Scrutiny and oversight

Why is no one in Sacramento looking at Michelle Rhee's connection to the Calderon family?

Officially, the race for Sacramento County district attorney is nonpartisan. Behind the scenes, it’s all political. The position of Sacramento DA, like that of sheriff, has been dominated by Republicans for many decades. Anne Marie Schubert, a deputy DA and anointed successor to present District Attorney Jan Scully, began her campaign so early, and starting racking up endorsements and money from the Republican political establishment so quickly, that for a time, she seemed almost alone in the race.

Maggy Krell, a state deputy attorney general, jumped in this spring and started snapping up the support from the Democratic establishment. This month, Todd Leras, another Democrat and a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office, jumped in as well. Leras is playing catch-up, since he was prevented by federal rules from campaigning until recently, when he officially gave up his job with the U.S. attorney.

After 20 years of Scully, both of the Democrats can make a strong case for change. Leras has criticized what he says is a top-down culture fostered by Scully, and said the DA office needs new priorities to make the best of realignment. Likewise, Krell has argued for tougher treatment of white-collar crime and a “smarter” approach to low-level offenses.

But will Krell and Leras wind up fighting each other instead? Leras’ supporters are going after Krell for the way she handled a review of an officer-involved shooting death of a young Latino man in Yolo County. The Yolo DA declined to file criminal charges against three sheriff’s deputies in the shooting of Luis Gutierrez in 2009. Krell reviewed the decision and found the DA’s actions to be appropriate. Hard to say if the Gutierrez case will hurt Krell as much as the Leras folks hope, but it’s likely no coincidence that her campaign just released a list of prominent Latino leaders who are supporting her campaign.

There’s still plenty of time for Krell and Leras to make their case. Against Schubert and the continuation of the Scully regime, or against each other, either way.

After a year, the Sacramento City Council is close to appointing a citizen oversight committee to monitor spending of Measure U money. It’s taken long enough; voters approved the temporary half-cent sales-tax hike a year ago. And the city council has been criticized for dragging its feet on creating the committee, while charging ahead with the taxing and the spending.

But maybe Sacramento’s citizens just don’t care that much about oversight. After all, the city asked for applications to serve on the five-member citizen panel in April. By October, the city had received just 10 applications. Ten, in a city of nearly a half-million people.

A subcommittee of the city council has now nominated four of those applicants to be confirmed by the full city council soon. The city is still looking to fill one vacancy on the panel, which is set aside for a certified public accountant. One CPA candidate had applied earlier, but didn’t show up for the interview.

Everything connected to the Calderon political family is getting media scrutiny now, since state Sen. Ron Calderon was named in an FBI affidavit, made public by the Al Jazeera America news organization, alleging the Montebello Democrat took bribes from undercover agents. One Sacramento Bee follow-up story looked at allegations that Calderon and his brother Tom Calderon, a lobbyist and former state assemblyman, used a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization to receive money from the Latino Caucus, in exchange for Ron’s support in a leadership dispute.

Several other stories have looked at the Calderon’s willingness to carry water for an array of special interests, including Hollywood, Indian gaming and the payday-loan industry, among others.

But the Sacramento daily press has ignored the connection between Calderon and Sacramento’s own Michelle Rhee.

Rhee, of course, is the wife of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and a controversial figure in education policy. Her Sacramento-based StudentsFirst organization has lobbied for a particular flavor of corporate-backed education reform.

As reported in Al Jazeera—which was first to publish the FBI affidavit—StudentsFirst last year plowed nearly $400,000 into the successful Assembly campaign of Ian Calderon, son of former legislator Charles Calderon, eldest brother of Tom and Ron. On February 21, according to the Al Jazeera report, StudentsFirst lobbyists met with lobbyist Tom. The next day, brother Ron introduced legislation to change the way teachers are evaluated, part of the StudentsFirst legislative agenda.

Given Rhee’s status in Sacramento and the city’s prominent place in the education-reform movement, the Al Jazeera story raises all sorts of interesting questions. Like, why are we reading about this in Al Jazeera instead of in the Bee?