California Governor Urges Overhaul of Democrats’ Strategy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an overhaul of Democrats’ political strategy on Saturday, saying the party is “getting crushed” by Republicans in part because they are too timid, often forced to play defense while Republicans “dominate with illusion.”

Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas — the territory of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, one of Newsom’s chief political foils — Newsom was careful to praise current party leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But he said that mantras that may have worked for the party in the past — like Michele Obama’s famous quip “when they go low, we go high,” — simply don’t work today because “that’s not the moment we’re living in right now.”

“These guys are ruthless on the other side,” Newsom said. “Where are we? Where are we organizing, bottom up, a compelling alternative narrative? Where are we going on the offense every single day? They’re winning right now.”

Newsom said that’s why — even though he is running for reelection as governor of California — he has been spending some of the millions of dollars in his campaign account on TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state’s gun laws, and putting up billboards in seven states urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

“There’s nothing worse than someone pointing fingers. What are you going to do about it?” Newsom said. “The reason we’re doing those ads is because … the Democratic Party needs to be doing more of it.”

Of course, the main reason Newsom can do those things is because he faces little pressure at home. Newsom is likely to cruise to a second term as governor of California in November, facing a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt.

Newsom’s actions have increased speculation he might be running for president, an idea he has repeatedly denied — doing so again on Saturday in Texas. Asked if he was considering running for president in 2024 or 2028, Newsom said: “No, not happening.”

“I cannot say it enough,” he said. “I never trust politicians, so I get why you keep asking.”

Newsom said that President Joe Biden’s first two years in office have been “a master class … on substance and policy.” But later, he said good governance, by itself, is not enough to win elections — adding that “otherwise Biden would be at 75% approval.” In reality, about 53% of U.S. adults disapprove of Biden, according to the most recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The problem for Democrats, Newsom said, is that they “fall in love so easily” with “the guy or gal on the white horse to come save the day.”

“We missed a more important paradigm that leadership is not defined by that person in formal authority, it’s defined by people with moral authority every single day,” he said.

Newsom’s aggressiveness could end up helping Abbott, who is locked in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said there has been concern among some in the Republican Party that Abbott is “not conservative enough.” Newsom’s attacks against Abbott “only helps him with those people,” Grasso said.

“If you stress that they’re right-wingers, you call them extremists, using that kind of language, all you are going to do is enhance their popularity in their own base,” he said.

Despite that risk, Texas Democrats seem to be welcoming Newsom’s attention.

“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he’s showing the contrast between what y’all do in California and what the narrow-minded, extremist positions that occur here in the state of Texas.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Former Union Leader Charged with Embezzling Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Union Dues

Felix Luciano, 60, of San Diego, was arraigned Friday in San Diego federal court

A former Department of Homeland Security officer and head of a labor union accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the union he represented has been indicted in federal court in San Diego, according to prosecutors.

Felix Luciano, 60, of San Diego, was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in San Diego on charges, including wire fraud and making false statements, stemming from allegations he used money from the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2805 for his own benefit.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded not guilty.

No defense attorney for Luciano could be reached immediately Friday evening.

Prosecutors said Luciano, a former enforcement removal officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was president of the labor union that represents DHS-ICE employees in San Diego and Imperial counties from 2011 through December 2018. Among his duties was to maintain the “fiscal integrity of the organization,” prosecutors said.

He retired in December 2018, when the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards was conducting an audit of Local 2805.

According to the indictment, Luciano used union dues to pay for personal expenses for himself and his wife between December 2013 and January 2019. The expenses included luxury travel, personal credit card payments, website design for his wife’s business, a custom gun safe, dining and groceries, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors allege that Luciano used the union’s debit and credit card to pay his personal expenses and wrote checks to himself from the union’s checking account using false descriptions like “per diem” in the memo lines.

He then concealed his actions by reporting false information on the union’s annual financial reports, prosecutors said. On a 2017 report, Luciano allegedly reported that Local 2805 had disbursed $3,068 to him (directly or indirectly) when the correct figure was more than $20,000, prosecutors said.

“When employees pay their hard-earned money into labor unions, they reasonably expect the officers of those organizations to be honest stewards of their dues,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Our office will work diligently to pursue justice against offenders who have allegedly stolen from their own unions at the expense of members.”

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

California’s Education Revolution

‘Schools have kids for 9 months out of the year; parents have their kids for a lifetime’

Many parents want to know why public school teachers can’t just let their kids be kids without forcing sex and an inappropriate sexual agenda on them in grade school, middle school and high school.

This, as well as the Critical Race Theory agenda, is what led to the astounding parent revolution first witnessed in Virginia, but now never so prominent as it is in California.

California lawmakers even passed the quixotic Assembly Bill 367 by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, which now requires that one boys’ bathroom in every middle and high school have tampon dispensers.

Christopher Rufo with the Manhattan Institute and City Journal, has chronicled the shocking sexualization of school children as young as pre-kindergarteners. And it’s not the birds and the bees radical teachers are exposing the kids to.

In his most recent report, Rufo exposes the National Education Association promoting a how-to guide for “anal sex,” “bondage,” “sadomasochism,” and “fisting” in public schools.

