Making Democracy Work

VOTER-December-2011

LWVO Holiday Party

Friday, December 16, 2011
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

At the home of
Louise Rothman-Riemer and Davis Riemer
5560 Harbord Drive, Oakland

You are welcome to bring a dessert, finger food,
champagne, sparkling cider, or eggnog to share --
or just bring your good spirits!

Parking is somewhat limited, so carpooling is encouraged

President's Message

By Katherine Gavzy

Here we are entering the holiday season, and I'm sorry to say that most of the events and issues featured in this month's VOTER are not about peace or goodwill, but about money. When we do the League's voter service work -- education about ballot measures, registering new voters - we often hear " why bother, the politicians are all corrupt and big money interests control everything." Voter cynicism and apathy can destroy a democracy. I still believe what I told one of the occupiers at Frank Ogawa Plaza when we went there to register voters: the only way to accomplish meaningful and lasting change is through the vote.

But it takes hard and persistent work to control the corrupting influence of money on the political process. Here are some areas where that work is ongoing.

Our State League is looking at the initiative and referendum process, as you will read below, and how to offset the advantage of well-funded initiative campaigns that use paid signature gatherers. The League is also joining other good government organizations to support the California DISCLOSE ACT, which will require more detailed and comprehensive public information on who is really paying for political advertising and mailers. See the story, and come to the January 7th meeting to learn how you can get involved.

Occupy Oakland and the other Occupy movements across the country protest economic inequality and the inequality of access to political power. The League needs to pay close attention to this movement and its message, and to give serious consideration to how we as League should respond. Board member Louise Rothman-Riemer "contributed her thoughts below", focusing on questions around free speech. We would like to open a discussion among our members. We welcome everyone's ideas: please send an email to info@lwvoakland.org, or post on our Facebook page. The dialogue will continue in the January VOTER - we want to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I look forward to enjoying everyone's company at our annual Holiday Party December 16th. This has been an exciting and purposeful year for LWVO; let's get together and celebrate ourselves.

Occupy Oakland

and the Challenges Surrounding Freedom of Speech

Occupy Oakland, part of the larger Occupy Wall Street Movement, illustrates the many challenges to the exercise of freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. On the day of the Oakland General Strike, thousands of people gathered to make their concerns known and to address what they considered egregious inequality as a result of observed economic disparities. They assembled, they marched, they spoke, and they exercised their First Amendment Rights largely in an exemplary manner. These rights were challenged later that night when clashes with the Oakland Police turned violent and protesters and police alike were harmed.

The Occupy Oakland demonstrations attracted large numbers of people from very different backgrounds and perspectives. Most of the people who participated either by camping out at City Hall or just joining those who were encamped acted in a peaceful and respectful manner. But not all did; some felt that a violent reaction was called for and they acted accordingly. Because the movement itself was of such interest it also attracted the homeless, those with some measure of mental instability, and a criminal element.

And there is where the canker gnaws. How to allow for demonstration of free speech when the speech itself, the place it occurs in, and many of the people involved are threatening too many and create health and public safety issues for which government feels the need to respond? Government at all levels must deal with this important issue.

The First Amendment, while prohibiting restrictions based on content of speech, does not bar government officials from placing non-discriminatory and narrowly drawn "time, place, and manner" restrictions on the exercise of such rights. Normally, "public forums" such as streets, sidewalks and parks are places where all types of expression are constitutionally protected. But whose street or park or sidewalk is it? How do we handle that intersection where the right to assemble and to exercise one's freedom of speech rubs up against those who for whatever reason oppose or wish to restrict those actions?

The Occupy Oakland Movement provides our community with an opportunity to discuss, to learn and to experience how our community can provide, promote, and encourage freedom of speech. At the same time there is a need to establish standards and procedures that allow for the exercise of First Amendment Rights while simultaneously maintaining acceptable levels of public health and safety. As members of the League of Women Voters we can help promote dialogue about our constitutionally protected freedom of speech. This is a "seize the moment" opportunity to educate ourselves and our community on these basic and important Constitutional Rights.

