Former ally turns against governor
SACRAMENTO | A wealthy farmer who once gave lavishly to promote Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s political fortunes and spent time with him smoking cigars has become one of his most outspoken critics.
Dino Cortopassi has spent at least $100,000 bankrolling an ad blitz targeting one of the governor’s main policy initiatives - upgrading the state’s water delivery system.
In an interview, Mr. Cortopassi said he’s convinced that Mr. Schwarzenegger, Southern California water districts and agricultural interests that farm land south of his in the Central Valley are conspiring to build a canal that would pipe fresh water around California’s fertile delta region, the heart of California’s water system.
He said doing so would irreparably harm the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta’s ecosystem, which he says is just as important to the state as the water it provides for cities and farmers. Sensing a political threat to the region he calls home, Mr. Cortopassi moved to attack Mr. Schwarzenegger’s proposal even before it has been placed before voters.
“I love it,” Mr. Cortopassi said of the place he has lived all of his life. “I build habitats with my own money. It’s a magnificent place.”
Mr. Cortopassi, 71, has built an agricultural empire that ranges from olive oil production to agribusiness lending. He also said he has a lifelong interest in the delta’s wildlife and has created a 750-acre bird habitat.
Volunteers gear up as primary looms
DOVER | Campaign organizers say volunteers are making a final push before Tuesday’s primaries for governor.
Volunteers will be knocking on doors, making calls and offering voters rides to the polls on Tuesday.
State Treasurer Jack Markell faces Lt. Gov. John Carney in the Democratic primary. Mr. Carney is backed by outgoing Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.
On the Republican side, Mike Protack is running against retired Judge Bill Lee.
The Democratic primary race has seen more than $5 million spent by candidates and more than a dozen candidate forums, debates and policy exchanges.
Culver: Flood crisis gets slow response
DES MOINES | Federal officials have responded too slowly to Iowa’s flood crisis, Gov. Chet Culver said Friday.
Roughly $800 million has been identified in damage, but millions of dollars in assistance have languished because of bureaucratic red tape, he said.
The Des Moines Register reports that Mr. Culver said he will not hesitate to call a special legislative session if money - specifically an $85 million grant for housing appropriated by Congress in June - doesn’t come through within the next 10 days.
It’s possible the state could use some of its $600 million in reserves or some of its $40 million in this year’s ending budget balance to assist with immediate needs such as helping families whose houses were damaged by this year’s storms, Mr. Culver said.
Accurately identifying the total number of families who remain homeless from the storms is difficult because many have found other places to live, are residing in hotels or are living temporarily with family and friends. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has helped more than 22,000 families. As of this week, 459 Iowa families are living in FEMA trailers and 130 remain on a waiting list, according to information from the Rebuild Iowa Office.
Highways, health care focus of legislation
SANTA FE | Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation into law last week to provide up to $200 million for highway projects and $20 million to offer health care coverage to uninsured children.
Lawmakers approved the measures during a special session that ended last month.
One bill signed by Mr. Richardson will provide $32.5 million for health and social services: $20 million to expand Medicaid and another program to cover an estimated 17,000 uninsured children, $2.5 million for behavioral health services for children and $10 million for services for the developmentally disabled.
The governor had asked the Legislature to spend $58 million to expand health programs to cover an estimated 50,000 children without insurance.
“This is a big day for our state and a major first step toward our goal of ensuring every New Mexican has access to quality health care,” Mr. Richardson said.
Coalition cities want bigger fund share
MUSKOGEE | This city of about 40,000 is considering forming a coalition of midsize cities to compete for “quality-of-life” funds from the state Legislature, Tulsa World reports.
In information prepared for the city council to discuss Monday night, City Manager Greg Buckley said small towns and cities benefit from the Rural Economic Action Program while the state’s two largest urban cities - Oklahoma City and Tulsa - split $50 million for projects in a state bond issue this year. Cities of Muskogee’s size received nothing, he said.
Tulsa’s $25 million will go toward a low-water dam project on the Arkansas River.
Mr. Buckley points out that the combined population of midsize cities exceeding 15,000 people is about the same as Tulsa’s and Oklahoma City’s combined populations.
Participating cities could contribute $10,000 to $12,500 a year to hire a lobbying firm to assist with the effort.
Mr. Buckley supports museum improvements or enhancements for a local project.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Muskogee was the 11th-largest city in the state in 2007. Excluding Tulsa and Oklahoma City, there are 30 cities with populations of more than 15,000.
Fire may prompt permanent move
SALEM | Gov. Ted Kulongoski said last week that he may be the last governor to have his personal office in the Capitol, the Statesman-Journal reports.
He said last week’s fire, which severely damaged his ceremonial office and caused extensive smoke and water damage to nearby staff offices, may accelerate the movement of the staffs of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer out of the 70-year-old Capitol.
“If the Legislature goes to annual sessions, lawmakers are going to need that entire building,” Mr. Kulongoski said. “I don’t know what they are going to do. It’s a tough decision.”
Mr. Kulongoski is the 16th governor to occupy the current Capitol, which was dedicated Oct. 1, 1938, and replaced a building destroyed by fire in 1935. However, last week’s fire singed and warped the black-walnut paneling in the ceremonial office, where the governor signs legislation, receives groups and conducts news conferences and other events.
“Given the damage, I think it will be hard to replicate the ceremonial office,” he said.
Despite the damage, he said, “I want to compliment Salem firefighters for their response and for their professionalism in how they went about this. They did a great job in preventing a potential disaster.”
Meanwhile, legislative leaders decided to reopen most of the offices on the Capitol’s east side, subject to overnight testing of air ducts. Some areas will remain closed, and the public will be barred until Friday.
Mr. Kulongoski said he still thinks the best long-term solution is for the Legislature to find new space for executive-branch officials near the Capitol.
Unrecognizable: Chairman leaves commission
MONTPELIER | The chairman of Vermont’s Commission on Native American Affairs is resigning because the state has no mechanism to decide which groups should be recognized by the state as tribes.
Mark Mitchell says the commission can’t do its job unless the state recognizes groups of American Indians living in Vermont.
Over the winter, the Vermont Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have set up a mechanism for recognizing groups of American Indians. The recognition would have allowed the groups to label their crafts as made by Native Americans.
The bill passed the Senate but wasn’t considered by the House.