California Editorial Rdp

Nov. 15

Mercury News and East Bay Times on attorney general trying to deceive voters on gas tax initiative

California has a long-history of election meddling by state attorneys general who try to put a thumb on the scale before voters weigh in on ballot measures.

Now Xavier Becerra is using his entire fist to squash attempts to repeal the state's new 12-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase and $25 to $175 boost in annual vehicle registration fees.

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Repealing the taxes championed by Gov. Jerry Brown would be terrible for California, whose roads and bridges have deteriorated to a dangerous degree over the past decade. But the attorney general is stooping to new lows of electoral deception to try to stop it, and that's just plain wrong.

The issue is an initiative by Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, to repeal the increased tax and fees. He hopes to qualify it for the November 2018 election.

Becerra insisted that the title on the signature petitions make no mention of repealing "taxes and fees." Instead, he directed that it say it would "repeal revenues" for road repair and transportation funding.

Seriously. "Repeal revenues." Whatever that means.

Becerra's obfuscation is a pathetic attempt to hide the truth and discourage voters from signing the petitions. That is essentially what Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley concluded when Allen appealed the attorney general's petition language.

The judge called Becerra's title and summary "confusing, misleading, and likely to create prejudice against the proposed measure." It "obscures the chief purpose of the initiative: repeal of the recently enacted taxes and fees."

Frawley ordered new language explicitly stating that the initiative would repeal those taxes and fees. Becerra has appealed to the state Court of Appeal, saying the judge overstepped his authority. That legal issue is for the appellate court to decide, but common sense tells us the judge got the substance right.

While this fight is over the initiative petition language, the attorney general also controls the wording on the ballot and the short summary in the ballot pamphlet. In each case, the wording is supposed to be true, impartial and convey the measure's chief purposes and points.

But, like his predecessors, Becerra, who must stand for election next year, is using his power over initiatives to sway voters and score political points with supporters — in this case to protect the governor's transportation tax plan. It was Brown who earlier this year appointed Becerra to replace Kamala Harris as attorney general.

There's a remedy for this. The responsibility for presenting clear information to voters should be taken away from politicians and turned over to the non-partisan state legislative analyst.

Political leaders aren't big on giving up power. So it will probably take a good-government initiative to get it done. We can only imagine what that petition title might say.

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Nov. 15

Los Angeles Times on not allowing voter coercion and corruption to take hold in California

Democrats Luis Lopez and Wendy Carrillo are running for Assembly District 51 in a special election on Dec. 5. With only a small percentage of registered voters expected to cast ballots, victory could turn on just a few votes, putting extra pressure on campaign workers to squeeze out support where they can.

In the typical get-out-the-vote effort, campaign workers try to boost turnout by making calls and hoofing it from door to door to plead for votes. But there are reports that some canvassers in the District 51 race have gone a step further, asking voters to complete and hand over their vote-by-mail ballots. Lopez' campaign has warned supporters about intimidation from Carillo canvassers asking for ballots, and one writer in the district said a Carillo campaign worker came to his door and pressured him to hand over his completed absentee ballot. He was outraged.

Ballot collection isn't illegal, though it is understandable why some might feel uneasy about it. Ballots are supposed to be sacrosanct. When you vote at your local polling place, poll workers don't urge you to support this candidate or that. They're bound by rules that are designed to ensure they don't influence voters or improperly handle a completed ballot. Things are necessarily looser for mail ballots, because you vote where you want to and with whom. The trade-off, though, is that it's easier for campaigns to strong-arm these voters.

Then there's the integrity of the ballot itself. It's one thing to trust the U.S. Postal Service, which presumably doesn't have an interest in state and local races, to deliver your ballot. It's quite another to trust a stranger who shows up at the door one day promising to make sure your vote gets counted.

In previous years, only a family member or a member of the household was authorized to deliver a ballot on behalf of a registered voter. But the Legislature changed the rules in 2016 when it passed AB 1921 as part of a package of reforms intended to raise turnout.

At the time, voting security advocates raised concerns that the provision would throw open the door to voter coercion, giving groups such as labor unions or megachurches another tool to pressure members to vote a certain way. Also troubling is the potential for malfeasance or negligence, given that the law provides no safeguards to ensure that the ballots make it to official election facilities in time to be counted. And although the law forbids campaigns to pay for ballot collecting, there's no clear way to enforce the ban.

