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SACRAMENTO: Jerry Brown, education funding is "a civil rights issue"; editorial, "pension fix", touchy subject that no one is talking about so far; Gil Cedillo pay-cut challenge officially rejected.... 

***Jerry Brown says education funding is "a civil rights issue", that this is an integral element to his proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and put those funds into schools. Daily News editorial notes that, with all the attention to and complaining about the governor's budget proposal, so far no one has been talking about the "800-pound gorilla rampaging around the state": pension reform. Sacramento Bee reports that Gil Cedillo's pay-cut challenge was officially rejected today....

* Sacramento Bee:  "Brown calls education funding 'a civil rights issue'" - From the Bee:

   Gov. Jerry Brown this morning called education funding a civil rights issue, defending his proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies to reduce California's yawning budget deficit and to push more tax revenue to schools and public safety.

   "We take from redevelopment and we put $1 billion into schools, that's a good thing, because we've got to make sure whatever we do, we give a chance to those who are coming along in the next generation," Brown said at a breakfast hosted by the California Legislative Black Caucus to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "And that is a civil rights issue."

   Brown made a similar, if less explicit, assertion in remarks to city officials the previous day, suggesting a developing line of argument.


   Brown said the political landscape has become more polarized than when he was last governor, from 1975 to 1983. He also continued to remind audiences that the budget deficit is inherited. "Boy things went downhill after I left," Brown said. "We started building prisons and stopped building colleges."

* Daily News (editorial):  "Pension fix left out of state officials' budget talks so far" - From the DN:

   In all the sniping and complaining about the governor's budget proposal, no one's talking about the 800-pound gorilla rampaging around the state: pensions. There's a reason for this. Pension reform might not have the same deadly, third-rail quality as Proposition 13, but it's a touchy subject for sure. State politicians like to avoid the subject, not just because of the backlash from various public employee unions. It is that pensions are too big to be treated as just a budget item.

   Still, with the Legislature taking up the merits of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget, this is the time to talk about the state's finances and the pension burden. The impact on future state revenues is too big too ignore.

   During the campaign, Brown said he would address the growing pension burden and propose significant reform. He'd be wise to start outlining how he's going to do that. Pension costs are the biggest threat to California's solvency, and bigger yet for cities and counties throughout the state. Los Angeles, for example, expects to have pension liabilities equal to one-third of its $6 billion budget by 2012...................

* Sacramento Bee:  "Cedillo's pay-cut challenge killed by state claims board" - From the Bee:

   Assemblyman Gil Cedillo's challenge of a 2009 pay cut totaling millions in pay and benefits for legislators and other California elected officials was rejected today by a state agency. The Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board sustained a staff recommendation in turning thumbs down. The action was taken without comment as part of the consent agenda.

   Cedillo said that he expected his claim to be rejected by the state and that he plans to pursue his fight by suing. The Los Angeles Democrat contends that the California Citizens Compensation Commission exceeded its authority by reducing pay and benefits by 18 percent, a cut that went into effect in December 2009.

   Specifically, Cedillo's claim argues that the panel has no control over per diem and car allowances; that cutting officials' pay mid-term is unconstitutional; and that it did not give adequate consideration to time spent on the job and to pay for similar positions in the public and private sectors. Cedillo also contends that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used the possibility of a pay cut - the commission consists entirely of gubernatorial appointees - as leverage in an attempt to extract budget concessions from legislators. Schwarzenegger, through an aide, has denied Cedillo's accusation..................


L.A. CITY HALL: Update, CD12 election....

* Chatsworth Patch:  "Brad Smith Jumps Back Into City Council Race" - "A week after dropping out for unspecified reasons, now 'those issues have been resolved,' he says." - From Chatsworth Patch:

   Suddenly, a week after dropping out, Brad Smith is back in the race for City Council.

   He was one of six candidates vying to succeed retiring District 12 City Councilman Greig Smith. Chatsworth is within District 12.

   "One week ago, we had to put this campaign on hold because of very real issues that anyone working in today's economy can identify with; today, those issues have been resolved," Smith said in a mass email. 

   "So we are going forward with our campaign, and I am asking for your help in making this an effort for everyone who cares about our community as something more than a political stepping stone," he said. "Despite the odds, we can make this happen -- with your help."


