Congressman Mark DeSaulnier on his first months in office

Mark DeSaulnier ran virtually uncontested for the Congressional seat to replace his mentor George Miller who choose to retire after more than 30 years in office.


desaulnier pictureFrom the days that he was first elected to the Concord City Council in 1991, Mark DeSaulnier has constantly acted as though he needs to earn the respect and support from his constituents. After a term as Mayor of Concord in 1993, DeSaulnier was appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson to replace Sunne McPeak on the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors. He ended up being elected three times to this post.

In 2006, DeSaulnier who had earlier changed his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, ran for the vacant State Assembly seat ending up winning 66% of the vote in the General Election. After serving just two years, he migrated to the 7th Senatorial District winning two terms in 2008 and 2012. Scheduled to be termed out in 2016, Mark DeSaulnier ran virtually uncontested for the Congressional seat to replace his mentor George Miller who choose to retire after more than 30 years in office.

Barely eight months into his term, had the Freshman Congressman from Concord undertaken a busy schedule during the summer recess? Between meeting with constituents (especially on the nuclear agreement with Iran), town hall meetings, fund raisers, etc…, Mark DeSaulnier sat down with the Contra Costa Bee to give his impressions on his first term in office.

Let’s start with the most important question “How do you equate the success and attention of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?

I have no idea. I don’t know what the appeal is. I take the comments from people to mean they are looking for authenticity. Yet, he has a bit of a shtick. I think to be fair people are angry and frustrated with government, I share that frustration not to the point I am angry at everything, but it’s frustrating that government does not want to change in an era of bureaucracy. There are a lot of good people, but government does not always act like citizens are its clients.

The next burning question is the peace accord with Iran. I know you are supporting it. Can you advise what went into you making that decision?

I have said that if I were to vote today (8/25/15), I would vote in favor of it. I have, however, told both supporter and opponents of the Iran Proposal, as well as the Administration and leadership in the Democratic Caucus, that I was going to take the time to listen to both sides. If the opponents were to dissuade me, I would let them know.

Seal of the United States CongressThe two people whom I met with before you arrived oppose the deal. I met with them for half an hour, they told me what they thought, and I told them the same thing I said to you – if I had to vote for it today I would vote for it, but I would continue to meet with people and consider their opinions. This is my first important foreign policy vote and there is no reason for me to commit without doing my due diligence, listening to both sides, and hearing directly from constituents. (Update: Congressman DeSaulnier voted in favor of the Iran nuclear proposal on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, September 11th. Although the symbolic vote failed by a vote of 162-269, the agreement went into effect on September 17th).

What is it like relocating to Washington D.C.? How is it different than commuting to Sacramento When being in the legislature?

The physical distance alone is different. I come home almost every weekend. I just think it’s important to stay in touch with constituents, plus I prefer to be in my own backyard in Concord, California than to stay in D.C.

How is the difference in your role in the State Senate and that of the House of Representatives?

Also, there’s a big difference having been in the majority party in the state legislature. When Congressman Miller announced he was leaving, I was a candidate to be the presiding officer in the Senate. I was at a point in my career where I could get things done. So, that’s the biggest adjustment. I am a Freshman Member of the Minority party, learning how to get things accomplished.

Who in Congress has been the most helpful in getting you acclimated?

That is a good question. I think the California Delegation has been incredibly helpful. California has such a large delegation with a total of 54 Members, of which 39 are Democrats. Many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle served with me in the California State Legislature. This is particularly helpful because we have personal relationships and friendships with Representatives from both parties. We all talk a lot about what it is like in Congress and we share our perspectives. Of course, Congressman Miller (Ret.) has been helpful to me throughout my career.

If this is the picture does everything fall apart once you get on the floor of the House floor?

sb1220 desaulnier real estate transaction tax, affordable housing, califonria politicsI think there are two reasons for this. One is just the process we use in Congress.

In the State Legislature and local government you actually have public meetings were people can discuss differences of opinion. I think this was conducive to a multitude of things. In Congress, partially due to the size and the structure of hearings there is not as much give and take. The witnesses only have about five minutes for their testimonies and Members are allocated five minutes each for their questions.

Also, our country is very polarized. I respect the opinions of each of my colleagues and it is our job as Representatives to reflect our constituents, but it is important to recognize that Northern California is very different than other regions of our country. It is for this reason that when a bill comes to the House Floor for a vote the American public sees these differences on display.

