The Capitol was packed with teenagers on Thursday, bused in for a rally to announce Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bid for an amendment to California’s Constitution that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote school board and community college board elections.
Gonzalez says its an idea she’s been working on since coming to Sacramento, based on trouble her own daughter got in a few years ago as a student at Mission Bay High. The then-teenager helped lead a walkout of about 250 students in protest of a teacher layoff, said Gonzalez, leading to a dreaded black mark on her permanent record.
“Her reason to me was, ‘Well, this is the only voice I have … school board members don’t listen to us, they don’t really have to,’” said Gonzalez of the incident. “Their whole point was: We should have a voice in what’s being cut, who’s being cut.”
That resonated. So this year when a group of students from Berkeley High approached their representative, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who in turn introduced them to Gonzalez, she said, “Let’s do it … I think the kids have made a really good, reasoned showing as to why this should happen.”
In San Diego, Gonzalez has enlisted the help of 16-year-old Ana Little-Sana to speak on the measure, officially dubbed ACA 7. Little-Sana is projects director of High School Democrats of America and a student at E Street Civic High downtown.
“There’s this attitude that high school students are apathetic,” said Little-Sana of her message on the bill. But, “ultimately I feel way more prepared to be a responsible voter than I do a responsible driver. Teachers, parents and students are the major stakeholders, and I believe all three of those stakeholders should be able to partake” in decisions.
Others aren’t as enthused: Former Lincoln Club of San Diego head Ryan Clumpner, now a political consultant, weighed in:
All of her election tinkering won’t change a single election in San Diego as long as local labor is in shambles. https://t.co/hJXDT8Uau5
— Ryan Clumpner (@RyanClumpner) February 11, 2016
A professor of psychology who weighed in on the measure focused on the science over the politics: “Adolescents may make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they won’t make them any more often than adults,” he wrote.
Gonzalez kept up her momentum as champion of the young later in the day at a press conference for the Women’s Caucus, where a reporter asked the multi-generational group of female legislators to weigh in on the Hillary Clinton/Madeleine Albright/Gloria Steinem brouhaha.
When caucus chair, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, told the crowd she wasn’t sure “younger women are as acutely aware of the battles that have been fought to pave the road,” for other women to excel, Gonzalez interrupted to express a more third-wave feminist view. She said the caucus did not have a unified position on the issue but that young women “have true opinions on who would be the best, not just for themselves but for all young women, all young people.”
She added that many millennial women view poverty as a defining issue, and “they may choose that over the symbolic nature of a woman president.”
Atkins Speaks Out Against Her Own Coastal Commission Appointees
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins ducked out of the Women’s Caucus event before the controversy took place, but found herself in an unexpected Twitter storm later in the day around the ouster of Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester.
During extensive hours of public testimony at the commission meeting, mostly in support of Lester, Atkins (who was at the Capitol) tweeted: “Let me apologize to the public. I truly thought my appointees would be better stewards of the coast” in response to the commissioners’ obvious bias against Lester and the will of the public.
The New York Times, L.A. Times and others picked up that tweet, as did the Twittersphere, which quickly shot back at Atkins, calling on her to remove her appointees – something she doesn’t have the power to do.
The governor, Senate Rules Committee and Assembly speaker each gets to appoint four people to the 12 voting positions on the Commission, but only the governor has the power to remove his appointees. The Senate and the speaker have to wait until appointees’ terms are up, or they resign.
But Atkins, unlike the governor, has been a vocal supporter of Lester as the commission made clear it would try to remove him. Recently, she told the L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez, “My view is that Lester is balanced and fair … I’m concerned that the attempt to oust him is politically motivated as opposed to being about management issues, and I’m concerned that an effort is underway to undermine the objectivity of the commission.”
Then on Friday, she released this statement:
“I was deeply disappointed in the Coastal Commission’s firing of Executive Director Dr. Charles Lester on Wednesday. To be clear, the law does not allow the Assembly or Senate leaders to terminate their appointees to the Coastal Commission. But there are actions that can be taken, and I’m carefully considering several options, including introducing legislation that will require lobbying transparency that doesn’t currently exist. As was made clear during a full day of overwhelmingly supportive testimony from coastal advocates, commission staff, and former commissioners, Dr. Lester is a passionate and effective defender of our precious coast. I will work with my colleagues in the Assembly and in the environmental community to ensure that his vision carries forward.”
