November 19, 2018

The Israeli Way

There is something different about making energy and water policy when 100,000 rockets are pointed at your family.

I went to Israel last month to exchange strategies on water and clean energy. I came home with an entirely new perspective on lawmaking.

In 2014, California and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on energy and water innovation. The mission of our California delegation to Israel was to put muscle behind the memo with funding and technical expertise.

Just as we were getting started in our clean energy lab at the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute, in a room packed with some of the top energy minds in Israel, a news alert sounded on my phone: “BREAKING: HAMAS TERROR TUNNEL EGYPT-ISRAEL DESTROYED.”

Israel Defense Forces had struck a tunnel only a short distance away by California standards. The news shook me silent. My mind went blank. I looked around the room for guidance.

This is what Israel does, day after day. No paralysis. It  just moves forward.

The Israelis at the conference didn’t skip a beat. People looked down at their phones for a moment. Nodded. And dived right back into the work at hand.

Every conversation in Israel is under the Iron Dome. In the fierce urgency that necessarily, although quietly, weaves itself into the texture of daily life, of relationships, of governing, one cannot help but be humbled by Israel’s fortitude.

Where did this strength come from? I would submit that its origins are ancient. And that it lives in all Jews. As the Midrash relates, when the Jews made the Exodus from Egypt, their faith was shaken at the shores of the Red Sea, where they were trapped like sitting ducks, bracing for the oncoming Egyptian army, with no water and a range of bad options.

As some Jews attempted to micromanage Moses, one group suggested they turn and fight. Another thought to simply surrender and return to slavery. A third argued that ending it all would be more just, and they should just hurl themselves into the sea and die. And a fourth disagreed with all the others; the answer to their quandary was to pray for salvation from God.

Moses rose above his stutter, as he did in these moments, to deliver to the Jews a message from God: Let’s just go through the sea, faithful, unafraid, eyes on Mount Sinai. Rather than anticipate, plan or resist the seemingly impossible challenge ahead, the Jews just went through it.

This is what Israel does, day after day, no matter how many tunnels are discovered or rockets are stockpiled. No paralysis. It just moves forward.

And move forward we must. Energy and water are not just critical environmental challenges. They impact the security of Israel and California, and our respective states’ abilities to compete economically on a global stage, where self-reliance and sustainability are rewarded. Israel’s energy strategy currently relies heavily on fossil fuels — only 2 percent of its grid is renewable.

California, on the other hand, has a cleaner grid but a sea to cross when it comes to water. Israelis capture and recycle about 85 percent of the water they use. California wastes about 85 percent of all stormwater, failing, unlike Israel, to capture this valuable resource before it dumps into our coastal waters.

Israel is a nation at constant risk. Yet, Israel’s leaders find a way to diligently proceed with the work to modernize their nation.

Our joint efforts to secure a cleaner, more sustainable energy and water future for Israel and California must proceed, with California imagination and market power, and that deep fortitude that is ancient in origin, and alive and well in Israel today.

State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) is an environmental attorney and educator. He represents the 27th District, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Jewish Dems face off in costly state senate contest

UPDATE: Republican Steve Fazio took 37.5 percent of the votes in the race to become state senator in California’s 27th district. Henry Stern defeated Janice Kamenir-Reznik for the second spot on the November ballot. Though Kamenir-Reznik, a prominent figure in the local Jewish community, led Stern for most of the evening of June 7, by the time all the votes were counted she had taken 19.7 percent of the vote to Stern’s 26.5 percent. All three candidates are Jewish.

“While of course the results in my race were very disappointing, that does not take away from my sense of accomplishment and gratitude,” Kamenir-Reznik wrote in an email to supporters the morning after the election. “I am very proud of the race we ran.”

Until January, Henry Stern, 34, a top staffer for termed-out state Sen. Fran Pavley, appeared to be a lock to replace her: He had an impressive war chest and endorsements from a laundry list of elected leaders. 

Then, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, 64, entered the race with a history in Jewish and civic life longer than her opponent’s entire life. 

If there was ever a question of why California’s primary system is called a “jungle primary,” the lopsided Democratic side of the contest in the 27th state Senate district could provide an answer.

Even though the district leans Democratic, the five Democrats splitting their ticket will likely assure the lone Republican, Steve Fazio, a spot in the November election under the primary rules passed by voter initiative in 2010. And the tone has soured among the competition. 

Amid an unusual wash of campaign money for a state seat, much of the oxygen in the race has gone to barbs traded between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern, whose fundraising and endorsements indicate they are likely the strongest candidates.

