Campaign Trail

Sanders comes to SF to talk about ending student debt

Sanders introduces the panel at his town hall on college costs.

Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall in San Francisco on Friday to discuss one of his campaign’s major promises: canceling student debt.

An excited and packed crowd of more than 1,000 gathered at SVN West, a former car dealership on South Van Ness Avenue, to listen to the presidential candidate’s ideas to advance accessible and affordable education for all and ask questions about his platform.

Sanders introduces the panel at his town hall on college costs.

Sanders’ initiative, dubbed the “College for All Act,” would eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt for 45 million Americans. According to his campaign, the College for All Act would also provide at least $48 billion a year to eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public universities and colleges, community colleges, apprenticeship programs, trade schools, and tribal institutions of higher education through a tax on Wall Street speculation.

“Every person in this country regardless of his or her income has the right to get a higher education,” Sanders said. “Maybe it’s college or university, maybe it’s going to a trade school—whatever it may be, financial impediments should not stop you from fulfilling your dream.”

The presidential hopeful was joined by several elected officials, including former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner and former San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, both of whom work for his campaign; Turner serves as Sanders’ national co-chair and Kim serves as his Bay Area regional campaign director. Before introducing the senator, Kim took the stage to highlight the need to get involved in Sanders’ campaign to further progressive goals like accessible education.

“There is no proposal more aligned with the American dream and our values than making sure that college is accessible for all and that we cancel student debt,” Kim declared. As supervisor, she championed the effort to make City College of San Francisco tuition free for residents.

Sanders’ campaign also shared the stage with four local speakers. Among them were Gabriela Lopez, who serves as an educator and San Francisco School Board Commissioner, and Mia Satya, an employment services coordinator at the SF LGBT Center. Freedom Siyam, the principal of Balboa High School in San Francisco, and Damaris Bonner, a student leader at Notre Dame de Namur University, were also in attendance. All panelists discussed their personal experiences with student debt, as well as the larger impact that expensive and inaccessible education has had on the people and students they serve.

“I can’t dream about buying a home,” said Satya, who shared that her struggle with student debt has been compounded with issues of housing affordability, exorbitant medical bills, and lack of disposable income to cover emergencies. “Don’t tell me that skipping coffee is going to get me out of poverty,” she said.

Commissioner Lopez discussed the difficulty of navigating higher education as a low-income, first-generation student. “I was the first in my family to go to college, and I did not have the support or understanding of navigating that because my parents did not have the tools to guide me,” she said. Lopez shared that she has accumulated $80,000 in student debt. “Canceling student debt would change my life forever,” Lopez said.

Sanders also emphasized that four years ago, discussing free tuition for higher education was considered a radical idea. However, he said that cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles have made the idea of tuition free higher education “less radical” every day.

“Nothing is possible until it happens,” said Bernie, loosely quoting Nelson Mandela.

Sanders has undoubtedly influenced the political landscape and many of the issues, especially the idea of free college, at the forefront of the 2020 race. Sanders is not the only Democratic presidential candidate with a plan to tackle student debt and address college affordability. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has also unveiled a plan to fund universal tuition-free public college and address student loans. Unlike Bernie’s plan, Warren’s proposal comes with eligibility criteria; her plan would forgive a maximum of $50,000 in student debt for borrowers in households earning below $250,000 a year. Similarly, Sen. Kamala Harris also touted a student debt forgiveness proposal, but elicited confusion and backlash for the amount of conditions necessary to get $20,000 in debt canceled.

Though the theme of the town hall was student debt and college affordability, the crowd also brought up questions and comments about climate change, unions, wealth distribution, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his support of Standing Rock and indigenous communities. When asked if he would pass the Equality Act on day one through executive order in response to Trump’s rollbacks on protections for the LGBTQ community, Sanders answered “yes” with no hesitation. He wanted to answer as many questions as possible before he had to leave to catch his flight.

Sanders was the only major Democratic candidate to host a public event during the Democratic National Committee’s meeting in town this past week.

Milk Club narrowly opposes Big Tobacco

This has been a product aimed at teens.

The Harvey Milk LGBT Club voted narrowly this week to oppose the tobacco-industry-funded vaping initiative, Prop. C, after a process that has led some club members to call for more transparency for corporate lobbyists who are also members.

