Obama the Listener

Obama the listener

Eric Allie, Caglecartoons.com

Secretary of State 2014: Tight race, cautious candidates

It’s one of the few competitive statewide races in California. And befitting a close contest, Democrat Alex Padilla and Republican Pete Peterson share remarkably close visions for the job of secretary of state.

CalWatchdog.com asked the two candidates a half dozen questions about the job. The responses from both candidates, which are posted in their entirety below, show frequent agreement on the major issues as well as a similar level of caution in the curve balls we threw their way.

Both Padilla and Peterson intend to use technology to improve the office that oversees everything from the state’s election system to business registration. Both the Democrat and the Republican want to increase transparency in the state’s campaign finance disclosure system and promote greater civic engagement in the political process. Both candidates believe it should be faster and easier to start a business in California.

The pair are so similar on the issues that editorial boards have resorted to tacit endorsements of both candidates and consider each to be an improvement over the embattled incumbent, Debra Bowen, who is leaving due to term limits and has admitted having problems with depression.

“Whether you select Pete Peterson or state Sen. Alex Padilla, our expectation is that a problem-plagued, underperforming office will receive the caliber of leadership that has been lacking under two-term Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen,” the Fresno Bee observed in its editorial endorsement for Peterson.

Alex PadillaPraise for Bill Jones, Jerry Brown

The similarities even extend to their opinion of recent secretaries of state.

“Bill Jones successfully used technology to increase transparency, placing campaign finance information online, and posting live election results online in statewide elections,” Padilla said of the Republican who held the job from 1995 to 2003. Padilla also offered praise for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who held the post from 1971 to 1975.

In response to the same question, Peterson, who has said he is modeling his campaign off of Brown’s past secretary-of state campaign in 1970, offered similar praise for Jones.

“Bill Jones is my Honorary Campaign Chair, and in several ways, it feels that we are both approaching the office in similar environments,” Peterson said. “Bill came to an office that had become bureaucratic and antiquated. Over his two terms, he transformed the office into one that used technology (like Cal-Access) to make government more transparent and responsive.”

Pete PetersonBoth cautious, avoid strong positions on controversial issues

On civic engagement, Padilla said he’d “prioritize greater civic education through schools and community groups.” That’s not far from Peterson’s belief that the state “can be doing a better job in civics education at the high-school level to encourage greater youth civic participation.”

But everyone supports improving civics education. What about a controversial proposal to increase youth involvement in politics by lowering the voting age?

In last month’s Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote. It was a resounding success. Young people took the franchise seriously, registered to vote and then turned out in droves.

“Across Scotland, 90.1 percent of 121,497 16 and 17-year-olds have registered to vote,” one U.K. newspaper reported.

According to the Guardian, “Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, was so impressed, in fact, that he declared there was ‘not a shred of evidence for arguing that 16- and 17-year-olds should not be allowed to vote’.”

Polling showed a huge disparity in public opinion between younger voters who supported independence and older voters who opposed it.

Here in California, neither candidate for the state’s top election post was willing to embrace lowering the voting age. Both candidates demurred — only going so far as to embrace pre-registration for young voters.

Neither candidate champions disenfranchised voters with disabilities

Padilla and Peterson were similarly reluctant to champion the cause of advancing voting-rights complaints by people with disabilities.

VIDEO: Pete Peterson — Modernizing the secretary of state & cutting red tapeEarlier this year, a complaint filed by the Disability and Abuse Project alleged that Los Angeles Superior Court judges used literacy tests to deny voting rights to thousands of people with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.

The group’s analysis of 61 conservatorship cases in Los Angeles County found that 90 percent of individuals were denied voting rights. With more than 40,000 conservatorships in California, the group extrapolates that thousands of Californians could be illegally deprived of their franchise.

Surely, the candidates for secretary of state would have an opinion about this denial of voting rights?

Padilla seemed completely unaware of the problem, offering a generic statement. “Every citizen has the right to vote and to have that vote counted,” he said. “While many people with disabilities prefer the convenience of vote-by-mail, there are privacy concerns, and some prefer to go to the polls.”

But his reply doesn’t begin to address the disenfranchisement occurring across the state, nor does it offer an opinion on whether “competency tests” should exist.

Peterson proved to be more familiar with the issue but said only that “he was hoping a court or Justice Dept decision might bring clarity to what the appropriate level of capacity should be.”

Peterson offers more specifics on transparency, business fee

About the only difference between the candidates was Peterson’s willingness to offer more specifics about his plans if elected to the position.

Peterson said he’d work to lower the business registration fee from $800 per year to $100, a level comparable with other states. He also definitely pledged to post his calendar online, a move that would aid the press and public, who currently are required to submit formal public records requests to get that information.

“I am committed to putting my calendar online so Californians know what their SoS is doing,” Peterson said.

Padilla didn’t directly answer the question, saying, “I will comply with the Public Records Act.”

While Peterson had more definitive positions on openness and transparency, he was less forthcoming about his vote for governor in the June 3 primary. In the new Top Two system, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown got the most votes. For the second slot, the battle was between two Republicans: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari. Kashkari won and faces Brown on Nov. 4.

Padilla voted Brown.

Peterson has refused to endorse a candidate, but said he likes Kashkari’s stance on education issues.

Text of the CalWatchdog.com interviews

What follows is the full Q&A CalWatchdog.com conducted with the candidates.

Question: In the June Primary, whom did you vote for governor?

Padilla: Jerry Brown

Peterson: While I’m not endorsing candidates, I can repeat what we discussed in an earlier email exchange, that I like Neel’s focus on jobs and education. And, more recently, I was disappointed with Governor Brown’s decision to oppose the Vergara verdict, which I view (as the judge did, and Neel does) as a civil rights decision.

