Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Congressional freshmen wary of DC press corps

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TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is a seasoned veteran when it comes to dealing with the Washington DC press corps. But newly-elected members of California's Congressional delegation are learning how best to handle Capitol Hill reporters.

California’s Congressional freshmen are quickly learning the ropes at the Capitol. The new kids are treading softly with one DC beast: the press corps.

Republican Congressman-elect Doug LaMalfa of Redding says he’s already heard the stories about reporters on Capitol Hill. He hears they "follow you around and play 'gotcha' with their little cameras and taking something that you’re doing and spinning that out of perspective."

Newly-elected LA Democrat Tony Cardenas saw the DC press corps in action the day House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi introduced the new freshmen. When Pelosi opened up the press conference to reporters for questions, "all they wanted to ask it seemed was about General Petraeus and that issue." Cardenas says he thought reporters would ask about "what’s next for the country, the economy, policy etc." The fact that they didn't, he says "honestly, was a bit disappointing."

LaMalfa and Cardenas are state legislature veterans who've dealt with the press corps in Sacramento.  Cardenas has also fenced with reporters who covered him at L.A. City Hall.  Their one saving grace: the DC press corps largely ignores freshmen after they’re sworn in … unless they do something stupid.


Most of California's Congressional freshmen are Sacramento veterans

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via cd6.lacity.org

Former L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas is one of a bumper crop of new Congressional delegates from California.

California’s Congressional delegation has a bumper crop of 14 new freshmen.  But most have lots of legislative experience.

Nearly 2/3 of California’s freshman Congressional class have served in the state legislature. All three Republicans -- Paul Cook, Doug LaMalfa, and David Valadeo -- were Assemblymen, with LaMalfa also serving two years in the state Senate.

Six Congressional Democrats -- Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal, Jared Huffman, Juan Vargas, Tony Cardenas, and Gloria Negrete McLeod -- are also veterans of the California statehouse.

Brownley is thankful for that Sacramento training. She says that with everything freshmen have to think about, "it’s really great to have had the experience and to know a little bit know about what I need to know and when I need to know it."

Term limits have prompted many California lawmakers to consider life after Sacramento. A combination of citizen-drawn districts and the new “top-two” law made it easier for state legislators to challenge Congressional incumbents. 


The prospects of playing with Proposition 13

Jerry Brown

Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Now that Governor Jerry Brown has a Democratic supermajority in the state Senate and Assembly, will he push through changes in California's property tax law, Proposition 13?

When Jerry Brown returned to the governor’s  office a couple of years ago, he said he wanted to unwind some of the effects of Proposition 13—California’s property tax law. Now that Democrats have won a supermajority in both houses of the legislature,  the governor may get his chance. 

California voters, fed up with rising property taxes, overwhelmingly approved Prop 13 in the late 1970s. The law sets taxes based on a property’s value at the time of purchase, and caps any tax increases at 2% a year. Those changes cost local governments the bulk of their revenue - and led to a state takeover of school funding and other programs. Critics often call the passage of Prop 13 the beginning of California’s deterioration. But Governor Brown won’t say whether he’ll use the Democrats’ new supermajority to tackle the law. 


President of LA Board of Public Works seeking treatment while under investigation

Los Angeles City Hall

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

L.A. City Hall, where Andrea Alarcón's daughter showed up unattended.

The president of the city of Los Angeles's Board of Public Works, Andrea Alarcón, is entering professional treatment after her 11-year-old daughter Cheyenne turned up alone late last Friday night at Los Angeles City Hall.

Two hours later, Alarcón, 33, left a City Hall party and arrived at police headquarters, where officers had taken the girl. Police did not arrest the mother.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released a statement from Alarcón Thursday:

"My daughter is my top priority and nothing could be more important to me than her well-being. In order for me to be the best parent possible, I have decided to seek professional help and treatment. I ask that the media respect my family's privacy during this difficult time."

The professional help and treatment Alarcón says she is seeking was not specified.


Insider tip: How to lift the ceiling on Los Angeles' mayor's race spending limits

Demon Sheep ad

Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate campaign 2010

Demon Sheep ad produced by Fred Davis' company Strategic Perception Inc. for the 2010 Carly Fiorina U.S. Senate campaign.

Los Angeles voters long ago installed contribution and spending limits in city elections. But those spending limits can be wiped out when a big-spending political action committee announces it's getting into the campaign.

Republican political strategist Fred Davis announced this week that he's formed a committee, Better Way LA, to raise $4 million to spend on behalf of  mayoral candidate Kevin James.

Davis, creator of some of the GOP's most-noticed commercials — including the 2010 Demon Sheep ad for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina  — said he's doing it to put the James campaign on equal footing with other candidates.

Indpendent spending like Davis' is legal and unlimited, and it can affect what other candidates may spend in the mayor's race. Here's how that works:

So far, James and three better-funded candidates — council members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, and City Controller Wendy Greuel — have agreed to abide by spending limits in the primary. In exchange, they can get up to $667,000 in city matching funds.

But as soon as independent groups — alone or combined — spend $309,000 for or against a single candidate, the city lifts the spending limits on all candidates in the mayor's race. And they can keep the matching funds.

This sort of indie spending isn't new in LA elections. It totals about $16 million since 2001, according to records of the City Ethics Commission. In the last open race for mayor in 2005, independent committees spent nearly $3.7 million. Those dollars came mostly from unions, but also from business, environmental and partisan political groups.

Meanwhile, the city limits on direct contributions to candidates remain capped at $1,300 per donor.

Anybody who wants to spend more will have to create their own independent expenditure committee, or give to one like Fred Davis' Better Way LA.