Power to investigate the government mustn’t be erased

congressHere are two important questions which are often obscured by the noise and spatter from the blood sport of electoral politics.

Does honest government matter?

Can anything be done to prevent dishonest government or clean it up?

The answer to the first question is yes, it matters. Voters make choices based on the information they have. A government that makes dishonest statements cannot claim to have the consent of the governed. Instead, it’s governing by force and fraud.

The answer to the second question is yes, unless the government is dishonest.

The tools for preventing and cleaning up dishonest government include laws like the Inspector General Act of 1978, which created internal watchdog offices in government agencies, Justice Department prosecutions and congressional oversight.

It’s easy to dismiss congressional investigations as politically motivated, but the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to conduct oversight, per the language of Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment,” and “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

A necessary part of the power to impeach is the power to investigate.

The House has just initiated impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He’s accused of failing to respond to a lawful subpoena for documents, obstructing a congressional investigation, giving false and misleading statements under oath, and failing to competently oversee an investigation into “Internal Revenue Service targeting of Americans based on their political affiliation.”

Because the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is left to our elected representatives, impeachment is completely different from criminal charges, which the Justice Department declined to bring against anyone in the case of the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,’’ Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress. “But poor management is not a crime. We found no evidence that that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.’’

They may have found no evidence because 422 back-up tapes containing the e-mail correspondence of IRS official Lois Lerner were degaussed (magnetically erased) by IRS employees. The Treasury Department’s inspector general said the destruction of the tapes happened “on or around March 4, 2014, one month after the IRS realized they were missing emails from Lois Lerner, and approximately eight months after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested ‘all documents and communications sent by, received by or copied to Lois Lerner.’”

Was it a misunderstanding or a successful cover-up?

Consider this: Last year, 47 inspectors general signed a letter protesting that three agencies, including the Justice Department, were obstructing investigations of alleged wrongdoing. Then in July, the Justice Department issued a new policy that blocks IGs from gaining access to certain kinds of evidence, including grand jury and wiretap information, unless they first obtain the permission of the head of the agency they’re investigating.

Nixon was run out of town for less.

If an administration won’t investigate itself, there’s no tool in the toolbox except congressional oversight and, if necessary, impeachment.

The only other check on dishonest government is the ballot box. But first, voters would have to believe that honest government matters.

Writing the Rules for the Republicans’ Big Quiz Show

 

Some years ago I worked in game show development for a wonderful actor and TV host, Bert Convy, who’d recently formed a production company. He asked me to create game elements for a new show, and we negotiated an agreement that would pay me a very minimal royalty. I remember sitting in an upholstered leather chair in his office as he stood leaning against the front of his desk, looking irritated.

“I’m really a producer now,” he said ruefully. “I’m screwing the talent.”

Today, I’m going to use this odd talent to solve the problem of how to get 16 Republican candidates into one televised debate.

In addition to my background in game shows, I present my credentials as a former Republican candidate in a primary for U.S. Congress and two elections for the California Assembly. I have participated in debates and forums where there were two candidates, three candidates, four candidates, and 10 candidates. Once I was excluded from a debate and spent the evening in the parking lot talking with members of the press and public.

I offer my considered opinion — as a uniquely qualified professional in the field of bells, buzzers, questions and cameras — that it is a really bad idea to hold a debate with 10 candidates on stage and six in the parking lot.

Aside from the problems inherent in the selection process, 10 is too many candidates to have on stage at the same time. Answers will be repetitive and viewers will struggle to remember who said what. Candidates will pay joke writers for zingers to help them get into the news stories.

And the spectacle will become the story. An MSNBC host will remark that the candidates look like boarding group B for a Southwest flight to Cleveland. Fox News will respond that Hillary Clinton flies on private jets because nobody could afford the airline fees for that much baggage. CNN will cut to a report on a missing plane.

Instead, the Republican presidential debates should follow a format similar to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, where players take the field for just two or three innings. It would work like this:

Segment 1: Four candidates take the stage. Each is given a 20-second introduction by the moderator. Each makes a one-minute opening statement. Then a question is randomly chosen from a selection of questions on domestic policy, and the candidates each have two minutes to answer. Next, a question is randomly chosen on foreign policy, and each candidate has two minutes again. Finally, the candidates each have 30 seconds for a closing statement.

Commercial.

The format repeats until all the candidates have been heard. Current polls would be used to determine the order in which candidates take the stage. The suggested timings would present 16 candidates, in four segments, in two hours.

To give viewers the opportunity to hear more, the sponsoring news organization would conduct interviews of each candidate in advance and post the full-length videos on its website as the debate begins. It’s not the Nixon-Kennedy era anymore — we have the “second screen” to offer options for deeper content than television alone can provide. Viewers can be pointed to the online material with on-screen graphics and comments by the moderator.