   Smith, who is not related to the outgoing councilman, offered no other explanation for his change of heart. Although this is a non-partisan race, he won the endorsement of the Democratic Party the day before he quit the race.................

***ALSO, Daily News:  "Brad Smith back in contest for council" - "Candidate reconsiders, rejoins race for Valley district."


WASHINGTON, D.C.: Obama political office, 2012 campaign, key leadership team; "surge" in president's approval ratings...,

* New York Times:  "Obama to Close Political Office and Start 2012 Campaign" - From the NYT:

   President Obama will close the office of political affairs at the White House, aides said, restructuring his organization to prepare for his re-election campaign, which is to start building a fund-raising and grass-roots operation based in Chicago by late March.

   Mr. Obama has signed off on the plan to set up his campaign headquarters away from Washington, a first for a modern-day presidential re-election campaign. To avoid turf battles, chaotic communications and duplicated efforts, aides said, a significant realignment is under way in the West Wing, with the duties of the political office being taken up by the Democatic National Committee.

   The president intends to formally declare his candidacy in about two months by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission, aides said. That step would allow him to start raising money and hiring a team of advisers, whose job it would be to make him the second Democrat since World War II to be elected twice to the White House.

   While Mr. Obama is not expected to begin engaging in day-to-day campaign activity and attending fund-raisers until late spring or summer, advisers said, he has settled on the leadership for his re-election effort. The top three officials he has chosen all held important positions in his 2008 campaign, but have been elevated for 2012.

   Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff who has overseen operations in the West Wing and acted as a troubleshooter for the president, will manage the campaign. He has started a search for office space in downtown Chicago, spoken with top fund-raisers this week and begun lining up a team of consultants.


  In addition to Mr. Messina, aides said, the top leadership team of the re-election bid will include two deputy campaign managers: Julianna Smoot, the White House social secretary who was the finance director of the 2008 campaign, and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, who directed the battleground-state operation in 2008.


   The president and his aides have been discussing placing the re-election headquarters in Chicago for months. The plan came under fresh review in the last two weeks when William M. Daley was hired as the White House chief of staff. He ultimately signed off on the decision, aides said, along with closing the political affairs office of the White House.....................

* Los Angeles Times:  "President Obama's approval rating surges at midpoint of term" - "Several polls note a rise in public approval for Obama. The bump comes after his Tucson shooting speech and a productive lame-duck congressional session." - From the LAT:

   President Obama is enjoying a surge in public approval as he marks the midpoint of his first term, an uptick that follows a productive lame-duck congressional session and his well-received speech on the shooting tragedy in Tucson. The same polling shows that although new Speaker of the House John Boehner is getting favorable reviews early on, Americans don't expect that much from the new Congress.

   A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday night showed Obama's job-approval rating at 53%, an eight-point jump from mid-December and his highest rating since July 2009. Surveys from CNN/Opinion Research and ABC News/Washington Post also put Obama's approval rating above the 50% threshold. An aggregation of polling data by Real Clear Politics shows Obama with a net approval rating of 5%, a jump of 8% from mid-December and at the highest level since January 2010.

  Obama also may be benefiting from an improved political climate after a hyper-partisan midterm campaign in which he was an active participant. "The last six weeks have been the best six weeks the president has had in his first two years in office," NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart told the network.


   Just weeks into that new Congress, where Republicans hold a majority in the House but still sit in the minority in the Senate, Obama scores better than Republicans on key issues tested by ABC and the Washington Post. Respondents trust the president over Republicans by five points on the economy, three points on the budget deficit, six points on the threat of terrorism, two points on taxes and 14 points on helping the middle class. But they are equally divided on who would better handle healthcare, with 42% choosing each and 10% saying they trust neither....................


POLITICS (State, local, national): CD14 election, Huizar/Martinez, "unfriends"; New York, Cuomo considers cutting up to 15,000 state jobs; solar energy firms, "frustrated by permits".... 