The vote came after organizing efforts from both sides, and as is often the case, some last-minute memberships, mostly from the Yes on C camp.

This has been a product aimed at teens.

Yes on C is almost entirely funded by the vaping-device manufacturer Juul, which is now partly owned by Altria, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.

The measure would overturn a ban on the sale of vaping products in San Francisco, which as passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors.

Juul is spending millions on literature, TV ads, consultants, and lobbyists and made a pitch to the Milk Club that reflected the company’s strategy for seeking progressive support.

The argument: Banning adult use of any drug is always a failure. The campaign talks about “prohibition” and says that regulation is a better approach. Juul also talks about the harm-reduction value of allowing adult smokers to switch from cigarettes to vaping, which might be less dangerous.

But Juul from the start marketed its products to kids, with flavored tobacco that no adult smoker was going to want. High-school students are now vaping (and getting addicted to nicotine) at alarming levels– and many of them go on to smoke traditional cigarettes.

Lee Hepner, correspondent for the Milk Club Executive Board, noted on Facebook:

It would be an understatement to say I’m disappointed by the level of infiltration by Big Tobacco and the cynically-named Campaign for Responsible Vaping at the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club. If you were at yesterday’s PAC recommendation process, you’d have seen at least 6 paid lobbyists and campaign reps on hand for almost the entire 6.5 hour deliberations. Another half dozen folks had been planted by the campaign to influence the discussion, some of whom I’d never seen before at a Milk Club meeting. We’re talking about a 15 vote threshold for the PAC’s recommendation!

On a substantive level, I don’t believe that allowing Juul and Altria to write public health regulations concerning nicotine vapor products – and allowing them to spend tens of millions of dollars to spread misinformation to voters in order to pass them – is the right way to set public health policy in this city. I don’t believe the harm reduction arguments are genuine when the ratio of children getting started on nicotine products to adults using them to get off cigarettes is 80:1. I certainly don’t believe the Juul rep who said they’ve never targeted children, while simultaneously admitting that their past advertisements explicitly targeted the youth demographic.

One of the Milk E-Board members, MacKenzie Ewing, is on the paid staff for the Prop. C campaign, records at the SF Ethics Commission show.

Hepner told me that “some longtime club members are being paid by Juul.” Nate Allbee, who helped consult on campaigns for both David Campos and Hillary Ronen, received what appears to be a monthly stipend of $15,000 ]from Juul, Ethics documents show.

The vote was 92 no and 46 yes — just above the 60 percent threshold for an endorsement.

I called Allbee for comment on the Milk Club endorsement, and he hasn’t gotten back to me.

It’s a bit tricky on one level: “We encourage club members to get involved in campaigns,” Hepner told me. It’s a long club tradition, and some of the most progressive leaders in the city got their start working as Milk Club members on political campaigns.

It’s also not uncommon for political campaigns to seek to “pack” club endorsements by getting people to sign up as members just before the critical meeting.

“The distinct factor in this case is that the funding for this campaign comes entirely from Big Tobacco,” Hepner said. “That threat to the club warranted organizing around.”

Gabriel Haaland, a longtime club member, said he’s proposing new bylaws that would increase transparency around endorsements. He suggests that nobody who is paid by a corporate client should be allowed to serve on the Milk E-Board; that anyone involved in the club’s endorsements process who is paid by a client should have to disclose that fact – and that paying someone to vote or being paid by someone to vote a certain way would be grounds to revoke club membership.

“These should be bylaws for every democratic club, and the Democratic County Central Committee,” Haaland told me.

Hepner said that generally he supports Haaland’s approach. “Something like that needs to happen,” he said. “Sunshine on dark money is always a good policy.”

Kevin Bard, the Milk Club president, told me he’s been thinking about bylaws reform for some time now. “We could ban third-party payments for memberships,” he said. In the past, parties with an interest in the outcome of a vote have bought memberships for others; “this is how the club gets stacked.”

He said he thinks much of what Haaland is proposing “is reasonable.”

“We have to do something about this down the line,” Bard said. “It’s going to be a bit topic of discussion in upcoming meetings.”

What happens if Wiener gets challenged from both the right and the left?

