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Archive for May, 2016

There were two articles in Citywatch recently about the candidacy of Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who seeks the open seat to be vacated by termed-out Fran Pavley in Senate District 27.

There are five candidates, including Republican Steve Fazio, who stands an almost certain chance to make it to the general election. The district is moderately competitive owing to enough Republican or decline-to-state registration to rule out a walkover by a Democrat.

But Reznik faces a formidable opponent in Democrat Henry Stern.
The fact that it is an open seat makes it potentially even more competitive.

Stern is a senior advisor to Pavley. In that role, he undoubtedly has absorbed much about the workings of the district and the issues affecting the state.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was approached by a mutual acquaintance to chat with him. Even though I do not have a vested interest in the district, the potential for a competitive race got my attention. Not to mention that there are state issues in play affecting all of us.

It is likely that this will be one race I will follow besides what will be a marquee event in AD39 between Patty Lopez and Raul Bocanegra, who was taken down by Lopez in what had to be the biggest upset in modern times in California.

Stern and I sat down over coffee the other day and covered a range of subjects. It was not a Q&A; more of a discussion. And it was more process-oriented, framed by some key issues concerning both the state and local levels.

I will start by saying he impressed me by his focus on how things should get done. If you involve the public at the grassroots and level with them, there is a greater likelihood of turning out sensible legislation.

For example, he faulted the lack of transparency by the framers of Prop 47 (which allowed early prison releases)for not providing details as to when structural savings from a smaller prison population would kick in, and not dealing with funding resources localities would need to deal with the influx of former inmates. For that matter, he stated that poorly-crafted propositions were all too common.

Prop 1A, which authorized the sale of $9.5B in bonds to fund the start-up of high-speed rail, was another case where a half-baked plan was sold to the public. His boss, Fran Pavley, opposed the initial funding for constructing the controversial system in the Central Valley.

Stern and I agreed that there was nothing wrong with the concept of HSR, but the plan was unrealistic and the assumptions unsubstantiated, plus there are far more important priorities facing the state ranging from education, infrastructure and water, to the problems of homelessness. Cap-and-trade funds could be applied to considerably more effective environmental improvements (if indeed the train would even produce a measurable net effect on the clean air in our lifetimes, a criticism often cited by opponents).

On a local level, he claimed to be very supportive of Neighborhood Councils and strongly urged making the voices of residents a priority when it comes to determining development. Stern said that was a key difference he has with Resnik. He also did not support the density bonuses allowed under SB1818 due to the unintended consequences of of the bill’s implementation.

He was strongly concerned over how CEQA has been subverted in the interest of development.

Stern expressed his dismay as to how Porter Ranch was ever approved for development given the adjacent gas field. He supports a fee to be paid by Sempra- one that cannot be passed on to customers – to cover the damages suffered by the residents. He did acknowledge it would take oversight to assure the cost would be fully absorbed by the gas company.

As I mentioned earlier, this will be a race to watch in both the primary and general.

I will cover it in greater depth.

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Politicians have a knack for making some of the dumbest statements. Hillary Clinton not only made one, but chose the worst place to utter it.

Saying “..we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business..” in a state that mines 10% of the nation’s output of the fossil fuel seems comparable to some of Donald Trump’s many foot-in-mouthisms.

The statement was taken out of context – Clinton did indicate her administration would help prepare coal miners for different careers – but specific solutions were neither offered nor alluded to beyond unspecified retraining .

Retraining: a promise we’ve heard before from many candidates at all levels. But if you are going to suggest it as a solution to a group facing the growing prospects of unemployment, then specifics are in order, not to mention facing up to reality.

Coal miners do have generic traits any employer would welcome: fierce work ethic, commitment to productivity, unselfishness….but the transition from a lifetime in the mine shafts to other industries where technological skills are becoming increasingly common will represent an insurmountable challenge for many.

Determining what industries or skills would provide the best prospects for miners is almost a crap shoot –  even retail.  How many Wal Marts can West Virginia support? In any event, competition for any job will be fierce. Some employment opportunities could also involve relocation, a prospect which may not be practical for many.

A more sensible approach is to let the coal industry die a natural death over a long period of time.  It is already in a steady state of decline in Appalachia: five major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy within the last twelve months.  Mining jobs have also vanished, especially in West Virginia. It hasn’t helped the state that easier-to-mine coal can be found in Montana and Wyoming, and cheaper natural gas is abundant.

There is no need to rush it along for the sake of climate change, especially when coal is and will continue to be heavily burned in China and India.  We will also always need some coal production, as it is important to have diverse and secure energy sources.

In the long-run, though, coal usage will diminish as cleaner sources become more economical. That’s a good thing.

Let as many as possible of the current generations of miners work to retirement. Encourage the rising generations in the coal mining regions of Appalachia to aspire to other careers by emphasizing the benefits of science, business, engineering, agriculture and technology careers in schools.  More importantly, apply the resources necessary to make that happen.

According to CNA (it is not an acronym), a company specializing in economic, social and defense research, referring to Appalachia,”the national focus on college and career readiness for all students presents a particular challenge in a region where, in the past, college was neither needed nor desired and careers outside the coal industry are limited.”

CNA’s study also suggested a strong desire for students to remain close to home and choose occupations where a college education is not required.

That particular aspect of the region’s culture has to change. The support of the adult population is critical in order for that to occur.

Pulling the rug out from under those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry is not how you win their hearts and minds.

The bad feelings will not be limited to West Virginia either. The swing state of Ohio is in play, where 33,000 are employed in the industry and coal provides 69% of the state’s electricity.  Those employees have friends and relatives, so the potential for a meaningful block turning out in a tight race is there.

I have no horse in this presidential race, but I understand the volatile mix present in this nation which could make the outcome go either way.

 

 

 

 

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