***LA Weekly piece discusses the upcoming CD14 election and the former friendship between Jose Huizar and Rudy Martinez. New York Times reports that new NY Governot Mario Cuomo is considering cutting up to 15,000 state jobs as part of effort to close a $9 billion budget deficit. Also, New York Times report notes unhappiness by solar energy firms struggling to deal with the volume of various permits that are required of them....

* LA Weekly:  "Jose Huizar Unfriends Rudy Martinez" - "Every voter counts as ex-pals fight for 10,000 elusive Eastsiders" - From the Weekly:

   Jose Huizar is a likable guy. So is Rudy Martinez. They just don't like each other.

   It wasn't always like this. After he was elected in 2005, Huizar, the City Council representative for Los Angeles' 14th Council District, hired Martinez's mother, Juanita, as a senior citizens liaison. And over at Mia, Martinez's sushi restaurant in Eagle Rock, the eel-and-avocado roll was dubbed the Huizar.

   But that was before — before Martinez, star of cable TV's remodeling show Flip This House, decided to run against his onetime friend for the right to represent 247,000 residents in a district that runs from Eagle Rock south to Olympic Boulevard and to the edge of unincorporated East Los Angeles. Before a developer dissed Huizar by ponying up a downtown billboard and adorning it with Martinez, the smiling challenger, thereby donating $24,000 in ad space. And before the eel-and-avocado roll went back to being called the eel-and-avocado roll.


  The stakes are high in the March 8 Los Angeles City Council election, when Huizar and Martinez go against each other for the District 14 seat...............................

* New York Times:  "Cuomo Considers Cutting Up to 15,000 State Jobs" - From the NYT:

   Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo considering reducing the state workforce by up to 15,000 workers in his budget, the largest cut to the government payroll in recent years, two people briefed on the plan said Wednesday night.

   The prospective cuts are likely to accompany large reductions in Medicaid and state education spending, those people said, as Mr. Cuomo and his administration seek to close a projected budget gap of more than $9 billion. But the cuts would represent a substantial downsizing of the state’s workforce, including clerical workers, state troopers and park rangers. And that belt-tightening would almost certainly be accompanied by noticeable reductions in government services, though it is hard to predict where and how much until Mr. Cuomo releases his proposed budget in early February.

   Mr. Cuomo has made trimming the state’s far-flung bureaucracy a top priority of his new administration, hoping to reduce costs to taxpayers and root out waste. Along with Medicaid and education spending, money for so-called “state operations,” including payroll, health and pension benefits, is one of the larger portions of spending borne directly by New York taxpayers.

   But layoffs of the magnitude the governor is considering are likely to spur a major counterattack from unions that represent state workers, who have in recent years agreed to concessions that would reduce long-term pension costs but sharply resisted calls by Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, David A. Paterson, to agree to downsizing the state workforce or other cost-saving measures......................

* New York Times:  "Solar Firms Frustrated by Permits" - From the NYT:

   Ken Button, the president of Verengo Solar Plus, a residential solar panel installer in Orange, Calif., says his company — and his industry — are being strangled by municipal red tape. Fifteen Verengo employees, Mr. Button said, are dedicated solely to researching and tailoring permit applications to meet the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies of the dozens of towns in the company’s market. And because most jurisdictions require applications to be submitted in person, Verengo employs two “permit runners” whose only job, Mr. Button said, is to “take those permit packs and physically drive them around, stand in line, and pay the fees.”

   “We have 50 different permitting authorities within 50 miles of our office,” Mr. Button said. “They all have different documentation requirements, different filing processes, different fee structures. It’s like doing business in 50 different countries — just in Southern California.”

   His lament is being echoed by solar companies across the country. 

   In a new study, the industry estimates that the permit dance adds an average of $2,500 in costs to each installation, and streamlining things could provide a $1 billion stimulus to the residential and commercial solar power market over the next five years. The analysis, which will be released publicly on Thursday, was prepared by one of the nation’s largest solar leasing companies, SunRun, and endorsed by Verengo and at least a dozen other service and installation firms.

   At a time when the Obama administration has vowed to redouble its efforts to create a green economy — and, more recently, to remove regulatory roadblocks and promote growth — companies that sell and install solar panel systems for residential and commercial customers are clamoring to be among the first in line. “This is in essence a hidden tax on solar,” Mr. Button said..........................