The idea that former state Sen. Quentin Kopp is planning to challenge incumbent Scott Wiener sets up some fascinating political possibilities.

I talked to Kopp, who is also a retired judge, this week and he told me he is completely serious. At 91, he’s ready to run another major campaign. “And people are already calling me up saying they want to donate money,” he said.

Wiener’s last version of a housing deregulation bill became an issue in the mayors race when Jane Kim opposed it.

There are obstacles: State law now limits anyone to 12 years total in the state Senate or Assembly, and Kopp has already served 12 years in the Senate. But the current law was passed after he left. “If anyone brings that up and objects, we will litigate,” he said.

So first a court will have to say he can run, and an adverse ruling would short-circuit any campaign.

But if he prevailed, Kopp said he would go after Wiener directly on his attempts to force the city to upzone to allow more market-rate housing. That will be popular in the more conservative parts of the West Side, where Kopp has also been popular for decades.

Wiener beat progressive Jane Kim for the Senate seat in part by getting the support of Republicans and conservative Democrats on that side of the district.

But those voters — for a lot of reasons, some good and some bad — don’t like Wiener’s current approach to housing.

Most of the time, state legislators from SF run effectively unopposed. You win the first time, you stay until term limits force you out or you run for a higher office.

But what happens if Kopp is allowed to run and challenges Wiener on housing and local control (Kopp has always been an advocate of local governments controlling local decisions – and actually supported former Sup. Harry Britt’s legislation in the early 1980s that would have imposed rent controls on vacant apartments in SF, and he told me he supports the repeal of the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins) – and then another strong candidate challenges Wiener from the left?

The March 2020 election will be open primary, meaning the top two vote-getters from any party will advance to the November election. There will be a Republican in the race, but that person won’t get many votes (especially if Kopp is running). So what if Kopp takes the conservatives and neighborhood activists who hated SB 827– and a progressive candidate runs saying Wiener is on the side of the real-estate interests – and the incumbent gets squeezed from both sides?

Former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano told me that, with the race suddenly looking like it could be open, he is actively looking for a progressive candidate to take on Wiener.

The reality is that Kopp has a long mostly conservative record on both economic and social issues (as recently at 2013, he told the Examiner he didn’t expect he would ever attend a same-sex wedding) and I’m not sure he would have any chance of beating Wiener one-on-one in a district that includes all of San Francisco and a little bit of the Peninsula. But could he take enough votes from Wiener on the West Side to let a progressive take enough votes on the East Side and leave Wiener out of the running in the general election – which would then clearly go to the progressive candidate?

Long shot, maybe. Kopp may not be able to run under term limits. Wiener has the strong support of the mayor, would have unlimited money and the power of incumbency and would seek to marginalize Kopp as someone out of touch with today’s politics. Kopp has only limited support among progressive voters.

But in a three-way race with a serious contender on the left – who might agree with Kopp (for every different reasons) on the failures of Wiener’s approach to housing?

Who knows?


Vallie Brown’s big real-estate money

The supervisor has the support of local real estate and development interests

The campaign contribution filings for the first six months of 2019 are now public, and the most dramatic news involves the D5 supes race.

For starters, challenger Dean Preston has matched the fundraising of the incumbent, Sup. Vallie Brown. That’s unusual – incumbents typically have a sizable advantage in raising money.

The supervisor has the support of local real estate and development interests

When you dig into the actual donations, a remarkable pattern emerges: Brown has a stunning amount of money from the real-estate and development industries – and Preston has essentially none.

My analysis of the contributions shows 78 individuals who work in the real-estate or development business gave a total of $32,650 to Brown in this period, which represents about a third of all the money she raised.

The biggest chunk came from agents and employees of Vanguard Properties. But most of the big real-estate players gave money, much of it in $500 chunks.

Preston got exactly one real-estate contribution — $200 – from an agent at Zephyr in Oakland.

It seems pretty clear that the real-estate and development interests have chosen a favorite in D5.

Preston has more, smaller donors. His single largest category is lawyers, mostly tenant lawyers, which is no surprise: Preston has been a tenant lawyer for years and founded Tenants Together, the statewide renter-advocacy group.