This format treats the candidates respectfully and provides clarity for viewers, with a reasonable blend of pace and depth. And it accomplishes the most important goal of a televised debate: enabling voters across the country to see and hear the people who are seeking to become the next president of the United States.

After all, this isn’t a game.

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Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Susan on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

Court Case Pits Voting Rights of ‘Citizens’ Against ‘Residents’

From the San Diego Union-Tribute, written by Steven Greenhut:

California legislators have over the years been softening the distinction between citizens and noncitizens through a variety of measures that make it harder to deport unauthorized immigrants — and provide them with access to state programs.

While a U.S. Supreme Court case won’t affect a state’s right to pass such measures, it could force state officials to make a firm distinction between citizens and noncitizens in divvying up electoral districts. This Texas voting-rights case, known as Evenwel v. Abbott, could shift power away from poorer, immigrant-heavy urban areas to wealthier and more Republican counties — and from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legal experts were surprised when, last month, the court decided to accept the case. Critics of that decision, including Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, argue it “could lead to a system of political segregation that only counts three-fifths of our population — and essentially ignores the rest.”

Click here to read the full column

CA Could Lose Congressional Seats if Supreme Court Changes Law to ‘One Citizen-One Vote’

Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley, flickr

Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley, flickr

While the immediate reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the “one-person, one vote case” has been liberals and minority groups saying “Oh, S***” and conservatives getting excited, the case is much more complicated than that. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of plaintiffs, it would affect two distinct (and often confused) processes. Most articles I’ve read have focused on the affect of district lines.

However, the (and perhaps most significant) effect would be on the apportionment of congressional seats among the states. As Paul Mitchell has pointed out, states with a greater percentage of undocumented immigrants or documented non-citizen residents or even more kids (California, Texas) would lose congressional seats–since they are not considered in the Census’s Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP).

Let’s pause on the last factor. While most of the commentary has been about undocumented residents, those under 18 would also no longer count. California has the third highest percentage of residents under 18, behind DC and Utah. And, of course, DC doesn’t get House seats. Shouldn’t our kids count when education funding is being decided in Washington?

Then there is the impact on redistricting, which could create a couple of additional Republican districts in California.

For California Republicans and Democrats alike, it’s in the state’s interest on the apportionment issue. The last thing the state could afford is to get bogged down on intra-state partisan district line-drawing while our influence in the House of Representatives is ceded to smaller, less diverse states. It would be bad for our technology and film industries, as well as our ability to influence federal funding formulas that determine how much of our tax dollars come back to the Golden State.

Let’s think about the implications before we drink our Kool-Aid and jump into our partisan corners.

Scott Lay is a Higher education Lobbyist and Publisher of The Nooner

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Kamala Harris raises $2.5 million for California Senate bid

As reported by the Associated Press:

Democrat Kamala Harris has raised $2.5 million since mid-January for her U.S. Senate run in California, giving her an early financial edge in the 2016 contest, her campaign announced Monday.

Competitive races are costly, and analysts predict Harris could need $30 million or more by Election Day next year. She is the only major Democrat in the race so far, although potential contenders include several members of Congress.

Harris banked “a lot of money, but it costs a lot of money to run statewide in California,” said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney.

Click here to read the full story

Kevin McCarthy: Bipartisan effort needed to deal with drought

The current drought in California is devastating. The order from the governor should not only alarm Californians, but the entire nation should take notice that the most productive agriculture state in the country has entered uncharted territory. We have experienced extreme drought conditions in years past but thanks to the most sophisticated water system in the country that captured and stored water during the wet years for use during the dry years, our communities and farmers survived.‎ Unfortunately, state officials have turned their back on this proven infrastructure system.

The order is the culmination of failed federal and state policies that have exacerbated the current drought into a man-made water crisis. Sacramento and Washington have chosen to put the well-being of fish above the well-being of people by refusing to capture millions of acre-feet of water during wet years for use during dry years.

These policies imposed on us now, and during wet seasons of the past, are leaving our families, businesses, communities, and state high and dry. These rules and regulations must be changed.

My House colleagues and I have acted aggressively to enact legislation that would have helped protect us from the current situation. In 2011, and again in early 2014, the House passed comprehensive water legislation to increase the amount of water we could capture and store. Unfortunately, the Obama and Brown Administrations and Senators Boxer and Feinstein opposed these proposals. As the drought continued to worsen, the House passed emergency drought legislation in December of 2014 to allow us to capture storm and rainwater from early season storms. That too was blocked by the Senate.

I’m from the Central Valley and we know that we cannot conserve or ration our way out of this drought. It is time for action, and House Republicans are developing another legislative proposal to help put California water policy back on the path to commonsense. Given the announcement, this time I hope Governor Brown, Senator Boxer, and Senator Feinstein will join my colleagues and me in this effort.

