As of January 26, at least 36 California newspapers had editorialized against Proposition 93, the term limits initiative on the February 5 ballot. In the Bay Area, five separate editorial boards — the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Marin Independent Journal, and a shared editorial in the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune — have strongly urged voters to reject the measure.
Proponents have attempted to sell Proposition 93 as a strengthening of term limits, but the newspaper editorials have focused on a hidden loophole that would actually prolong the careers of 42 current legislators. The newspapers have been sharply critical of this grandfather clause, especially because it's not mentioned in the title of the measure — thanks to Attorney General Jerry Brown. Last week, the Times called it "duplicitous" and "a misleading trick, a deceptive effort by special interests and incumbent lawmakers to help those in positions of political power to remain in place."
Many of the editorials also have noted that Proposition 93 — the brainchild of state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez — was supposed to be paired with an overhaul of redistricting. For decades, the state legislature has endorsed gerrymandering of state assembly, state senate, and congressional boundary lines so that few elections are contested anymore because districts are either heavily Democratic or Republican. But Perata and Núñez, who both stand to benefit greatly from Proposition 93, blocked any plans to reform redistricting and take it out of the legislature's hands.
Backers of Proposition 93 have defended the state powerbrokers' decision, arguing that they were simply trying to protect Democratic seats. But Perata had another reason for killing redistricting reform, and his name is Michael Berman. Though he is not widely known, the younger brother of Democratic Congressman Howard Berman of Southern California is a political operative said to maintain a vast voter database unrivaled among his peers.
But Berman does far more than help politicians target hard-to-find voters. One of his most lucrative side businesses is redistricting. In fact, state and federal politicians have repeatedly hired him to draw boundary lines throughout the past several decades. In 1991, he was California's redistricting mastermind, and in 2002, thirty California congressional Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, paid him $20,000 each to personally make sure they held onto power. Even GOP hitman Karl Rove endorsed Berman's work because at the time it made 52 of the state's 53 congressional districts uncompetitive, thereby ensuring Republican dominance in the House of Representatives.
Perata's connection to the Bermans dates to the late 1970s. He went to work for them after losing his first two political campaigns — both for state Assembly. During his five years with the Bermans, Perata became a master political strategist, fund-raiser, and campaigner as Howard taught him the art of political gamesmanship and Michael schooled him in the world of slick political mailers. By helping to kill redistricting reform, their prized pupil helped repay his debt to the masters.
As long as we're talking politics, last week the Express editorial staff sat down and discussed endorsements for the upcoming election. The following recommendations represent the consensus of that staff.
Let's start with Proposition 93. It's not a bad idea, but it was cynically engineered and deceptive. The measure would limit the total time a politician could serve in both houses of the legislature from fourteen to twelve, but extends their tenure in each. That makes sense, but there was no reason the measure needed a grandfather clause for current legislators. We're voting no.
We're also voting no on Propositions 91 and 92. All you need to know about Proposition 91 is that supporters are now against it because the legislature and the governor already approved a bill that does the same thing. Proposition 92, meanwhile, would set community college fees at $15 per unit, thus forcing the state to kick in more money for higher education. At a time when California is facing a $14 billion-plus budget deficit, we can't afford it.
In Alameda County, we're supporting Measure G, which would extend the $195 annual parcel tax for Oakland public schools indefinitely beyond its 2009 expiration. This measure does not raise taxes and it comes as Oakland schools may be facing state cutbacks. We're also supporting Measure E, Albany's $10 million community pool improvement bond measure.
In El Cerrito, we're endorsing Measure A, a one-half sales tax increase to fix potholes and repair streets. We also support Measure B, which would update the city's telephone and video services tax.
Now for the most controversial local issue — Measures A and B involving Children's Hospital of Oakland. Both would establish a $24-a-year parcel tax and generate about $350 million to help fund a new twelve-story hospital, along with several other renovations. We oppose Measure B because it could cost the county up to $1 million a year in administrative fees to collect and distribute the money. We couldn't come to agreement on Measure A. Some of us believe it sets a bad precedent and that private companies should not solicit taxpayers for a handout, especially before they have raised significant funds from private sources. Others point out that Children's Hospital provides essential care for sick kids from low-income families and deserves our support.
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