That won’t be the end of big money – and likely big tech and real-estate money – in this race. Just days before the filing deadline, a group called Friends and Neighbors in Support of Vallie Brown for Supervisor put in paperwork with the Ethics Commission. There’s no money in the account yet. It’s run out of a shop in Sacramento that often handles independent-expenditure committees for powerful interests in San Francisco.

Within a month or two, I would bet that account has upwards of $100,000 in money from Mayor London Breed’s big money allies. The ie will no doubt be used to launch attacks on Preston.

The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez reports that more of Brown’s money is from the district, and that Preston got more from other parts of the city and from out of town. I don’t find that at all surprising at this point. When Art Agnos ran for mayor in 1987, he got a substantial amount of his money from out of town – because, he told me later, the entire local power structure refused to support him. I don’t think it made any difference in the race, which he won.

Preston’s running as a Democratic Socialist – and there are DSA people all over who would see his election as a big victory.

It’s clear to me that this race has citywide implications. If Preston wins, for example, he would be the sixth vote for Matt Haney’s homelessness commission – something the mayor opposes. He would bolster the progressive majority on the board – and I think people from all over town care about that.

The biggest issue, since both sides have enough money to get their message out, is going to be turnout. There’s no big contested race at the top of the ballot to draw voters to the polls. So the winner in D5 will most likely be the candidate who can turn their supporters out, before and on Election Day.

Once again, Biden looked terrible

Stumbling, unclear -- he's not the front runner.


There were no defining moments in tonight’s debate – except for this:

Once again, Joe Biden looked terrible.

He couldn’t explain his health care plan, which doesn’t seem to be much of a plan at all.

Stumbling, unclear — he’s not the front runner.

He totally fell apart when the debate turned to immigration. NY Mayor Bill DeBlasio asked him whether he supported the Obama-era deportations. Biden: “I wasn’t the president, and my advice to him is confidential.”

Worse: Biden said that crossing the border is a crime – although “anyone with a Ph.D should be allowed in.”

It just went further downhill when the issue of criminal justice took center stage. There’s no excuse for Biden’s long history of “tough on crime” laws that created the massive incarceration crisis. And yet, the former VP never said he did anything wrong.

Instead, he tried to attack Harris and her record as a San Francisco DA (although he didn’t mention San Francisco, he just said “she was there and had a police department.”) There’s plenty of reason to criticize Harris and her record as DA and attorney general, but Biden’s stumbling approach and his refusal to acknowledge the mistakes of the past were embarrassing.

When Harris asked Biden why he supported the Hyde Amendment, he said that a lot of people in Congress voted for it.

The only thing he ever said to explain his past votes – and he said it several times on several issues – is “that was a long time ago.”

The Democrats need to do a better job selling the idea of universal health care.

They fought and squabbled on stage tonight, and Sen. Kamala Harris probably did the best at explaining why Medicare for All would work, but even she didn’t do that well. Her plan – which is still linked to private insurance companies, so it’s not really Medicare for All – came under attack from former VP Joe Biden who said it would cost $30 trillion. Sen. Bennett of Colorado (why is he even in this race and debate?) said it would raise everyone’s taxes.

Harris said that her plan would, eventually, sever the connection between employment and insurance. That’s the right approach, but she either didn’t have time or didn’t know how to make it clear:

We are already paying those trillions of dollars for health care. We’re either paying out of pocket through Obamacare (which is way, way too expensive to be effective, trust me I’ve been there) or we are paying because our employers are putting money into the insurance industry instead of into our paychecks.

Julian Castro was the only candidate who even mentioned the housing issues that are the defining problem in most of the country. He said: “The rent is going through the roof.” That was about it.

DeBlasio, who is not going to make it to the next round, tried to be the Bernie Sanders of tonight’s debate: He started off by saying “We will restructure society and tax the hell out of the rich.” In his closing statement, he said that Trump represents “socialism for the rich.”

That, however, was about all the discussion that there was about taxation and economic inequality. The moderators pretty much ignored the issue. And the fact that only DiBlasio made it a serious issue is a major concern: The Democrats aren’t going to win unless the can present a clear economic agenda that appeals to the working class.

I didn’t see it with these candidates tonight.

CNN gives the GOP its talking points

This is the level of "debate" that CNN offered."