Rufo says the NEA and its local affiliate in Hilliard, Ohio, which have been providing staff in the Hilliard City School District with QR code-enabled badges, “which point to the “NEA LGBTQ+ Caucus” website and resources from gender activist organizations including Scarleteen, Sex, Etc., Gender Spectrum, The Trevor Project, and Teen Health Source.”

Rufo continues:

One of these linked resources, Teen Health Source’s “Queering Sexual Education,” which promises to “empower youth” and includes a how-to guide for performing “anal sex,” “bondage,” “rimming,” “domination,” “sadomasochism,” “muffing,” and “fisting.” The materials are extremely graphic, explaining how to, for example, “[put] a fist or whole hand into a person’s vagina or bum.”

The Teen Health Source page would make the most hard-as-nails, grizzled longshoreman blush.

This is a screen capture of the NEA LGBTQ+ website, showing the partners: CTA, the  California Teachers Association labor union, as well as California Casualty, auto and home insurer.

It appears that the more parents reveal the fanatical sexual agenda in public schools, the more extremist it becomes.

California is ground zero for all around wackiness

President of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network, and education analyst Larry Sand, writing recently in American Greatness, reports on a recently published PDK International survey which reveals that only 50 percent of all adults have confidence that teachers can teach civics, and just 38 percent believe that they can handle “gender/sexuality issues.”

“What could possibly be causing such negativity?” Sand asks. “For the most part it is due to the ‘woke’ revolution that is impacting the lives of American children.”

Sand explains that California, “ground zero for all around wackiness is where the state puts its stamp on an endless parade of perversity.” He offers these examples:

  • In Los Angeles, the school district proudly hosts a “Rainbow Club,” which is a 10-week district-wide virtual club for “LGBTQ+ elementary school students, their friends and their grown-ups.” The poster specifies that it is for children in TK-5th (“TK” or transitional kindergarten is comprised of 4-year-olds.)
  • A high school teacher in the Capistrano school district has a “queer library” in her classroom. It is filled with over 100 books—some of which contain sex imagery, information on orgies, sex parties, and BDSM.
  • Also, the state’s education department is recommending books to young students that teach expanded sexualities and gender identities. For example, the state recommends “Julian is a Mermaid” for preschoolers and kindergarteners. The book describes a young boy who wants to be a sea-dwelling creature, after he sees a parade of people dressed up as mermaids while out with his grandmother. The boy puts on lipstick, makes himself a mermaid costume, and his grandmother gives him a beaded necklace to complete his outfit.

This is fanaticism. But Sand correctly points out, “On a local level, parents hold the key.”

“The grassroots parents revolution is real and it is going to erupt in all parts of California,” Lance Izumi, the Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, told the Globe. He continued:

“It was parents in San Francisco who threw out far-left extremist school board members who were totally out of touch with the education concerns of the community. Now you are seeing slates of parents running for their local school boards popping up all across California. These parents are fed up with the politicized curricula and ideological indoctrination their children are receiving. They are also fed up with the special-interest agenda of the teachers unions, plus the wholesale failure of the public schools to improve the achievement of their children. Parents have brought their energy to school board meetings and have demanded that their districts be accountable and transparent. Now they will be bringing that energy, focus, and commitment to the polls in November. I predict that there will be wholesale turnover in school boards in many districts and that parents will end up holding the reins of power. It will then be up to them to effect real change in the public schools and ensure that children and parents come first.”

California Superintendent of Public Instruction

The outsider candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Lance Christensen, told the Globe Wednesday, “everything that touches education curriculum comes from the Superintendent’s office,” as the Superintendent sits on the California Board of Education.

Christensen, a father of five said:

“As education policy continues to spiral to things inconsistent with community values and parents’ desires, they realized recourse was not coming from their school boards. No one else was going to stand up and save their kids.”

“So in the year of the parent, people are stepping up to fight for kids and bring sanity back to schools,” Christensen said. “I personally endorse anyone running for school board who supports parents rights and school choice.”

“And it is going to be at the local level that we take our schools back, and I am going to be the voice of that movement,” Christensen added. “Having a massive bully pulpit for parents’ rights is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The rights of parents

“This year, the rights of parents are on the ballot like never before,” Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) says on his endorsements page of school board races. Kiley recently announced he was supporting and endorsing outstanding pro-parent, pro-student candidates running for school board throughout California, and says he will continue to do so.

Kiley’s initial endorsements grew into his “Champions for Kids” directory, which is available on his website.

“The role of school boards has never been more important, and in the upcoming election we have an opportunity to set education in California on a new course,” Assemblyman Kiley said. “I’m proud to be supporting several hundred pro-parent, pro-student candidates for school board throughout our state.”

This catastrophic learning loss

Shawn Steel, California’s committeeman for the Republican National Committee, recently wrote an op ed at the Globeexposing the UTLA, the L.A. teachers’ union, which “strongly opposed standardized tests during the COVID-19 pandemic. That testing data could have sounded the alarm on the catastrophic learning loss caused by remote learning,” Steel said. “At every turn, UTLA aggressively blocked plans to reopen schools. In March 2021, 91 percent of UTLA members opposed reopening schools and remained in distance learning programs that were causing kids to fall behind.”

After denying that learning loss, the UTLA then opposed extra teaching days to help kids catch up. “There is no such thing as learning loss,” Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers Los Angeles told Los Angeles magazine last year.

