Author Archives: Scott Shafer

Election Road Trip: Maldonado Trying to Get Latinos to Go Republican

Democrat Lois Capps and Republican Abel Maldonado at a September debate sponsored by san luis Obispo times

In the Central Coast’s 24th Congressional District, incumbent Democrat Lois Capps is challenged by Republican Abel Maldonado. Here, both candidates are at a September debate sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Times. (Photo: Scott Shafer)

For the past two decades California has been tough political terrain for Republicans, in part because the state’s growing Latino population overwhelmingly supports Democrats.

On the Central Coast, Republican Congressional candidate Abel Maldonado is hoping his Mexican heritage will help bridge that divide by appealing to Latinos and independent voters. Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor, is the kind of candidate the Republican Party covets these days.

“My father and mother came to this country with nothing,” Maldonado says.

He’s the oldest son of migrant workers — Maldonado’s father came from Mexico in 1965 as a guest worker, eventually starting his own farm and growing it into a family business.

“The Republican Party has not done a good job of communicating with the fastest growing population in America, which happens to be Hispanics.”
At the age of 26, after a long battle with local bureaucrats over a permit for a refrigerated warehouse on the farm, Maldonado was elected to the Santa Maria City Council. He rose to higher office, in the Assembly and Senate, and was eventually appointed lieutenant governor by Arnold Schwarzenegger when the office became vacant.

“So just imagine me sitting next to my mother picking strawberries in the fields and becoming California’s 47th lieutentant governor,” the boyish 45-year-old says.

Maldonado lost his bid to remain Lieutenant Governor in an election against Gavin Newsom. But now he’s running in the 24th Congressional District against incumbent Democrat Lois Capps. The newly drawn seat is much more competitive than it was before redistricting. It would seem tailor-made for a moderate Republican businessman like Maldonado. Continue reading

Californians Again Consider the Death Penalty, This Time in Proposition 34

San Quentin Prison has housed California's only death row for male inmates since 1937. (Michael Glogowski-Walldorf: Flickr)

San Quentin Prison has housed California's only death row for male inmates since 1937. (Michael Glogowski-Walldorf: Flickr)

In February of 1960, Gov. Pat Brown had a tough decision to make. His office was being flooded by clemency appeals for death row inmate Carryl Chessman. Convicted of kidnapping, robbery and rape, Chessman maintained his innocence.

“Well I don’t know if I ever had hope,” Chessman said in an interview then. “It’s like a soldier out in the field, the battlefield. I don’t know if he has hope or not; he just keeps slogging forward as much as possible and then waits for the results.”

Letters and calls poured into the governor’s office on Chessman’s behalf. As Pat Brown recalled in a 1986 KQED documentary, the most urgent appeal to stop the execution came from his own family.

“My son asked me to do it and said ‘Dad, this man didn’t kill anybody. I think you should commute it to life imprisonment,'” Brown said.

In 1972 the California Supreme Court declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional. For the next 20 years, capital punishment bounced back and forth, with voters restoring it and then the courts striking it down.

His son Jerry Brown, who had been studying for the priesthood, apparently made a persuasive case. “I says ‘I’ll do it,'” Brown said. “And I did it. And they damn near executed me!”

The governor’s 60-day reprieve didn’t save Chessman, who died in the San Quentin gas chamber two months later. But his case helped ignite international opposition to capital punishment. Continue reading

Election Road Trip: Central Coasters Hungry For Substance, Sick of Campaign Negativity

The election is just over a month away now, and unlike in the past, California has multiple Congressional seats — nearly a dozen, in fact — where the outcome is truly up in the air. As part of our election series “What’s Government For?” we’re out to hear what voters say they want from their elected officials.

Lois Capps and Abel Maldonado at a debate (Scott Shafer/KQED)

We’re hitting the road, or should I say the beach, on the Central Coast, where a hotly contested congressional race is under way. The new 24th Congressional District includes all of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, plus a small part of northern Ventura County. One person told me that living here is like being in a National Geographic Magazine — it’s that beautiful.

