Bill Leonard - Contributor
Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization
Week Under the Dome
Applauding Gray, Big Bond, Prisons, White House Fellows,
[Bill Leonard] 1/20/04
Democrats Applaud Davis
Democrat Party held its convention in San Jose this weekend.
was one of the keynote speakers and
was applauded by the party leaders, as well he should be. After
all, it was the greedy p ositions of party leaders that were
the final blow to his political career. Even as recall petitions
were circulating and his popularity was sinking, they shoved
their leftist agenda onto Governor Davis. The party members,
in the words of Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, acknowledged
that “The loss of the governorship was a staggering blow
to this party.” But are they really remorseful? Or do you
think if they had a chance to push new legislation to give drivers
license to foreigners without papers, or push more new spending
plans that they would take it? I think they owe Davis a big “thank
you” for sacrificing his Governorship on the rocks of their
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
California's financial status is squarely between the
proverbial rock and a hard place. The Governor is proposing a
$15 billion bond measure toh elp get us back on track. That is
hard medicine to swallow, no matter what your political persuasion.
However, a look at the alternatives puts me firmly in support
of our Governor's plan. The Democrats' alternative
is a tax increase. This defies logic because California does
not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. The Republicans' alternative
is cutting programs now, but the reality is that the Republicans
need the time that the bond will buy in order to implement the
budget cuts and make program reductions.
A recent poll has me worried that California voters are not
thinking practically yet.
The deficit bond (Prop.
57) only has support at 33% and opposition at 40%.Yet, Prop.
56 (the measure that would lower the threshold
for raising taxes) is in a statistical dead heat. If voters pass
56, but reject 57and 58 (the Governor's balanced budget
proposal), we will have new, higher taxes quickly. Without the
bond and the reform in 57 and 58, and with the majority in the
legislature empowered by a new law saying they can raise taxes
with a mere 55% vote, you can bet that your taxes will be going
up soon. So, even if you are not thrilled with the deficit bond,
I urge your vote in favor of 57 to prevent a disaster.
Guarding our Safety
With the prison bashing legislative hearings starting today,
legislators need to remember exactly what prisons are. I like
them. Not to visit but because they keep very bad people locked
up and away from my family and me. Californians are enjoying
the benefits of the prison construction program re-started by
Governor Deukmejian. Prior to that it had been decades since
a new prison was opened all the while the number of criminals
and their victims soared.
In the 1990s, then-Assembly
Republican Leader Bill Jones spearheaded the” Three Strikes and You're Out” legislation
and joined with Mike Reynolds and Governor Wilson to get the
passed. I had previously introduced the Chronic Criminals Act,
which aside from being a great alliteration, was quickly killed
by the Assembly Graveyard Committee, erroneously named the Public
Safety Committee. The point of Three Strikes and Chronic Criminal
Act was this: a certain number of people in our society-- thankfully
a small number-- choose life as criminals to prey on others with
violence and scams. The civilized solution to this problem is
to lock them away from others. Obviously, there is a price to
pay for committing crimes.
In California, the
critics of this common-sense philosophy have focused on the
growth of inmate population. Well, when you do
not lock criminals up for years and then the people change that
policy, the growth is going to be great. There are now 310,105
people (mostly men) under the Department’s jurisdiction
of prison and parole. This is 00.8% of the state’s population,
which some might argue is far less than the actual number of
criminals who reside in California.
The staff (mostly correctional and parole officers) who protect
us from these people numbers 49,729. Since prisons operate seven
days a week and52 weeks a year, it takes more than four staff
members to make sure that each station is fully covered which
means that at any given time there is no more than one officer
watching 26 felons. This is less than the average staffing ratio
of all other states in America. When a riot starts (and they
do, all too often) I do not like the odds of 26-1, and I fear
for the safety of our officers. I hope our legislators share
Saturday last I was heading into the office after speaking to
the California Congress of Republicans when I drove by the Capitol
building. The building and grounds were designed to incorporate
symbolism of strength, integrity and justice. These symbols and
some of the public activities that take place at the Capitol
are enduring, despite the regular and often justified criticism
of government as unrepresentative and unfeeling, and they are
reminders that there is still much hope that government can be
made to work better. What I saw taking place at the Capitol last
weekend was inspiring.
On the west steps
were the celebrants of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade
who were using the steps of the Capitol to remind
us about King’s dream of equality and freedom for all.
On the south steps, I saw a bridal party being photographed.
Their pictures will commemorate a happy marriage and evoke the
symbolism of the strong foundation of the Capitol building behind
them. On the east steps, beyond the tributes to our veterans,
were the remains of one of the huge, century-old Capitol park
trees. Many of these trees were gifts from other nations and
were not supposed to even grow in this climate zone, and yet
many of them thrive. However, there does come a day when age,
disease, or other stress causes some of the trees to die. With
this tree gone, there is now more room for the park's other trees
to grow and for more sunlight to reach the grass and flowers
underneath. The old tree will also create ample portions of firewood
that will warm many homes-- perhaps even the home of the newlyweds.
White House Fellows
I encourage Leonard Letter readers to spread the word about
a unique opportunity available to young leaders. The White House
Fellows program is accepting applications for its 2004-2005 class
by February 1, 2004.Fellows must be U.S. citizens and have a
record of remarkable professional achievement early in one's
career. Candidates should demonstrate evidence of leadership
skills and the potential for further growth, a commitment to
public service, and the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute
successfully at the highest levels of the federal government.
No age ranges are given, but the White House is seeking people
early in their careers. You can learn more at www.whitehouse.gov/fellows.
Electronic Voting May Not Be Best
This is a debate we
are going to see intensify over the next few months. The Federal
Help America Vote Act provides $3.9 billion
to the states to modernize their voting systems. However, in
a recent Popular Science story, computer scientists at John Hopkins
claim that the most recent technology, called direct-recording
electronic (DRE), are vulnerable to hackers and bugs, and do
not leave a trail that can be verified by auditors. Here's
how the Johns Hopkins group rated the five methods for voting:
Paper ballots -- in use since 1856, these lose the fewest votes,
but counting ballots is labor intensive. Might still be good
for rural areas.
Mechanical lever -- in use since 1892, every pulled lever punches
out chads and a counting wheel records the results. It has been
many yearssince these machines were manufactured so the machines
in use today are decayed and breaking down.
Punch card -- in use since 1964, computer tabulators read punched
holes in card-stock ballots. The Hopkins group says this system
was responsible for losing 1.5 million votes in 2000.
scan-- in use since 1976, a tabulating device reads the darkest
marks on a scannable ballot card. The Hopkins
group rates these as a best buy' ($7,000 per unit) and
praise their reliability and affordability.
Direct-recording electronic system -- in use since 1978, voters
use touchscreen or keyboard interface and results are stored
in memory. The downside is the inability for auditors to check
the results, vulnerability to hackers, and the software used
for tabulation is proprietary.