“This catastrophic learning loss should be the greatest concern for teachers. Instead, the top teachers’ union brass denies that it exists at all,” Steel said.

CA Teachers Union Did Oppo Research On Parents Who Wanted Schools To Reopen During COVID

The Globe recently reported that Reopen California Schools exposed via emails received through California Public Records Act requests that the California Teachers Association labor union conducted opposition research on parent groups pushing for school reopening during the government ordered COVID school shutdowns in California. Instead of a healthy reaction and response to so many parents’ concerns, the CTA doubled down and went on offense and politically targeted moms and dads protecting their children.

The Globe talked with Dry Creek School Board candidate Jean Pagnone (above) on why she made the decision to run for her school board – she definitively spells out her determination:

“I made the decision to run for the Dry Creek School Board when I realized that I could no longer watch state and local schools fail our children, parents, and teachers. Schools have kids for 9 months out of the year. Parents have their kids for a lifetime. I think one of the things we learned from the pandemic is that we don’t have the luxury of blind trust when we send our kids off to school each day. What we’re seeing are parents being ignored and not respected – whether it’s a lack of transparency on subjects that are controversial or sensitive or medical decisions that belong with the parent. I’ve also heard from a lot of teachers who have quit or are thinking of leaving because they aren’t comfortable with what they’re being told to teach. And let me tell you, there are a lot of great teachers out there who are fighting for the kids, but they cannot speak out publicly.”

Click here to read the full article in California Globe

Sheriff properly obtained search warrants for supervisor’s home, judge says

Seized materials can’t be searched until a third-party overseer is appointed

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge did not find “any irregularity” with the way the Sheriff’s Department obtained search warrants for the homes and offices of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and other county officials, according to a hearing Thursday, Sept. 22.

Still, Judge William Ryan ruled he would not allow either the sheriff’s detectives, or the Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case this week, to search the seized computers and cellphones until he could appoint a third party, called a special master, to weed out any information protected by attorney-client privilege.

“I am going to appoint a special master because of the claims of privilege,” he said. “I think that needs to be overseen.”

Ryan originally had questioned why the sheriff’s detectives went to a different judge, instead of Judge Eleanor Hunter, who was already presiding over legal challenges to nearly identical search warrants executed by the Sheriff’s Department last year.

Previous court order

In court filings ahead of the hearing, attorneys for Kuehl and L.A. County Metro’s Office of the Inspector General accused the sheriff’s investigators of attempting to circumvent an existing order from Hunter that would have required a special master to participate in the raids and expressed concerns about the involvement of Judge Craig Richman, a longtime associate of Detective Mark Lillienfeld, a member of the sheriff’s Public Corruption Unit.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Max Fernandez originally tried to present the new warrants to Hunter, but she was not available, according to Ryan. The courts sent Fernandez to Richman instead and Richman chose not to appoint a special master, though Fernandez requested one.

“As far as I’m concerned, that puts to bed the issue of whether there was any irregularity in the obtaining of the search warrant,” Ryan said.

The targets of the searches have argued the warrants are overly broad and intrusive, but Ryan declined to rule on the merits of the probe, instead saying such a decision would likely be decided in the future by potentially another judge.

The Thursday hearing involved more than half a dozen attorneys, including separate representation for Kuehl, county oversight Commissioner Patricia Giggans, L.A. County Metro, Metro’s Office of the Inspector General, the sheriff and the attorney general.

Was Kuehl tipped off?

According to Ryan, investigators already have conducted about 50 searches — primarily from devices taken from Kuehl — and even worked overtime trying to determine if Kuehl was tipped off about the search warrants in advance. Kuehl, in an interview, said she received a text message the night before from the County Counsel’s Office about rumors that warrants would be executed the next morning. The Sheriff’s Department also has alleged that Giggans and her attorney greeted deputies at the door.

Kuehl’s attorney, Cheryl O’Connor, pointed to the rush to search Kuehl’s phones for the “tip off” as evidence the department was searching beyond the scope of the warrants. Ryan, in response, likened it to stumbling “across a dead body” while conducting a different investigation.

“It is a very serious allegation that the supervisor had been tipped off that this search was coming ahead of time,” Ryan said. “It’s potentially a felony.”

Lucrative contract

The Sheriff’s Department has indicated its probe is focused on contracts awarded by L.A. County Metro to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by Giggans. Kuehl, a lifelong friend of Giggans, serves on Metro’s board of directors and also is listed as a member of Peace Over Violence’s advisory board. The contracts, which totaled $890,000 over a six-year period, never came before the board for a vote and were approved by CEO Phil Washington.

A whistleblower, whose complaints are the backbone of the sheriff’s case, alleges Kuehl pushed for the contracts behind the scenes. Kuehl has denied the allegations and accused Sheriff Alex Villanueva of targeting her and Giggans for their vocal criticism of him. Both clash frequently with him and have called for his resignation.

The Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday, Sept. 20, it would take control of the investigation following a letter from Villanueva urging Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate whether Kuehl had been tipped off. Bonta, in response, said he would take the entire case over because the two investigations are “intimately related.”

“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered and, given the unique circumstances, my team has committed to taking over this investigative process. Make no mistake: We are committed to a thorough, fair, and independent investigation that will help restore confidence for the people of our state. If there is wrongdoing by any party, we will bring it to light.”

