yee. Read more>


The Wrong Messenger, but the Right Message: Political Reform is Essential 

Viewpoint, Sacramento Bee
June 8, 2014

At the conclusion of the movie "The Untouchables," Eliot Ness reflects on his efforts to clean up corruption in Al Capone's Chicago: "I have become what I have beheld, and I am content that I have done right." Read more>


Keep An Eye On California's Top-Two Primary System

Room For Debate, The New York Times
October 13, 2013

The prospect of a serious independent or third-party movement at the national level remains a long shot. But keep an eye on California, whose voters recently instituted a primary system in which the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation now go on to a general election. Read more>


 

Reformers Ponder New Limits on Legislative Fundraising
News, ABC News 10
September 23, 2013

It was a blistering pace for the first 13 days of September -- marathon conversations, early mornings, and late nights as the annualized ritual of late summer in Sacramento reached its crescendo. No, not the intense debates over policy and bills; rather, the onslaught of political fundraisers. Read more>


New Mayor May Reshape L.A. With Help From Old One

Commentary, Los Angeles Business Journal
June 3, 2013

Over the course of the recently completed L.A. city election campaign, former Mayor Richard Riordan endorsed no fewer than three candidates for his old job – Austin Beutner, Kevin James and Wendy Greuel. The only thing they have in common is that none of them is Eric Garcetti. Yet after searching for the last several months for almost any conceivable alternative to Garcetti, Riordan might now end up being the new mayor’s most valuable asset. Read more>


Ban fundraising when Legislature is in session

Viewpoint, Sacramento Bee
May 30, 2013

When it was reported last week that state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, was taking a group of lobbyists to Las Vegas for a fundraising event, most veteran Capitol observers rolled their eyes. So what? And the fact that the trip was scheduled right before a key vote that would benefit the casino hosting the fundraiser? No big deal. Just one more politician selling access to deep-pocketed special interests right before a vote on a bill of tremendous financial interest to them. Read more>


L.A. mayor hopefuls are better than campaign has shown
Los Angeles Daily News
May 21, 2013

Who killed the Los Angeles mayor's race? The city of Los Angeles is a hotbed of creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and cultural and economic dynamism. Our tourist attractions bring visitors from around the world, eager to taste the city's excitement. For more than a century, the region has been an engine of economic growth, as the aerospace, entertainment, trade, technology and tourism sectors have combined to make Los Angeles the capital of the Pacific Rim. Read more>


Reforming Political Fundraising
Huff Post Live, Huffington Post 
May 7, 2013

Fundraising and politics will forever be intertwined, but reform is necessary. Jacob sits down with former McCain Communications Director Dan Schnur about his proposal to clean up fundraising efforts amongst legislators and statewide officeholders. Watch more>


When the Legislature is in, Fundraising Should Be Banned. Period.

Opinion, Flash Report
March 24, 2013

During the almost three decades that I have been involved in politics, first as partisan advocate and in recent years as an analyst and observer, I have seen many unusual things. I watched a Democratic presidential candidate don a military helmet and climb into a tank to prove his national security credentials. I watched a movie star steal the show at a Republican National Convention by carrying on an extended conversation with an empty chair. Read more>


Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Circles Can Fix Our Politics
Opinion, Bloomberg
March 6, 2013

Most first-time candidates for elective office learn quickly that political messaging is a lot like the old playground game of Red Rover.

Your opponents don’t bother to try to break through between the two strongest members of your team. Rather, they zero in on the smallest and weakest links in your chain and do everything they can to force the most vulnerable among you to divide. Read more>


How Gov. Brown can save Prop. 30
Opinion, Los Angeles Times
November 2, 2012

Since the day he took office, Gov. Jerry Brown has been on a crusade to convince Californians that he is not just fiscally responsible but downright stingy. During his first week as governor, he ordered thousands of state workers to give up their government-issued cellphones. Since then, he has negotiated to rein in pensions for public employees, initiated welfare reforms that were included in the last budget and bragged about his preference for flying Southwest Airlines. ("I take the damn middle seat," he told a Los Angeles television reporter last week.) Read more>


The casualties of political gridlock
Opinion, Politico
October 30, 2012

This is not to suggest that Congress should become a haven only for moderates. Principled liberals and equally principled conservatives are necessary driving forces for change and represent legitimately held ideological priorities across the political spectrum. But in order to solve problems, to take on the nation’s most difficult public policy challenges, committed conservatives and liberals alike must also find ways to cooperate with those who don’t always agree with them.

