Bipartisan panel, including onetime Iran deal defenders, urges improvements

A bipartisan panel of former government officials including some of the most steadfast defenders of the Iran-nuclear talks led by the Obama administration say the emerging deal falls short of a satisfactory plan.

“We know much about the emerging agreement,” said the statement, organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.”

The signatories urge Obama’s negotiators to extend the June 30 deadline to get a better deal. “Stay at the negotiating table until a ‘good’ agreement that includes these features is reached,” the statement says, listing a number of bottom lines the major powers negotiating with Iran should preserve.

Among the bipartisan slate of 18 former officials are a number who have worked for the Obama administration and among these are several who until recently have vigorously defended its Iran strategy:

— Former U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010 delayed a sanctions bill until the Obama administration had lined up backing for sanctions from other countries;

— Robert Einhorn, a top negotiator in Obama’s first term who has in recent years been a point man defending the Iran strategy in appearances before Jewish and Middle East policy groups;

— Dennis Ross, Obama’s top Iran adviser for much of his first term, who also has had a post-administration role in explaining Obama’s Iran policies;

— Gary Samore, the coordinator for arms control in Obama’s first term, who, like Ross, has been a go-to interviewee to explain Obama’s Iran strategy.

Also signing was Norm Eisen, the ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011-2014 and a top fundraiser for Obama’s first election campaign; David Makovsky, a member of Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks team last year; and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA in Obama’s first term.

Also included are former George W. Bush administration officials, including his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, but the inclusion of figures who helped shaped and who have defended the current strategy could sway congressional Democrats when approval of the deal is considered by Congress.

While saying they “know much” about the emerging deal, the signatories do not directly address its perceived inadequacies. Instead, they list bottom lines that a deal should include, suggesting that these may be absent:

— Nuclear inspectors “must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement,” including military sites and sites controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps;

— The ability to review Iran’s past weaponization activity;

— Strict limits on research and development into advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges;

— Sanctions relief based on Iran’s performance, apparently a reference to reports that Iran will get some sanctions relief simply for signing the deal;

— “Serious consequences” should Iran violate terms of the deal.

“Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires,” the statement says. Obama administration officials have insisted that a number of key aspects of the agreement will be enforceable long after other provisions expire.

The statement also says there is “much to the argument” that a nuclear agreement would free Iran to expand its “bad behavior” in the region and counsels “doing more” to inhibit Iranian ambitions, including expanding U.S. military influence in the area.

Senators urge Europe to shut out Iran from bank transactions

A large bipartisan slate of U.S. senators urged European Union officials to authorize the body's central bank to shut Iran out of its money transfer system.

The Feb. 25 letter to the president of the European Council, initiated by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and signed by another 34 senators, asks the council to direct the European Central Bank to ban access by Iranian regime officials to “Target2,” the bank's cross-border funds transfer system.

The senators allege that Iran uses the system to launder euros in its accounts, allowing it to alleviate tough U.S. and European sanctions aimed at forcing the regime to be more transparent about its nuclear program.

“It is critical that the U.S. and Europe present a strong, unified front with respect to Iran's nuclear program,” the letter said.

Separately, Iran and major power negotiators meeting in Kazakhstan agreed Wednesday to reconvene next month in Istanbul to further discuss proposals by the major powers that would alleviate some sanctions in exchange for greater access to Iran's nuclear facilities.

The top Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said the proposals were “more realistic” than previous such offers.

Similar talks ended in failure in 2011.

Western intelligence agencies suspect Iran plans to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its program is peaceful.

Designate Hezbollah as terrorist group, U.S. House resolution urges EU

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution urging the European Union and its member states to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on the group.

The bipartisan resolution, which passed Wednesday, would prevent Hezbollah from using EU territories for fundraising, recruitment, training and propaganda.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) authored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by 85 representatives.

“Once called the ‘A Team of terrorists’ by a senior State Department official, Hezbollah has a well-documented and undeniable record of terrorist activity that demands recognition by the international community,” Kelly said on the House floor. “For decades, Hezbollah has committed murderous acts on Americans and our allies in both Europe and the Middle East.”

The United States has designated the Lebanon-based Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since the late 1990s.

U.S. senators urge Morsi to halt Gaza arms smuggling

A bipartisan slate of U.S. senators urged Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to crack down on arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

“In order for the cease-fire to hold, it is imperative that your government bolster its efforts to halt all weapons smuggling taking place via both overland and underground routes,” said the letter, which was initiated by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and signed by another 16 senators.

