Originally published in The Sacramento News & Review June 21, 2012
Arguably the most prominent Mormon in the world, the question of whether Romney can capture conservative and evangelical Christians is a major point of national political debate. Does it matter that Romney is not a traditional Christian? That he doesn’t believe in the Holy Trinity?
“You’re going to get a lot of different answers from different people,” admitted Pastor Rick Cole, of Sacramento’s Capital Christian Center.
Indeed, as many national church leaders have noted, evangelical Christians have been reluctant to embrace Mormonism, a sect of Christianity that emerged in the 19th century as part of the restorationist movement. They argue that the 14 million Mormons worldwide deviate too far from traditional Christianity.
This is because “[their] authority is the Book of Mormon,” reminded Brad Nystrom, a professor of humanities and religious studies at Sacramento State. Or, he explained, Mormons don’t view the Bible as the final word.
This faith gap came to a head earlier this year, when mega-evangelical pastor Rick Warren went on TV and cited the issue of the Trinity and the Book of Mormon as major sticking points for evangelical Christians. “That’s the historic doctrine of the church. Three in one, not three gods. One God in father, son and Holy Spirit,” he said. “Mormonism denies that.”
But Allison Coudert, professor of religious studies at UC Davis, says it’s the wrong call to assume evangelicals won’t turn out for Romney like they did for President George W. Bush.
“There are 2,000 different sects, denominations of Christianity,” she pointed out. “And who is to say which one has it right?”
Many mainstream Christians and secular voters, for instance, have limited knowledge about the Mormon religion because Mormonism is somewhat secret, Coudert added.
In spite of these differences, however, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently reported that Mormons are still predominately Republican: 66 percent identify themselves as conservative and 74 percent identify as GOP supporters.
And, perhaps surprisingly, Pastor Cole told SN&R that, for him, a candidate’s faith isn’t a deal breaker.
“For me, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “When it comes to whether a person is capable as a leader, I think we have to be careful to look at their whole ideology. … Our Constitution is based upon the freedom of religion. It will matter some, but it shouldn’t be, in my mind, the decisive question.”
Nystrom agreed that “most traditional Christians have a live-and-let-live attitude toward Mormonism.
“They don’t recognize the Book of Mormon, but since they aren’t involved with [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], it doesn’t matter much to them what Mormons believe.”
He added that a similar issue arose when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was campaigning for the presidency, an office typically held by protestant Christians.
“In that presidential race as well, the religious affiliations of the candidate mattered to many voters,” Nystrom said.
Cole did say, though, that there are evangelical Christians who aren’t on board for either Romney or President Barack Obama. And that morality can apply to more things than just faith.
“To me, economic issues are moral. World affairs and what we do with other governments is moral,” Cole said. “It’s all, to me, quite interconnected.
“We’re not going to agree with everybody on everything, [but] it doesn’t mean we throw them out because we don’t line up on a particular issue. There’s a whole lot more to it than ‘Is he Mormon?’ and ‘Is he Christian?’ I think it’s possible for Christians in good conscience to vote for a person of a different faith.”
Originally published at www.capitolweekly.net June 21, 2012
One of the programs with much to lose in this year’s budget fight is In-Home Supportive Services, which already has undergone major cutbacks as the strapped state grapples for funds.
But much more than state money is at stake: A potential IHSS reduction in $225 million to the program would have ripple effects.
IHSS is a state and federal Medicaid program that allows disabled and the elderly to be cared for at home in place of being institutionalized or put in convalescent care. There are currently 425,000 people who receive care-related services from IHSS.
But IHSS is not just funded by the state, which only cover’s 32.5 percent of the program. Fully half of IHSS is covered by the federal government, while the remaining 17.5 percent is covered by local county governments.
It’s a three-legged stool: Cut one leg, and the others must be cut proportionately.
“If state funding is reduced, it will also reduce federal and county funds,” said Oscar Ramirez, spokesperson for the state Department of Social Services.
The federal government participates in a system of matched funding with the state. This means that the federal government will partially fund programs or projects with a requirement that the state and local governments step up and provide money, too.