The moderators at tonight’s Democratic debate pretty much wrote the Republicans’ talking points. It was stunning: Over and over, they asked Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren whether they would support “a middle-class tax increase” to pay for universal health care. They allowed the most conservative candidates to say that Warren and Sanders would “rip the health insurance away” from 160 million people who currently have employer-sponsored insurance.

This is the level of “debate” that CNN offered.”

Sanders did a decent job responding, saying that Canada has universal health care, better outcomes, and lower costs. He also said that if the US had universal health care, the money that employers pay for health care could go for “decent wages.”

But he didn’t manage – in the tiny time frame that he got – to make that point more clear. We are paying for health care, one way or another; either it’s coming out of your paycheck because your employer is paying for it, or it’s coming out of your taxes. As Mayor Pete Buttigieg noted, “you are paying the same money from taxes or insurance premiums.”

And if it comes out of your taxes, you are going to get a better deal.

At least it will if your employer uses the huge financial benefit of not paying for your health care to give you higher wages to offset the tax cost. And for those people under union contracts, there’s a good chance that will happen.

What the Democrats need to say is that they will make sure that employers shift that money to better wages. They need to explain how the numbers work for the average person. And that’s impossible to do when the moderators are pushing GOP talking points.

Same pattern happened with immigration, where the moderators kept pushing the question of whether decriminalizing border crossings and giving immigrants health care “will incentivize immigrants to come to this country illegally.”

Yes, said the more conservative candidates. Sanders was the only one who pointed out that there’s a reason people walk for 1,000 miles to reach the US border – and that helping rebuild the economies devastated by NAFTA would do more to decrease immigration more than all the border walls and laws you can pass.

Then we got this: “Is Senator Sanders too extreme to beat president Trump?”

Or: “Are Democrats moving too far to the left to defeat Donald Trump?”

Sanders noted that every credible poll showed him beating Trump in the swing states. Again, Buttigieg: “If we embrace a far-left agenda, the Republicans will say we are crazy socialists. If we run a more conservative approach, they will say we are crazy socialists.” So why not run on things that will work?

Elizabeth Warren had one of the best lines: “I don’t understand why someone would run for president of the us just to talk about all the things we can’t do.”

It just got worse: Moderator Dana Bash asked about Sanders plan to get rid of gasoline powered cars would hurt union members in Michigan and Ohio.

Sanders: “I get a little tired of Democrats being afraid of big ideas. What do you do with an industry the knowingly for billions of dollars in profits is destroying this planet?”

Warren got an excellent point in at the end, saying that people who have more than $50 million in wealth should pay two cents on the dollar above that amount. With that two cents, she said, we can have universal child care, free college tuition, and so much more.

Nobody said a word about urban issues, particularly housing. CNN doesn’t seem to think that matters.

No decisive moments at the debate, although Warren on the wealth tax was close. Sanders and Warren made it clear that the only way any progressive agenda can happen is if we take on wall street and the fossil-fuel industry. The rest of the candidates spoke as if we can work with the existing power structure to solve problems. That’s the big difference we saw tonight.

The stunning corruption that shows why supporters are pushing a Dark Money initiative

Image from Brennan Center

The Board of Supes Rules Committee heard today why the city needs to seriously upgrade its campaign-finance disclosure laws in an era when dark money increasingly controls politics.

The hearing was a pro-forma discussion on a ballot measure that’s heading to the voters in November. But the information presented to the committee provides some context for why the city needs new rules on political donations.

As Sup. Hillary Ronen, who chairs the committee, pointed out, it’s illegal for someone who is seeking a city contract to give money to the people who could approve that contract – but it’s not illegal for a real-estate developer to give money to the officials who can make land-use decisions.

It’s illegal for corporations to give money to the campaigns of local officials – but it’s not illegal for the partners of real-estate development LLCs to give money.

Larry Bush, a long-time ethics advocate, said that 90 percent of the lobbying in San Francisco is in one way or another related to development.

