If members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association were feeling better about Governor Schwarzenegger, the return of what I call the "Sign Guys" might... well... be a sign that all is not well.
This afternoon, an SUV pulling a large billboard trailer could be seen driving a loop around the streets near the Capitol.
On both sides of the billboard were messages about Schwarzenegger.
On one side, a large photo of the governor's head had been placed atop a weather vane that appeared to be spinning from one direction to the next, with the caption, "Thar He Blows." On the other side, there was another large Schwarzenegger photo-- with the phrase, "The Devil Is In The Details."
The Sign Guys were last seen in 2005, when numerous prison guards took turns driving a similar billboard around the Capitol; that one featured a large less-than-flattering paparazzi photo of a swimsuit-clad Schwarzenegger on vacation in Hawaii.
In recent months, various news reports, and even a federal court-appointed investigator, have implied that the governor's top advisers have been trying to patch things up with the guards. But the Schwarzenegger administration has yet to strike a deal on a new contract with the CCPOA; in fact, talks seem to have stalled. And on top of that, the governor's massive prison reform proposals are expected to be introduced in the Legislature on Monday. And as such, the timing of the Sign Guys doesn't seem like an accident.
I flagged down the two gentlemen in the SUV, confirmed that they were from the union, and asked whether the sign was about either of these issues, or both.
"It's about him in general," said the driver, who smiled and drove away.
The traveling message may be nothing more than a poke in the eye. But the guards union has long been a political powerhouse in California. And one of the current parlor games for politicos revolves around trying to guess what the CCPOA will do this election cycle: will the union keep its checkbook closed? Or will it launch a repeat of 2005 and go after the governor with millions of dollars in campaign activities?
The Sign Guys aren't saying.
For reporters that have grown, let's say, complacent with the slow pace around the Capitol during the summer recess, Senate President Don Perata (D-Oakland) provided some nuggets of news today on the minimum wage, redistricting, prison reform, and more.
Without further ado, the highlights from his afternoon news conference...
* Minimum Wage: In what sounded like a break from many of his fellow Democrats, Perata told reporters he'd be willing to abandon efforts to attach a mechanism for future automatic minimum wage increases (known as "indexing") if the hourly wage goes up by more than the current proposal of an extra $1 an hour. "I would trade indexing for a buck-and-a-half, I'll just tell you that flat out," he said. Labor unions and others have maintained that future increases linked to the cost of living are essential. The issue is currently under discussion both through legislation at the Capitol, and a special committee of the state's Industrial Welfare Commission (which meets tomorrow morning).
* Redistricting: The Senate leader all but squelched any hope for supporters of a redistricting proposal to be on the November ballot. Perata, who has continually sounded doubts that the issue is really a pressing one for average citizens, said he now wants the current bill-- SCA 3 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach)-- to get out of his chamber in 2006, but with amended language that places it before the voters in 2008. "I frankly feel it would be a huge mistake putting it on this November's ballot," he said. Perata explained the delay on the fact that lawmakers still need to sort out the details, and also that the November ballot is already "congested" with a lot of other propositions. And Perata went on to say that he thinks SCA 3still suffers from the same problem as did last year's defeated Proposition 77: that retired judges would still be a part of the redistricting process (though in this instance, they would not draw political maps-- rather, they would choose the panel of citizens who would draw the maps).
* Term Limits: Perata also seemed to scuttle any notion of a proposal this year to modify the state's term limits law, regardless of whether it is linked to redistricting (as has been the buzz at the Capitol for months). "If it's done by the Legislature," he said, "it will be tremendously scrutinized" by the public.
* Prison Reform: With a special session looming to consider Governor Schwarzenegger's package of prison reform proposals, Sen. Perata sounded enthusiastic about some ideas (more efforts to rehabilitate) and less so about others-- most notably, focusing on new prison construction when there are still prison jobs that can't be filled. "We are woefully understaffed," he said. "So if you're talking about building [two] new prisons, that's terrific. Where are you gonna get the 4,000 new prison guards that would bring those prisons, and the rest of them, up to strength?" Perata hinted that a problem this large may not have solutions that can be pushed through the legislative process in the one month left of the 2005-06 session. "There's been, I think, a little too much thinking on the run," he said. "I'm for people taking a deep breath."
* New Indian Gaming Compacts: And in a response to the future of any new Indian gaming agreements being ratified by legislators in August-- specifically efforts to revise some tribes' existing deals-- Perata said there's very little time left. "They're gonna have to get negotiated [by the governor], and to us, fast," he said. So how long do the various tribes and the governor have, according to Perata? "To err on the side of safety, [August] 14th or the 15." Not much time, indeed.
[4:45 pm NOTE: The Perata briefing also touched on the issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, with the senator at one point referencing the people who complained to the governor about illegal immigrants in a town hall event a little more than a week ago. Perata was clearly annoyed. "You've got all these crackers down in... San Diego, taking on the governor," he said. This afternoon, he appeared to have a change of heart about those words, sending out a statement that said, in part: "While I am concerned about the coarse and divisive tone used by a small minority in the driver's license debate, I believe that the vast majority on both sides are people of good will."]