The bill's author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-Chula Vista), plans cleanup legislation next session; at the very least, she should consider limiting the number of ballots a single person can collect and requiring ballots be turned in swiftly and by Election Day. More broadly, lawmakers should reassess the wisdom of allowing unlimited and unverified third-party ballot-collection before the 2018 campaigns begin in earnest. And voters should always be wary of strangers offering to bear away ballots.

These days more Californians vote by mail than do so in person. If it means more people are voting, that's a good thing — as long as we can be sure that their votes are being cast and counted properly.

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Nov. 14

Chico Enterprise-Record on needing answers after shooting, not thoughts and prayers

The chaos and fear that follows a random mass shooting hit close to home Tuesday morning for those of us in the north state.

We got to see the wild leaps to conclusions that accompany such tragedies, the mass of reporters who flock to a previously unheard of locale and try to learn about it, the knee-jerk reaction to start a debate over guns before the facts are even known, and the inevitable thoughts and prayers of politicians.

In the absence of solid information and facts, people in this day of instant takes on social media — particularly Facebook — came to half-baked conclusions. Some national media outlets reported that the shooting in Rancho Tehama was a result of domestic violence. Many repeatedly called it a school shooting.

That was an often-repeated narrative for a while, even though that oversimplified a fluid situation.

"Domestic violence" is a loaded term, a frequent cause of mass shootings, but this one simply could have been a long-running dispute between neighbors. That's still domestic violence, but a far different kind.

As for the notion it was a school shooting, it wasn't limited to the school as first feared and relayed by some. Authorities say the gunman was shooting in random locations, at random people. The shooting apparently started near his house, and one of the seven places where he shot at people was at Rancho Tehama Elementary School. A lockdown saved students, and thankfully it was confirmed late in the day that students were not among the four people killed by the gunman.

This was more than just a school shooting.

It will take many years, if ever, before Rancho Tehama residents feel safe in their community again, all because of an obviously deranged person. That's a shame. People move off the beaten track to places like Rancho Tehama to escape the craziness of urban areas, but the shooting was proof that often the madness can't be escaped.

Which brings us to our new reality and the question of what can be done about this. Politicians reacted, everyone from national figures like Vice President Mike Pence to local politicians like state Sen. Jim Nielsen. We also heard from a whole bunch of people who had no connection to the shooting or the area whatsoever, but felt a need to score some political points by offering their thoughts and prayers.

Some too shared their theories on what would solve the problem — before they even knew a thing about the suspect, the victims or what led to the shooter's crazed rampage.

It's not a stretch to believe they all have their prepared statements written — just fill in the blanks with locations and other details, hit send, then wait for the next one.

Here's an idea. Don't tell us about thoughts and prayers. Tell us what you're going to do — especially you politicians, you lawmakers. You are among the few out there who actually can do something besides hope. You can make changes.

You can explain to us how a person can be arrested for stabbing a neighbor in January, be under prosecution for that, and still have access to a rifle and two handguns. You can find out if the gun laws were followed. If not, why not? And if they were, you can explain to us why the laws aren't changed to keep guns out of the hands of people like that.

You can find out why this person, according to neighbors, was shooting guns early in the morning and late in the evening the past few days, yet that didn't raise an eyebrow with law enforcement.

And while you're at it, you can find out why funding mechanisms allow a place like Rancho Tehama to be largely unpoliced, a wild wild West in the worst sense, where residents have to take steps to keep themselves safe because their neighbors are nuts and the law is impotent to do anything about it.

Save the thoughts and prayers. Tell us what you're doing about it.

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Nov. 14

The Fresno Bee on Trump doing something right by bringing in McGregor Scott back as U.S. attorney in California

President Donald Trump's attempts to politicize the criminal justice system have been anything but reassuring, but his selection of veteran Sacramento lawyer McGregor Scott as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California shows he's capable of getting at least some things right.

Trump could not have found a more qualified chief federal prosecutor for the sprawling district, which runs from the Oregon state line to just north of Bakersfield, and includes Fresno. Scott — currently a white-collar defense lawyer and partner at the law firm Orrick — held the post before, from 2003 to 2009, as a George W. Bush appointee.

As U.S. attorney, Scott oversaw mortgage fraud prosecutions, an important public corruption case out of Stockton, and helped establish a program to pursue damages against companies that ignite fires on federal forests. The Sacramento Bee's Sam Stanton noted that he also headed the prosecution of a controversial Lodi terror case that defense attorneys are still seeking to overturn.