Have you set up personal goals for yourself as a member of Congress especially considering you have been elected to this post in the later stages of your political career?

My biggest personal goal is to be part of making the institution work again. I hope to try to find ways, as I always did in the Legislature, to work with members on both sides of the aisle to get things done.

Any specifics?

Since being sworn into office in January, I have had legislative items within the jurisdiction of the Committee on Education and the Workforce where my Republican colleagues approached me to be their co-author. In several of these instances, when and if the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is finalized, some of these items could be included in the final bill. While the bill itself will not have my name on it, it will be a bill that I contributed to.

 Which bills are those you dealt with?

The first bill that I referenced would set aside funds to create wraparound services for students. These services would provide kids with a safe space and access to the tools and services that would help student outcomes. Some examples of wraparound services are behavioral health counseling, nutrition assistance, and tutoring. The other bill is a nationwide grant to help schools modernize their kitchen equipment and training to meet national school lunch nutrition standards. These standards were updated to reflect the best interest of our children, and we must now help our schools meet these guidelines.

Do you think your experience on all levels of government will help you be more effective sooner?

deSaulnier3Yes, having experience at all different levels of government can help to make you more effective. Like with any job, it is important that elected officials do not get burned out and continue to approach the work with passion and authenticity.

What is the major difference for you coming from Senate Leader Pro Tem elect to be a freshman Representative from the Minority Party in Congress?

It’s very different. In California we do what some people say are crazy things. Sometimes they are, but often times these ideas are innovative. Part of it is that the nature of the institution in Washington D.C. is designed to be reflective of the rest of the country, which is often more cautious and risk-adverse than California. On the other hand, when you make a difference on small things like a line item in an education bill, they have national implications which are important. As a Member of Congress, we have the unique opportunity to effect change on both the national and local level. On the local level, we are able to help families with constituent services ranging from Social Security and Medicare benefits to tours of the Capitol.

Do you have any regrets for doing this?

I am not one who believes in regrets. One door closes and another opens. The thing is I was in my last two years under term limits in the Senate. I could have gone back to the Assembly, but preferred to do this.

Or you could have run for State office?

Yes, I had some people who wanted me to run for Secretary of State. I gave i some thought, but that is a position for a younger person and someone who has an aspiration for higher office. Besides, my friend Alex Padilla is running for this post.

I know you are on the education committee. What other ones you involved with?

Correct. I serve on both the Committee on Education and the Workforce as well as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I feel very fortunate to have been appointed to committees with issues of importance to our district. I believe that oversight of government should not be partisan, and I rather enjoy this assignment while many democrats do not.

As is well known your close friend Susan Bonilla was badly beaten in the Special election to take your place in the State Senate. Considering these same voters make up much of your constituency’s, has this changed your outlook?

Mark-DeSaulnier5No, I don’t think I’ve changed my outlook since I started. I‘m socially progressive and think I am responsive to my constituents irrespective of their political point of view. And, I believe in good oversight of government.

What attributes are people looking for?

In my time listening to citizens, I have learned that people want to elect someone who is independent and can stand up for the causes they support with conviction. For instance, I have agreed with labor on many things and am pro-labor, but we have had some significant disagreements, such as the BART strike. I thought the strike was a mistake for a variety of reasons, and I let labor know where I was coming from.

What do you mean a big mistake?

I was very involved in those negotiations, trying to get both sides get together. I told labor that they should not go on strike because there a lot of people having a tough time. Regardless, labor was not sympathetic and they were mad at me, which was very publicized.

Do you think the district has changed politically from the one George Miller reigned supreme for over 30 years

Districts change every 10 years because of redistricting. However, I think the district is still pretty similar. Danville and Alamo were added to Congressman Miller’s district later in his term, but as a totality the district is about the same politically. If anything it has gotten more liberal because the democratic registration has gone up because of the urban core moving over the hills.

Is it not more Independents because of more people not belonging to either party?

But you see how these independents voted for Obama and Jerry Brown?

Isn’t this group the undecided’s who determine most close elections?

That’s true. One of the things about the demographics of this district is not only the wealth but the education. We are among the most educated Congressional districts in the United States. When you have that demographic, people expect their representatives to understand the issues.