--Louise Rothman-Riemer

LWVO Board Highlights

At its November meeting the LWVO Board members discussed the following topics:
Board approved the report of Education Committee on LWVO consensus to the National Education Study. See below.

Action Committee plans to meet with City Council members about our recommended approach to redistricting for City Council districts.

Board voted to endorse the California Disclose Act. See below.

Next meeting will be December 12 at St. Paul's Towers.
All LWVO members are welcome to attend.

League Legislative Interview with Assemblymember Sandre Swanson

By:
Marjorie Blackwell, Piedmont LWV
Mike Robles-Wong, Alameda LWV
Echa Schneider, Oakland LWV

1. Q: The governor has proposed a package of budget cuts, increased revenue, realignment of services and funding between state and local government, and some one-time fixes. What is your evaluation of this proposal?
A: He has served on the Budget Committee for the past 4-1/2 years. The budget should reflect our values and priorities; unfortunately the debate has been largely about dollars and balancing the budget, especially during the previous administration. The vehicle license fee cut cost us $40 billion. We had to backfill by borrowing. Then the recession made a systemic problem, which won't be addressed by cutting alone. What kind of state do we want to live in? Education has lost $20 billion in 4.5 years; billions have been lost in safety net for most vulnerable citizens, which cost the state money. Gov. Brown's approach is refreshing and truthful; spending cuts combined with revenue proposals makes sense, but he disagrees with the balance. Realigning responsibilities between the state and local government should be fairly evaluated, with dollars going where the responsibility is shifted. He does not agree with shutting down redevelopment agencies especially where those programs have resulted in infrastructure benefits to the community such as libraries and senior housing. Redevelopment can be reformed but should not be used to support frivolous projects.

2. Q: What proposals do you support to fix the budget process?
A: Changing the two-thirds vote to a simple majority in order to pass a budget was a good start. We should also make it a simple majority for the right to go to the people for a vote. (The budget shortfall) could have been resolved by now. Hopes there will be a ballot measure in Nov. 2012 to ask for a majority vote to increase taxes. Right now, it's a tyranny of the minority (2 Republicans in the Assembly and 2 in the Senate.) Tax reform is needed: we should look at what other states are doing; many other sources of taxation are possible. Increasing the tax base in this manner makes it possible to depend less on personal income taxes; should also look at raising the taxes of the top 1% income bracket, and taxing more services, such as legal services, and an oil severance tax.

3. Q: What are your thoughts regarding the high-speed rail project?
A: It can transform the state by making it possible to live very distant from our major urban centers and open up opportunities to build strong communities elsewhere (Central Valley) by keeping the money locally. Not designed to be profitable immediately. We should focus on the jobs and the business opportunities locally this project will create, as well as the positive impact it will have over generations. It's an investment we have to make. The Legislative Analyst Office report was too narrow. He will have to evaluate further the LAO suggestion that Caltrans manage the project.

Q: What other major issues do you think the legislature must address in 2011? What are your priorities?
A: He is currently the Chair of the Labor and Education Committee. The first priority is the budget, followed by education and employment. Simply put, a better educated workforce attracts business. His advocacy for education starts at pre-school and after-school, all the way through college. Child-care is key to increasing opportunities for work. Local government should have greater use of the parcel tax mechanism, and the 2/3 bar should be lowered. Legislator term limits should be raised to 12 years, which he believes would significantly temper the budgetary posturing of many legislators preparing to run for another office. An area of legislative advocacy he is most proud of is a pair of laws (AB 499 and AB 17) that identify child prostitutes as victims, rescues them from human traffickers, and seizes the assets of convicted traffickers to help rehabilitate these victims.

4. Q: Which advocacy groups are effective in California and why? Which groups do you particularly listen to?
A: His door is open to all, and he works hard to not to pre-judge any group seeking a meeting. This has resulted in great ideas from labor and business, and other less known groups as well, including the very successful "There ought to be a law" project. He counts the League as one of many effective advocacy groups, but points out that he doesn't necessarily agree with every League point of view. He makes no apologies for being a pro-working family representative. His mom was a nurse and his dad a bus driver. He knows the value of labor and believes the only way the middle class can survive is through jobs.