Kevin McCarthy is the Majority Leader, United States Congress

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

CARTOON: Obama Deflated

Obama deflate

Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

CARTOON: Crash Test Dummy

State of the Union

 

Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Boxer Exit Begins CA Youth Shift in Congress

Girls may run the world, as in the Beyonce song, but women run California’s congressional delegation. More specifically, older Democratic women — but that could change soon.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement announcement earlier this month kicks off a major demographic shift in California’s congressional delegation, as aging Democratic women move closer to retirement. Democratic women are the oldest group in California’s congressional delegation from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

California’s Congressional Delegation: Democratic women oldest group

The 104 women in the 114th Congress make up 19 percent of the members. In California, that percentage doubles — with women claiming 21 of 55 slots, or 38 percent.

Those numbers don’t tell the full story. There’s only one Republican woman from California in Congress, Rep. Mimi Walters of Orange County. Twenty Democratic women represent California in Washington, D.C. — near parity with their 21 Democratic male counterparts. Yet that parity is likely in jeopardy due to one factor: age.

At 81 years old, Dianne Feinstein is the oldest member of the United States Senate. She isn’t alone. Of the 15 members of California’s congressional delegation that are 68 years old or older, Democratic women take up 11 slots. The average age of California’s representatives in the 114th Congress, including both U.S. Senators, is 59 years old. For Democratic women, that figure jumps nearly a decade to 67 years old.

Even when you exclude Boxer and Feinstein from the tally and just go with House members, Democrats from California bring up the average age of the delegation. Five of the six oldest members of California’s congressional delegation are Democratic women:

  • Rep Grace Napolitano of El Monte, age 78;
  • Lois Capps of Santa Barbara, age 77;
  • Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, age 76;
  • House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, age 74;
  • Lucille Roybal-Allard of Commerce, age 73.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, another 73-year-old California Democrat, is a few months older than Roybal-Allard.

year of the woman

1992 Year of the Woman

Many of California’s Democratic women first claimed a spot in Congress in 1992’s “Year of the Woman.” While the history books highlight the record number of women elected to the U.S. Senate, California also sent Lynn Schenk, Jane Harman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Anna Eshoo and Lynn Woolsey to the House of Representatives.

Robin Swanson, a California political strategist who has worked for the state’s top Democratic politicians, is optimistic that California is ready for another wave of women.

“We’re long overdue for another Year of the Woman,” she said.

More Democratic retirements around the corner

The remaining members of the class of 1992 are now among the oldest members of Congress and are, obviously, more likely to retire.

When asked about a possible retirement in 2016, Napolitano’s office was unambiguous. “Congresswoman Napolitano is not retiring,” said Jerry O’Donnell, her press secretary. “She plans to run for re-election.”  Despite her advancing years, Napolitano isn’t slowing down. Last week, she reintroduced H.R. 291, “W21: Water in the 21st Century,” a plan to provide “new incentives and investments to help local water agencies, residents and businesses to conserve, recycle and manage limited water supplies.”

A spokesperson for Capps was less emphatic, saying it was still too early to know whether the eight-term Central Coast congresswoman would call it quits this term.

“It’s been less than two weeks since the 114th Congress began, so her focus isn’t on 2016 yet,” said Capps’ spokesperson Chris Meagher. Her focus is “on representing the people of the Central Coast and fighting for the issues they care about.”

Intra-party challengers not waiting for retirements

Even if Capps and Napolitano decide to seek reelection, they could face upstart intra-party challengers —  thanks to California’s Top Two primary system. Older House Democrats have faced spirited challengers from younger politicians in the last two election cycles.

In 2012, then 80-year-old Rep. Pete Stark was unseated by fellow Democrat and 31-year-old challenger Eric Swalwell. Last November, Ro Khanna came within a few points of knocking off 73-year-old Rep. Mike Honda.

Age was a clear factor in both races, where the younger challengers portrayed the seasoned veterans as out-of-touch, especially on technological issues. Honda, according to emails obtained by San Jose Inside, needed his government staff’s help to “set up his personal Netflix account.”

In 2016, state-level politicians eager to move up California’s political food chain could get impatient, knowing un-elected Democratic challengers, such as Swalwell and Khanna, have cut in line.

Shift in Congressional demographics: 113th to 114th Congress

The 113th Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service:

  • An overwhelming majority of Members of Congress with a college education.
  • The dominant professions of Members are public service/politics, business and law.
  • Most Members identify as Christians, and Protestants collectively constitute the majority religious affiliation.
  • Roman Catholics account for the largest single religious denomination, and numerous other affiliations are represented.

In the 114th Congress, according to The Hill:

  • There is a record number of female lawmakers at 104, alongside 430 men, following the departure of former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).
  • Lawmakers have an average age of 57. The Senate is older than the House, with an average age of 61 to the lower chamber’s 57.
  • Democrats on average are older than Republicans in both chambers, at 62 to 60 in the Senate and 59 to 54 in the House.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

CARTOON: Red Senate


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