Each has accused the other of accepting money from fossil fuel interests in a district where the environment looms large for many voters, sprawling as it does from the Ventura Freeway and the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains down to the Malibu coastline. 

Kamenir-Reznik’s entry into the race didn’t augur well for a friendly contest with Stern. 

Sheila Kuehl and Zev Yaroslavsky, respectively current and former Los Angeles County supervisors for parts of the same district, pulled their support from Stern to endorse Kamenir-Reznik when she put her name on the ballot. Both claim Kamenir-Reznik as a longtime friend.

“She had been my preferred candidate all along,” Kuehl told the Jewish Journal. “And so I apologetically called Henry and said, ‘I’m sorry but Janice was always my candidate, and I have known her for 35 years, so good luck.’ ”

Kamenir-Reznik said her decision to run for the seat in 2016 came after an unfruitful attempt two years ago to recruit her to run.

She’s perhaps best known to L.A.’s Jewry as a co-founder of Jewish World Watch, an organization fighting genocide and rape in Africa that grew out of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, and now focuses on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as lobbying in Washington, D.C. 

She also is a former president of the California Women’s Law Center and presided over Los Angeles County’s Judicial Procedures Commission, where she helped launch a network of self-help legal clinics. Together with her husband, she ran Reznik and Reznik, a large law firm dealing with diverse land-use issues. 

Both she and Stern have worked in environmental law.

Stern’s sell is that even though he has less experience in years, his background is more relevant to the office he’s running for.

“She’s done amazing work in the Jewish community, and I would never, ever try to take that away from her,” Stern said.

But, he added, “The policymaking process is different than running a nonprofit or being a land-use environmental attorney.”

Stern promises a different kind of Jewish candidate. He styled himself as a “millennial Jewish man” in an interview with the Jewish Journal, saying because he is conversant in the ways of Sacramento politics, he can deftly represent his generation and their concerns in the capital.

As Pavley’s senior policy adviser, he wrote many of her bills, including the bulk of her environmental legislation, since he began working for her in 2011.

Both candidates’ appeal aims at the same political bases, and their support splits California’s Jewish community leaders. 

Though Stern earned the endorsement of the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, Kamenir-Reznik boasts support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein — the highest Jewish officeholder in California politics — and many recognizable names in the local Jewish community, such as actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Abby Leibman, president and CEO of the nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Stern, who along with his father, actor Daniel Stern (“Home Alone”), helped pass a statewide film tax credit in 2014, also has some backing from Hollywood circles, including Billy Crystal and “Homeland” creator Howard Gordon.

In large part, the race is animated not by the differences between the two candidates, but by their similarities, said Herbert Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

“Both are very liberal; both happen to be Jewish and are very much tied into human rights,” Gooch said. “In fact, they’re very similar, which unfortunately has meant kind of a nasty tone that has been developing.”

Much of the tit-for-tat between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern focuses on money pouring in from outside the district.

Together, the candidates in the race have raised more than $2.5 million. Stern’s campaign leads the pack in fundraising at $890,396. As of May 26, Kamenir-Reznik, with less time in the race, comes in second at $685,007, according to filings with the California secretary of state.

But in addition to funds raised by the candidates themselves, money has flowed into the race from political action committees (PACs), which can spend for or against a candidate without the candidate’s cooperation. 

Together, PACs representing the California Dental Association (CDA) and the California Apartment Association have spent nearly $300,000 to support Kamenir-Reznik. 

Another $180,000 from the dentists’ PAC and a second real estate group has gone to opposing Stern without explicitly supporting any of his opponents.

Candidates are legally barred from communicating with such interests-spending on their behalf. But that hasn’t stopped Stern from suggesting Kamenir-Reznik is linked to oil interests via independent expenditure PACs supporting her.

A Stern campaign mailer features a picture of Pavley under the headline “A message from State Senator Fran Pavley.”

“Big Oil smeared me in 2012,” it reads. “Now they’re coming after Henry Stern, the most qualified candidate for State Senate.”

As evidence that the oil company is sneakily spending for his opponent, Stern’s campaign points to the relationship between the dentists’ PAC and a Chevron-supported group called Keep Californians Working .When it comes to dark money groups, Pavley said in an interview that what’s alarming is not “who or how much or which one.” 

She told the Jewish Journal, “Money should come from people who know you and work with you in the district in which you live.”

Stern’s campaign charges in a second mailer that $17,300 was channeled to the dentists’ group by the Chevron-funded PAC, which also receives support from the insurance and real estate industries.

