Once bitten, twice shy

Mosquito Bites: During the budget bickering last week, Democrats and Republicans in the Capitol gathered in back-to-back press briefings to criticize the nuances of each other’s budget proposals.

Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson, whose weekly briefing followed a similar gathering called by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, ushered State Public Health Officer Richard Jackson in front of the microphone.

Jackson told reporters that he had asked for $12 million to combat the West Nile Virus. He projected a serious summer for the disease, saying that infected birds have been found much earlier and in greater numbers this year than last. Half the state’s geographic area and 12 percent of its population currently are not covered by prevention programs that kill mosquito larvae, Jackson said. But the Democrats, he noted, had only agreed to $3 million in funding.

Reporters, including KQED’s John Myers, questioned this. Was Jackson saying that Democrats would be responsible for holding up efforts to combat a statewide public-health problem?

Thompson said that Democrats were politicizing a clearly nonpartisan issue. She stepped back to the microphone to say, with a straight face: “Mosquitoes don’t know political party. Mosquitoes don’t know if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

Then Jackson surprised everyone when word of his resignation came out the very next day, causing some to speculate that he was having problems with the administration as well. Not so, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Kim Belshé. “They’re making a political point to advance whatever political interest they’re trying to advance,” she told the Los Angeles Times, adhering to the party line that, after a year in Sacramento, Jackson simply couldn’t stand being apart from his family back in distant San Francisco.

Bites is certain, of course, that the timing was a complete coincidence and that all of last week’s political grandstanding in no way influenced his decision to get the hell out of here.

Union goes to jail: If, as the old adage says, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger may have a new friend on the block to help out in his ongoing battle against those pesky “special interests.” A Sacramento-based group called the Voters Corrections Reform Coalition (VCRC) announced the formation of a prisoners union whose goal is to raise some $78 million—presumably through legitimate means.

Although Bites was initially skeptical about the prospects of such fund-raising prowess—last we heard, license-plate work wasn’t all that lucrative—the folks at VCRC cite a fairly shocking statistic, namely that one in every 116 Californians is presently “incarcerated or on parole and under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections.” That means a total population of 308,700—each of whom, they speculate, may have several family members willing to join for the $5-per-month fee.

The group quickly earned the indignation of Senators Dave Cox, R-Sacramento, and Bob Dutton, R-San Bernardino. “Let me tell you,” writes Dutton in the latest edition of Cox’s monthly Senate Report, “that any special interest group that has $78 million to spend on influencing public policy will have an impact on getting legislation passed in Sacramento.”

Frankly, Bites is surprised to hear this and doesn’t see how it is possible, given that Schwarzenegger has been so effective in getting the special interests out of state government. Then again, what Dutton sees as an “egregious” and “outrageous” turn of events could be just the ticket for the more politically flexible Schwarzenegger. After all, who better to go up against the dreaded prison-guards union than a robust prisoners union? Look for that convict cash to begin flooding the governor’s coffers any day now.