When certain services are eliminated in the IHSS program, not only does the state gain general fund savings, the federal budget will also receive savings. California counties will accrue savings for their general funds. In the end, the combined reductions mean less funding for IHSS.
Gov. Brown has called for the elimination of domestic and related care services for most IHSS patients who live with their care-providers, as well as a 7 percent cut to IHSS hours in addition to the 3.6 percent cut already in place.
The California Budget Project reports that approximately 254,000 individuals could be affected by elimination of domestic and other care services hours.
According to Rebecca Malberg, director of Home Care at Service Employees International Union and United Heath Workers West, the proposed cuts would mean every client that depends on this service would lose 7 percent of their hours.
“And any [careworker] who had a client living with them, they would lose hours they get for what’s called domestic services, which are things like cleaning, bill preparation, laundry,” Malberg said. “It would put people in jeopardy of falling, of malnutrition, and other events that could lead to hospitalization and nursing home treatment.”
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that federal and county funds total $575 million and is the matched funding to the state’s $225 million . In order words, as much as $800 million in state, federal and county funding could be taken out of IHSS if the governor’s proposed cuts for IHSS go through.
However, this scenario is off the table for the moment. The state Assembly and Senate have rejected cutting domestic and related care as well as the additional 7 percent cut to wages across the board.
What will likely happen, observers say, is the state will extend a 3.6 percent across-the-board reduction in hours to IHSS. Originally scheduled to sunset at the end of June, the 3.6 percent cut is seen as mild compared to deeper cuts that Gov. Brown called for in his budget proposal. This will save the general fund $58.9 million.
The state is currently pursuing additional federal funding through the federal Affordable Care Act. If California qualifies, the federal government could shoulder 56 percent of IHSS cost, instead of the50 percent it currently funds, offsetting costs to the state’s general fund.
Malberg said that people in her union are really passionate about having legislature understand why IHSS is so vital.
“We believe any cut to the program is people losing valuable hours of service… so when [IHSS] is threatened with massive cuts, the people who depend on this program to live and who know their quality of life would be remarkably different if they did not have this program,” Malberg said. “And year after year, they have been forced to fight off cuts to this program.”
Key selling points for California’s new top-two primary were that it would get centrists and moderates into the state Legislature, bridge the gap between polarized Democrats and Republicans and even heal a fractured electorate.
While the newly implemented system ultimately may do just that, one aspect of top-two is clear: In the November general election, which will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters from the June primaries, California’s minor and independent political parties will be shut out of state races. That’s because no minor-party candidate was among the top voter getters in any of the Assembly, state Senate or congressional races across California. In addition, the law that created the top-two primary eliminated write-in candidates.
Is this goodbye to the little guy?
“This (top two) is made to give the impression that people are happy to have two choices in November but it’s really not,” said Michael Feinstein, spokesperson for the Green Party and former Mayor of Santa Monica. “By taking away write-in [candidates], we can’t even express that we don’t like these choices other than stay home.” Feinstein’s party has about 100,000 registered members in California, which has 17.1 million registered voters.
Approved in 2010, the top-two primary was created by Proposition 14, which requires that candidates run in a single primary open to all registered voters, but only the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in November’s general election.
Voters now get the chance to choose any candidate regardless of listed party preference. Before, each California political party had its own designated primary and the winners of those primaries were put on the general election ballot. There will no longer be a write-in candidate option on the ballot.
On June 5, seven parties qualified for the primary election ballot: Democrat, Republican, Peace and Freedom, Americans Elect, Green, Libertarian and American Independent.
Laura Wells, the 2010 Green Party candidate for Governor, said it is more expensive to run in primaries because of Proposition 14. The filing fees to run for California offices at the Congressional or state level is between 1 and 2 percent of the office’s annual salary. State senators and representatives make upwards of $100,000.
Parties can qualify for the ballot by providing registrations of voters equal to 1 percent of the total ballots cast in the previous gubernatorial election, or about 103,004 signatures, according to the secretary of state. That’s no easy feat for a small party.