As I walk along the beach near Morro Bay, I come across two people, Gary Ubaldi and his wife Gail. They both say they’re registered Democrats, but he says they’re open-minded.

“I believe I’m very open-minded,” Ubaldi says. “I know my wife is. I mean she listens to both sides of every argument and would vote for who she felt was the best candidate, period. Regardless of party.” Continue reading

Poll: Overwhelming Opposition From GOP Voters Puts Death Penalty Repeal in Doubt

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

by Scott Shafer, Lisa Aliferis, Jon Brooks

A new Field Poll finds voters closely divided on Proposition 34, the measure that would end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison.

Supporters of Prop. 34 say California’s death penalty is broken and can’t be fixed. Besides, they add, all those legal appeals are wasting taxpayer dollars.

In the latest Field Poll [PDF] released Tuesday, 42 percent of likely voters agree with ending executions. But slightly more — 45 percent — say “no” — keep things just the way they are. Thirteen percent are undecided. The margin of error is 4.3 percent.

The poll showed a sharp divide among registered Democrats and Independents versus Republicans on the issue. Democrats support the measure 50-37 percent, and no-party-preference or other voters favor it 54-33. But opposition by Republicans is at a whopping 65-23 percent.

Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said that support for replacing the death penalty with life in prison has been gaining ground in recent years.

“I think that gives the “Yes on 34″ side a chance,” he said. “But it’s starting off below 50 percent, and the history of our poll suggests that is an ominous place to start.” Continue reading

Anti-Prop 8 Lawyer Ted Olson Will Help Prep Paul Ryan For Debates

Attorney Theodore Olsen. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

Attorney Theodore Olsen. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

Word that legal eagle Theodore Olson will stand in as Vice President Joe Biden in debate preparations for Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan confirms the old adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. Both Ryan and Romney strongly oppose same sex marriage (Romney even opposes civil unions).

LGBT activists considered it a coup three years ago when Republican stalwart Olson and top Democrat David Boies signed onto the legal team fighting Prop. 8. And with good reason. Olson’s conservative bona fides were impeccable. Legal counsel in the Reagan Administration. Solicitor General for President George W. Bush. He also outmaneuvered David Boies at the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled that year’s political debacle in the 2000 presidential election in Florida. It was the legal dream team.

Olson and Boies have two rounds in federal court, successfully challenging Prop. 8 on historic grounds that it violated the federal constitution. It’s now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that Olson — who tears up talking about the importance of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry — is helping to elect the Romney-Ryan ticket. He is, after all, a conservative at his core. Even his argument for gay marriage is based on conservative principles.

And don’t forget he was also part of the winning legal team in the infamous Citizens United case that opened the floodgates of corporate campaign donations. But in addition to winning historic legal victories for LGBT rights, Olson is also helping gay rights groups make connections with other like-minded Republicans who support their cause (including David Koch).

It brings to mind the old saying that Willie Brown and other smart pols adhere to: “In politics, there are no such things as permanent enemies.” And wouldn’t it be fun to see Olson prepping Ryan on a gay marriage question?

Fighting to Repeal Death Penalty Law He Wrote

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

For one of the items on this year’s ballot, you need to go back to 1978. In that year, California voters approved Proposition 7, which expanded the death penalty in California. This November Californians will vote on Proposition 34, which would end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sacramento attorney Don Heller wrote Prop. 7 at the request of then-State Senator John Briggs.

“I wrote it with the intent of writing a perfect legal document. Which I did! It was well crafted. It met all the constitutional standards, and it’s never been overturned in any aspects by the U.S. Supreme Court.” Heller says.

“But I don’t believe capital punishment works. And if it doesn’t work, change it.”

Jerry Brown was governor at the time, and heinous crime sprees like the Manson killings and two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford were still fresh in voters’ minds. Heller remembers California as a western state with a taste for frontier justice. Proposition 7 got more than 71 percent of the vote.

