Los Angeles Daily News: "Bipartisan hopes — Cross-party endorsements are a positive sign"
When Californians voted in 2010 to replace traditional party primaries with the "top two" election system, they aimed to promote moderation and compromise in Sacramento and Washington. It is way too soon to proclaim success. But early signs are encouraging. The latest sign is the news that the candidates in the high-profile race between veteran Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, two confirmed Democrats running in the heavily Democratic 30th District, are seeking the approval of Republican colleagues.
Berman's campaign this week announced endorsements from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
For his part, Sherman has less star power in his backing from the other party, but he does boast of an endorsement from Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, a rare Republican among the San Fernando Valley's elected officials.
It's one thing for a candidate to say he is willing to work across the aisle dividing congressional Democrats and Republicans, an aisle that seems wider than ever these days. It's something else for Republicans to say a Democrat is actually trying to do that.
That's what McCain and Graham say about Berman. In a statement, McCain said he and Berman "have worked on a bipartisan basis on issues ranging from human rights to missile defense," and Graham said Berman "understands how to reach across the aisle to get things done on behalf of our nation."
This wouldn't be happening if not for the top-two primary system (sometimes called the "open" or "jungle" system) that debuted in earnest in June. Under the new format, the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election.
Obviously, Republicans would prefer that one of the Republican candidates in the June 5 primary for the 30th Congressional District had been able to beat out Berman or Sherman for a spot on the Nov. 6 ballot. But given that a GOP candidate would have stood little chance of winning office in the Democratic-majority district, what is happening should strike Republicans as a close second-best option: The system is nudging the Democratic candidates toward the middle of the ideological spectrum.
This newspaper's editorial board noticed that in endorsement hearings held before the primary, many state and congressional candidates touted their ability to work with the other party. That was different from past years, when candidates competing in traditional primaries geared their pitches to their parties' most ardent members, often locking themselves into highly partisan policy positions.
Now, the trend is being confirmed by cross-aisle endorsements, of which the best example is McCain and Graham backing Berman in one of the nation's hardest-fought congressional races.
It might take the rest of the nation awhile to catch on to what Californians are up to. The White House correspondent for NBC News commented on Twitter this week: "Weird CA ballot rules mean Berman-Sherman race, two Dems pitted against each other, decided by swing voting GOPers."
Weird? The state's attempt to revive bipartisanship makes perfect sense — especially since there are signs it is working.
The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise: "Reel giveaway"
Handouts to a politically well-connected industry are not a credible way for legislators to demonstrate fiscal responsibility to wary taxpayers. Gov. Jerry Brown should veto legislation extending tax credits for film productions. Giving the wealthy film industry additional tax breaks would send a bizarre message when the governor wants voters to pay more in taxes.
The Legislature last month approved AB 2026, which would extend the state's motion picture tax credit through 2017, instead of letting it expire in 2015. The program, which dates from 2009, offers $100 million in tax breaks annually in an attempt to keep film production from fleeing to other states.
Brown signed a one-year extension of the film tax credit last year, but he should not make that mistake again this year. AB 2026's special treatment for a favored industry collides with both careful fiscal policy and the governor's own political strategy.
A state with persistently large annual budget shortfalls, for example, should be ruthlessly eradicating dubious tax loopholes, not widening them. While $100 million a year is not a huge sum compared with the $91.3 billion general fund budget, a state in fiscal trouble should be weeding out all unjustified spending. Besides, there is no crisis requiring immediate action; the current film tax credit runs until 2015.
And offering more largesse to the film industry would clash with the governor's own campaign to get voters to back higher sales and income taxes. Brown realizes Californians are skeptical about giving legislators more money to oversee, and has tried to demonstrate a tight-fisted approach to government. Last week, for example, the governor's office said Brown's 2011 order banning discretionary travel for state officials had saved California $85 million since he took office.
Yet a tax giveaway to a moneyed, politically powerful industry hardly suggests responsible management of public funds — particularly when there is not a compelling case that the tax break is worthwhile. The film industry points to studies by UCLA this year and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. in 2011, which show the tax credit more than pays for itself in generating additional state and local revenue.
But the state's legislative analyst in June said those studies rely on questionable assumptions that artificially inflate the return on the tax break. The analyst concludes the film tax credit is a net money loser for state coffers. And a report last year by the California Research Bureau, an arm of the state library, found that available data provided no clear evidence of "any significant damage to the state's industry or economy" over the past decade from other states' efforts to lure film production away from California. The Department of Finance says that "a sizable portion" of the credit likely goes to productions which would have stayed in California even without the tax break.