How do you compare yourself to George Miller

desaulnier-millerOur demeanors are different. George was famous for his passionate speeches on the House floor. He did it so long and was comfortable with the institution. He was well respected on both sides of the aisle even though he was very liberal. Earlier this year, I was at a dinner with long term conservative Senator Roberts who looked across the table shook my hand and said “I loved George Miller. We did not agree on a lot but you could trust him because he was a man of his word.” I would love to think that we are similar in this way that your word is your bond.

There is a lot of concern on the Democratic side on the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and that it might necessary for new blood to invigorate what could be considered geriatric leadership in your party and with Republicans as well. What is your take on this?

I think turnover is good, but so is experience. With any job it is good to know when it is time to move on. On the other hand, drawing on personal experience, I think having done this for a long time I have seen the benefits that experience can bring. It is about finding a balance.

How can you make a difference in the next 10 years should the voters continue to send you back to Washington D.C?

In today’s political climate it is difficult to work with the Republicans because their party is made up of so many different factions, including moderates, traditional conservatives, and then people who do not believe in government.

I spent 8 years in the legislature and think I got a lot done there. I think I have been able to do the same thing at every level of government where I have served. By third party standards, I’ve been very effective in elective office. I try to balance accomplishing what my constituents express are their priorities and working on key issues that I am passionate about. My hope is that I will continue to be effective in working with my colleagues and ultimately for the American people.

Thanks for taking the time to doing this interview. It is much appreciated as I know how busy you are.



Rep DeSaulnier favors Iran deal

The Iran deal calls for Iran to suspend plans to develop nuclear weapons. In exchange, Western powers, including the United States, are committed to ending economic sanctions against Iran.


Bay Area Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) has expressed support for the Iran deal with the U.S. announced in July. The Iran deal calls for Iran to suspend plans to develop nuclear weapons. In exchange, Western powers, including the United States, are committed to ending economic sanctions against Iran.

desaulnier looks leftWhile the Iran Deal will be contested in the Senate, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State support the agreement which they claim is not a treaty subject to U.S. Senate advice and consent.

In a letter dated July 20, DeSaulnier said that “. . . seven countries were able to come to a consensus on one of the biggest issues affecting the world today.” The seven nations are the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, and Iran.

In his letter on the Iran Deal, DeSaulnier said, “Among the most encouraging aspects of the deal is the United Nation’s uninterrupted access to inspect Iran’s nuclear program.”

iran deal death to america
Despite the Iran Deal, radical Islamists in Iran call for the destruction of Israel and the Great Satan, America
“While all parties may not be entirely satisfied with the final outcome, DeSaulnier said, “I am confident that this agreement is far better than no agreement at all in curtailing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.”

DeSaulnier (D-Concord) represents California’s 7th Congressional District, an area that includes much of Contra Costa County.

Two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, warned in an April 7 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, that any agreement between the United States and Iran posed dangers. Specifically, they warned that under such an agreement, “Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities, or fissile product . . .”

The two former diplomats said of the Iran Deal, that the removal of economic sanctions against Iran would be difficult to reimpose. “Restoring the most effective sanctions,” they wrote, “will require coordinated international action.” They added: “. . . the demands of public and commercial opinion will militate against automatic or even prompt ‘snap back’ [of sanctions].”

Kissinger and Shultz wrote that, some people see the American-Iranian “. . . nuclear deal as a way station toward the eventual domestic transformation of Iran.” They asked: “But what gives us confidence that we will prove more astute at predicting Iran’s domestic course than Vietnam’s, Afghanistan’s, Iraq’s, Syria’s, Egypt’s, or Libya’s?”

Regarding the Iran Deal, DeSaulnier said, “I look forward to being able to vote to debate and vote on this package.”


Orinda Democrat Amy Worth flirts with GOP, conservatives

With recent Republican and conservative election victories in parts of Contra Costa County, Worth may be switching to more moderate or conservative — and less liberal — positions.


Amy Worth was Orinda’s political queen bee, a strong liberal Democrat who, with allies, ran Orinda much as Mayor Richard J. Daley, an autocratic Democratic political boss, ran Chicago from 1955 to 1976. Worth is a member of the Orinda City Council since 1998 and the chairperson of the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) from 2013 to 2015.

Now, Worth seems more conciliatory, associating herself with Republicans and conservative Democrats.

