“I had severe asthma,” he explains. “I sometimes slept in an oxygen tent when I was young.”
As an adult, James loves to talk. For almost nine years, until 2011, he was a late-night, conservative talk radio host. On this day, he readily offers a reprise of his on-air shtick.
“It’s Kevin James on another night across Los Angeles,” he booms. “So where should we start? Let's talk about this really exciting mayoral candidate. His name is Kevin James!”
Freshman Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside) squeezes in lunch at his desk while keeping up with negotiations over sequestration.
You’d think with sequestration poised to kick in on Friday that voters would be giving their Congress members an earful. Surprisingly, not so much. But the budget battle is very much on the mind of one freshman from Southern California.
It’s a fairly quiet Wednesday morning in Democrat Mark Takano’s office. A group from UC Riverside dropped by to speak with his staff, and the phone rings from time to time. But few of the calls are about sequestration.
In the back office, Chay Halbert is the guy who goes through the mail. He says about half the correspondence is about sequestration, and opinions are pretty evenly split. Halbert notes there's "a decent amount that's probably broadly about just cutting government." But he's also getting mail from people concerned about program cuts. That split reflects the political makeup of Takano’s Riverside district: 42% Democratic, 35% Republican and 23% who decline to pick a party.
Richard McPike, Takano’s chief of staff, says party leaders have been getting most of the sequestration calls. But just in case a constituent calls Takano’s D.C. or district office with questions, he’s provided staff with a cheat sheet of sequestration answers.
"Somehow there hasn’t been a great deal of call for it," McPike says. He adds that the public may not see the sequester as a threat to the economy, but instead as "yet another internal fight in Congress that in the end is going to work out at the last minute and it’s not going to actually have any impact on people’s day to day lives."
But it’s front-and-center for his boss, the newly-elected Takano, who calls the sequestration threat "a big deal."
Takano has heard from March Air Force Base and museum directors and UC Riverside’s medical school about how cuts would affect them. What he hasn’t heard is what’s going on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill to reach a sequestration deal. He says "ordinary members like me are not privy to the discussions that are going on largely by a few people." Takano says he’s been piecing together what he knows from press reports.
And it’s not just the lack of information that ticks him off: it’s the lack of power to participate. He says all the big decisions are made by a very small group of individuals. The old so-called “regular order” of crafting legislation in committees with input from even the lowly freshmen is going by the wayside. "I don't know when it's going to dawn on the junior members of both parties that they're cut out of meaningful participation," Takano says.
In the end, Takano predicts, after the “drama” dies down, agreement on sequestration will happen the same way a deal was struck for aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy: with a bi-partisan coalition of mostly Democrats. He says anything Congress has done in the two months he's been on Capitol Hill has been with "the bulk of our caucus — 195 members — joined by about 40 -45 Republicans." Takano predicts "the same coalition's gonna come together."
The question is: when? Sequestration kicks in on Friday – not all at once but, as Takano says, “a death by a thousand cuts.” His staff predicts as soon as it becomes clear which programs will be cut, that’s when they’ll start getting an earful from constituents.
As he samples David Bowie’s “Fame,” the 26-year-old Chapman University graduate raps about his choice: “Kevin James, I think it’s about time we change ."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a target:
“What do we do when a city’s got a politician / who talks too much, spends money and doesn’t listen / and has no justification for why this money's missin'?”
At least $4 million in independent expenditures has been spent ahead of next week's city primary, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Good morning, readers. Welcome to the Maven's Morning Coffee -- a listing of the important headlines, news conferences, public meetings and announcements you need to know to fuel up and tackle your day.
The Maven's Morning Coffee is also available as a daily email. Click here to subscribe.
Today is Wednesday, Feb. 27, and here is what's happening in Los Angeles:
The LA Weekly reports Eric Garcetti helped CODA Automotive move to Los Angeles with $1 million in redevelopment money and now the company is in financial trouble. "The city's contract calls for CODA to refund its money in full if it moves to another city within five years. But the contract makes no provision for reimbursement if CODA goes bankrupt," according to the Weekly. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports Garcetti may have an interest in a Beverly Hills oil lease.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are backing the Yes on Measure A campaign, saying it's crucial to maintaining public safety.
Next week, Los Angeles voters will be asked whether to increase the city’s sales tax by a half-cent.
Measure A would increase L.A.s sales tax from 9 percent to 9.5 percent. That would be higher than the sales tax in New York City and Chicago, but would match the rate in Santa Monica, Inglewood and El Monte. L.A. city leaders, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are boosting Measure A as a way to close the city’s looming $216 million deficit.
“I know there are some who will [ask] ' Is this the right time?' But the fact of the matter is, when you look at the kinds of tough decisions that we’ve made, when you look at the cuts, the efficiencies, the consolidations of departments that we’ve made over the years, I can now support a sales tax increase,” Villaraigosa said at a recent news conference.