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Jerry on fracking; Abel's 'never mind' moment

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Rifling through the scribblings on a reporter's notebook...

THE GOVERNOR SPEAKS ON FRACKING -- For the first time since the issue has risen to prominence in California, Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday was asked at a news conference to discuss his view on fracking. His answer was revealing, because in a two-minute span he twice mentioned that the possibility of using fracking to tap California oil reserves previously thought to be unrecoverable "could be a fabulous economic opportunity."

He didn't directly respond when asked if he rejected the idea of a moratorium, but the context of his comments indicated he had no interest in that option. "I stand on intelligent analysis of the issues," he said. "This could be good, but there are issues and I want to take a look at them."

His administration's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has been circulating a "discussion draft" of possible regulations that would, for the first time, establish regulations specific to hydraulic fracturing, the practice of injecting under high pressure a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into the Earth to create fractures in subsurface rock in order to release embedded oil and natural gas reserves. The formal process of implementing regulations is expected to begin this summer. In addition, several bills have been proposed in the Legislature this year to impose statutory regulations.

Brown said he believes those processes can yield appropriate protections before fracking becomes commonplace in the state. "I don't think they're ready to go yet," he said of the oil industry's hopes to use fracking to tap into the Monterey Shale formation. "I think we have time to do it right."

That answer is consistent with comments earlier this year by the CEO of Occidental Petroleum (a company that has been aggressively leasing mineral rights in Ventura County), who told industry analysts that he didn't believe heightened oil and gas production in California would begin until 2014 or 2015.

Opposition to fracking has become a rallying point for environmentalists and liberals around the state. Earlier this week, California MoveOn.org, the liberal online political organizing group, reported that its efforts had resulted in 40,000 signatures on petitions to lawmakers demanding that fracking be banned. It said it would deliver those petitions to members of the Assembly the week of May 27.

Brown said fracking should not be looked upon as a political issue. "This is not about saying ideologically yea or nay," he said.

OOPS, WRONG ANECDOTE -- Critics of the state's public safety realignment program, which has shifted responsibility for incarcerating 25,000 low-level criminal offenders from state prisons to county jails, are fond of citing anecdotes that they say show that the shift has resulted in dangerous people being released from confinement earlier than they previously would have been.

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is expected to announce any day now that he will be a candidate for governor next year, has launched an initiative drive aimed at abandoning realignment. At his news conference last week announcing that effort, he began by citing some anecdotes of his own. His first example was Anthony Jerome Roberts, whose oversized photograph was displayed on an easel standing beside him.

The photo was an attention-grabber, because it showed a very menacing-looking African-American man with a scraggly beard and what appeared to be drug-addled eyes. His image was very much reminiscent of that of Willie Horton, the furloughed Massachusetts murderer that the campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush famously used in the 1988 presidential race to scare white voters and paint former Massachuesetts Gov. Michael Dukakis as being soft on crime.

But it turned out Roberts' history of crime and punishment had absolutely nothing to do with realignment. He was last discharged from state prison in 2003 -- seven years before the realignment program was established. He may have been a menacing-looking fellow with a history of violent crime, but his only apparent role in the issue Maldonado was addressing was to help incite public fear.

After the error was reported in the Los Angeles Times, state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton fired off a letter to his Republican counterpart, Jim Brulte, asking the GOP chairman to condemn Maldonado for his "Willie Horton-style" attack.

"Maldonado's attack wasn't just cynical - it was wholly inaccurate," Burton wrote.

Republicans' political use of the issue, however, has apparently caught Brown's attention. In his revised budget proposal released yesterday, he proposes to allocate an additional $72 million to county probation departments for their supervision of realignment offenders. In addition,he proposes to allow counties to turn over to state prison some long-term offenders housed in their jails, provided they accept an equivalent number of shorter-term offenders in exchange.

A TEST OF A NEW COUNTY POLITICAL FORCE -- I wrote here in March about the potential significance of the new action fund controlled by CAUSE, the Ventura-based community organizing group that advocates for the issues of concern to low-income workers.

Now, the first test of this group's effectiveness is around the corner. The CAUSE Action Fund has issued its first candidate endorsement -- backing Mario Quintana for Oxnard City Council in the June 4 special election.

The potential effect of this endorsement is magnified by the fact that this will be a low-turnout special election. If CAUSE can effectively reach out to even a tiny fraction of the low-frequency voters it mobilized for the fall 2012 elections, their influence on the outcome would be huge.

USING RIDICULE -- Republican Assemblyman Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita, whose district includes Simi Valley, has found an outlet for some of the frustration that stems from being a member of a caucus that includes less than a third of the Assembly. Because Republicans are consistently outvoted, their one route to relevance is to ridicule the votes taken by Democrats, portraying various bills in the most ludricrous manner they can construct.

Wilk has launched what he promises will be a regular feature on his website -- "Say what?" -- in which, according to his newsletter, he will "expose the outrageous ideas that are approved in Sacramento."

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95 percent accurate
Over the last 25 presidential elections, Ventura County voters have backed the winner 24 times, or over 95 percent of the time. It is one of only a handful of counties in the nation that has been such a predictable bellwether.
about Timm Herdt
Timm Herdt
The Ventura County Star's Sacramento Bureau Chief Timm Herdt on state issues and politics from Sacramento to Ventura County. He can be contacted at therdt@vcstar.com
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