Jon Golinger, who is one of the leaders in the initiative campaign, gave me this chart, which is stunning. Click on that link: It shows how executives with one outfit, TMG Partners, which is involved in a number of controversial local projects, have flooded the city with campaign money. This is only a small sample:

From Golinger:

Over the last dozen years, TMG executives gave 327 contributions to 32 candidates (and sitting city officials) for Supervisor, Mayor, and City Attorney totaling $148,399 in contributions.  Most of the time they came on or around the same date from the same group of a dozen or so TMG executives.  TMG can’t give anything directly to these candidates because of the corporate contribution ban so this is the end run exploited by this and other developers that the Sunlight on Dark Money Initiative will close.

Remember: TMG, which has pending land-use decisions that my come to the board and the Planning Commission, appointed by the board and the mayor, can’t legally give a dime. Any one individual can only give $500.

But when you bundle all the TMG money together, it’s a flood of cash – and everyone who gets that money knows where it came from.

TMG gives money to a wide range of candidates, including in 2011 three competing candidates for mayor (that way, no matter who wins they have an in). It’s noteworthy that many of the same partners who are giving and have given money to Mayor London Breed are also supporting Vallie Brown for supervisor in D5.

Former Supervisor and state Assemblymember Tom Ammiano talked about how corrupt the system has become. He said that a lobbyist for only local company (“I don’t want to identify it so I will only use its initials, PG&E,” he said to laughs) told him he could raise $25,000 for Ammiano – 50 times the legal individual contribution amount – if the supervisor would be friendly to the company’s interests.

When he turned that money down, the lobbyist was stunned – the system is so deeply engrained that it’s considered highly unusual for any elected official not to play by its tainted rules.

The measure would ban contributions from any individual with a stake in a land-use decision from contributing to any local official until 12 months after the city has completed its review of the project.

It would also ban the practice of secretive big-money donors bouncing money back and forth through independent-expenditure committees that are almost impossible to track until after Election Day.

All of the committee members, Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Gordon Mar, who is the major sponsor of the measure, made clear their support. It will be fascinating to see if the mayor’s allies, who are the kings of dark money, will try to find a way to oppose it.

Deputy Sheriffs Association resorts to bizarre Red Scare tactics in DA race

The role of law enforcement in the district attorney’s race has become a political issue as the SF Police Officers Association endorsed, then unendorsed, Leif Dautch – and the Deputy Sheriffs Association posted a video from the John Birch Society opposing Chesa Boudin.

Yeah, that John Birch Society– the 1950s-era group that promoted Red Scares, opposed the Civil Rights Movement saying it was created by Communists, and has long been so far on the right-wing fringe that nobody took it seriously.

These two creepy white guys are on a John Birch Society video invoking the Red Scare days

That John Birch society that is now making a comeback under Trump.

Let’s start with the cops.

Dautch, who is a deputy attorney general, met with the police union “as a matter of courtesy,” he told me, since the POA had already donated money to Nancy Tung, an Alameda County deputy DA and he assumed she would get the nod.

“I led with police accountability,” he said. “I was a little surprised when they called to say they were endorsing me.”

Now: I understand that Dautch wants to reach out to everyone – but I can’t imagine why any candidate for public office in San Francisco today would want the endorsement of the POA. That group has become so toxic that their name in a campaign is political poison.

Then Dautch apparently said something wrong, because without telling him, Michael Barba reported in the Ex, the union withdrew its endorsement.

Dautch told me he had hoped that under new leadership, the POA might have changed – “but clearly the way they have behaved shows this is the same old POA.”

Dautch, however, has the support of the SF Deputy Sheriff’s Association – and the group just posted on its Facebook page a bizarre video from The New American Magazine, the publication of the John Birch Society.

The post says “share if you care.”

The video is almost like something out of the Witch Hunt Days; it’s a paranoid rant laden with references to Marxism, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Mihn, and Mao. One of the subheads says that the “son of terrorists is running for SF DA – is Soros supporting him?”

I don’t believe George Soros has any role or interest in the San Francisco district attorney’s race.

“It’s full of inaccuracies and the worst kind of fake news,” Boudin told me. I’d go beyond that: It’s something out of a deeply dangerous and discredited time, something you might expect from Joe McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover. I can’t believe that anyone in San Francisco would take this sort of thing seriously. Except that the Deputy Sheriffs Association did.

I called the association and left a message; they haven’t called me back.

I called Dautch yesterday, and he said he hadn’t seen it. Tonight he told me he still hadn’t seen it and had no comment.

