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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Catharine Baker leads the witness

Uploaded: May 5, 2015
An old adage in the law advises attorneys never to ask a question if they don't already know its answer. A recent constituent survey from newly-minted State Assembly rep Baker shows that she's learned that lesson well.

I nearly overlooked the mailing, in the fetid excess of the Bonilla-Glazer mud-wrestle (following-up a recent post hereabouts, Mr. Glazer et al. appears to have built an insurmountable lead in the unwanted cardboard contumely pile ? I'll be mailing-in for Ms. Bonilla). Then Ms. Baker almost lost me with this introductory bit of mythology: "One of this country's greatest strengths is that citizens like you have the power to determine the government's priorities." Apparently, she has me confused with one Charles Munger* ? it's an easy mistake.

But the survey questions themselves demonstrated that law school lessons were not lost on her. How's this for a loaded question?

Q2: "A California court recently ruled that certain laws granting tenure were unconstitutional and hurt the quality of education for students. With which of the following statements do you agree?
o All Teachers deserve tenure, regardless of performance.
o School districts need to have flexibility to dismiss underperforming teachers, regardless of tenure."

So, let's see: am I for under-performing, unconstitutional and harmful, or do I prefer flexible? I'm guessing that this one may come back unanimous, teachers included. Never mind that it was a trial court, in an opinion written by a famously maverick judge, and the case is now on appeal. As I've written here before, tenure is a nuanced issue, much better discussed in terms of various interests, options and pros-and-cons. I'm guessing our Rep's mind is made-up on this one.

Another series of Qs, numbers 5-7, asks if you commute, for how long, and is BART involved? With the respondent thus primed, Q8 inquires "Did the recent BART strikes impact your daily life?" Two of the three response choices were "Yes," and are nearly identical ("I had to use other means" and "my commute was longer because there were more cars on the road"). Unless you own a helicopter, those choices seem pretty much the same.

The only alternative response states "it had no impact." I looked in vain for a choice like "it was only a few days," or "I support working stiffs' right to organize and collectively bargain their wages." Those apparently weren't what the survey drafters intended.

Or let's try Q13: "Do you support or oppose changing Prop 13 to make it easier to increase local taxes?" Okay, all in favor of making it easier to raise your local taxes, raise your hands ? anybody? ? Bueller? Once again, the question leads the witness. Objection!

Or take Q3 (please): "How do you feel about placing more regulations and fees on businesses and consumers in order to limit carbon emissions?" Any acolyte in the Frank Luntz school of political linguistics knows the following: fees and regulations = bad; businesses and consumers = good. The only things missing are adjectives modifying businesses (like small, or local) and consumers (e.g., hard-working, because, aren't we all?). Once again, the conclusion is foregone.

She even did it regarding issues on which I agree with her, as in Q10: "Would you support legislation to allow terminally ill adults to end their lives through self-administered medication to avoid continued pain-and-suffering?" The pain-and-suffering lobby is pretty under-funded this cycle. We may assume that she likes this legislative idea, since the survey doesn't ask: "Would you support a scheme that allows our beloved seniors to be duped into committing suicide, as opposed by many Christian churches, by injecting lethal drugs, while their impatient heirs tap their feet nearby?"

The point here is this: there are two reasons to poll your constituents, either to actually seek their guidance -- or to lead them into confirming your preconceptions, so you can claim to represent Their interests. This survey purports to be the former, but sounds a lot more like the latter.

If you're going to invest taxpayer funds (yes, TeaPers, we all paid for it ? how do you like Them apples?) in this kind of an effort, 'tis better that it not be a charade, even if that's not what they teach you in law school.

* The billionaire Mr. Munger's PAC contributed fully $1.8 million towards Ms. Baker's election, or roughly three times what her campaign itself took-in. And yes, her opponent Mr. Sbranti was similarly blessed by others ? the point is the same: that it's not "citizens like you" (and me) who elect candidates, and determine their priorities. Money talks. It also guides.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 5, 2015 at 4:57 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

In the first place both sides send out these phoney surveys. Mostly they are used by candidates to sway voters and raise money. Some organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW) also use them. There must be a cottage industry in designing these questionable questionnaires.

In the second place the Charles Munger funding these things isn't the Charles Munger who is #2 at Berkshire Hathaway. It is Munger's #2, Charles, Jr. Junior has buckets of daddy's money to spend on his political preferences.