On May 25, an article in the Contra Costa Times mentioned Worth as a possible 2016 candidate for the California State Assembly in the 16th Assembly District. This district includes Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Danville, Alamo, San Ramon, Pleasanton, and Livermore. Currently, Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) represents the district. She was elected in November 2014.

For years, no Republican has won a Bay Area race for the State Assembly, State Senate, or Congress.

In an Orinda City Council race in 2010, Worth received 5,436 votes (25.51 percent of the total). She came in first, beating second-place finisher, Sue Severson, who received 4,304 votes (20.20 percent of the total).

Then, the political fortunes of Amy Worth began to sag. In 2014, running for a fifth consecutive city-council term, Worth did not finish first. The top voter-getter was city-council newcomer, Eve Phillips. Worth obtained 3697 votes but was re-elected.

Worth’s decline in popularity and Phillips’ 2014 first-place finish may reflect voter fatigue with Worth.

However, Worth also alienated many Orindans with her strong support of the Eden Housing/Monteverde project, a plan for a 67-unit senior-citizen apartment complex in the heart of downtown Orinda. The project, now complete, was built on city-owned land.

The project, which blocks views of nearby hills, exceeds Orinda’s 35-foot height limit, and has added to Orinda’s already hideous parking and traffic problems has proved to be unpopular with many Orindans.

In the April 28, 2010, issue of the Lamorinda Weekly, a biweekly newspaper which serves Orinda, Lafayette, and Moraga, Amy Worth commented on the project. She said: “This project will provide a safe, comfortable, convenient environment for senior residents. I think it will be a tremendous asset to Orinda.”

Amy_WorthWorth has never been shy about her support of Democratic candidates. On October 9, 2014, Worth and her husband Tom held a reception for State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), who in November 2014 was seeking a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

DeSaulnier, running in California’s 11th Congressional District, which includes much of Contra Costa County, won his campaign. The 11th District includes such cities as Concord, Walnut Creek, Richmond, Danville, Orinda, Lafayette, and Moraga.

At the Worth’s reception was Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who is the House Democratic whip, the number-two position among House Democrats. The person holding the number-one position is Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

Pelosi was Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011. In November 2010, Republicans took control of the House, forcing Pelosi and Hoyer into leadership positions as members of the minority party.

After Phillips’ smashing election victory last November, Worth appears to have changed and become more accommodating to politicians, especially Republicans and conservatives — people not really aligned with Worth’s strong Democratic Party views.

On April 25, Amy Worth hosted a town-hall meeting at which Assemblywoman Baker gave a speech and took questions from audience members. The meeting took place at the Orinda Public Library.

On April 25, Worth’s name appeared on a list of individuals hosting a fund-raiser for Candace Andersen, a member of the Board of Supervisors of Contra Costa County. Andersen, a Republican, represents Supervisorial District 2, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, and part of Walnut Creek.

In the June 2010 primary, Andersen won an overwhelming victory in her first race for County Supervisor. She received 61 percent of the vote. By garnering more than 50 percent of the primary vote, Andersen did not have to face a challenger in a November 2010 runoff election.

In the March 17, 2015, primary for the State Senate in Senate District 7, Worth backed former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo). Three major candidates ran: Buchanan, Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), and incumbent Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord).

Glazer and Bonilla were the top two vote-getters, eliminating Buchanan from the field of candidates. Because neither Glazer nor Bonilla received more than 50 percent of the vote, these two candidates faced each other in a runoff election on May 19.

Under California law, the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of party, face each other in a runoff if neither candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

For the runoff, Worth endorsed Glazer, a member of the Orinda City Council.

On May 19, Glazer won his race against Bonilla.

Glazer ran a conservative campaign. He is for banning BART strikes and against tax increases. He wants to put a cap on pensions for public employees. Bonilla is a liberal Democrat who has strong support among public employees, especially public-school teachers.

Glazer’s campaign literature showed pictures of Republicans, including Assemblywoman Baker, former local Congressman Bill Baker, and former local State Senator Dick Rainey.

What can explain Worth’s rightward tilt? Perhaps losing her vaunted number-one status as the darling of Orinda’s electorate is the reason.

Amy Worth may be following the political dictum of the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen (R-Illinois). Dirksen once said: “When I feel the heat, I see the light.”

In the 1960’s, Dirksen was the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.

