The Best California Posts of 2005

We’ve sorted through a huge pile of terrific entries and come up with what we find to be the top five California focused posts of the year. You people wrote a lot of great stuff! Ranking among these five was impossible so they are presented in no particular order. The envelope, please…

I won’t give myself anything more than a hopefully somewhat honorable mention, but my personal favorite this year was Pacific Edge, and everyone else’s seems to have been Hope. But we’ve also got one other special award to (virtually) hand out…

    Jen Ancona, Writing and Leadership
    Jen Ancona has done battle this year with everything from broken laptops to flaky web applications to well organized and overcapitalized conservatives. She volunteered enormous quantities of time, writing on two blogs and starting the California Speaks Out network, getting the state focused progressive weblog scene moving. As her husband, I’m something less than a completely impartial observer but it would have been a terrible injustice if no one said anything! You can read the best of her work from this year – and her trademark solid research and crisp, crystal clear writing – over at PowerPac’s Between the Lines.

Huzzah to all our winners, and all the other folks who have written such great stuff over the past year. Of course this was totally subjective and just for fun, so feel free to post others that you liked in the comments. Have a terrific New Year’s and be ready to come out swinging in January!

The Exit-A-Sham

Supt. of School Jack O’Connell convened a hearing yesterday to allow critics of the California High School Exit Exam to suggest alternatives for the 90,000 California seniors who have not yet passed the high-stakes test now needed for a diploma.
Only problem is, O’Connell wasn’t even there (apparently he was in L.A. pitching preschool), and lacking any strong leadership from the state it is unclear whether reforms to the Exit Exam policies can be put in place in time to save the Class of 2006 from getting the shaft. The hearing at least gave critics — who by the way have been predicting this disaster for over two years — a chance to publicly air their views, but the whole thing seems like a bit of a sham. O’Connell is in a tough spot, no doubt. He created this exam as a legislator and now, as the top education official in this state, he is seeing some of the unintended consequences. But he must find a way to do the right thing here.
The problem with standardized tests like the Exit Exam is they serve little purpose but to point out existing disparities in the public school system, as students of color and those from poor homes are disproportionately affected. The really sad result is that many of them have seen their entire high school careers consumed by the fear of whether they were going to be able to pass this high-stakes test rather than spent enjoying the wonders of learning.
I covered this issue for the LA Times when it first began to boil into controversy in early 2004, and I spoke to many students, particularly students of color in towns like Fillmore and Santa Paula in Ventura County. The math portion of the test includes Algebra, but many students have to take the test for the first time before they’ve been taught Algebra. One student spoke to me about how frustrating it was to have to take the test two or three times before her classes even addressed the material on the test. Failing time after time created for her this cycle of failure that was tough to break even after she learned what she needed to know.
This is a broken system. And a broken approach to trying to produce thoughtful, critically-thinking, well-rounded members of society. Until we as a state can feel confident that all of our high school students are getting equal access to quality education, the Exit Exam is an Exit-A-Sham. O’Connell may not have thought ahead to an exit strategy, but we have confidence that he can come up with something.

Announcing: California Speaks Out Blog Contest!

After an exhausting and eventful year, here at California Speaks Out headquarters we’ve come up with an idea that might help us all take a deep breath and reflect both on the year and how much great writing is happening out in the lefty side of the blogosphere.
We’re looking for the top five (or so) California-focused weblog posts of the year, and we need your help. Whether it’s one you read or one you wrote yourself, send us the most insightful, best written or just plain feistiest post on a California issue that you came across since January, 2005 (permalinks, or the full text and date the post ran is fine!).
Even for those of us who devote practically every waking hour to obsessively following it, the Internet just moves too fast. Let’s take this chance to slow down and take stock. Who was doing it for you this year? Who inspired you? Who moved you to action? Who reminded you of what we’re fighting for in this great state and country?
We’re planning on collecting posts over the next few days and running the winners next week. Entries can be from any weblog, although we’ll give preference to ones in our network, and the post just has to have something to do with California politics. There’s no prize other than bragging rights – but what bragging rights those will be.
Please submit your nominations to by Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Although many of the most influential national bloggers live in California, progressive blogs focused on California politics are still few and far between. The conservative blogosphere in California is very well-organized and well-read, and continues to get the bulk of the mainstream political press. What we are trying to do on this blog, and in creating the California Speaks Out Network, is to inspire more great bloggers in this state to lend their eloquence and tenacity to statewide issues on a year-round basis, and not just during campaigns.
This contest is another small step. Look forward to more development of these ideas in the coming year, and please, if you have any suggestions, send them our way!

Help ensure reliable voting machines

California’s Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, is about to make a very important decision for the future of democracy as he weighs whether to recertify Diebold-manufactured elections equipment in this state. With a January 1, 2006 deadline looming, we’re sure he’s under enormous pressure. It is critical that he hear from the citizens of California who have real and serious concerns about the integrity of this system.
Given what we know about the priorities of the current U.S. Congressional leadership, we simply cannot wait for federal leadership on this issue. As with so many issues like this, California has to lead. Secretary McPherson must be encouraged to do the right thing here – send our action alert today to assure that he does so.


CA-48th special tomorrow!

Our focus here is on statewide races and issues, but there’s an important election happening tomorrow that got a little buried in the din of last month’s special election. Tomorrow, the 48th congressional district will elect a new representative. The seat was vacated when Chris Cox was appointed to head up the SEC.
It’s a 3 way race between Republican John Campbell, extremely far-right American Independent Party border patrol vigilante Jim Gilchrist, and Democrat Steve Young. It’s a heavily Republican district in Orange County, but due to the dyanmics of a 3 way race, Mr. Young has a genuine shot at this thing. Of course there’s been some nasty campaigning against Mr. Young, which he answers on this page. If you’re in the area and can take time tomorrow, every little bit helps!
Update: Will life imitate art? Jen pointed out that should Mr. Young pull this one off, it would be similar to a West Wing storyline from season four. She’s got a great post over at PowerPac on some of the predictably disturbing anti-immigrant messages coming out of the Gilchrist camp.

“She’s not a real Kennedy, either”

As conservatives continue to freak out over Schwarzenegger’s appointment of a Democrat as his Chief of Staff, our friends at Arnold Watch have the must-read on Susan Kennedy.
Check it out, and keep these salient points in mind when people inevitably ask, “But he appointed a liberal Democrat to run his office, so he must be moderate, right?”:

  • Kennedy may be a Democrat, but she’s no friend of the people.
  • She was a key part of the shady back-room, pay-to-play deals (think Oracle) that got Davis recalled and swept Schwarzenegger into office in the first place.
  • The Kennedy appointment is all about the spin. Peel back a layer or two and you have the same corporate corruption and cronyism that is causing voters to be increasinly fed up with the conservative agenda.

As with most things Schwarzenegger does, this too is part of an act. The funny thing is he just still doesn’t seem to be getting that he’s dealing with some of the smartest voters on earth. This one is easy to see through, and it seems the only people who are moved by it are the right-wing conservatives. The best possible result could be a conservative challenger to Schwarzenegger in the primary. That’s what I’ll be asking from Santa!