Be a Voice for the League

Are you comfortable using a telephone answering machine?
Do you like to talk with League members and the public who have questions about upcoming League programs, elections, political issues?
Would you like to volunteer in the League office for an hour or two one afternoon a week, or every other week?
Long-time office volunteer Gretchen Hayes is taking a break from her Wednesday afternoons at 1305 Franklin St., #311, and has asked me to find a replacement for her
. We know she's irreplaceable, but ..... Call Bonnie if you'd like to know more about being an office volunteer or are willing to become one.
Bonnie Hamlin - Office Coordinator (510) 658-6212

TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT

Come to a HOT TOPICS discussion

The goal: reduce greenhouse gas emissions through regional plans for mixed-use commercial and residential development close to mass transit, jobs, etc. Learn about what is happening in the Bay Area and future prospects in this area.

Monday, December 5
6:30 - 8:00 p.m.

TransForm Conference Room
436 14th Street, Suite 600
(corner of 14th and Broadway, near 12th Street/ City Center BART station)

The League of Women Voters of Oakland sponsors monthly HOT TOPICS roundtable discussions to inform members and the public, and to seek ways we can come together to address important issues facing our community.

Initiative and Referendum

November Program Meeting Summary

Trudy Schafer, the Senior Director for Program for LWV California, discussed the initiative and referendum processes at the November 15 Program Meeting. Trudy talked about how these voter rights came about in 1911 and pointed out some of the current criticisms of the initiative process, which include:
▪ inflexibility - in most cases, the language of an initiative cannot be changed once the petition is being circulated for signature;

▪ inaccessibility - although the filing fee for an initiative is only $200, it can take upwards of $10 million to collect the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot and then for education, advertising, and marketing costs to get the initiative passed;

▪ path of least resistance - despite the potential problems with the initiative process, it is often still easer than getting legislation passed with a divided legislature. Many groups, including the State League, are discussing possible reform concepts. Areas for reform include attempts to:

▪ increase transparency by requiring more disclosure of the financial supporters and opponents of initiatives;

▪ level the imbalance of monied interests, which may include increasing the amount of time during which signatures can be gathered. The idea is that a longer signature gathering period would allow initiative proponents to save money by using volunteers more than paid signature gatherers; and

▪ increase citizen engagement. One idea is to use independent citizen panels to analyze each initiative. If you are interested in possible reforms of the initiative and referendum processes, there is still time to get involved in the State League study! Get more information on the LWVC website: ca.lwv.org/, then from the left column select Issues-Initiative and Referendum.

Making Democracy Work Awards

Nominations Sought
Each year at the All-City Luncheon in April, LWVO announces the winners of the Making Democracy Work awards. They are usually given to one individual and one organization in Oakland that have, in the League tradition, helped to make Oakland strong, vibrant, and fair.

Previous awards have gone to non-profits, businesses that have improved their communities, and individuals who have taken leadership roles in initiating and sustaining community projects.

Nominations are sought from the community and from LWVO members. If you would like to nominate someone for this award you can find the nomination form at the LWVO Web site: http://www.lwvoakland.org Deadline for nominations is Friday, December 16th.

LWVO Completes LWVUS Education Study

The LWVO Education Committee lead a series of three forums this fall as we participated in the LWVUS study: The Role of the Federal Government in Public Education. At these meetings members learned about the history of the role of the Federal government in Education, current developments related to National Common Core Standards and Assessments, and Equity and Funding (including that for education of disadvantaged children and for children up to the age of five). Background articles for this study are still available at the LWVUS website.

LWVUS posed 15 questions for local chapters to discuss and on which to attempt to reach consensus. With no exceptions and few comments, LWVO reached consensus on all 15 study questions. Examples of our consensus outcomes include: strong agreement with the statement that "A quality public education is important to perpetuate a strong and viable democracy." LWVO also favored a combination of non-competitive and competitive funding grants from the Fed to the states for education.