With recent Republican and conservative election victories in parts of Contra Costa County, Worth may be switching to more moderate or conservative — and less liberal — positions.

Is Worth feeling the heat and seeing the light?


Political bickering threatens unity of County Democratic Party

Political bickering threatens County Democratic Party machine as the two poles of the party face off in the State Senate Special Election. Public Employee Unions vs fiscal sanity is ripping the party apart.


There’s so much political bickering going on these days. Local politics are getting so mean and nasty these days that it is a wonder that decent people actually care to participate in this process. A good example is Karen Mitchoff. Even though the Contra Costa County Supervisor ran unopposed last fall’s election, she was served with recall papers from disgruntled public employees unions upset because of Mitchoff’s hard stance in  labor contract negotiations with them.

The recall petition  alleged that Supervisor Karen Mitchoff alluded to the possibility of “Chuck Reed type pension reform” on two occasions: once to members of the United Professional Firefighters (UPF) Local 1230 Union, and later during a telephone call with a business agent hired by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA).

This same complaint was thrown out by Superior Court Judge Henderson a couple months ago. Now the union wants to take their case directly to the people.

Chuck Reed California Pension ReformOne might surmise by the union’s actions that exercising first amendment rights in trying to control the costs of public employees’ pension plans is now being depicted as a treasonous act. Following along with such twisted logic, supporting the views of highly respected former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is considered in their minds be a hate crime of sorts.

This arrogant move on the part of the public employee labor unions shows just how out of touch they are with voters. This is true not only in Mitchoff’s District, but throughout most of Contra Costa as well. In case the DSA and UPF might not be aware, there is a special election happening May 19th for Mark DeSaulnier’s vacated 7th District State Senate Seat.

While Democratic standard bearer Susan Bonilla  has been given a 100%  an approved voting record grade as determined by the AFL-CIO, her opponent Steve Glazer is running against these stands. As a moderate Democrat he wants laws created banning public employee strikes and controlling public pension liabilities on all levels of government in California. This figure has recently been come estimated to be over 80 billion dollars in the red.

If Glazer were to win the election against the Democratic Party backed candidate, it would serve notice to a least slow down the public employee gravy train.

Perhaps this reality facing “big labor” might explain why they have thrown over 2 million dollars into this race. Even then there is concern among the Democratic Party hierarchy and the Central Labor Council that a change in tactics might be in order.

At a recent Central Labor Council meeting all hell broke loose when Craft Union representatives learned of the plans to recall Mitchoff. In the past they have been strong supporters of her as Mitchoff has been a friend making sure their unions performed project labor work for the County.

With much indignation the craft unions asked why the Sheriffs and Fire Fighters did not go to them first prior to publicly declaring their plans to recall Mitchoff? They wondered why should the Central Labor Council even exist when members choose to go rogue on such an important undertaking?

There is also the money element to consider if organized labor tries to depose Mitchoff. It would cost at least $ 25,000 to collect the 11,000 signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. Once that task would be completed, an excess of $ 100,000 would be needed to put on a credible campaign against her.

tim-grayson-concord-mayor-2014Even then who would run? The most logical choice Concord Mayor Tim Grayson would likely not be interested as he has his sights set on filling Susan Bonilla’s Assembly seat when she moves on the Senate or is termed out in 2016. Most established political figures don’t want to become involved with messy recall campaigns.

What viable candidate would care to oppose Mitchoff? Even if such a person could be found there is also a possibility that the seat could be won by a conservative Republican that labor unions would really hate. If there were ever a case of “Beware what you wish for” or the Aesop’s Fable advising “Look before you leap,” this would be it.

Not to be forgotten is the fact In Contra Costa County Sheriffs Dept. managerial employees have pay-benefit packages in the $ 300,000 plus a year range. 505 patrolmen counting overtime averaged $165,554.00 in 2013. These figures are even higher with their new contract. Fire Fighters, who have in the past opposed changing work rules to lower costs, are making a comparable amount of money in their contracts similar to their law enforcement brothers and sisters.

If this sounds like oppressed workers stuff that is going to motivate voters to depose liberal Democrat Karen Mitchoff, the DSA and UPF are delusional. It can asked in the present political environment, where there is a considerable amount of voter sentiment against public employee unions, why would voters come to the rescue to workers whose average household income are two or three times larger than theirs?