In the letter, sent Tuesday, the senators said they were “encouraged” by the “constructive role” Morsi played in brokering a cease-fire to the most recent Hamas-Israel conflict in the Gaza Strip.

“This is all the more important in light of the potential easing of restrictions on the movement of people and goods through Gaza border crossings as a condition of the cease-fire you helped to broker,” they said. “Preventing Hamas from re-arming is just one step in helping to prevent violence from erupting again.”

In first, bipartisan House letter seeks Pollard’s release

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are joining forces for the first time in an effort to secure Jonathan Pollard’s release.

A bipartisan letter is circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives soliciting signatures on a letter to President Obama asking him to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. The “Dear Colleague” letter is signed by veteran House members Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.).

“What Mr. Pollard did was wrong. He broke the law and deserved to be punished for his crime,” the letter to Obama reads. “Mr. Pollard has now served more than 25 years in prison, many of which in solitary confinement, for his actions. There is no doubt that he has paid a heavy price, and, from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence, we believe he has been imprisoned long enough.”

The letter comes as Israeli President Shimon Peres visits the United States, where he is scheduled to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama on Wednesday. Peres said he would raise clemency for Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel, when he meets Obama prior to receiving the honor.

“I will speak one on one with the president about Pollard,” Peres told reporters after arriving Monday ahead of the Medal of Freedom ceremony on Wednesday. “The Israeli president also has the power of clemency—I understand all the problems associated with clemency. Clemency is not an extension of the judicial process, it includes considerations beyond and outside this area, and I’ll explain this to the president. I expect that I will explain my position, beyond that I can’t say—I don’t know what his considerations are. I intend on focusing on the humanitarian aspect.”

Efforts to persuade Obama to extend clemency to Pollard have intensified in recent months. Pollard is said to be in poor physical condition.

Meanwhile, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich told Israel Radio on Monday that American officials suspect that there were other spies besides Pollard.

“The Americans suspect that Jonathan Pollard was not alone, that there were other Pollards and that Israel, despite all its promises, did not reveal all its cards,” he said, adding that in its sentence of Pollard, the U.S. was punishing Israel and “expressed their anger more with Israel than with Pollard.”

Numerous American leaders, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, have called for a commutation of Pollard’s sentence.

Meanwhile, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. cited Pollard’s imprisonment in accusing America of hypocrisy for condemning her country’s 33-year prison sentence for a Pakistani citizen who helped the CIA find Osama Bin Laden.

“How can the country that is holding Jonathan Pollard in prison for close to 30 years claim that we do not have the right to judge a spy in our own country as we see fit?” Maleeha Lodhi, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., said during an interview over the weekend with CBS. “The country that put Jonathan Pollard away for spying for its close ally, Israel, should understand that other countries, too, punish those who spy for an erstwhile ally.”

Bipartisan group presses U.S. to pressure Iran

A bipartisan group of foreign policy hawks called on the Obama administration to intensify pressure on Iran by increasing the U.S. military profile in the Persian Gulf and providing arms to Israel that could facilitate a strike on the Islamic Republic.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, in a report released Wednesday, said “the United States must strengthen its declaratory policy, making clear its willingness to use force rather than permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, and it must require all U.S. officials to adhere to that policy in their public statements.”

The report, “Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock,” also called for an intensification of covert activities aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear activities and for “concrete steps,” including “naval deployments to the region, military exercises and prepositioning of supplies.”

Finally, it called for an intensification of “our ongoing enhancement of the defensive and offensive military capabilities of our Persian Gulf allies” and the bolstering of “the credibility of the Israeli military threat to Iran’s program.”

It said the Obama administration should provide Israel with 200 GBU-31 bunker-buster bombs in addition to the less precise GBU-28 bombs it has already sold to Israel, as well as aerial refueling tankers.

Congress should hold hearings on the military option, said the report.

The report was co-authored by former Virginia Sen. Charles Robb, a Democrat, and Gen. Charles Wald, a former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command. Task force members included Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas, and John Hannah, a former top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican.

Bipartisan House delegation visiting Israel

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. House of Representatives lawmakers is in Israel this week.