Democrats and Republicans used to be willing to build relationships across party lines. They’d meet up after hours, and their relationships would allow them to come to deals on the nation’s most pressing problems. Think of President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill finding a way to move forward on Social Security reform. That’s changed. “Today, crossing the aisle is tantamount to treason,” says Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who himself is another casualty of gridlock. Read more>


Should redrawn Senate districts be upheld?
Viewpoints, Sacramento Bee
October 20, 2012

Allowing politicians to draw the lines that defined their legislative and congressional districts is the rough equivalent of asking teenagers to set their own curfews – a fundamental conflict of interest that only gets worse as the night wears on. But for years, that was the way California's political parties did business, running a mutual protection scheme that created safe seats for Democrats and Republicans alike.

As a result, almost no candidate of either party had to expend much energy to win votes or make much effort to satisfy their constituents. The numbers told the story: In the three elections in our state leading up to 2008, 459 legislative seats were up for grabs, but only four changed hands from one party to the other.  Read more>


Have Political Conventions Outlived Their Usefulness?
Opinions, Washington Post
September 10, 2012

Watching this year’s conventions was a little like watching a basketball team practice without an opponent on the court. You may recognize players, but there’s no way to tell how good the team is until you see it against the competition. Hearing one side of a two-way argument over the course of a week is largely unsatisfying for the media and for voters. So, except for the most fervent supporters of both parties, the country has pretty much stopped paying attention.

The conventions clearly can’t continue in their current format, but they provide a necessary opportunity for the two parties to express themselves to voters. The answer is not to hold them sequentially but, rather, simultaneously.

If the conventions were held at the same time, the two parties would be forced to adjust and readjust their presentations, to decide whether to stay on message or to respond to the opposition, and to engage in a week-long contest of beliefs, priorities and worldviews. Provide one hour for each of the nominees on Wednesday and Thursday nights to deliver their acceptance speeches to the entire country without interference, but otherwise force both sides to admit that there is another perspective to the discussion, one that needs to be acknowledged and answered — in real time. Read more>


Let the Parties, Not the Taxpayers, Foot the Carnival’s Bill
Room for Debate, New York Times
August 27, 2012

For the most part, political conventions in the 21st century are predictable, strident and anodyne pep rallies of little or no value to anyone but the most unquestioning of the party faithful. But when the party’s nominees take their respective stages in Tampa and Charlotte over the next two weeks, the American people will have the rare opportunity to assess the individuals who would presume to lead them for the next four years. That one hour of unfiltered communication alone makes the conventions a worthwhile exercise.

But it is reasonable to ask whether American taxpayers should be asked to continue to pay for these weeklong infomercials. In an election year, in which the two parties and their allies will spend more than a billion dollars on behalf of their preferred candidates, better to let the Democratic and the Republican national committees pick up the tabs for their partisan carnivals. Maybe each nominee could announce a charity to which the United States Treasury can donate the money that would have otherwise been spent on his nominating convention, and encourage his supporters to contribute to the same cause. Read more>


Forbid Raising Funds while Legislature is in Session
Viewpoints, Sacramento Bee
August 26, 2012 

In the final weeks of the legislative session, when members' attentions are torn between the hundreds of bills still to be voted on inside the Capitol and thousands of dollars to be raised just across the street, it becomes easy to understand why Californians are so dissatisfied with their state government and so suspicious of the men and women who've been elected to run it.

Caught between the competing pressures of formulating policy for the people and soliciting money for their next campaign, enterprising legislators can schedule a fundraising reception within a five-minute walk from the floor of the state Assembly or Senate, rush out to scoop up a stack of campaign contributions, and be back at their desks before the ink on the checks has dried. Read more>


Redistricting Reform and Top-Two Primary
Rebuttal, Fox and Hounds
August 16, 2012

When I was asked by the Sacramento Press Club to debate on behalf of redistricting reform and the top-two primary, it seemed like a fairly painless proposition. I knew that taking the redistricting process away from the state legislature has led to the creation of competitive congressional and legislative districts for the first time since the 1990s. I understood that the top-two primary creates an incentive for candidates in strongly liberal or conservative districts to talk to voters in both parties rather than relying solely on the most ideologically extreme members of their own party for support.  For all the plausible counter-arguments I was likely to face, I might as well be calling for a program to give puppies and ice cream to orphans. Read more>


Can Romney Break Democrats' Lock on Jewish Vote?
Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times
August 12, 2012

Have you heard the one about the Westside Jewish Republican Club? Its members take turns hosting the gatherings, and they meet each month in the host's car.