Return of property

Much of the discussions at Thursday’s hearing revolved around how soon seized property could be returned.

The representatives for Kuehl and Giggans urged a speedy return of the computers and cellphones as their clients have suffered from the loss of the equipment. O’Connor, the attorney for Kuehl, said the supervisor was working from home and now only has access to a single cellphone to conduct county business.

“There is no reason taxpayers should have to purchase new devices in order for her to do her duties,” O’Connor said.

Attorney Austin Dove, who represents Giggans, said Peace Over Violence has been “crippled by this search warrant” after deputies seized both its server and the backup. The nonprofit is unable to serve its more than 600 clients as a result.

“Two weeks is death for my client,” Dove told the judge. “I don’t believe they can survive that long.”

Ryan ordered the Attorney General’s Office to determine if it could quickly digitally duplicate the devices and then return the physical hardware without hindering its investigation.

Susan Schwartz, a deputy attorney general, suggested Ryan order the Sheriff’s Department to turn over its investigatory records and the seized property within the next two weeks, but Ryan declined to do so, saying he wouldn’t force the matter unless the agency refused to cooperate. Fernandez, sitting in the audience, told the court his unit would meet the two-week deadline voluntarily.

Double representation

Though a sheriff’s spokesperson previously released a statement saying the County Counsel’s Office had fired the department’s attorney, two sets of attorneys turned up on its behalf, creating confusion in the court.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Daily News

California Attorney General Takes Over LA Corruption Probe

California’s attorney general on Tuesday took over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation of a county supervisor who had called the corruption probe an act of political retaliation.

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta listens during a news conference as California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces his nomination for state’s attorney general, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was assuming all responsibility for the investigation into contracts awarded to a nonprofit group run by a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The state Department of Justice asked the nation’s largest sheriff’s department to stop its probe and hand over its evidence in the case.

The Sheriff’s Department released a letter that Bonta sent Tuesday to Undersheriff Timothy K. Murakami that said he has authority to take over investigations “in the public interest” and ordering the department to cease activity in the case, including making public statements or court filings.

For more than a year, the Sheriff’s Department has been investigating some $800,000 in contracts awarded by the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “social service agency dedicated to the elimination of sexual and domestic violence and all forms of interpersonal violence.”

The contracts were to operate a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transit.

The group’s executive director and CEO is Patricia Giggans, a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The Sheriff’s Department has said it was looking into whether Kuehl was improperly involved in obtaining contracts for the group.

Kuehl is a fierce critic of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and has called for his resignation. She appointed Giggans to serve on the Civilian Oversight Commission that monitors the Sheriff’s Department.

Both have denied wrongdoing in regard to the contracts.

Last week, sheriff’s deputies raided county offices and the homes of Kuehl and Giggans but a Superior Court judge has ordered the Sheriff’s Department to temporarily cease searching any computers and hard drives seized in the raids.

Kuehl and Metro challenged the validity of the search warrants, with lawyers for Kuehl writing in a court filing Monday that raids at Kuehl’s home and office were “politically motivated and retaliatory.”

The filing called warrants for those searches a “flagrant abuse of power and an offense to the rule of law.”

Villanueva had recused himself from the investigation but has discussed it in interviews and on social media as he campaigns for reelection.

Meanwhile, on the day of the raids, the sheriff asked Bonta to look into whether Kuehl and Giggans had improperly received advanced notice of the searches. In Tuesday’s letter, Bonta said he would look into the allegations but also was taking over the Sheriff’s Department probe.

“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement released by his office. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered.”

Click here to read that the full article at AP News

In Nonpartisan Race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, It’s All Politics

The superintendent of public instruction is the only nonpartisan statewide office in California, but it seems impossible to separate politics from the race between Democratic incumbent Tony Thurmond and Republican challenger Lance Christensen.

Neither shy away from stepping into the partisan fray.

As superintendent, Thurmond, who was elected in 2018 after a term in the California Assembly, has been in lockstep with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. He has promoted LGBTQ-inclusive books in school libraries amid fights against them in some Republican-led states; issued a statement supporting abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade and launched discussions about institutional racism after the police killing of George Floyd.

Christensen, an education and government affairs director for the conservative California Policy Center, has railed against Newsom, teachers unions, comprehensive sex education, critical race theory and masks in schools during COVID-19. Unlike Thurmond, he opposes a November ballot measure to secure abortion access in the California constitution.

Christensen, who also has state Capitol experience as a staffer to Republican lawmakers, said that politics don’t matter in the race for state superintendent. 

“I’m not running as a Republican. It’s not partisan, it all comes down to ideology,” he said. “My ideology is such that I just really believe that parents own their children and have full control over them, not some bureaucrat.”

Thurmond disagrees that the politics don’t matter. 

“I think that he’s articulating dangerous messages that actually would have a negative impact on many of our students. We need to prevent young people from being coopted in these hateful messages,” Thurmond said of Christensen. “If you come in attacking teachers as he has, attacking social groups, how is he going to build any coalition to support the important work that needs to be done?”

For Thurmond, who has had a tumultuous first term as superintendent, Christensen’s politics could work in his favor. 

