By Marisa Lagos and Wyatt Buchanan | Published in San Francisco Chronicle
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and that idiom was in full effect on the Assembly floor this week when a bill by über-liberal Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, got a little legislative love from his Libertarian-leaning but technically Republican colleague from Fullerton (Orange County), Chris Norby.
Norby made an impassioned plea for AB1017, which would have allowed California prosecutors to decide whether folks caught cultivating marijuana should be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The bill failed – and won’t be reconsidered again until next year – but not before Norby ripped his fellow Republicans for their opposition.
Norby noted that the bill could save up to $3.5 million a year by allowing small growers to avoid state prison, while maintaining prosecutors’ discretion to charge those involved large-scale operations with felonies.
“A lot of people in my party have said to me that they agree with making laws more rational but don’t want to take the political heat,” he said before listing a long line of pro-pot measures he supported as an elected official in conservative Orange County – and never was punished for politically.
“If you really believe that someone growing a pot plant deserves three years in state prison, and that is adequate punishment, and that taxpayers should be paying $150,000 (in prison costs) for growing a plant, then oppose this. But if you are just thinking about the political aspect – it should be our issue if we are freedom-loving conservatives,” Norby said. “What bigger nanny-state can there be? … Sending somebody away for growing a plant? That’s a nanny-state on steroids.”
Of course, Ammiano couldn’t let Norby have the only quips. He followed up with this note about last year’s election, in which voters rejected a ballot measure to legalize marijuana, and also defeated GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.
“This is not about marijuana, this is about marijuana policy,” Ammiano said. “It might make some people uncomfortable, but Mr. Norby is right. Prop. 19 got more votes than Meg Whitman last year.”
A change of tune: Gov. Jerry Brown got quite the reception this week at the California Chamber of Commerce’s 86th annual Sacramento Host Breakfast, where he talked about the state budget. That friendly treatment included an enthusiastic standing ovation as the Democrat left the stage exclaiming, “We’ll make it work if you just follow my lead!”
Yes, this is the same Cal Chamber that attacked then-candidate Brown last year with a million-dollar-plus TV ad campaign that labeled him as having a 35-year record “of higher spending and taxes.”
The governor said he couldn’t quite believe the reception himself, and he indulged the approximately 1,200 business leaders at the breakfast with the thinking behind his “no taxes without a vote of the people” campaign pledge.
Said Brown, “I had to figure out a way, because I knew people were going to say, ‘Are you going to raise taxes?’ I didn’t want to say that, so I had to say something. So, I said, ‘No taxes without a vote of the people.’ And they kept saying, ‘Are you going to go to the people?’ I never answered them. … It was a pretty good strategy, by the way. I got a helluva lot more votes at a lower cost than my opponent.”
Movin’ on up: Former San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris – now California’s top cop – apparently hasn’t forgotten her roots: Harris announced this week that she’s brought two familiar faces on board at the attorney general’s office.
Suzy Loftus, a longtime prosecutor who also served as one of Harris’ right-hand deputies in the district attorney’s office, is now serving as a special assistant attorney general.
And retired undersheriff Christopher Cunnie – a former police union president and patrol officer who was long thought to be the heir apparent to Sheriff Mike Hennessey – is now a special adviser to Harris on labor and law enforcement. That caps a long list of law and order positions for Cunnie, who in addition to working for the sheriff’s office and police department, has also served as chief investigator at the San Francisco’s district attorney’s office and director of the Emergency Communications Department.