“Top-two primaries favors incumbents and highly funded candidates,” Wells said. “It had a chilling effect on people’s ability to even run…people get disheartened.”
Critics of the new primary system also contend that because candidates now have the option of not listing their political party, this opens the window for rogue candidates to run for a party. Members of political parties can no longer vote on who will represent their party in the general election with only one official nominee from each party. Feinstein noted that this actually isn’t the case any longer, because AB1413 — which was approved in February — changed the process and now candidates must list their party preference if they have one.
C.T. Weber, the state chairperson for the Peace and Freedom Party, is a critic of the top-two primary and has said that the number of candidates his party was able to run was greatly reduced because of the new system.
“I think people were duped. It’s a very undemocratic system,” Weber said. People were promised that they would get more choices and so while they may have gotten more choices in the much smaller, much more insignificant primary elections, the number of choices that they have are greatly reduced for the general election, he said.
“It’s also disingenuous to decide how you want to have the results of an election and then try to build an election system that will give you the results that you want,” Weber said.
The Peace and Freedom Party, its roots deep into the anti-Vietnam War protests during the 1960s, has approximately 60,000 members across the state.
Not all independent parties in California are bashing the top-two primary system.
Markham Robinson, executive committee chairperson of the conservative American Independent Party has come out in favor of the primary system. There are 430,000 registered American Independents in the state.
He said that even though it narrows the field for the general election, the primary round casts a wider net for candidates to make it to the general election. He also said he sees it as an opportunity to make inroads with more mainstream, conservative-minded politicians.
“We [were] able to convey our endorsements where our voters can see it,” Robinson said. “We took advantage of that and endorsed 78 candidates [in the June primary] – Republicans who were constitutionalists and conservative enough for us, followed by independents, libertarians – all the parties that are not left.”
Wells also said she saw opportunities for alternative parties to overtake the general election. The young people at a grassroots level need to mobilize.
“There is an opening and let’s go for it. Because anybody can vote for anybody in the June primary, then let’s run an independent in 2014 here in California and get in the top two. Sooner or later, this two-party system that we have here in this state and this country has got to crack,” Wells said.
The nonpartisan Field Poll, which has been surveying the California electorate since 1948, projected the June 5 primary with the lowest turnout in presidential primary history in California. No more than 6 million voters turned out for the primary. Primaries typically see low voter turnout compared to the general election in November.
“The current system overstates support for the large parties and understates people who favor the smaller parties, said Feinstein. “If you’re a democrat in Orange County or a Republican in San Francisco, you get no representation, so that’s not a smart system and that’s one of the faults of a winner-take-all system. What the top two primary jungle is, is a band-aid on a broken system.”
As they tell it, James and Mary Lyons have always been collectors of broken gadgets. Coming from a painting and graphic-design background, the Lyons began designing steampunk jewelry full time in 2010. Today, the couple collects all sorts of things, like antique clocks, scattered game tiles, brass drawer handles, antique pins, and vacuum tubes from old-world amplifiers and radios and repurposes them into jewelry. The Lyons sell their upcycled pieces at events and festivals throughout Northern California, and at their online shops The Castle Walls and Steampunk Jewelry Company.
I can see steampunk being commoditized on a mass scale at places like Urban Outfitters or Forever 21.
James Lyons: It was really frustrating in the beginning, seeing people who have no interest in what steampunk represents mass producing a fake gear that’s supposed to look like something that came out of a working timepiece and selling it off as steampunk. We stand out because, we don’t cut corners. Our pieces are telling a story.
Why does steampunk’s mix of science-fiction and fantasy appeal to so many adults?
James: I think it’s the celebration of invention; kind of a mixture of old and new together—a collision. During the Victorian times, there was an aesthetic, a décor, a passion put into everything we built, so much so that we decorated our inventions. Steam-engine trains were decorated with embellishments and gold trim. It wasn’t just functional; it was a piece of art.
