I attended a program earlier today, “Exporting California: California’s Influence in 2008 and Beyond”, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, the James Irvine Foundation and the New America Foundation. The main fare centered around our state’s influence on the 2008 Presidential election and also on “Making Policy in the ‘Nation-State’ of California. There will be some articles on that tomorrow.
But what caught my attention were some comments by Michael Villines, the Republican leader in the Assembly and Governor Schwarzenegger on prison reform and their suggestion that a deal is imminent.
Villines’ comments came first during a freewheeling panel where there was a fair amount of bonhomie and visions dancing in his head and that of Speaker Nunez of bipartisan cooperation. They had both just landed back from Washington, D.C. where they and a number of their colleagues had met with members of the California Congressional delegation and other Senators and Members of Congress.
In the middle of a long statement about working on a number of issues, he said this:
“We’re going to work together for Californians first. That is what Republicans want. There is no doubt about it, you know that’s what the Democrats want. So now we have to do it. We have to be adult and we have to show up. We’ve got a prison issue that we’re going to have to resolve. I believe we can do that. The broad pieces of a deal are there and it’s time to go forward.”
40 minutes later, also in the middle of many thoughts, this cropped up in what he was saying:
“I believe that we’re setting a trend for the country in working together. I believe our respective parties demand us to our core principles that we won’t waiver on, but then you enter into these talks and solve problems, and I think you’re going to see that on prisons soon.”
So, as the panel broke and we were going over to have lunch with the Governor (and a couple of hundred folks), I asked him about this and he told me he indeed thought there would be progress on the prisons soon.
At lunch, the Governor was talking about health care and the different proposals. He said:
“So right now, what I think is every one is trying to get all the stakeholders together. We have met with union leaders…So, it’s all part of the song and dance and the kabuki that’s going on right now, you know they do the little things they always do and then all of a sudden it goes very quickly when they all get together. I think, I have great hopes that we will have prison reform within the next week and a half or so–two weeks. I think then after that when they come back from the spring break, we’re going to go and really tackle this problem of health care. I see great signs that both Democrats and Republicans want to get this done.”
Later on, he was asked by Mark Baldassare of the PPIC: “As you look at this year, other than health care what are the things that the governor and the Legislature can accomplish on behalf of Californians this year?”
“Well, I think that one of the two things which is extremely important and they have been a problem for decades is prison reform and its healthcare. Those are the two most important things and then, of course, there’s creating accountability in education. But those two things are really the first and most important thing. And you don’t want to put too many big issues on the table because then they can’t handle it.”
He seemed to be placing the prisons first for solution and then health care. But why all this optimism about the prisons?
Checking back under the Capitol Dome, it seems unlikely that we will reach nirvana that soon. The legislature recesses next Thursday and they will all be out of town until april 9. Richard Stapler, spokesperson for Speaker Nunez told me. “We’re continuing to meet with the Administration and other caucuses in both houses on these issues.” A similar response was had from Senate President pro Tem Perata’s office.
The pieces I put together are that there is intense pressure to come up with a short term solution and a bond measure to be placed on that convenient February 5, 2008 election. The deadline to do something–and to show real progress–is probably in May with the Federal Court’s repeated threat to take over the prison system and reports to be issued by various receivers and special masters followed by court hearings in June.
The short term will not include out of state transfers or private facilities. There may be some facilities to move prisoners into. One proposal floating around is to have tents used!
Beyond that, to keep the Feds at bay, it will take a combination of construction of new facilities, early release, beefing up of parole, and other changes that are more long term for Judge Henderson, who has the main case in all of this, to give the state additional time.
Everyone knows this and that it takes a two-thirds vote to place bonds on the ballot. So there’s pressure to strike a deal somewhere between the Governor’s idea of a $10 billion or so plan to build new prisons and sentencing reform. There’s a big gap between many of the Democrats and Republicans.
The money has to come from somewhere, and even with the use of bonds, it will compete with other spending in future years.
The Governor appears to be a bit optimistic. Time will tell.