“I’m just saying you can’t wash clean that 17 grand from that PAC,” Stern said. “They play a shell game, the oil companies, and I don’t even think it’s Janice’s fault necessarily. My beef isn’t with her — it’s with the oil guys.”

However, a spokesperson for the dentists’ association said the $17,300 from Keep Californians Working was “a non-monetary, in-kind contribution” in the form of polling data, and that it does not accept money from that PAC. (The money goes the other way, though: The dentists’ PAC reported a $500,000 donation to Keep Californians Working on March 17.)

Nonetheless, the Stern campaign has doubled down on the charge that his opponent benefits from oil money. 

In a Stern campaign video posted to Facebook on May 27, “Seinfeldcreator Larry David tepidly referred to the candidate as a “good guy,” saying he only endorsed Stern because his ex-wife “prevailed upon” him to do so. In the next frame, David’s ex-wife, Laurie David, calls the Jewish TV star to say, “Big oil is spending a fortune trying to defeat [Stern].”

Kamenir-Reznik called the Chevron money charge “a patent lie.” In an interview, she pointed out she openly opposes offshore drilling and favors an outright prohibition on fracking for natural gas, giving the energy giant scant reason to support her.

“He’s created this complete fabrication about the oil industry coming after him,” she said in an interview. “To me that’s the most obnoxious part of this campaign. He’s created a boogieman that doesn’t exist.”

In response to the accusation, Kuehl recorded a robocall rejecting it.

“There would be no reason for [Chevron] to invest in [Kamenir-Reznik] – and of course they didn’t,” Kuehl said.

She said the robocall makes a counterclaim, connecting Stern with money linked to SoCal Gas, the utility company responsible for the massive Porter Ranch gas leak that displaced thousands of residents in the 27th district.

Last June, Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCal Gas, which administers the Porter Ranch gas storage site, donated $1,500 to Stern, and an employee of the utility gave $250. Seven months later, Stern’s campaign gave away $1,750 to the American Lung Association to offset those sums.

Stern has also received $9,000 from employees of a Washington, D.C.-based law firm where he worked for two years in 2009 on climate change, among other issues. The firm represents Sempra, a fact Kamenir-Reznik has brought up.

Of the Sempra claim, Stern said: “It’s silly season in politics, so I’m not surprised that things like this come out. In terms of my work at the law firm, I’m incredibly proud of that.”

The 27th district contest’s other candidates seem content to sit back while Stern and Kamenir-Reznik go after  each other.

Shawn Bayliss, a top staffer for L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, and David Pollock, a Moorpark city councilman, are also running for the seat, but they lag behind Stern and Kamenir-Reznik in fundraising. Bayliss has raised almost $530,000 while Pollock pulled in just over $180,000. Each stands to gain if the two top contenders drain votes from each other.

A fifth Democrat, newspaper publisher George Christopher Thomas, hasn’t reported any fundraising and is considered a long shot.

Bayliss called the trading of barbs between Kamenir-Reznik and Stern “the classic pot-and-kettle scenario.” But as far as he’s concerned, “They can beat each other up all day — go ahead.”

Crowded District 27 state senate race a face-off among Jewish candidates

In the race to replace California Democratic State Sen. Fran Pavley, who will term out of office in less than a year, Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder of the nonprofit Jewish World Watch, last month entered a busy State Senate District 27 primary contest that now has six Democratic candidates, at least four of them Jewish, and only one Republican, Steve Fazio, who’s also Jewish.

The 27th District, which stretches from Malibu, Calabasas and the western San Fernando Valley to Simi Valley and Valencia, is politically, demographically and geographically diverse, with nearly 1 million residents, including 10 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

The Democratic field in this race is currently so crowded that the California Democratic Party said it won’t endorse anyone until the general election in November, a not-uncommon move in such circumstances. At a recent pre-endorsement meeting, a California Democratic Party nomination hinged on one of the six candidates getting support from at least 70 percent of the delegates. That didn’t happen.

Had any of the candidates received support from only 50 percent of the delegates, the Democrats could have voted for endorsement at the party’s state convention in San Jose later this month. No one reached that bar, either, so the party won’t endorse before the voters and delegates nominate one in June.

The six Democrats — Henry Stern, Kamenir-Reznik, David Pollock, Richard Mathews, Shawn Bayliss and George Thomas — will run along with Fazio in a June primary that will choose the top two vote-getters for the November election.

Pavley first took the office in the Democratic wave of 2008, then, in 2102, beat her Republican opponent by 26,000 votes (about 7 percent). 