Mary Lyons: I’ve always been into that genre, the Victorian age and older things, castles, beautiful French furnishings—so it all kind of fell into place for me. All the pictures I would paint, draw, everything was kind of into The Castle Walls—that aesthetic. We just love old things. Our house is filled with old things. Even if it’s broken … it’s beautiful, and I don’t want it to go to waste.
Do you have any steampunk influences?
James: Oddities. Jules Verne is a perfect example. It’s me, because it’s antique science-fiction.
Mary: To me, it’s Queen Victoria. She’s my influence. I just adored her, because that kind of crossed both genres for me—the castle thing and the steampunk thing.
How did you start making jewelry?
James: My wife started making game-piece charms, and we started going to Second Saturday with just the game-piece charms. It got a huge response, and so we started experimenting with other media. I started working on clock parts and old jewelry.
Where do you get your raw materials?
Mary: Everything is secondhand. All the [game] tiles I use are secondhand. They’re from thrift stores, estate sales, yard sales, flea markets. We have vendors at flea markets who are looking out for stuff for us.
James: One of the rules that we have is, it has to be a broken timepiece. It’s about finding something that might end up in a landfill and making it useful again.
What are the best and worst media images of steampunk?
James: I don’t know if it’s necessarily steampunk, but the Victorian-era movies are really hot right now, like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I think one of the best has got to be Hugo. Worst is Cheap Thrills, the costume shop in Midtown. It’s kind of like how Hot Topic is punk rock.
Mary: And Evangeline’s. They’ve got all that mass-produced steampunk. … They’ve somehow turned goth into steampunk, and it’s all mass produced, and it’s all overdone. It’s like a comedy of steampunk.
Does it really bug you?
James: I guess I take it seriously because I grew up on science-fiction, so I have that science-fiction flair that goes all the way back to childhood. When you go in and can buy a cardboard top hat and you call it steampunk, it’s kind of sad.
Mary: He was really upset and pissed when we first went into Cheap Thrills. Not because they had it, but because they were charging so much for it. We try to keep it low. You want your art out there. You don’t want it to be so ridiculously high.
James: We’re making enough money to keep doing it and to support ourselves, but the truth is that if we raised our prices too high, people automatically love it, but can’t afford it. In this market, in this economy, that’s kind of why we got into it. My work being a painter, work is hard to come by, and so this was an opportunity for us to take control.
That’s the case you would make for people to buy artisan things?
James: Absolutely. It’s found art. It’s not just something that can be put into a mold or crust and then called “steampunk.” It may have something that stylizes steampunk, but it doesn’t have the identity.
Rarely have there been so many tempting targets for those who favor closing corporate tax loopholes.
As Gov. Jerry Brown calls for $8 billion worth of cuts to California’s social services, education, public safety and state worker pay – among an array of other cuts – a study by a labor-financed, tax-equity group urged the state to eliminate some $6 billion worth of corporate tax breaks, which would not only ease the slashing of social services but make inroads into the state’s $16 billion shortfall.
The California Tax Reform Association’s recommendations come at a time when Brown is proposing $400 million in cuts to Medi-Cal, a 7 percent cut in wages to In-Home Support Services workers totaling $100 million, a $40 million cut to Cal Grant student loans, a one-time $500 million cut to courts construction, and a 5 percent cut to state employee hours that is said to save the state $400 million.
The California Labor Federation, which represents some 1,200 unions and 2.1 million workers, has asked the Legislature to do a thorough review of corporate tax breaks and loopholes that do not benefit California.
Brown, who was elected in 2010 with heavy labor support, has made it clear he doesn’t want to make the cuts.
“Government is a nurse. It’s a teacher. It’s a highway patrolman. It’s someone working in a mental hospital,” said he said last month when unveiling his revised 2012-13 budget. “And when we cut, that’s what we cut.”
Rather than reduce services that will disproportionally affect the poorest and most vulnerable in the state, the report calls for the elimination of the elective tax provision – critics call it a loophole, supporters call it an incentive — that allows out-of-state corporations to choose the method by which they will report income to California each year. The provision is known as the single sales factor because it allows companies to base their tax liability on their level of sales in California, rather than the level of their business activity as a whole.