Let us not forget that that in 2014, public employees of Contra Costa felt the same way about Mitchoff yet could not muster a candidate of their liking to run against her. Instead they have decided to fight her with frivolous law suits and in the court of public opinion. In a word, get a life!

tim sbrantiThis turn of events cannot be making the Country Democratic Party very happy. Last November their chosen candidate Tim Sbranti was defeated by Republican Catharine Baker. This resulted for the first time in a decade that one of their people was not elected to a legislative seat in the Bay Area.

Then came what amounted to the primary on March 17th to fill the Senate Seat. Heavily endorsed Progressive Susan Bonilla qualified for the run-off against labor’s arch enemy Steve Glazer while tallying almost 10,000 fewer votes in doing this.

Even gaining most of the support from fellow defeated liberal Joan Buchanan, Bonilla’s chances are no better than a tossup against moderate Democrat Steve Glazer who has campaigned for pension reform, against BART strikes, and making the legislature more non partisan in solving California’s complex problems.

What so called “Big Labor” may not be aware of is that were Glazer to win May 19th, it may no longer be possible to expect those in the legislature to follow the so called “party line”. For them this means being Progressive team members; voting how organized labor wants on virtually every issue , as Susan Bonilla and others have done, may not happen any more.

Were Glazer to win, there would definitely be a crack in the armor of the so called George Miller Political Machine that has ruled Contra Costa politics for the last 35 years. There is a distinct chance that his coalition of organized labor, environmentalists, and entitlement advocates, may not completely dominate as they once did.

With so much at stake, if this does not explain why voters might need to call the roto-rooter man to unclog their mail boxes from Special Election propaganda, then I have some open space on the bottom of San Francisco Bay to sell you.



How Catharine Baker won California’s 16th Assembly District race

In the highly contested 16th Assembly District race between Democrat and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, and political newcomer Republican Catharine Baker, it was expected to be a close election to be decided by a handful of votes.

Catherine Baker calls for end to BART StrikeWhen all precincts reported, Baker trounced her opponent in Contra Costa County by a startling 42,599 to 36,589, while  gaining almost 54% of the popular vote. When the whole district was tabulated, including some heavily Democratic precincts in Alameda County, Baker won the election by over 4000 votes.

She turned in the most amazing performance of any Republican candidate in California on November 4th. While every GOP office seeker on the State level was easily defeated by largely complacent Democrats, Catharine Baker cruised to victory against all odds.

How did this happen, especially considering Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, won 67% of the vote over Judge Tue Phan, for the CD-11 Congressional seat covering a large swath of the same group of voters?

Tim Sbranti is an excellent retail politician and community leader. He is as good or better than most progressive Democratic office holders who have represented the Bay Area  for the past quarter century in the California legislature.

In the June Primary Sbranti,came in second to Baker, ahead of fellow Democrats Steve Glazer, a city council member in Orinda, and Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich. The three Democrats garnered almost two thirds of the votes cast.  It was anticipated Sbranti would pick up most of the support from his defeated Democratic foes.

Also to be considered is that no Republican had been elected to the legislature in the Bay Area since 2006.

Tim SbrantiEven running a  centrist campaign in the independent minded 16th Assembly District that features a great number of “decline to state” voters, Sbranti got buried. How could this happen even with the GOP wave engulfing the rest of the country that never reached California? Additionally Baker was outspent approximately 3-1 by her opponents!

In the end it did not matter. Baker’s plain spoken message resonated with voters. Among the issues she stressed were:

  1. State government has gotten too powerful and inefficient. It needs to be reduced in size and more decision making placed at a local level.
  2. While supporting losing Superintend of Public Instruction candidate Marshall Tuck, Baker said more has to be done to improve the 46th rated school system than merely throwing money at it. She advocated reforming tenure system for teachers and lessoning the State’s roll in dictating to individual districts how the local schools should be run.
  3. While supporting Prop 2 with reservations, Baker made it clear that real pension reform be the first step in managing $340+ billion of unfunded liabilities owed to public employees.
  4. Restrict the right of essential public employees (BART workers) to strike because of the impact on safety and the economic well being of those affected.
  5. Balance the State budget transparently without gimmicks.
  6. Kill the High Speed rail project backed by Governor Brown until the economy improves.
  7. Promote job growth by reducing government regulations and red tape.
  8. Reduce the tax rates to help small businesses prosper and not want to leave California for other states.
  9. Create more highly paid jobs in the private sector, so State government could reduce subsidies to working middle-class and low-income families struggling in the current economy.
  10. Promote a sensible water policy that increases storage and conserves resources

Given this agenda, Baker said she wanted to break the gridlock in the legislature between Democrats and Republicans. The pro-choice mother of 11 year old twins told voters she is prepared to cross party lines in a non-partisan manner to get things done.