The state has better uses for public funds than a special-interest handout. Taxpayers readily understand that concept — and so should the governor.
Ventura County Star: "Prop. 35, human trafficking law, not good enough"
Proposition 35 on the Nov. 6 state ballot would change California's laws and penalties related to human trafficking.
In The Star's view, the Legislature is the appropriate venue for such policy deliberations. For that reason and because of flaws in the initiative, The Star recommends voting "no" on Proposition 35.
We don't disagree with the proponents' desire to lengthen prison sentences for those guilty of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Indeed, we would expect the Legislature to approve the tougher penalties on a bipartisan basis, particularly sentences for sex trafficking of a minor.
This initiative also proposes dramatically higher maximum fines for all human trafficking offenses — up to $1.5 million, compared to, for example, the current maximum fine of $100,000 for sex trafficking a minor.
What will happen to those fines totaling millions of dollars? That's one of the problems with this initiative. It would lock up 100 percent of those funds to help supporters of Proposition 35. Such "ballot-box budgeting" is contrary to the best practices of good government.
Most of the funds, 70 percent, would go to agencies and organizations that serve victims of human trafficking. The remaining 30 percent would fund law enforcement to continue the conveyor belt of arrests, convictions and revenue from huge fines.
The Star doesn't oppose higher fines in themselves, but we believe the dollars should not be segregated in such a self-serving way. The money's best use should be decided through the normal budgeting and legislative process.
Another problem is Proposition 35's overreaching language. We foresee that courts will find it unconstitutionally limits an accused person's right to assert his or her innocence. Also, individuals could face severe penalties for very limited, indirect involvement with artistic or other creative works that later are found to have used minors illegally.
The Star recommends voting "no" on the flawed Proposition 35.
The Sacramento Bee: "Death penalty deters murders? Evidence doesn't bear that out"
Ever since California added the death penalty to its penal code in the 1870s, supporters have argued that the threat of executions would make potential murderers think twice before committing heinous crimes.
The Bee made that argument numerous times in its early years, and many politicians and prosecutors have offered it since. But does the evidence show that capital punishment deters murders, even when applied frequently and expeditiously? Research suggests it does not.
One obvious way to look at the problem is to compare the murder rates in states with executions and those without.
For example, compare the homicide rates in California, New York and Texas, as the National Research Council has done. From 1974 to 2009, the homicide rates in those three states tracked virtually identically — going up at the same time in the late 1970s and late 1980s and all declining dramatically since then.
Yet during that time Texas had 447 executions and New York had none; California had 13. Clearly, something other than executions has had an effect on declining murder rates. And that clearly is what we should focus on.
That pattern holds up in comparisons of Canada and the United States, too.
Murder rates in Canada have gone up and down in virtual lockstep with U.S. rates over the years. Yet Canada has had no executions since 1962. In fact, during the period just after the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, murder rates remained high in the United States while declining in Canada.
Murder rates in the United States began a real decline in the 1990s, and research suggests multiple factors are involved.
For example, crime experts attribute the steep decline in violent crime that began in 1993 to new police strategies such as targeted police patrols of gun-crime hot spots and effective enforcement of gun laws. The waning of the crack epidemic and the decline of the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds in the population also played a role.
In all the states, life imprisonment is used more often than death sentences in murder cases. That in itself may be a reason for the decline in murder rates — keeping the most dangerous killers out of society.
Is it really rational from a policy perspective to assume that the most heinous killers in American society respond to any punishment threat at all — whether execution or life in prison — as a deterrent? Would increasing the frequency of executions — or speeding up executions — make one iota of difference with these stone-cold killers? Highly unlikely.
The National Research Council conducted a review of more than three decades of research on the deterrence effect of the death penalty, releasing its 144-page report, "Deterrence and the Death Penalty" in April (see www.nap.edu). Its conclusion: The research to date is flawed and "not informative" about whether the death penalty has an effect on murder rates.
Therefore, the National Research Council concludes, "these studies should not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide." Further, these studies "should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment."
The Bee in the early 1900s called for state-sanctioned public hangings, in part, because it believed that the death penalty would deter not only would-be murderers but the citizenry taking law into its own hands through lynchings.
With the death penalty, the logic went, the call to vigilantism would disappear.