‘Our Numbers Are Getting Smaller But Our Voices Are Not’
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber was also at the Women’s Caucus event, but held her comments until afterward, when she addressed another press criticism that the caucus is losing numbers, and maybe, therefore, power.
“Our numbers are getting smaller but our voices are not,” she said. “And having numbers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a whole lot. When we had numbers, we didn’t have the unity and the focus and attention.”
Weber said that in addition to legislation, the caucus is focused on getting more women elected to the Legislature.
“We are really working hard to get some additional (women),” she said, noting caucus endorsements. “We mean it, it’s not like, ‘Oh, you got my name.’ We are working every aspect of the campaign to get these women elected.”
The Caucus debuted a slate of legislation similar in ambition and scope to what it put forth last year, calling for $800 million to fund increased access to childcare, as well as bills around parental leave, reliable scheduling and repealing restrictions of CalWORKS moms who have kids while receiving benefits. Weber added that her bill on helping victims of sex trafficking was also part of the slate.
Weber also said she’s planning on re-introducing discussion of teacher evaluations this year. Last year, her bill on the subject was killed in committee.
“We’re looking at ways that we can bring it back. We may end up with a spot bill and slowly add to it,” she said. “I think it’s time to try to start talking about teacher evaluation and teacher support, because it really was about teacher support, I mean, if you read the bill.”
One of Weber’s staffers recently announced plans to run for the San Diego Unified board of trustees. The local teachers union has said it is wary of LaShae Collins, based largely on Weber’s attempts at reforms.
Chavez’s Surprise Exit (and Entrance)
It would be hard not to know that Rocky Chavez dropped out of the U.S. Senate race this week, because of the very public way he exited: From the stage of a Senate debate hosted by KOGO.
He’ll stick with the state Legislature for now, running again for his current seat. There are already two other Republicans in the race, including one Chavez had endorsed to replace him.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought and prayer, with my wife and family, and I think the best role I can fill for the Republican Party and moving the agenda forward … is to run for my Assembly seat,” Chavez told the debate crowd before leaving the building.
Maienschein’s Fight for Dog Fight Victims
Assemblyman Brian Maienschein introduced legislation this week to help our canine friends.
His AB 1825 would protect dogs seized in association with fighting from being summarily euthanized. Currently under state law, these canines are destroyed without regard to whether they are actual fighting dogs, bait dogs or even pets. California is one of only 12 states with that strict policy.
The bill would mandate that each dog be given an individual evaluation.
“To have this blanket policy that all these animals are destroyed, I didn’t think that was right,” said Maienschein. “And it should be on an individual case-by-case basis so these animals can live.”
Maienschein will hold a screening of the documentary “The Champions” for legislators in Sacramento next week. That film details the fight to save about 50 pit bulls seized from NFL star quarterback Michael Vick after he was convicted for taking part in a dog-fighting ring. In the end, only one of the dogs was found to be violent enough to warrant euthanization.
Maienschein already has the support of Sen. Marty Block and Atkins.
Maienschein said he also plans on introducing legislation before the deadline that would lower the age, currently 14, that kids can testify in family law proceedings – a way to “empower kids.”
Golden State News
• Is San Diego’s mayor the “glimmer of hope” for California Repubicans? The L.A. Times thinks it may be so.
• The Sacramento Bee editorial board tells us how it really feels about the “bloodbath that was the firing of Charles Lester.”
• The climate change fight is far from over for Gov. Jerry Brown, reports the L.A. Times, you’ve just got to dig deep into his budget proposal to find it.
• The Women’s Caucus legislation gets attention from Patrick McGreevy at the L.A. Times, who also noted dissent within the ranks over Hillary.
• KQED looks at what the governor’s proposed changes to criminal sentencing really mean, and why California’s district attorneys came out in opposition this week.
• The Sacramento Bee’s newest Capitol reporter, Taryn Luna, explains how “job killer” bills win their title.
• Southern California ports are seeing a rebound in business, reports the Wall Street Journal.