The Democrats' advantage among Jewish voters might not be quite that extreme, but there's no question that the Jewish community in this country has always leaned strongly toward the Democratic Party and its candidates. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush achieved a high-water mark for the GOP by winning more than 30% of the Jewish vote during their elections in the 1980s. But in the last 20 years, no Republican presidential nominee has won even a quarter of the Jewish vote. Four years ago, Barack Obama won among Jewish voters over John McCain by a margin of 78% to 22% (a bigger margin, by 10 points, than his advantage among Latinos).  Read more>


Should Romney Take a Risk in Picking VP?
Election Center, CNN
July 18, 2012

If you agree that a presidential nominee comes to the selection of his running mate the same way a football coach develops strategy for the last few minutes of an important game, then Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty are the political equivalents of running your fullback off-tackle.

There's little risk associated with either choice: Both keep you moving slowly but surely in the right direction. So it's no accident that as the polls stay close, speculation surrounding Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee has focused on these two eminently qualified but exceedingly cautious alternatives. Read more>


What Does the Supreme Court's Health-Care Decision Mean?
Opinion, Washington Post
June 28, 2012

Although the next few days will be filled with fireworks from both sides, it’s difficult to see how health care will remain a significant issue for the rest of the presidential campaign. Neither candidate has much incentive to talk about the issue: President Obama knows that, even though the law is constitutional, it’s still extremely unpopular. And Mitt Romney doesn’t have much desire to spend the fall talking about why or how his health-care plan in Massachusetts differed from this one. For most voters, the conversation will be back to the economy in a matter of days.

Although health care is unlikely to matter to most swing voters, there’s more than enough fodder in the court’s decision to inspire the true believers in both parties all the way to Election Day. Democrats can celebrate that the law is still in place. And they can continue to use the portion of the law that allows adult children to remain on their parents’ insurance plans to reach out to young people and female voters. Republicans still have a “repeal Obamacare” message to motivate their base and don’t have to worry about defending the loss of the law’s more popular provisions. Even better, now they have a new tax to attack.

The bottom line: more rhetorical ammunition and turnout motivation for the parties’ bases. Not much difference for everyone else. Read more>


The Obama-Romney Duel on Immigration
Op-Ed, CalBuzz
June 20, 2012

When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney address the largest gathering of Latino political leaders in the country over the next two days, here’s what they won’t say: “I’m sorry.”

Romney won’t apologize to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) when he speaks to their annual convention in Orlando on Thursday, certainly not for condemning his opponents during the GOP primary campaign when they spoke in opposition to deporting senior citizens and preventing unauthorized immigrants from receiving financial support to attend college. Read more>


Is Jeb Bush Right About the GOP?
The Arena, Politico
June 11, 2012

Jeb Bush is exactly half right. Both his father and Reagan would have trouble hewing to the ideological standards set by today's Republican party, just as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Scoop Jackson and Bill Clinton would run into the same difficulty with modern-day Democrats. Bush understandably focused on his own party's drift from the center because he is more concerned about the GOP's political prospects than how the Democrats fare. But his criticism is just as applicable for both parties on today's hyper-partisan political landscape.

Democrats can rejoice over Jeb's comments, the same way that Republican cheered last week when Clinton took on Obama's tax policy. But the true believers in both parties are missing the point. They are exactly one half of the problem themselves, and pointing gleefully at the other side's intransigence does nothing to address Washington's growing inability to function. Read more>


California's Good-News Tuesday
Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times
June 7, 2012 

While most of the country was focused on the back-alley brawl of Wisconsin's recall election Tuesday, a quieter but equally important political revolution was unfolding here in California.

Two recent voting reforms — one that changed the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn and another that sends the top two finishers in a primary on to the general election regardless of party affiliation — drew little interest outside the circles of obsessed political insiders. But thanks to these two procedural modifications, California politics have been profoundly altered — for the better. Read more>


New Fight Takes Shape Over Term Limits
Los Angeles Times
May 18, 2012

Twenty-two years after California became one of the first states to limit legislators' terms in office, voters are about to decide whether the rules should be changed.

In 1990, voters limited lawmakers to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year stints in the Senate, for a total of 14 years in the Legislature. Proposition 28, on the June 5 ballot, would limit lawmakers to 12 years in the Legislature but allow all of those to be served in one house.  Read more>


Prop. 28 Enhances Reform, Allows Leaders to Gain Experience
Viewpoint, Sacramento Bee
May 15, 2012

When the original ballot initiative to impose term limits was put before California voters in 1990, I enthusiastically campaigned for its passage.

When career politicians tried to dramatically weaken the state's term limits law 10 years ago, I fought to defeat them. Read more>

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