Thurmond has endorsements from the influential California Teachers Association and the California Democratic Party in a state where a likeminded supermajority reigns. Those endorsements come despite allegations of a toxic workplace and criticism for hiring a friend on the East Coast to helm a top-paying state Department of Education position.

Thurmond’s team pointed to Christensen’s affiliation with the Bradley Impact Fund as one reason why he should not be elected. According to his 700 forms, last year Christensen was paid $2,050 by the conservative organization, which has promoted baseless election fraud claims in support of former president Donald Trump.

Christensen said that “is not relevant at all,” and though he is outspoken about his conservative views, he laments the focus on his political stances that aren’t directly tied to the operation of California’s K-12 schools and success of its near 6 million students.

“Donald Trump has zero to do with what I’m trying to accomplish here, but because I have an ‘R’ behind my name, that’s what they’re going to hit me with,” Christensen said.

Unlike in most states, the superintendent of public instruction in California is elected by voters instead of appointed by the governor. 

The superintendent oversees the California Department of Education, which employs more than 2,000 employees and ensures schools stay in compliance with a slew of policies, including how they spend state dollars.

But local school boards and county superintendents have much say over what happens in their districts, and in many ways, the Legislature and state school board have more power over education in the state than the superintendent of public instruction.

Arguably, the SPI’s greatest power is the bully pulpit, as they can fight for the ear of the governor and lawmakers to influence policy and provide guidance to local districts.

If elected in November, Christensen said he will appoint a “chief parent advocate” to influence education policy. He has also vowed to audit state Education Department dollars to slim down “bureaucratic bloat”; overhaul what he calls archaic education code and give even more authority to district superintendents in a state that is already pro-local control. 

Thurmond, if reelected, has vowed to ensure that every current kindergartener — more than 450,000 students — can read by the third grade by 2026. Currently, less than half of California’s third-graders read at sufficient levels, according to the latest state test scores. The third grade is viewed by educators as a crucial academic marker when students go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Thurmond also has goals of hiring 10,000 new counselors in schools. He pointed to legislation he sponsored to acquire funding in the latest state budget for programs focused on mental health workers as one of his proudest accomplishments, citing the need for emotional support for youth.

“The most important thing that a state superintendent can do is find ways to work with the governor and the Legislature to get resources for districts,” he said. “It’s about understanding all the parts of how you get policy done and how you get revenue.”

Christensen does not see Thurmond’s past as a state lawmaker as a benefit, but a detriment. Parents are tired of the status quo and lifetime politicians, he said. 

“They all universally say it’s not acceptable,” Christensen said of parents he’s met on the campaign trail discussing the state of public education in California. “[Thurmond] is absolutely ineffective.”

The odds are in Thurmond’s favor. He has 20 times more campaign funding than Christensen, raising $1.7 million in direct contributions alone. The California Teachers Association has put more than $1 million into an independent expenditure committee to reelect him. 

And not a single Republican has been elected for statewide office in California since 2006.

But incumbency has its downfalls too. Thurmond must answer tough questions about declining enrollment, a teacher shortage, alarming standardized test scores and how the state plans to correct pandemic setbacks. 

“Even though it’s not something I have direct control over, I knew day one that I would get blamed for all kinds of things that would be out of my control. But that’s OK, I’m deeply committed to having young people have success,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time trying to explain it away. At the end of the day, people have a right to be upset and we have to be very focused on that.” 

Christensen believes that voters care about Thurmond’s record enough to vote him out, including parents frustrated with the state’s handling of school closures and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic under his leadership. Thurmond was criticized for not being out in front of pandemic issues, unlike superintendents in other states.

While Thurmond could have won the race in the June primary had he garnered enough votes, he fell short of the 50% needed, securing about 46%. Christensen came in second place, with nearly 12% of the votes.

This superintendent race pales in comparison to the 2018 election, when Thurmond and fellow Democratic candidate Marshall Tuck sparred in a close, $60-million competition focused on charter schools.

Like Tuck, Christensen supports charter schools — his children have attended them. Thurmond supported teachers unions in their fight against them, promoting a law signed in 2019 that cracked down on regulations and standards for the non-traditional public schools.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Inside the Team Pioneering California’s Red Flag Law

There were four more requests for gun violence restraining orders on Jeff Brooker’s desk when he arrived at the San Diego City Attorney’s Office that July morning.

Officers had responded to a minor car crash at a mall where the driver, who carried a replica firearm, was rambling delusionally and threatening to kill the “one-percenters” and a public official. Another man, during an argument outside a family member’s home, had pulled a gun out of his waistband and pointed it at someone’s head as several others looked on.

It was not an unusual number of new cases for the department’s eight-member gun violence restraining order unit, which Brooker oversees. In an average week, they triage 30 referrals from local police, reviewing scenarios in which officers believe a resident is at risk of committing gun violence.

About a third of the time — in those instances when the person clearly poses a danger to themselves or others, and they aren’t already prohibited from possessing weapons for another reason — the office will petition a judge to temporarily seize their firearms, under a six-year-old California statute that was among the country’s first “red flag” laws.

More than 1,250 times since the end of 2017, when San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott launched the pioneering unit, Brooker’s team has successfully filed a gun violence restraining order, leading to the seizure, as of April, of nearly 1,600 firearms from 865 people — far more than any other agency in the state. An estimated one-third of the weapons, most of which are handguns, have since been returned to the owners.

