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Lee and Skinner Fund Measure to Kill Redistricting Reform

Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner are financing an attempt to overturn a redistricting measure approved by California voters in 2008.

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Last week, California lawmakers broke the state's all-time budget-stalemate record. The budget impasse has now surpassed eighty days, longer than any other in state history. And there may not be a budget until after the November Election — even though state law required that one be completed in June. Many political analysts agree that one of the main reasons for why California government is broken is hyper-partisanship in Sacramento. Conservative Republicans want to balance the budget by severely slashing state services; liberal Democrats want higher taxes.

Two years ago, voters approved a statewide reform measure that was supposed to help break such deadlocks. Proposition 11, scheduled to go into effect next year, took the power of drawing legislative districts away from politicians and handed it to an independent commission. The idea was that unbiased redistricting would lead to fewer heavily partisan districts and thus more moderates winning election. In short, there would be fewer far-left politicians and Tea Party wingnuts in office, and fewer budget stalemates.

But two liberal East Bay Democrats, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, are attempting to stop Prop 11 from going into effect. Both are helping finance a new statewide measure on the November ballot — Proposition 27 — that would overturn Prop 11. Prop 27 would give the power of redistricting back to politicians, who will make sure that districts are either dominated by Democrats or Republicans. That way, politicians in both parties won't have to face tough reelection battles and won't have to worry about losing seats.

Campaign finance records show that Lee, of Oakland, donated $10,000 to the Yes on 27 campaign in the past month, and Skinner, of Berkeley, loaned the campaign $30,000 in early September. So why are they doing it? Lee's office did not return a phone call seeking comment. As for Skinner, her chief of staff Frank Russo said the loan has been paid back. However, Russo could not explain why the Yes on 27 campaign has not reported it being paid back. As of Monday afternoon, Skinner's campaign also had not reported the $30,000 being returned.

Lee and Skinner are not the only politicians bankrolling Prop 27. In fact, Democrats throughout the state, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ($10,000), have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Yes on 27 campaign for the past year. Clearly, Democrats prefer legislative gridlock to the possibility of having to face competitive challengers and the prospect of losing seats.

They also apparently don't mind trying to fool voters into allowing them to stay in power. Believe it or not, the Yes on 27 campaign is officially calling its measure the "Fiscal Accountability in Redistricting Act," or the "FAIR Act." Backers claim — while presumably keeping a straight face — that the cash-strapped state can't afford to spend the $1 million in total salary that will go to the fourteen members of the independent redistricting commission set up by Prop 11. Of course, the Prop 27 supporters say nothing of the $19 billion deficit that the state is currently facing and their chronic inability to solve California's problems.

Perata Leads Close Race

A new poll commissioned by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is showing a tight Oakland mayor's race with about six weeks to go until Election Day. Ex-state Senator Don Perata leads Councilwoman Jean Quan, 26 percent to 22 percent, in the poll of likely voters, with Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan in third with 12 percent, said Scott Peterson, the chamber's public policy director.

Joe Tuman, a longtime political science professor and TV news analyst, was fourth with 4 percent. One-third of the respondents, however, were undecided, said Ruth Bernstein of Oakland-based EMC Research, which conducted the poll.

Perata did slightly better when pollsters asked voters to choose between him and Kaplan and Quan. He garnered 43 percent, compared to Quan's 36 percent and Kaplan's 22 percent. The poll included 600 Oakland registered voters and had a 4 percent margin of error, meaning that Perata's lead over Quan when the race included all ten candidates fell within that margin.

The new poll, however, appeared to skew toward older, white voters, which could provide a glimmer of hope for Quan and Kaplan. About 50 percent of respondents were white, about 25 percent were African American, about 6 percent were Asian, and about 5 percent were Hispanic, Peterson said. By contrast, the latest US Census estimate shows that non-Hispanic whites make up just 25.4 percent of Oakland's population. Blacks make up 29.5 percent, Hispanics make up 25.2 percent, and Asians make up 15.4 percent. In addition, about 67 percent of the new poll's respondents were 45 or older.

Quan is banking on a strong Asian-American turnout in the election, while Kaplan hopes to attract younger voters. "If you take those voters into account, I think it's a dead heat," Quan told Full Disclosure.

Bernstein said the poll was not "weighted" to match Oakland's demographics. But she said the respondents closely mirrored what her organization believes will be the demographic makeup of likely voters in the election. However, she acknowledged that EMC Research's definition of "likely voters" includes those who have also voted in June primaries. Both Kaplan and Quan have noted that far more younger and minority voters tend to participate in November general elections than in June primaries.

Regardless, the new poll shows a much tighter race than a previous poll commissioned this summer by KPIX-TV-Channel 5. That poll showed Perata way out in front, leading Quan 41 percent to 26 percent. But that poll also skewed toward an older, white electorate. It also was an automated poll, while the new chamber poll was done with live telephone calls.

The new poll arrived in advance of a debate that the chamber is sponsoring this week with the League of Women Voters and the Bay Area Business Roundtable. The forum will be 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, September 23 at Kaiser Center Auditorium, 300 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. Perata is expected to attend, even though he has missed all but one of the numerous debates so far.

Cap for Independent Committees Is Set At $95,000

The Oakland City Clerk's Office set the spending cap in the Oakland mayor's race at $95,000 for so-called "independent" committees. The clerk's office notified candidates yesterday about the spending limit. The cap made headlines last week when the Express reported that a Sacramento committee with close ties to Perata revealed that it had exceeded the spending limit, thereby allowing all candidates, including the ex-state senator, to spend as much as they wanted on the mayor's race.

The Perata-linked group, Coalition for a Safer California, which has sponsored attacks ads against Quan and Kaplan, later had to rescind its declaration when it discovered that the cap was not $70,000 as it had thought. The cap was established in 1998 at $70,000, but has grown to $95,000 because of inflation, the clerk's office said.

However, the Perata-linked group has indicated that it nonetheless plans to exceed the $95,000 cap before the election, thereby allowing the ex-senator to spend as much as he wants to win the mayor's office. In a follow-up letter to the Oakland City Attorney's Office and the city's Public Ethics Commission, Paul Kinney of the Coalition for a Safer California described his earlier declaration about exceeding the cap as "premature," implying that the group plans to surpass it at a later date. Kinney also said in the letter that he will alert both city agencies "should we cross the line" — a reference to the $95,000 limit.

Lifting the spending cap in the mayor's race, which is $379,000 for each candidate's campaign, promises to be a huge boost for Perata because of his formidable fund-raising abilities and because he is already close to reaching the cap and thus has virtually no money left for the final stages of the race. Perata also appears to be banking on spending whatever he wants because he skipped two more candidate debates last week, telling organizers of one of the events that he had to attend a fund-raiser even though he already has raised more money than he's allowed to spend under the cap.

Last week, both Quan and Kaplan criticized Perata and vowed not to exceed the cap. So did several other candidates. However, besides Perata, only Quan and Kaplan have a realistic shot at raising more than the $379,000 limit.

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