The also report targets the oil severance tax, which puts a tax on oil as it is extracted from the ground. California, the study noted, is the only major oil-producing state that fails to tax oil production.
Doing away with these two loopholes alone could raise the state $3 billion in tax revenue, according to the report.
Critics of establishing the oil severance tax say California has other levies that make up for the loss of revenue to the state, and they believe the single sales factor encourages business development, but backers of the proposed taxes are deeply skeptical. Other tax breaks include provisions in change-of-ownership laws that provide some $2 billion to businesses, and nearly a billion dollars from off-shore tax havens and enterprise zones, the report noted.
“The system is broken…there just so many ways to avoid [paying] taxes, when we’re looking at the kind of cuts we’re facing, the reason for issuing this report is this is low hanging fruit in the tax system,” said Lenny Goldberg, a lobbyist and author of the report.
“These (closing the loopholes) are easy things that have implications for the California economy and yet it is absolutely not being considered. And so when we are making terrible, serious cuts, we have got to be considering some of this.”
One bill, AB 2439, is making the rounds in the state Senate after the Assembly amended the bill May 25. Co-authored by Assemblymembers Mike Eng and Nancy Skinner, both Democrats, AB 2439 calls for transparency of corporate profits and tax disclosures. One of its goals is to find out whether corporations elect to use the single sales factor, which allows out-of-state companies to choose how much income they report to California.
“We do know there are a number of major companies in California that for some period of time did not pay any state income taxes,” Goldberg said. “Wells Fargo and Intel that paid zero in state income taxes…now we don’t know whether those are California state income taxes, but we do know that they paid zero in state income tax for parts of 2008, 2009 and 2010.”
Big companies shouldn’t be allowed to peg their tax bill “only on the percentage of their sales done in California, which is a far smaller fraction of their income,” Goldberg wrote in an L.A. Times op-ed piece. “This is “money for nothing” — companies do not have to provide a single new job to receive a huge tax cut, which benefits their worldwide shareholders.”
The California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business and employer-supported associations, have joined together to fight AB 2439, saying it attempts to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the entire corporate income tax code based on one number and will lead to inaccurate conclusions and create public pressure for bad reforms.
“We’re not necessarily opposed to legislators having access to information to help them identify areas of reform, but we think the information they are seeking under this bill (such as single data points) is potentially misleading,” said Beth Mills, spokesperson for the California Bankers Association.
Mills said that in many cases corporation tax returns are publicly available and that companies work with the Franchise Tax Board to sort out some of the complex transactions. Sometimes when there is no income tax paid, the proposed law doesn’t take into account why that may be. If there were losses, for example, a corporation may be allowed to claim zero state income tax, she said.
According to Gino DiCaro, vice president of communications at the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, it is already very difficult for companies to compete in California, with manufacturers carrying an extra 13 percent tax burden on top of electricity rates that are 50 percent higher than the rest of the country. He said removing any tax incentives could force more losses on the state’s industrial job base.
There are approximately 630,000 manufacturing jobs in the state and CMTA represents about 600 companies, including Kraft, Boeing, Altria, Del Monte and Intel, among others.
“Manufacturing has got to be seen as the backbone of any recovery for California with the highest average wages and tremendous ripple effect in the economy,” DiCaro said. “We’ve already lost a third of that job base in the last decade and these are jobs that pay on average $71,000 per year. These are the middleclass jobs that California needs. Well, we have 2 million unemployed.
“We have an unpredictable regulatory environment. We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that California manufacturers can compete and grow in this state, which currently it’s very difficult to do so,” DiCaro added.
Steve Smith, spokesperson for the California Labor Federation, contends that the option to use the elected single sales as a means of reporting taxes discourages out-of-state companies from locating here.
“This actually incentivizes corporations to do more business and create more jobs in other states than it does in California. And so that’s one of the examples of how ludicrous of these tax breaks are,” Smith said. “The last thing we should be doing is providing incentives for corporations to move jobs out of California and subsidize them for doing it, which is precisely what the elective single sales tax does. And that’s about a billion dollars a year in additional revenue brought into California.”