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Editorial: California Newspaper Publishers Association’s governmental affairs day offered insights into state issues, from crime and education to water

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Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 6:17 pm

By the Lodi News-Sentinel

The News-Sentinel crew went up to Sacramento this week for the annual the California Newspaper Publishers Association governmental affairs day. We came back with our heads filled with state political sense and nonsense.

Here are a few sharable thoughts:

Leading in tough times: The mood at the Sacramento Convention Center was generally bright, as state finances have undergone a chump-to-champ transformation in the last two years.

Darrell Steinberg, State Senate president pro tem, quipped: “They say it is more fun to serve during good times. But it is more important to serve during hard times.” When times are financially bleak, Steinberg said, a type of malaise sets in. The unrelenting concern is money.

Now, as the recession abates, “We can try to solve other problems.”

No ceasefire in the water war: So now that the budget is balanced, what’s next on the agenda in California? What else? Water, of course.

All the talk this week was drought relief and a new water bond — not to be confused with the old 2009 water bond.

John Pérez, the Speaker of the Assembly and a Democrat, wants a new package of water projects because the one approved by voters in 2009 is “unworkable” and too expensive.

The Republicans who spoke to us liked the old bond because it was “bipartisan” — a compromise that they got to be part of. They want to keep the projects that increase California’s ability to store more water.

Of course this discussion is way late given this year’s drought.

There wasn’t much talk about the “twin tunnels,” so perhaps that’s headed to a happy death. We can only hope.

Open government is too costly?: We applauded and pumped our fists every time we heard support for Proposition 42, which voters will see on the June 3 ballot. This will put the California Public Records Act in the state Constitution.

Is that a big deal?

Not really. It just means a few local governments are going to stop sending invoices to Sacramento every time citizens ask to see a government report. There’s a law saying local governments don’t have to do anything that the state mandates but doesn’t pay for. Under this logic, open government is optional. But obeying the constitution is not.

Our group, which hires the nosy reporters who keep asking to see public records, gave their annual Freedom of Information Award to the politician who carried Prop. 42 through to ballot authorization. That’s Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco.

The growing influence of no one: Democrats have a supermajority in both houses of the California Legislature and Republicans are a puny minority. But Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway may have had the clearest crystal ball about California’s political future. She pointed out that Dems and Reps are both losing registrants. “Decline to state,” she said, is the state’s fastest growing bloc of voters — more than 20 percent, according to one source.

Crime as disease?: Kamala D. Harris, California’s Attorney General, talked fast and quickly covered many issues. Among the highlights: Harris is pushing research that shows a clear link between elementary school truancy and crime. If truancy is reduced, crime will go down. Same, she said, with high school graduation rates.

Considered by many a rising star in the Democratic Party, Harris sketched a holistic view of crime, saying a focus on prevention is overdue. Harris, whose mother is a doctor specializing in cancer research, drew parallels between crime and disease, saying both are cheaper to attack through prevention.

Programs aimed at children and youths are often given short shrift politically, but they are crucial, she said, because “little problems grow into big problems.”

She called for greater use of data and technology in fighting crime, but said that’s no simple task. Government may appear great and all-powerful, but that’s deceptive.

“When you pull the curtain back on how government works, it makes me think of the little guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ It’s amazing that anything is getting done,” she said.

During an interview with Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times, Harris was asked about investigations into officer-involved shootings, which are now largely kept secret. She was noncommittal, saying the public’s right to know must be balanced with the officer’s right to privacy and safety.

“It can certainly go too far. Some people would like to make officers’ home addresses public,” she said.

Harris also announced she is leading a delegation of state attorneys general to Mexico this spring to discuss transnational gangs.

Choosing a career path: Not all college majors are equal, at least in terms of career prep. So said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, who lamented that one of his children, having majored in political science, is living at home and looking for work. Choosing a college major is key, he said, citing the continuing demand for engineering grads.

“Choose well, apply yourself and work hard. There are no shortcuts,” he said.

Huff has a keen interest in educational reform, and in improving teacher quality. Firing a teacher now, he said, takes months or years of effort and $250,000 in associated costs. He questioned whether class-size reduction makes sense academically — or is simply the preference of teachers.

An embarrassment to all: Strolling the capitol hallways after our day with state leaders, we decided to check out the display cases extolling each county. Of course we were curious to see the showcase for San Joaquin County, but what we saw left us aghast: It is shamefully outdated.

Among the attractions it lists are the Oakwood Lake Resort, aka the Manteca Waterslides, which closed about 10 years ago, and the Lodi Symphony, which hasn’t been making music locally since, according to a glance of our archives, the early ’90s. It also boasts of a local minor league baseball team, the Mudville Nine. That’s the name carried nearly 15 years ago by the Stockton Ports.

And while there are some waxen, dusty grapes shown, there is not a single bottle of wine.

This display is seen by hundreds of thousands of capitol visitors each year, from schoolkids to CEOs.

It makes us, collectively, look like yokels.

What an embarrassment.

San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel to the rescue?

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