POLITICS: Early GOP 2012 presidential polling, three-way pileup at the top; Meg Whitman, is she planning a political comeback? 

* San Francisco Chronicle (PoliticsBlog:  "Is Republican billionaire Whitman planning a political comeback?" - From the Chronicle:

   California Republican Meg Whitman's failed $150 million-plus drive to become California governor is barely in the rear view mirror -- but her appearance in San Francisco today, the first public gig since the 2010 election, has sparked buzz that she's thinking about a political comeback. It started when the former eBay CEO scheduled -- not one, but two -- speaking engagements this month, less than 12 weeks from her November election rout by Democrat Jerry Brown.

   Whitman will make her debut today at the Harvard Club of San Francisco in a 1 p.m. talk. And like her slated January 31 appearance in San Francisco before the Bay Area Council, which Comrade Joe Garofoli revealed this week, there will be no press coverage allowed -- and an invitation-only crowd. (And just to make sure, the Bay Area Council event has even been removed from the organization's website.)


   Rob Stutzman, who served as Whitman's senior advisor in the 2010 campaign, insists the former eBay CEO has no political purpose in the schedule. "These are just personal appearances connected to requests that came from friends,'' he told us. "Meg is talking to women in business,'' and that's something she's been doing for her entire professional life, he noted.

   But is she planning ahead for something else in politics? "Nothing to announce,'' he said.


  "What she's trying to figure out is what is an appropriate public role for her,'' suggests Hoover Institution research fellow Bill Whalen.  "Even though she did lose the election, she was the Republican gubernatorial nominee, and she spent the better part of two years talking about the problems facing California." "You don't just walk away from that cold turkey,'' Whalen said. "She is probably thinking what does she do next: does she want to be a candidate -- or a speaker?"

   Sources say Whitman in the last months has sought a detailed explanation regarding what went wrong in her resounding defeat by Brown. (Especially since, even hours before polls closed, her chief strategist Mike Murphy was on cable TV insisting she was still well within striking distance.) As one of America's wealthiest women, several in the know suggest she aims to emerge again with a message and a profile on the California politics scene. And fairly soon.

   Whalen speculates the GOP billionaire's best move could be as a deep-pocketed backer of ballot measures which could drive the GOP agenda. "Unlike having to run a $150 million campaign and being the star, she could be one of several people involved, give $10 million -- and get an idea passed,'' he said. "It's image rehabilitation.''


   Whitman's re-emergence may be "a perfect opportunity to begin the rehab process,'' says Sacramento consultant Patrick Dorinson, who writes the blog. "But the media will be part of it..and she can have a real conversation with people about, "Boy did I stub my toe when I spent that $150 million." "Politics is like breaking horses,'' he says. "She can get thrown, but Americans will want to see how she gets back up.''

 * Washington Post:  "A three-way pileup atop 2012 GOP presidential race" - From the WP:

   Former Govs. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) make up the top tier of the 2012 Republican presidential field, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News.

  Huckabee took 21 percent of the vote while Palin received 19 percent and Romney 17 percent among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. No other potential candidate made it into double digits, although former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 9 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took 8 percent. The rest of the field received 3 percent or less support.

   The results were largely consistent across demographic groups with Huckabee, Romney and Palin grouped in front. Huckabee and Palin, in particular, seem to share a common base -- both running more strongly among those with family incomes of $50,000 or less (Huckabee 26 percent, Palin 25 percent) and whites without college degrees (Palin 26 percent, Huckabee 25 percent). Romney, on the other hand, runs best among the college educated (30 percent), whites making over $50,000 a year (29 percent) and whites with college degrees (32 percent).


   National polling in a presidential primary contest is rightly taken cum grano salis. And that goes double for a survey taken a year before any actual votes will be cast. The nomination will be fought in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (and maybe a few others), not in national polls. Still, the poll provides a glimpse into the basic shape of the race in its early stages -- a shape that suggests a clear top tier of candidates in terms of name identification and positive impressions among the GOP electorate. That doesn't mean one of the lesser known candidates can't push their way into the mix -- particularly if either Palin, Huckabee or both don't run -- but it does suggest a relatively low level of volatility in the upper echelons of the nomination fight..........