“It was a culture of ‘hanging ’em high from the big oak tree,'” Heller recalls. “It was a western mentality of free thinkers and speedy punishment for criminal behavior.” Continue reading

Young Voters Sound Off in Silicon Valley

(Photo: Stephen Pottage)

Participants in the focus group were vocal about their support for education. (Photo: Stephen Pottage)

With the national conventions behind them now, Republicans and Democrats say they’re all fired up and ready to go — sprinting toward the November election.

Four years ago Barack Obama marched into the White House beside an army of young volunteers. How are voters under 30 feeling about politics now?

As President Obama was giving his acceptance speech Thursday night, a group of younger citizens in Silicon Valley discussed their feelings about the election. Those focus groups are part of KQED’s campaign season series “What’s Government For?” — a joint project with the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California.

“But just about everybody wanted government to do more to improve schools and to make college more affordable.”

While the PPIC does public opinion polling, they also are conducting these smaller conversations to take the pulse of Californians this election year. KQED has already participated in Contra Costa, Fresno and Los Angeles. On Thursday night, 20 young adults — ages 18 to 29 — gathered to talk about their views on government and politics. The group was a mix of Republicans, Continue reading

Election Road Trip: Pension Reform Debate Hits Home in Sacramento

California's capitol

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Sacramento, California is a company town — and the company is state government. More than a third of all state workers live in Sacramento County. So when talk turns to changing pension benefits for public employees — the top issue for the final weeks of this year’s legislative session — people living in the state capital pay close attention.

At the Ambrosia Cafe on the K Street Mall, just across the street from the State Capitol, Denise Ackerman is sharing an outside table with a friend.

She’s an attorney with the state, and her feelings about pension benefits are unambiguous. Continue reading

Focus Groups: Behind the Two-Way Glass

It’s a Wednesday evening at a non-descript office park in Concord, the largest city in Contra Costa County, about 30 miles east of San Francisco. Ten voters – all Democrats – are led into a meeting room and seated around a large conference table. A two-way mirror runs along one wall, behind it a room where we were allowed to watch. Only first names are used to encourage participants to speak freely.

Mark Baldassare of the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California leads the voters through a 2-hour, open-ended conversation about government – what they like and don’t like, what they want. A similar group of Republican voters will follow. Baldassare starts by asking each participant to complete a sentence: “I’m feeling _________ about the way things are going in the U.S. these days.” Both groups expressed frustration, and even fear for the future.

There’s plenty of bipartisan dissatisfaction – with politicians and government. Jeff, a 52-year-old manager for PG&E, spoke for many of the Republicans in his group: “The government oughta be working on balance the budget – but back everything across the board. And let all the departments deal with that as it may.”

Several Republicans, including Jeff, said they had little faith that politicians of either party would ever really cut spending or shrink government. Many Democrats also said they lacked faith in government. But for different reasons. Some felt elected officials were beholden to special interest groups and rich donors. Keely, a 48-year-old homemaker, wondered about waste.
“I will pay more taxes, but I want someone to open the books. Show me what’s going on. What happened to all this money?”
Continue reading

In Inland Empire Economic Distress May Drive Voters

Each weekday at noon, on the front lawn of the Riverside Courthouse, hundreds of thousands of dollars change hands in the auction of homes recently foreclosed in Riverside County. Events like this one are held each day here — and in San Bernardino, Chino, Fontana and other Inland Empire cities hit hard by the housing bust.

Bidders, many working for housing speculators, sit in lawn chairs with little blue awnings to protect themselves from the brutal noon sun.

Behind each auction is a story. A person, a family. People who reached for the American dream, but couldn’t hold onto it.

As the auction continues, I ask one of the bidders — Long Beach realtor Jesus Quintaro — if he ever thinks about the former owners who lost the homes he’s bidding on. “I do think about it,” he says, “but a lot of them got a lot of money out of their homes. They refinanced. Some may be victims — but a lot of them made the choice to refinance, get money out, or get into a home they couldn’t afford in the first place.

Another bidder, John Chang from Orange County, sees complains that the media portray investors who buy up foreclosed homes as vultures. He says they’re making a contribution — putting people to work. Continue reading