The delegation, including Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), and Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) had meetings planned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

They also planned to tour areas in Israel subject to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“The recent upheavals across the Middle East will pose new challenges to the mutual security interests of the United States and Israel, and I look forward to having frank discussions about Israel’s safety and security and the ever-present threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Deutch, who is leading the trip, said in an April 22 statement.

Netanyahu reported will present a plan for reviving peace talks when he addresses Congress next month.

President Obama may present his own plan before then, and Netanyahu is hoping to shore up congressional support against the administration’s. pressure on Israel for concessions.

GOP pro-Israel propaganda: trick to disguise Republican failures

It’s that time of year again — election time — when White House officials trigger homeland security alerts and talk about the threat of Osama bin Laden. It’s also the time of year when Jewish Republicans bring out the bogeyman of the bad, bad Democrats who want to harm the State of Israel.

Bipartisan support for Israel has been a major accomplishment of pro-Israel activists in this country. Therefore, one might think that Republicans would be hesitant to try to undermine this accomplishment. However, from point of view of Republican electoral considerations, this attack strategy might be the best of a bunch of bad options.

After all, this is a Republican Party whose domestic policy accomplishments include its response to Hurricane Katrina and the exploding budget deficit. This is a party’s whose social and science policies are viewed by the vast majority of the Jewish community as closely aligned with the thinking of the Spanish Inquisition. And finally, this is a political party that has brought the country from the unity of Sept. 12 to the quagmire of Iraq.

So in the wake of Israel’s traumatic war with Hezbollah, it just might make electoral sense to try and scare American Jews into believing that the “lefty” Democrats are a threat to Israel’s survival. Yet, common sense and objectivity tell us that this is just a Republican con — and a destructive one at that.

In 2006, America’s two major political parties are at opposite ends of almost all issues but not on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations. Almost all observers, from Israeli officials to anti-Israel activists, agree that both the Republican and the Democratic parties are pro-Israel.

This bipartisan consensus, in a time of extreme partisan bickering, is no accident of history. For over 50 years, pro-Israel activists in this country have labored mightily to forge this bipartisan support for Israel. This is important because Democratic control of government and Republican control of government is never permanent.

However, with the rise of politicians like former Reps. Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and presidential adviser Karl Rove, even the most sacred bipartisan issues became fair game for partisan gamesmanship. For these Republicans, it was just not good enough that they sought, in their own manner, to support strong U.S.-Israel relations. They had to do everything in their power to tear down Democratic leaders as friends of Israel. Thus, great friends of Israel, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, are denigrated as insufficiently friendly.

There are exceptions to this bipartisan consensus. But the exceptions are relatively few, and they come from both parties. Moreover, there are lots of right-wing or left-wing fringe elements that are not associated with either of the political parties. One good example that Republican Jews love to use is Cindy Sheehan, who they wrongfully label as a Democratic activist. If Sheehan is a “Democratic activist,” then we might as well label Mel Gibson a “Republican activist.”

Rather than looking under every rock to find a “bad” Democrat, these GOP operatives could play a constructive role in fostering the U.S.-Israel relationship. They could start by quietly talking to some of their own problems. For example: California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has accused Israel of “apartheid” and referred to Israel’s borders as “artificial lines”; GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has called the Israeli government the most “evil” lobby in Washington, D.C.; and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, who held up consideration of an Israel solidarity resolution because he objected to a line in the resolution urging the president “to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza” — just to name a few.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Republican spokesmen each election year predicted that Jewish Americans were turning Republican. Unfortunately for these spokesmen, these predictions never came true.

In fact, in the last 15 years, the GOP declined from its pre-1990s levels of 30-40 percent. After the last election, the exit poll of record, the Edison/Mitofsky exit survey, found that only 22 percent of American Jews had voted Republican.

In other words, Jews were the most loyal Democratic constituency in the country after African Americans. Tom Edsall, the national journalist who followed this story closest in recent years, wrote this past winter that after all the ballyhoo, there was no real evidence that either Jewish votes or Jewish donors were moving to the GOP.

The facts never got in the way of a good Republican operative, and here we are in the fall of 2006 as these same people are cranking up the propaganda machine once more. They are ruthlessly feeding the same story to the press about how the “anti-Israel Democrats” are turning the Jewish community to the GOP. The sad part of this story is that the press often cooperates.

Ultimately, however, the tragedy of this propaganda campaign is not that some in the Jewish community might be convinced that there are Democratic bogeymen out there. Instead, the tragedy is that for a few extra votes, these demagogues are undermining the historic bipartisan support for Israel that will be so needed in the dangerous years to come.