Boudin told me that he did not seek the endorsement of the POA. He said he filled out the questionnaire for the sheriffs association, out of courtesy, but declined their request for an interview.

“I respect the rank-and-file members of law enforcement,” he told me, “but I don’t think the current politics of these two organizations represent San Francisco values.”

Suzy Loftus, former Police Commission president, said she didn’t seek the POA endorsement. She went for an interview with the sheriffs, but said she didn’t expect their support.

Her campaign put out this statement last week, when the post first went up:

A video is circulating on social media attacking Chesa Boudin and his family by a Wisconsin-based website that acknowledges its ‘editorial point of view’ and
routinely refers to San Francisco as a ‘nanny state.’ As a native San Franciscan who is raising my three daughters here, I am proud of our city and
the values we stand and fight for every day. I call for a positive campaign on the issues facing our city.
Personal attacks have no place in this campaign. This race is not about the actions of any
candidate’s parents. San Francisco voters will judge each candidate by their own history, track record, experience and vision for addressing the many safety and justice issues facing our city. I look forward to a lively campaign season where we debate ideas on how to make San Francisco the most safe and just city in America.”

The end of Joe Biden as a serious candidate for president

Kamala Harris had a breakout moment.

The second round of the Great Debate tonight — and it’s a flawed concept — started with a kind of bogus question about socialism. John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, was asked about “socialism,” and said that if the Democratic Party supported socialism, Trump would win.

Bernie Sanders had a great chance to respond: When Social Security was approved, it was called “socialism.” When Medicare was passed, it was called “socialist.” Instead, he talked about what a liar Trump is.

Kamala Harris had a breakout moment.

That set the tone for the debate that was not a great night for Sanders, who seemed on the defensive. He wasn’t able to explain how his health-care plan would actually work in effect (which is hard in 45 seconds).

In a later interview, Sanders said that for all the good ideas out there, there is no way that any of them will happen as long as the corporate power structure is in place. But he got overshadowed by the drama of a clash between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

It was a terrible night for Biden, who looked confused, incoherent – and got his ass handed to him by Kamala Harris. What we saw tonight was the end of Joe Biden as a serious candidate for president.

Harris went after Biden over immigration policy – she said that she opposed the Obama Administration’s deportation policies. Then she pushed him, dramatically, on civil rights. She said that she was a student who was bused to a school to encourage racial equity – and she pushed him on why he opposed busing.

Biden said he didn’t oppose busing – he just opposed a federal mandate. He looked like a fool – Harris made it clear that civil-rights legislation exists because some states have blocked efforts to fight racism.

Joe Biden is done. He could have admitted that he was wrong, way back when — instead, he tried to defend something indefensible.

Harris had that “moment.” She was also the only person, other than Bernie Sanders, who said she would abolish private health insurance. (The next day, she backed down.) And she came off very strong on gun control.

Pete Buttigieg came under attack for a white police officer shooting a black man in his hometown – and he admitted that his police force is not diverse enough. “I couldn’t get it done,” he said, “it’s a mess and we’re hurting.” Unlike Biden, he seemed willing to take responsibility.

A couple of takeaways from the past two days:

The “frontrunner” status of Biden is over. I can’t imagine any democrat watching tonight and saying he is our next president.

In the spin sense, Bernie Sanders did not have a great night – but on a policy level, he has shifted the Democratic Party in a profound way. All of the candidates who have a serious chance of winning the nomination have adopted at least some of the economic-justice agenda. In terms of issues, Bernie Sanders has already won the debate.

Eric Swalwell will become a joke on Saturday Night Live because he kept saying that he wanted to “pass the torch” to a new generation. He said it three times.

Harris and Buttigieg came off well on gun control. Biden, again failed – he said that the enemy was the “gun manufacturers, not the NRA.”

There was very little discussion of foreign policy – although Biden had a bad answer to why he voted in favor of the Iraq War, and Sanders made it clear that he was one of those to lead the efforts against the war.

And there wasn’t enough discussion of economic justice, despite Sanders’ efforts.

I still think the person who did the best in this two-night speed-dating session was Elizabeth Warren.

It was the end of Biden and the emergence of Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris as contenders.