Apparently those who journeyed to the polls or turned in write-in ballots saw something in Catharine Baker that wanted them to at least give her a chance to advance positive change in Sacramento. Exit polls showed those who supported the Baker are frustrated with the ineptitude of a government that screws up at every turn, from building the Bay Bridge, to being pushed around by public employee labor unions.

Voters in the 16th Assembly District preferred a small business attorney with no experience in elective office over a seasoned politician with deep connections to the California Teachers Association (CTA) and other Sacramento power brokers to represent them in the Assembly.

Baker’s approach sounds a lot like the words and actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Despite fierce opposition from organized labor and liberals, the fiscally conservative Republican  just won his third election in 4 years.

Assemblywoman comments on California budget 2014-2015Walker has demonstrated the middle class is simply not willing to believe economic conditions are improving while their gross household income continues to decline. These voters do not want to cast ballots for progressive politicians who advocate for even larger government with little to show for it.

What Catharine Baker accomplished in winning the 16th Assembly District is likely not being shrugged off by Democratic leaders as a mere deviating election.

The entrenched powers have been put on notice. Without a Democratic Supermajority in the legislature, Democrats will have to do a better job to provide value than just passing red-taped laced “Nanny” like legislation to cure all that is wrong in the world.

A move to the middle of the political spectrum will likely soon to be on display. Early next year a special election will be called to fill State Senate Seat (SD-7), vacated by Mark DeSaulnier who will take  retiring George Miller’s (D-Martinez) spot in Congress.

Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) and Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), who both currently serve in the state legislature, are expected to run in this contest. Strategies that tack to the center will attract voters in the diverse Senate District. Bombast about the War on Women,  reproductive rights, favors for government employee’s labor unions, picayune environmental issues, and more entitlements, won’t be enough to get either one of them elected.

joan-buchanan-cd-10Both candidates will need to put forth their positions on bread and butter issues addressed by Catharine Baker in winning Buchanan’s termed out seat in the Assembly.

After the GOP darling’s startling performance, it is also possible  a prominent Republican candidate may also contend for the open  Senate seat. The only perquisite being enough money to enter the race to run a viable campaign against the two powerful Democratic office holders.

As the 2014 election cycle proved, it is not business as usual from Washington D.C. to sunny California.

All bets are off in the next couple years as the feisty Baker arrives in Sacramento to do battle in the legislature. She will be in the public spotlight as a leader of the GOP by proxy. The fact is the declining fortunes of the Republican Party badly needs a shot of adrenaline to become relevant once again.

Catharine Baker just might be up to this task.


Concord incumbents triumph in Council race

Questioning the perceived vulnerability of City Councilman Ron Leone was a popular pastime among his challengers for one of the three open spots filled in Tuesday’s election. According to this theory, four times elected Laura Hoffmeister and Mayor Tim Grayson were untouchable, leaving Leone as the weak link among the incumbents.

Concord incumbents win reelection

It was postulated by his critics that Leone, with his lifetime health benefits from his service on the Mt. Diablo Hospital Board and  on  the Concord City Council, was a betrayal of public trust. Even though he donated his Hospital Board benefit to the American Cancer Society, this did not deter those running against Leone from crying foul.

Ultimately, what amounted to wishful thinking was answered in spades as voters saw through the red herring conspiracy charges.  By a comfortable margin they gave Leone, along with the two other incumbents, four more years on the Concord City Council.

Why did Concord Incumbents win?

For one thing, none of the challengers was able to convince voters that the local government is being run improperly. City Manager Valerie Barone is highly thought of in the community and the vast majority of citizens are comfortable with the way she has been able to prioritize scarce resources to best serve the people. Going along with this perception, the current Council is credited with wise stewardship in guiding the City thru difficult economic times.