“Do you believe this person should have a gun? Your own sense is the best test,” said Brooker, who employs a cable television thought experiment to illustrate how he tries to depoliticize the highly charged red flag law: If a case hypothetically turns into a major news story, how might it be covered by both liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and conservative Fox News anchor Sean Hannity?

“If this is a case they can agree on, this is the kind of case we’re going to file,” Brooker said.

These red flag laws, touted by advocates as one of the best tools available to prevent gun violence, received a renewed push this summer after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Congress responded by passing rare gun safety legislation, with bipartisan support, that could provide hundreds of millions of dollars to help states adopt or expand their own red flag laws. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws, but a recent analysis by the Associated Press found that many of those are barely used.

In California, which ranked seventh in number of cases per capita, San Diego has been a model.

With many jurisdictions still slow to adopt the use of gun violence restraining orders, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services announced in July that it would provide $1 million to the San Diego City Attorney’s Office to expand its training efforts to other law enforcement groups.

“We must work together to make sure our gun safety and red flag laws are being used to protect our communities. They’re being underutilized,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said at a joint press conference with Elliott last month. “Others should take San Diego’s lead — be aggressive, use the tool that is there.”

A pioneering program

While the California law allows police, close family members, housemates, employers, co-workers and school officials to seek a gun violence restraining order for someone they believe poses a danger to themselves or others, nearly all cases in the state are initiated by law enforcement. Assembly Bill 2870, now before Gov. Gavin Newsom, would expand the list of eligible petitioners to include more family members and people who are dating or share children with the gun owner.

A judge can immediately order the person to relinquish their guns and declare them ineligible to purchase firearms and ammunition for three weeks or, after a hearing, extend the ban to as long as five years. The person can then petition once a year to lift the order and have their weapons returned.

Under Elliott, San Diego has invested in its red flag program like nowhere else in California, with close coordination between the city attorney’s office and the police department to streamline the process for obtaining an order. Brooker’s team includes three attorneys, a paralegal, a legal secretary, a police officer and two retired police officers who work part-time as investigators, preparing cases for review.

Petitions for orders arrive around the clock, Brooker said. While police can obtain an emergency order directly from a judge to take someone’s firearms for 21 days, the city attorney’s office steps in to decide whether to pursue a longer-term seizure of a year or more. Brooker’s team is in court every morning filing paperwork and conducting hearings for new cases or existing orders that are expiring.

The investigators had already been in for several hours when Brooker arrived at their fifth-floor office, overlooking Civic Center Plaza in downtown San Diego. Informational packets were ready for several new petitions that had come in overnight.

Brooker’s corner office overflows with “Star Wars” memorabilia, including a signed poster of Princess Leia and an Obi-Wan Kenobi T-shirt sharing a coat rack with his jackets and ties. On his bookshelf, a tome about the original Star Wars trilogy abuts Shakespeare’s collected works and a copy of the Constitution.

His team’s goal is only to remove guns from a situation until it can be made safe, Brooker said, so sometimes they work with a person on a plan to return their firearms, rather than requesting to extend the order.

This is more common for threats of suicide, when the gun violence restraining order can provide someone with time to cool off and stabilize. If drug or alcohol abuse is involved, or if a person seems to have deeper mental disorders, Brooker said his team will likely ask for a longer seizure of their weapons.

“They’re not all bad people or criminals,” he said. “Some of them are just going through a period of crisis.”

Taking a cautious approach

The most common types of cases depend on what’s happening in the world. Brooker said that domestic violence, suicide, child abuse, protest threats and social media threats all picked up during the coronavirus pandemic. Around holidays, there are more domestic violence and suicide cases, while after any mass shooting, there are many potential copycats.

“If there was ever a time I was rethinking my life and career, it was in that month after Uvalde,” Brooker said. Schools were going into lockdown every day, graduations were being threatened and his team was out every night executing search warrants for weapons that a judge had ordered removed.

Brooker said he takes a cautious approach to filing cases, because he is concerned about blowback from gun rights advocates. Every petition is investigated by the retired police officers to ensure that the potential threat is not based on unvetted evidence or an old history of violence.

“I know they’re waiting for us to file one bad case so they can jump all over us,” he said. “That’s the case that’s going to bite us.”

Though the red flag law has not encountered widespread resistance in California, it does remain deeply controversial with gun rights activists. Critics argue that the law violates due process rights by allowing a judge to order someone’s firearms removed before they’ve ever had a chance to defend themselves and by requiring that person to go to court to get their weapons back. Groups across the country are eyeing new legal challenges to red flag laws, which have been consistently upheld in court, following a summer Supreme Court ruling that strengthened gun rights.

Sam Paredes, executive director of the advocacy group Gun Owners of California, called the law an “insincere” attempt to deal with gun violence, without dealing with the underlying mental health issues or other dangerous situations. 

“We don’t have an issue with trying to deal with people who are identified as a danger to themselves or others. We have an existing procedure to deal with that all the way,” Paredes said. “Gun violence restraining orders or red flag laws are nothing more than a political football that is being thrown around the field.”

Considered in court

When Brooker and a colleague arrived at the county courthouse at 9 a.m., they were ushered into the courtroom by the bailiff, who informed Brooker that none of his respondents had checked in yet.

