Community and Government Report, May 2009
Now that President Obama has passed the symbolic first 100 days and all of his cabinet nominees have been confirmed by the Senate, Washington should be getting down to business of governing. Not only has the president had his hands full with two wars, the declining economy, and a potential flu pandemic, he now also has a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Justice David Souter announced his intention to retire after the conclusion of this term. Most court watchers felt a Supreme Court retirement by April was possible, even likely, as it is not uncommon for a new administration, especially from a different party, to get a vacancy in the first few months in office. However, many felt 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, or frail Ruth Bader Ginsburg, might be the first to retire. Souter, 69, a George H.W. Bush appointee who is fairly young by Supreme Court standards, surprised many with his announced retirement. Since Souter has voted with the liberal block on the court, it does not appear the balance on the court will shift. Look for a Senate hearing later this summer. If the recent past is any gauge, any nominee can expect a contentious and lively confirmation process.
Speaking of Senate hearings, the president finally formally nominated Rep. Ellen Tauscher for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control. The Senate must schedule a date for confirmation hearings. As of this posting, that date has not yet been set. It is customary for members of Congress not to resign their seat until they have been confirmed by the Senate. As a result, do not expect Tauscher to resign until she has been duly confirmed by the Senate. Without a hearing or vacancy, we do not have a date for the special election to replace Tauscher. If the election is held in the fall, our students can register to vote here and participate in pre-election activities that may be scheduled on campus.
On April 29, 2009, the House and Senate passed the FY 2010 budget resolution (H.Con.Res 85), sending it to President Obama for his expected signature. In addition to funding the federal government, the budget proposes to transform college aid. According to the Washington Post, "At stake is a plan to expand the Pell Grant program, making it an entitlement akin to Medicare and Social Security. Key to the effort is a consolidation of student lending that would give the U.S. Department of Education a near monopoly over the practice -- a proposal that has mobilized the private loan industry, which lent $55.3 billion to 6.4 million students in the 2007-2008 school years." This office will be monitoring these changes very closely.
On the state level, things are less encouraging for higher ed. The state special election is now a few days away, scheduled for Tuesday, May 19. You may recall that the measures are a result of the last state budget impasse. The governor and Legislature placed these measures before the public to ratify many of the reforms, cuts and tax increases passed in the budget package. The potential impact on higher education cannot be overstated. According to several sources, if these measures fail, the Legislature and governor must make substantial cuts to the state budget. Higher ed could be hit hard. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, state aid for students enrolled in public and private institutions is likely to be on the chopping block if the ballot measures fail. As part of the revised budget Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated he will propose $87.5 million in cuts to Cal Grants, the state's main student-aid program.
The proposal, which was rejected by the Legislature earlier this year, would cap grant awards to students at public universities at current levels and reduce grant awards available to California residents who attend private colleges in the state by about $1,400 per student. It would also phase out the competitive Cal Grant program, which provides more than $100 million each year in grants, primarily to older and low-income students. Should these measures fail, look for the Legislature to begin another round of budget-related activities.
If you are interested in voting and have not received your sample ballot, please contact the Contra Costa Election Department, (925) 335-7800.
2010 statewide election
Legendary California Governor Pat Brown said people running for statewide office in California should not announce their candidacies "until the snow flies in the Sierra in the fall." Few of today's politicians take his advice, and several top tier candidates have announced plans to seek the governor's chair. For the Democrats, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom took full advantage of new technologies to twitter his intentions and he released a you-tube video. Other likely Democrats interested in running for governor include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown was governor from 1975 to 1983, but that was before the state term limits measure was approved by voters in 1990. As a result, Brown is eligible to run. Should he be elected, Brown, already the state's youngest governor would also become its oldest.
On the Republican side, three Silicon Valley moderates are interested in running. State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, former eBay executive Meg Whitman and former Rep. Tom Campbell. Look for them to duke it out throughout the summer trying to get attention.
The college recently hosted its annual Town-Gown breakfast. We welcomed new Town manager Mike Segrest, as well as new councilmembers Karen Mendonca and Howard Harpham. Veteran councilmembers Mayor Dave Trotter, Mike Metcalf and Ken Chew joined Saint Mary's College President Ron Gallagher, Vice President Michael Beseda, Vice President Pete Michell, Director of Public Safety Bill Foley, Director of Community and Government Relations Tim Farley and Brother Dominick Berardelli. Also in attendance were new Moraga Police Chief Bob Priebe, Planning Director Lori Salamack, Superintendent of Schools Rick Schafer, Fire Chief Pete Nowicki and Edy Schwartz, President of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce. The meeting covered a broad range of topics - of particular interest was the College's economic impact study, currently under way. The meeting resulted in a renewed sense of cooperation, partnership and community.
The Town of Moraga recently held its annual Treeline Triathlon, and several Saint Mary's students participated. Student-athletes Lyndsey Parker and Tiffany Warner were singled out for special recognition by the Moraga Parks and Recreation Department for their assistance during the day. Additionally, Saint Mary's students assisted with swim area, transition area, finish line, bike course, athlete registration and volunteer check-in. Congratulations to all students who volunteered their time and talent to make this event a success.
Condolences to the Majchrzak family, who recently lost Mike. Mike Majchrzak served the Moraga community for 12 years as city councilmember and three terms as mayor. Please keep the family in your thoughts and prayers
A final note on the Supreme Court. As we have become aware, the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominees has become contentious and polarizing. Regardless of whom President Obama nominates, many expect a long and protected confirmation process. The eventual nominee will likely receive several no votes. This is a far different situation from the confirmation experience of Howell Jackson in 1893. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison was defeated for re-election by Grover Cleveland. In those days the president was inaugurated in March, not January 20 as we are accustomed to today. During the interregnum, Justice Lucius LaMar died two months shy of the end of Harrison's term. Republican Harrison, the lamest of lame ducks, nominated Howell E. Jackson to the court. Jackson was confirmed, by a Democratic-controlled Senate, a mere 16 days after nomination. Can you imagine that in today's political climate?