Before that, Scott was the Shasta County district attorney, taking a lead role in the prosecution of a hate crime spree that included the murders of a gay couple in Redding and arsons of synagogues and an abortion clinic. Last week, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted his "nearly 20 years of experience as a prosecutor," adding: "I believe he will serve the Eastern District well."

That said, he should not get the job unless he can answer yes to a basic question when he comes before the Senate for confirmation: Will he maintain his independence from this president?

From his firing of FBI head James Comey to his recent demands that the U.S. Justice Department investigate his former political opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump's behavior has reflected an unsettling eagerness to abuse his authority and subvert the separation of powers. Democracy rests on the public's faith that the judiciary will hew to due process, and not be unduly influenced by politics.

"I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing," Trump told a radio interviewer, correctly. Then he added: "And I'm very frustrated by it."

Actually, he's not merely "frustrated." He's actively trying to influence the Justice Department. Every turn in the various investigations into his own campaign's apparent ties to Russia has generated fresh demands from him for spurious federal crackdowns that might punish his enemies and distract from his own glaring problems.

"Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn't looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems," the president tweeted petulantly last Friday. And: "(T)he Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries! Let's go FBI & Justice Dept."

In an administration as crooked as this one, it takes character to keep to the straight and narrow. Scott has been here before: During his earlier stint as U.S. attorney, the Bush administration conducted a scandalous political purge of prosecutors who had shown insufficient partisan fealty, one that cost several friends of Scott's their jobs.

"One of the great lessons of our history is there must be a wall between the political operation of the White House and the Justice Department," Scott told now-retired Bee reporter Denny Walsh in a 2008 reflection.

All administrations are entitled to priorities, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions will undoubtedly call the tune, but Scott's faith in that wall alone is reassuring. His history indicates that his actions will match his words if he is confirmed.

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Nov. 14

The Orange County Register on Sen. Mendoza needing to resign if sexual harassment allegations are true

The story is becoming familiar. A powerful man is accused of sexually harassing a young woman in a workplace setting.

He denies it with such ferocity that more women come forward with their own similar stories to support the victim and show that she is likely telling the truth.

In Sacramento, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, is now at the center of controversy.

The Sacramento Bee reported last week that in August, Mendoza invited a young woman who was working in his Capitol office in a fellowship program to come to his house — offering to review her resume — after a party at a downtown nightclub. Mendoza wouldn't say whether he invited the 23-year-old to his home, but he responded "absolutely not" when asked if he suggested she stay in his room overnight before a morning fundraiser the next day.

That was enough to make Jennifer Kwart tell the Bee about her experience with Mendoza when she was a 19-year-old intern in the then-assemblyman's Norwalk office in 2008. "I had no intention of telling this story," Kwart told the Bee. "My reason for this is that he had flatly denied what happened to this girl and it felt similar to me."

Kwart said aides to Mendoza arranged for her to attend the Democratic Party's state convention, and that Mendoza personally picked her up at the San Jose airport and drove her to a hotel, where he poured drinks from the mini-bar in his room because she was too young to drink legally at the bar.

Kwart told the Bee Mendoza asked personal questions about ex-boyfriends and her taste in men, and told her he didn't want to spend too much time at the convention in the evening because "then we won't have time for anything else."

In an account corroborated by the Bee, Kwart secretly called her mother from a restaurant where Mendoza had taken her for dinner for two and made arrangements for a flight home the next day, concerned that the situation would "extend to an actual physical advance" during the convention weekend. She said the last straw for her was when Mendoza introduced her to two colleagues and she saw them exchange side glances, as if they knew something about her she didn't know.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leσn told the Bee last week he was unaware of any allegations against Mendoza, but the Senate secretary said the Rules Committee, chaired by de Leσn, has been investigating Mendoza since Sept. 22. De Leσn, who was renting a room in Mendoza's Sacramento home, has now moved out and hired an outside legal firm to handle all future investigations of sexual harassment in the state Senate.

That is not enough.

A culture of predatory conduct toward women in the state Capitol was exposed when hundreds of women signed a letter attesting to widespread sexual harassment there. It is particularly egregious for powerful people to regard young job applicants as if they were an endless line of targets rolling through the office.

Mendoza has been credibly accused of using his power to award jobs on the public payroll as bait to lure young women into sexual situations. There should be a thorough and transparent investigation. But if the allegations are true, Mendoza should resign now to save taxpayers and his constituents the headache.