“Good, because I’ve got two dismissals and a continuance today,” Brooker replied.

While Superior Court Judge Adelaida Lopez led the parties and witnesses through an oath, Brooker was on his phone, writing notes about how he expected the cases to go and taking another quick read of the files to be prepared for any questions. In between, he checked his email and snuck a peek at a few photos from his son who had just moved to Switzerland for college. 

Brooker’s cases were among the first to be heard. In one, a man had told police he was trying to drink himself to death. While he didn’t have any firearms that the officers knew of, they wanted to obtain a gun violence restraining order to prevent the man from legally buying one in a moment of desperation.

Brooker asked for another continuance, giving his office more time to serve the defendant with a notice of the hearing.

“We tried him using soft contacts first for officer safety and obvious reasons, so there is due diligence, I can assure you,” Brooker said.

Lopez granted another 21-day continuance. Then Brooker moved to his next case, where the defendant had also been put under a mental health hold, which would prohibit him from possessing firearms and make a gun violence restraining order unnecessary.

“I think we can take it off the calendar. And will that result in a dismissal?” Lopez said. “Item 32 is dismissed. That protective order is dissolved.”

“Very good. Thank you, Your Honor,” Brooker said. The whole proceeding took less than five minutes.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Will You Get a Payment? California Readying ‘Tax Refunds’ For 23 Million Residents

Qualifying couples who pay their taxes jointly and have dependents will get $1,050.

In three weeks, California will begin sending Middle Class Tax Refund payments to 23 million qualifying residents.

The state set aside $9.5 billion from its $308 billion annual budget for the inflation-relief payments. Initially proposed as a gas rebate, the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom settled on a plan to return some of the state’s $98 billion budget surplus to residents struggling with rising prices amid record-high inflation.

“California’s budget addresses the state’s most pressing needs, and prioritizes getting dollars back into the pockets of millions of Californians who are grappling with global inflation and rising prices of everything from gas to groceries,” Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in June when the provision was signed.

Payments will range from $200 for certain high-income earners to $1,050 for married, joint tax filers.

Similar to the pandemic-related Golden State Stimulus payment programs, recipients of the MCTR must be California residents and tax filers in order to qualify. The state will base relief payments on adjusted gross income found in 2021 tax returns.

Also like the GSS distribution, the Franchise Tax Board will be sending the relief money via direct deposits. Instead of sending out paper checks to the nonelectronic filers, the state will mail debit cards.

FTB representatives said Monday that the agency is working on a distribution calendar, but for now, recipients should expect most direct deposits to land between Oct. 7 and Nov. 14.

Households with joint tax filers will get as much as $1,050 if they have eligible dependents and earn less than $150,000 annually in AGI. The benefit falls to $750 for income earners above $150,000 and to $600 for dual-filers who earn $250,001 to $500,000. There is no benefit for joint filers who make more than $500,000 annually or single filers who earn $250,000.

Here’s how it breaks down for single tax filers and those who claim “head of household” on their tax returns:

—Less than $75,000 annually in adjusted gross income will get $700 if they have a dependent. Those with no dependents will get $350.

—$75,001 to $125,000: $500 (with dependent) or $250 without

—$125,001 to $250,000: $400 (with dependent) or $200 without.

MCTR distribution will go something like this, the FTB said Monday:

Direct deposit payments for Californians who received Golden State Stimulus (GSS) I or II will be issued to bank accounts Oct. 7-25, with the remaining direct deposits occurring between Oct. 28 and Nov. 14.

About 90% of the direct deposits will be issued in October.

Debit cards will be mailed between Oct. 25 and Dec. 10 for Californians who received GSS I and II. The remaining debit cards mailed by Jan. 15, 2023.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Gov. Gavin Newsom Strips Fresno County Supervisors’ Power to Draw Election Lines

With his signature on Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom told the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to get lost when it comes to the next redistricting task in nine years. The governor signed legislation by Assemblymember Joaquín Arámbula, D-Fresno, to give those duties to a 14-member community redistricting commission. Arámbula said it was the only way to ensure that the Latino community gets a fair chance at political representation. The five-member board lobbied against the Arámbula bill, saying it takes the redistricting process “away from the voters” who elect the board “and gives it to appointed special interest groups with no accountability to voters.” “AB 2030 proposed to usurp local control and discretion of the County of Fresno’s elected representatives, while other counties with similar demographics and population would maintain local control and discretion over the redistricting process,” the board wrote. Arámbula, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and other community organizations said the supervisors can’t be trusted to draw fair and equitable districts based on the fact that supervisorial districts have changed little despite a spike in Latino population.

Sal Quintero is the sole Latino on the board. Latinos account for 53.4% of county residents, up from about 35% in 1990. There are three Republicans and two Democrats on the board, but Supervisor Brian Pacheco, a Democrat, tends to vote with the three GOP representatives. Registered Democrats are now counted almost eight points higher than Republicans, 39.7% to 32%, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s a change from an even split a decade ago.