The Journal spoke with four candidates before press time and will follow the race as it develops. 

Henry Stern, Democrat

Current job: Senior policy adviser for Fran Pavley

Key endorsements: Fran Pavley, Rep. Ted Lieu, former Rep. Henry Waxman, California Legislative Jewish Caucus

Money raised to date: $676,925 (source: California Secretary of State)

A senior policy adviser to Pavley and a former adviser to longtime former Congressman Henry Waxman, the Harvard and UC Berkeley graduate joined Pavley’s team in 2012 after three years on Waxman’s team in Washington, D.C., where he worked closely with Waxman on a major cap-and-trade bill that narrowly passed the House in 2009 but never made it to a vote in the Senate.

“California seemed to me like an amazing opportunity to make policy progress when D.C. grinded to a halt,” Stern said.

In Sacramento, Stern said, he hopes to focus on environmental and water policy, which he believes the state can improve by using Israel as a model of “how to manage scarcity in a sustainable way.

“I hope voters want to talk about water. People are sufficiently freaked out,” Stern, 33, said. “I may be the youngest candidate, but I’d say I’m also the most experienced at policy-making.”

Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Democrat

Current job: Attorney; co-founder of Jewish World Watch

Key endorsements: Former Rep. Howard Berman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky

Money raised to date: $250,000 (Source: Kamenir-Reznik)

Well-known within the local Jewish community, attorney and longtime political activist Kamenir-Reznik co-founded Jewish World Watch in 2005 to raise awareness among Jews and Americans in general about global genocides, as well as to assist genocide victims. And now she’s hoping to bring her activism to state politics.

She entered the race relatively late — in early January — but her endorsements, along with her name recognition among the district’s Jewish voters, may help boost the rookie politician. 

Kamenir-Reznik said she was recruited for the seat by Close the Gap CA, a group that works to elect more women to the state legislature as its choice to replace Pavley.

Still learning the ins and outs of state policy, Kamenir-Reznik said she’ll be selling her character and weltanschauung (worldview) on the campaign trail.

“All a candidate really has to sell is character, because they can say anything they want on the campaign trail,” Kamenir-Reznik, 63, said. Addressing Stern’s youth as a contrast to her track record: “I can’t tell you what he’ll do if given a challenge to solve as a leader. We’re not comparable in that way.”

Kamenir-Reznik said one of her main priorities as state senator would be education — specifically improving the poor performance of the L.A. Unified School District.

“How can you say there shouldn’t be charter schools? Anybody who says that isn’t giving the kids the fairest shake,” Kamenir-Reznik said, adding that she also understands the arguments against charter schools. “I do not think we can allow the bulk of our public school system to be depleted.”

Steve Fazio, Republican

Current job: Owner, Fazio Cleaners

Key endorsements: California Republican Party, Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Ed Royce

Money raised to date: $292,727 (Source: California Secretary of State)

A first-time politician, Fazio owns the dry cleaning chain Fazio Cleaners, with nine stores in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He’s a reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and a board member of the American Jewish Committee

He is running largely on a platform of reducing the state’s negative impact on small businesses, and believes California is “dealing with businesses almost as if we’re the enemy.”

“The regulatory environment has just become overwhelming for us in small business. [That’s] why you see an exodus of people in business. A lot of my friends in business have left the state,” Fazio said. “Our taxes and our regulatory environment have become far too onerous.”

He acknowledges a Democratic edge in the district, but points to Carly Fiorina’s and Meg Whitman’s strong performances in the district in their 2010 senatorial and gubernatorial election bids as signs that a Republican can win.

“There’s a pathway for a Republican to win the office, particularly when there’s no incumbent and no tremendous name ID among the folks who are running,” Fazio said.

David Pollock, Democrat

Current job: Mayor pro tem of Moorpark; business consultant

Key endorsements: Ventura County Supervisors Steve Bennett and John Zaragoza, former State Superintendents for Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Delaine Eastin

Money raised to date: $476,622 (California Secretary of State)

A Moorpark city councilmember since 2009, former president of the California School Boards Association and a member of Ventura County’s board of air pollution control, Pollock is highlighting his local political experience in his bid to become state senator.

He said he wants to focus on three key issues — the environment, public education and health care — and his website highlights his championing of open public spaces, open enrollment in public schools and his work in passing local school bonds as accomplishments on the local and statewide level.

“I’m the only elected official in the race,” Pollock said. “The thing that distinguishes me is local knowledge.”