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Hand holding out a stack of money tied to the end of a stick for briberyBetween them, Central Coast congressional candidates Casey Lucius and Jimmy Panetta have raised more than $725,000 so far to propel their campaigns, thanks in no small part to the generosity of investment bankers.

Several donors identifying themselves as venture capitalists, fund managers or investment bankers made the maximum contribution of $5,400 to the candidates, with most favoring  Democrat Jimmy Panetta but several opting to help the Republican underdog, Lucius.

Under federal election rules, the maximum contribution from an individual is $2,700 but that individual can double up by writing one $2,700 check for the June primary election and another for the November general election.

The latest campaign disclosure forms also show that Panetta, son of former Congressman/CIA Director/Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has raised $563,000 and is also receiving considerable help from the congressional crowd, including several members who worked with his father. They include Jim Costa, Tony Coelho, Steny Hoyer, Vic Fazio, Marty Russo, Bud Cramer, Dennis Cardoza and Zoe Lofgren as well as the lobbyist wife of former Sen. Tom Daschle.

Panetta, a prosecutor for the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, also picked up a fair measure of support from Monterey County’s budding marijuana industry. He received $1,420 from lawyer Jeff Gilles, whose firm specializes in representing marijuana interests, $1,500 from medical marijuana advocate Valentia Piccinini, $1,000 from commercial pot grower Mike Hackett and a contribution of free or discounted office space from Mike Bitar, who puts together investment syndicates for marijuana-related ventures.

(Incidentally, Bitar is a host of a fund-raising event tonight for Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Estrada Adobe, 470 Tyler St., Monterey.)

Attorney James Panetta in court on July 25, 2013. (Vern Fisher/Monterey County Herald)Panetta is the obvious favorite because of the Panetta name and the Democratic leanings of the 20th Congressional District, now represented by the retiring Sam Farr, D-Carmel. But Lucius, a Pacific Grove city councilwoman, has raised some $162,000, the most ever raised by a GOP candidate in the district, and has impressed a serious slice of the electorate with her knowledge of international affairs and defense matters.  She is a former professor of national security for the U.S. Naval War College, the Naval Postgraduate School and other schools, a former naval intelligence officer and operations assistant to the U.S. ambassador to Hanoi.

Her largest contributions were $5,400 apiece from Tiburon investment banker Robert Hofeditz, venture capitalist Lloyd Alexander of San Francisco and Palo Alto asset manager Franklin P. Johnson of Palo Alto.

She received $2,700 from Charles Munger Jr. of Palo Alto, the California GOP’s biggest benefactor in recent years. Munger has contributed millions annually over the past several years, often targeting female and Latino candidates for help.

cbkmE29VAside from those contributions, Lucius has received mostly local money, including $2,000 from contractor Don Chapin, $1,000 from Margaret Duflock, who almost single-handedly financed the successful sheriff’s campaign of her son-in-law, Steve Bernal, and $500 from Salinas entrepreneur David Drew.

In addition to the investment bankers on the list, Panetta reported local contributions totaling $10,800 from the Antle farming family, $10,800 from the family of beer distributor George Couch, $10,000 from broadcasting executive David Benjamin and his wife, medical researcher Laurie Benjamin, and $8,100 from the Ted Balestreri family. He also picked up $500 from the girlfriend of local GOP stalwart Paul Bruno.

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Lucius-2Since November 1976 — the year “Watergate Babies” were elected to Congress in droves — two Democrats have won victory after victory to represent the Central Coast of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties in the House of Representatives.

By November 2016, the undefeated streak put together by Leon Panetta and Sam Farr will have reached 40 years. During that time you could count the number of their “serious” opponents on one hand. A three-toed sloth could count the number of challengers who raked in any serious money from national Republican contributors without using every toe on one paw. The GOP hasn’t put in a lot of energy trying to wrest the decidedly Democrat-leaning district from the Democrats. Nor has the party put up carefully groomed candidates for the seat.

Which is why one local political pundit breathlessly heralded this week’s campaign announcement by first-term Pacific Grove Councilwoman Casey Lucius with the words “a possibly NOT insane GOP candidate” is in the race.

Lucius, a Navy veteran who left her job as a professor at the Naval War College in Monterey to run, certainly has the military background helpful for a GOP candidate to burnish one’s national security credentials. And her husband is a retired Marine to boot, now working for the — wait a minute — Humane Society.