In the area of leadership, those opposing the “Big 3” Concord incumbents were not able to convince voters they had “a better mouse trap” to justify kicking the bums out. As an indication of how close the incumbents were to those trying to unseat them is the fact they all overwhelmingly supported extending Measure Q for another nine years. The only exception was anti-government minded Patrick Hoogabom, who is considered to be a “loose cannon” in most political circles.

Unlike the election of 2012, when outsider Edi Birsan upset the apple cart to defeat candidates favored by the “establishment,” no 2014 challenger was able to harness enough grass roots support to gain the votes needed toConcord incumbents win reelection even show in the Council horse race.

Two years ago Birsan invested a great deal of his time as a community activist working with neighborhood groups and local organizations prior to the election. Having unsuccessfully run in 2010 he had name familiarity that none of the challengers in 2014 with the possible exception of Dr. Harmesh Kumar and Terry Kremin possessed. Even though most who ran against the incumbents worked on city committees and local organizations, what they did was dwarfed by Birsan’s contributions prior to 2012.

Also to be noted is, with the exception of Edi Birsan, no one in recent history has been able to overcome the immense influence of the Police Officers Association (POA), labor unions, Garaventa Enterprise, Susan Bonilla, Mark DeSaulnier, and Mark Peterson to win elective office in Concord.  This block’s support has almost always translated into victory.

In addition, these organizations and individuals have not only leant their names to endorsing successful Concord incumbent candidates but have also provided them with economic resources to finance their campaigns. All three who were elected had plenty of funds to pay for posters, mailers, and a professional campaign manager to guide them.

None of the unsuccessful candidates in 2014 with the possible exception of Harmesh Kumar were able to bankroll the minimum amount to send enough direct mail to materially affect the outcome of the election.

So how does one get elected to the City Council in Concord?

The best way to do this is make a name for one’s self in public service. Working on committees and organizations connected with local government has proven to be an effective way to do this.  In addition, it helps to gain support from the power elite of Concord who are the ultimate keeper of the cards when all is said and done.

Getting appointed to the Concord Planning Commission is an important stepping stone where Ron Leone and Laura Hoffmeister once served.  Tim Grayson received a great deal of notoriety as chaplain for the Concord Police Department.

Dan Helix, Sr., a former elected Concord City  Council memberboasts a lifetime of public service that bolstered his election in 2012. All of these individuals including Edi Birsan more than paid their dues prior to assuming their posts.

So we can say to Brent Trublood, Adam Foster, and Terry Kremin, and Harmesh Kumar, hang in there. Continue to serve the community and wait your turn until the next election cycle in 2016 when two seats are at stake.

Those openings belong to current Concord incumbent office holders Dan Helix and Edi Birsan. Helix has indicated he will be retiring while Birsan is assumed to be running for re-election. So who will emerge as front runners to participate in this race?

Carlyn ObringerOutside of those who ran this time around it is expected that Carlyn Obringer and Tim McGallian, who both ran in 2010, can be expected to toss their hats in the ring once again. Taking the establishment route, neither of them wanted to challenge the incumbents this year and try to unseat them.

In 2016, they will want support for those who backed the winners in this election. It is not a coincidence that Obringer and McGallian are both currently serving on the Planning Commission and could be considered the establishment frontrunners for 2016.

This does not mean that other viable candidates may emerge. Two years is a long time in local politics. Missing in this election cycle is a strong Hispanic presence in the City Council race. Since Concord has a large ethnic population from South of the Border. There is certainly room for someone in the very near future to fill the shoes of the late Michael Chavez, who briefly served before his untimely death seven years ago.

It is certain that the “establishment ticket” of Concord incumbents and allied forces in the 2016 election will do everything in their power to defeat Edi Birsan. Ever since his election in 2012, Birsan has proven to be a gadfly who the power brokers in town look to with a considerable amount of disdain. His confrontational Brooklynese grass roots populist approach to politics has not been warmly received by his detractors.

In this year’s election, Birsan went against the grain and openly campaigned for Brent Trublood to replace the incumbents. This has caused friction resulting in him being made a total outcast by his colleagues on the City Council. Whether Birsan can mend fences and perhaps someday get a “second” on one of his motions before this group in the next couple years remains to be seen.

One thing for certain; come 2016 the “Orkin Army” will come out with all of their fury to defeat him. What happened in 2012, when the POA hits pieces came out against Birsan just prior to the election (that ended up backfiring,) is undoubtedly just a preview of coming attractions.

Isn’t politics fun?