At the LWVO board meeting on November 14, the report of the Education Study consensus outcomes was approved. The Education Committee will now submit the results to the National Education Study Committee which will incorporate them with those of other chapters across the country as they formulate a position on the role of the Federal government in public education for the LWV US.

Note: Anyone interested in receiving an electronic copy of our report to National may request one from Education Committee chair Yolanda Schonbrun at yoschteach@yahoo.com. We will publish the new LWV US Position on Education (or its internet address) in The VOTER as soon as it becomes available.

Your League in Action: Clean Money Campaign

LWV California supports passage of the California DISCLOSE Act of 2012, Assembly Bill 1148. LWVO is joining a number of groups, spearheaded by the California Clean Money Campaign, endorsing a major effort to rally public opinion for passage. LWVO signed on as one co-sponsor of a campaign kick-off event this coming January 7th, 10 AM to 12 noon, in Hearing Room 1 of Oakland City Hall. Be on the look-out for more about this later in December.

"DISCLOSE" stands for "Democracy Is Strengthened By Casting Light On Spending in Elections." AB 1148 is a two year bill that will come up for its first hearing next year. It is based on the federal DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) that passed the House of Representatives in 2010 and will include other reforms specific to California. As an amendment to the Political Reform Act of 1974, AB 1148 can be put into effect either by a 2/3 vote of the legislature or by a majority vote placing a measure on the ballot for the voters to decide. AB 1148 would apply to all ads supporting or opposing ballot measures or candidates that are paid for by independent expenditures. It will require clear and prominent identification of actual funders, not just the "generic" committee names. When top funders of political TV and radio advertising are forced to appear in the ads and say that they "helped pay for this message and approve it", voters will immediately know which special interests are behind multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Then they can decide for themselves whether they trust the source. It will also impose new disclosure requirements for election mailers.

National League Study on the Privatization of Government Services

The goal of the Privatization Study is to identify policy issues to be considered in connection with proposals to transfer federal, state or local government services, assets and/or functions to the private sector. It will review the stated goals and the community impact of such transfers, and identify strategies to ensure transparency, accountability, and preservation of the common good.

The ultimate goal is a new LWVUS position on privatization that can be used to support advocacy at the national level and, where appropriate, at state and local levels. If you would like to lead or help with LWVO's participation in this study, please contact our Program Chair Katherine Oberle (koberle@bztm.com).

The study has begun and is expected to wrap up by May 2012. LWVO will hold a meeting in March to engage members in the issues. For further information go to http://www.lwv.org, click on "Members only," then on "Projects and Programs," then on "Privatization."

SHARE THIS WITH A FRIEND. INVITE THEM TO JOIN US!

Membership in the League of Women Voters of Oakland is a bargain and a statement. A bargain because you will have access to valuable information and insights via the VOTER newsletters and LWV Web sites, through membership not only in LWVO but also in LWV Bay Area, LWV California and LWVUS, and via a variety of events and dialogues with key leaders throughout the year.

Your statement as a League member will be that you are committed to providing non-biased, well-researched information to voters, and that the issues your League follows are those that affect every area in Oakland: schools, public safety, local government, parks, our economy, and more.

Join the League, one of the nation's most trusted, nonpartisan grassroots organizations where "hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement."

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Membership

Welcome New Members
Dan Barki
Patricia Walsh

Changes to the Roster
Meg Bowerman -- new email
Bonnie Killip -- new email
Katherine Oberle --new email
Miranda Perry -- cell phone #
Susan Schroeder -- corrected email
Miriam Steinbeck -- new email

Condolences
We are sorry to report the death of Lloyd Bishop, husband of League member Phyllis Bishop, on October 25. We send our sympathy to Phyllis and her family.

Have You Renewed Your Membership for 2011-2012?

Check the date on the mailing label of your VOTER. If the date is lower than 8/31/2011, we do not have a record that you have renewed, and your membership has expired.

We don't want to lose you; mail the form on this page with your check to the League office or call the office to have the renewal form and Interest Survey sent to you. Or use the Join Us function on the Web site:.

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