Lucius, who campaigned for the Pacific Grove Council in 2012 by emphasizing the unmet needs of children and young parents, aimed for the same new-breed, next-generation approach in her opening salvo against Farr.

She said it is time for “new ideas and a new generation of solutions” and someone representing the Central Coast in Congress who is not bound “to follow partisan dictates.” Those are lofty sentiments. But given the lockstep partisan character of most national Republicans, it’s difficult to see Lucius doing much to shake up her party’s hard positions on climate science, abortion, health care, gun control, income disparity, voting rights, campaign finance or the likes.

Unknown-1That’s not to say Lucius isn’t trying to sound like a very different kind of Republican that voters in a traditional Democratic bastion might take a fancy to.

Lucius says she supports gay marriage, improving the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights under Roe vs. Wade, and is concerned about climate change. Of course, she also says she is for the Second Amendment, a simpler tax code and fewer government regulation, all tried-and-true GOP sound bites. She veered further from current GOP orthodoxy in remarks to Jeff Mitchell of the Salinas Californian. She condemned the “Citizen’s United” Supreme Court decision that unleashed an avalanche of campaign spending in the name of corporate free speech, and she said she and her family are longtime vegetarians.

I look forward to the reaction from Central Coast cattle ranchers, many of whom probably still have dusty Bush-Cheney bumper stickers on their pickups, to that news about Lucius’ dietary preferences.

To mount a serious challenge to Farr she’ll need a lot of money — at least $1 million, she estimates — and that kind of cash comes from the kind of people who like their candidates — Republican or Democrat — to hew close to the party line. Given her views on gay rights and abortion, I wonder how Lucius would even find a Republican presidential candidate to vote for among the current field.

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The Partisan really hates to come off like a nag. Really. It’s just that giving positive advice requires effort, even research, but raising questions and being critical is, as they say, a piece of cake.

This is about the city of Monterey’s apparent plan to spend $80,000 to hire some fellows back east to provide guidance on how Monterey can keep its military institutions up and running after the congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission performs its next round of cost-cutting. It’s on the 4 p.m. agenda today, so if you have something to tell the council on this subject, you need to start getting ready now.

The Partisan isn’t a fan of war and the like but recognizes that closing the Naval Postgraduate School or the Defense Language Institute would have quite an impact on the local economy. If a vote were taken on whether the people of Monterey would like to keep these institutions open, those who oppose the operations on philosophical grounds would be beaten into submission.

But the idea of paying $80,000 to something called Public Private Solutions of Alexandria, Va., raises several questions.

First, what is PPS? It has a web site but about all it says is that the company is run by a couple of people who used to work for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Their names aren’t provided. Details of their work aren’t provided. These people are probably friends with someone here in town. Who might that be?

The Peninsula is already in pretty good shape when it comes to knowing the right people when it comes to warding off base closures. Our own Leon Panetta ran the Defense Department not long ago. One of his close associates is Fred Meurer, the former Army colonel and Monterey city manager whose great work on protecting bases is the stuff of long reports and weekend retreats. Nationally, the approach is know as the Monterey Model.

I heard that Fred was willing to consult with the city on this effort. Which is fine, but I’m not sure the city would need  to pay him. He’s got a fine retirement plan already. Maybe there is a clause in his retirement contract allowing him to be summoned back to active duty. His work with Panetta involves raising money for a shiny new Panetta Institute and I’d think that business interests supporting the base protection effort would be willing to show their appreciation by donating to the institute project.

Another thought. The contract amount, $80,000, doesn’t buy a lot of consulting time these days. Might it be more effective to simply bribe someone?

Finally, the current assistant city manager, Dino Pick, is a retired military officer who knows his way around the base closure process as well. That expertise is a large part of why he was hired. Monterey’s been through this before. Meurer and others would be willing to fill him in on some of those details.

If top city officials really, really think we need to hire outside help, OK, fine then, but not until they’ve spelled out the whys and the whos in much greater detail than in the staff report for today’s  meeting.

I move we table the item. Do I hear a second?

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自衛隊 小銃Leon Panetta, the most respected politician ever to come from the Central Coast, has a new book out called “Worthy Fight,” and he’s been making the rounds of cable shows doing interviews about it.

Since Panetta, who served President Obama as both secretary of defense and CIA director, criticizes the president for his decisions on Syria, Iraq and ISIS, the book tour has caused a lot of twittering in the Twittersphere.

Right-wingers, of course, are ecstatic to see one of the president’s right-hand men knock the White House. They knock the White House every day and always can use a little help.