Ira Forman is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Dems hit back at GOP Israel ads

Top Democrats are mounting a furious counterattack against claims by Jewish Republicans that the GOP is likelier to favor Israel.

“Say ‘no’ to this effort to somehow target Democrats as being opposed to Israel,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is Jewish, said Sept.28 in a hastily arranged conference call with the Jewish media.

The conference call, also addressed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a likely contender for the presidency in 2008, was the latest response to a series of hard-hitting advertisements placed by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).

The effect of the ad campaign on Jewish voting patterns, which have favored Democrats by wide margins for decades, is likely only to be incremental. However, it could influence how major Jewish and pro-Israel donors spend their money, an area where Democrats acknowledge Republicans have made inroads in recent years.

The money question is especially critical weeks ahead of a midterm congressional campaign that could see Republicans lose one or both houses of Congress.

The most recent RJC ad appearing in papers this week states bluntly, “There is a difference. Republicans are more likely to support Israel.”

It cites two recent polls showing that Republicans are much likelier to say their sympathies are with Israel, while Democrats are likelier to divide their responses between support for Israel and neutrality. In both cases, the percentage of those likely to favor the Arabs is minimal.

An earlier ad quoted former President Jimmy Carter questioning the moral underpinnings of Israel’s war this summer against Hezbollah in Lebanon — and saying, in the same interview, “I represent the vast majority of Democrats,” though the latter statement referred to Carter’s views against the Iraq war.

U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), who is Jewish, slammed the ads in an opinion piece published as a letter in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and in The Forward. Other Jewish legislators also plan to attack the campaign.
The latest ad led senior Jewish Democrats to press the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pro-Israel groups to weigh in. Bipartisan support for Israel has always been considered critical to making Israel’s case, and the Jewish Democrats told embassy and pro-Israel officials that the RJC campaign undermined that unity.

By the end of Thursday there were results, though spokesmen refrained from directly criticizing the RJC ads.

“Support for the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been bipartisan, with the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans, and that’s not changing,” said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The Israeli embassy also was careful to keep above the partisan fray.

“There is a longstanding tradition of bipartisan support by both Democrats and Republicans for Israel, which we cherish and for which we are grateful,” said David Siegel, the embassy spokesman. “The special relationship between Israel and the United States is deep and profound, based on shared values which transcend party lines in both countries.”

Keeping out of local politics is a typical posture for any foreign nation, but one that Democrats, speaking off-the-record, said they found frustrating.
In the call with the Jewish media, Wyden worried that Republican sniping about a divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel could be self-fulfilling.

“I think it really could hurt the traditional bulwark of bipartisan support in the Congress,” he said.

Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, said Democrats would do better to examine whether something was going wrong within their party instead of blaming Republicans for pointing out the problem.

“Their attention is misplaced. We’re doing nothing other than illuminating a very sad and disturbing trend taking place,” he said. “What the senators should be focusing on is why the grassroots are moving away from the Democratic Party.”
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who is Jewish, echoed Brooks. Coleman said that his message to Democratic colleagues was “don’t shoot the messenger.”

“I would hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would be looking inward and doing what they can to restore that strong bipartisan unanimity,” he said.

Reed said the poll questions were overly general, and that Jewish voters should pay attention to the solid pro-Israel record of congressional Democrats, who have pressed President Bush to cut off the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and isolate Iran.

“You have to look at what’s happening in Congress],” Reed said. He also repeated what has become a theme in the Democratic campaign for Jewish votes — that President Bush, while well-intentioned, has endangered Israel because the Iraq war has emboldened Iran.

“When it comes to what this administration is doing, that’s where the concern should be,” he said. “That is much more central to the security concerns of Israel.”

Biden, who at times has criticized Israel — particularly when it expanded settlements — said Democrats’ differences with Israel over tactics did not indicate an erosion in support.

“There’s nothing to break Democratic support for Israel, nothing, even if every Jew in the country votes Republican,” he said.

Biden said that his differences often were with some in the pro-Israel community, rather than with Israel itself.

He said former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged him to bolster P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, a relative moderate, with assistance, but that colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives who opposed such
initiatives stymied his efforts.

Legislation backed by some pro-Israel groups “may be totally divorced from what I’m speaking to the foreign minister about, or my discussions with Sharon before he had his stroke,” Biden said.