Also, and you know this, the fliers mailed out for Glazer are not sent BY Glazer. They are from independent PACs that neither Glazer nor Bonilla have any control over. So don't punish the candidate for his or her unwelcome supporters inundating your mailbox.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on May 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Roz -- perhaps I let the fact that "citizens like me have the power to determine the government's priorities" go to my head, but I've announced and determined to cast my vote in the tweedle-dum-and-dee run-off for the candidate who sends me less crapola. Consider it a protest vote against campaign finance excesses (about which Ms. Baker did not ask, interestingly).

BTW, if you believe that there's no way for the PACs to coordinate with the campaigns they support, then I have some shares in the new Iron Horse Trail Overcrossing, and I am eager to sell them to you -- at half-price!

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on May 5, 2015 at 7:02 pm

What a shock, liberal Tom did a hit piece on the only elected Republican in the Eastbay... His beef: her "survey" questions are allegedly" leading".

First, since you are referencing " leading a witness" with the suggestion as a lawyer it is inappropriate, in CA you are allowed in trial to ask " leading" questions as long as the witness is not your client( hostile witness). Ms. Baker practiced with one of the most respected law firms, Hoge Fenton, that a history of community service and Pro Bono work for the poor. My understanding is that you are an inactive lawyer in CA, and not sure if you ever tried a case in CA. You should avoid discussing "legal issues" you don't understand and stick to your political ramblings.

Second, your flippant response to Roz, and your attack on Ms. Baker, comes across somewhat sexist, which I hope is not what you intended.

Third, all those issues you claim Ms. Baker " leads the witness" with are common sense issues as you suggest but yet your party is against them, i.e teacher tenure limitations,reducing business regulations, etc. They may seem " leading" to you as most would agree with them but yet your party is against these common sense issues.

Fourth, as Roz pointed out, both parties phrase issues to support their views... Has your party EVER used the word Tobacco or Oil without putting the word " Big" in front of it?

I actually think it is funny the worst thing you can say about Ms. Baker is that her survey to her constituents was allegedly " leading"... Wow, no wonder she was able to get elected in a Democrat stronghold despite being a Republican: Because she is the best person for the job and finally someone with common sense.

Posted by MM, a resident of Kottinger Ranch,
on May 5, 2015 at 7:59 pm

On the comment on the BART strikes

Perhaps, I do support the rights of "working" Stiffs (who btw make more than their peers in the industry) but I suspect that BART employees make much more than those they "inconvenienced" for a few days.

During those "few days of inconvenience", many of these riders had to find other ways to commute to their hourly jobs (and yes, there is not much sympathy for the highly paid tech workers in my statement) assuming they had alternatives.

It is true that the pendulum swings to extremes when the loonies from each side take control. In California, we know which side has control just like there are other states on the east coast where the RWNs rule the roost. For most of us who prefer the middle, alas, disenfranchisement is the only choice available.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on May 6, 2015 at 8:07 am

Quite a spirited defense of Ms. Baker, Am, but I'm quite sure she doesn't need your protection. And I suspect that, if she even reads it, she'll understand that it was not a personal attack on her or her legal credentials. Nor is it a technical-legal Evidence tome intended for a law review readership. Many other folks will know that, too -- if not you.

This was not a 'hit piece,' nor was its author seeking 'the worst he could find' on Rep Baker. Was it a 'hit piece' a few blogs ago when I criticized the nasty campaigns of putative Democrats Bonilla and Glazer?

I really also have to ask you to restrain your inclination toward personal attackage -- your comment above and your war on a commenter in Roz's blog as somehow disqualified because he is from 'another community' suggest that you have difficulty separating the writer from the content. Heaving brickbats at the writer is 'irrelevant' (in lay terms -- no hornbook citations, please), and it's precisely what I've clearly requested commenters to avoid. Kindly confine your vitriol to the blog message, rather than the messenger.

Finally, sexism is a serious charge. I'm dubious that it fits -- it feels like just another semi-solid flung at the wall to see if it'll stick. That said, I would look at it seriously if Ms. Baker were to make a similar point.

Posted by Northern lights , a resident of another community,
on May 6, 2015 at 9:42 pm

Them apples is rotten. Is that the correct response?

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