Left-wingers are aghast that a) Panetta didn’t hold his fire until January 2017; b) Panetta flip-flopped on the use of torture in the endless war on terrorism once he took the helm at CIA and apparently went native; and c) Panetta is sad more U.S. military boots aren’t on the ground today in Iraq.

This apparent transformation, in hopes of selling more books, of a once left-of-center Democrat into a neo-neoconservative has been disconcerting for Panetta admirers both in D.C. and here on the Central Coast.

He was on Bill O’Reilly’s no-spin-zone FOX News show earlier this week, and the conservative blogosphere feasted on Panetta’s knocks of Obama that Billo elicited.

As always, I missed O’Reilly, but figured I would take in Panetta’s extended interview Wednesday night with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

My enthusiasm was whetted for two reasons: Some liberal pundits back east gleefully reported Stewart knocked the stuffings out of Panetta for his turncoat ways. If there is a gravitas-wielding newsman left in the world, it is fake newsman Stewart, for whom NBC execs reportedly were willing to rob Fort Knox to take over their battered “Meet the Press” Sunday show.

Unfortunately, the Stewart interview was lackluster. Panetta’s belly laughter operated at full force. Stewart made a few perfunctory CIA jokes. Panetta said the situation in Syria is chaos, and the battle against ISIS is going to take years. Nothing earth-shaking there.

When Stewart knocked Congress for taking a break without debating U.S. strategy against ISIS, Panetta said the president should call the legislators back for such a discussion. Stewart said members of Congress could take it upon themselves to convene a debate. Panetta got the biggest laugh when he responded, “This Congress has had a hard time trying to find the bathrooms in the Capitol.”

Panetta pointed out the 1,500 to 2,000 U.S. advisers in Iraq, for the ostensible mission of helping the Iraq army fight ISIS, wear “boots on the ground”

So Stewart asked why 5,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops would do much better, after the Iraq war demonstrated the high costs of trying to impose a democratic form of government in a region beset by religious infighting for centuries.

Panetta seemed to agree, but went on to say the greatest threat to U.S. security is dysfunction in Congress. “We are operating by crisis,” he said.

When Panetta said he recalled when Congress worked well across party lines, Stewart sputtered, “How OLD are you?”

Panetta reeled off the names of congressional leaders who did great things on civil rights, the environment and health care when he was a young Senate aide and Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

Then my iPad froze, and I missed the last couple minutes. I figure Panetta either told some great Tip O’Neill stories or blasted Obama for a big fail on the Ebola epidemic. Hard to tell when there are books to sell.

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PURELY OPINION: The Monterey Herald gets one right

For many readers, a good editorial is one they agree with. As long as the conclusion or recommendation is on target, the supporting information is secondary. For good editorial writers, however, the supporting information is the most important element. After that come the usefulness of the analysis, the crafting of the piece and, finally and in a distant fourth place, the actual position taken.

An editorial is an opportunity for a writer schooled in a topic to use any number of creative tools to analyze and explain an issue of public importance. Unlike the beat reporter, largely constrained by the rules of he said/she said journalism, the newspaper editorial writer is free to use various writing devices to demystify anything from water politics to Dave Potter’s political longevity. That’s why astute readers are likely to disregard the most subjective passages while keying in on the rest of the package.

The importance of the underlying information is why I was pleased to see the announcement in Sunday’s Monterey Herald that Phyllis Meurer has been added to the Herald’s editorial board.

This means Meurer will have a place at the table when the four-person board considers its positions on various issues. Presumably, her vote will carry  as much weight as that of the other members, Publisher Gary Omernick, Editor Don Miller and editorial writer Tom Honig. (Sometimes publishers insist on veto power, which seldom works out well.)

The upside here is that Meurer brings a deep understanding of government, politics and public policy in Monterey County. She is a former Salinas city councilwoman, a onetime leader of the League of Women Voters and the wife of former Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer. What she doesn’t know about public affairs in Monterey County, her husband does.

Some readers of the Monterey Bay Partisan will remember that I was editor of the Herald until February and I wrote the editorials for the past several years. I am not a fan of what has happened to the editorial page since my departure – a sharp right turn in the choice of columns and editorial cartoons and a decline in the number of local editorials and columns. Some of that is a function of the relatively short tenures and divided focus of the editorial board members.