The same logic, however, should apply to life sentences that take killers permanently out of society, where they no longer pose a danger to society and are punished for their crime. They die in prison. That won't satisfy those who want an "eye for an eye," retribution or revenge. But it does ensure a society based on law and order — as opposed to "hellish deeds rampant everywhere," in the words of The Bee in 1912, or vigilantism.
Those who support the death penalty and those who oppose it will hew to their positions regardless of the evidence on deterrence. In the end, it is our values that will have to decide the matter.
The Stockton Record: "Equal pay for an equal day"
Gov. Jerry Brown almost had a chance to make right what former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger left wrong.
Assembly Bill 1313 would have brought pay parity to the state's farm workers.
But on Friday, the last day of the legislative session, the measure was killed in the Assembly, falling eight votes short of passage.
AB1313 would have required farm workers — the people who literally put food in our mouths — get paid overtime like virtually all hourly employees in the state.
It would have ended this state's 74 year old exemption of farm workers from protections most people enjoy under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Most hourly workers receive overtime after an eight-hour day or a 40-hour work week. Not those working in our fields. Farm laborers are paid overtime after working 10 hours in a day or a 60-hour week.
The bill actually passed the Assembly in June and passed the Senate in August, although with changes. Then on Thursday, the Assembly refused to go along with the Senate amendments and the bill failed.
Opponents of AB1313 said the existing overtime exemption is needed to give agriculture flexibility in scheduling field work, that changing overtime rules will lead to fewer farm jobs, and that it will drive up production costs and ultimately food costs. Indeed, these are some of the arguments Republican lawmakers made as they worked last week to scuttle the proposal.
Proponents dismissed the arguments, calling Democratic Assemblyman Mike Allen's bill a matter of fairness. Why, they reasonably asked, is one group — in California a group largely made up of Latinos — singled out for a discriminatory pay system?
Why indeed. Brown signed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act when he was governor, from 1975 to 1983. That granted farm workers bargaining rights.
At the time, farm interests argued agriculture as we knew it would end in California, that somehow crops wouldn't be planted and food wouldn't be abundant in our groceries. It didn't happen then. Giving farm workers overtime equality would not have caused it to happen now.
The Oakland Tribune: "Louisiana should be object lesson for state's levees"
Just like earthquakes in California and tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes are a part of life in the Gulf Coast. Although overshadowed by two national political conventions, Hurricane Isaac has left people in Louisiana asking questions. Very good questions that deserve answers.
All of us remember watching Hurricane Katrina carve up the Gulf Coast like a Thanksgiving turkey. We also remember watching in horror as our governments — state and federal — displayed utter incompetence in responding to that disaster that caused billions of dollars in damage.
The great city of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have still not fully recovered. We are not sure they ever will. It was that region's Loma Prieta.
Lots of money has been spent since then, mainly under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers. Billions were spent by the federal government — which, we would remind, is us — to properly fix the intricate ring of levees that protect low-lying New Orleans from flooding.
Hurricane Isaac was not near as powerful a storm as Katrina, but often those are the storms that present the most potential for flooding in Gulf Coast areas. Powerful storms tend to smash into the coast and keep on moving through, dumping water relatively quickly across a wide area, while weaker storms tend to hit landfall and stagnate, dumping water in the low-lying coastal regions as the storm saunters through.
While New Orleans was generally protected, the populated areas outside the levee protection badly flooded this time. These areas had never flooded before and it has left residents there concerned that the Corps' New Orleans protection projects have left them vulnerable to flooding.
The Corps has deflected such criticism, arguing that a unique combination of circumstances is much more likely the culprit. But residents are skeptical. The people of southern Louisiana have long had a love-hate relationship with the Corps, which wields enormous power in a state with so much wetland. Residents of the area had been assured for years by the Corps that the levees would protect New Orleans in most circumstances, so you will pardon them for being dubious of the Corps' latest assessment.
But the Corps deserves some credit because it has agreed to conduct a scientific study to determine whether the New Orleans protections prompted unintended consequences in those other areas. Admittedly, the Corps' decision came after much complaining and more than a little political pressure was exerted, but it came nonetheless.
Although it may not seem so at first glance, Louisiana and California have at least one thing in common — besides sleazy legislative practice, of course. Both have a delta that is critical to the state's survival. In Louisiana, it is the Mississippi River Delta; in California, it the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Both rely on levees for their sustainability. As we have said before, we would like to see California officials consider Louisiana as an object lesson and get busy rebuilding the Golden State's antiquated levees that protect this Delta that is so vital to the health and welfare of the state, its people and its economy. The time to do that is now.