The League of Women Voters of Fresno backed Arámbula’s bill. The organization, in a letter of support, said the California Fair Maps Act moved the county closer to “an inclusive and more transparent process.” “However, the lack of an independent redistricting body allowed our county supervisors to disregard public testimony and more than 15 publicly-submitted maps to adopt a virtually unchanged district map,” the league wrote. The board voted 4-1 to adopt a district map that was drawn by county staffers that remained little changed from previous boundaries. A map promoted by the Central California Coalition for Equitable Realignment did not make the final cut despite support from 36 of 46 people who testified before the board. “I’m disappointed,” said former Assemblymember Juan Arámbula after the vote. “I think the time has come to look at requiring counties to set up independent commissions outside of their control to make these decisions because (the supervisors) just have too much self-interest.” Arámbula, the father of the current assemblymember, pushed for independent commissions when he served in the Assembly. Newsom appears to have paid attention this time, a year after vetoing legislation that would have required counties with more than 400,000 residents to turn over redistricting duties to a citizens commission. Newsom also signed a bill by Assemblymember Rudy Salas to create a citizens redistricting commission in Kern County. The Arámbula bill, which sailed through the Assembly 56-20 and the state Senate 29-10, was also opposed by the California State Association of Counties. The bill will establish a 14-member commission with political representation proportional to the county’s voter registration party preference. The Salas bill has identical language. “Fresno County must have an independent citizens redistricting commission that will seriously listen to the voices of people demanding representation that truly reflects their communities and will address their issues,” said Arámbula in introducing the bill. “Our county is changing, and Latinos now make up the majority of the population.”

The legislation, AB 2430, was strongly backed by the Dolores Huerta Foundation, whose community outreach led to an increase in resident involvement during the redistricting process. The foundation also backed community organizations that came up with new district boundaries designed to improve the chances of Latino candidates. In the June primary, José Ramírez and Daniel Parra lost the only contested race, losing to incumbent Buddy Mendes. The community-favored map would have created three Latino-majority districts, and would have kept the Mendes district west of Highway 41 and moved the portion east of the highway into a new district with farming and communities that are different from those that remain in the old district. Fresno County joins the counties of Los Ángeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Bárbara in having a citizens redistricting commission. Kern County got added this year also after Newsom signed the Salas legislation. Latinos represent the majority of residents in Fresno (53.6%), Tulare (65.5%), Kings (56.8%), Kern (54.9%), Madera (59.6%), and Merced (61.8%) counties, yet each have just one Latino/Latina on the board of supervisors. In Kern County, the board of supervisors also opposed the Salas bill, saying “a new and fundamentally partisan redistricting process is being unfairly and unnecessarily forced on the residents of Kern County, over the objection of their duly elected local representatives.” If the board is removed from the redistricting process, the county said, “it makes no sense at all that the board would still be responsible for footing the bill.” After Kern County came up with new supervisorial districts in 2011, it lost a lawsuit to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) over those maps in 2018. MALDEF said the 2011 maps denied Latinos the right to elect their own candidates in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee

A Tax Revolt in San Francisco?

Citizen tax revolts have been waged throughout American history. Indeed, the genesis of the United States was a dispute with Great Britain over taxes. The issue came to a head when colonists in Massachusetts dressed as Native Americans and dumped English tea into Boston Harbor. Literally, the original Tea Party.

But American independence didn’t stop citizens from protesting high taxes. Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 was an armed uprising in Massachusetts in response to a debt crisis among the citizenry and in opposition to the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades. Many historians believe that the difficulty in suppressing the revolt under the Articles of Confederation provided significant motivation to form a more powerful central government.

While the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 did in fact provide stronger federal authority, it didn’t prevent tax revolts. The Whiskey Rebellion, a fierce revolt against the new tax on distilled spirits imposed shortly after the formation of the federal government, was an early test of George Washington’s presidency.

Fast forward to more modern times. California’s own Proposition 13, passed in a landslide election in 1978, initiated the modern tax revolt. And, in an echo of 1776, a new Tea Party movement began in 2009 with a call for lower taxes, a reduction of the national debt, and less government spending. The movement launched the political careers of several members of Congress, many of whom are still serving.

Today’s media likes to portray those of us associated with taxpayer advocacy as ultra-conservative. But in a surprising development, there is a nascent “tax revolt” in the Castro District of San Francisco — whose population, by any objective standard, is the polar opposite of “conservative.”

According to an article by Jessica Flores in the San Francisco Chronicle, business owners in the Castro have repeatedly complained to city officials about the damage that homeless people have inflicted in the neighborhood, only to have the city fail to address the problem.

In response to the indifference of city officials, the Castro Merchants Association sent a letter to city officials urging them to take action on behalf of the beleaguered neighborhood. The letter described the usual problems associated with California’s horrific homeless problem: Vandalized storefronts, open drug use, business owners and customers, not to mention the “psychotic episodes.”

Now merchants say the situation has gotten so bad that they’re threatening to possibly stop paying city taxes and fees. “If the city can’t provide the basic services for them to become a successful business, then what are we paying for?” a leader of the association told The Chronicle. “You can’t have a vibrant, successful business corridor when you have people passed out high on drugs, littering your sidewalk. These people need to get help.”

This threat to withhold taxes and fees may not be on the same level as the violent Whiskey Rebellion or the political sea change of Prop. 13. But it does reflect a problem more pronounced in California than almost anywhere else in America: Not getting the services we pay for.  Is it really so surprising that all citizens simply want services commensurate with the taxes they pay? In fact, complaints about California’s high tax burden often take a back seat to the fact that we pay a lot and get so little.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register