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Not Much Time to Sing Your Own Praises

Times Staff Writer

Term limits has meant an end to the leisurely ambition trajectory of state politics, and that comes through loud and clear in the press-release machinery of freshman Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham.

The Salinas senator’s news releases include one headlined “Another Busy Day for Denham.” Every committee he serves on is labeled “key” or “powerful.” The latest release from his office begins, “Citizen Jeff Denham reported at 9:45 a.m. today for jury duty.... " It goes on to declare that “the Denham family is steeped in public service,” citing the World War II and Korean War military careers of his grandparents and his own Air Force service in the 1991 Gulf War and in Somalia.

Jury service, unlike his military career, is mandatory.

What are the odds Denham will get on a big felony case? Slim, perhaps, as he wrote a bill to allow organ donors to specify that their organs not go to prison inmates. Denham’s father died last November awaiting a liver transplant, a month before the death of a prison inmate who had received a heart transplant in a $2-million procedure, a price tag footed by taxpayers.

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Better Ideas Department

Citizen legislators have a few ideas, and three constituents of Assemblyman Joe Simitian will get theirs sent to the Legislature.

In the Palo Alto Democrat’s second annual “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, one winning notion is from a Palo Alto man who wants California drivers who get traffic tickets in another state to be able to attend traffic school in California. How did he think of it? One guess: He got nailed in New Hampshire.

The second winning entry, from a Cupertino man whose teenage daughter has cerebral palsy, wants certain vehicles carrying wheelchair lifts to be exempt from tickets if the lift blocks the rear license plate, something state law now forbids.

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And the third suggestion, from a San Carlos woman, would allow misdemeanor criminal prosecution of parents who knowingly let underage kids drink alcohol at home when that drinking results in a traffic accident.

All three laws suggested last year were signed by the governor -- a track record better than a lot of legislators’.

Which Side Is He On?

Sharper than a serpent’s tooth: State Republicans have pulled the plug on a juicy voter-registration contract with a former GOP assemblyman after they found out he’d been double-dipping as a consultant for the Assembly speaker, a Democrat. Mike Briggs of Clovis had been pulling in $8,300 a month to register GOP voters in the Central Valley, at the same time he was earning $8,250 a month as horse-racing and rodeo consultant to Speaker Herb Wesson.

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Both contracts were set to expire at the end of the month, but Briggs, who last year voted for a Democratic state budget that had tax breaks for his district, is expected to stay on the Wesson payroll to help broker a deal on the state budget by courting the agriculture industry.

How much help he’ll be now after sandpapering the sensibilities of his GOP ex-colleagues is problematic.

Financial Investigation

Was it lobbying, or liquor? Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer is auditing $90,000 in expenses from the Orange County district attorney’s office. In December, the county’s auditor controller, David Sundstrom, said he couldn’t verify whether the money had been improperly spent on alcohol -- a violation of county policy -- because D.A. Tony Rackaukas wouldn’t give him the paperwork. Rackaukas said he couldn’t do so without compromising the confidentiality of criminal investigations. Lobbying expenses are billed to the office’s general account; liquor costs can’t be reimbursed. Rackaukas once took a stab at changing that county policy, then decided against it.

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Points Taken

* If you believed a recent news release from the Recall Gray Davis Committee, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante “was one of the march leaders” of a big recall rally at the state Capitol. Davis and Bustamante are hardly buddies, but still.... It turns out that the recall rally was actually a march protesting community college budget cuts. The recallers showed up to piggyback with their “Dump Davis” signs. A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor declared that Bustamante, who is said to have gubernatorial longings himself, does not support the recall.

* Good news, bad news: State controller Steve Westley has reminded California’s county tax collectors that, under a 1940 act, military personnel on active duty may be permitted to postpone paying property taxes. Counties may not sell the property to collect taxes, but they can charge 6% interest on overdue taxes, more than a lot of current home mortgage rates.

* The convention is over, but the memories will last forever. Someone at the recent state Democratic convention was handing out fortune cookies with the fortune “Jackie Speier for Lt. Gov. 2006,” and someone else was distributing green combs reading “Congressman Brad Sherman,” the Sherman Oaks Democrat who is quite good-humored about his dwindling hairline.

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* Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who recently joined the field of Democratic presidential candidates, was guest of honor at a meet-and-greet in Los Angeles, co-hosted by MCA President Emeritus Sid Sheinberg, his wife, Lorraine, and feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem.

Another runner in the presidential pack, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, gets treated to a fundraiser April 5 at the home of Democratic stalwarts Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum.

* Bob Hattoy, environmentalist and quotemeister, was named by Gov. Gray Davis to the California Fish and Game Commission. The longtime Sierra Club spokesman also served as a White House deputy and liaison to the Interior Department.

You Can Quote Me

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“Allowing corporations to get out of paying American taxes just by renting a hotel room in the Bahamas: $4 billion. Ending taxes on all dividends: $385 billion. Ending the estate tax even on the largest estates: $662 billion. Knowing members can pass the entire cost of all this to a future generation: priceless. RepubliCard. It’s everything the super rich want it to be.”

Sherman Oaks Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, using a sendup of a credit-card commercial to go after his opponents’ budget and tax policies in the House last week.

*

Patt Morrison’s columns appear Mondays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com. This week’s contributors include Carl Ingram, Patrick McGreevy and Jean O. Pasco.

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