Now we need to talk about how any of them other than Sanders and Warren will address the fact that radical economic inequality and climate change are an existential threat to this country and the world — and will require profound new economic policies that start with income and wealth redistribution.

So far, Harris, Castro, and Buttigieg have largely ignored or ducked that reality.

The limited discussion of student debt and economic issues was infuriating: There was talk from Buttigieg about refinancing student debt. Biden talked about hiring more teachers. But education alone isn’t going to solve economic inequality, and training for the “jobs of the future” won’t fix the fact that there is no economic future as long as the top one percent control so much of the wealth of society.

Let’s see if the candidates who did well tonight can make that case to the American people — who, according to the most recent polls, still think Bernie Sanders is the best hope to beat Donald Trump.


What the vaping ballot initiative is really about

You can’t walk around San Francisco these days without running into somebody gathering signatures to “raise the legal age for vaping products” or to, as one told me, “keep kids from buying tobacco.”

One person with a clipboard told me that this would “raise the age for vaping from 16 to 21.” I am getting reports that in some parts of town, the petitioners are saying that Mayor London Breed supports this move.

Actually, the initiative was created, written, and is fully funded by JUUL, the electronic cigarette company that is now owned in part by Altria, the global tobacco giant.

Mayor Breed has not endorsed it.

It’s already illegal for anyone under 21 to buy any tobacco product, including vaping products, anywhere in California, including San Francisco.

So what’s this all about? Simple:

The Board of Supes Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee is holding a hearing Friday/7on legislation by Shamann Walton that would ban the sale of vaping products in the city. Walton would also ban the manufacture of tobacco products in San Francisco (which would be a problem for JUUL, which operates in a building owned by the Port.)

The case against selling vaping products? They haven’t been approved by the FDA, and they’re aimed to a significant extent at kids:

Since 2014, the problem of youth electronic cigarette use (“vaping”) has become an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), the number of middle and high school students who are current users of tobacco products increased from 3.6 million to 4.9 million between 2017 and 2018. This increase – which was driven by a surge in e-cigarette use – erased past progress in reducing youth tobacco product use.

The political operatives at JUUL realize that they may not be able to block the legislation at the board – so they’re going to the ballot with their own alternative.

The ballot measure would overturn any legislative ban on vaping products – but to make it sound better, it says that nobody can buy vaping products if they are under 21 (which is already state law). And it would require vaping products to be kept behind a counter (which pretty much every retail outlet does anyway). So the measure doesn’t add any significant regulations at all — but petitioners can go around saying the measure is aimed at stopping kids from vaping.

Any parent who has kids in the SF high schools, including me, knows how bogus that is: Raising the age to 21, which California did in 2016, hasn’t stopped high-school kids from vaping, any more than raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 stopped college kids from drinking.

Walton told me he is not surprised at the misleading signature campaign:

JUUL is a seriously irresponsible and untruthful company. They have been bought out by big tobacco and continue to deny that they target our youth and focus on addicting them to nicotine for a lifetime, all for profit. It does not surprise me that they would got to deceitful tactics to support their targeting.

The initiative campaign send me this statement:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are looking into the matter, and will make sure there is no misinformation shared in relation to signature gathering for the initiative.

Ted Kwong at JUUL sent me this statement:

“We share the City of San Francisco’s concerns with youth usage of tobacco and vapor products, including our own. That is why we have taken aggressive action nationwide, including stopping the sale of flavored products to retailers and supporting strong, restrictive category wide regulation to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth. But this proposed legislation’s primary impact will be to limit adult smokers’ access to products that can help them switch away from combustible cigarettes. We encourage the City of San Francisco to severely restrict youth access but do so in a way that preserves the opportunity to eliminate combustible cigarettes. This proposed legislation begs the question – why would the City be comfortable with combustible cigarettes being on shelves when we know they kill more than 480,000 Americans per year?”

I’ve never been a fan of prohibition of any drug; adults who are fully informed of the risks can do what they want to do, including smoking or vaping. Selling products designed to hook kids on nicotine is an entirely different story.

And I am a fan of transparency, so now you know: The ballot initiative isn’t about protecting kids; it’s about protecting JUUL sales. Sign it or don’t; the issue of banning the sale of tobacco is complicated. Just know what it’s really about.