There's a sort of unwritten, and yet often violated rule, when my family goes on vacation: don't keep checking your smartphone. I didn't break it too often while visiting my waterlogged family on the coast of North Carolina this past week, but the peeks I took left me with some nagging questions.
And the questions will no doubt shape my approach as a reporter to the upcoming final four days of the 2011 legislative year here in Sacramento.
In no particular order...
What's Driving the Amazon Offer of Armistice? Easily the most surprising of items that popped up in between bites of eastern North Carolina style pulled pork was news that the online retail giant Amazon has laid out a proposal to defuse its explosive referendum campaign. If legislators will simply suspend the enactment of the new online sales tax law, Amazon will reportedly open two new operations in California, worth an estimated 7,000 jobs. The news of a proposed settlement stands in stark contrast to the considerable speculation in political circles that Amazon's signature gathering effort was/is going gangbusters, no doubt helped by the hefty $5.25 million the company's plopped down to qualify for the June 2012 ballot. So what gives? Is the offer a nod to the fact that a campaign could be costly, both cash and reputation wise, and thus something to be avoided if a deal's there for the making? Or is it a somewhat cynical move by Amazon, one the company is betting (maybe rightly so) will be rejected in these last few days of session, thus giving its hired guns a potentially potent campaign narrative: the Legislature is more interested in taxes than jobs, so if you hate them then overturn their law... or something to that effect. Either way, the view from my beachfront perch was that Amazon -- which seemed to have been taking it on the chin PR-wise recently -- had a pretty good news cycle thanks to the proposal: the offer made all the papers, alongside a noteworthy report that Amazon's arch-rival in online retail may have to explain its own actions on the issue of collecting state sales tax from online buyers.
Any Lasting Impacts to Speaker Perez's Vernon Defeat? Legislative leaders don't usually lose fights they want to win, which is why when a particular Kryptonic anchor is tied to a leader's legislation... one wonders what happened and what comes next. This session's winner in that category has to be AB 46, Assembly Speaker John Perez's bill to dissolve certain small cities which... well... just so happened to really only include the tiny Los Angeles County city of Vernon, a municipality swimming in controversy in recent times. Perez was emphatic for months that AB 46 was a priority, but it fell a remarkable eight votes short of passage in the Senate. For those who don't follow the legislative process, it could've passed with 21 of the Senate's 25 Democrats voting aye. Absent some real reporting (hey, these are just my questions upon arriving home!), it's hard to say what the defeat means for the future. Safe to say that once the final numbers are in, Vernon's city leaders will have racked up a hefty lobbying tab in Sacramento; the early numbers are already impressive. Political watchers also reveled in the apparent drama that one of the most vocal defenders of Vernon's cityhood -- albeit with reforms -- in the final days was state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-LA), who was Perez's 2009 rival for the speakership. The real lingering questions, though, are whether Perez goes after Vernon again next year... and whether the lack of Democratic support in the Senate for their party's leader in the Assembly may open a intra-party rift just before the big 2012 election season.
How Many Redistricting Storylines Will Ultimately Emerge? This was already going to be a big month for the future of California's first-ever citizen drawn political maps before the past week's news, with an important deadline looming (more on that in a moment). But now, the drama seems to be growing by the day. Suffice it to say I was surprised to see an announcement from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission that it's officially challenging the title and summary prepared by Attorney General Kamala Harris' office for the referendum to overturn the new state Senate districts. The commission's two recent letters to the AG's office make it clear that the citizen panel is not going gently into that good night, especially when it comes to interpreting how Propositions 11 and 20 set up the process of ballot measures seeking to overturn its maps. The commission letters show that its members believe their maps do not have to be shelved during a referendum fight... and... may be legally allowed to stand even if voters reject one or more of them. Meantime, the GOP activist who filed the referendum measure against the Senate maps filed a referendum last Tuesday (PDF) against the commission's congressional districts. That means an additionally tall order for a campaign team already trying to raise money for the Senate referendum (an effort seemingly bolstered by former Gov. Pete Wilson's endorsement almost two weeks ago). Keep in mind that referendum measures have a short time frame in which to qualify. In fact, the congressional proposal -- which has yet to be cleared for circulation -- could have as little as six weeks before the November 13 deadline. Also facing a ticking clock: any potential litigation against the redistricting efforts. Those must be filed by September 27, and the most obvious plaintiffs -- Latino voter rights groups -- have so far been silent about their intentions. Add to that the intrigue over which incumbent is running where and, well, you've got a great set of questions forming from now into the coming year.
Will There Really Be A Democratic Delay Play on Ballot Measures? Republican political operatives succeeded in landing some news coverage of a hot rumor this past week, one pitched to me as I was clearing my desk for my vacation: a supposed plan by Democratic legislators to try and push unliked (read: conservative) initiatives from the June statewide primary ballot (read: high GOP turnout due to contested presidential race) to November's general election ballot (read: high Dem turnout to keep President Barack Obama in office). No one ever completely sold me on the idea, for several reasons -- first among them, the vagueness of the legal maneuver being crafted to drop into a sitting bill via the infamous 'gut and amend' process. Would this be a one time election law change? Would it permanently recraft the initiative process, moving all such measures to higher turnout general elections? Those questions aside, the idea of a Republican tidal wave of voters in June also seems debatable, as the GOP presidential primary may be a done deal by the time California voters weigh in. So far, there's no indication of game changing amendments being filed to any of the bills authored by the presumed legislators who would take the lead.
What Will Be The Last Week's Big Story? This is the question all of us are probably asking. And while there are known knowns, there are also unknown unknowns about these final hours. The 11th hour drama over a downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium will no doubt be one to watch. So, too, will be the fate of Governor Jerry Brown's jobs agenda -- one being discussed later this morning when Brown travels to San Diego to pitch his proposal. But most intriguing will be the inevitable 'mushroom bills' -- those that grow in the dark of night in late legislative sessions, only seeing the light of day once they're ready for harvest. I'd better bone up on my mushroom picking skills.