Question: In Scotland, 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote on the independence referendum. Should we lower the voting age in California?

Padilla: I support legislation to allow 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, so that they are automatically eligible to vote when they turn 18. And to increase turnout among young voters, I will prioritize greater civic education through schools and community groups.

Peterson: I don’t support lowering the voting age, but we can be doing a better job in civics education at the high school level to encourage greater youth civic participation, and I will be making proposals in this area. I do support the pre-registration of 17 year olds, and know we must reform our motor-voter registration system to make this easier to do.

Question: Business documents: As secretary of state, will you commit to putting all business registration documents online? Right now, there’s a processing delay and fee for copies. It’s unclear why the documents cannot be posted online. What other changes can we expect in the area of the office’s business programs?

Padilla: We need to make it easier and quicker to start a business in California. The first stop for entrepreneurs starting a new business is the Secretary of State’s office, and the business filing process should take no more than five business days. In the past, business owners have waited weeks, or even months, to get their registrations approved. That’s unacceptable. And yes, I will work to enable businesses to file online.

Peterson: I am committed to transitioning as many business filing processes to an online platform as soon as possible – particularly business registration and the filing of Statements of Information by LLCs. I am also committed to bringing transparency to how the $800/yr Business Franchise Tax is “spent” in Sacramento, then I will fight to reduce to $100 – similar to other states we compete against for small business jobs.

I am also exited about reforming the SoS office into a data gathering office on our “small business climate”, modifying our business registration and dissolution forms to survey businesses as to why the starting up in, and (unfortunately) leaving the state or closing. I want to make this data available on an annual basis.

Question: Openness and Transparency: Will you promise to post your calendar online? How will your administration interpret the California Public Records Act? Under what circumstances will you pursue an exemption from disclosure? What can voters expect in the area of openness and transparency?

Padilla: I will comply with the Public Records Act. I have proudly sponsored legislation to increase transparency and help restore trust in government, including requiring weekly disclosure of all campaign contributions and online disclosure of all advertisements. I will continue to push for greater disclosure if elected Secretary of State.

Peterson: First, I am committed to putting the SoS budget up online in a format that’s understandable by a 10-year old and an 80-year old. I have done some of this work with cities, and advise a data visualization company in Mountain View called OpenGov.com. Whether that platform or similar, we need transparency to how money is being spent in this agency.

I am committed to putting my calendar online so Californians know what their SoS is doing.

I’m not sure how to answer the PRA question. I have been a long-time advocate for government transparency, and promise to bring this perspective to the SoS office.

On a related matter, I am committed to fully cataloging the data resources compiled by the SoS office (in both voter engagement and business engagement), and making that data available (in a secure but “open” format) to all Californians who want to develop their own applications and visualizations. I look forward to working with civic tech organizations (like MapLight, others) to help them develop applications that are helpful to all Californians – whether in campaign finance reporting or business data reporting.

Question: Of recent CA Secretaries of State, who do you think did the best job, and most closely reflects your approach to the office?

Padilla: I admire Jerry Brown for sponsoring legislation to reform campaign finance reporting, and when that failed, he worked with citizen groups to pass the Political Reform Act of 1974.

I respect Bruce McPherson [Republican secretary of state from 2005-07] for visiting with election officials in each of California’s 58 counties, as I have during my campaign. Listening and learning from local elected officials is crucial to understanding how our elections work on the ground.

Bill Jones successfully used technology to increase transparency, placing campaign finance information online, and posting live election results online in statewide elections.

Debra Bowen did the right thing in decertifying unauditable electronic voting machines when legitimate questions were raised about the reliability and security of the vote.

Peterson: Over the last 20 years, Republicans have proven to be excellent Secretaries of State. Bill Jones is my Honorary Campaign Chair, and in several ways, it feels that we are both approaching the office in similar environments. Bill came to an office that had become bureaucratic and antiquated. Over his two terms, he transformed the office into one that used technology (like Cal-Access) to make government more transparent and responsive. He’s also known by “good government” advocates as conducting the operations of the office in a non-partisan way. He worked well with staff, and demonstrated a real commitment – again, over two terms – to the office.

I also know that Bruce McPherson was an excellent Secretary of State in his (almost) two years in the office. He, too, brought a non-partisan commitment to the office.

Question: In late July, Pete Peterson said he was “looking into the story” of disabled citizens being denied their right to vote. The complaint alleges people with disabilities were barred from voting. What are your thoughts on the disenfranchisement of disabled voters?

Padilla: Every citizen has the right to vote and to have that vote counted. While many people with disabilities prefer the convenience of vote-by-mail, there are privacy concerns, and some prefer to go to the polls. For those who prefer poll voting, counties are working to accommodate people with disabilities. In some counties, for example, there are provisions for curbside voting.

Peterson: I think what I said is that I wanted to “[follow] the case” as I was hoping a court or Justice Dept decision might bring clarity to what the appropriate level of capacity should be.

Question: Should Debra Bowen resign? Are you concerned about the administration of the upcoming election?

Padilla: The nuts and bolts of elections are administered at the local level, by county clerks and elections officials. I’ve met with elections officials in every one of California’s 58 counties and they are prepared for the November 2014 election.

I do not think it is necessary for Secretary Bowen to resign and I believe it would be disruptive this close to the election. During Secretary Bowen’s eight years in office, we have had 7 regular elections and 46 special elections, and we have not had controversies such as butterfly ballots or hanging chads. I intend to be a more active and visible Secretary of State as we work to modernize the office.

Peterson: The premise of my campaign has been that the office has not had committed, creative leadership for many years, and has regressed (relative to other states) in both voter engagement and business engagement. As of today, I don’t think we have a clear sense of how much time the Secretary is committing to the operations of the office, so I can’t say to what degree administration of the office is suffering.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

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