Sacramento Politics Take Strange Turn

The radical outsiders in Sacramento are the moderates and
pragmatists, a strange truth that was brought home dramatically this month,
when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature compromised
on a ballot measure to refinance the state’s huge debt and hem in future
spending excesses by the Legislature.

The deal happened because free-thinkers, known simply as the
Bipartisan Group, buttressed by the legislative Women’s Caucus and a handful of
moderate Democrats, refused to let the Democratic majority leaders, Assembly
Speaker Herb Wesson and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, scotch the deal.
It was a stunning role for moderates, a tiny band among 120 mostly hard-core
partisans in the Legislature.

Complex bipartisan deals need to be cut in Sacramento over
the next six months, from balancing the budget to fixing the workers’
compensation crisis to ending massive fraud in the teetering unemployment
insurance program. These troubles should have been fixed under former Gov. Gray
Davis. Instead, they were piled on a mountain of gridlock.

Majority leaders Wesson and Burton have shown little
interest in ending gridlock. Our elected Democratic state senators and Assembly
members are under tremendous partisan pressure to do whatever these leaders
order. The same holds true for the minority side, where Republican leaders Jim
Brulte in the Senate and David Cox in the Assembly — though less powerful —
expect to be obeyed.

However, ever since Schwarzenegger arrived, something has changed.
The Bipartisan Group, which worked to balance the budget last year without
finger pointing (and without their leaders), is gaining traction. Powerless
until now, Schwarzenegger gave the group gravitas by taking its counsel.

Led by Assemblyman Keith Richman of Granada Hills, one of a
growing number of Jewish Republicans in California politics, and Democratic
Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Martinez, a former county supervisor, the
Bipartisan Group refused to accept failure after Burton and Wesson on Dec. 5
pronounced Schwarzenegger’s fiscal recovery plan dead.

Although a deadline set by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley
for approving the plan for the March ballot had passed, Richman became
convinced that there were enough legislative votes to forge a fiscal recovery
compromise with Schwarzenegger — if only Shelley could extend his deadline.

So 19 brave bipartisan souls ignored their leaders, signing
a petition that convinced Shelley to give the Legislature more time.

After that, “we had a conference call with the governor, who
was enthusiastic to keep up negotiations, and one of the Democrats in our group
asked him if any issues were off the table,” Richman said. “The governor said,
‘No issues are off the table,’ and it didn’t surprise me. He wanted to find a
solution, but the leadership walked away.”

Why did the legislative leaders walk away? Sources tell me
one big reason was because the Service Employees International Union told the
Democratic leaders to keep Schwarzenegger’s plan off the March ballot.

Why? Because unions don’t want competition for their measure
on the March ballot, which is also being peddled as a government cost-control
law. It’s actually a sly bid to get voters to reduce the two-thirds margin now
required to raise taxes in the Legislature. The measure would require only a 55
percent legislative vote to raise our taxes.

Had a 55 percent law been in place in 2003, quite a few of
the roughly 100 bills proposed to raise our taxes by $28 billion would have
been approved.

There’s always a multilevel chess game afoot in Sacramento.
Richman, Canciamilla and others are thrilled that Schwarzenegger is willing to
challenge that game.

“Last week was really the best demonstration of bipartisan
compromise that I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been in the Legislature, and
others who have been here far longer said the same thing,” Richman said.

On Dec. 18, I saw another display of the power of
pragmatism, when Schwarzenegger used his emergency powers to override the
Legislature and replace funds the cities and counties lost when he reversed the
tripling of the car tax.

At the governor’s press conference, one of the gutsy new
pragmatists in Sacramento, moderate Democratic Controller Steve Westly, stood
up and strongly backed the governor. Democratic Mayors Jerry Brown of Oakland
and James Hahn of Los Angeles offered big kudos. As mayors, Hahn and Brown are
pragmatists, not partisans. If mayors play endless political games rather than
fix things, they quickly get the blame.

Hahn, who seemed truly moved to be receiving funds from
Schwarzenegger after the Legislature refused to act and left for the holidays,
broke into a standing ovation. And Brown chortled, “The governor … exercised
executive power to the max.”

The question now is whether clear-thinking pragmatists can
build their modest core into a force that can work with Schwarzenegger to get
the really big things done. That’s a tall order in Sacramento, a place that
thrives on gridlock, ideologues and the multilevel chess game. Â

Jill Stewart is a syndicated
political columnist and can be reached at