Omernick has been publisher about six years but the realities of modern newspapering require him to concentrate on the business side of the operation, both here and at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Miller has spent his entire newspaper career at the Sentinel, where he continues to serve as editor even while holding the same position in Monterey. He is counting the days to retirement. Libertarian-leaning Honig also spent his entire newspaper career in Santa Cruz before being replaced by Miller. Honig’s relatively short Peninsula experience prior to his recent Herald assignment consisted of working for the Armanasco public relations firm and the Panetta Institute. I write about their backgrounds not as criticism but to explain their challenge. It’s tough to thoughtfully editorialize on local issues when your idea of local involves a different locality. Meurer’s appointment to the editorial board can help change all that. She has a remarkable depth of local knowledge and an endless list of local contacts to help the Herald unravel the issues.

Still, there already has been grousing in some quarters—progressive quarters—about Meurer’s new role. I believe much of it is misplaced and, even if it isn’t, it really doesn’t matter all that much.

One issue on the left side of the political dial is her leadership role in the successful campaign against last year’s Measure M, which was intended to stop the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack development at Fort Ord. She told me she was motivated largely by her belief that the proper government decision-making process is preferable to decision-making by referendum. I strongly disagree with her, largely because the government process in the land-use arena is easily and often corrupted. But because she probably doesn’t see the government process the same way, her position is sincere if not valid.

During that campaign, I called Meurer to ask how she defended the highly deceptive advertising her camp was using in its campaign against Measure M. I wasn’t satisfied with her answer, which essentially was that the other side was being deceptive as well. But I did come away feeling that she truly believed what she was saying. Some of my environmentalist friends who were on the opposite side of the issue have suggested that she was somehow bought off. She was not.

Also from the progressives comes concern about Meurer’s husband, Fred, who ran Monterey’s City Hall for decades before retiring and taking a position with the Panetta Institute. Fred was an exceptionally capable and accomplished city manager who could balance a budget in the morning and fix the Planning Department copy machine before lunch.

In recent years, unfortunately, Fred Meurer has been vilified by some as a tool of business interests, the hotel industry, the good ol’ boys of local commerce. I understand the perception. The local economy and city government revenues are so dependent on the hotel industry and other elements of the local power structure. (Did I mention Cal Am yet?) I don’t embrace the accusation, however, because when a City Council has five members, city managers quickly learn how to count to three. Those who didn’t like Meurer’s administration should have spent less time complaining and more time getting their candidates elected or lobbying the successful candidates. Fred Meurer would have been an equally forceful and successful manager on behalf of an entirely different sort of city council.

Phyllis Meurer is an independent and highly capable woman who has nothing to apologize for as she assumes this new role. While I was at the Herald, the publisher talked often about bringing a woman from the community onto the all-male editorial board. I made a series of suggestions but never mentioned Phyllis because of Fred’s City Hall role at the time. If not for that, I certainly would have recommended her.

It doesn’t particularly concern me that she favors Monterey Downs. For reasons I never understood even though I was there, the paper editorialized early on in favor of that project. Never mind that it is seriously misplaced and doesn’t have an adequate water supply and that horse racing is the sport of scoundrels. It doesn’t concern me that her husband has been a huge figure in local politics and public policy for decades. I am won over by knowing she brings with her a wealth of knowledge about how things work around here, about who pulls the strings and even about where the bodies are buried.

One thing that does concern me is that her new role could help cement the Herald’s fear of offending Cal Am. Fred Meurer has been a consistent supporter of Cal Am, which has developed a loyal following in the business community by engineering a pricing structure that favors large commercial customers over residential water users. Phyllis Meurer will provide a valuable service if she demonstrates her independence and research skills in this area.

During the recent campaign over Measure O, the unsuccessful ballot measure in favor of public ownership of the Cal Am water system, Monterey County Weekly published an absolutely excellent editorial in favor of the proposition. Beyond the appropriate conclusion, what made it so strong was the information and analysis it presented. It was unusually long, long enough to discuss each significant issue and explain it to a population that was clearly confused. It was so well researched that it would have been instructive even to the staunchest opponent of Measure O. The Herald’s editorial opposing the initiative was little more than a rehash of Cal Am talking points.

It is my hope that with Phyllis Meurer aboard, the Herald will be reminded of the importance of research no matter which direction the paper leans on specific issus. As I said at the start here, editorials succeed not by how much they persuade but by how much they inform. I expect Meurer to provide some of the necessary information and, when she doesn’t have it, to ask that it be provided in some fashion before an editorial decision is made. If she draws from her strong League of Women Voters experience, the Herald and its readers will be well served—even when its opinions are all wet.

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